Trophy Wife

Cathy DuBois

Catherine stood at the entrance to her massive walk in closet. Her mind was on the coming evening. She was excited to be going to this gala event. All of her friends and acquaintances would be in attendance since this was THE social event of the season. She was so glad that her husband liked going to parties and they made such a handsome couple. He was a great dancer and never failed to see that they got to dance the night away. It was such fun being married to Tom. A nonstop party, it seemed. She took a deep breath and walked into her wardrobe. What would she wear? That was the most important question she ever had to consider and Catherine was momentarily surprised by the sadness that thought seemed to evoke but she quickly pushed it aside. She was not going to let anything spoil her enjoyment tonight as this also happened to be their fifth wedding anniversary and she and Tom had decided that this party would be the perfect way to celebrate. They were going to dine out in their favorite restaurant before going to the festivities and afterward they planned a quiet walk through their favorite section of Central Park. The evening was promising to be pleasantly warm for April and Catherine was planning to give Tom his present during their walk.

Catherine chose her dress and shoes and put them on. She stared at herself in the cheval mirror and liked what she saw. She was not tall and could be described as petite. She had added highlights to her light brown hair and it now had a golden blonde cast to it. Her dress was black velvet with a matching jacket, and the jacket had a gold repeating print stamped on it which reminded Catherine of rock art she had seen in her travels to the American southwest. The gold in the jacket picked up the highlights in her hair and warmed her skin beautifully. She smiled at the image she presented. She knew Tom would approve and that was what really mattered. She put on a pair of gold earrings, her lipstick and a spritz of her perfume and she was ready to meet Tom downstairs.

Dinner was a grand affair as Tom had ordered ahead and champagne and caviar were awaiting their arrival. He told Catherine yet again how beautiful she was and she was so glad she had chosen Tom. Her life was everything she had ever dreamed it would be except for the fact that she and Tom could not have children. They had both been through tests and it had been confirmed that she was infertile. Tom seemed to accept this fact and had not seemed overly disappointed. She had known she would one day be a mother and this was something she was having great difficulty accepting, but it was hardly Tomís fault. She secretly hoped that maybe, eventually, he would agree to adoption. In the mean time, she would not let her sudden melancholy mood ruin their evening.

They ate and enjoyed their time together until they needed to leave for the party. Tom hailed a cab and they were soon dancing with their friends and enjoying all the amenities that an elite New York City party offers. The mayor, governor and other officials were in attendance and since Tom was involved in politics Catherine was involved by default. Many conversations were eagerly joined as the couple made their rounds with Tom proudly showing off his wife. Finally, Tom decided that it was the appropriate time to leave the party and Catherine took his offered arm while they left the building.

As they crossed the street and entered Central Park, Tom was telling Catherine a joke one of the Senators had related to him about an associate and Catherine laughed and told Tom how much she had enjoyed the evening so far. She was smiling softly up into his deep brown eyes. He squeezed her hand and they walked in companionable silence. She was about to reach into her pocket to retrieve his gift when several men came out of nowhere and began a furious assault on the couple.

_______________

 

Vincent was in his chamber preparing for his date. He liked women a great deal. They were warm and sweet and oh so willing. He had much experience with dating and being different had certainly been no deterrent to his success. In fact, he sometimes thought it probably helped as women liked to rescue people and he Ďsure did look as if he needed rescuingí, he mused, allowing a large smile that showed his sharp white canines. ĎYes, indeed.í

He grabbed his cloak and proceeded to the basement entry to meet Andrea. She was the daughter of a helper. That was usually how he met his women. Being down in a hole in the ground did pose certain limitations on oneís ability to meet people. He knew that women were drawn to his virility and that he had a certain chivalrous manner that was a real crowd pleaser. He felt that nature had been cruel to him and therefore he deserved what pleasures he could get from his very limited social life.

Vincent thought about how many times Father had lectured him on his responsibilies as the rightful heir to the tunnel world and how it was important to conduct himself with the proper decorum so that he could gain the respect of all those he would be governing someday. Father wanted Vincent to marry and settle down, maybe even have a family but Vincent was not ready for that now and seriously doubted he ever would be. At least in the short term, Vincent was enjoying himself immensely and had no plans to settle down.

______________

 

Andreaís face lit up with a happy smile the moment she set eyes on Vincent strolling toward her. He was such a hunk and at least for tonight he was all hers. She got all tingly inside. She had heard the rumors. She knew Vincent was quite the lady killer and she could hardly wait for him to turn all his formidable charms onto her.

Vincent had taken Andrea to the mirror pool after they had listened to the childrenís Spring Concert. He was listening to her tell him about her new job. Vincent enjoyed her company but was ready to stop talking. He reached over to her and kissed her and when she kissed him back he deepened the kiss. When they came up for air, he asked her if she would like to go to a more private place to continue their "Discussion." She, of course, readily agreed so they went to the private chamber Vincent had established especially for this purpose.

Sometime later Vincent walked Andrea back to her threshold and expressed his wishes for her to have sweet dreams. She smiled up at him and reached up to kiss him on the cheek. "I have already had my sweet dream tonight, Vincent." And up the ladder she went.

Vincent, feeling very full of himself, didnít want to retire just yet. He was remembering his time with Andrea and had to admit she was a real prize. She was warm and witty and schooled in the ways of loving a man and she was willing to see him occasionally without those pesky commitments. Life was good. He turned toward the nearest park entrance and, pulling the hood of his cloak up and over his hair, he began, unbeknownst to him, the most challenging journey of his entire life.

_____________

 

 

Catherine was lying on her side in a pool of blood. Her clothing had been partially ripped away and her body kicked and her face beaten and slashed. Her breathing was very shallow but she did still breathe. Several feet away from her lay Tom but he had not been so lucky. He had been beaten and stabbed repeatedly and his lifeís blood had drained out on the grass as Catherine had been raped, beaten and stabbed. He had used every ounce of his strength to try to protect Catherine but in the end it proved to be of little help.

This was the scene that greeted Vincent as he crested the small hill on the path to the carousal. At first he just stopped and blinked, trying to clear this scene of carnage from his vision. When the scene refused to go away he moved into action. Maybe he could help, somehow. He checked the man for a pulse and was not really surprised it was missing. Then he turned to the woman with little hope of finding her alive, either. He reached for her neck to find her pulse very weak but there. Without thinking he reached underneath her body and picked her up and began to run for the home tunnels.

The sentries were tapping out a message telling Father to meet Vincent in the hospital chamber to help with an injured woman. Father was beside himself when Vincent finally arrived. As carefully as he could, Vincent placed the woman on the bed and entreated Father to get busy helping her.

"Vincent, what on earth has come over you? Why did you bring this woman down here? "Father asked, more than a little upset.

"Father, I found her bleeding badly and her pulse was so weak I felt I should get her help as soon as I could. This was the only way." Vincent answered, a pleading look in his eyes. "The man that was with her still lays up there dead. It was an awful scene, Father. They must have been attacked by several people and I thought I needed to get her to safety as well."

"Very well, Vincent, I shall tend to her wounds, but mark my words, no good will come from this." Father began to work on Catherine. He was shocked as he discovered the many wounds she had sustained and it took several hours before he was satisfied that he had done all he could for her. She had lost a lot of blood and he had sent Jamie to Peterís house to have him obtain some blood for a transfusion. Peter had returned with Jamie and after discussing the situation with Jacob decided to get Catherine to a hospital. Peter had recognized Catherine and knew that her being missing would cause quite a stir. So Vincent picked Catherine up once again and carefully carried her to the backdoor of St. Vincentís Hospital. Peter went in and got a stretcher and helped Vincent come in and place Catherine on the stretcher. Then as Peter headed to the ER, Vincent silently left the way he had come.

Vincent had been affected by this woman, Catherine, more than he expected to be. When he heard her name it sounded so right and when he had picked her up to take her to the hospital he had felt something strange. It was a stirring in his heartÖa warm spot like a candle had been lit. It was very disconcerting to him. He was sure that he would never see Catherine again, so it really didnít matter anyway. He was just thankful that he had found her and was able to render assistance in time.

Father was waiting for Vincent when he returned from St Vincentís and was anxious to learn of his patientís condition. "How is she doing, son?"

