OUT OF LOVE

Janet Rivenbark

In February, 2011, there was a discussion of character motivation going on the BBTV Yahoo group. We were talking about Father and most people said that they loved Father and a few said that they had an extreme dislike for him and, of course, there were some that were in the middle. I commented that he was one of those characters that you could manipulate a little without taking him completely out of character. He started out being totally against Vincent having anything to do with Catherine, but then as time passed, he appeared to come around and accept Catherine. But what if all that was subterfuge? What if he didnít accept her and was only waiting for his chance?

Chapter 1

Catherine sat in the back of the cab and relaxed for what seemed like the first time in ages. Sheíd been on the go since Vincent left her apartment. From before that, actually. Heíd been at her place for three days. The first two days and nights spent on the floor of her living room; and the whole three days she hadnít slept much and he hadnít done much more than alternate between frantic, destructive activity and sleep.

Peter came over and examined him. There wasnít much he could do except check vitals, draw some blood and tell her that she could give him aspirin for the fever if she could get them into him. She could get him to drink, so she crushed the pills and put them in water.

Vincent had several violent episodes and the apartment was somewhat the worse for wear because of it. During the last one heíd lunged through the louvered doors into her bedroom, leaving splinters and pieces of wood scattered in the living room and bedroom. At least it had taken him into the bedroom and sheíd been able to get him up onto his feet and into the bed. Sheíd managed to get him out of his vest and boots before heíd descended into another of his periods of sleep. She preferred to think of it as sleep. Peter had called it unconsciousness. Heíd also alternated between periods of delirious fever and almost normal temperatures during which he was quiet and did actually sleep. One day had blended into the next and when things finally calmed down she was surprised to find that three days had passed.

He didnít have any more violent episodes after she put him to bed and sheíd been able to get the mess cleaned up. Heíd broken the French doors from the balcony into her living room, a lamp, her curio cabinet and a mirror the first night. A blanket was tacked up over the gaping door to the balcony. It was a good thing the weather was mild. Sheíd never been extremely fond of the pieces heíd broken; they would be easy to replace. The bedroom doors and the doors to the balcony would be another story. Sheíd be hard put to come up with a plausible story about their destruction. Maybe she would be able to get Cullen to do the work. He was a skilled carpenter.

Vincent had been quoting a poem off and on in his delirium. She didnít recognize it at first, but it sounded like Dylan Thomas. Sheíd finished cleaning up the mess and had dropped onto the bed beside him, hoping to rest, but her mind wouldnít let her.

She quoted aloud what sheíd heard him say wondering what the significance was, "Though they sink through the sea, they shall rise again. Though lovers be lost, love shall not, and death shall have no dominion." She was surprised to hear Vincent echo the last line.

"And death shall have no dominionÖyou know those lines?" he asked.

"Youíve been repeating them for three days. Who wrote them?" she asked propping herself up and leaning over him. "Was it Dylan Thomas?"

She received no answer and just when she decided heíd gone back to sleep heíd rolled over onto his back and asked her, very politely and with a bit of embarrassment, if he could use her bathroom. She directed him to it and he rose a little unsteadily and walked around the bed to it.

"What time is it Catherine?" he asked before he reached the door.

She looked at the clock. "After six, it will be light soon." She sat up and swung her legs off the bed.

"I should leave," he said, pausing in front of the doors and looking out into lightening sky.

"I donít think youíll have enough time to make it back Below, and even if you tried, Iíd worry. You arenít very strong. Stay a little longer, rest some more and eat something?"

He looked back at her. "Youíre right Catherine, I am weak."

Relieved at his answer she stood and laid her hand on his arm. "If you feel strong enough you can take a shower or wash up. There are plenty of towels, and it will give me a chance to wash your clothes. Youíve been in them for at least three days and youíve had a fever."

"Iíd like that," he told her. "Thank you."

She went to the closet where she pulled a dark blue terry cloth robe off a hanger. She handed it to him.

"I was planning to give this to you as a gift, but I think you could use it now. Hand your clothes out to me and you can wear this after you clean up."

Vincent took the robe and went into the bathroom. A few minutes later the door cracked open and his clothing was shoved out. She picked them up then leaned toward the door.

"Would you like some breakfast, Vincent?" she called.

"Thank you, Catherine. Something light would be nice."

She hurried out to the kitchen where she examined his clothing. The sweater was a cotton knit, and all of it was washable and, she hoped, dryable. She stuffed everything in the washer, set it for cold water, added detergent and turned it on.

By the time she had scrambled some eggs, made toast and a pot of tea he was finished with his shower and back in the bedroom looking around rather uncertainly. She was putting the plates on the table in front of the blanket covered door, when she saw him.

"Breakfast is served, Vincent," she told him, indicating the table.

He came out and made his way across the room. She saw that he was breathing rather heavily and held on to furniture as he made his way to the table. He sat then tugged the robe around him to make sure he was covered, then tightened the belt a bit more.

"Are you OK?" she asked, with concern as she brushed his damp hair away from his face.

"Just weak," he told her. "How long have I been here?"

"Three days," she said as she poured juice.

He looked up at her in shock. "Three days! Father must be beside himself."

"He knows youíre here. I called Peter and he came over; Iíve been on the phone with him and heís kept Father informed." She watched as he drained his glass. She refilled it and then filled his mug with tea.

She nibbled her toast and watched as he ate. He ate everything and drank two more glasses of juice, then picked up his mug and sat back in the chair.

"Are you feeling better?" she asked him.

"I think so," he seemed hesitant about his answer. He glanced around at the obvious damage in the room. "Did I do all this?" he asked.

"Yes, but Iíve been looking for an excuse to redecorate. Youíve just given it to me," she told him with a smile.

She could tell he was embarrassed, but he just nodded and finished his tea.

Vincent poured himself another cup of tea as Catherine cleared the table.

"When Iím done here, Iíll go put clean sheets on the bed and you can go back to bed."

He nodded again. "Thank you Catherine."

As she stripped the bed she wondered at Vincentís uncharacteristic passivity.

She remade the bed and called to him in the next room.

"The bed is done."

He was steadier on his feet when he came back into the bedroom. He started to get into bed with the robe on and she suggested that he take it off.

"Youíll be too warm with it on," she told him.

"Catherine, Iím not wearing anything under it." He sounded a little more like himself when he said that.

"I wonít look," she assured him with a smile. "I have to go put your clothes in the dryer and then I need to take a shower too, so you just go to bed."

She left the room to give him privacy and went to finish in the kitchen. On her way out she put the clothes in the dryer and started it. Back in the bedroom she saw that Vincent appeared to be sound asleep again. He did look like he was resting better and was more comfortable than he had been. The shower, meal and clean bedding had been a good idea.

She headed for the bathroom and was in the shower before she remembered that she didnít have a robe or clothes in the bathroom. When she finished, she wrapped the towel around herself and was in the bedroom rummaging through a drawer for some underwear when she heard Vincentís voice.

"Youíre tired too, Catherine. Why donít you sleep?"

His suggestion reminded her of just how tired she was. Instead of underwear, she pulled out an oversized t-shirt, and pulled it over her head. It fell to mid thigh and had Winnie the Pooh on the front. She pulled the towel off as the shirt covered her. She hung it over the back of a chair and was on her way out to the living room to the couch when Vincent suggested that she share the bed.

"You were sleeping here earlier," he said. "Why not now?"

"Are you sure I wonít disturb you?" she asked.

"Itís your bed," he pointed out. "Youíll be more comfortable here and Iím so tired I doubt that anything could disturb me."

She didnít need to be invited more than once. She crawled into the bed on the side facing the windows. She was asleep before her head hit the pillow.

She woke several hours later to find that Vincent had moved from the far side of the bed and was cuddled up to her back. He had his arm around her and had pulled her back tightly against his chest. He nuzzled her hair and she was surprised when he kissed the back of her neck.

"Vincent," she whispered, "are you awake?" She thought he might be dreaming and acting out that dream.

"Yes, Iím awake," he answered as he continued his explorations.

"What are you doing?" she asked, then wanted to kick herself almost as soon as the words were out. Sheíd wanted something like this to happen for so long; she was just shocked that it was happening now.

"Do you want me to stop?" he asked, suddenly tensing up and starting to slide away from her.

She grabbed the arm that was around her waist and held it in place. "No! Absolutely not! Itís just that I was surprised and wanted to make sure that you knew what you were doing."

"To answer that, I know that Iím doing it, and the Bond is telling me that you approvec, but Iím not sure where to proceed from here."

"What do you want to do, Vincent?" she asked.

He hesitated a moment before his arm slid from where it rested across her waist, to a lower position, where he could spread his hand across her lower stomach. He gently pushed her back toward him so that her bare bottom made contact with his lower body.

She gasped at the sensation. He was fully erect and the feeling of him pressed against her was delicious.

"This is all right?" he asked, tentatively.

"Very much, but then I think the Bond is telling you that." She kept an iron grip on her body, willing it not to move and rub against him. It was still the middle of the afternoon, but she was afraid that if she did anything; seemed too eager, he might flee.

His next words were her complete undoing.

"I want to love you, Catherine," he whispered close to her ear, "but Iím not sure how."

She groaned and rolled over to face him. She threw caution to the wind and kissed him. He surprised her by kissing her back, over and over; each one more skilled than the one before. She knew he was using the Bond to guide him and the outcome was overwhelming.

Their first joining was slow and sweet. Considering how long she had waited for this, she was surprised that she managed not to throw him over on his back and have her way with him.

Their climaxes were almost synchronized and she knew that the Bond was responsible for that.

When it was over, Vincent wrapped his arms around her then fell asleep minutes later. She smiled at that. Well, in that, at least he is like other men, she thought, but considering heíd been sick, it wasnít surprising.

As he slept, she couldnít relax enough to go back to sleep. There were too many things, too many images and sensations rushing though her mind. She rose, grabbed some clothes then went into the bathroom to dress. She went back to the kitchen and pulled his clean, dry clothes out of the dryer and folded them. She left them in the bedroom on the foot of the bed then went back and put another load of her own stuff into the washer. She puttered around the apartment for a little while longer. She was bemused by what had happened and several times found herself back in the bedroom just standing, watching him sleep. She finally gave up and crawled back into the bed beside him; this time fully clothed.

She woke later, the sun was setting and Vincent wasnít in the bed. She rolled over and saw him standing in front of the door to the balcony. He was dressed and was obviously waiting for it to get dark enough for him to leave.

She got up and went to stand beside him.

"Youíre feeling better." It was a statement not a question. She wanted him to be feeling better.

"Yes..." He continued to look out the door. "Iím sorry."

"Oh, Vincent," she moved closer and put her arms around him. "Donít be sorry."

He dropped his gaze from the door to the floor in front of him. "Itís been my struggle...always...Now, when I have so much to fight for, Iím losing."

Catherine squeezed him a little tighter. "Maybe the worst is over." She hoped it was.

"If itís not...itís best that I am Below. I should go back."

She glanced at the door then back at him. "Itíll be dark soon."

Vincent finally turned to look at her.

"Catherine...I donít know what will happen now."

Catherine felt a sudden sense of foreboding. It settled in the pit of her stomach and made her feel sick. "You must promise me one thing..." she said earnestly, "that you will share it with me. Whatever happens; whatever comes."

Vincent put his arm around her and pulled her into his embrace. "Whatever happens; whatever comes...know that I love you," he said softly.

Vincent left a short time after that. Catherine tried to convince herself that he looked better, seemed stronger, so he must be better. Heíd told her to go back to bed and get some more sleep.

She did just that. Exhaustion finally took over and she slept through the night and woke the next morning ravenous. She ate breakfast and dressed. She called Peter to ask if heíd heard from the lab yet about the blood heíd drawn from Vincent. He hadnít, but expected the report sometime that morning. She told him she had some errands to run and sheíd stop by his office later. She called a cleaning service and asked if they had anything that would get blood out of the carpet. They assured her that they sold a product that would take care of it. She said she would pick some up later.

She went shopping and replaced the furniture that Vincent had destroyed. After arranging to have it delivered to her place she headed over to Peterís. He told her that the lab said that the sample wasnít human blood; they thought there had been a mix up.

She knew that Peter was planning a trip to Europe with Susan and her family, but was surprised when he reminded her that he was meeting them at the airport in a few hours and they would be leaving that evening.

"Is there anything we should know? About Vincent, I mean?" she asked as he walked her to the door.

"Jacob knows as much about his physiology as anyone, probably more. Heís been through this with him before."

Chapter 2

She stopped at the cleaning service to pick up the cleaner then went home. It wasnít late when she unlocked her door and when she stepped in she felt paper under her foot. She picked up the note. It was from Father. All it said was that Vincent was worse and he was asking for her.

She knew it had to be bad when Father met her at the Central Park threshold.

As they walked back to his study, Father brought her up to date on what had happened since Vincent had returned the evening before. It was as if heíd only had a tenuous hold on himself and as soon as he got Below heíd relaxed and all the symptoms had returned. Father told her that they had taken Vincent back to the study and heíd left him there with William and Pascal.

Catherine nearly panicked when they arrived in the study and she learned that Vincent had left. Mouse was following him and Pascal knew where they were, so they went after him. Pascal led them to a deep cavern, well below the catacombs.

The sounds Vincent was making were heart wrenching. Mouse had been listening to them and he looked like he was about to cry.

Catherine didnít even stop, she continued toward the mouth of the cave.

Father grabbed her arm. "No, you canít."

She turned toward him. "I must!"

"Catherine, please!" he pleaded.

"Father, he is my life! Without him, there is nothing!"

The words were engraved in her memory, and so was the walk down the dark tunnel into the cave. She knew it hadnít really been far, had taken less than a minute, but it had seemed like miles before the tunnel opened up and she saw him. His clothing was torn, and he was covered with scrapes and bruises. He looked as if heíd been fighting with a pack of wild animals.

His eyes found her seconds after she saw him. There was a little light in the chamber and she could just make out his eyes; just enough to know that there was no recognition in them.

He obviously saw her as a threat of some kind and he charged across the chamber his arm raised to strike. She didnít move, she stood her ground and as he swiftly approached she screamed his name.

It was as if she had suddenly thrown up a wall. Maybe it was a wall of sound, or just the familiar sound of her voice, but he stopped as if heíd hit that wall. He dropped to his knees and she dropped to hers in front of him. He pitched forward and she tried to catch him. All she did was break his fall and he went over sideways and rolled to his back.

The sudden silence was as deafening and as intimidating as all the noise had been only seconds before.

She rested her hand on his chest and pulled in a deep breath. That was when she realized that he wasnít breathing. Her hand went to his neck to check for a pulse; there was none. In disbelief, she dropped her head to his chest and the steady thud of his heart was gone; quiet.

She indulged in one agonized "No!" before her CPR training took over and she started doing compressions and breathing for him. After a few sets she shouted for Father, and then went back to the CPR. She kept shouting for Father after every few sets until he arrived. By the time Father got there, Vincent had begun to breathe on his own again and he was resting with his head in her lap.

"How is he?" asked Father as he limped across the chamber toward them.

"Heís alive," she told him with a weak smile.

She didnít know how they made it all the way back up to Vincentís chamber. It seemed to take forever. Once they got up the stairs, four men met them with a stretcher and they carried Vincent the rest of the way, but they moved at a snailís pace.

She had seen that Vincent was in bed and resting before she told Father her plan.

"Iíve got to go back up for a couple hours," she told him. "I need to go to my office and check a few things and write a couple of notes. Iíll arrange to take some more time off and then Iíll be back Below. I want to help with Vincent; I need to stay close."

She pushed her sleeve back and looked at her watch. "Good grief, itís barely 8PM. It seems like forever since Vincent left my place yesterday."

