Through the Fire
"I think we’ve got him, Radcliffe," Joe said triumphantly. "With this witness you dug up, we’re gonna put old Evans behind bars again for a good long time. Maybe this time they’ll keep him there."
Catherine smiled, a little wearily. She’d been working on this case day and night for weeks and would be very glad when it was over.
"Where’d you find him, anyway?" Joe asked suddenly.
Catherine shrugged and smiled ruefully. "Just lucky, I guess."
Joe put his head on one side and looked at her through narrowed eyes. "Come on, Radcliffe. What’s your secret?"
Reflexive panic shot through her for a moment until she realized he was teasing her. "What secret is that?"
"How do you managed to find witnesses like you do? And get them to agree to talk? What’s the secret?"
She grinned. "I’m good."
Joe laughed. "Okay," he said, raising his hands in surrender. "I’ll admit that. It kills me, but I’ll admit that. You’re good."
"So can I go home now?"
"Sure, go home." Joe waved her out, and Catherine escaped gratefully.
Outside it was already dark. Catherine flagged down a cab. Giving the driver her address, she sank into the seat and closed her eyes. God, she was tired.
By the time the elevator released her onto her floor, she was wondering if she had the strength to walk the few steps to her door. She did, and unlocked it, flipping the light switch as she went in – and then stopped in her tracks. Her apartment had been trashed, and right in the center of her dining nook table was a large, crudely made sign.
BACK OFF CHANDLER OR YOU’LL BE NEXT
At that very moment, the phone range. Catherine suppressed a scream and snatched it up. "Hello?"
"Cathy, get the hell out of that apartment!" Joe’s voice was tight and strained.
"Your witness was just found dead. Her throat was slashed," he said roughly. "And there was a note on the body."
"Somebody’s been here, too," she said, and read the sign to him.
"Get out of there!" he repeated, his voice now shaking. "I’ll send a cop to escort you to a safe place."
"No, I have somewhere to go," Cathy said. "Nobody’ll think to look for me there."
"Where? No, don’t tell me. Don’t tell anybody. Somebody could have your phone tapped. But call me the minute you get there."
"Okay, Joe." Catherine hung up, grabbed her purse, and ran. She was afraid to try the basement threshold – if they knew where her apartment was, they could be watching her – so she ran outside, straight for Central Park and Vincent.
She didn’t see the car until it was too late.
Vincent watched Father place his king in the very spot Vincent wanted it to be. When Father leaned back complacently, Vincent casually moved his rook and announced, "Checkmate."
Father stared at the chessboard in dismay, and Vincent chuckled.
Then a bolt of fear shot through him so suddenly it took his breath away. Father saw his face change and said, "What is it, Vincent?"
"Catherine," he said, snatching his cloak and running.
He skidded to a stop behind some trees at the edge of the park, watching the scene before him helplessly. The street in front of Catherine’s building was choked with emergency vehicles and personnel, people milling around, and a police officer with a roll of yellow tape was marking the perimeter of the accident scene. Vincent grabbed a tree for support – his legs threatened to give way with him. He could hear the paramedics talking as they worked over the limp body of Catherine in the street.
"She’s hurt bad. Hurry, take it easy, don’t make it any worse!"
"Radio ahead so they’re ready for us! We’ll need a surgical team on standby!"
Vincent stared at the white, still face of his dearest love and could feel no sense of her at all.
Catherine admired the roses growing up the wall. Carefully, she cut one and trimmed off the thorns. She turned and saw Vincent walking toward her. The sun picked out bright highlights in his golden hair, and he smiled at her. She held out a hand and he came closer to take it.
"Isn’t it a beautiful day?" she asked.
"Yes, it is." He put his arm around her and drew her close.
"We’re losing her! Code blue!"
Outside, in the waiting area, Charles Chandler paced restlessly, his face white. Joe sat on a hard plastic chair, twisting a rubber band around his nerveless fingers until it broke.
"Why doesn’t someone come?" Charles asked for the hundredth time.
Joe didn’t answer.
An eternity later, a doctor, still wearing his surgical scrubs, appeared in the door. Charles froze, and Joe shot to his feet.
"She’s stable," he began.
"Thank God," Charles said fervently.
"But what?" Joe said anxiously. Charles couldn’t speak at all.
"She’s slipped into a coma. The trauma, the extent of her injuries –"
"Will she live?" Charles spoke so softly he was almost inaudible.
"We don’t know," the surgeon said gently.
"Oh, my God." Charles sank into a chair, and Joe put a comforting hand on his shoulder.
In the alley behind the hospital, Vincent fell to his knees, no longer able to stand. He knew how serious it was. He was a doctor’s son. He could feel Catherine’s silent presence in his heart again, but there was no spark of thought or consciousness, not even the quiet peace of sleep. Just … a presence.