"Father, Catherine is sleeping much too deeply. I am sure that Peter has her on a blood transfusion by now, so she will be doing better shortly." Vincent related. "Peter also has the necessary antibiotics to keep her from getting any infections, so that will work to her advantage as well." Vincent related, a bit of sadness creeping into his voice. "They also have access to a plastic surgeon above, so Catherine will not have to suffer unnecessarily because of what they did to her face."

"Vincent, you did the right thing. Catherine would have died by now if you had left her in the park. I am sorry I got upset earlier with your actions." Father apologized.

"Thank you, Father. I think I will retire for the night, now." Vincent took his leave going directly to his chamber. He was overcome by exhaustion and fell across his bed without even changing into his night clothes.

Sometime during the night, Vincent woke up. He knew it was very early in the morning and couldnít figure out what had awakened him. He was uncomfortable and got up to change out of his clothes. As he was undoing his pants he noticed all the blood on them. He was instantly taken back to that scene of carnage in the park and Catherineís broken body lying in all that blood. He was so glad he had happened along when he had and wished he could have been there earlier to have maybe helped prevent the incident altogether or at the very least protected Catherine. Vincent had never been able to comprehend why anyone would want to hurt a woman. It was just beyond his understanding. Mansí inhumanity to man was pretty unbelievable!

Vincent stood very still. There it was again, that warm spot in his heart area. It was burning hotter now than before. It was very pleasant but he was at a loss as to its origins. He knew it wasnít heartburn, he could identify that feeling. What was it? Then as if it were answering him he heard a womanís voice faintly calling to him. What was this? What was happening to him? Had all of his loose ways finally caught up with him? Was this his punishment? Father would probably think so. He decided that a swim in the cold waters of the nearby falls would chase this malady from him so off he went in search of peace of mind.

____________

 

Catherine was trying to wake up. She knew she was not going to like what she was going to find when she did but didnít understand how she knew. She hurt all over and her throat was so dry. Her head ached and she really hated this hard bed she was in. She forced herself awake so she could ask Tom what had happened to her. He would know.

"Cathy, it is good to see you are finally awake." Peter spoke to her softly, a kind smile in his eyes.

"Peter, may I have a drink of water, please?" Catherine croaked. She took a long drink of the wonderful liquid. She took another sip and asked, "Peter, what happened to me, where is Tom? How long have I been here?"

"Whoa, Cathy, please, one question at a time. You and Tom were attacked in Central Park four nights ago. You were both badly beaten and cut. You were raped." Peter related as compassionately as he could.

"How is Tom?" Catherine had a worried look in her eyes. "Where is he?"

"I am so sorry Cathy, but Tom didnít make it."

"Oh, Peter. What am I going to do? Tom was my life!" Catherine sobbed and began what would be the long process of grieving.

"Cathy, I know that this is hard for you to imagine right now, but you will get through this. Remember that I am always available if you need someone to talk to. Funeral arrangements have already been made by Tomís parents since no one knew how long you would be unconscious. I think that you would be able to attend as the service is planned for Friday afternoon. If you are up to it I could take you in a wheelchair. As long as you are careful, it should be okay."

"Thank you, Peter. I will rest up for the ordeal to come." Catherine answered, feeling a deep sadness having overtaken her usual sense of inner peace. How she would ever cope with the loss of Tom she had no idea.

The rest of the week passed in a sameness that is always present in a hospital setting. Nurses coming and goingÖvisitors in and outÖdoctors checking inÖenforced therapy trips around the hallways and the night time coming too soon and lasting too long. Catherineís heart was so heavy with the grief of losing Tom that nothing really touched her. Her body was sore, but it was healing. Her plastic surgeon was making plans for her surgery as soon as she was strong enough and he had every expectation that Cathy would totally recover from her ordeal physically.

Tomís death was front page headline news. Tom had a promising political future and was well liked. His family had been big political contributors for over three generations in New York State. The governor had contacted the DA and insisted that he put his best people on this case. So Joe Maxwell, the assistant DA, had come to see her.

He had asked all the questions he could think of and she had answered as best she could. She had no idea why anyone would want to harm them, especially in such a rage filled manner. There had been 4 men all wearing ski masks. The obvious leader kept shouting "This will teach you, scum!" She would probably be able to identify his voice, but not much else. It was dark, it happened quickly, and she had been terrified. Mr. Maxwell thanked her and left his card with her in case she remembered anything else he might find useful.

Finally, Friday came and Catherine prepared for the funeral. Her best friend Jenny had brought her an appropriate dress and a hat with a large brim with delicate black lace tastefully draped from the brim. Catherine had no desire to allow the whole world to check out her broken face or see the deep circles under her eyes. Her grief was her own. This was Tomís day and she was going to see that everyone focused on that.

The service was beautiful and the church was filled to capacity. Tomís many family members were there and offered her any help she might need. Her friends were there and did their best to protect Catherine from the news people and cameras that were waiting outside.

After the service at the cemetery as she placed a single flower on his ornate coffin, a fresh flow of tears covered her face. "Goodbye, Tom. We had a wonderful life and I will always love you." Catherine whispered tenderly and motioned for Peter to turn the wheelchair and push her out of the cemetery. He could only wonder for the hundredth time what she would do now. Her whole life had been Tom, his wishes, likes, needs and happiness. She had no idea who she was without Tom or what she would do with the rest of her life.

______________

 

Vincent had been working in the classroom, helping his students to grasp the concept of all things geometric when he felt an overpowering sense of sadness and loss come over him. He placed his hand over his chest and took a deep cleansing breath. This was not the first time this had happened and he was becoming very concerned about it. Was this a foretelling of disaster? Some type of premonition? There was only one thing left to do. As soon as his duties were done this day, he would head out to find Narcissa. She would be able to shed some light on this new development.

When Vincent reached the lower levels in his search for Narcissa, he was more confused than ever. His heart had been accosted for hours with alternating bouts of grief and loss. It felt as if he had lost someone very dear to him. But he knew of no such loss. He hoped it wasnít a premonition. He was brought out of his introspection when Narcissa materialized directly in front of him.

"Hello, Child." She spoke as if it was an everyday occurrence to see Vincent down here.

"Hello, Narcissa." Vincent spoke with love and admiration. He knew others thought of her as a witch or worse. He knew she was a very wise person who had generously, if a bit mysteriously, counseled him through the years whenever his fate became to burdensome.

"What brings you here, Child?" she asked.

"I have been having overwhelming feelings of loss and sadness for the last week and have no idea why." Vincent related, raising his hands as if to be ready to grasp the answer out of the air.

"Your life as you know it has ended, Vincent. The grief and loss is from another who seeks you but does not yet know it. The common ground is blood and death and love. Many changes are coming, above and below. You must come into your manhood and lead the lost ones to the light." She spoke as plainly as she ever had, so Vincent was as confused as ever.

"Go now, open your heart...listen within, ChildÖlistenÖ" She implored him before walking away.

Vincent stood where he was for awhile going over her words again and again. He was wondering, not for the first time, why it was always so difficult to discern the meaning of her words. Would it be so hard for her to just say what she meant? It was so frustrating. It was a good thing that Vincent enjoyed a good puzzle, because this was a dandy.

__________________

 

Catherine was waking up from surgery. The plastic surgeon had repaired her face and felt that she would heal nicely. She would be able to go home tomorrow. She wanted to go home, except not really. There was nothing but memories of Tom at home and she didnít need that. She had decided that she would move back into the apartment she had lived in before marrying Tom. She had been renting it out and had asked Peter to give the current tenants notice to vacate. Until they did, she would live with Peter. She was not ready to be alone just yet and he was more than glad to watch over her for a little while longer. She closed her eyes and again went to that place where her grief wouldnít follow her.

___________________

 

Catherine had settled into Peterís house and was slowly making her recovery. Peter was glad the plastic surgery had been successful and Cathy looked as beautiful as she once had. Now if her heart could be so easily repaired. She spent endless hours just sitting and staring out the window into the back yard. She was so sad and so alone. She had gotten much thinner and looked frail to him. His heart ached for her. He had encouraged her to see a therapist to help with the trauma of her attack but she couldnít see how that would help. Tom was dead and no amount of therapy would bring him back. She had yet to get to the grief about her attack and rape. Peter knew that was yet to come and his heart bled for her. He would see if Jacob had any ideas about how to help Cathy.

