Omnia Vincit Amor

Pat K

 Cathy stared at the legal pad on her desk and tried to focus her mind on  the work at hand.  A sense of lethargy had been growing in her over the  past several weeks, and she found it harder and harder to concentrate.  She  shook her head and once again tried to consolidate the witness statements  for the pretrial report that Joe was expecting on his desk before noon.

 The concentrated effort began to pay off.  For the next hour she managed to  keep her mind on the task and finish the write-up.  She exited Joe's office  to find a group of coworkers gathered around one of the new interns.   Joining the group, Cathy smiled wanly and congratulated the girl on her  engagement before returning to the ever-present stack of folders, unable to  find joy in someone else's marriage.

 "Cathy, are you okay?"  She looked up to find Rita standing beside her desk.

 "Sure ... I'm fine."  Rita didn't look convinced.  "Really, Rita, I'm fine.    It's just been a bad week."

 Before the younger woman could say anything, Cathy perked up as she saw a  familiar face approaching her office.

 "Jenny, what are you doing here?"

 "I thought you might be available for lunch.  We keep missing each other,  and I was in the area ... so thought I'd take a chance."

 Hoping the presence of her cheerful friend might brighten her mood, she  readily agreed.

 At the restaurant, Jenny observed Cathy as she studied the menu.  There was  something wrong ... she'd been having disturbing dreams about Cathy for the  past several weeks, and now that she was with her friend in person, she  could tell that there was definitely a problem.  Cathy had circles under  her eyes, she'd lost several pounds, and she didn't look as 'polished' as  she normally did.

 After their orders were taken, Jenny got right to the point.

 "What's wrong, Cath?  You look done in.  I've been having dreams ... and  there's a blue funk around you that's almost tangible, so don't tell me  you're okay."

 Tears glimmered in Cathy's eyes.  "Dreams?  What sort of dreams?"

 "I don't see you in danger, if that's what you mean ... and they're my  normal abstract kind of dreams, you know -- not literal -- the kind that  have to be interpreted.  I see you roaming around in caves or something ..."

 "Caves?"  Cathy masked her alarm with surprise.

 "Yeah, caves ... or tunnels ... or something underground.  And you're  crying and calling out a name ... Vincent.  Do you know a Vincent?"  Jenny's empathy kicked in as she definitely felt a stab of fear from her  friend.  "Is someone named Vincent after you?"

 Cathy shook her head with a  rueful smile.  "Well, anyway, I got the feeling you were lost, or searching, but definitely unhappy.  And now that I see you, I know the  feelings were correct."

 A tear trickled from Cathy's eye, and she casually wiped it away with her  hand.  "I'm sorry, Jen, but I can't explain your dreams.  I am a little  down right now ... I'll get over it.  It's been really tough at work, and  we lost the Fienman case, and  ... sometimes I wonder if it's all worth  it."

 "You always felt that your work at the DA was helping people ... making a  difference.  Don't you feel that way any more?"

 "On days when we put some slime behind bars, it makes me feel like I do ...  but, then you turn around and there are ten more cases piling up.  I guess  I'm just so discouraged because we try to right the wrongs, but no one is  working on preventing the wrongs to start with.  People just don't seem to  care any more; there's just such a prevalent 'I'm going to get what I can  get and screw you' attitude.  I feel like we're trying to walk up a down  escalator, and we're losing ground."

 When Cathy returned to her desk, she felt a little better, but the feeling  was soon erased by the new stack of files in her in-box.  Feeling defeated,  she sorted through the folders until she could gracefully escape at five  o'clock, not even bothering to take her briefcase as she made her way with  the swarms of people to the bank of elevators.

 Rush-hour traffic was abysmal.  She was thankful that she could settle back  in the taxi and not worry about concentrating on the road.  Leaning her  head against the seat, she closed her eyes and tried to analyze her state  of mind.

 Her professional life was exhausting and, as she'd told Jenny, becoming a  thankless task.  She'd been at the DA's office for over two years -- two  long, grueling years filled with murder, drug dealing, robbery and family  violence.  It was unbelievable what people did to one another with no sense of remorse or personal responsibility.  If she heard one more time that a perpetrator had committed a crime because they'd had a bad childhood, she  thought she'd scream.  There were too many good, law abiding citizens out  there from poor and/or abusive homes for that excuse to hold water.

 And her personal life -- the side of her life that she couldn't discuss  with Jenny -- that was in turmoil too.  From the time she returned from  Nancy's house in the middle of the night, she realized that her heart --  her life -- belonged to and with Vincent.  Slowly they had advanced their  relationship; tiny, baby-steps to be sure, but at least they were moving  forward -- toward love.

 It had been a year of ups and downs:  the joy of Winterfest tempered by the  threat by Paracelsus;  the birth of little Cathy, and the deaths her father  and Ellie; the promise of a trip to the country, and the disappointment  when it didn't occur; the celebration of their second anniversary, and her near-death experience with the psychopathic stalker; the magical moments  with Kristopher, and the bloody experiences with the feral outsiders who  invaded the tunnels and the murderous preppies; the incidents with Michael  and Elliott which allowed her to express to Vincent the depth of her  feelings.

 These past few months had been a trial for all concerned.  The tenuous hold  that Vincent kept on his darker side was weakened with each bloody  encounter he faced; and the illness, the breakdown, that followed nearly  took him from her.  Her love, her faith, had helped him through those dark  hours when even Father's love couldn't suffice.  She'd told him once that  there was no darkness when he was with her -- together their love had  banished the darkness.

 She stayed Below as he healed and, although worried about his health, had  relished the closeness that they achieved.  Vincent finally pulled through  his ordeal, but the bond  was gone.  Cathy had faith that it would return,  that its silence was a result of his illness and his body's need to heal  itself; but, even if that were not the case, what they had together, what  they felt in their hearts, was enough.  Vincent, however, pulled away -- as  if without the bond  he had nothing to give, that his protection was who he  was and without it he was nothing.