Father kissed her cheek and thanked her and sent one of the children to escort her back to her threshold. She went up to her apartment to get her briefcase and call a cab.

~~~~~~~~~~

One of her coworkers was just leaving when Catherine walked into the DAís office.

"Hi Cass," she said as she passed the desk. "What are you doing here so late?"

"Just tying up some loose ends before the weekend," Cass said. "You feeling better?"

"I think so, I thought Iíd come pick up a few things to work on so I wonít be so far behind when I come back."

Cass finished gathering her things, said good night and left.

Catherine was going through a file when Joe walked up to her desk.

"You OK?" he asked as he buttoned his cuff.

She looked up surprised to see him there.

"Yeah," she answered with a smile.

"You sure?" he asked.

Her smile strengthened. "Yeah, Iím OK."

He looked at his watch. "What are you doing? Itís late."

She looked at the files on her desk. "Just trying to get organized; playing catch up."

"You know, that flu lingers. You really should go easy, Radcliffe...I mean it!"

She looked at the files then back at him. A strange smile came across her face.

"What?" he asked, wondering what was up.

"I didnít have the flu," she admitted.

"You didnít? What did you have?"

She stood. "Letís go into your office."

"Sure." Joe turned and started walking, she followed.

"Youíre making me very nervous. What are you going to tell me?" he said as they walked.

They entered the office and Joe circled around behind his desk and sat while Catherine remained standing in front of it.

"Is this good news or bad news?" he asked.

She ignored his question.

"Youíve been a wonderful friend, Joe, and I never meant to be anything less than truthful with you."

"But..." He could hear that but coming.

"But...I have been less than truthful," she admitted.

"You mean about the flu?" he asked.

"About my personal life. There are things that you donít know; things that I donít share with anyone," she told him.

"Well, we all have our secrets."

"Thereís someone in my life that...I care very deeply for. Someone that I love."

"Oh...well thatís great Radcliffe." She could hear the strain in his voice.

"Heís been...going through a difficult time lately."

"Whatís the problem?" Joe asked with true concern.

Catherineís eyes filled with tears that threatened to spill. "Heís not well."

"Iím sorry. Is there anything I can do?"

"I donít know," she said. "Iím praying."

"Iím glad you told me this," Joe told her.

"Me too..." She gave Joe a misty smile. "You have a heart like his."

Joe had been really sweet after that. He knew that her "flu" had actually been the man in her lifeís illness and heíd told her that heíd cover for her as long as she needed to take if she wanted to be with him. She had thanked him with a hug and hurried out, leaving all the files on her desk.

~~~~~~~~~~

Now, in the cab on the way back to her apartment, she finally relaxed and allowed herself some hope.

Vincent had looked much better when sheíd left him in his chamber. His color was back to normal and Father said that his temperature was normal. Heíd seemed to think the worst really was over this time. The only troubling thing had been that Vincent didnít seem to remember much of anything. But Father had assured her that it was the same when this happened before. His memory had returned in a few days.

She was feeling almost happy and there was a bit of a spring in her step as she left the elevator on her floor.

She had the distinct feeling of dťjŗ vu as she stepped into her apartment. Just as she had done earlier, she stepped on an envelope. She quickly flipped on the lights, automatically turned and locked the door before she picked up the envelope. She recognized it as Fatherís stationery. Remembering what had happened the last time, she opened it. She hoped Father just wanted her to pick up some medical supplies before she came Below. All Vincentís cuts and scrapes would probably sorely tax their supply of antiseptic.

The envelope wasnít sealed, the back flap was just tucked in. She pulled out the one sheet of paper, unfolded in and began to read.

Her first thought was "No! This canít be true, I just saw him two hours ago! He was better."

She started over and read it from the beginning.

Dearest Catherine,

Iím sorry to have to give you this kind of news in such an impersonal way; I wish I could have come Above to do it, but Iím needed here Below right now.

After you left, Vincent seemed to be resting comfortably. I had every intention of sitting with him until you got back, but before I could do that I needed sustenance. I stepped outside his chamber to send a message asking that someone bring me a snack then I made a much needed trip to use the facilities. When I came back, Vincent hadnít moved and seemed to be resting. I sat in the chair next to his desk and was just watching him when I noticed that he didnít appear to be breathing.

I searched for a pulse, but could find none. When William arrived with the food Iíd asked for, he helped me try to revive Vincent, but to no avail, he was gone. As I feared, all the strain was just too much for his heart.

He is gone, my dear. He will be sorely missed, by all of us, especially by me. He was the son of my heart, if not my body.

I wanted you to know this before you had the chance to come back Below. I think it best that you donít return just now. Through this whole ordeal Iíve heard grumblings and some here blame you for Vincentís illness. And since the word of his death has gone out the grumblings have gotten quite loud. I would not have you subjected to that, especially at this time.

If there is anything I can do to help ease this, please let me know.

Be well, Catherine.

Father

She was stunned. She sat for a long time. She didnít think; she didnít feel, she was numb. Then the immensity of it all hit her.

"Noooo!" she wailed as the torrent of tears started. They didnít stop for a very long time.

 

Chapter 3

Catherine spent the weekend in a fog. When Monday morning arrived she wasnít even positive it was Monday. She turned the TV on to make sure and then she called Joe.

As soon as Joe heard her voice, flat and tired sounding, so different from how she sounded on Friday night, he knew something was wrong.

"Whatís up, Cathy?" he asked.

"Heís gone, Joe," she said with a sniffle.

"Heís gone?" for a moment Joe didnít understand. "Whoís gone?...wait, you mean that guy you told me about on Friday? Howís he gone?"

"He died, Joe," she said as the tears started again.

"Iíll be right over," he told her. "You sit tight."

True to his word, Joe canceled all his morning appointments and was knocking on Cathyís door within thirty minutes.

Joe was shocked at the sight that met his eyes when Cathy opened the door. She looked like she hadnít slept in a week. Her eyes were red and swollen, and her nose was raw. She wore a bathrobe and frankly, she smelled, but she was his friend and she needed him. He opened his arms as he stepped in and kicked the door closed. She went into them and cried as if her heart was breaking.

He led her to the sofa and they sat. He continued to hold her and let her cry until there was a lull in the storm.

He handed her tissues and urged her to talk. She talked about Vincent. Ever mindful of the secrets entrusted to her, she never mentioned where he had lived or what he had looked like, but she told Joe about the time they spent together, the things they had enjoyed. And Joe, the good friend that he was, listened. He was finally able to talk her into taking a shower and while she was doing that he ordered food from a deli up the street.

He was examining the blanket covered balcony door when Cathy came out of the bathroom. She looked a little better, she was still pale and her eyes were still red rimmed and bloodshot, but she looked better.

"What happened here?" he asked.

"I told you that Vincent," she had told Joe his name, "was here for a few days while he was sick. He...um...fell through the door." She pointed at the door to her bedroom. "That one too."

"Musta been a big guy," he observed.

"Over six feet and at least 220," she told him.

There was a knock on the door and Joe went to answer it. "I ordered us some lunch," he explained.

He took the bags back to the coffee table and started to unpack them. "I know a guy who can fix those for you." He indicated the doors. "Iíll send him over tomorrow if you want."

"Thanks Joe."

Joe was prepared to give her as much time off as she wanted, but she told him that she needed to work. If she stayed in her apartment sheíd either go crazy or jump off the balcony. She was back at work before the end of the week.

~~~~~~~~~~

She was just going through the motionsÖshe knew it and Joe knew it. She was getting a lot done and Joe thought it was helping her a little. She got up every morning, showered, dressed and went to work. She went out at lunch, but Joe swore she didnít eat, because she was losing weight. Her well tailored, designer suits were starting to hang on her.

It took a almost a month, but Catherine finally decided that she just couldnít do it any longer. She had told Father "He is my life! Without him, there is nothing!" and sheíd never spoken truer words. Living without Vincent just wasnít working. The world was dark and drab, had no color, and there was nothing to look forward to. She did everything she was supposed to do, but it just didnít get any better; the pain just didnít stop. She decided she needed to end the pain, and she came up with a way to do it.

She went over several methods of suicide. She didnít want anything messy; she didnít want anyone to have to clean up after her. She finally decided that the simplest way would be to just go to sleep, and the easiest way to do that would be to use sleeping pills.

Peter was back in the country, but had gone home with Susan and her family. He was calling his vacation from his practice a Ďtrial retirement,í just to see if he could handle that much time off. He hadnít even been in touch with her or anyone Below, so he didnít know about Vincent. His partner was seeing all his patients and Catherine decided that it would probably be a good idea to see him and ask for a prescription for sleeping pills before Peter got home. Peter knew her too well.

She called the office and made an appointment for later in the week. She planned to do it over the weekend. She could take the pills on Friday night; no one would miss her until Monday.

When she arrived at the doctorís office, she found that the receptionist had misunderstood and had made her an appointment for a complete check up.

"I donít need a complete check up," she was telling the nurse when the doctor came into the exam room.

Dr. Novak looked at her chart then smiled at her. "Youíre due, and the time has been booked, so you might as well," he told her. "Save you a trip later."

She didnít feel like arguing, so she agreed.

The nurse finished drawing blood as Catherine answered the doctorís questions.

"Youíve lost quite a bit of weight since Peter saw you last," he observed.

"Things at the DAís office have been crazy," she lied. "Iíve been putting in a lot of long days and seem to be running mostly on adrenaline and caffeine."

"You should try to fit a meal in every once in a while," he told her. "Is that the same thing that has been causing your sleep problems?"

"Probably. I fall into bed exhausted, but I just canít seem to shut down my brain long enough to fall asleep."

He nodded and then proceeded to do the rest of the exam. He told her to get dressed and that heíd be back in a few minutes. She was sitting primly on one of the chairs in the room when he came back.

He was reading over something in her chart when he entered the room again.

"I donít think that sleeping pills are a good idea at this point in time," he commented. "I think Iíd prescribe some warm milk instead."

She looked at him questioningly. "Warm milk?"

"Yes, Miss Chandler. We ran all the standard tests, and you are pregnant."

She just sat and stared at him a moment. She was shocked.

"Are you all right, Miss Chandler?" he asked. "Didnít you suspect?"

"Iím OK," she assured him. "No, I didnít suspect. I did miss a period, but with all the stress, I didnít think anything of itÖAre you sure?"

"Yes, the tests are seldom wrong."

Catherine left the office in a haze. She was thrilled and saddened at the same time. Thrilled that she carried a little piece of Vincent inside her, but sad that he would never see his child. She cried herself to sleep again that night.

She decided that suicide was out of the question. She could take her own life, but she couldnít kill Vincentís baby.

The next few weeks flew by in a blur. She had decisions to make and she knew she had to make them pretty fast. She was small, Vincent had been a big man, she was pretty sure that it would become obvious that she was pregnant fairly soon. She considered going on an extended vacation somewhere, having the baby and then coming back and presenting it as an accomplished fact, but she had to consider the possibility that the baby might look like Vincent. What then? She had nightmares about Peter presiding over the birth, the baby looking like Vincent and Father showing up and taking her baby to be raised Below. She knew it wouldnít happen like that, but she did decide that it might be easier if she just left New York permanently.

She could go to another city and find a doctor there. She could tell that doctor that her babyís father had a family history of genetic issues. That way, if the baby was born looking different, maybe it wouldnít cause a lot of notice and she could just take it somewhere and they could live quietly. But no matter how her baby looked, it would be raised Above in the sunshine; Vincent would want it that way. She had the financial means to ensure that.

She was worried that Peter would find out once he got home from his time away, but that turned out not to be a problem. Peter came back to New York, but stayed only long enough to allow his partner to buy out his half of the practice. His trial retirement had agreed with him.

~~~~~~~~~~

She had her plan all laid out and she went to Joe with her resignation as the first step.

"But I donít understand why you are leaving," argued Joe.

"I just told you. Iím pregnant," she explained.

"But that isnít a terminal disease," he pointed out. "Lots of women continue to work while they are pregnant."

"I know Joe, but under ordinary circumstances, so would I, but very few people I know even knew I was involved with someone. You and my friends Jenny and Nancy are the only ones who know anything. I would constantly be explaining. And it would hurt to have to talk about it to people I know. It will be easier if I leave New York. I can go somewhere Iím not known and just have my baby and live quietly."

"You have another option," he told her. Heíd been pacing his office and now he settled against the front of his desk across from where she sat on his sofa.

"Whatís that?" she was hoping he wasnít going to suggest abortion or adoption. She just might have to hit him if he did.

"You could marry someone else. Then everyone would just assume that the baby was his."

"Even if there was a prospect, I donít think I could, Joe. The wound is still too new and raw." A thought struck her. "Please donít say you were thinking of Elliot Burch."

"No, I wasnít...ActuallyÖI was thinking of me," he said, all signs of humor gone from his face. "Iíve loved you from the beginning, Cathy. Iíd marry you and raise your child as my own."

Catherine was stunned at his revelation. "I didnít know Joe. Iím sorry."

"Sorry you didnít know or sorry that I love you."

"Neither. I love you too, but not like that. Iím sorry that I donít; canít."

He shrugged and gave her a lopsided grin. "Canít say I didnít try, but seriously, Cath, if there is ever anything I can do, all you have to do is call me."

She rose and hugged him. He held her a little longer and closer than was he normally would have, but she didnít protest.

~~~~~~~~~~

Two months later Catherine was on the other side of the continent, settling into her new home on a hill in San Francisco. The story she told her new obstetrician was accepted. One of the first things he did was amniocentesis and an ultrasound, and he found nothing to indicate that there were any abnormalities. She was both disappointed and relieved. As much as she would have loved a miniature Vincent to love and raise, she knew that a child who looked like Vincent would not have an easy life, no matter how rich his mother was.

As a byproduct of the testing the doctor asked Catherine if she wanted to know the sex of her baby. She thought for a moment then said "yes." He told her that she was carrying a girl. She knew before she was even out of the office what she was going to name her.

The only bad thing about Catherineís pregnancy was that her doctor told her that she had to take it easy. She protested that she felt fine, but he didnít want to take any chances, and since she could afford it, she was ordered not to get a job until after the baby was born.

A month after she moved she got word from Susan that Peter had met someone and was getting married. She was upset when her doctor wouldnít allow her to go to the wedding. She called Susan and talked to her about it and Susan was in agreement that Catherine needed to stay put and not jeopardize her baby. She asked Susan not to mention the pregnancy to Peter. She hadnít talked to him since the last time she saw him the previous spring and she didnít want him speculating about the baby.

When Cathy was almost eight months into her pregnancy, the doctor told her they should probably plan to do a C-section. The baby was going to be pretty big and since Catherine was small, the doctor thought it was just a good idea. The procedure was planned for the week after Christmas, but the baby had other ideas. Catherine went into labor early on the 21st and Caroline Wells Chandler was born at two minutes before three in the afternoon.

Caroline, Carrie as her name was soon shortened to, was beautiful, and even though she didnít have any of her fatherís features, she did look a little like him. She had his blue eyes and reddish gold hair.

Catherine insisted on more testing over the next few months, but nothing unusual was found.

 

Chapter 4 Ė Ten years later

Catherine hung up the phone and considered what she had just done. She hadnít done anything this spontaneous in years. She got up and joined her ten year old daughter at the breakfast bar in the kitchen.

"Did you have your heart set on that summer camp we talked about?" Catherine asked as she sat down next to Carrie.

"Not really, Mom," Carrie told her. "Iím just not all that cool with roughing it or sharing a room with a bunch of strangers."

Catherine laughed. "I felt the same way about sharing a room when I started college, Hon," she said, "but that was how I met Aunt Jenny and Aunt Nancy, and we are still friends."

Carrie shrugged, "What did you have in mind, Mom?" Carrie was only ten but she knew her mother was up to something.

"What do you think of driving cross country after school is out in June? When Peter died, his daughter Susan inherited his house in New York. I just talked to her and she is selling it. I always loved that house; I told her that I would buy it."

"Weíre moving to New York?" Carrie asked.

"Yeah, I think we are," she said with a smile. "Last I heard the school Susan and I went to is still there. Itís a great school; I think youíll like it."

"That would be great, Mom," said Carrie enthusiastically. "I donít care about the school! Itís New York! Museums! Broadway!"

Catherine laughed and shook her head as she reached over and smoothed the strawberry blond hair away from her daughterís blue eyes. "You are so not ten years old; youíre way too mature. I donít think you inherited any of my genes. I swear you were born old!"

"Shhh, Mom!" exclaimed Carrie with a laugh. "Donít say that too loud, someone might hear you." Carrie mimed looking around to make sure no one was lurking and listening.

They both laughed as Catherine got up to refill her coffee cup.

Catherine often marveled at her daughter. She did look like her, a little. Her facial structure was hers, especially her strong jaw and face shape, but that was where the resemblance stopped. Carrie was a blue eyed strawberry blond with faintly golden skin. Catherine was 5 foot 4 inches, Carrie was already almost as tall as her and she was on her way to being a lot taller. She took after her father in so many ways.

"I didnít think youíd ever want to go back to New York. Donít you still own your old apartment?"

Catherine nodded. "Aunt Jenny lived there for a while, but when she got pregnant after she got married they needed more room and they moved. I rented it for a while, but it is empty right now. We can live there until the renovations are done on Peterís house.

"It needs to be renovated?"

"Susan says that itís been empty for most of the time since Peter died. Iíll have it inspected to see if it needs any work. It could take a few months if it does."

"It will be fun staying in the apartment where you and Dad spent so much time."

Catherine sipped her coffee and considered what her daughter had just said. She was a New Yorker, born and bred but she hadnít been back since she left in 1989. She remembered the cabbie who had driven her into the city after the trip to LA. Heíd quoted F. Scott Fitzgerald. Sheíd never had a cabbie quote anything to her in any other city sheíd ever visited; sometimes she was lucky if they even spoke English. The Fitzgerald quote had been perfect too.

"The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and beauty in the world," she mused aloud.

"What was that?" asked Carrie. "It sounds familiar."

"From The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald."

"Will that be my first sight of New York, from the Queensboro Bridge?" Carrie asked.

"If we were to fly maybe, but if we drive into the city from the west or south youíll see the city long before we get on any bridge," Catherine told her.

"It sure will be nice to have a native New Yorker show me around," Carrie told her.

"It will be fun to go to the theater, shopping, the museums and New York City is the best place in the world to get bagels. There was this little deli not far from my office; they had the best corned beef sandwiches," Catherine reminisced.

"How soon can we leave, Mom?" Carrie asked.

Catherine made the second spontaneous decision of the day.

"I know a real estate agent and this place should sell pretty quickly. In fact, we can pack up what we want to keep and send it on ahead, then you and I can drive across the country and see some of the things weíve always wanted to see. We could drive down the coast then head east. We can visit the Grand Canyon like youíve always wanted. We should make a list and see how many stops we can work in. We can leave right after school gets out next month."

Catherine called the real estate agent that afternoon and was assured that she could probably have the place sold within the month. Sheíd had several people inquire about homes in that area.

Catherine and Carrie got right to work packing and planning.