"Jacob, how are you feeling today?" asked Peter as he entered the library.

"Oh, you know, Peter. These old bones are tired. My hip hurts like the dickens and my eyes are going. But other than that, I am okay." Jacob intoned.

"Well, letís take a look at that blood pressure. Since your fall last month, I want to be sure that there is nothing else going on." Peter did the check twice, because the pressure was much lower than it should be. "Jacob, have you noticed anything unusual about your health recently?"

"No. Why?" Jacob was suddenly aware that Peter was very serious.

"Your blood pressure is very low. Letís get you on some medication to see if we can get it back up where it needs to be."

"Alright, Peter. What do you think may be causing it?"

"Jacob, you are no longer a spring chicken." Peter announced with a smile on his lips.

"Well that could be a symptom, I suppose." Jacob chuckled. "An interesting diagnosis, actually."

"I donít want to alarm you." Peter said in a more serious tone. "Letís get you on some meds and I will keep a close check for the next few days. I am confident that you will be right as rain in no time." Peter reassured his long time friend and associate.

Vincent had overheard the end of the conversation as he had been coming to see Father about a problem. He stopped and noticed Peterís concerned expression.

"Hello Peter." Vincent said as he came down the three steps into the library. "What brings you to our fair world today?"

"Well, other than to see how Jacob is doing, I had wanted to ask if either of you had any ideas about what I can do to help Cathy begin to face her ordeal and grieve her grief?"

"Catherine? You are speaking about the woman I found bleeding in the park, Peter?" Vincent asked, barely able to breathe for some reason.

"Yes, she is the one, Vincent. You donít know it but I delivered Cathy Chandler. Her dad Charles and I were life long friends. Now, both of her parents and her husband are gone and I feel the need to look after her. So she has moved in with me until her apartment is vacated and is repainted. She does not want to go back to the house she shared with her husband. She is so melancholy and I canít get her to take an interest in anything."

Vincent sat down and tried to put it all together. He had rescued a total stranger in the park and Peter who had been his doctor since he was brought to the tunnels was also her doctor. What a coincidence!

"Peter, does she know about our world?" Vincent asked.

"No, she has no memory of your finding and saving her. In fact, I am pretty sure she has blocked that whole night from her memory." Peter answered.

"Maybe if we could bring her down here we could get her interested in other people and their problems and it would help ease the pain of hers. She could become a helper." Vincent suggested looking at Father for approval not knowing why he wanted this so badly.

"You know I donít approve of telling our secret unless it is absolutely necessary, Vincent. I donít think this qualifies." Father reminded him.

"Peter can vouch for her. Peter, can she be trusted to keep our secret?" Vincent asked.

"I believe she can. Cathy is a very kind and considerate person."

"Does she possess any talents that could be useful down here?" Asked the ever practical Father.

"She has been trained as an attorney, but she has not worked for over 5 years." Peter related.

Vincent jumped on that one. "Father, we have many people who could use legal advice from time to time. Letís offer her the opportunity to become a helper."

"Vincent, Peter, it is against my better judgment but I am too tired to argue the point today."

Vincent knew that it was very unlike Father to give in so easily. He didnít look well and Vincent vowed to keep a closer eye on him for the next little while. Father was getting on in age and maybe it was time to get him to retire from his many responsibilities. Vincent would have to give this more thought. It would mean that Vincent would have to assume these same responsibilities and he was not at all keen about doing that. He liked to break rock not manage it. Narcissaís voice came to him. "Many changes are coming."

Peter and Vincent decided to have Cathy come below as soon as she wanted to. Peter would have to use his own judgment on how to work all of that out. He would warn Vincent so he could decide if he wanted to be present or not when she made her appearance.

_____________

 

Fatherís health was not improving. Vincent was growing more concerned with each passing day. Jacob was the only father he had ever known. What would he do without Jacobís love and support? It was not to be considered. The medicine Peter had prescribed was helping a little but Jacob seemed to be fading a little each day. He had lost interest in reading and had to be cajoled into eating. But when he wouldnít play a game of chess, Vincent knew the end was near.

Ever since Peterís last visit, Vincent had started to take over the daily duties of the tunnel patriarch. He wanted to relieve Father of some of the tasks of running such an enterprise, but had hoped that it would be for the short term only. Now he had to face the fact that it would be for the long term. His heart was heavy and the only bright spot came when Peter sent a message saying that Cathy had accepted their invitation and would be down for Sunday dinner. Even Father had brightened at that news. Now Vincent had to decide if he wanted her to see him yet or not. He felt that it probably wouldnít make a great deal of difference and would help explain the reason for this world in the first place. It had been his experience that women accepted him quite readily and supposed that Catherine would do the same. He would just do what felt right when the time came.

________________

 

Catherine had been looking out the window when Peter had come back home from his visit to Jacob. She had welcomed him and gone back to looking out the window. Peter sat down next to her and took her hand in his.

"Catherine, it is time for you to take another step out of this self imposed hermit status. I have some very special friends that I would like to introduce you to. We have been invited to dine with them on Sunday afternoon. Please dress warmly and wear serviceable shoes for we will be walking there." Peter said somewhat mysteriously.

"I donít want to go, Peter. Please give them my apologies." Catherine said with no feeling whatsoever.

"I am sorry, Cathy, but I have already accepted the invitation and they are expecting both of us." Peter stated firmly and walked away. He was hoping that he could force her a littleÖjust a little push.

When Sunday arrived, it found Catherine dragging her feet. She did not want to socialize. Not without Tom by her side. It just would be too painful. But she also felt she owed Peter a lot and the least she could do was attend this dinner with him. She would try. She really would. But she would not enjoy it.

Peter surprised Catherine when he took her hand and lead her to his basement door. "Come on, Cathy, this will be a day you will not soon forget." She followed him down the stairs and into what appeared to be an old underground drainage or rail tunnel. There were lights all along their way and she noted that it looked like Peter was very familiar with the route. Her curiosity was working for the first time in a long while as she followed along wondering where they would end up.

They approached a junction and up ahead were more lights and voices. Catherine was on full alert now as she kept hearing a strange tapping sound. Peter led her into Jacobís library and down the steps to his chair. Jacob did not stand but reached out his hand for a warm handshake as Peter introduced Catherine to him. She looked around the room enthralled. This was too much. What was this place? Who was this man? This had to be a dream. She pinched herself and Jacob, seeing the action, said to her, "Cathy, it is not a dream although it has felt that way to me sometimes as well."

"Jacob, I am pleased to meet you. How is it you came to be here, in this magical place?" Catherine asked, feeling his warm frail hand gently clasp her hand as he accepted her handshake.

"I can probably better explain that." said a warm, deep husky voice from behind her.

Catherine turned to face the most beautiful creature she had ever laid eyes on. She was so taken by his appearance that she found herself staring. Any questions she had been about to ask flew completely out of her mind.

Vincent smiled and walked down the steps to stand in front of her. He was so glad she was showing no signs of fear or revulsion. In fact he was certain she was admiring him. But then, most women did so he was not sure why he thought this one would be different. "Hello, Catherine, I am Vincent Wells. How do you do?" He asked in his most seductive tone smiling his small smile.

Catherine realized she had been staring and felt herself blush. She cleared her throat and answered him. "I am well, thank you, Vincent."

"Welcome to our world. Please join with me and the rest of my tunnel family as we sit down to our Sunday dinner." He offered her his arm and she started to take it but the gesture reminded her of Tom and she just smiled and said she would be honored.

Vincent noted the pained looked that passed across her eyes and took her gently by the elbow to lead her up the stairs and out into the corridor and then walked beside her to the dinning hall. Everyone had been told to expect her and they were ready to greet her and make her feel comfortable when she arrived in the hall. Dinner was a smashing success and Catherine seemed to be enjoying herself for the first time since the attack.

After desert was served, Vincent offered to show her some of his world. She smiled up at him and agreed to the offer. He could feel her tiredness and knew he couldnít take her far. They walked to the mirror pool and she loved it. They sat and he told her the story of how their world came to be. Then he told her how helpers had made it possible for this world to continue and he invited her to become a helper.