He hadn't been Above to see her since the time he'd broken through her  terrace door, the time when she'd cared for him as he battled his inner  demons.  But that was also the time he told her he loved her -- another  high and low, joy and sadness intermingled.  She missed their private  evenings on the balcony ... she missed him.  She had gone alone into the cave for, as she told Father, without Vincent  there was nothing.  She had no fear of him even in his agitated state,  trusting in her belief that he could never hurt her; but she was terrified  for him, of the torture he was inflicting upon himself.  Her love -- their  love -- had broken through to him and led him from his purgatory, though  for a time she thought that he had died ... had left her to continue on  alone.

 She'd cried and beat his chest as he lay silently on the cold ground,  telling him that he couldn't go without her.  Finally, she'd kissed him ...  a one-sided kiss to be sure, but one that she had wanted -- needed -- for  so long.  As she pressed her lips against his and lovingly stroked his face  and neck, she felt a stirring, a whispering breath of life as he returned  to her.

 His recovery took weeks.  She stayed with him constantly until they knew  for certain that he would be all right.  As his strength returned, she  ventured Above but spent evenings and weekends Below, needing to be with  him as much as he needed her.  His mind took longer than his body to heal  -- names and faces had no meaning to him, and it was as if the past had to  be removed to restore the present.  He knew that she was the woman he  loved, but there was no name to go with that feeling.

 Then, one evening as she read Great Expectations aloud, his memories  awakened, and it all came back to him.  Once again it was a time of joy and  sadness -- the joy of remembering, but with that remembering came the  sadness of knowing that the bond was no longer functioning.  Cathy  theorized that it was still dormant, as his memories had been for so long,  and would reappear when he was fully recovered.  Vincent tried to hold that  thought but, as the days passed, his hope slipped
 away.

 That's when Cathy realized that the advancements in their relationship were  slipping away too.  She continued to go Below, but Vincent contrived to  minimize their time alone together, and the chaperone pool Below was  limitless.  Father, grateful to have his son well again, was more than  happy to have the couple spend evenings in his study.  The children vied  for Vincent's attention, knowing that they had nearly lost their friend and  hero.  And Mouse, dear Mouse, had become Vincent's new shadow as if his  presence would protect his friend from a relapse.

 To reduce the danger in her life, Cathy changed jobs.  Joe moved her into  the domestic trial division where she did pre-trial preparation and  assisted the senior prosecutors.  The work was less hazardous, but dealing  with family abuse day after day began to wear her down.  She felt as if she were walking a tightrope and the least little nudge would topple her.

 Finally the stress of her job and the situation with Vincent reached a  flashpoint, and the nudge occurred.  Father had gone to check on Kipper's  cold, leaving the two of them alone in his study for the first time in  days.  Vincent looked at Cathy's weary face.

 "Catherine, perhaps I should walk you home."

 She laughed ruefully under her breath.  "Is it so hard to be alone with me, Vincent?"

 "No, Catherine," he protested, "but you're tired ... you need to rest."

 "No, that's not what I need ..."  she sighed,  "but I guess it doesn't  matter."  Tears welled in her eyes as she averted her face.

 "It does matter, Catherine.  Tell me ... please."

 "I need the ache I feel from your absence to go away."

 Vincent gripped the arms of the chair to keep from pulling her into his  embrace.  He lowered his head, hiding behind a curtain of gold.  "Catherine, that absence is the lack of the bond, and I don't know if it  will ever return."

   "I'm not talking about the bond.  The bond was special, and I'm convinced  that it will eventually return ... but even if it doesn't, what we have  transcends the bond, and we can't just throw it away.  I love you, Vincent,  and it hurts when you push me away.  I need your arms around me ... I need  your love ... I need you."

 He rose and began to pace.  "I have nothing to offer you, Catherine.  You  deserve a full life, with a home ... a husband and children ..."

 His statement, and his pacing, were interrupted by Catherine's scream.  She  moved in front of him and angrily poked him in the chest to emphasize each  sentence as she spoke through clenched jaws.

 "No!  We're not going back to that place.  I'm so tired of people living my  life for me.  First my father and now you.  Why do men assume that I can't  think for myself ... that I don't know what I want?  I'm going to say this  once, and I want you to really listen ... I love you!  I want to be with  you!   I don't want an ordinary-looking Yuppie husband and a home in the  suburbs.  I want an extraordinary-looking, blue-eyed hunk and a  subterranean chamber to make lots of little golden-haired babies.  And when  you get over your pity-party and realize how really wonderful you are ...
 you come get me."

 She rushed to the exit and turned back to Vincent, who stood  in the center  of the chamber rubbing his chest. "And if you think by staying away you'll  be freeing me to get on with the 'normal' life you envision for me ...  think again, Vincent!  I'll be waiting for you ... forever if need be.  So  it's up to you how long we're both miserable."  With that she left the  study, nearly running down Father in the passageway as she returned to her apartment to cry out her frustration.

 That was three weeks ago.

 Days were hard, but nights were the worst.  Despite the warm weather she  stayed indoors, the balcony having no allure without someone to share it.   Realizing the futility, she gave up bringing work home and tried to fill  the evenings with television or reading.  The hours dragged.

 As tired as Cathy was, she was unable to sleep for more than a few minutes  at a time.  When she did sleep, she dreamt of Below and being with Vincent.    There were times when she would rouse suddenly, thinking a tapping on the  balcony door had awakened her, to find no one and nothing there.

 The taxi pulled up in front of her apartment building.  She paid the driver  and stood on the sidewalk looking up at the array of windows and balconies  that rose above her head.  A few lights glowed through the glass panels,  and she imagined tired people, home from work, relaxing in the company of  loved ones.  Her eyes scanned the heights to the specter of a lonely  apartment with its darkened windows -- there was no loved one waiting there  to take her in his arms and push away the cares of the day.  Suddenly the  thought of entering that lonely space was too much.

 She crossed the street to the park.  The evening was pleasant and there  were still quite a few people strolling the walkways or sitting on the  benches.  She wandered near the carousel and watched the happy faces of the  children as they rode their steeds into imaginary battles.  A pain gripped  her heart, and she had to turn away, stumbling blindly from the joyful  sight.  Finding an empty bench, she gratefully sank onto its seat.  When  she looked around she realized that her feet had taken her to the area near  the culvert which lead to Vincent's world.

