SHADOWS

Darlene Jones


"Geez Radcliffe, these are delicious. Whoída thought you had such culinary talents?" Joe teased as he took a second bite.

Catherine giggled. William had plied her with cookies to fatten her up and she had brought them to share at the office. "Actually, I have to confess I didnít make them," she responded.

"Ah, and just when I thought you were going domestic on us," Joe lamented. "Pass on my compliments to the chef," he added as he helped himself to two more cookies.

"Iím sure William will be pleased to hearÖ"

"Sooo, thatís his name, William." Joe crowed smugly.

"Who?" Catherine asked, puzzled.

"The mystery man in your life," Joe clarified.

"You mean Vincent," Catherine corrected without thinking. The tone of her voice told Joe more than he wanted to know.

"Two men!" Joe faked astonishment to cover his jealousy. He had always known he didnít stand a chance with her but hearing the love in her voice as she said Vincentís name hurt more than he wanted to admit. Vincent was one lucky guy.

"You cheating on ole Vincent, Chandler?" He glared menacingly.

"How would you like to go to a wedding, Joe?" she blurted suddenly.

"Whose?"

"Mine."

Catherine laughed as Joeís eyes widened in surprise. Her laughter turned to alarm when she realized Joe was in serious trouble. She moved behind him and was about to administer the Heimlich maneuver when he recovered enough to talk again.

"Vincent?"

"The one and only."

"When?" Joe asked.

"At Winterfest."

"Whatís Winterfest?"

"Itís a long story," Catherine replied.

"Why doesnít that surprise me, Radcliffe?" he grinned boyishly. "So spill, already."

"Not here," she glanced around the office, but no one seemed to be paying them any attention. "Dinner, Friday. My treat," she offered.

"Youíre on," Joe would have said more but just then Rita called to say Moreno wanted to see him PDQ.

Catherine watched Joe walk away and covered her face with her hands as the enormity of what she had just done hit her. What on earth had possessed her to say anything, let alone reveal so much? She would have to find a way to fob Joe off somehow, postpone the dinner date or cancel it all together. Who was she trying to kid? There would be no stopping Joe now. She went from one hopeless plan to another as she tried to find a way out of the mess she had created. Maybe she could fabricate some story, hire an actor to pretend to be Vincent. Or Ötell Joe everything?

*****

Shock after shock after shock. Enough! her body screamed. Enough! her mind echoed. She stood with her back pressed into the door, willing herself to become part of it, to be inanimate and unfeeling, inanimate and immune to pain.

She looked around the living room of her home but there was no comfort in its familiarity. Lit only by the moonlight filtering through the sheers, shadows played on the walls, innocent and playful, dark and menacing. She flicked the switch by the door but the harsh light was worse, physically painful. She pushed back against the door and slid her hand along the wall until she found the switch again and plunged the room into semi darkness once more.

Afraid of the shadows in the room, she focused on the darker night of the balcony. Something moved and her heart leapt in joy as she started forward only to slump back against the door in despair. It was nothing more than another shadow.

She tightened her fists in anger and winched as a sharp pain bit into the palm of her hand. She looked down to see her fingers clenched around a small coiled black book. The book that almost cost Joe his life.

In a fit of temper she threw it across the room. Childish. But it made her feel better. Slowly she pushed herself away from the door, then moved swiftly across the room to pull the drapes closed and free herself from the play of shadows. She retrieved the book and tossed it on the bed before stripping and throwing her clothes in the hamper.

A shower first, then a cup of tea. Then Ė think - plan.

******

"Vincent, would you like a game of chess?í Father asked. "Vincent," he called a little louder when there was no response. He looked about the dimly lit chamber and turned slowly to leave, leaning heavily on his cane, weighed down by worry.

"Iím here," Vincentís voice was so low that Father almost missed the words. He turned back, his brow furrowed with concern.

"Vincent, what is it?" Father sank into the closest chair waiting for his son to appear. Vincent moved awkwardly, without his usual grace and sat on the edge of his bed, hands hanging limply across his knees.

"Tell me." Father prompted concealing a sigh as he waited. Vincent had recovered from his illness, slowly, but he had recovered Ė to a point. The once vibrant powerful personality was now a reclusive, hesitant non-participant, lurking in the shadows of his chamber. Even the children couldnít reach him. He barely tolerated their presence and it wasnít much better with Catherine from what Father had seen. "Tell me," he pleaded.

"Itís me," Vincent responded after a long silence. "I never should have been born. I should have died in that cave."