She had noticed a sadness creeping into Vincentís voice and she asked him why he was sad.

"Father is very ill and I am afraid that we are about to lose him. Not only is he the only father I have ever known, but he is the founder of this community and his care and guidance will be sorely missed." Vincent explained to her, feeling the weight of his new responsibilities along with the possibility of Fatherís leaving him sooner than later.

"I am well aware of the cost of losing a loved one." Catherine spoke quietly to him. "It is a hard place to travel, and I am not sure that life is ever the same afterward." Tears had gathered in her eyes and Vincent felt himself needing to comfort her as well as being comforted by her. He pulled her into his arms and they stayed that way for a long moment.

"Well, I think we should be getting back, as Peter didnít want me to tire myself too much." Catherine broke the contact and suddenly stood up. Vincent felt deprived. All of a sudden all he wanted was to hold Catherine againÖto feel her back in his arms. He shook his head to clear his thoughts.

"Yes, Catherine, letís get you back." Vincent put his hand on her back and pointed her in the right direction.

_______________

 

Thus began the start of Catherineís involvement with the tunnel world. She made several trips down to see how Jacob was doing and to bring down medicine and advice from Peter when he couldnít get down himself. She had grown to be quite fond of the old guy. Jacob could be very stern but he wasnít mean and he was a gentleman. She was always amazed that such educated men could live in these conditions. She had always thought that education meant moving on up, not down. She was being forced to rethink that assumption.

She was astounded at the depth of knowledge possessed by Vincent. One would have thought that he had been educated in the best schools on the planet. He was a voracious reader and had an endless curiosity. When he found out that she was so well traveled they spent hours talking about the places she had been and the details she could remember about each destination. The really impressive thing about his mind was the way he could quote passages from books and poetry and remember the authorís name. He was really quite remarkable.

Vincent and Catherine spent many hours together and they were becoming good friends. Catherine had all but given up her life above and when her apartment was finally ready for her she reluctantly moved back in. She was telling Vincent that she was not looking forward to it because it would mean she had no direct access to the tunnels. He surprised her one evening by walking her to the access that he and Mouse had recently finished under her apartment building.

So life for Catherine was slowly getting better. She still missed Tom terribly, but sharing her time and talents below was certainly very good medicine. Vincent had encouraged her to find work that she found meaningful and she was still tossing that idea around. Money was no object as Catherine had been very well off in her own right before Tomís passing. Now, she was wealthy beyond the needs of many lifetimes. But work was good for what ails you, or so Jacob had said. She knew he was right but she wanted to find the right work and not just a job.

She was starting to feel like she was going to be all right when one night she had a horrible dream. She woke herself up screaming. It was her attack. She was able to remember it now. It seemed that she was well enough to begin to process the trauma and her unconscious had helped her access the memories. She grabbed her pillow close and began to cry, grieving for all she had endured and all that she had lost that night.

____________

 

Vincent stopped in his tracks. He had been returning home after a night prowling the streets of NYC. He had been hit with a powerful feeling of horror. He knew it was emanating from Catherine. This connection he had with her had been growing steadily since he had found her in the park and he was coming to understand it a little better. He knew he had to go to her. She needed him. He turned around and began running toward her apartment.

He landed on her balcony with a soft thud and saw her sitting up in her bed with her knees pulled up and her arms wrapped around them. She was crying. He approached her French doors and tapped on them. She looked up and was surprised to see that it was Vincent. She jump up and threw the doors open and launched herself at him. He caught her and held her tightly. "Catherine, I felt your pain. Tell me."

"Oh, Vincent, I remembered the attack. How Tom was killed trying to protect me. How I was beaten, cut and then raped. It was awful, Vincent. I wish I had died, too." Catherine wailed as the tears streamed down her face.

"No, Catherine, not that...not ever that! You were meant to live. You have much to give and much to learn. Please donít ever believe you would be better off dead." Vincent was suddenly afraid. For the first time in his life he needed a woman, this woman to be in his life.

"Vincent, how can I face this after losing Tom? It is all too much. I will go insane, I know I will."

"No, Catherine. You have the courage. I know you." Vincent stated as he held her tightly to him, willing her to be strong. She had to find the courage he somehow knew was there.

He held her for a long time while she cried. Then he helped them sit down on the bench on the balcony and he pulled her up close to him. She smelled so goodÖher hair fresh and clean. She finally gave in to her exhaustion and he picked her up and carried her inside to her bed. He gently covered her and then sat down on the chair by the door to keep watch over her until dawn was approaching. He left her a note and slipped away back to his world.

_______________

 

Jacob was not responding when Mary tried to wake him for his morning medication. She pulled up a chair and put her hand on his shoulder and began to cry. She would miss him so. She had stood by his side for to many years to count, helping him carry the burden of leadership in the only way open to her. She would now grieve for him in the same way.

When Vincent had returned home from Catherineís he could sense that the energy in the tunnels was different and he knew his father had passed. He went directly to Fatherís chamber and one look at Mary told him it was true. Vincent approached the figure on the bed and knew his father had gone in a peaceful sleep. Of that he was grateful. He picked Mary up and sat her down on his lap and held her while they both cried. It just would never be the same. Vincentís heart would take a long time to heal.

After Vincent had pulled himself together and had escorted Mary back to her chamber, he begrudgingly assumed the mantle of leadership and announced on the pipes that Jacob had passed. He declared that today would be made an official tunnel Holiday to evermore commemorate the remarkable life of Jacob Wells, Father/Founder of the Tunnel World.

The pipes remained quiet for the rest of the day. The grief was a palpable thing in the tunnels. William prepared food that could be left out so when and if people wanted to eat they could. Vincent was visited by everyone in the community before the day was over. He had never felt such an outpouring of love for him and faith in his abilities to lead the community forward.

As the days passed and the helpers from above became informed of Jacobís passing, flowers and sympathy cards came pouring in. The service was planned for Saturday so most of the helpers could attend. Jacob had already been interred in the catacombs by then as was necessary due to the lack of embalming and such in the tunnels. Vincent had lead a group of men through the performance of this loving task and had gone back to the catacombs twice already to be closer to Father.

Vincentís heart was heavy with loss and grief. He could think of nothing else. Preparing for the service was one of the most difficult things he had ever had to do except for doing the actual service. That was extremely difficult. Devin had come home and that was a help, but Vincentís tears were flowing through the whole service and he could hardly speak the eulogy. He noted all of the helpers that were present. They had used the Great Hall to hold everyone. Even Narcissa and Elizabeth had come. Vincent was so lost in his grief that until he saw Catherine he had not remembered that maybe someone else could relate to this overwhelming feeling of loss.

After the service, Catherine went up to Vincent. She had been crying as well and as he reached for her to pull her close he started to cry all over again. After awhile, Catherine gently took his hand and spoke softly to him. "Vincent, letís go and get some tea. We will take it to your chamber, okay?" He nodded his agreement.

_______________

 

The days and weeks passed in a haze for Vincent. His new duties were endlessÖdisputes to arbitrate, problems to solve, classes to teach, security to manage, shortages to fill, etc. All he wanted to do was pack a bag and retreat to the deepest tunnels and leave it all behind. He was beginning to dread a lifetime of this. He didnít even have time for a "date" with Andrea these days. There was something really wrong with the way his life had turned out. Sometimes he was angry at Father for leaving him in this situation. He didnít want to do it. He had already tried to give the job away, but everyone felt that he was the rightful "heir." "It is right that you should wear the mantle of authority now." was the common opinion expressed to him. Couldnít they see that mantle was smothering the life out of him! He had to get away. He needed to find the perspective he sensed he must be missing at the moment.

______________

 

Catherine had been worried for some time now about Vincent. He was not handling all this new responsibility very well. No, that was not quite right. He was handling the responsibility quite well; it was just not what he needed to be doing right now. She knew him well enough to understand that he needed to be alone on a regular basis to clear his mind and find the balance that kept him in control of his "human side." She had debated that point with him on many occasions but he would not see that he was more human than most people. She knew what grief could do to your sense of balance. She was just coming to terms with all of her own losses and Tom had been gone for almost a year now. She had started working for the DAís office and was still taking self defense classes from Isaac Stubbs. She had wanted to share this with Vincent but he was handling his own issues now and what was going on in her life was not important to him right now. But she could offer him some support.