 Tears slipped down her cheeks as she dropped her head.  What was she to do?    She knew that she couldn't live without Vincent, but she had to wait for  him to love himself -- that until he did he'd never be able to accept her  love.  But she wondered how long her body could function with only half a  heart.

 "Catherine?"

 She looked up to see Geoffrey and Kipper standing across the sidewalk from  her.  The ball they were holding indicated their purpose in the park.

 "Hi Geoffrey, Kipper."  She tried to smile but knew that her attempt was  weak.  "I'm glad to see that you're over your cold, Kipper.  I hope  everyone has been well."

 They came to sit beside her on the bench.  "Are you okay, Catherine?"  Geoffrey was special to her and his worried look pierced the armor which  shielded her emotions.  Not trusting her voice she nodded an affirmation,  her lip quivering slightly.  She hugged her small friend, resting her cheek  on his curly head.  "I'm fine," she whispered.

 "We've missed you, Catherine," Kipper chimed in.  "How come you don't come  see us?  Everyone has missed you ... even William commented that you  haven't been down for dinner lately.  Don't you like us anymore?"

 "Oh, honey, yes I like you ... you're all my family.  Things are  complicated right now ... grownup things ... and it's best that I stay  away.  But tell everyone that I miss them, and I'm thinking of them.  I'm  hoping to see them all soon, but I can't guarantee anything."

 "It's Vincent, isn't it?"  Geoffrey's voice was angry. "It's all his fault  you're staying away."

 "Geoffrey!  Like I said, it's complicated ... but it'll work itself out and I'll be home soon.  Now, you need to be getting Below, and I need to get  back to my apartment."

 The two youngsters gave her a hug before carefully working their way to the  drainage pipe, making sure that no one noticed their intent as they headed  Below.  Cathy envied them their journey as she slowly made her way to the  exit, and her empty apartment.

 The next morning she downed several cups of coffee, trying to get her  unresponsive body ready for work.  The phone rang as she was leaving, and  she picked it up, thinking that perhaps Joe needed her to stop somewhere on  the way in.

 "Peter, what a surprise!"  She hadn't heard her friend's voice in several  months and couldn't imagine why he'd be calling her this early in the  morning.  All of a sudden she feared the worse.
 "There's nothing wrong  Below is there?  Is he all right?"

 "Everything is fine Below.  'He' hasn't had a relapse, if that's what  you're worried about.  I'm calling about you."

 "Me?  Why are you calling about me?"  She was clearly puzzled.

 "I want you in my office first thing this morning."  Peter's voice  indicated he would brook no arguments.  "I'll see you there in half an  hour."

 "But, the office ..."

 "Half an hour, young lady."  The click in her ear indicated that the  conversation was over.

 Cathy stared at the receiver, torn between anger and tears.  Leaving a  message for Joe, she caught a cab to the medical building and was shown  immediately into Peter's office.  He shook his head as he watch her sit  meekly in the chair across from this desk.  The Cathy he knew would have  stormed into his office demanding to know by what right he felt he could  order her around -- if she'd shown up at all.  This lethargic, unconcerned  woman was a stranger to him.

 He rounded the desk to sit next to her, holding her hand.  "They were  right, you are in bad shape."

 "I can't believe Jenny would call you."  She sounded as drained as she  looked.

 "Jenny didn't call me, but I'm surprised my phone hasn't been ringing off  the wall with worried friends."

 "Then who ..."

 "Father."

 "Father!  I haven't even seen Father in ... oh, Geoffrey and Kipper."   Understanding flooded her.

 "Yes, Geoffrey and Kipper.  They were so upset after seeing you that they  had to tell Father.  He was going to visit you himself but Mary thought  that perhaps I would be the better choice, so my presence was requested  Below last night.  And now that I've seen you myself, I can understand why  the boys were worried.  Cathy, honey, what's wrong?"

 She looked into his worried face and began to cry.  He hugged her, rocking  her as if she were a small child.  Finally the tears began to abate, and he  handed her his handkerchief.

 "I've gotten your suit all wet,"  she murmured, trying to lighten the mood.

 "It'll dry.  Now, tell Dr. Peter what's wrong."

 She explained all that had happened since Vincent's illness, and the  outburst that had precipitated the separation.

 "Peter, I love him so much.  I don't know if I'll be able to survive this  separation, but he has to want it too.  He wanted it before the illness,  but was afraid to give in to the feelings, afraid that he would hurt me in  some way.  We were working through all of that ... and the time in the cave  should prove that he could never hurt me ... but now, with the bond gone he  feels that he has nothing at all to offer.  We're back to square one.  He's  had thirty-three years of being 'different' drummed into him, always being  reminded what he shouldn't want, what he can't have.  He doesn't see  himself as a man."

 "But, Cathy ..."

 "No, Peter.  He is a man.  He may look a little different, his blood  chemistry might refute the fact, but he is a man ... and he deserves all  the wonderful things that any man deserves: love, a family, ... everything.    He's so special, Peter, he's the best part of what it means to be human  ... and I don't think I can live without him."

 "Well, young lady, my job is to keep you well until he gets his act  together.  Now, I'm going to have Barbara come in and do the prep work and  then I'll be in to check you out."

 Almost two hours later Cathy finally made it to the confusion known as the  DA's office.  Joe caught her as she was putting her purse away.

 "Cathy, are you okay?"

 "Is that the only thing people can say to me?  What ever happened to  'hello'?"

 He looked at her through narrowed eyes then closed the door to her tiny  office.  "Okay, Kiddo, what the hell's going on?  You look like death  warmed over, you drag around here day after day, you leave me a cryptic  message that you'll be late because of a doctor's appointment, and then  you're surprised I ask if you're okay?  So, as your friend, tell me what's  going on."  He crossed his arms in front of him and leaned against the  door.