"Vincent, no!" Father protested.

"Yes," Vincent insisted.

"How can you say that?" Father argued. "You are an integral part of this community. Everyone loves you. Catherine Ö"

"Exactly!" Vincent exploded as he rose from the bed and paced the chamber, muscles tensed, fists clenched. This was the most emotion he had expressed since his illness. Surely it was a good sign?

"What about Catherine?" Father asked hesitantly. "Can you feel her? Has your bond returned?"

Vincent spun back to face Father. "No," he raged. "No."

"Then what is it? Vincent, please explain." Father was intensely concerned but at the same time pleased to see the passionate emotional reactions from his son. He sensed it was another move to recovery, another barrier falling.

"She hasnít been here for two days," Vincent responded, quieter now, slumped once more on the edge of his bed.

"Sheíll be back, Vincent. Donít worry." Father assured him.

"Thatís the point." Vincent replied. "Sheíll be back. This is what I have condemned her to." He gestured around the chamber hopelessly and then to himself. He looked at Father bleakly, willing him to understand without words.

"But Vincent, she has made a decision to be with you. Surely that is her choice."

"You donít understand," Vincent roared in anguish as he began to pace once more. "I hurt her beyond belief."

"How?" The older man was puzzled. "She was fine when she left here. Worried about you, but fine. She didnít leave you, Vincent, not once, during your illness. Only when she was certain you were well enough did she go back above and ever since she has come back every day. Do you truly believe she would do that if you hurt her?"

"Yes," he flared. "She would, she has. Father, when I was finally well enough to talk, to face herÖ" He paused, unable to go on. Finally he continued, his voice so low Father had to lean forward and strain to hear. "The bond was gone," he sobbed. "I didnít even remember her name. She said it didnít matter but Father, it did matter, it does matter. It matters to me."

*******

Catherine had ditched the tea for a double brandy and sat cross-legged on her bed sipping it as she looked through the black book. It was obviously a code. Important enough to kill for. Images of a broken Joe lying in the hospital bed burrowed through her brain. God, was it only that morning she had kibitzed with him over Williamís cookies?

Instinctively she knew (had she absorbed the skill from Vincent?) she had to divest herself of the book and fast. But how?

She reached for the legal pad and pencil on the bedside table and started making lists. Four hours and two brandies later her plans were more or less solidified. A glance at her clock told her what she already suspected, much too late to go see Vincent and much too early to start putting any of her plan into effect.

She knew she wouldnít sleep but she burrowed under the covers anyway and allowed her mind to wander. This was one of the rare times she was actually glad Vincent couldnít feel her.

It had started with a visit to the doctor at eleven that morning. (Are you periods normally regular? As clockwork. Have you missed one before? Never.)

"Youíre not pregnant."

A wave of disappointment washed over her followed by a guilty sense of relief. Perhaps it was a blessing under the circumstances? But her biological clock was tickingÖshe didnít want to wait much longer.

"Cathy?" She refocused, as the doctor gently demanded her attention. "Those tests we did a couple of months ago. You never came back for the results."

Catherine nodded, finally alert to the ambiguous tone.

"Everything is normal. No signs of cancer. I donít think you will have the same problems as your mother.

Catherine sighed with relief. Her motherís battle as fresh in her mind as all those years ago.

"But, there is something else," the doctor continued.

"What?" Catherine asked abruptly, alarmed.

"I donít think you will ever be able to have children. Iím sorry. I want to do more tests to be sure..."

"When?" Catherine whispered tense with fear. .

"Today, if you like. You can go directly to the lab downstairs."

"Do I have to?"

"No. But in my experience people hate the waiting and not knowing so I try to get them the full information as quickly as possible."

Catherine nodded. The doctorís rationale made sense and it was something she needed to know. StillÖ

If youíd rather wait till your husband can come tooÖ"

"Heís out of town," she lied. "Iíll go to the lab now."

She left the lab over an hour later emotionally drained, crept home and called Jenny who came right over. They ordered Chinese and talked, or more accurately, Catherine talked and Jenny listened.

"I always thought I would have children some day,í Catherine said.

"I suppose thatís an assumption we all make automatically and never revise," Jenny replied. "Itís part of the little girl imagining the fairy tale life, you know Prince Charming and happily ever after."

"Yeah," Catherine smiled ruefully through tears. "But maybe this is for the best."

"Vincent?" Jenny asked. Jenny knew enough to surmise genetic defect of some sort that Vincent would not want to pass on to future generations.