~~~~~~~~~~

Catherine had never been a packrat. Living in a small apartment had put her into the habit of keeping only what was important and passing the rest on to people who could use it, usually Below. It didnít take the two of them very long to carry everything down from the attic to the dining room where they were sorting things. Carrie found an old scrapbook and spent some time looking at the pictures.

"How old were you?" she asked pointing at a black and white newspaper clipping of Catherine and a dark haired man, "and who is the cute guy?"

Catherine looked over her shoulder at the photo and laughed. "I was about 30, and youíre only ten and arenít supposed to be noticing cute guys yet."

"Mom!" exclaimed Carrie in exasperation.

"That was my boss, Joe Maxwell," said Catherine with a shake of her head. They grow up so fast!

"Did you know Dad then? Did you date this Joe?" asked Carrie as she continued to leaf through the album.

"Yes, I knew your Father and no, I didnít date Joe. We attended office and city functions together a few times, but we didnít date."

"Who are these other men?" Carrie asked, looking up at her mom, "and why did you keep all these clippings?"

"My Dadís girlfriend was the one who put that together. She kept it for dad, and she gave it to me after he died." She started pointing at pictures. "This one is Tom Gunther, he was one of Dadís clients and we dated for a while. Dad was trying to convince me to marry Tom." She pointed at a dark haired man who was smiling at the camera over the top of a limo. "This one is Elliot Burch. I think that picture was actually taken the night we met. I kind of thought I might be falling for him, but he proved to be a less than scrupulous business man, or at least that was what I thought at the time, and I stopped seeing him. She pointed out a couple smaller clippings. "These were lawyers at Daddyís firm, and I hate to say I donít even remember their names."

She pulled another box toward her and opened it.

"Are there any photos my father?" asked Carrie with sudden interest.

"No, sorry about that, but your father was a little camera shy. There was a drawing, but Iím not sure what I did with it," said Catherine. "Now get back to work, we can look at the memorabilia some other time." Catherine hated lying to her daughter; she knew exactly where the drawing of Vincent was.

Carrie put the scrapbook back into the box and shoved it toward the KEEP pile. She pulled another box toward where she sat on the floor. She opened it and pulled out a slim volume in a slip case.

"What is it?" Catherine asked as she shoved her box toward the KEEP pile.

"Another box of books," said Carrie with a laugh. She took the book out of the case and opened it. "Shakespeareís Sonnets. Cool." She flipped back to the inside cover and saw the inscription. "Dad gave you this?" she asked.

Catherine took it and looked at it. "Yes he did. We read to each other a lot and he gave me several books. I gave him some too."

"Can I have it?" asked Carrie.

"As long as you promise to take care of it and let me read it once in a while," Catherine said with a smile.

Catherine was surprised at how quickly they went through their belongings deciding what they wanted to keep and what to get rid of. Sheíd been in the house for eleven years, since her move in 1989, and Carrie had been there all her life, but in only a short time they had emptied the house. They packed up the SUV with what they would need on their trip and they were ready to leave. Catherine had already contacted the school that she and Susan had attended. As an alumnus, she got special treatment and Carrie was given priority. Carrieís classes started right after Labor Day; it was the middle of June, they had more than two months to make their trip and get settled in the apartment.

~~~~~~~~~~

Catherine often had nights that she didnít sleep well. It was no exception while they were traveling. She would lie in bed and watch her daughter sleeping in the other bed, wishing that Vincent could see how strong and smart and beautiful his daughter was.

She reveled in motherhood and loved every minute of it. Sheíd been a full time mom for the first five years of Carrieís life, but when she started school, Catherine decided to go back to work. She didnít have a fancy office. She worked part time for a firm that specialized in helping the poor of San Francisco. They were sorry to see her go.

 

Chapter 5

They took almost six weeks to travel across the country. They stopped at major tourist destinations and in small towns. They stayed off the interstates and arrived in New York City at the end of July.

When, at last, they pulled into the parking garage under the apartment building, Catherine pried her fingers from where she had been clutching the wheel with white knuckles.

"Iíd forgotten what New York traffic is like...Or maybe itís just gotten worse in the time Iíve been gone. Iím glad we timed it to arrive in the evening."

She leaned back in her seat and looked over at Carrie who was already halfway out of the car.

"Are you coming, Mom?" she called as she opened the back door to grab her backpack and overnight bag.

"Let me get the keys," Catherine, told her as she rummaged in her purse.

They grabbed a few things and Catherine led the way up to 21E.

Catherine had asked Jenny to get someone to decorate the apartment so it was clean and furnished when they arrived. The only thing Catherine had specified was that it be totally different from the way it was when she had lived here before. That and twin beds in the bedroom.

They didnít have much in the car, so after a quick exploration of the small apartment they brought it all in and settled for the night.

Catherine unpacked their overnight bags and then went looking for Carrie. She found her on the balcony. Stepping out there brought back an avalanche of memories, but Carrieís questions distracted her.

"We can see everything from here!" she exclaimed as Catherine leaned on the wall next to her.

"Well, not everything, there are better views to be had, but I did always love this one."

"And thatís Central Park?" asked Carrie, pointing to the wooded area below them.

"That it is," Catherine said.

"Itís huge!" Carrie said. "Iíve never seen anything like it."

Carrie was ready to start sightseeing the next morning, starting with the park, but Catherine convinced her to wait a couple of days. They used that time to get the phones and cable service started in the apartment and get the ball rolling at the house.

~~~~~~~~~~

Once Carrie started school, Catherine was finally able to meet Jenny and Nancy for lunch. They had a long lunch and parted, promising that theyíd do it again the next month. Soon after that, Catherine met a home inspector at the house and they had a good look at it. She was pleasantly surprised that the only things that needed to be done were cosmetic. Peter had rewired and replumbed it the year before he died, so she didnít have to do as much as sheíd expected. She had the kitchen and bathrooms completely redone, but the rest of the house only needed paint.

She considered contacting a decorator, but decided that she had plenty of time to do it herself. There were family things and some antique furniture still in the house that she shipped to Susan, but a lot of the furniture went with the house. She and Carrie had fun picking colors and furniture, incorporating in what was already there.

They were able to move in a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving.

~~~~~~~~~~

Catherine and Carrie settled into a routine. Catherine wasnít working, wasnít sure if she wanted to go back to work right away. Carrieís school was only a few blocks from the house and Catherine took her to school and picked her up every day. Once they moved, it was only a few blocks and they walked, weather permitting.

After she returned from taking Carrie to school sheíd relax for a while with her coffee, and the paper, then she would take care of the household chores and tackle the boxes in the basement. Sheíd made quite a dent in the stack, and was preparing to carry another one up the stairs into the kitchen when she heard a strange noise.

Her first thought was "rats", but it was loud, and it would have to be an awfully big rat. That thought almost sent her up the stairs to the phone to call the exterminator, but her common sense took over and she decided that it was just too loud. It sounded like metal striking metal or rock. She followed the sound and found it loudest near the back wall of the basement. She investigated and found a wooden door in the back of an old built in cabinet.

She placed her ear against the door and the sound was definitely coming from the other side.

Could it be the pipes? she wondered. Peter was a Helper, maybe he had his own threshold.

The door had no lock; just a latch and she opened it as quietly as she could. She found that the area on the other side was dimly lighted and there was a stair that went down about twelve feet and ended on a dirt floor. Across from the bottom of the stair stood a man with his back to her. He was chipping at the mortar in the brick wall. He had a stack of bricks on the floor next to him. Over the sound of the hammer, she could hear childrenís voices.

As she watched the man, she realized she knew him. She would know that unruly mop of blond hair anywhere, but just as she was about to call out to him, one of the boys who was helping him glanced up and saw her standing there.

He tugged sharply on the manís sleeve and hissed a warning.

"Hurry, run! Canít be seen!" the man urged the two boys, and in seconds they were all gone, but not before the man, who Catherine had recognized as Mouse, turned and looked up at her.

 

Chapter 6

"Vincent," Mouse almost shouted as he entered what used to be Fatherís study. "Got news."

Even Mouse marveled at the changes in this chamber since Fatherís death. Vincent had decided to turn it into a library and classroom. The upper level became the tunnel library, and once they had sorted all of the books that Father had stacked in the lower area theyíd found that they needed more book shelves on the upper level. Vincent and Cullen had been busy for weeks building them.

The lower level contained the desk that Vincent now used, and several small tables that were used for classes or study. They pushed them together when they had a council meeting.

"What kind of news?" asked Vincent, looking up from the papers he was reading.

"Good newsÖI think," he answered, with a grin.

"How is the project to close the threshold below Peterís old house going?" Vincent asked. If he didnít ask that first, he knew that he might never get Mouse back to the subject.

"Thatís the news," said Mouse.

"Itís finished?"

"No, but now it wonít have to be closed," Mouse told him.

"Are you sure? Why not?" asked Vincent.

"The new owner is a Helper," Mouse told him.

"Not any more, Mouse," Vincent pointed out. "Peterís daughter sold the house."

"But she sold it to a Helper," he insisted.

"Who, Mouse?" he asked.

"She sold it to Catherine," Mouse admitted.

The statement knocked the wind out of Vincentís sails and he was momentarily without words.

"Catherine Chandler?" he finally managed.

"Yes. Saw her when we were working on the threshold. She must have heard us and was looking. She saw me and I think she recognized me. I know I recognized her."

It took Vincent a few seconds to recover from the shock. "Then I suppose that we can leave the threshold as it is for now, at least until we know if she is the owner or was just visiting. Do you know if there is anyone else living there?"

"No, didnít talk to her, but we have a Helper in the City Registerís office. He can check to see if she bought it," suggested Mouse.

"Thatís a good idea, Mouse," agreed Vincent. "Would you see to it that someone asks him for us?"

When Mouse left, Vincent sat back in the chair and thought about what heíd just heard. He knew nothing of her life for the last eleven years.

After his illness, heíd eventually recovered his memory. When he remembered Catherine heíd questioned Father and had been told that Catherine had left because heíd frightened her and she just couldnít take it all any longer. When the Bond was restored, heíd pushed it away. Heíd built a wall and he hadnít allowed that wall to deteriorate in any way over the years. When Mouse told him that Catherine might be the new owner of Peterís house, the first cracks appeared.

After Peter retired from his medical practice, theyíd seldom seen him. Father had received regular letters and postcards, but Peter had only been in New York half a dozen times over the years. He had told them that Catherine had moved away, to San Francisco, but he hadnít added any details.

Vincent let his mind wander back to the time after his illness. When his memory started to return, Father had decided that it would be all right for him to start reading is own journals to help him fill in the blanks. His memory seemed to come back chronologically; he remembered his childhood first. His journals started shortly after his first illness when he was sixteen. He was surprised to read how similarly heíd felt then.

He read all the entries from the time he first found Catherine to just before heíd started losing his grip. It had brought back all the memories. The following morning heíd gone to Father to ask him where Catherine was.

"I was dreading this," said Father.

"Dreading what, Father?" asked Vincent as he sat in the chair across the desk from him.

"Dreading the time you would remember her and ask what you just asked. How much do you remember?"

"Everything up to after I was brought back to my chamber and she was telling me that I should rest and she would be there when I woke up," Vincent told him. "Why isnít she here, Father?"

"She had time to think, Vincent, and she changed her mind."

"She changed her mind?" asked Vincent, stunned.

"Apparently. She went Above. Said sheíd be back in a couple of hours. She was going to her office to leave a message for her boss and get more time off so she could stay with you while you recovered. She didnít return when I expected her and the next morning a note arrived. I canít quote it exactly, but she said that sheíd had time to think. Sheíd decided that it would be better for both of you if you didnít see each other again. To give her credit, her concerns werenít entirely for herself, although she did say that youíd frightened her very badly several times over the previous days; she said that she was also concerned for you. She thought that the longing, the sexual frustration of your unconsummated relationship had contributed to your breakdown. She also said that the breaking of the Bond was probably a good thing and that it would allow you both to get on with your lives.

"She told me to tell you that she wished you well, and that if you ever remembered her to try to remember the good times and not all the heartache and hurt."

"Where is the letter, Father," he asked. He wanted to read the words for himself.

"I was so angry that I wadded it up and threw it into the brazier," Father told him. "Iím sorry."

The revelation had stunned him, but one thing about what Father had said that Catherine had said had puzzled himÖthat their unconsummated relationship might have been a contributing factor in his breakdown. But he distinctly remembered them consummating their relationship. Heíd never made love to anyone before, and he was sure that he couldnít dream up what had happened between them that day. The words did sound more like something father would say, he admitted to himself. Catherine may have used the words sexual frustration, but Father had likely added the rest.

What Father told him had made him doubt his memory of what had happened. His memory told him that they had made love sweetly and tenderly and that he had maintained his control the entire time, but Catherine had mentioned being frightened. Had he done something that had frightened her, or worse yet, was his memory faulty? Had he hurt her? Had he forced her?

He had lived with those doubts for years.

~~~~~~~~~~

Two days later, Mouse sat down next to Vincent in the dining chamber.

"Catherine owns the house," he said without preamble. "Still want to leave the threshold open?"

"At least until the next council meeting," said Vincent. "You can tell everyone then what you have found out, then a decision can be made."

 

Chapter 7

Catherine looked at the school calendar that she had posted on the front of the refrigerator door.