 She looked at the man who was both boss and friend.  They'd been through a  lot together.  If she hadn't been so head-over-heels in love with Vincent,  she might have even fallen for Joe, but now he was just a good friend, one  who truly cared.  But as good a friend as he was, he was also the deputy  district attorney as well as a topsider, and there was a major portion of  her life that couldn't be shared with him.

 "It's a lot of things, Joe.  There's someone in my life, someone I've kept  private, someone I love, who's been ill.  In fact, we almost lost him.   I've been worried about that for months.  He's better now but there's a  complication -- a lingering result of his illness -- and he feels that I  don't deserve to be saddled with what he sees as a handicap.  It doesn't  matter to me, but he won't accept that.  We haven't seen each other for  several weeks."  Tears pooled on her lashes.

 "And the job is beginning  to wear me down too.  I appreciate being taken  out of investigations but the stuff I'm working on now is so depressing.  I  know that we can only do so much -- and maybe it wouldn't affect me so  strongly if everything outside of the office was running smoothly -- but to see the pain and violence inflicted on  people by those who're supposed to  love and protect them,  and then half the time those same victims won't  even press charges ... it's enough to make you go
 postal."

 The tears spilled down her cheeks.  "I've gotta tell you, Joe, I don't know  if I'm going to make it."

 "Well, at least you went to see the doctor.  What does he say?"

 "Actually, I ran into some friends yesterday, and they were so worried they  contacted Peter.  He called me to come into the office, not the other way  around.  He says I'm rundown, has given me some pills to help me sleep, has  put me on a strict diet to get some of the weight back and has run some  tests."

 "Pills?"  Joe sounded worried.

 "Don't worry, Joe, I'm not going to kill myself.  And, they're  non-addictive.  He did warn me that he might insist on a leave of absence,  so I guess you should know.  I think a lot of it depends on the results of  my tests; I have to go back and see him on Tuesday.  Now, shall we get to  work?  I need to go over the Walters transcript."

 "Not a chance, Radcliffe.  It's Friday and you're going home ... in fact, I  don't want to see you in the office until after your appointment on  Tuesday.  You rest ... forget about work ... get something to eat."

 As she left the office he stopped her.  "And the problem with this guy ...  keep good thoughts, it'll work out.  I'll get my mother to light a candle  for you."

 She hugged him.  "Thanks, Joe.  It couldn't hurt."

 Cathy stopped at the grocery to pick up some food, knowing that her  refrigerator contained nothing but margarine, an old tomato, a container of  yogurt, some out-of-date milk and a carton of orange juice.  As she walked  the aisles people began looking inquisitively, and she realized that she was crying.  Her subconscious had keyed in to the Muzak being played in the  store, and the song, "Wind Beneath My Wings", had triggered the tears.

 'Oh, Vincent, did you ever know that you're my hero?  You are the wind beneath my wings ... I couldn't have made it through the past few years  without you.  In fact, I shudder to think what my
 life would be like today  if we'd never met.'  It made her sad that the bond no longer sent her
 feelings to him, that he didn't know of her thoughts.

 She found that shopping and then putting the groceries away drained her of  what little energy she possessed.  She knew she needed to eat something,  but the thought of even making a sandwich was too much.  She settled on an apple and the yogurt before curling up in the corner of the sofa and dozing  off.

 She awoke from her short nap and looked around, trying to determine how to  fill the empty hours.  This was going to be a long, boring weekend.  She  didn't have the energy to run, although perhaps a short walk in the park  wouldn't be overly tiring.  The problem was, everything in the park  reminded her of Vincent.  Who was she kidding?  Everything reminded her of  Vincent.

 She turned on the TV, found a movie that was moderately interesting, and  watched and dozed for the rest of the afternoon.  The afternoon shadows  began to gather, and Cathy knew that she had to do something about supper.   She'd promised both Peter and Joe she'd eat so couldn't let her disinterest  in food win.  Her contemplation was interrupted by a timid knock on the door.  A quick peek through the peephole showed Jamie's anxious face.

 Cathy quickly opened the door.  "Jamie, is something wrong?  Is Vincent all  right?"  she asked in a panicked voice.

 "No, Catherine, everything's fine.  William sent you something to eat.   Father mentioned that you weren't eating properly, and, well, you know  William.  Not eating is a crime where he's concerned."  Jamie took stock of  her friend and understood why Geoffrey and Kipper were so upset.

 Not wanting to seem rude, Jamie quit her scrutiny and looked around the  apartment.  "Now, where's the kitchen?  I promised William to make sure you  ate everything he sent."

 Cathy smiled as she led the young woman into her tiny kitchen.  She got  dishes and flatware as Jamie pulled containers out of her knapsack.  A hunk  of homemade bread was followed by a jug of William's vegetable soup.  A  still warm apple turnover rounded out the meal.

 Jamie declined Cathy's offer to share, knowing that there was plenty more  waiting for her Below and wandered around the apartment looking at Cathy's  paintings and knick-knacks before checking out the view from the balcony.

 "This really is pretty, Catherine.  I can understand why you don't want to  leave it."

 Cathy nearly choked.  "What do you mean, Jamie?"

 "Well, why you don't want to move Below ... you  know, to be with Vincent."    Jamie turned to see tears flowing down Cathy's cheeks.  "Catherine, what's wrong?"

 "Jamie, I'd move Below in a minute ... Vincent doesn't want me to.  He's  always had this idea that I can't be happy Below ... then he gets on the  tangent where I need to find some guy Above to give me all of the 'things'  that Vincent thinks I deserve.  He can't accept that the only thing I need  is his love.  Until he admits that he wants me -- needs me -- as much as I  want and need him, we're stuck in this predicament."  She looked at Jamie,  despair evident in her eyes.  "I don't know how long I can go on like this,  Jamie, but there's nothing else to do."

 "What about your job, Catherine?"

 "I could commute Above to work ... or, if that's too risky, I'll quit.   Nothing is as important to me as Vincent.  His vision of me is getting married, moving out to the suburbs and having a family, being a housewife.   What's the difference if I move down instead of out?  The thing I like  about my job is that I'm helping people, but there are other ways to help  without being a district attorney - and lately I've wondered if I'm really  even helping anyone in my job."