Catherine was entering the library just as Vincent was coming out. They nearly ran each other down.

"Catherine, what a pleasant surprise." Vincent said in that wonderful voice.

"Vincent, I was hoping to get to spend a few minutes with you. Do you think you can spare it?" She asked.

"Catherine, please, have a seat. I was just going for fresh tea. I will return shortly."

Catherine took a seat close to his chair and looked around the room. Vincent had been cleaning things up a bit. It looked a lot more organized now than it used to. Maybe that is his way of dealing with it all, she thought. Vincent returned with a fresh pot of tea and poured them both a cup.

"Catherine, what can I do for you?" Vincent asked in his most "Fatherly" voice.

"Vincent, it is more what I can do for you, I think." Catherine answered him.

He lifted his arched eyebrow and tilted his head, "What did you have in mind?"

"I know that you have been under a lot of stress since Father passed and I just wanted to check in on you to see if there was anything I could do to help you?" She offered.

"That is most kind, but I think I have it all under control." Vincent continued sounding very stuffy.

"Vincent, listen to your self. You sound more like Father every day!" She pointed out.

Vincent seemed to deflate at those words. He looked like a lost little boy. "You know me well, Catherine. I can fool everyone else, but not you. I am physically tired and weary of all the decisions I must make on a daily basis. I donít know how he did it for all those years. I dread the thought of the long years that lay before me." Vincent confessed. "I need a rest but have not the slightest idea how to go about getting one."

"Vincent, everyone needs a vacation now and then. You did not know Father during the early years. I will bet that he felt exactly as you do on more than one occasion. He also had many years to grow into this role. He didnít just walk in here and take over, he built this from scratch. So stop being so hard on yourself. You are doing fine. Nothing has gone wrong, no one has been hurt, and everyone seems to be getting along all right." Catherine pointed out to him in what she hoped sounded like the voice of reason.

"I guess you are right, Catherine. I just want so badly to get it right. I want him to be proud of me." Vincent said as he was thinking how much he still missed Father and how he still expected to see him sitting here reading when he came into the library.

"Vincent, will you take the weekend off and show me the Crystal Caverns?"

Vincent thought about that. They were a ways away but never far from the pipes. He would know if he were needed. Suddenly the day seemed a bit brighter. "I would love to show you the Crystal Caverns, Catherine. When can you be ready?"

____________

 

Vincent was leading the way toward the Crystal Caverns with Catherine following closely behind. They hadnít spoken much as each seemed to be in a private world. Vincent was thinking about a project he had to plan out and Catherine was wishing she could have shown Tom this amazing place. Her head began to ache at the thought of Tom. Vincent stopped and turned to look at Catherine.

"What is it, Catherine?" He asked her, a worried look upon his unique face.

"I was just thinking about Tom. I will try not to for the next couple of days, Vincent. How did you know I was in pain?" She asked, wondering about his ability to know how she was feeling.

"It is very strange, Catherine. The night of your attack I found you and brought you here where father stopped your bleeding and then sent for Peter and they decided you needed to be hospitalized. When I picked you up to carry you to St. Vincentís Hospital I felt a warm feeling around my heart. Since that time this feeling has increased and I seem to be connected to you, somehow." Vincent explained, hoping she would not feel like he was invading her privacy or overstepping her personal boundaries.

Catherine stopped walking. She looked directly into his eyes and asked with wonder in her voice, "It was you who saved me that night?"

"Yes Catherine. I was out walking as I often do late at night and I discovered the two of you sometime after the attack was over. Tom was dead and you were very near death." He quietly answered. "I brought you to Father as I could think of no other, faster way to save you."

"Why didnít you tell me that before?" She asked surprised he had kept that information from her.

"You had much to deal with and I didnít think that it was important. You lived and that is what is important." He stated with a look of gratitude in his beautiful blue eyes.

"Vincent, what do you think this connection means? Do you have it with others?"

Vincent tilted his head and thought for a moment. "Catherine, I have superior hearing, so I have been sensitive to others coming near, and have empathic abilities that go beyond "normal" but this is the first time I have felt a tie, a bond, to another." He explained sounding as perplexed as she felt.

"What is it like, Vincent?" She questioned, her curiosity getting the better of her.

"Catherine, it is like a piece of you, your spirit, resides in here." He splayed his right hand and placed it over his heart. "I can tell if you are happy or sad, frightened or tired, awake or asleep. Sometimes the feelings are very clear and other times more muted. I can concentrate on them and get a very clear idea of your present mood. It is strange and wonderful." He confessed.

"I wonder why I donít have the same ability to feel your emotions?" She asked, wondering why this would be a one way connection. Like usual, the men get all the power, she thought.

"I honestly donít know, Catherine. Would you like to set up camp now? We are very near our destination and tomorrow we can spend the day at the caverns."

They efficiently went about setting up their version of a tunnel camp out. There was a stream nearby and Vincent kept a side cavern stocked with wood, matches, lantern and blankets. They ate a quick meal William had packed and settled in for a pleasant evening of conversation. Catherine was finally able to tell Vincent about how she was letting go of her old life and embracing her new one. How she was putting her education to work to try to bring some justice into the world. And about how she was feeling much more powerful since she started taking self defense lessons.

"I am proud of you, Catherine." Vincent smiled at her. He knew she had the ability to be strong and was so happy she had found it. He wondered how he had been able to miss all of this growth Catherine had been doing. Not for the first time he realized how deep into his own grief and work he had buried himself these past months.

They spoke of many things and the topic came around to Tom, as it usually always did with Catherine. "He was my whole life, and I could not even imagine having a dream that didnít go along with what he would want. I am now beginning to see that I had given up a large part of myself to that relationship. It was easy to do. Tom was very used to getting his own way. I didnít have to do much thinking or planning. Tom did it all. I spent a lot of time at the spa, getting my nails and hair done or at the gym working out with my girlfriends. We would go shopping several times a week and I own more shoes and clothes than any ten women could wear in a lifetime! He would buy me jewelry on a regular basis and I lived in the lap of luxury." Catherine recounted. Then she surprised him. "I am just beginning to see how empty that life was."

"How is that, Catherine?" He asked and waited to see what lessons she might be learning.

"For one thing I am now working at a job that I enjoy and that gives me a sense of my own abilities. Tom would never have allowed me to work. For another, I have learned that I donít have to feel victimized by what happened to me. I can take back my power and I started to do that by working with Isaac Stubbs and volunteering at the womenís shelter." She answered firmly. "Maybe, one day, I will be able to identify and get convicted the men who killed Tom and changed my life forever."

"I am happy for you, Catherine. I felt your courage and know that you will do great good above."

They talked of other things and finely prepared for bed. They said their goodnights and both settled into a relaxed, peaceful sleep.

Vincent awoke to the sounds of Catherine crying. He went to her sleeping bag and picked her up and held her. "What is wrong, Catherine?" His worried expression the first thing she saw when she opened her eyes.

"I was dreaming about children, Vincent. About being a mother."

"Why did that make you so unhappy?"

"I am unable to conceive." She stated sadly. "Tom and I had all the tests and it was positive that I was the problem." New tears began to fall down her lovely face.

"There are more ways to be a mother than to give birth." Vincent reminded her. "Just look at Mary. She has more children than she ever hoped to have and her heart always has room for one more." He spoke softly as he used the pad of his thumb to wipe her tears away.

"Tom didnít want that. He didnít like children, I think. They would have just gotten in the way of his goals." She noticed how cold that sounded and immediately tried to defend his stance. "Tom was going to be a very important politician and he was very goal orientated. I understood his reasons."

"But you didnít like them." Vincent finished for her.

Catherine had never really thought about Tom in these terms and it was disturbing to her in the extreme. He was on a pedestal and it wasnít right to defame him now he couldnít defend himself.

"I donít know what I think, Vincent. It is all suddenly very confusing. I loved Tom and always will and our life together was wonderful." She was trying valiantly to return to the old way of thinking about herself and Tom. It was nice and neat. It was comfortable.