"I see that they still do the Father-Daughter dance. Have you thought about going?" she asked, looking over at Carrie who was doing her homework at the breakfast bar while Catherine loaded the dishwasher.

"Mom, itís a Father-Daughter Dance," she said in the exasperated tone only a ten year old could achieve.

"And?"

"I donít have anyone to go with," she pointed out.

"I could go. Just because your father isnít around doesnít mean you should miss all the fun," Catherine pointed out.

"Do they do Mother-Son Dances?" she asked.

"No, but in the spring they do Mother-Son softball games, or they used to."

"Those things are actually fun?" asked Carrie, skeptically.

"Well, they used to be. Susan and I enjoyed the dances. We double dated with our dads. They always took us to dinner at a fancy restaurant after the dance."

"Where did you eat?" Carrie asked with interest.

"The last time we went we were in the eighth grade and that was the year they took us to The 21 Club. We really thought we were something."

"Could we skip the dance and just go out to dinner?" asked Carrie hopefully.

"I think that could be arranged," said Catherine.

She wasnít really surprised that Carrie didnít seem too upset at not going to the dance. Sheíd never been a particularly social kind of child. She had a few good friends, but was usually pretty content to spend time with her mother and her books; the subject of the dance did prompt more questions about her father.

Catherine had never told Carrie much about Vincent except that he was dead, his name was Vincent, he was intelligent and well educated and he was from New York. She thought she would just wait until Carrie began to ask questions. For more than ten years Carrie had been content with the basic facts, but now suddenly had an interest. Catherine had always known that it would come. The Father-Daughter dance at the school was just the catalyst.

Catherine had actually thought about this from the moment her daughter was born. What would she tell her about Vincent; how much of the truth could she tell her?

After some consideration, she decided that she would start the story at the beginning, and tell as much of it as she judged Carrie was able to handle. It might be a little touch and go, but she could play it by ear.

Catherine made it a special evening; she went out and got all the ingredients to prepare Carrieís favorite meal, right down to the dessert.

The house smelled fantastic when she brought Carrie home from school.

"Wow, Mom. Whatís the occasion?" Carrie exclaimed as they entered the kitchen. "It smells great."

"No occasion, I just felt like cooking and I wanted to talk. I thought it was about time I started answering your questions about your father. It has another hour or so in the Crockpot so you have enough time to do your homework. Iíll call you when itís ready."

Carrie turned and headed upstairs as Catherine put the finishing touches on their dinner.

Catherine didnít get to the point until theyíd settled on the sofa in front of the fire in the family room after dinner.

"Youíre going to answer my questions about my father?" Carrie prompted when it became obvious that Catherine didnít know where to start.

Catherine nodded, still not sure where to start then Carrie surprised her by bursting into tears.

"Carrie?" said Catherine, reaching for her daughter.

"Itís OK..." she said with a sniffle. "Itís just that Iíve waited so long!" she took a deep breath and grinned at her mother. "So...?"

"You should have asked," Catherine told her.

"But you always acted like it hurt to talk about him, so I didnít."

"It does hurt, Hon, but you deserve to know." She paused again to gather her thoughts. "Some of the things Iím going to tell you are secrets. There are a lot of people who still depend on those secrets being kept, so you have to promise me that you will never talk to anyone but me about this."

Catherineís tone had suddenly gone very serious and Carrie almost choked on the herb tea she was drinking.

"Mom...what is it? Was he some big mob boss, or something?"

It was Catherineís turn to choke. "Mob boss? Where did that come from?"

"His name is Vincent. The only other Vincent Iíve ever known was Vinnie Marriotto in second grade."

"And Vinnie was a mob boss?" Catherine asked with a laugh.

"Of course not, but he is Italian."

"Well, this Vincent wasnít Italian...His adoptive father was British, his last name was Wells. Vincent Van Gogh wasnít Italian; he was Dutch."

"OK, so you got me. Youíve always told me I shouldnít stereotype. So...tell me!"

Hearing those words from her daughter almost made her choke again.

"You know a small part of our story, but not the whole thing. I never did go into how we met," she began.

Carrie wasnít going to interrupt, she just nodded.

"When you looked through Kayís scrapbook, you may have seen the clipping about the time I was assaulted and dumped in the park." At Carrieís second nod, she continued. "Kay didnít put in the photo of me with all the cuts on my face." She fingered the scar in front of her left ear, then turned her head to show Carrie. "This is all that is left." Carrie leaned forward and looked at the familiar scar.

"Iíve wondered what happened," said Carrie. "I notice that when you are daydreaming or thinking you almost always touch it."

Catherine smiled at the thought. She had told the doctor that it was a reminder of one of the most wonderful years of her life.

"The newspaper story said that I was missing for ten days and that I said I had no idea where I was during that time. The story I told my family and close friends was that Iíd been mistaken as homeless and had been taken in by a group of homeless people. I told them that they took me to a friend, an ex-military medic who stitched me up and took care of me. When I was able to tell them where I lived they brought me home.

"That wasnít the real story. What really happened was that Vincent found me in the park. He feared that I would die of shock before someone found me...I was already showing signs of it...so he took me to his home. His father was a doctor; I found out later that Vincentís father and Peter were old friends; theyíd gone to medical school together. Vincent and his father took care of me for those ten days, and when I was well enough Vincent took me home."

"And you fell in love with him then?"

"Well, yes and no. When I look back on it I know I did, but I didnít really realize it until later. I think Vincent loved me from the beginning, but never felt like he had the right to; he tried to send me away more than once. And he finally told me he loved me only a short time before he died."

"Why would he feel he didnít have a right to love you?" asked Carrie. "Was it the differences in your background, education or something?"

"Something like that," agreed Catherine. "I know youíve heard about groups of like minded people, who come together and form mini-societies, like in communes and things like that."

"Sure, we studied that in history."

"Well, Vincent lived with a similar group. Back in the early 50ís there were some homeless people who banded together. They found refuge in some of the subway and utility maintenance tunnels below the city of New York. It was warm there, there was plenty of room and it was secret. As they explored they found other tunnels at lower levels, below the subways. Some were natural and some appeared to be manmade but very old. Theyíve lived there ever since. When we moved back I was wondering if they were still there and I found out just recently that they are. They have their own little parallel society. They depend on help from people here Above...and the things they can forage and make.

"That was how Vincent was found. I heard Father telling the story to the children once..."

"Father? Your father? Grandpa was involved in all this too?" Carrie was confused.

"No, Iím sorry, I didnít explain. Everyone Below called Vincentís adoptive father, Jacob Wells, Father. I always assumed that the orphans who found their way Below, including Vincent, called him Father and as they grew it stuck, until even the adults started calling him that. Vincent and many of the others didnít even know his real name when I first met them.

"Anyway, one of the women found him near the trash outside St. Vincentís Hospital and took him Below to Father who took care of him. At first they werenít sure if he would live, he was very sick, and they couldnít figure out what was wrong with him, but he recovered and lived and thrived."

"And so Vincent lived in the sewers and you two fell in love and he decided he wasnít up to your standards because he lived in a sewer," Carrie summed up.

Catherine laughed. "Now you sound like Devin, only he called it a hole the ground."

"Whoís Devin?" asked Carrie, curiously.

"A whole other story, he was your fatherís adopted brother; Fatherís real son."

"I have an uncle tooÖand a Grandfather?"

"Come to think of it, yes, but we will talk about that later. To get back to the storyÖIt isnít quite a sewer. Youíd be surprised if you saw the place." At her daughterís look of surprise she added. "That wasnít the only reason, actually that isnít the real reason. He used that as part of it, but it wasnít even his biggest one."

She hesitated, wondering how to explain the rest. She decided to just plunge on.

"Vincent was...different. He wasnít like other men. He was...unique."

"Doesnít every woman think that about the man she is in love with?" asked Carrie.

Catherine chuckled. "You are so much like him," she said almost to herself. "I guess youíre right, but he would have been judged different by anyone who saw him; frightening to some."

"Youíre making me nervous here, Mom," Carrie told her. "Was he handicapped, or did he have some sort of birth defect?"

"No, not a birth defect, but he did look different. Peter said that he and Father actually considered that it could be a defect, but his differences were too symmetrical to be that; and he definitely wasnít handicapped in any wayÖ" Catherineís eyes took on a look as if she was gazing into the distance, as her voice trailed off.

"Mom...Earth to Mom!"

Catherine laughed and looked at her daughter. "I always thought of him as quite beautiful, myself. I guess the only way to tell you is to tell you." She took a deep breath before she continued. "He looked as if some cat DNA got mixed up in him somewhere. Peter seemed to think that somehow, some different genes got activated in Vincent. He wouldnít speculate whether or not it was done on purpose, or if it was accidental. Vincentís face looked a lot like a lion, for want of a better description."

"A lion?" asked Carrie incredulously. "How?"

Catherine knew she was probably picturing all kinds of strange things, so she rushed to explain.

"He was human in every way that counts," Catherine assured her daughter. "He was about six foot three or four, had ten toes and ten fingers. But he had claws on those fingers, and hair. He wore his hair long, it was about the color of yours, but a different texture, not as silky. He had beautiful blue eyes like yours, but his nose and mouth were more feline, no muzzle, exactly, but his upper lip looked like a catís and his nose was very similar." She drew her finger down the bottom of her nose, to her lip. "The philtrum was split, like a catís. He had hair on his face. It wasnít a beard, didnít seem to grow much, and it was soft. His body hair grew similarly to other menís, but there was a little more and it wasnít coarse and curly, it was softer. And he had teeth like a cat, long upper and lower canines."

Carrie didnít know what to think, and Catherine could see it in her face. "Please tell me he didnít have a tail."

"No tail honey. I know Iím not doing this well. He actually defied description. I always thought he was beautiful, inside and out. He was intelligent, considerate, gentle. His father was a doctor and he taught Vincent; he always said that Vincent had the soul of a doctor."

Carrie just sat and stared at her mother. "I never dreamed..." she began then stopped.

"What?"

"I donít know. That any of this was possible, that you would have anything like this in your life...You always seemed so...normal. Wow!"

"I am normal, for your information," said Catherine in mock indignation, trying to keep it light. Then her tone turned serious. "Vincent had this ability, kind of a psychic ability. He could sense emotions, feelings of people around him. And with me, I didnít have to be around him for him to be able to sense my feelings. I had to go to Los Angeles once for work, and he was able to sense my feelings from that far away. It helped him to save my life several times. He called it a Bond, and occasionally it went both ways and I was able to sense his distress once or twice and was able to help him."

"So he was kind of your knight in shining armor, huh?" Carrie asked.

"Kind of, Honey," she said with a smile. "It was one of the most real times of my life, but sometimes when I look back at it; it seems like a fairy tale. If I didnít have you, I would wonder if any of it had ever really happened."

"How did he die, Mom?" asked Carrie.

Catherine was afraid that she would ask that.

"It was an illness. Father seemed to think it was caused by his differences. Heíd been sick one other time in addition to the time when he was found. He recovered both those times. The last time, we thought he would recover. Iíd actually gone to my office to catch up on some work. I planned to go home, get cleaned up, pack a bag and go back Below to help his family look after him. When I got home there was a note from Father telling me that Vincent was dead." She brushed away the tear the slid down her cheek. "It happened suddenly and was very unexpected."

Catherine noticed the worried frown on her daughterís face.

"What is it, Carrie?" she asked.

"You always say that Iím like him, does that mean I might get sick like him?"

Catherine quickly hugged the girl and rushed to reassure her. "No! I had a lot of tests done when you were a baby, and you donít seem to have inherited any of your fatherís genetics other than those for blue eyes, reddish hair and being tall. Your blood type is even the same as mine."

"He never had a picture taken, not even to give to you?" Carrie asked her.

"No, the risk would have been too great. I mean, it could have been explained away as make up or a mask, but no one was willing to take that chance. I do have a pencil sketch that was given to me by an artist who lived Below. She drew it on the back of an index card."

Sheíd brought the drawing with her. It was simple, but Catherine had always felt that Elizabeth had caught Vincentís essence in it. She kept it in the wooden memory box sheíd had since she was a teenager. She handed the card to Carrie.

Carrieís eyes grew big. Catherine tensed for her reaction, but was surprised at what Carrie said. "Heís gorgeous, Mom! Like someone out of a storybook. No wonder you feel like it was all a fairy tale sometimes."

 

Chapter 8

Catherine was sorting boxes in the basement, looking for the Christmas decorations. She was keeping an eye on the clock, she had to pick Carrie up at school at 3PM.

At a quarter to, she was in her car and on her way to the school. The weather had been nasty all day. It had been raining when she drove Carrie to school that morning and had turned even colder. It was still raining and it was supposed to turn to snow before morning.

Two blocks from the school traffic was being detoured around an accident. A delivery truck had backed over a fire hydrant and the street was flooded. Catherine drove several blocks out of her way and arrived at the school about five minutes late.

She drove into the circle drive and waited a few minutes, but when Carrie didnít come out she drove into the faculty parking lot and parked. She ran though the rain into the building and went to her daughterís home room.

"Ms. Chandler, can I help you?" the teacher asked as Catherine entered the room.

"Iím looking for Carrie. I was a little late and she wasnít out front where she usually is. I thought she might have come back inside because of the weather."

"No, Iím sorry. She isnít in here. She left with the other children. Did you check the lunch room? Sometimes they wait there."

"Thanks, Iíll check." Catherine headed down the hall, but after checking the lunchroom, she went to the office and then made a complete circuit of the halls and the girlsí restrooms. There was no sign of Carrie and she was beginning to worry. Hoping to find that sheíd missed her somewhere and that sheíd be out in front or at the car she hurried back to the main entrance.

A boy about Carrieís age was waiting inside the door; Catherine nodded at him as she passed. At the front door she looked across the drive at the parking lot. Her car and several others were parked there, but no Carrie in sight. She looked back at the boy.

"Excuse me, do you know Carrie Chandler?" she asked him.

"Yes maíam," he answered politely.

"Have you seen her?" she asked him.

"She was waiting here with me until her mom drove up. She ran out and jumped in the car and they left."

"Her mom?" she asked, beginning to get that sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. "How do you know it was her mom?"

"It was the same car she got out of this morning." He looked out the door as a car pulled into the drive. "Thereís my dad. Bye."

Catherine had a bad feeling. She made another tour of the school, stopping and talking to everyone she saw, child or adult. No one else had seen Carrie since she left the classroom at 3PM.

Catherine ran through the rain back to her car, and spent the next forty five minutes driving around the neighborhood looking for another SUV that looked like hers. She didnít see any. After one more trip by the school she went home and called the police.

She was frantic by the time two uniformed officers showed up at her door. As she was talking to them the doorbell rang again. She answered it and was surprised to see Greg Hughs standing there.

"Cathy!" He hugged her. "I saw the report and wondered if it was you." He looked at the two uniformed officers. "Iíll take it from here, thanks."

One of the officers handed Greg the report he was filling out and the two of them left the room. One posted himself near the front door and the other went out to the car.

Greg looked over what had been written as he sat on the sofa across the coffee table from where Catherine sat, literally wringing her hands. He was suddenly all business.

"You you have a photo of Carrie?" he asked.

Cathy got up and went across the room to the book shelf, picked up a framed photo and carried it back to him.

"School picture," she told him. "It was taken in October."