 "Oh, Catherine, I'm so sorry.  I didn't realize ... I don't think anyone  does."  Jamie hugged her friend.  "Is there anything I can do for you  before I leave?"

 Cathy looked reluctant to ask.  "Can you stay for a while?  I'd love to  hear everything that's going on Below."

 Jamie sat across from Cathy on the second sofa and told her all that had  been happening in the past weeks.  Cathy laughed as she described Mouse's  latest invention, and the chaos that ensued.  She learned of the new baby that had been found abandoned in the park and brought Below.  Young Sam had used his resources at the police station to determine that it hadn't been reported stolen so Mary was mothering it as she had so many other children.    Everyone else was doing well.

 Jamie kept glancing at the mantel clock and Cathy realized that it was getting late.  She thanked her friend for the dinner -- and for staying --  as she showed her out.  At the door Jamie turned,  "It'll work out,  Catherine.  Just take care of yourself."

 Saturday morning dawned clear and warm.  Cathy awoke refreshed from a full  night's sleep, thanks to Peter's little pills, and decided to get out of  the apartment for the day.  She stopped at the nearby deli for coffee and a  bagel, then strolled over to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 Making her way to the Egyptian wing, her favorite exhibit, she lost herself  once again in the fabulous collection.  She stopped for a brief lunch then  decided to relax in the roof-top sculpture garden.  She'd planned to make  an afternoon trip to The Museum of Modern Art but her run-down body had  other ideas, and she postponed that excursion for another day.

 She walked across the park toward her apartment building, stopping at  Strawberry Fields to sit and watch the people.  You could tell the  tourists, their status denoted by cameras and maps. Teenagers, those too young to even remember the Beatles, congregated in the gardens, intermixed  with babyboomers on whom the four lads from Liverpool had a profound  affect.

 Looking at the black and white Imagine mosaic she thought, 'Yes, Vincent, I  am a dreamer.  I need you to be a dreamer too.'

 Rested, she continued on to her building.  In the hall outside of her  apartment, she found a basket with a note attached.  Peeking inside the  hamper, she saw containers of food and smelled the heavenly scents of  William's artistry.  The note was from Jamie and said that she would be by  later to pick up the basket.

 In the kitchen, Cathy chuckled to herself.  'I guess I didn't need to go to  the store after all.'

 Supper that evening was a wonderful stew with crusty rolls, fruit salad,  and oatmeal cookies for dessert.  She packed the washed containers back  into the hamper and placed it outside of her door with a thank-you note  that indicated she would be retiring early.

 Sunday morning, a bright sun peeking through the terrace doors indicated  that New York was still blessed with the warmth of an Indian summer.  Even  though she'd eaten well and had gotten two good nights' sleep, a glance in  the bathroom mirror was discouraging   'They're wrong, you can be too  thin.'

 After a breakfast of scrambled eggs, juice and toast, she read the Sunday  paper and tried to tackle the crossword puzzle.

 The morning sun shone into the living room, revealing a telltale coating of  dust on the furniture.  Innervated by her night's rest, she decided a spot  of housekeeping would be in order.  She changed the sheets, ran a couple of  loads of laundry, cleaned the bathroom, and dusted and vacuumed the small  apartment.  By the time she was through she was exhausted --  over-estimating her endurance was always one of  her faults.

 She forced herself to eat a sandwich before collapsing on the sofa with a  glass of lemonade; sleep soon followed.  It was late-afternoon when she  awoke from her nap, and, although  rested, she was despondent.  She'd had  such a wonderful dream of her and Vincent together, and to wake and find  herself alone in the apartment was devastating.

 The tears began and, unable to check the flow, she curled in the corner of  the sofa, hugging a pillow tightly to her chest, and gave in to her sorrow.    Cathy found it difficult to believe that one person could cry so many  tears.  If the body is ninety-five percent water, she was a quart low.

 A persistent knocking finally caught her attention.  Dragging herself to  the door, she was surprised to see Father through the peephole -- he'd only  left the tunnels twice in the entire time she'd known Vincent and neither  of those occasions had turned out well.  She invited him in and took the  bag of food that he'd brought from William.

 He gratefully sank into the comfort of the sofa; the long trek had  aggravated his aching hip.  Cathy offered him a cup of tea and picked at a  vegetable casserole as Father sipped the warming brew.  He studied her with  his physician's eye -- Catherine was in as bad shape as his son.  Her  face was puffy from crying; the bags under her eyes indicated a severe lack  of sleep; she was underweight (despite William's cooking); and she had a  thoroughly dejected air about her.  "Now, my dear, what are we going to do about this situation?"

 Cathy sighed as she set her plate on the coffee table.  "All I can do is  wait, Father, and pray." She closed her eyes and leaned her head against  the back of the sofa.  "You did your job too well; I can't seem to undo  it."

 "How so, Catherine?"  Father was baffled by her reference.

 She looked at him then, her eyes shimmering like emeralds as they gazed  sadly into his.  "You've drilled it into him that he's different, that he can't have a life  like other men, that he's wrong to expect personal happiness in his life.   He's built a wall, and I can't break through."  She shook her head as  Father looked to protest.  There was no anger in her voice, just dejection.

 "I know it must have been difficult as he grew up, having to limit where he  could go, what he could do.  Emphasizing his differences when he was a  child was a way to keep him safe...but the  emphasis continued, still  continues.  As much as you love him, Father, he's a grown man now...he  knows the dangers of his existence better than anyone, even you.  You have  to quit beating him over the head with warnings."

 "I love him, Catherine.  I just wish to keep him safe."

 "I understand.  But, Father,  your love has chained him.  A cage is safe,  but it's still a cage.  Do you remember when you told me that my love would only hurt him?"

 "After you helped get me out of jail ...'

 "Yes.  You told me it was because part of him was a man."  Father nodded.   "Why did you say that?  What do you think is the part that isn't a man?"

 "I don't know; I don't think we'll ever know."