"I donít think Vincent would ever agree to having children or to even trying," Catherine said.

"Thatís if you ever get him into bed," Jenny teased.

"That I will do." What had happened that night in the cave was not something she could talk about, not even to Jenny. That would be so unfair to Vincent who had no memory of it. "And heís going to marry me too," Catherine vowed.

Jenny laughed. "Thatís my girl."

By the time Jenny left Catherine felt much better and resigned to the news. The idea of a baby with Vincent was a dream really. As much as she would like that, she understood it would anathema to Vincent. And, if she were completely honest, she wouldnít want to restrict a child the way Vincentís life had been restricted. Nor would she want to think of a child of theirs endangered simply because of the way he or she looked. There were too many Professor Hughes in the world. She didnít think any amount of love could completely compensate. But even as her head accepted what she couldnít change, her heart hurt and she cried.

Then the call from the police. An explosion. Joe fighting for his life. That damn black book. Catherine gave herself a mental shake and rolled over. She needed some sleep. Her thoughts naturally returned to Vincent.

Get him into bed she would do! When he could enjoy and remember. The Winterfest dream she had rashly voiced to Joe would become reality too. She wasnít her fatherís daughter for nothing.

She slept then, dreaming of candles and sunshine, shadows and rainbows.

*****

Vincentís conversation with Father was a catharsis of a kind. The next day he actually appeared in the dining hall for breakfast and though he ate little and talked less, he was there. Father, Mary and the others were wise enough to say nothing more than a natural quick good morning. The children chattered with him excitedly and asked if he would take them swimming later in the day.

"One day soon," Vincent promised. "Today I need to help Kanin and Cullen in the lower tunnels.

"Are you sure you are strong enough?"

"Iím fine Father. I need to do something physical, something to counter the Ö" He left the sentence unfinished as Father nodded understanding.

"Just be careful," he warned. "Donít do too much."

"I wonít," Vincent promised. "You can stop worrying."

"Huh, as if that will ever happen," Father muttered.

The physical labor was more taxing than Vincent expected even though Kanin refused to let him do any of the truly heavy work. Mouse was beside himself with excitement having Vincent back and inundated him with Ďok good, ok finesí each time Vincent considered and replied to one of his multitude of proposals.

At the end of the day he was exhausted and fell into bed without undressing or eating. He slept dreamlessly and woke at five the next morning with aching muscles but feeling refreshed. He didnít rise immediately but lay considering. His conversation with Father had been liberating somehow and he could consider Catherine and their relationship with less pain and maybe even a little more objectivity.

Perhaps Father was right. Catherine was making a choice, freely and willingly to be with him. The difficulty was with him. It had been clear for a long time that Catherine wanted him, wanted to be with him, wanted a physical relationship. He had never been able to bring himself to accept any of it.

So many times he had tried to send her away. So many times he had tried to deny her love. So may times he had pushed her away. Yet at the same time he had told her she must follow her heart. If she were truly following her heart, how could he deny her? What was he so afraid of? His body was shaped like any other manís. It certainly responded to the woman he loved like any other man, a reaction he had taken great pains to keep hidden from her. She was certain he couldnít hurt her if they moved their relationship into the realm of the physical but could he be equally certain? Or did his fear come, not from the possibility of him hurting her but her hurting him? Rejecting him at the last moment?

He hoped she would come below tonight. He missed her, but at the same time he dreaded the inevitable confrontation that would come, if not tonight, the next or the one after that. His thoughts and questions swirled until noises from the tunnels mercifully alerted him to the breakfast hour.

*****

Catherine showered, had a quick breakfast and sat down with her notes. She made some quick mental revisions then took the notes to the kitchen sink where she carefully burned each page and washed the ashes down the sink.

Her first call was to Peter, the second to the specialistís office. She asked to have the latest test results sent to Dr. Alcott. The receptionist told her to expect them in four weeks time. She called down to the lobby and asked John to get her a dozen packing boxes explaining that she needed to move some of her things to her storage compartment in the sub basement. Then she wrapped the black book, slid it into a sturdy envelope and addressed it to the police chief. She searched for the phone book to call a courier and was about to dial when she realized how stupid that was. A couriered package could so easily be traced. She would use the tunnel contacts to get the package to the chiefís desk. She knew they could work inconspicuously but she would warn them to be extra careful with this. Again she wondered what instinct made her so sure having the book was that dangerous. Again, she thought of Vincent and wondered how much of this sixth sense she felt so strongly might be coming from him.