Vincent placed Catherine back on her sleeping bag and brushed her bangs from her eyes. He knew she was in denial. Tom may have loved her in his own way, but Catherine seemed to have been just a prize he liked to show off. It was all Tomís way, all the time, or so it seemed to Vincent. She would come to terms with that and it would bring more tears, but Vincent knew she would be stronger for it.

"Catherine, try to get some more sleep. It will be morning in a few hours and then I will show you the caverns." He suggested knowing he would be sitting right here watching over her until then.

____________

 

They had eaten breakfast, Catherine had gone to the stream to freshen up and then they had made the last of the journey to the crystal caverns. She was still standing in the middle of them, her eyes wide and her smile stretching from ear to ear. "Vincent, this is the most amazing sight I have ever seen and I have seen a great deal of the world."

"Catherine, I am glad you approve. This is one of my favorite places. I come here often. Please pick a crystal to take with you. They generate a beneficial energy and are good to have around you."

"Vincent, it is so hard to imagine something so wonderful underneath my feet all this time and I never even had a hint." She gasped.

"I think Tom was like that about you, Catherine." He spoke gently when that analogy surfaced.

She swung her head to glare at him. "Vincent, please donít be so hard on Tom. He loved me."

"I am sorry, Catherine. I just donít agree with his definition of love, thatís all."

She didnít talk anymore for a long while and the two of them searched the caverns finding all sorts of wonderful treasures for their eyes to admire. Finally, the day was growing late and Vincent took her by the elbow and escorted her back to their campsite. They ate dinner and he asked her if he could read to her. She loved his voice and jumped at the change to hear it. Vincent was not known for his long winded speeches and hearing him read was the closest she would come to that.

Vincent had brought his favorite book of poetry hoping it would help calm his troubled heart. Fatherís passing still created a deep pocket of loss on a daily basis. Vincent despaired of ever being able to think of his father and smile. He had put away the chess board, for now, and had rearranged things in the library to make it less reminiscent of Fatherís Library. He hoped he would eventually be able to enjoy chess again but he would forever miss his fatherís attempts to lose gracefully. He was deep in thought when he felt a tug on his arm. "Vincent, what are you thinking about?" She asked as she settled closer to him.

"I was thinking about father and some things came to mind." He related.

"I know how that can be, Vincent. Would you like to talk about it?" She offered.

"I am not sure what to say. Father was always there for me and now he isnít." One single tear traced its way down Vincentís cheek and Catherine reached up and wiped it away. "I sometimes feared he would never see me as a man, but always as a boy, needing protection from a hostile world. He didnít approve of my behavior with my women friends and was always telling me I needed to act like the son of the leader as one day I would be the leader. And now I am." Vincent finished on a note of dismay.

"I understand, Vincent. It is never easy to lose a parent. It somehow makes one feel more mortal, more fragile. And now it would seem we are both orphans. Letís make a pact, Vincent. Letís always promise to be there for each other. Okay?" She asked hoping this would lighten his burden.

"Yes, Catherine. Although I doubt the fates will pay much attention to it." He answered quietly. She took his hand and gave it a tight squeeze, then let it go.

"Read to me your favorite poem, please." Catherine asked softly. "One of love, Iíll wager."

Vincent couldnít help smiling at that barb and opened the book searching for his favorite sonnet. He read to her for awhile and when he felt her relaxing he closed the book and suggested they retire for the night. They would have to return tomorrow and he was enjoying this time away from all that awaited him. He would make a habit if this. It would be the only thing that would keep him sane. Catherine was a precious friend to him and he wanted to spend time with her. He wanted to watch her grow up and experience life as it was meant to be for her. He wanted her to learn the true meaning of love. He didnít understand how he knew it but he knew she had a destiny filled with love and romance that was waiting in the wings. He would gladly watch that unfold for her.

____________

 

Life eventually returned to a somewhat normal routine for Vincent. He had skillfully assumed the role of leader as everyone but he had known he would. It still surprised him that Father had taught him so much while Vincent didnít even remember the lessons. They had been subtle examples of a life well lived, with much love and respect for others. That alone got Vincent through most of the tough people issues he was constantly presented with.

Vincent had decided that it was time that the tunnel leaderís role needed to change. He was not a psychologist and was not trained to give therapy. The tunnel dwellers needed to learn how to make life choices on their own. They needed to learn how to communicate better and how to handle more of their own problems. Vincent knew he wouldnít be around forever and most of these people were extremely vulnerable in their present childlike innocence. That was really a contradiction as many of them were here because of very cruel happenings above. They seemed to hand over their power to their leader much too easily and it was a cause of great concern to him. They were much too vulnerable as it stood now.

Vincent and Catherine had spoken of this before and she had suggested that she could teach some classes. She had a friend who gave communication and life skills classes above and Catherine was attending one of the classes now and would bring the material below and present it when she felt capable.

Vincent knew that classes would help but he also wanted to hand over some more of his responsibilities. Vincent didnít seem to posses a need to control everything the way father had. There were several people on the council who could be given more important work to do. It would help them grow and help the community be better governed. He knew Mouse was ready to step up to take on more. He and Jamie had married and marriage had settled him down. With Jamie to guide him, Mouse was becoming much more focused. He could be made custodian of the maps and charts and put in charge of organizing any search parties they might need. These would be responsibilities he knew Mouse would take very seriously.

William was already in charge of organizing the helperís donations and since Catherine had donated a sizable amount to a trust fund she had set up for the tunnel world, William was able to buy fresh produce and meat whenever the need arose. This fund was also paying for Kipper to get an education. He was studying to be a doctor, to someday fill the very large shoes left by Father.

Vincent would like to see the members of the council rotate among all of the adults. Everyone needed to be exposed to the rigors of running this world they lived in. This in itself would create more understanding about all of the challenges that the council faced. Father had not been willing to share the power, but Vincent felt he wanted to give this community the ability to run without any one member, if need be. Everyone depended upon life continuing as it was and this would go a long way to help insure that continuation. It probably wouldnít always be pretty but then true democracy rarely is.

Vincent thought about Catherine being free to choose for herself now and that made him smile. He checked the bond to feel her resting lightly there. She was working today, but must not be in court. Those days she was more anxious than usual. She had become quite valuable to his world and he would always be amazed that finding her that night in the park had lead to this. Her gratitude to him for saving her life and her spirit knew no bounds. She was still struggling with the meaning of love and it was already such a part of her. Surely she would grasp that concept soon. He would watch for that. It would be something to behold. Catherine, love personified, accepting that notion.

Vincent often felt his fatherís presence and love, and hoped that he would be proud. Vincent had struggled for months to accept his new role. He had tried to date a time or two and found that he had lost the desire for casual dalliances. He surmised he must be growing up as well. Narcissaís words came to himÖ "You must come into manhood, and lead the lost ones to light." She was proving so wise, once again.

________________

 

Catherine had been working on a case involving a group of attorneys who were being accused of trying to bribe a judge to rule in favor of their clients. They had been caught when one of the group got cold feet and turned states evidence on the other people involved. Catherine had to put the man into protective custody and the first hearing was in the morning. Everyone was a bit nervous about this whole thing. As more evidence was uncovered it looked like other judges may be involved and very large sums of money had changed hands. These were all cases having to do with pharmaceutical companies being sued over their medications being harmful or downright lethal.

Catherine was reading the statement of the snitch, as it were, and her eyes caught on the name of Tom. He was being mentioned as a possible accomplice. Payoffs were presumably being passed through his office and he was being accused of actually hiring some thugs to scare off more than one judge. She turned pale and had to remember to breathe. Surely they meant some other Tom. It couldnít have been her Tom. She was in a state of shock. She put the file down and got up and walked out the door to the ladies room. She was going to be sick.

________________

 

Vincent had felt her shock. He was uncertain what had caused it. She didnít seem to be in any immediate danger, but he would remain vigilant. When night finally arrived, he went to her. Tapping on her French door, he saw her get up from her sofa and slowly approach the door.

"Vincent."

"Catherine. I felt your strong emotions all day. What is wrong?"

"Vincent, I discovered some potentially damaging information today and I donít know what to do about it or how to handle it." She stated miserably.