"Pretty girl," he commented as she took the photo out of the frame and put it into the folder with the report. "Now tell me everything, from the top," he told her.

~~~~~~~~~~

Below, Vincent was helping Cullen repair the doors to the Great hall. Cullen was on a ladder repairing hinges while Vincent held the door in place.

He was temporarily distracted by a sudden surge of fear that rushed though the Bond. There would have been a time when he would have dropped everything and rushed off to save Catherine from whatever was causing the fear; he almost did this time, but as quickly as the fear appeared it disappeared. Something must have startled her, he reasoned as he searched the Bond. Now all he could feel was mild irritation and impatience.

As he and Cullen finished the doors, he monitored the Bond. The irritation and impatience disappeared but after a few minutes he was getting the distinct feeling of dread, it settled in the pit of his stomach and he felt slightly ill.

As he left Cullen and was on his way back to his chamber for his last class of the day, he was hit with another wave of fear and panic. This time it didnít go away, just settled down into a generalized fear and dread. He wondered what was going on, but didnít feel it warranted him rushing off to anyoneís rescue; not after all this time.

The feeling persisted through the class and dinner and finally Vincent sent a message asking Mouse to join him in the study.

"Vincent called Mouse?" he asked as he swung into the chamber a few minutes later.

"Yes Mouse, I need you to run an errand for me," he said.

"Sure, what?"

"I need you to go to Catherineís and make sure she is all right."

"Why?" asked Mouse, clearly puzzled at the request.

"Do you remember the connection that I used to have with Catherine?"

"It went away," stated Mouse.

"Yes, but it came back after I recovered my memory," Vincent told him. "Iíve been getting some unusual feelings from Catherine for the last few hours. Iíd go myself, but Iím afraid that she might have someone with her."

"What feelings," asked Mouse.

"Fear that disappeared as quickly as it came, then a little while later more fear, that settled down somewhat, but is still there."

"Iíll go. Be back as soon as I find out." Mouse was gone in a flash.

~~~~~~~~~~

Catherine finished the story for Greg just as the doorbell rang again. The officer near the door answered it and a few seconds later another familiar man came into the room.

"Radcliffe, it is really you?"

Cathy looked up and was surprised to see Joe Maxwell in the door from the hall.

"Joe, how..." she began.

"Greg called me. He wasnít sure if it was you. I did a quick check and found out it was. What the hell happened?"

Cathy went through the whole story again, finishing as the phone rang.

Without thinking she reached for the one on the end table and answered it.

"Hello?"

"Catherine Chandler?" something about the voice made her sit up and take notice. She motioned Greg to the phone in the hall. He headed for that one as Joe headed for the kitchen. She didnít hear either of them pick up extensions, but she knew they were there.

"Speaking," she said warily.

"Have you called the cops yet?" asked the voice.

In the hall Greg stepped into view and shook his head at her.

"No, I just got back to the house; I havenít had the chance to yet."

"Good. Iíd advise against it if you want to see the little redhead alive again."

"Let me talk to her," she interrupted.

"Canít do that," he told her, "not yet. Iíll be calling you again tomorrow, sometime after noon. Before then, youíll need to get your hands on a big chunk of change. I think about a mil will do it."

"I donít have that kind of money just lying around," she told him; trying to stall for the time she knew Greg would need to get a trace on the call. "The banks are closed for the night and so is my brokerís office. Iíll have to liquidate some investments and it will take time."

"Then I suggest you get on it first thing in the morning," he snapped. "Iíll be in touch." The line went dead.

Joe returned from the kitchen and Greg came back in from the hall.

"Get anything?" she asked.

He shook his head. "No, it was local, in the city, but that was all."

The two men hung around a little longer, but it was obvious that there was nothing they could do from there, so Greg excused himself, promising that her phone would be tapped and any other calls would be recorded and the numbers would be traced.

Joe followed her into the kitchen where she made a pot of coffee. They sat at the table for at least an hour, Joe trying to distract her.

Joe was telling her a funny story from the office when she noticed that the basement door was beginning to swing open into the room very slowly. It got to about two inches and stopped. Just as she decided that the house must be settling and the door might need to be adjusted it swung open further and she could see Mouseís face in the gap.

He mouthed the words Need to talk to you. She got the idea and nodded slightly before returning her attention to Joe.

She glanced up at the kitchen clock. It was after 10PM.

"Joe, itís getting late and tomorrow is a work day," she said.

"You arenít seriously considering going to work, are you?" he asked incredulously.

"Not for me, for you. You may be the DA now, but you still have a boss and I know you just canít decide to take the day off without repercussions. Go on home; Iíll be fine."

"I can camp out on the couch," he told her. "You shouldnít be alone."

"Thanks for being a friend, Joe, but I really need to be alone right now; besides, Greg said that there would be an unmarked car outside all night."

Joe put up a valiant fight, but she finally convinced him to leave. She walked him to the door and saw him out. After a hug, she all but shoved him out the door and locked it behind him before hurrying back to the kitchen. Mouse was standing just inside the door from the basement.

"Mouse? What is it? Do you know something about Carrie?" She didnít even greet him as she walked toward him.

"Carrie? Donít know a Carrie. Here because Vincent sent me. He felt something strange and told me to come ask."

Catherine wasnít sure that sheíd heard him right. Her hands went out and gripped the back of the chair in front of her. "Vincent?" she asked, stunned.

Mouse looked at her as if sheíd lost her mind. "Yeah, you remember... big guy...lots of hair."

Catherine almost fell into the chair.

"But...but heís dead," she gasped.

"Not a while ago when I talked to him," said Mouse with a puzzled look.

"But Father told me he died," she whispered, as she held back her tears.

Mouse had never been the most perceptive person in the world, but in the time since sheíd seen him last he had learned a lot about people. He began to understand what Catherine was saying. He sat on the chair that Joe had used earlier.

"Father lied?" he asked, astounded.

She nodded, then dug a tissue out of her pocket and blew her nose. She took a couple sips of the cold coffee in the cup then shoved it way with a look of distaste. Her head was spinning, it was a lot to take in. Vincent was still alive!

She finally looked at Mouse, who looked like he was in pain.

"You OK, Mouse?" she asked.

He bobbed his head in response then looked at her and gave her an uncertain smile.

"But Vincent isnít dead. You glad?" he asked.

"Yes, Mouse, I am," her smile was as tremulous as his had been, "but right now I have something else on my mind."

"What?" he asked.

"I have a daughter. She is almost eleven. Her name is Carrie, and someone kidnapped her this afternoon. They are holding her for ransom. They want money to give her back."

Mouse looked thoughtful for a minute before he spoke.

"Maybe that was it."

"What?" she asked.

"Vincent wanted me to ask you if something scared you this afternoon."

"Yes, when I found out that Carrie was missing," she told him.

"Vincent said that it happened twice. First time there was fear, that went away quick, then a while later it happened again."

"Twice?" she whispered. It struck Catherine that Vincent might have some kind of a Bond with Carrie. It would make sense, she was his flesh and blood and she would have been more surprised if he didnít have some connection with her.

She didnít even take the time to think about the fact that Vincent was alive; she could deal with that later. Carrie was her primary concern right now. She jumped up and grabbed her jacket off the hook by the door.

"Can you take me to Vincent?" she asked. "I have to talk to him." She was halfway down the stairs to the basement before Mouse got out of his chair and followed.

"Sure. Good," he said as he followed her to the door to the lower level. "Talk. Fix it."

The trip to what had been Fatherís study didnít take long, and neither of them spoke.

Mouse entered the study before Catherine, but Vincent knew she was with him. The Bond had told him. He was on his feet as she entered.

She was half way down the short metal stairs when she looked up and saw him as he stepped out from behind the desk.

Her hand clenched on the metal rail and she stopped.

My God! He is the same as he was the last time I saw him. He was even dressed the same as he always had. She put her hand over her mouth and choked back a sob.

Vincent was stunned by the sight of the woman who entered the chamber. He would have expected some change in eleven years, but she looked the same. Still beautiful...still Catherine.

They both just stared for a moment.

Catherine was the first to speak.

"Is Father here?" she asked, looking around.

"No, Father died three years ago," he told her.

"He told me you were dead," she said simply.

"Father?" he asked.

"Yes, Father. I went Above to take care of a few things, then I was going to come back and stay with you...help take care of you. Before I could come back down he sent me a note telling me that you had died. Then he all but forbade me to come back Below. He said that there were those here who blamed me for your illness and he didnít want to subject me to that."

"Catherine." The way he said her name was something that sheíd only heard in her dreams for too long. It sounded so good. "Iím sorry; I didnít realize..."

"Donít apologize! How could you have known?" she asked as her knees gave out and she sat very suddenly on the bottom step of the stair.

When he saw her start to fall, Mouse started forward, but stopped when she connected unhurt with the step.

The movement caught Vincentís attention.

"Leave us alone for now, Mouse," he told him, "but donít go far. I might need you again later."

Vincent still hadnít moved from beside the desk, he seemed rooted to the spot.

When Mouse left the chamber Vincent continued what he had been saying.

"Father told me that you left because I frightened you," he said in a pained voice.

"Never, Vincent!" she said as she used the stair rails to pull herself back to her feet. "I was frightened, but not of you. I was frightened for you."

She moved toward him a few steps then she stopped and stared up toward the ceiling. "I should never have let him do that. I should have forced the issue and insisted that I be allowed to come back Below, if only for a memorial service. I would have known then. There is no way he could have had the whole community in on the lie."

"Donít blame yourself, Catherine. He lied to me too and I believed him. I should have gone to you. We were both duped because we trusted him."

Vincent finally moved; in a few steps he was in front of her and was taking her into his arms.

That was just too much on top of everything else that had happened in the last few hours and Catherine broke down and sobbed.

When she finally got her tears under control he led her to a chair and took the one next to it.

"Tell me, Catherine," he prompted.

"Mouse said you sent him to me because you felt something in the Bond," she said after she blew her nose and dried her eyes.

He nodded and relaxed in the chair a little.

"When he came to me a few weeks ago and told me that he had seen you; that you were the new owner of Peterís house, I relaxed the lid Iíd put on the bond when Father first told me that you werenít coming back. Over the years there had always been an awareness; if your heart had suddenly stopped beating, I would have known, but I didnít allow myself the intimate contact that it had been previously.

"When I allowed the Bond to open again, you seemed content and happy. I was happy for you, glad you had found your Ďhappy lifeí. I allowed it to fade back into the background, and it bolstered me; it made me feel good." He smiled a little as he told her. "Then this afternoon I felt a sudden surge of fear that went away as quickly as it came. Then all of a sudden you were there again, just as usual. First you felt a little irritated, then concerned, then I felt fear again. I began to notice something strange about the feelings. You were moving around for a while then you settled in one place not very far to the west of here, but I could still feel another heartbeat and it was moving away and to the south. They became two distinct feelings. Iíve been feeling your fear running under everything ever since. I sent Mouse to you because I needed to know that you were all right."

She looked up at him, and he could see that tears were threatening to spill again.

"My daughter, Carrie, is missing. Someone saw her get into a car in front of her school at a little after three this afternoon. The car looked like mine, which is probably how whoever it was managed to get her inside it. I always pick her up, either in the car or on foot. I was in the car today because of the rain, but I had to detour around an accident and it made me a few minutes late."

"The fear," he stated.

"Yes, mine and hers. You must have felt hers first."

"But how?" he asked.

"Do you remember anything that happened in my apartment while you were sick?" she asked.

"Very little of the first couple days. I remember waking early on the third day. I showered, you washed my clothes, we had breakfast and then I went back to bed. You also came back to bed." He lowered his eyes and looked embarrassed. "We made love," he added.

She sighed with relief. His memory would make her explanation easier.

"Yes, we did, and Carrie is the result of that." She reached out and put her fingers under his chin tilting his head up so she could look into his eyes. "Carrie is your daughter too and you obviously have a connection with her."

He looked stunned. "I have a daughter?"

She nodded. "And now I need you to help me find her. Can you use what you have with her to find her like you used to do with me?"

He closed his eyes and tilting his head to one side he reached out along the tenuous thread that he felt.

He opened his eyes. "Yes, I think I can. Do you want me to go after her?"

"If you can follow it, just find out where she is, then we can pass that information to the police and they can go in after her."

Before she even finished the sentence, Vincent was on his feet and reaching for his cloak. He tapped a quick message out on a pipe then turned to her as he swung the cloak around his shoulders.

"I will see to it that she is returned safely to you, Catherine," he said as Mouse entered the chamber. "Mouse, take Catherine back to her home and then stay there. I want you to tell Pascal where you are then stay by the pipe and wait until he relays a message from me to you. Take something with you so you can write it down then take it to Catherine." He gripped the younger manís shoulder. "Do you understand?"

"Sure. Take Catherine home, wait for message and take it to Catherine. Got it." He beckoned to Catherine. "Come on Catherine."

Catherine rose to follow Mouse out of the chamber and Vincent stepped back to let her pass. She stopped in front of him. "Thank you, Vincent."

 

Chapter 9

Vincent headed away from the main hub of the community toward the south. It had been a long time since heíd followed the Bond like this. His Bond with Carrie was different from the one with Catherine, but not extremely so. He could see how he had thought it only one when the two of them were together. As he moved along at a brisk pace, he analyzed the feeling. Now that he knew it was a different person, he could feel the difference in it. He could feel it almost as a texture. It was lighter than the Bond he had with Catherine; almost like a light gauzy fabric as opposed to a heavy silk.

He tried not to dwell on what Father had done. Father had told Catherine that there were those Below that blamed her for his illness. That wasnít a lie, he was sure of that, but the only person Below who blamed her was Father, and when he saw the opportunity to keep them apart heíd taken it. Vincent knew that what Father did was done out of love, because he thought it was what was best for Vincent, but he had been misguided, of that Vincent was sure. He didnít know if it was possible, but if their relationship could be put back together he would do everything in his power to do it. He not only had Catherine to think of, but a daughter.

He said the word "daughter" out loud as he walked. It felt strange in his mouth, but it made him smile. He wished he knew what she looked like, wished heíd asked Catherine, but when she had told him that he was a father all he could think of was doing anything to make sure that his child was safe. His child.

He knew he walked for quite some time, but lost in thought as he was it seemed like no time before he felt that he was getting closer to Carrie.

He consulted a map he always carried in a pocket of his cloak and located where he was. He slowed his pace and concentrated. As he walked he became aware that Carrie was now awake and she was very frightened. Vincent responded viscerally to that fear, and when he felt like he was as close as he could get, he began to look for a way Above. He checked the map again and found a manhole in an alley.

He climbed the ladder and shoved the heavy plate aside and looked out cautiously. It was late and there was no one around so he lifted himself out and replaced the cover. The rain had stopped and the lightly falling snow muffled the sounds of the city. There had been a lot of traffic in the alley recently, so he didnít have to be concerned with leaving footprints in the snow. He looked up at the building next to him. It was an old apartment building, with ĎCONDEMNEDí signs tacked to the doors and windows. It looked like there had been a fire, and from the smell it had been recently. Carrie was inside the building somewhere above the ground floor, he could feel her.

He found the fire escape further back in the alley and he used it to go to the roof. There he found a door that led inside. He knew the address of the building, but wanted to know what floor she was on before he went back Below and sent the message to Catherine.

The building wasnít a tall one, only five floors. He had determined that she was somewhere on the left side of the building on the third floor when suddenly he felt her fear escalate. There was a shout and a crash from somewhere down the hall then he heard footsteps running away and down the stairs. In the quiet that followed he could hear a child crying.

He followed the sound and burst into the room ready to do battle, but the battle was already over. There was a kerosene lamp on a rickety table in the corner and a man lay on the floor near the radiator. From the puddle of blood under his head, Vincent surmised that heíd either fallen and hit his head on the radiator or that someone had forcibly slammed him into it. He stepped closer and didnít have to check for a pulse to know that the man was dead.

As he turned back toward the center of the room the light fell on his face and there was a gasp and a flurry of movement from the opposite corner behind an old sofa where the Bond told him Carrie was. Suddenly someone flew out from the corner. He was hit rather forcibly and arms wrapped around his waist. The words he heard next both startled and thrilled him.

"Daddy! I knew youíd come for me."

He went down on one knee in front of the girl and saw both elements of Catherine and himself in her face. Long reddish gold hair, the same color as his spilled over her shoulders. The bright blue coat she wore made her blue eyes even bluer, but the rest of her face was Catherine.

The girl hugged him fiercely.

"But how?" he began.

"Mom showed me a drawing when she told me about you."

Vincent looked around the room, suddenly uneasy. He stood.

"We should leave," he took her hand and started toward the door.

"Wait," she slipped her hand out of his. She ran back to the corner then returned to him wearing a hat, and carrying a pair of mittens and a back pack.