She began sorting her personal possessions. An hour later John arrived with the boxes. She assembled and packed them carefully. By late afternoon she was satisfied that the most important items were packed along with most of her clothing. She called John again and with his help shuffled the boxes to the storage compartment. She pulled her suitcases out of the closet and packed the remaining clothing, showered and ate a quick cold dinner of leftovers from the night before. Leaving her suitcases by the door, she put on her jacket, grabbed her keys and headed below.

"Father," she called as she entered his chamber.

"Ah, Catherine. Iím glad youíre here. Vincent has missed you these past three days." He greeted her with a smile and a kiss on her cheek. "Heís taken the children swimming," he explained.

Catherineís eyebrows rose in astonishment.

"I know," Father said. "It is a surprise."

"Heís better then?" she asked.

"In some ways, yes. We had a conversation two days ago. Mostly about you," he added. "He expressed some of his emotions. I think that is another step to healing." Catherine would have loved to know exactly what the conversation consisted of but asking would be a violation of Vincentís privacy. Instead she said, "Actually, Iím glad heís not here right now. Itís you I need to talk to." Father passed her a cup of tea and waited patiently. "Father, I really shouldnít be telling you this but I have to. Vincent and I, weÖ " she fumbled and then blurted, "we made love in the cave." She looked up at him and then quickly ducked her head again.

"And he remembers nothing," Father guessed, less shocked at the revelation than he would have expected to be.

"No," Catherine replied sadly. "And Iím invading his privacy unforgivably by telling you. But I need you to understand what I am going to do and why." She took a deep breath and plunged into her story beginning with her theories of the causes of Vincentís illness and ending with the black book and the attack on Joe. She gave Father the envelope asking him to have it delivered and warning that the helpers be extra careful.

"What about you my dear," Father asked.

This was the most difficult part and Catherine couldnít quite look Father in the eye. She had rehearsed her speech over and over and spoke rapidly allowing no interruptions. Finally she finished and held her breath, muscles tensed waiting for the inevitable explosion. To her surprise it didnít come. She gathered her courage and looked up to see Father studying her speculatively.

"You must be formidable in court," he said. She blushed and nodded accepting the comment for the compliment she knew it was. "You can relax," he told her. I wonít fight you in this."

"You wonít?" she asked astonished her mouth hanging open.

"No," he chuckled reaching over, placing a finger beneath her chin and gently pushing up till her mouth closed again. Catherine smiled sheepishly as Father continued, "I would have before, but not now. I believe you are right, have been all along. What would you like me to do to help?"

Catherine was so stunned it took her a while to respond. When she did she was grinning wickedly. "Vincent doesnít stand a chance does he?" she asked.

"Nope," Father responded with a mischievous gleam in his eye. And a good thing too, he thought as he watched her straighten, the weight visibly lifting from her shoulders.

"Can you keep Vincent busy and out of the home chambers till late tomorrow?"

"Done," Father replied. "There is some repair work that has been put off for months. Iíll get Cullen, Mouse and Jamie to keep him there working late. Anything else?"

"Could a few of the older children meet me under my building late tomorrow afternoon?"

Father nodded agreement. "Are you going to wait for Vincent? He misses you terribly."

"No," Catherine replied. "I know it must be hard for him but if we talk tonight, Iím afraidÖ"

"Heíll sense you are up to something and try to talk you out of it."

"Exactly."

"Good luck, my dear," he added as he hugged her. She left feeling much lighter and more optimistic than she had in a long time.

Catherine rose early the next morning to complete her plans. She called Jenny first agreeing to meet at her apartment for lunch. Peter was also able to join them. She would order from the deli, as going out was not an option. A tad paranoid maybe, but better safe than sorry.

She spent the morning thoroughly cleaning the apartment and setting the table for lunch. When they had eaten she explained her plans. Peter and Jenny made suggestions and offered unconditional support and assistance. They left with hugs and good wishes. Again Catherine felt lighter and her worries seemed much less burdensome. She glanced at the clock and rushed to clean the remains of lunch and do the dishes before going to meet the children below.

*****

It was very late when Vincent and the others returned from the repair work that had gone much more slowly than anticipated. He was almost convinced that Cullen tried to sabotage everything they did to delay their progress, but he couldnít fathom why so dismissed the thought as his imagination. Perhaps his impressions were distorted by his fatigue, for the two days of work, though not excessively strenuous, had tired him more than he ever thought possible. Luckily William had packed them a hearty lunch, which they had stopped to eat late in the afternoon so none of them were hungry.