"Tell me."

"It seems that Tom has been implicated in that big drug company/judge bribery scandal I was telling you I am investigating." She related, unbelief plainly evident in her voice.

"Does it seem plausible?" Vincent asked her.

"Plausible, yes. Possible, I donít think so." She defended Tom. "I donít know what to do about it."

"Catherine, come, sit with me." Vincent led her outside to sit with him on the bench. He reached for her hand and looking at her asked, "What do you want to do about it?"

She looked up at him, her face a study in misery. "I want to know the truth, Vincent. I want to know if I was married to a criminal. And yet, I donít want to know. I donít want to lose all my certainties."

"Catherine, let your heart guide you." He softly suggested and was unnerved by the overpowering feeling of love he felt for her. Not the kind you give your family, but the romantic kind. Where had that come from? He would tuck that away for now and look at it later.

"Vincent, it is possible that this is connected to our attack, his murder. If for no other reason, I will discover the truth of that if it is to be found." She sounded more like her determined self again.

They sat in silence for awhile each lost in their own thoughts and the view of sky and skyscrapers.

"Catherine, there is a concert on Friday night. Would you like to attend?" Blue eyes looking for an answer searched her face.

"Vincent, are you asking me on a date?" Expressive green pools of light looked back at him.

"I guess I am, Catherine." He replied a bit sheepishly. "Will you go with me?"

"Yes, Vincent. I would enjoy listening to the concert with you." She answered, wondering where this would lead. She had never expected to be more than close friends with Vincent. Maybe he was just trying to help her over this new discovery.

Vincent could feel the bond telling him she had been quite surprised by his request, but not repulsed or afraid. Since he had become the tunnel leader the women seemed to be even more drawn to him. ĎIt must be the aura of power,í he had thought. Catherine wouldnít be impressed by such things. All of a sudden it was very important what Catherine thought of him.

____________

 

Catherine had continued to dig for more information about Tomís activities. She was somewhat shocked by her lack of knowledge about his business dealings. She wasnít a stupid person and yet how was it possible that he could be involved in something like this and she hadnít even suspected. As she gathered more and more evidence she vacillated between feelings he was being maligned and knowing he had betrayed her. There were a group of men whose names kept reappearing as possible thugs used by Tom and others to "help" reluctant judges make up their minds.

Catherine was starting to wonder if it were these same men who had attacked them the night Tom was killed. It could be possible that Tom had betrayed them somehow, and this was payback. Why did they feel they needed to treat her so badly, though? She would probably never know the answer to that. She wanted to see the autopsy report for Tom. She hadnít seen his body. It had been in a closed casket when she arrived at the funeral parlor and his father had assured her she would be better off remembering him as he had been. She didnít know why she needed to see it, she just knew she did. Vincent had told her to follow her heart and so she would.

_____________

 

The concert had been wonderful. The place he took her under the bandstand was truly special and she heard the music in a whole new way. Vincent had been the perfect gentleman, as usual, and as they started to walk back she asked him if they could go to his chamber as she needed to ask him for his advice.

"What is it Catherine?" Vincent spoke as soon as they were seated at his desk.

"I ordered Tomís autopsy report today, Vincent. I donít know why, and I donít know if I really want to read it. What do you think that means?" She asked, a troubled look in her beautiful green eyes.

"I donít know, Catherine. What are you trying to learn?"

"It is becoming increasingly possible that Tom was hip deep in this mess. I guess I need to see if something will trigger a memory about that night so I can identify the men, or something." She lamented.

"Catherine, I would advise you to learn all you can. The truth is better than wondering. I also ask you to be extra careful. These are very bad and determined men. I saw what they can do and I wouldnít want you to be in their way again." He spoke with his new authority. He hoped she would hear it and heed it. It was so important that she be safe. He felt his heart warm as he reached out and took her small hand into his large one.

She looked up at him and smiled. How she valued him. So strong, so kindÖso loving. "Vincent, I think I understand." She smiled a very large smile and tears began it roll down her cheeks.

He was momentarily confused by the direction her conversation had taken. "Catherine?"

"Vincent. I understand what Love is." She looked like she had found the answer to her most sought after question. "It is allowing a person to be all they can be. It is offering hope and encouragement but not control or judgment or power over another. It is taking action to ensure the other is held in high regard. It is putting the other personís concerns above yours. It is a verb, Vincent, an action that requires courage and hope and a letting go. Vincent, you are Love." She smiled as she saw a tear gently flow down his cheek. She walked around the table and placed a gentle kiss on his check before asking him to escort her home.

_____________

 

Sometime later Vincent had returned from walking Catherine to her threshold and he took up his journal to write his memories about Catherine and this night. She had discovered the true meaning of love. It had been so wonderful to listen to her, the wonder in her voice. She was a little over enthusiastic about calling him Love, but he understood what she meant. He was loving his tunnel family by allowing them to discover for themselves what they were worth. Yes, Father had loved them in his own way, but Vincent knew that to truly love meant to let goÖto allowÖto encourageÖto watch and be there to help along the way if called upon. But the way was theirs to chooseÖnot his.

He stopped writing and while capping his pen wondered when Catherine would notice that given this definition of Love, Tom had not really loved her. He had chosen to love thingsÖmoneyÖpowerÖbut not her, not the essence that was Catherine. He did love to have her on his arm, to show her off, and use her connections to advance his career. Vincent knew that these revelations would probably be the hardest ones for her to swallow. They would be the ones that would truly set her free, however. Vincent would be there for her, but Catherine would have to work through it on her own.

Vincent then thought about the strong feelings of desire that had recently come to the surface whenever he was with Catherine. He wanted her. He thought perhaps he was only in need of some female companionship but knew on some level that he only wanted Catherine. No one else would do. It seems that love had arrived. He had never expected to fall in love. It was something Father told him would happen, sometime, but Vincent never really believed that. He was not all human, and so did not truly believe this most human of emotions would ever be his. He had to rethink that. It seems that Catherine was not the only one lately to have to "lose all the certainties." Narcissa was certainly a wise old woman. He just hoped that the blood and death she had spoken about were in the pastÖTomís death and Catherineís blood. Vincent would stand ready to defend her if it was still to come. No one would ever again bring such sorrow to his Catherine. His love for her would also mean protecting her with his very life. With that thought he listened intently to the bond to be reassured that she was still sleeping.

_____________

 

The investigation continued. More witnesses were stepping forward. Two had been murdered last week. A reign of terror seemed to have dropped down over the whole mess. Joe Maxwell, the District Attorney, was beside himself with worry about his people. It seemed that these thugs were pretty brazen. They were not in a hurry to allow the authorities to end their money flow. They were making a statement, and the DAís office was listening.

"Cathy, I want you to leave town for a week or so." Joe stated after he had walked up to her desk and gotten her full attention.

"Joe, I am not going to let these criminals intimidate me." She stated firmly while feeling less firm.

"Cathy, I am not going to let this go. Here is a plane ticket. Use it. I will expect you to call me in 10 days and I will let you know when you can come back at that time." He handed her a one-way ticket to Boise, Idaho. She could see he would not be argued with. He meant it.

She took the ticket, picked up her purse and briefcase and left the building. She took a cab home and packed a small bag. She was not going on a plane anywhere. She would "vacation" in the tunnels. As she was heading out the door to go below she saw her briefcase and remembered that Tomís autopsy was in it. She took out the folder, zipped it inside her travel bag and headed out.

Vincent was waiting for her in the library when she arrived. He had felt her amazement earlier and then her anticipation. It was highly unusual for her to come below during the day midweek. He was curious to know what was happening.

"Vincent." Catherine was smiling as she looked into his deep blue eyes.

"Catherine, I felt your unrest. What brings you down here now?" Vincent opened his arms to her and she stepped into them.

"May we have some tea first? I will then tell you all about my new assignment."

Vincent went to the kitchen and returned with a new pot of tea and some cookies. "Here, Catherine, Williams said he knew you would enjoy some of these. They are fresh out of the oven."

"Thank you Vincent, but I donít think I could eat anything right at this moment."

"Tell me." Vincent stated.