"We must be quiet until I tell you that you can speak," he warned her as he led her up the stairs to the roof.

She was as agile as a monkey and they made quick work of the trip down the fire escape. She looked startled when he lifted the manhole cover and started down indicating that she should follow.

"Iíll be right under you; I wonít let you fall," he whispered. Once she was safely on the floor he went back up to replace the cover. A quick look around told him that something was going on. He could hear someone in the building and it was probably a good thing that theyíd left when they did.

Vincent had no idea what to say to Carrie. She was his daughter; he was sure of that, but they were still strangers, so they walked in silence for a while. He sensed her tiring and stopped.

"Itís still quite a long walk, I can carry you," he offered.

"I am tired," she said practically, "and when I woke up back there I was sick."

"Then I think I should carry you."

He took her backpack from her and slung it over one shoulder before he picked her up in his arms.

The walk was not a difficult one and the rhythm of his long easy strides soon lulled her to sleep. He arrived at Catherineís threshold to find Mouse sitting on the floor drawing diagrams of some future invention in the sand. When he saw Vincent coming toward him he jumped to his feet.

"Found her?" he whispered.

"Yes, I did. I wonít need you to relay the message after all. Thank you for waiting Mouse. Is Catherine alone?"

"Yes, sheís in the kitchen," Mouse told him.

"Iíll take her up to Catherine and Iíll be home later."

Mouse nodded and grinned then headed off down the tunnel as Vincent stepped though the hole into the subbasement and made his way up the stairs. In the basement he stopped to wake Carrie.

"Carrie, youíre home," he whispered.

She opened her eyes, looked around and then smiled up at him.

"How are you feeling?" he asked.

"Hungry!" she said as he put her on her feet.

She darted up the stairs to the kitchen and he followed at a more sedate pace. He heard squeals of delight from Carrie and a heartfelt exclamation from Catherine just as he reached the door to the kitchen.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Catherine saw her daughter emerging from the basement apparently none the worse for wear and she leaped to her feet just as Carrie flew across the room to her.

"Mom!" she squealed as she threw herself into her motherís arms.

"Thank God!" Catherine said in relief. When Carrie loosened her grip she stepped back a moment and looked at her daughter. "Are you OK?"

"Yeah, Mom," she said with a smile. "Iím fine."

Vincent stepped into the room unnoticed by either of them.

"He didnít hurt you did he?" Catherine asked with some trepidation.

"No Mom! If what you mean by hurt is what you told me about touching, no he didnít."

Catherine pulled her daughter back into her arms and hugged her again, finally noticing Vincent standing in the doorway behind her. He smiled slightly and nodded, backing up Carrieís words. She smiled back, knowing that with the Bond he would know that Carrie was telling the truth.

"Mom, Iím hungry," Carrie announced, causing both Catherine and Vincent to marvel at the resilience of youth.

Catherine helped Carrie take off her coat and then went over to the refrigerator.

"We have some leftovers from dinner the other night, or I can fix some eggs," she offered.

"How about a bowl of cereal? I was sick when I woke up at that place, and the only thing that sounds good is cereal," Carrie told her.

"Sick? You threw up? What..." Catherine began.

"He used a chemical to knock her out. Ether, I think. I could smell it," Vincent volunteered.

"Oh," said Catherine, remembering the time Paracelsus had sent Erlik Above to kidnap her. Heíd used ether too and when she woke she was nauseated.

She took the milk out of the refrigerator, then went and got the cereal and a bowl. She set them on the table in front of Carrie who grabbed the cereal and began to pour.

"Would you like some tea, Vincent?" she asked as she picked up the cold pot from the table. "Iíll make a fresh pot."

"Thank you, Catherine," he said as he removed his cloak and hung it by the door.

As Catherine moved around the kitchen making tea and pouring juice for Carrie, Carrie looked speculatively from one adult to the other. So far Vincent hadnít said very much to her. She had no idea how heíd suddenly risen from the dead, she was sure it was nothing like the King Arthur legend; he hadnít been waiting until she needed him. Her mom didnít seem all that surprised to see him, either. In fact she didnít seem as thrilled to see him as she would have expected her to be. She didnít get what was going on between the two adults; she was sure that her mom hadnít lied to her; she just wouldnít do that. Mom had a real thing about lying.

"Mom, Iím confused," she admitted between bites. She looked pointedly at Vincent and back at her Mom.

"I can imagine," said Catherine with a weak smile. "I was very surprised myself."

"We were lied to, Carrie," Vincent said bluntly. "It was done out of love; the person who lied thought he was protecting me, but it was a lie, nonetheless."

"Your father?" asked Carrie.

"Yes, my father," Vincent affirmed.

"Father was always trying to protect Vincent," Catherine said. "Everything he did he did because he loved Vincent, but sometimes he was misguided."

All three were quiet for a moment then Catherine spoke.

"Carrie, I know that you know that I donít approve of lying, so that makes what Iím about to say all that much harder, but we are going to have to come up with a plausible story about how you got back home. One that doesnít include...your father...or the tunnels." She looked at Carrie then at Vincent.

"Yeah, I kinda figured that," said Carrie, "and I understand that we need to keep it all a secret. Iíll go along with whatever you think is best."

"We have a Helper who drives a cab," Vincent volunteered. "He usually works days and should be going to work soon. I might be able to get him to help."

"A cab driver? How would that help," asked Catherine trying to get her tired brain to work.

"I know," put in Carrie. "Somehow I got away from that guy and flagged down his cab and asked him to bring me home."

"Precisely, Carrie," said Vincent with a smile for the girl. "You think like your mother." He looked back at Catherine. "He lives a few blocks from where I found Carrie. She can incorporate what really happened into our fabrication, and it will sound more convincing. As I was in the building trying to ascertain where she was I heard noises and then someone running out of the building. Obviously the kidnapper had an enemy who found him. She can say that after the other man ran out she followed. She noted the address of the building so she could tell the police. She saw a cab, flagged him down and asked him to take her home. The Helper is the kind of man who would stop for a child and take her home even if he knew he wouldnít get paid for it."

They agreed on the story Carrie would tell and Vincent went to the phone and called the Helper. He was on his way to work and agreed to stop at the house and go along with the story to the police. After he arrived, Catherine called Gregís precinct.

The next couple of hours were chaos. Vincent was on his way to the basement when Carrie called to him.

"Daddy?"

A thrill went through him when she called him that.

He turned to her with a smile. "Yes, Carrie?"

"Would you stay? There is an old sofa in the basement that you can sit on. It would be nice if you could come tuck me in after the police leave."

He inclined his head slightly. "Iíll stay, Carrie. Iíll wait in the basement and Iíll see you in a little while."

He left the room as Carrie heard Catherine open the front door.

Greg found Carrieís story completely believable, especially after he sent a couple of officers to the address Carrie gave him. Carrie was questioned and so was the cab driver. It all panned out and an hour and a half later, Carrie was almost asleep in the kitchen chair, and Catherine was exhausted. She walked the cab driver to the front door where she handed him some money and thanked him. Back in the kitchen she took in the sight of her exhausted daughter and Greg who was writing notes on a pad.

"Greg, do you think I could get all of you to leave?" She nodded at her daughter. "Weíve both been up for over twenty four extremely active, stressful hours. If you need anything else from us I could bring her down to your office tomorrow or you could come back here, but right now we both need to get some sleep."

He looked at his notes then from the sleepy child to the exhausted woman. "We wonít need anything else," he told her. "The guy was dead. We were able to identify him, heís got a RAP sheet as long as my arm, but this one topped them all. The case is closed." He stood and patted Catherineís arm. "You get some rest. Iíll call Maxwell when I get to the office and brief him. And Iíll tell him that you donít want any calls or visitors until at least tomorrow."

"Thanks Greg. I appreciate that. Tell him that Iíll call him."

After she locked the front door behind Greg, Carrie met her in the hall.

"Is Daddy always that quiet and up-tight?" she whispered as she met her mom.

"Only when he is uncomfortable about something," Catherine told her. "I dumped a lot of new information on him. Itís going to take him some time to assimilate it all. Why donít you go upstairs and get ready for bed. Iíll be up in a few minutes."

"I assume that I wonít be going to school today," Carrie said through a yawn as she started up the stairs.

"Not likely," agreed Catherine. "Iíll call them and tell them that you wonít be back until after the Christmas break. Iíll go tell your father that everyone has gone. Iíll be up after I straighten up a little."

Catherine went back into the kitchen to find Vincent had already started on the clean up.

"You go on up and help her," he suggested. "Iíll finish up here and come up to say good night...or good morning."

Catherine had just finished brushing Carrieís hair, a nightly ritual that relaxed them both, when Vincent found them.

"Am I disturbing you?" he asked from the doorway of Carrieís bedroom.

Catherine looked up and smiled. Carrie got up and went to Vincent and wrapped her arms around his waist. He didnít seem to know what to do at first then he gave up and returned her hug. The look on his face went straight to Catherineís heart. She was sorry that heíd been deprived of seeing Carrieís first eleven years, but she was determined he wouldnít be deprived of any more of her. Come to think of it, she had plenty of photos and movies of Carrie. Heíd probably enjoy seeing them.

Vincentís sense of Carrie told him just how tired the child was. She was fighting sleep for some reason. He hoped it wasnít because she feared nightmares. He bent to pick her up then he carried her to her bed where he tucked her in and sat on the side of the bed.

"You can sleep now," he told her. "Youíre safe. Your mother and I will protect you."

Catherine watched as her daughterís eyes finally closed. Just before she drifted off she murmured. "I love you, Daddy."

Vincent leaned over her, and kissed her on the forehead. "I love you too, Carrie."

He turned to see Catherine watching them closely.

"You know," he said with a bemused smile. "I really do. As soon as you told me about her, I loved her. Itís going to take some getting used to being called ĎDaddy,í but I like the way it sounds. I hope you will give me a chance to hear more of it."

"I wouldnít dream of trying to keep the two of you apart," she told him as they descended the stairs back to the first floor together.

When they got to the kitchen Catherine saw two Winterfest Candles on the table.

"Whatís this?" she asked touching the candles.

"Your invitations to Winterfest next Thursday," he told her as he picked his cloak up off the back of a chair. "Will you come?"

"I wouldnít miss it," she said with a smile, "and I wouldnít want Carrie to miss it." She thought for a moment and Vincent knew a question was coming. "What will you tell everyone Below?" she asked.

"I thought about that while I waited for the police to leave. I sent a message asking someone to bring the candles to me, and it was Rebecca herself who brought them. When she asked me who they were for, I told her that you were back. Then I told her about Carrie."

"You told her that Carrie is your daughter?" Catherine asked in surprise.

"Yes, I did. I know Rebecca is discrete, and wonít gossip about it, but I plan to tell everyone, if that is all right with you," he added suddenly unsure.

"Of course it is all right. I wouldnít want it any other way, but I think a few Below would figure it out, especially when she tells them that her eleventh birthday is also next Thursday. That and she is so much like you."

"Then I will send someone for you on Thursday. Around six?"

She nodded and he turned to leave.

"Vincent, um, I donít want to make assumptions, but is there someone Below who might be upset with Carrie and I suddenly reappearing in your life after all this time?" Catherine held her breath as she waited for his answer.

"Do you mean a woman?" he looked back at her over his shoulder. And at her slight nod he answered "No, Catherine, there is no one else."

He was gone before she let out her breath.