He entered his dimly lit chamber and without lighting additional candles, found the sweat pants and long sleeved t-shirt he wore as pajamas. He was too dusty and dirty to go to bed without a bath even though he wanted nothing more than to stretch out, close his eyes and cry.

Four days and Catherine still hadnít come. He had debated sending her a message and finally decided he couldnít. If she was going to follow her heart she had to be completely free to make her own decisions. He sighed heavily and headed for the bathing chamber.

Returning some minutes later a slight noise set him instantly alert. His keen eyesight picked out nothing unusual in the chamber. Then he heard the sound again, coming from the bed. He approached the bed cautiously and then started back in astonishment. Catherine! Sound asleep snuggled under the covers in his bed. She appeared tiny and fragile in the huge expanse. She shifted again and sighed contentedly in her sleep, the same sound that had first alerted him to the presence of someone in his chamber.

Loath to disturb her in the event he wasnít dreaming, he pulled his big chair over to the bed, wrapped himself in the extra quilt and settled in the chair, propping his feet on the bed. He watched Catherine sure he would get no sleep this night but was soon nodding off.

He woke with a start, stiff and sore from sleeping sitting up. He looked first to the bed to see the covers smooth and undisturbed. So, it had been a dream after all. The wave of disappointment that swept over him so powerful he actually staggered as he tried to rise from the chair. Catching the back to steady himself he waited for the emotion to lessen. Eventually he was able to move to the chest to find some clean clothes for the day. He lifted the lid to see his jeans neatly stacked, as always but beside them were several pairs he didnít recognize. He opened the drawer at the bottom of the chest to get his socks. They too were folded neatly as always, but pushed to one side of the drawer. The other half was occupied by lacy feminine under things. He touched them gingerly they pulled his hand back and pushed the drawer shut. The dreams of last night were bad enough but this hallucination was truly frightening. He had to dress quickly and see Father. He reached into the armoire for a shirt and vest only to touch soft silks and lush velvets. He opened the door wider. There beside his things was an array of dresses and blouses and at the bottom of the armoire a pile of high-heeled shoes. He slammed the door shut without getting a shirt and whirled at the sound of a voice behind him.

"Good morning sleepy head," Catherine greeted him warmly. She was wearing a white terry cloth robe and fluffy slippers. Her hair was wet from her bath and her skin still damp.

"Catherine?" His voice was a caress, a question.

"Youíd better hurry dear, or youíll miss breakfast," Catherine said as she walked over to the chair where she had laid out her clothes. She spoke as if they were a normal couple and this was any normal morning. But if what she said stunned him what she did next was even more astonishing. She let the robe slide off her shoulders and began to dress. Vincent froze. Her back was to him and he knew he should turn away but he simply couldnít. She glanced over her shoulder at him. "Iíll meet you in the dining room." The look on his face encouraged her and she deliberately slowed her dressing. Clad only in panties and bra she leaned over to put on her socks. Let him enjoy the view. She glanced back again. He was. She was sure he was blushing too. Mission accomplished she thought. Time for step two.

He left the chamber then, but the leaving wasnít easy by a long shot.

Catherine was sitting with Father and Mary when Vincent entered the dining area after washing and dressing. She slid over to make room for him without interrupting the conversation. "What will you be doing today?" Catherine asked as they finished their meal.

"Iím hoping Vincent and the others can finish the repairs they started yesterday," Father informed her.

"Iím helping Mary with linen inventory this morning," she told him as they rose from the table.

"No," Vincent stated firmly.

"No, what?" Catherine asked mystified but Vincent didnít answer, just took her hand and headed for his chamber at a pace that kept her almost running. He let go of her hand when they entered the chamber to lower the tapestry across the entrance, something he had never done before. She grinned inwardly but kept her expression carefully neutral when he turned back to her.

"Vincent, I really have to go help Mary," she said as she started past him.

"Sit down," he commanded.

"But Vincent, I promised MaryÖ"

"Sit down," he roared. Then much more gently, pleading, "Please." She sat in the big chair looking up at him quizzically. He pulled another chair directly opposite and sat facing her their knees almost touching.

"Catherine, what is all this?" he gestured to the chest and armoire.

"I know itís a bit crowded," she conceded. "Weíll need another armoire and a couple more chests. I have several more boxes to unpack."

"Catherine," he roared again. "What is all this ?" He emphasized each word equally.