 Cathy laughed cheerlessly.  "First Peter, and now you.  I guess it's the  scientific mind.  Why is it that you don't see -- can't accept -- what the  rest of us do?  Vincent is a man, period.  He's different, I'll grant you  that, but he's a man.  I accept it ... the children all accept it ...  almost everyone Below accepts it.  You're his father, why can't you?  Is  there part of you that considers him less than human?  If there is, then  you're wrong.  If anything, he's more than human ... perhaps he's our next stage in evolution, I don't know ... but he's intelligent, generous,  protective, gentle ... everything we ought to be as human beings ... not to  mention romantic and sexy as hell."

 "Not always gentle, Catherine."  Father reminded her.

 "He can be fierce when protecting those he loves, or those who can't  protect themselves ... but isn't that true of anyone?"

 "I'm not speaking of his protective rages ...'

 "You're talking about Lisa, aren't you?"  At his nod the dejection in her  eyes turned to anger.  "I can't believe that one accident could carry so  much weight ... and I don't know who I blame more
 -- you or Lisa."

 "Me?"

 "Yes, you!  What Lisa did was wrong, but she was young and self-centered.   She teased him, led him on, and then got frightened when she lost control  of the situation.  We talked about it when she was here, right after she  testified.  It wasn't Vincent she was afraid of, it was her overwhelming  feelings.  And Vincent was just as innocent and confused as she was,  perhaps more.  I'll bet you never discussed sex education with him, didn't  prepare him for the raging hormones that all teenagers have."

 "I never thought it necessary with Vincent.  Is that why you blame me?"

 "No ... you were wrong in not preparing him, but that's not the reason.   The way you handled the situation afterwards is what I blame you for.   Instead of looking at the situation as two teenagers getting hot and  bothered, you concentrated on the visible differences.  Vincent's reaction  frightened you.  You blamed Lisa and sent her away without letting them  talk it out.  You didn't explain to Vincent that the feelings he had were normal, not some bestial lust.  Now, when he has those desires for me, all  of your fears kick in and he backs off.  What he doesn't understand -- or  won't believe -- is that I have those feelings too ... and there's nothing  wrong with that!"

 "Perhaps I did handle the situation badly, Catherine, but I was navigating  uncharted waters.  It's difficult enough to be a parent, but I had no idea  how Vincent's differences would manifest themselves.  After the incident  with Lisa we nearly lost him to that terrible illness, and I was afraid another incident like that might take him permanently.  I didn't want him to get his hopes up to be crushed again.  I couldn't foresee someone like you coming into his life."

 The anger drained from Cathy's body; she slumped back against the sofa cushions.  Her voice cut Father's heart with its sarcastic sadness.

"I guess I should be grateful to you in a way...if you hadn't filled  his head with all of your nonsense, someone else would have captured his  heart years ago and I'd never have met him."  Tears spilled over her  lashes.  "He thinks I deserve better, but there is no one better than  Vincent."

 Father moved to sit next to Cathy, holding her to him as she cried.

 "What am I going to do, Father?  I love him so much ... I can't live  without him."

 "He loves you too, Catherine."

 "I know ... but he doesn't love himself.  He has to realize that he's a  worthwhile person in his own right, that he deserves all of the love and  happiness that anyone deserves, that he deserves to be selfish once in a  while.  He doesn't have to 'buy' love ... people don't love him because of  what he does for them, they love him for who he is.  I want the privilege  of sharing a life with him and showing him just how happy he can be."

 "My dear, if it's any help, I sincerely hope you get that chance. I admit  that I was wrong about you, Catherine, and I humbly apologize.  I love both of you ... and I've come to realize that the only chance of happiness  either of you has is together.  Your life together, joining both worlds,  may not be easy, but I believe the two of you can make it work.  Now, the only person who has to believe that is my son, and he's even more stubborn  than I."

 A voice like raw silk startled them both.  "Perhaps not so stubborn."

 They turned to see Vincent standing in the doorway to the terrace.   Catherine jumped to her feet, aching to run to his arms, yet hesitant.  She  watched his eyes, looking for a sign.  The love which shone from their blue  depths warmed her, encouraged her, yet not as much as when Vincent crossed  the threshold and closed the distance between them.

 With a sob, she melted into his embrace, needing the solid feel of him  against her.  His arms circled her, holding her securely, and he rested his  cheek against the silky softness of her hair.

 Father moved to the door.  "Well, I'll leave the two of you to work this  out, I can see you're each in good hands."  He chuckled at the lack of response as he slipped out of the door and closed it behind him.

 Catherine leaned back in Vincent's embrace and gazed into his beloved face.    "I've missed you so much."

 "And I, you, Catherine.  I've tried to protect you ... I've never wanted to condemn you to a life of darkness.  But if you're sure this is what you  really want, I'll devote my life to making you happy.  Just don't ever  leave me again."

 "Don't you remember, Vincent ... there is no darkness when you're with me.   As long as you love me, I'll be happy ... I need nothing else.  Do you  believe that now?"

 He stared in wonder at her sparkling eyes, needing no bond to show him the  love and confidence she felt.  "I believe, Catherine.  It will take me much  longer to understand ... but I do believe."

 She looked at him expectantly -- waiting, wanting to be kissed.  His belief  in their love warred with the terror of his raw emotions.  Her faith in  him, that he would never hurt her, strengthened his resolve.  His eyes smiled as he leaned down to press his lips to hers.

 Catherine held back, allowing him to set the pace.  The kiss was gentle;  the kiss was sweet; the kiss sent tingles through them both.  Vincent  pulled away and contemplated Catherine's upturned face--eyes closed, a  blissful look on her countenance.  There was no fear, no revulsion ... only love and desire shone forth.

 With courage bolstered by her response, he leaned forward once again.  A  sense of confidence imbued his being as he allowed instinct to prevail.   Passion fueled this embrace, and Catherine, recognizing the change, allowed  her restraint to slip away, twining her fingers through his mane of golden  hair and molding her body against his.

 Fire spread through them as tongues danced and explored.  Vincent had never  experienced anything like the sensations that engulfed him; and, as a  starving man at a banquet, he wanted more...much more.  The raw power of  his emotions didn't surprise him.  What amazed him was that within this  hunger was no sign of the darkness he dreaded, and he finally admitted that Catherine was correct ... he could never hurt her.  Their love allowed no  darkness between them.