Catherine looked around the kitchen, it suddenly felt very empty. She yawned and went upstairs to bed.

~~~~~~~~~~

Vincent walked slowly back toward the hub. He was determined to go back to his chamber to sleep, but the smell of breakfast from the dining chamber got his attention.

Right after breakfast, he promised himself as he changed directions.

Vincent was sitting at a table with Pascal when Mary joined them.

"If you can find a good way to pass the word, I would be grateful," Vincent said as Pascal stood and picked up his tray.

"Iíll keep it low key, Vincent," Pascal promised as he walked away.

"What will he keep low key?" asked Mary as she poured tea for both of them.

"An announcement that I want made," he told her.

"What announcement?" she prodded.

"Catherine is back. She has a daughter and Iíve invited them to Winterfest."

"Why do I get the feeling that there is more to it than that?" asked Mary as she sipped her tea.

"Because you are a very astute woman," he told her with a smile. "Her daughter, Carrie, is almost eleven. In fact her birthday is on Winterfest."

"A daughter whoís eleven but that would mean that..." She looked at Vincent and her eyes lit up. "Is she yours?"

"Yes," he answered with a tired smile. "Iím still taking it all in myself, but there is no doubt. Looking into her eyes is like looking into my own, her hair is exactly the color of mine...and we have a Bond."

"Does she..." Mary hesitated to ask the question, but Vincent understood.

"Other than her hair color and eyes, she looks like Catherine," he told her. "Except that she is going to be tall. She is already almost as tall as Catherine."

"Then why did Catherine leave, if she knew she was pregnant?" Mary asked.

"I know you arenít going to like hearing this, Mary, but Father lied to her. He told her that I was dead. I think he actually didnít expect her to believe it, at least not for long. Peter was out of town at the time, but I know that as soon as he came home, she would have found out the truth, but I think she left before he returned, so she never learned the truth."

"He lied to you too?" she didnít seem as surprised as Vincent expected her to be.

"Yes, as you know, he said that Catherine left because I frightened her and she had decided she couldnít take it any longer."

"I always suspected there was more to it," Mary told him. "I talked to Catherine before she went Above that day, and she didnít give any indication of what Father later told you and everyone else. But when she didnít come back, well, I thought that maybe once she got Above, she changed her mind."

"I know Father thought he was doing the right thing," Vincent said with a sigh, "and finding that she was gone because of something I did hurt, but knowing that she was pursuing the life I knew was the right one for her helped a little. I thought that she would eventually get over it and move on. She deserved better than me; better than anything I could ever give her." He vaguely waved his hand indicating all that was around them. "She is a creature of the sunshine and there is precious little of that here."

"But she loved you Vincent," protested Mary.

"I know that, Mary, and I loved her. That was why I didnít pursue it with Father. I knew that if he saw how much it was hurting me, he would assume that exactly what he had always predicted would happen, had happened and I didnít want him thinking or speaking ill of her. I wasnít the only one who loved her. I didnít want anyone to become disillusioned or angry with her for leaving."

"Youíve carried that with you for all this time?"

He nodded, staring down at his plate.

Mary looked at him thoughtfully for a moment. "You still love her, donít you?" she asked quietly.

"Itís that obvious? Yes I love her," he told her. "I never stopped. I love her more than my own life and if she leaves again, I know I wonít survive this time."

"Does she know that?" asked Mary.

"I havenít spent that much time with her, or given her any indication of my feelings. Iíve only seen her twice. She came Below last night to ask for my help with something, and then I spent some time at her home later."

"Why didnít you tell her?"

"For the same reasons as always, Mary. She deserves better than this. Iím willing to settle for her friendship and a place in Carrieís life."

"Did she move on?" asked Mary.

"What do you mean?" he asked, startled.

"Did she find someone else?"

"No, I donít believe she did. Carrie never mentioned anyone, and neither did she. She only told Carrie about me, all about me, a short time ago, but Carrie recognized me as soon as she saw me and called me Daddy," his voice broke on the last word.

"So where do you go from here?" she asked.

He shook his head. "I donít know. Iím assuming that we maintain the status quo. Iím sure that she wonít want to rush into anything. Mary...she has thought me dead for a long time."

"Donít assume anything Vincent. That was where you went wrong before," Mary told him. "This may be your second chance," she added emphatically as she rose and took her dishes to the kitchen, leaving Vincent to mull over what sheíd said.

 

Chapter 10

Catherine and Carrie spent a quiet weekend. They talked a lot and by Sunday afternoon, Catherine was pretty sure that Carrie hadnít been terribly traumatized by the kidnapping. As Carrie told her, sheíd barely had time to realize that something was wrong before the guy put a cloth over her face and she went to sleep. She had only been awake for a short time when the second man came into the room and fought with the kidnapper, then Vincent has shown up and she knew she was safe. She told her mother that she didnít think she even remembered what the man looked like. Every time she looked at her daughter Catherine thanked all the powers that be that she hadnít been hurt or killed, and that Vincent had been there when he was needed, as he always had.

Both of them were excited about attending Winterfest. Catherine told Carrie about it; about the traditions and Carrie was excited at the prospect of spending time with and getting to know her father, but Catherineís excitement came from a different place.

She was looking forward to seeing old friends and possibly making some new ones.

She was looking forward to reestablishing herself as an active Helper.

She was looking forward to introducing her daughter to the community Below. They had enriched her life; she knew that they would do the same for Carrie.

And last, but certainly not least, she was looking forward to spending time with Vincent, getting to know him again; seeing if they could pick up the pieces and start over. She had learned that she could live without him in her life, but she also knew that she didnít want to continue that way if she didnít have to.

Almost as soon as Vincent asked them to Winterfest she knew what she was going to wear. She pulled a dark green velvet dress with a wide scooped neckline, a low back and a long full skirt out of the closet and hung it on the back of the door to air. She also had a hooded black wool cape that she planned to wear over it.

Carrie came to her with questions about what to wear. She knew Carrie wanted to look nice for her father, but since sheíd never really paid much attention to the way she dressed before, she really didnít have much idea what to wear.

"Whatever you wear," Catherine told her as they looked through her closet, "it should be warm." She found the perfect dress in the back behind the coats. Sheíd bought it for Carrie the year before; it had been too large and had never been worn. It still had the tags on it. "If this fits, I think it will be perfect," she said as she handed the dress to Carrie.

Carrie looked a little skeptical but obediently started shedding clothes to try it on.

It fit perfectly and as Carrie stood in front of the mirror looking at her reflection Catherine had to smile. She would fit right in Below. The dress was two pieces. The main garment was a dress that was made of a warm cream colored knit material. It was long and ended at Carrieís ankles. It had long sleeves and a wide cowl neck. The overdress was almost a pinafore, and it was made of a patchwork of material, all in rich, dark tones that set off Carrieís hair, eyes and skin.

"It lookís kind of odd," Carrie said after sheíd looked at herself for a few minutes.

"Just wait until you get there," Catherine told her. "You will fit right in. I told you that the people below use and reuse everything. Clothing is made and remade and passed down from one person to the next. Nothing is wasted. When I saw this dress it reminded me of the way they dress Below and that was why I bought it." She went up behind her daughter and started combing her fingers though her hair. "With this cold winter weather, your hair has been a little wild. I thought weíd French braid it and let the braid hang down your back."

"How about shoes?" Carrie asked.

"Your brown boots," Catherine said. "They are comfortable and easy to walk in."

In the end Carrie was convinced and when it came time for them to leave on Thursday they both looked their best.

They were met at the threshold by Jamie. Catherine was happy to see her and they hugged. Catherine introduced Carrie.

Carrie walked in front of them, with Jamie calling out an occasional direction as she walked with Catherine.

"She looks like him," Jamie observed.

"You know?" Catherine asked in surprise.

"Some of us do. A general announcement was made to everyone that you had returned to New York and you and your daughter would be joining us for Winterfest as Vincentís guests. Over the weekend, at one of the Winterfest meetings, he told those of us who knew you best that he was your daughterís father. He also told us what Father did and why you left. He was very concerned that someone might think badly of you and he didnít want that."

They joined a group of Helpers and tunnel residents who were waiting to make the trip down to the Great Hall. Catherine was greeted with hugs and many welcome homes. She introduced Carrie and there were a lot of speculative looks but everyone greeted the girl as warmly as they had her mother.

As Catherine joined the group, memories came flooding back as they descended the long, windy staircase. She and Carrie held hands all the way down each clutching their candles in their other hands.

When they reached the bottom the crowd parted and Catherine and Carrie were ushered to the front. They watched as Vincent removed the large beam that held the doors closed and then pushed the doors open.

Catherine watched in amazement and with tears in her eyes as Vincent came back and offered his hand to Carrie.

"Carrie, may I lead you to your seat?"

Carrie grinned at her mom, then placed her hand in Vincentís and allowed herself to be led into the dark chamber.

Two young men stood outside the doors with torches until everyone was seated. Vincent was in Fatherís old chair and heíd seated Carrie on his left. Mary was on his right and she indicated that Catherine should take the chair on her right. Once everyone was settled, the doors were closed and the torches were extinguished.

They all sat in the darkness for a moment before Vincentís began the ceremony. As he started to speak he lit his candle and the flame made its way down the table, up to the chandeliers and around the rest of the chamber. She wished she could see Carrieís face, she knew that she would be experiencing the same wonder that sheíd experienced at her first Winterfest.

Once the celebration was underway, the braziers were lit and Catherine undid the clasp of her cloak but she didnít take it off. She leaned forward to look at Carrie. Her eyes were as big as saucers.

Vincent got up and said he was going to get food for everyone, and Mary left saying she had to go check on the children. Carrie quickly moved to the chair that Mary had just left.

"Wow Mom! Daddy looks so handsome, and all this is amazing. How deep are we and where are we?" she asked.

"I actually donít know how deep we are here. The main part of the tunnels, where everyone lives, is below the level of most of the subways so that might be a couple hundred feet. This is a lot deeper but Iím not sure how much. And Father once told me that most of the tunnels and chambers that are in regular use are under the park."

"How many people live down here?" she asked as she looked around at the people.

"The number fluctuates, but when I was here before the number was fairly steady at just over a hundred, with about a third of them children under the age of 18."

"Are all the kids orphans?" asked Carrie.

"Not all of them. Some are born to couples who live down here."

Vincent arrived with a tray that was piled high with plates, cups and a pitcher.

"I wasnít sure what Carrie likes, so I brought a little bit of everything," he said as he put the tray down. He and Catherine worked together to serve the food and pour the drinks.

They were all pretty stuffed when she saw William making his way toward them with a cupcake bearing one lit candle.

He stopped and put the cupcake on the table in front of Carrie.

"Vincent told me that today is your birthday, young lady. I just wanted to take the opportunity to wish you a happy birthday and tell you that if you come back day after tomorrow, I will see to it that you have a proper birthday cake with eleven candles."

Carrie was thrilled with her cake and thanked William. William came around the table to hug Catherine and welcome her home.

"She is a beautiful girl, Catherine," he told her as he hugged her. "You do fine work."

Before Carrie could blow out her candle, Vincent placed a small velvet bag on the table in front of her.

"Happy birthday, Carrie," he said simply as she grabbed the bag and excitedly extracted the contents.

She was momentarily speechless but that didnít last long, she held a sparkling pendant up by its chain.

"Look Mom," she said. "Itís a crystal, like yours."

Catherine leaned closer for a better look and that was when her own crystal slipped out from under her cloak and caught the light.

Sure enough, Vincent had given Carrie a smaller version of the crystal she wore.

"Itís beautiful, honey," she said as she smiled across Carrie at Vincent.

They were groaning over having eaten too much when Rebecca came over to the table and joined them. She hugged Catherine and welcomed her home then Vincent rose and offered his hand to Carrie as Mary arrived and joined them.

"If you donít mind, Catherine, I would like to introduce Carrie to the other children and some of our other residents and Helpers."

"Not at all, Iím too stuffed to move anyway," she told him. "Iíll just sit here and talk to Mary and Rebecca.

"Catherine," Rebecca told her as they watched father and daughter walk away. "It is so wonderful to see you."

"Itís wonderful to see you too, Rebecca. Iíve missed everyone so much."

"She is a beautiful girl," Mary said nodding across the chamber.

"She takes after her father," Catherine said with a smile.

"And her mother, except for her height, she is going to be tall. She will probably top you by at least six inches," Rebecca said.

The three women talked for awhile then Rebecca left them.

Mary waited until Rebecca was out of earshot before she spoke again.

"Now, tell me."

"What?" asked Catherine with a laugh.

"The condensed version. What have you been doing and where?"

Catherine had to laugh. "Youíre not even going to let me ask how you are?"

"Iím good," Mary said with a sad smile. "I miss him, but I treasure every moment that we had together."

Sheíd understood exactly what Catherine was asking and Catherine knew exactly what she was talking about.

"Did he ever come to his senses?"

"Yes, he did. We were joined a few years after you left," she said with a smile.

"Vincent didnít mention that. Iím happy to hear it." Catherine hugged Mary again. "Now where do you want me to start?"

"Well, Vincent told me the story about what Jacob did." At Catherineís surprised look Mary explained. "He told me at breakfast the other day. What did you do after you left New York?"

"I went to San Francisco. Daddy and I had vacationed there once and I always loved the city. I didnít go back to work full time; I wanted to be able to spend as much time with Carrie as I could."

"How long has Carrie known about Vincent?"

"In some form all her life. I told her the whole story not very long ago, but at the time I still thought Vincent was dead. I had that drawing that Elizabeth did for me just before Vincent got sick. I showed her and her reaction was the same as mine always has been. Heís beautiful.

"You are still in love with him." It was a statement, not a question.

"Yes, I am; I never fell out of love with him," she admitted.

"Does he know that?" asked Mary, holding Catherineís hand and patting it.

"I havenít told him. I donít know if the Bond is filling in any of the blanks. If it is, he might know, but neither of us has acted on it. Weíve hardly touched, except when I broke down over Carrieís kidnapping. Iíve only known he was alive for a short time."

"He told us about the kidnapping. It was a terrible thing to happen, but it all turned out all rightÖYou know, this could be your second chance," Mary told her. "Donít let it get away."

"I wish, Mary," Catherine said with a sigh. "But I couldnít take being rejected. If I push, he could turn me down, then I would not only be hurt but Iíd feel like a fool. Iíll settle for friendship, if that is all that he is willing to give me. I canít spend the rest of my life without at least some part of him. The most important thing is that Carrie has him in her life."

"Take my advice," said Mary seriously, "donít let this chance get away. Grab it with both hands!"

Catherine started to speak just as the band started to play.

From that point on, Catherine was not at a loss for partners, she danced with everyone from Luke Evans, Olivia and Kaninís twelve year old son, to Sebastian who, even though he was over 70, could still do a pretty decent foxtrot.

Occasionally through the evening she would find herself looking for Carrie and Vincent. They werenít hard to find. Vincent stood at least a head taller than most of the men in the chamber. She saw them in the games area for quite a while, then later they were on the other side of the chamber watching Sebastian perform his magic tricks. Each time she looked they were in animated conversation with each other or some other person. Carrie was obviously having the time of her life.

Several times though the evening Catherine could feel eyes on her, and each time she turned she would find that it was Vincent. His smoldering looks sent her temperature and her heart rate soaring more than a few times; before he would discreetly drop his eyes.

The evening finally drew to an end and Vincent drew both Carrie and Catherine into the circle, one on each side of him. Winterfest was over for another year leaving Catherine with a vague feeling of melancholy.

The older children had the task of helping William clear up and carry everything back up to the kitchen while some of the young men began leading Helpers back to thresholds so they could go home. Carrie was off helping some of the preteens pack up the games when Vincent pulled Catherine to one side.

"Catherine, do you have to leave right away? Do you have time to talk?"

"No, we are in no hurry and it looks like Carrie has made some friends and is busy." She turned to him and smiled up at him. "What did you want to talk about?"

"AhÖnot here. Iíd like to go somewhere a little more private, we have a lot of catching up to do, and it might take a while." Catherine wondered if this catching up had anything to do with the looks heíd been giving her all evening.

"Well, in that case, give me a minute and Iíll be right back."

She went to where Mary was rounding up some of the younger children and getting ready to herd them off to bed.

"Mary, can I ask a favor?"

"Certainly, my dear," she said with a smile.

"Vincent and I need to talk, and it could run late. Iíd hate to have Carrie just waiting around for us. Do you have room in the girlsí dorm for her? If she can sleep here tonight I will just come back in the morning and get her."

"Of course, there is always a vacant bed or two. Sheís made several new friends tonight so Iím sure they will look after her."

"Thanks." She hugged Mary then hurried over to Carrie.

"Carrie," she called her over to her. "Did you have a good time?"

"I had a great time. It isnít time to leave yet, is it?" she asked with a disappointed look.

"No, I was just going to tell you that Iím letting you stay with the other girls in the dorm tonight. Your father and I need to talk and we might be late."

"Neat! Does Mary know?" she asked looking over at the older woman.

"I just talked to her. She will check on you."

She kissed Carrie and hugged her. "Sleep well, sweetie and Iíll see you in the morning.

As Catherine passed Mary the older woman reached out and grabbed her arm. She hugged her then kissed her on the cheek. "Donít be a stranger," she told her then she followed it with a whisper. "Donít let this opportunity get away!"

Catherine blushed, but Vincent didnít notice as he held her cloak for her.

 

Chapter 11

The walk back to the hub started in silence but when they reached the top of the stairs and could walk side by side, Vincent spoke.

"What are you thinking, Catherine?" he asked. "I know what you are feeling, but not your thoughts about all of it."

She looked up at him and smiled.

"Thank you for giving Carrie such a memorable evening," she told him. "She has never acted like not having a father around was a big thing, but there were times when I could tell she was missing something. Tonight went a long way toward filling that void."

"I did it for me too," he admitted. "I wantedÖneeded to get to know her better, and Iím hoping that I get to spend more time with her in the future."

"Absolutely, Vincent! Now that she finally has you, there is no way Iím going to try to keep her from you. Youíve done so well with all the children here below, that I know she would benefit from having you in her life, even if you werenít her father."

They walked in silence for a while before Catherine spoke again.

"You missed so muchÖ" she began.

"But there is so much more ahead," he finished before she could say what she meant to say. "Did she have a nanny when she was a baby?"