"I moved in," she told him.

"Catherine you canítÖ"

"Donít you dare!" this time it was her turn to roar. "Donít say it. Donít even think it!" she ordered through clenched teeth. She calmed herself and spoke softly. "You told me to follow my heart. I am. Vincent, you are my heartís desire. I am never giving you up. Never! Nothing you can say will make me change my mind so donít even try."

She stood placing one hand on each arm of his chair and leaned toward him. His hands came up reflexively to her waist. As she leaned forward her sweater pulled up and he felt her bare skin. He jerked his hands back as if stung but she pretended not to notice. She leaned closer watching his eyes. He was afraid but for a second she saw the flicker of desire he always kept hidden so well. He closed his eyes just before her lips met his. She deliberately kept the kiss light and then pulled back saying, "Mary is waiting. She you later."

"No!"

"No, what Vincent?" she asked. He shook his head not sure himself what the no meant. "No donít kiss me? No donít leave me?" Catherine asked.

His answer was to pull her back to him for another kiss, a deep lingering, longing kiss, a kiss to make up for all the withheld emotion of so many months.

******

They missed lunch that day and supper and no one came near the chamber, not even Mouse. At a point sometime in the mid afternoon, Vincent realized that he could feel Catherine again. She speculated that he had never really lost the bond but had suppressed it unconsciously after his illness. They discussed the why of it all. Catherine was sure his illness was the direct result of sexual frustration. For once Vincent didnít argue.

In between the love making and the dozing, they talked and talked. Catherine told him about their loving in the cave, which Vincent could now accept and believe. They talked about children, Vincent letting her know that fathering a child was not an option he could accept. Catherine explained about her visit to the doctor and the tests and managed to do it without crying, the fact that Vincent was holding her so protectively making it all the harder.

"Catherine, I know how much you have always wanted children."

"Yes," she replied honestly, feeling him wince with the truth of it. "But Vincent," she propped herself on one elbow to look at him. "Know this, nothing could ever replace you. Not another man, not children. Nothing," she said vehemently. He could feel the sincerity of her vow, see the truth of it in her eyes. Having children was something Vincent had never contemplated for himself. He knew it was different for Catherine. He knew she would always mourn the children that would never be, they both would, but they would be together, they would comfort each other, forever.

"What about your job?" he asked later.

"Iím never going to put either of is in that sort of danger again," she vowed.

"But Catherine are you sure you can be happy down here?"

"With you, yes but I realize that by going above I open more of the world to you too. Also, I have skills I shouldnít waste so I thought I might start a legal aide program. Something where I can help more directly, maybe specialize in domestic cases. Iím also renting my apartment to Jenny and she and Peter are going to hunt for a house for us. One with tunnel access."

"Youíve given this a lot of thought havenít you?"

"Yes."

"But what about the DAís office? You liked the work you did there, I know that." She told him about Joe and her reaction to the black book.

"Iím staying below until Joe is well and I can be sure that book will bring no harm to us or to the tunnels. I donít understand why Iím so sure about this but I feel that that book is exceedingly dangerous."

"Instincts are seldom wrong, Catherine," he said gravely. "You should always heed them."

"Why did it take you so long to heed yours?" she teased.

"Touchť," he replied laughing.

"So in the future, you will listen to me and do what I say?" Catherine asked.

"Always," he replied gravely.

"Good. By the way weíre getting married at Winterfest," she added.

"We are?" he asked eyebrows raised sky high.

"Yep, and I want to invite Joe and Jenny."

He studied her intently for such a long time she began to tense, worried that she had pushed too far. Finally he spoke. "Your wish is my command, my lady." He gallantly kissed the back of her hand. She giggled delightedly causing Vincent to grin. He would never know what he had done in his life to be so blessed, but he was going to take full advantage of every second he would be given with her.

******

"And now the Bride and Groom, " Father intoned as Vincent and Catherine appeared from the shadows beyond and stepped into the center of the circle of light. Candles were raised along with the cheers and shouts of good wishes. The circle broke and the music began with the newlyweds leading the first dance.

After the first few bars the wedding party joined in, Joe and Jenny with silly grins on their faces, lost in each other and Mouse and Jamie, Mouse somewhat clumsy and neither recognizable in their finery. Half way through the song most everyone was dancing even Father and Mary moving slowly and cautiously. Father positively beamed with pride and Mary glowed with the pleasure of seeing Vincent so happy. The great hall was filled with light and love.

The shadows were gone, all of them.