He looked up at the window of her room. She was so near and still so far away. There was nothing he could do. He rose and slowly went home to Father.
Father was awake and waiting and looked up with a question in his eyes, followed by concern as soon as he saw Vincent’s face. "What happened?"
"Catherine has … had an … accident." Vincent sat heavily in a chair and put his head in his hands. "She’s in the hospital. In a coma."
"Dear God," Father said blankly. He moved to Vincent’s side and took his son’s shoulders in his hands. "How?"
Vincent shook his head. "I don’t know. I think a car hit her. She was …" his voice broke, "lying in the street."
Father moved one hand to Vincent’s hair and stroked gently. "I’ll contact Peter. He can find out exactly what’s going on."
"Thank you, Father."
Father sent word on the pipes to contact Peter immediately and returned to Vincent.
Two hours later, Peter himself arrived. Running a hand over his hair, he said, "It’s serious, Vincent."
"I know that," Vincent said quietly, his eyes on his hands. "Tell me, Peter. Don’t try to soften it."
Peter exchanged a glance with Father over his head. At an almost-imperceptible nod from his friend, Peter continued, "Internal injuries. A severe concussion. A broken arm, some cracked ribs." He paused. "Coma."
Vincent winced and closed his eyes.
Very gently, Peter added, "There are several abrasions. Those aren’t as serious, considering … they’ve removed her spleen and her liver was bruised."
Vincent swallowed hard. "I want to see her."
"Vincent –" Father said.
"I want to see her! I must see her."
Peter glanced toward Jacob again, who gave a helpless gesture. "You must prepare yourself, Vincent."
Vincent’s head came up sharply and there was terror in his eyes.
"For the sight of her," Peter said quickly. "She is on a respirator. She’s receiving blood. She’s on several monitors, wires from her to the machines. She won’t respond to you."
"I understand," Vincent said tightly.
Father shook his head and sat down.
"Jacob, there have been documented cases where the voice of a loved one brought someone out of a coma," Peter said urgently. "Even unconscious, patients can often hear what is said to them, recognize the voices of family. The longer she’s out, the more danger there is of –" he stopped.
"I know that, Peter," Father said. "But what of the danger to Vincent?"
"Father, she needs me," Vincent said, his voice shaking.
"Jacob, don’t worry. I’ll get him in and out safely. You have my word."
"It’s right across the hall," Peter whispered to Vincent. "First room on the right. I’ll keep the nurses away, but you won’t have much time. They have to check each patiently frequently."
Vincent nodded, his eyes on the curtain drawn across the glass over Catherine’s room in the intensive care unit. Peter gave him a pat on the shoulder and stepped through the door and into the unit, heading for the nurse’s station. Vincent followed silently and ducked into Catherine’s room.
He stopped in dismay. In spite of Peter’s warning, he had not been prepared. A small, dim light near the machinery was the only illumination. Catherine was almost lost in the maze of wires and tubes attached to her tiny frame in the bed. The heart monitor beeped softly, and the respirator wheezed as it breathed for her. Her face was battered; one eye was swollen shut and bruised; her mouth was drawn out of shape by the tube in her throat.
Vincent’s eyes stung with tears he didn’t even notice as they ran down his face. He bowed his head, clenched his fists, and took a deep breath. He had to be strong for her. If she could sense his feelings as he could sense hers, she must not know how frightened he was for her. He moved to the bed, knelt, and took her hand. Kissing it, he whispered, "Catherine, I’m here."
There was no response. And though he knew in his mind that had been too much to expect, his heart had hoped otherwise. He bowed his head and rested his forehead against her hand clasped in his.
Still nothing. And in the quiet center of the bond, there was only silence.
The Great Hall was beautiful, lit by a thousand dancing candles. The music was soft and sweet as couples moved dreamily around the floor. She smiled up at Vincent, resplendent in a velvet vest and ruffled shirt. He tucked her hand more firmly under his arm.
"Would you like to dance?"
He led her to the dance floor and they joined the other couples, floating as if on air.
Vincent raised his head slowly and looked at Catherine. He thought he’d felt just a flicker of her consciousness.
"Catherine? Can you hear me?"
She did not move. He waited, holding his breath, but still she did not move. He laid his cheek against her limp hand and closed his eyes again.
"Please," he whispered. "Don’t let her die."
Vincent stared at the flames of the candles without seeing them as Father watched him, his unread book lying forgotten in his lap. Vincent had told Father, briefly, of Catherine’s condition when he returned, but since then he had not spoken or moved. Father sighed and shut the book. "Vincent."
After a moment, Vincent turned to look at him, and the raw agony in his eyes cut straight to Father’s heart.