 He moved from her lips to kiss her eyes, trailing across her cheek to find  the scar next to her ear.  That she would keep a reminder of such a painful time as testament to their love was a wonder to him.  He kissed the puckered skin, paying homage to the strength and perseverance of his  ladylove. He moved on to nuzzle her ear, Catherine's mewling sound  inflamed him further.

 Catherine's fingers stroked across his shoulders and arms, slid around his  waist and explored the stalwart muscles of his back.  As his lips returned to hers, her wandering hands moved lower to cup his firm buttocks, bringing their hips together more securely.  Vincent drew back in response as  Catherine felt the evidence of his desire pressed against her.

 He slipped out of her arms and turned away, a veil of hair hiding his  embarrassment.  She moved in front of him, took his chin in her hand and  raised his face; his eyes remained fastened to the
 floor.

 "Vincent,  please don't turn away from me ... we've come so far.  Please ..  look at me."  The pleading in her voice touched his heart; he finally  raised his eyes to hers.  The love that beamed at him took his breath away.

 "Vincent, don't ever be ashamed of our love...or our desire."  She could  see a puzzled expression begin.  "Yes, our desire.  Don't you know that it's exciting to know how much you want me?  My desire for you is just as  strong...maybe stronger." She teased, "The evidence is just not as  apparent."

She slipped her arms around him again and rested against his chest, listening to the rapid beat of his heart.  Slowly, his arms encircled her, the staccato beat beneath her ear slowing to a more normal pace.  She  leaned back in the warmth of his embrace to look at him, cocked an eyebrow  and gave a crooked, mischievous smile.

 "Shall we pick up where we left off ... or would you rather sit and talk  for a while?  We can come back to what we were doing."

 Her voice was light but sincere.  Catherine realized that Vincent had  overcome a lot of his reservations in the past few minutes; taking a break  would reinforce her contention that he was in full control of his actions  and emotions.  Vincent appreciated her concern and thoughtfulness.  Nodding  slightly, he removed his cloak and led her to the sofa where she snuggled  into the crook of his arm.

 "Would you like something to drink ... or perhaps to eat?"

 Vincent shook his head in reply.  "No, thank you, Catherine."  He looked at  the now-cold casserole on the table.  "But, perhaps, you should eat  something."

 "Not right now.  I'd rather stay right here."  As she snuggled closer, her hand idly stroked his chest in a slow, calming motion.  "I don't mean to sound ungrateful, but what made you finally come to see me tonight, after  all this time?"

 "I've wanted to come but hoped that your statement would be proved false  ... that you wouldn't wait for me, but instead would forget our dream and  get on with your life.  Without the bond, I had no way of knowing ... until  recently."

 "Did the bond ...?"

 "No.  However a very irate young man lit into me in my chamber the other  night."

 "Geoffrey."

 "Yes, Geoffrey.  He told me it was my fault that you couldn't come visit  us, and it was my fault that you weren't well.  He told me it wasn't right  -- and that he hated me for it."

 "You know that isn't true -- Geoffrey could never hate you."  Her voice was sad.

 He squeezed her shoulder.  "I know, Catherine.  He was angry and hurt.  I  didn't understand his outburst until Kipper explained your meeting in the  park.  Kipper, although not as vocal as Geoffrey, was just as disappointed  in me.  In fact, most of those Below have been treating me with cool  politeness these past few days."

 "Oh, Vincent ... I'm so sorry.  I never meant to come between you and your  friends."

 "They're your friends too, Catherine.  After you left the tunnels, I spent  a great deal of time on my own, didn't speak to anyone about your absence. Many may have believed the separation was your idea."

 "It was, in a way."

 He shook his head.  "Not really.  You were provoked into it by my actions,  and you left the resolution to me.  It was my stubbornness and fear that  kept us apart.  Anyway, when the boys reported how you looked, and then  Peter was summoned by Father ... well, our friends decided that I was in  the wrong...and they were correct.  Jamie confirmed their belief after  her visit, belying the assumption that you preferred to live Above."

 "She did seem surprised by that fact."

 "Tonight, when I learned that Father planned to visit you himself ..."

 "You were curious as to what he would say."

 "I confess, I was.  I'm sorry to have eavesdropped, but I was afraid he  would blame you for the disquiet Below."

 "You wanted to be here in case I needed protection."

 He nodded, shyly, and chuckled low.  "It was evident, however, that you didn't need my help-- although it appeared for a time that Father might."

 "I was terrible to him, wasn't I?"

 "No, you were honest.  Many of the things you said, I should have said to  him long ago.  I will always be grateful for his love, and the life he  provided for me, but I no longer need his protection."

 "It's a difficult concept for a parent to accept."

 Catherine kissed Vincent's neck and under his chin, feeling a shiver go  through him.  Encouraged by his reaction, or lack thereof, she continued.   She nuzzled his ear as her hand more firmly stroked his broad chest.  His  head fell back against the cushion; he inhaled sharply as she lightly  nibbled the fleshy lobe, fire spreading through his veins.

 Catherine blazed a trail of kisses across his face, which turned toward her  as a plant turns toward the sun.  Her hand began to burrow beneath the  layers of clothing that separated him from her, getting under his vest to  begin working on his shirt buttons.  When her lips reached his, she paused,  her mouth a scant distance from his.  Her warm breath bathed his lips.

 Vincent awaited her caress with anticipation.  He opened his eyes slightly  to see Catherine hovering near, her green eyes heavy-lidded as she watched  his expression.  As their eyes met, her tongue darted out to stroke his  bottom lip.  She felt him tremble as she repeated the action; his breath  coming in shallow pants.  Her tongue then outlined the uniqueness of his  upper lip.

 Vincent's hold on her tightened as the tip of her tongue dipped into the  center cleft.  A low growl rumbled forth.  Catherine smiled inwardly.  She  wondered if Vincent had known this was such an erogenous zone, his reaction  negating the idea.  She nuzzled her lips against his, carefully spreading  the edge of the cleft apart before tenderly caressing the hidden, sensitive  skin beneath.