"Nanny?" she was puzzled at the question, then it dawned on her what he meant. "No. No nanny. I was a full time mom until she started school, and then I only worked when she was in school. I worked at a legal aid center and I could make my own hours. I only worked a few days a week from September through May and I took all holidays and summers off. I have boxes and boxes of pictures and home movies, not to mention everything she ever made at school and brought home. Youíll have to come up sometime soon and look at everything."

"Iíd love to do that." Even in the dim tunnel she could see his eyes light up at the thought.

"If only things had been different," she said in a sad tone as they approached the hub.

"We could if only into infinity," he said firmly. "If only Father hadnít done what he did; if only I had insisted on going above to talk to you once I recovered and regained my memory; if only Peter had been in the city when you first found out you were pregnant; if only you had insisted on coming back Below one more time; if onlyÖ" He paused. "We could go on and on, second guessing our and otherís decisions and it wouldnít change anything. We need to look forward, now."

She nodded and smiled up at him. "I knowÖyouíre right. Weíll do our best to make it up to her."

"And each other, Catherine," he added as they turned a corner and arrived at his chamber.

The sight of a door on Vincentís chamber was almost shocking.

"A door, Vincent?" she asked.

He pushed it open and smiled as he stepped aside and allowed Catherine to precede him in.

"A Helper who owns a demolition company sent down about twenty five several years ago. He salvaged them from a demolition site, but then couldnít really use them anywhere or find buyers for them because none of them were of any standard size or thickness. Mouse organized a group and they brought them all Below. Cullen and Kanin have been installing them on private chambers ever since. Iíve had mine since before Father died.

He closed the door behind them then stood and watched as Catherine shed her cape and walked to the center of the chamber. She slowly turned taking it all in.

"You havenít changed it very much," she observed as she walked over to the side of the bed and gazed up at the stained glass window.

Vincent watched as her arms crossed in front of her as if hugging herself, her head went back and she took a deep breath. Heíd been feeling her emotions all evening, but now he was shocked at how overwhelmed she suddenly was. He watched in fascination as her head dropped forward and her shoulders began to shake with silent sobs.

He didnít realize he was moving until found himself standing behind her. His hands moved, almost of their own volition. They hovered for a moment over her shoulders before he finally allowed them to settle. He slid his hands down her arms to her hands and hugged her, pressing his head next to hers, his mouth close to her ear.

"Please Catherine," he whispered. "Donít cry. Iím sorry...I love you...donít cry."

His words seemed to break the dam, and she cried harder.

"So much time..." she managed between sobs. "Weíve wasted so much time and all because of a silly old man."

"Itís my fault, Catherine," he told her. "I never questioned what he told me, even when I began to suspect that it wasnít the way he said it was." She could hear the tears in his voice.

"But I stayed away," she told him as she tried to regain control. "I didnít have to stay away. I could have come Below and forced the issue; insisted on being included in your memorial service. But I was so shocked and devastated that I didnít question...What a waste."

"Catherine, it wasnít entirely a waste. You were raising a child, a beautiful child. Youíve done such a good job."

"I wanted you to be able to be proud of her."

"I am, of her and of you."

He turned her in his arms and pulled her into his chest. She buried her face in his shirt and gave into the tears again. He nuzzled into the spot at the side of her neck, and she felt his tears on her skin.

They stood like that for quite a while. Catherine was savoring the feel of his arms around her as her tears stopped. Sheíd been in the city for months, but she finally felt like she was home. As her sobs quieted, her arms slid around his waist and she relaxed with a sigh.

She was about to speak, reciprocating with a statement of her feelings when Vincent pushed her a little away from him a little and looked into her eyes. She braced herself for Ďthe speechí as her green eyes met his blue ones.

She was stunned when he bent and his lips met hers. Her gasp of surprise allowed him to deepen the kiss. He tasted her and she lost herself in him.

When he finally pulled away they were both breathing heavily, and she was in a state of stunned arousal. If Vincent hadnít been holding her she was sure that sheíd be in a heap on the floor.

Vincent sensed her weakness and bent to pick her up. He sat on the side of the bed and settled her on his lap.

Catherine found her voice before he did.

"I was so stunned when I got that note from Father. I didnít believe it, but then I knew Father wouldnít lie about something like that," she laughed harshly. "Looks like I trusted the wrong person."

"When did you find out about Carrie?" he asked.

"It wasnít that long. I hadnít even realized that Iíd missed a period. There had been so much going on." She was ashamed of what she had planned to do, but she knew she had to tell him. "I was so caught up in my grief, I was trying to lose myself in work that I didnít notice anything." She looked up at him. "I didnít want to live without you any longer. I was desperate to find a way out. I had a plan to kill myself. I made an appointment with Peterís partner to ask for sleeping pills, but there was a misunderstanding and I was scheduled for a complete physical. I was too tired to argue and went ahead with it. That was when Dr. Novak told me I was pregnant. It gave me a reason to live; Carrie gave me back my life."

Vincentís arms tightened around her. "Iím so sorry you had to go through all that, Catherine."

She rested her head on his shoulder. "Itís over now, Vincent. When I found out I was pregnant, I was happy and sad at the same time. Happy that I still had part of you with me, but sad that you would never know your child, but I didnít want anyone Below to know. I had waking nightmares that Father would somehow coerce me into coming Below in case the baby looked like you; but then I figured that he probably wouldnít even believe that it was your baby. I didnít even get a chance to tell Peter. I left New York a short time after I found out. When I found a doctor I told him that my babyís father had some genetic abnormalities..." She saw him wince and rushed to explain. "I had to say something. I wanted to have my baby in the safest possible place, but I also wanted the doctor to know that there might be some problems. That was the best way I could come up with to insure that. I had an amniocentesis, and the doctor said that everything looked normal, so did all the ultrasounds. Carrie was born by C-section because she was over eight pounds."

"Iím surprised that you didnít have someone," he said after a few moments of silence.

"I did, I had Carrie," she told him.

"Itís not what I meant," he said.

"No, I know it isnít," she agreed. She cuddled closer. "I tried. I dated a little, but no one was right; no one ever clicked."

"Why was that?" he asked quietly, already knowing the answer.

"They were all nice, but I didnít love them...They...they werenít you," she said simply. "You didnít either..." Then a thought hit her and she sat up and looked at him. "Or am I assuming too much? You said that there was no one else, but you kissed me like you knew what you were doing; like youíd been doing it for years."

"I didnít, Catherine," he assured her. "I couldnít, and Iíve kissed no one, except as a son or a brother, until I kissed you. The Bond is a wonderful thing." He hesitated, watching her eyes as she took in his words. "I feel what you feel, almost as if we are one," he paraphrased the words heíd used the first time heíd told her of the Bond.

His eyes fell to the crystal, and he touched it with one finger.

"I wear it always," she whispered.

His hand captured hers and carried it to his chest where she felt a hard bump under his clothes. "And I wear your gift always."

They sat like that for a long time. Finally Catherine spoke.

"Can I stay with you tonight?" she asked quietly.

"Yes, I want to hold you like this for the rest of our lives," he told her.

"Will you make love to me?" she asked, this time even quieter.

"Yes, Catherine, but youíll have to refresh my memory."

She chuckled at that. "That could be a case of the blind leading the blind. Itís been an awfully long time."

"Then we will learn together," he said, seeking her mouth and kissing her again.

She was tugging at his vest when they finally broke the kiss. He leaned back and she made quick work of the laces; she pushed the vest off his shoulders and started on the shirt.

"Are you in a hurry, Catherine?" he asked in an amused tone. Even without the Bond he would have sensed her urgency.

"We have a lot of time to make up for," she told him with a grin.

He rose and set her on her feet and began to unbutton his shirt.

She took over the shirt, he was unbuttoning it much too slowly. Once she got it done, she started tugging the tails out of his pants but was side tracked by the sight of his chest. He put Michelangeloís David to shame. She couldnít resist; she planted a kiss right over his heart and rubbed her cheek against his lightly furred chest as she slipped her arms around his waist under the shirt.

When she pulled away, he grasped the chain of her necklace and drew it over her head. He placed it carefully on the bedside table then turned back to her.

The wide neck and low back of the dress made it impossible to wear a bra, but it also made it very easy to push the dress down. She waited a moment, but when he didnít move she pushed the dress off her shoulders and after she pulled her arms free the top of the dress slithered to her hips. He pulled her back into his arms and lost himself in the feel of her bare breasts against his chest.

She toed off her shoes when they broke the embrace. He pulled his shirt the rest of the way off, and she removed the pouch with the rose, placing it next to her crystal. He sat on the bed to remove his boots.

When Vincent finished with his boots he raised his head just in time to see the slight shimmy that sent the dress slipping the rest of the way down, leaving Catherine in nothing but a pair of silk bikini panties.

He noticed a horizontal scar across her stomach. He didnít speak, but reached out and drew a finger lightly along where it stretched almost from hipbone to hipbone below her belly button just above her panties.

She looked down at what he was doing.

"Caesarian section scar. Carrie weighed eight pounds, four ounces," she told him.

He pulled her closer and kissed the scar, sending a tremor through her whole body. Catherine leaned forward, and hugged his head close to her breasts.

Vincent had only meant his kiss to be healing, as if to kiss a childís hurt. It had been his first impulse; he hadnít meant it to be sexual. But Catherineís reaction, both through the Bond and physically took him completely by surprise. It sent a surge of what felt like electricity through his body straight to his groin. He wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her down on the bed next to him. He was covering any skin he could reach with kisses as he laid her on her back and followed her down.

She kissed him deeply, her tongue exploring his mouth, coaxing him to take the same liberties. He seemed hesitant at first. She nibbled his lower lip before she explored the intricacies of his upper lip with her tongue. She lightly touched the sharp upper and lower canines. He nipped her tongue and then her full lower lip and left her gasping for breath before he moved lower to her breasts.

He had seen her naked before. Heíd helped Father treat her wounds when he had brought her Below the first time, and there was that one time when theyíd made love in her apartment. Heíd seen other naked women. Heíd assisted Father many times when Mary wasnít available. Heíd studied Fatherís anatomy texts, and of course, there had been the magazines that Devin had hidden under their mattress. And since Fatherís death, heíd been the only full time physician they had Below.

He mentally compared her body with what it had looked like when heíd first seen her nearly fifteen years ago. She hadnít changed much. Her breasts were a little bigger, probably because sheíd nursed Carrie, but her waist was still small, her stomach flat; if he placed his thumbs together in front and spanned her waist with his hands, his fingers would probably still overlap in the back. She was fit and strong, her muscles toned. She was beautiful, a work of art, in his eyes.

He bent and captured one nipple in his mouth. She arched her back and moaned. He wasnít able to give her breasts the attention he wanted to, because she had begun reaching for the buttons on his pants, but her arms werenít long enough.

He finally tore himself away from her breasts, and rolled away from her so he could reach the buttons himself.

While he was doing that she pulled off her panties and scrambled under the covers. He was about to question that action, when the Bond told him that she was cold, and he realized that he should probably throw some wood on the brazier before things went any further.

He crossed the room and threw several pieces of wood onto the banked fire. He waited to make sure that they caught before he moved swiftly back to the bed where he pulled off his pants and got into bed pulling the covers up over both of them.

Catherine was a little disappointed, sheíd wanted to get a good look at him, but heíd moved so quickly, she hadnít been able to, so she decided that sheíd just have to do her looking another way. She cuddled into his side and started running her hands over his body. She closed her eyes and let her imagination show her what she was touching.

He was as she had remembered. His chest was lightly furred. He didnít have an over abundance of body hair, but what he had was soft instead of coarse like other men. Sheíd only had a fleeting glimpse as heíd got into bed, but she had seen that it was only a little darker than the hair on the rest of his body. I had been daylight their first time, but she hadn't taken the time to look except after heíd gone back to sleep.

When her hands first found him, he was erect, but not completely. As she explored more, she felt him growing in her hands. She opened her eyes and looked up to find him watching her intently.

"Iíll let you get away with covering up completely this time," she told him with an impish grin. "It is cold in here, but once it warms up, the covers will go and the lights will stay on."

He smiled and rolled her over onto her back, covering her body with his.

"I could say the same thing," he told her.

"But you got a good look before I caved to the cold," she told him.

She ran her hands down his sides to his hips then around to his butt. She tugged him to her, and felt him grow even bigger and harder against her stomach.

"It has been a very long time since I did this," she told him as her hands traveled up his back then pulled him down so she could nuzzle his ear. "Iím dreadfully out of practice and you are rather large, so we should probably try to take it slow. All that time of abstinence is almost like being a virgin again. Iím just as nervous as I was my first time."

Vincent hesitated a moment, then took a deep breath before he spoke.

"Iím petrified," he confided before he dipped his head and took her lips in another passionate kiss. He was finding that he liked kissing her; he hadnít indulged in it much the first time theyíd made love.

When he finally drew away, sheíd thrown all caution to the winds, and was reaching for him guiding him to where she wanted him; where sheíd dreamed so many times of having him since that first time.

She maneuvered him between her legs and drew her knees up a little as she guided his erection.

When he felt her wet warmth nearly enfolding the head of his penis he had to grit his teeth to maintain his control. He wanted to plunge all the way into her in one thrust, but sheíd asked him to go slowly. He knew that it would be agonizing to hold back like that, but for her he could do it. He opened himself to the Bond as completely as he could and closed his eyes, concentrating as he slowly inched forward.

A few times he stopped and stayed still when the Bond conveyed discomfort to him. He would hold in that position until he felt her pleasure building again and her muscles relaxing around him before moving forward again. He was amazed, when at last, he found himself fully surrounded by her. He opened his eyes to see her smiling up at him.

She pulled his head down and kissed him. "The Bond is a wonderful thing," she whispered just before their lips touched.

She tilted her pelvis a bit and nudged up. "Love me, Vincent," she whispered.

He knew the concept, and he knew what an orgasm felt like, but he was far from prepared for this. He remembered their first time, but the details were fuzzy. He slowly withdrew then he thrust forward again, and the sensation was exquisite; like nothing heíd ever experienced. He knew he wouldnít be able to last very long and he hoped Catherine was in the mood to be understanding.

He continued the movement, his pace quickening with each thrust. He was taken by surprise when Catherineís climax struck her and carried them both away. She cried out and held him with a strength that surprised him. The rhythmic clenching of her vaginal muscles carried him over the edge and his climax was only seconds behind hers.

They were both oblivious to anything but each other for a time. Vincent was the first to recover and he quickly rolled off to Catherineís side so he wouldnít crush her. He pulled her to his side and settled her head on his shoulder as he pulled the covers up around them.

"That was incredible," she murmured as she dropped kisses on his chest. "I may never move again."

"Nor I, Catherine," he agreed.

"I really did intend to talk when we got here," she said after a moment.

"I think we said everything that was necessary," he told her with a chuckle.

"No, we didnít," she disagreed.

"We didnít?" he asked in surprise.

"No," she answered as she turned to rest on his chest and look up at him. "I got distracted right when I was about to say something important."

"What was that, Catherine?" he asked.

"I love you. You said it, but I didnít get a chance toÖI love you. I missed you so much. I never dreamed I could ever be this happy! Iíve been happy since Carrie was born; Iíve been content, but there was always something missing. I always knew what it was, but I didnít think Iíd ever find you again; not in this life."

Epilogue

Catherine woke slowly. She was lying on her left side, knew she was waking, but thought she must still be holding on to part of her dreamÖshe could still hear tapping on the pipes. Sheíd had this dream so many time over the years. She always hated to turn it loose and wake. She lay still and listened; there were no traffic sounds. Even in the quiet neighborhood where she and Carrie lived they could still hear the sounds of New York City.

Then she remembered. Winterfest, Vincent. She rolled over and opened her eyes to see him watching her.

"Youíre smiling, Catherine," he observed.

"Iím happy," she said reaching out and touched his cheek.

He turned his head and kissed her fingertips then he reached for her and pulled her into his arms. "Thatís what you said last night." His kisses started out light and teasing, but soon progressed to passionate.

He rolled her over onto her back and was in the process of pushing the blankets down when they both heard the latch on the door rattle. They moved apart with close to inhuman speed, each grabbing the blankets and pulling them up under their chins thankful that the only light in the chamber was the golden glow from the stained glass window over the bed.

The door flew open and Carrie bounced into the room.

"Daddy, Mouse told me that the sentries said that Mom didnít go home last night but no one knows where she is. Have you seen her?" Carrie came to an abrupt stop half way across the chamber. "Hi Mom," she said with a grin as she spotted Catherine.

Catherine groaned, knowing that Carrie was going to see the clothing that theyíd left strewn about the chamber, and there were going to be questions.

Vincent was on the verge of borrowing under the covers when Catherine grabbed him kept him from doing it.

"No you donít," she hissed with a giggle. "Youíre not leaving me here to do all the explaining."

She felt him heave a sigh, then scoot back up on the pillows; he even allowed the blanket to slip down and reveal a little of his chest.

Catherine scooted up next to him and tucked the blankets under her arms hoping that Carrie wouldnít notice that she didnít have on a nightgown.

"Good morning, Carrie," she said as she glanced around the chamber. Their clothing was neatly folded on the table and there were two robes on the end of the bed. She looked at Vincent and raised her eyebrows slightly in question.

He smiled and nodded.

"Perhaps you should try knocking," Catherine suggested to her daughter.

"Mouse said to just come in, that Daddy always gets up early," Carrie told her.

"Why donít you go on and get some breakfast and we will join you there in a few minutes," suggested Vincent. "Do you know the way?"

"Sure, Iíll just follow where everyone is going." She turned and headed back toward the door.

"Close the door behind you, Carrie," Catherine called after her.

Carrie left, carefully closing the door. Catherine crumpled in a fit of giggles.

"Busted," she gasped out as she collapsed on his chest.

She was surprised to hear the rumble begin in his chest and then erupt as a full throated laugh.

"Iíve heard that is a common occurrence for couples with children," he finally managed to get out. "Perhaps we should see Mouse about a lock for the door."

She finally caught her breath but was still grinning as she wiped tears of laughter away. "Do you think he can install one on my bedroom door Above too?"

"Iím sure he can," he told her just before he kissed her senseless again.

NOTE: As any BATB fan will notice, I used pieces of dialog from episodes of the show and tried to weave them with my words to make a cohesive story .