"Cathy needs your strength now, Vincent," Father said when he could trust his voice. "You mustn’t give up."
"I haven’t given up, Father," Vincent said heavily. "But I am afraid." He threw his head against the back of the chair. "She doesn’t even know I am there. I can’t reach her." He slammed a fist into the chair’s sturdy oaken arm.
Father rose and went to him, putting his arm around his shoulders and feeling the tension there. Vincent covered his father’s hand with his own.
Vincent stood in the shadowed recess of the window in Catherine’s room, staring out at the sleeping city. There had been no change at all. She still lay motionless. He crushed a handful of the curtain in his hand and laid his head against the window, fighting for strength and hope. He turned to look at her, then went to her side and softly stroked the hair back from her face. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and tried again. "Catherine, come back!"
The heart monitor made a sound he hadn’t heard before. He whirled and looked at it, his heart in his throat. At the sound of footsteps, he quickly concealed himself.
Peter entered the room at a run, followed by a nurse. He bent over Catherine, opened her eyes and peered at them, using a little flashlight he produced from his pocket, felt her pulse, and listened to her heart. Finally he said to the nurse, "She’s all right. Go back to your station."
The nurse exited silently and Vincent stepped out of his hiding place.
"She’s all right," Peter said. "Her vital signs are steady. Try not to worry."
Peter laid his hand on Vincent’s arm. "We’re doing everything we can. I love her, too."
Charles Chandler paced the hallway, waiting for Peter to finish going over the latest test results. At last, he appeared and came toward Charles, who stopped pacing and put his hand against the wall for support.
"Charles, I’m sorry," Peter said. "There’s no change. And this morning –"
When he didn’t continue, Charles prodded him. "This morning?"
Peter sighed. "She had convulsions. We got them under control almost immediately," he added hastily when he saw Charles’ expression. "She’s fine now."
"Fine? She’s in a coma!"
"We’re doing everything we can," Peter said, and he realized as he never had before why doctors did not treat their own families. "All you can do is talk to her, let her know you’re near … and pray."
"Vincent? May I come in?" Mary hesitated at the doorway.
Vincent was lying on his bed, one arm over his eyes, seemingly asleep, but at Mary’s voice, he drew a ragged breath and said, "Yes."
She drew a chair up next to him. "How is she?"
"We’re all praying for her, Vincent. She’ll be all right."
"You can’t know that."
"No, but I feel it. Don’t you?" When he didn’t respond, she reached for the arm over his eyes and gently pushed it aside. "Look at me and tell me she could leave you now."
His eyes were wet. "But I’m still afraid … that she will."
"No." Mary squeezed his hand. "She won’t. But you must believe she won’t with all your heart. Hold on to that feeling. Let her feel it, too, through your bond. Let her borrow your strength. Reach out to her through the bond and she will come back. I know it."
Vincent gazed at her silently for a moment, then sat up and kissed her cheek. "Thank you."
"For what?" Her eyes were moist, too.
Vincent watched Catherine breathe. They had removed the respirator at last, and she was breathing on her own, but there was no other improvement. She still lay motionless, unresponsive, her face almost as white as the sheets on which she lay. Her limp hand was so thin that it was almost lost in his. He turned his head and closed his eyes against the pain. It had been almost a week. Would she ever awaken?
He kissed her hand and reached up to touch her cheek. "Catherine, please hear me!" He couldn’t keep the growing despair out of his voice.
But there was nothing, only the rise and fall of her breath and the beeping of the monitor.
Vincent tried to concentrate on Mary’s words of hope. Reach out to her through the bond. Closing his eyes and bowing his head, he concentrated on that place deep in his heart. He willed his strength to move through it and pass into Catherine. He held his breath. Did he feel any response? Was it real, or his imagination?
"Hear me, Catherine. Hold onto me. Don’t …" his voice broke. "Don’t leave me!" A tear fell onto her hand in his. "You are my world, my life. I love you."
The bond. Concentrate on the bond. Reach her through the bond. Call her through the bond.
Catherine was walking through a dark, empty building. She could see only a few inches in front of her, and could hear no sound of traffic or other people. Yet she knew it was urgent that she hurry; there was somewhere she must go. She quickened her pace. Her heart pounded with fear, with excitement. It was just ahead! She had to run!
He let Catherine fill his heart and mind. Her scent, her voice, her smile.
Her hand twitched.
He looked at her face. No change. In desperation he kissed the palm of her hand, held it against his heart. "My love, please …"
He held his breath. That had not been his imagination. Hardly daring to hope, he fixed his eyes on her face and his entire concentration on the bond. Come back. Catherine, come back!
Her eyelids fluttered and then opened. At first, her eyes were unfocused, glazed, but slowly they cleared and found his face. With his tears falling unheeded on their clasped hands as he watched … she smiled.