"Joe, my boss, handed me a one way ticket to Boise, Idaho and told me to get lost for at least two weeks. This investigation has turned real nasty and our witnesses are turning up dead. The thugs donít seem to be impressed that we are on to them. Joe is afraid for me. I must confess, I am afraid for me and Joe." Catherine stated.

Vincent was so grateful Joe had seen the danger and protected Catherine. Joe had just earned points in Vincentís book. He took a long drink of tea and reached for a cookie. He had a great appetite just now, it seemed.

"Vincent, I need to ask you if I can stay below for the next two weeks?"

"Catherine, you donít need permission to stay here. This is your home, too. You are most welcome." He said, meaning every word of it as he felt his heart soar. "I will ask Mary to prepare the guest room for you."

"Vincent, I was wondering if you and I could continue the investigation from here?" She asked, knowing she could never just sit and let others be put in jeopardyÖespecially if Tom had been involved.

"Catherine, what do you wish to do? We donít have any means to discover anything down here." He asked. He was worried now that she was planning something rash.

"I donít know, Vincent. But you have a very sharp and logical mind and I was thinking I could go over all my evidence with you and maybe you could see some patterns or connections I have been overlooking."

"I would be happy to be of assistance to you in this way, Catherine." He released the breath he had been holding. This would not put her in harms way. They could do this. It might prove interesting.

"Thank you, Vincent." She smiled at him. "I think I will have that cookie now."

_________________

 

Later that day, Catherine was settling in to her room. She was unpacking her bag and saw the folder containing Tomís autopsy report. She put it on the bed and when she had gotten her things all put away she sat in the chair and opened the folder. Sometime later she put the folder down and took a deep breath. That was very hard. He had been brutally murdered. Compared to him, she had gotten off relatively lightly. She was very sad. She had loved him. She had even liked him. She decided to take a walk and found herself in the chamber with the mirror pool.

Sometime later, Vincent found her still sitting there. "Catherine, it is almost time for dinner. I thought I would come and escort you to the dining hall."

"Vincent, do you believe in Karma?" She hadnít heard his request.

"I am not sure, really. There are many ways to interpret that particular philosophy. Why do you ask, Catherine?" He noted her expression. It was as if she were far away in some other place and time.

"I was just wondering. Iím ready to go to the dining hall. Thanks for coming for me." So she had heard him after all.

Throughout dinner Catherine appeared to be eating but was just pushing the food around her plate. She was on her third cup of black coffee and Vincent was beginning to worry about her. They finished up and he took her hand and led her to his chamber. He motioned for her to sit at his desk and he sat opposite her. "Catherine, I couldnít help but notice that you hardly touched your dinner. What is troubling you so?"

"Vincent, remember when I told you I couldnít have children?"

"Yes."

"Well it seems that may not be the truth." She told him in a flat tone of voice.

"I donít understand, Catherine." Vincent asked with a note of concern for her plain in his eyes.

"It seems to be the final betrayal, Vincent. I donít think I can stand it." She jumped up and started to pace as he so often did when his mind was in turmoil.

Vincent rose out of his chair and went to her. He put his hands on her shoulders and turned her around so she was facing him. "Catherine, what is troubling you so? What is this betrayal you speak of?"

Catherine took a deep breath to try to calm her emotions. Somehow, if she didnít give it words, it wouldnít be true. She struggled with the words knowing she needed to answer him. "I finely got the courage to read Tomís autopsy report this afternoon." She stated, as if that explained everything.

"And?" He prompted, keeping a tight hold of her upper arms to keep her in one place.

"And, he was brutally murdered, Vincent. I was so lucky. He must have suffered dreadfully." She was procrastinating and he knew it.

"And?"

"And one little side note made by the coroner, barely worth noting, said that Tom had a vasectomy." She said dully and then the rage she had been working on all afternoon was finally given free rein as she shouted, "I was not the one who was infertile!!" Then a little less vehemently she continued, "He had taken measures to insure we would have no children! He lied to me! He knew it was important to me, and he lied to me. He must have paid off the doctor as well. Oh, Vincent, I thought he loved me and he betrayed my trust in him." Her rage was now gone and she finally let the dam burst. This time her hot tears were not for losing Tom; they were for her lost dreams and Tomís betrayal.

Vincent had been taken aback by her outburst. It was so unlike Catherine to be so angry. He thought she had every right to feel that way, however. Tom was a cur of the worst sort. He had pretended to have her best interests at heart but he had used Catherine. She was a decoration for his arm, his life. She was not a person. He felt sorry that Tom had never known Catherine. It was Tomís loss. "Catherine." Vincent took her heaving shoulders and pulled her into his embrace. "I am so sorry." He just held her until the storm passed. He didnít know how much more sorrow this investigation would bring to her. He prayed it would be over soon.

________________

 

Catherine called Joe as planned and he told her they had arrested the four men whom they thought were the thugs everyone had been looking for. Everyone was feeling a lot more safe and secure. He wanted Catherine to finish her two week vacation, though. He would see her next Monday for work as usual. Catherine had put on a show for Joe. He didnít suspect how all of this was affecting her. She was grateful for the extra time off. She would use it to heal some more. Vincent had been very solicitous towards her. He was a very kind and caring person. She knew the bond helped him to know how she was feeling. At times that made her uneasy. Why did he get to experience that and why was it connected only to her. She was having trouble trusting that. She thought he probably was that way with others as well and only told her that because she was so delicate right now. She was feeling sorry for herself, but she had a right. Vincent was the tunnel leader now and he had duties to attend to. He didnít have time to worry about her. She needed to get on with her life and put Tom and all of his perfidy behind her. She recognized that she was responsible for allowing Tom to use her. She had gladly handed over all her power to him. Now she had to accept that. She just had not figured out how to do that yet.

Vincent was worried about Catherineís mental health. She had pretty much stopped eating and wasnít sleeping well. She acted like she was doing fine, but he knew she was not. Catherine would not talk anymore about Tomís treachery. It was in the past. Let it be. She would get over it. She was strong and she reminded him that he had told her that. But he knew she was struggling to find her place, her worth. It would take time for her to heal this latest cut and no plastic surgeon was going to make it all better. It would take time and a lot of patience. But he could wait. He loved her and would wait as long as necessary for her to come to him.

When she did, he was preparing for the following weeks lessons and she stood in the doorway to his chamber waiting for permission to enter. "Catherine, please come in." He bid her.

"Vincent, I am not interrupting you, am I?" She inquired.

"No, Catherine." And he set aside the tablet he had been writing on and stood up to move toward her. "What brings you here tonight? I thought you would have been asleep by now."

"No, I just finished packing my bag. I need to go above tonight as I will go back to work in the morning. I called Joe yesterday and he assured me it was safe again. It seems they have it all under control and there doesnít seem to be any more surprises in store for us." She related the latest news to him.

Vincent knew it would come. He had dreaded it. He wanted to keep her here near him, safe. "Catherine, are you ready to return above so soon?" He asked wishing she would say that she wanted to stay here forever.

"Yes, Vincent, I think so. I need to get on with my life and learn to trust myself again." She responded. "I wanted to thank you for being here for me, for listening to me without judgment or telling me what I should do. I love you, Vincent."

His heart soared. "I love you, Catherine." He whispered it back to her in his velvet deep voice and opened his arms as an invitation she willingly accepted. As she moved into his embrace she raised her lips to him and he lowered his mouth to hers. As soon as their lips met, he was lost. She tasted so good and this was so right.

Catherine broke the kiss and looked up into his deep expressive eyesÖthose eyes of brilliant blue, so pure, so true. "Vincent, I want us to be together. I believe that you know what love really is and you love me truly and deeply. You have loved me like that since the first day we met. You have held my hand and walked with me through my valley of desperation and now I truly have no fears. I do have a couple of things I must do, however, before I will be free to return your love in full measure."

As he began to protest she put her fingers to his lips and continued, "You deserve to be loved totally and I wonít ask you to settle for less." She sealed her words with a deep, lingering kiss full of the promise of their future.

After they had reluctantly parted and Vincent was walking back from her threshold he knew that Catherine finally understood about love. He would wait for her forever if that was her wish. He remembered Narcissaís words and knew that the blood and death were behind them and they only had the love to experience now. And they would, in full measure.

 

The End