 The fiery sensations that inundated him caused a thirst that required  quenching.  Powerful fingers framed her face as he took the initiative in  the kiss, angling his mouth to better fit his unusually shaped lips to  hers.  His tongue explored the sweetness of her mouth, delving into its wet  warmth, reveling in its textures.

 Catherine found herself drowning in a swirl of emotions and desires.  Heat  suffused her body as she pressed against him, needing to get close ...  closer.  Her legs swung up across his lap and she leaned back, pulling him  into a semi-reclined position on the small sofa.

 He caressed and nibbled the satiny skin and hollows of her neck.  He felt  the frenetic beat of her pulse against his lips; her low moans intoxicated  him.  She gasped as Vincent pulled away, clutching at his vest, his hair,  anything to keep him near.

 Using the fur-covered back of his fingers, he grazed a trail from the top  of her brow, along her jawline and down the slender column of her throat.   Eyes, dark with passion, followed the path, resting at the vee of her  blouse.  With his new-found self-confidence, his hand stroked down the  swell of her breast, eyes widening as her nipples strained against the soft  fabric.

 She moaned and arched against his touch, silently begging for more.  His  thumb repeated an arc over the firm peak, amazed as it stiffened further.   Slowly, the buttons on the front of her blouse were undone until a thin  valley of silken skin was exposed.  He brushed the length of her torso with  the back of one furry knuckle, mesmerized by the experience.

 Catherine gently pulled on the hem of her garment, baring one creamy breast  to his view.  Vincent stopped in astonishment, his eyes fixed on the  wondrous sight.  His finger drifted over to lightly brush the rosy tip,  watching as it hardened and tightened against the light friction.   Catherine inhaled sharply and bit her bottom lip, caught between the  exhilaration of Vincent's touch and a body yearning for more.

 His warm hand cupped her breast as he looked at Catherine's face, his eyes  begging the question.  Understanding his need, his desire, she nodded.   Reverently, his lips lowered to her bosom, savoring the taste and feel of  her as he licked and nipped the milky skin, ever mindful not to hurt her  with his teeth.

 He was lost in the overwhelming sensations that flooded him: amazement,  desire, lust, gratitude, sexual awakening, need.  But his world came undone  when Catherine's small hand slipped down to boldly caress the throbbing  erection so tightly encased in its denim restraint.  Arms of steel  tightened around her as he gasped in ecstasy.

 "Vincent, please ... make love to me."  Her quiet voice echoed the love and  desire that filled her heart.

 In one graceful motion he rose from the sofa, Catherine safely ensconced in  his arms.  He carried her through the louvered doors to the bedroom,  setting her on her feet next to the queen-sized bed.

 "Catherine, please be certain.  Know that once this step is taken, it can  never be undone."  Vincent was doubtful he would survive if Catherine were  to turn away now, but he knew that she must have this last chance to change her mind.

 She gave him a beatific smile.  "I've never been more certain of anything  in my life, Vincent. I love you, and all that you are.  These past few  weeks have confirmed that I can't live without you."  She stroked his  cheek.  "I want to love you, Vincent.  Let me give you all the pleasure you  deserve."

 He looked at her in wonder for just a moment before sitting on the edge of  the bed to remove his boots and socks.  His vest, already loosened by her  wandering fingers, was laid on the vanity stool.

 Catherine folded back the edges of the pastel bedclothes and lit a trio of  pillar candles on the vanity and more on the nightstand.  Even with her  back turned, she could sense his nervousness as he began to unbutton the  chambray workshirt.  She switched off the lamp,  casting the room into the  soft, familiar glow of candlelight.

 Removing something from the bureau drawer before crossing to the bathroom,  she rested her hand lightly on his arm as she passed.  "I helped Father and  Mary care for you when you were ill ... I loved what I saw."

 Vincent stared at the bathroom door.  He remembered little of that time.   He knew that she'd been with him when he awoke, and Father had mentioned  that she remained Below throughout his illness.  But she'd helped with his care?  She'd seen him?  He shook his head in horror, then stopped.  'She  loved what she saw.'  His heart soared.  'She loved what she saw!'

 Vincent finished undressing just as he heard the bathroom door open.   Catherine stood in the opening, the pale pink opalescence of her gown  shimmering in the flickering candlelight.  She looked like an angel as she  slowly crossed the room and flowed into his arms.

 "You're magnificent, Vincent.  I wasn't lying when I told Father you're  sexy as hell."  She rubbed her cheek against the hair on his chest,  reveling in its softness.  "God, you don't know how long I've dreamed of  this ... being with you like this, loving you."

 A chuckle rumbled through his chest, delighting her at the vibration.  "I  know, Catherine ... believe me, I know."

 A rosy hue tinted her face as she understood his meaning.   "Well, it's  your own fault."

 This time there was no denying the throbbing erection as Catherine  seductively rubbed against him, the silkiness of her gown adding an erotic  sensation to the mix.  Clawed fingers stroked across her shoulders; the  silky gown pooled in a gossamer cloud at their feet.

 Catherine's searching mouth discovered a flat, bronze pap hidden in the  golden thatch.  Vincent's knees quivered as she ministered to her prize:  licking, sucking and finally nipping carefully on the sensitive skin.  Her  world spun as he picked her up and carried her to the bed.

 Hands and mouths were given free rein as they lay beside each other on the  cool sheets.    Vincent gloried in his maleness as his beloved writhed  beneath his actions, and soon their bodies were joined in a pulsating  mating dance as old as time itself.

 Nothing could have prepared him for the feel of his sex sheathed deep  within Catherine's wet warmth.  His hope to prolong the experience was  abandoned as her hips undulated and arched against him, her muscles  clenching at his heated flesh as her orgasm began.  Vincent's strokes  deepened; three powerful thrusts and his release joined hers.

 In that wondrous, magical moment -- as their hearts, souls and bodies were  joined as one -- the light of their love blazed forth, and the bond  returned -- stronger, more intense,  affecting them equally.  Whatever  obstacles they faced in the future would be faced together -- as one.  They  would endure.