TAKE ME HOME

Lea


"Bad news, Joe! Salvano knows about tonight's meeting, he'll be there too!"

Joe swore. "Are you sure, Tony?"

"This informant never failed me before. Is Chandler…"

Joe was already at the door. "Yeah! And Michaels is with her. I insisted she shouldn't go alone, but the kid won't be of much help. Edie, call the police! Tony, Jim, come with me! Oh, damn, Chandler!"

*****

"Stan!" Catherine stood at the entrance of the warehouse, Michaels on her side. She knew he was scared, and trying to hide it. She regretted she'd listened to Joe and taken the kid with her. He was a sweet boy, straight out of Law School, and completely inexperienced in street matters. Not that Catherine herself felt very easy, waiting for an elusive potential witness in a dark warehouse… But she had a chance to get Salvano, and she wouldn't miss it! She knew he was responsible for several particularly bloody bank robberies, without having been able to find any evidence against him. A year ago she'd thought she'd found a witness, but before she could convince him to testify, the man had disappeared. And so had his pregnant wife. Salvano took no chances. Catherine had felt very bad about that at he time, and she was all the more determined to get him. She hoped the man called 'Stan' would be willing to give her something substantial…

She heard footsteps ahead. "Stan?" she called again.

"Ms Chandler?"

"Yes. Where are you?"

Suddenly the warehouse was flooded with light.

"He's here, Ms Chandler!"

Salvano himself was in front of her, holding a gun against the head of a terrified man. Catherine reached for her own gun, but suddenly felt something cold on the back of her head.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you, lady." Two of Salvano's men were standing behind them. They'd been trapped! Catherine concentrated all her strength in fighting back fear. She mustn't let Vincent know, she mustn't draw him here! She could see three other armed men behind Salvano, Vincent wouldn't have a chance!

" So that's Catherine Chandler! Do you know you've been a real nuisance, lady? I don't like people sneaking into my business. I thought you'd understood that after what happened to Korsky last year. Too bad his wife came back home early…" He made a gesture and the men behind Catherine and Michaels urged them forward. Salvano gave Catherine a very unpleasant smile. "You're the obstinate kind, aren't you? You just have to see for yourself…well, you're going to see!" He twisted the man's arm, making him scream. "That stinking bastard thought he was going to rat on me, and get away with it! Look, lady, see how I deal with rats!"

"No!" Catherine screamed, but it was too late. The man's head exploded, splashing her with blood. She heard another scream, Michaels. She turned to him and saw in his eyes that he knew, too. They were as good as dead, Salvano would never let them live after that. She saw Michaels' shoulders straighten, as he accepted the inevitable. The boy had guts, but right now she could think only of Vincent. She knew he must have been aware of her shock, he was going to come…and he'd either find her dead, or get himself killed under her eyes. No, please, Vincent, don't come! she silently screamed through their bond, but she knew it was no use.

"Now you're witnesses, both of you, and you know I never leave any witnesses behind, don't you?" Salvano's gun raised to Michaels' head.

"No!" Catherine screamed again.

"I know, it should be ladies first, but I want you to enjoy it!"

Catherine met Michaels' widened eyes and closed hers, she just couldn't watch that. Another deafening noise, another splash of warm blood on her, a fall, and Salvano's voice.

"Now it's your turn, lady." She kept her eyes closed. She could see Vincent's face in her mind, she could hear him calling her name, in a scream that ended in a roar of despair. I'm so sorry to leave you, Vincent! I love you!"

Joe's shot got Salvano in the shoulder, making him stagger and drop his gun, but not before he'd pressed the trigger. The bullet aimed for Catherine scraped the top of her head before getting lost in the ceiling. Jim and Tony got two of Salvano's men, and the other ones ran away.

"Oh, God, Cathy!" Joe knelt to check on her, while Tony handcuffed Salvano. She was unconscious and covered with blood, and he anxiously searched for wounds. He only found a big cut on the head, it bled a lot as scalp wounds always did, but didn't seem too bad. She must have passed out from the shock.

" Tony, call the police, what the hell are they doing?"

"They're coming, I can hear them! And there's an ambulance, too!"

*****

Vincent stopped short, panting more from anguish than from his fast run, and hid in the shadows while three Police cars and an ambulance howled past him to stop in front of the warehouse. Catherine was alive, that much he knew. Unconscious, probably wounded, but alive. Her initial burst of fear had started him running, though she had tried hard to suppress it for his sake. He had sensed her terror, her shock, and her certainty that she was going to die. Tears came in his eyes. At that moment, all Catherine's thoughts had been for him. Fear for his safety, sorrow to have to leave him, and overwhelming love. Then a sharp burst of pain, and darkness had engulfed her.

The ambulance crew ran into the warehouse with a gurney and went out a few minutes later, carrying Catherine. She was still unconscious, and her head was bandaged. A man was anxiously walking near the gurney, holding Catherine's hand. Vincent heard someone call him Joe, it had to be Joe Maxwell. Catherine was obviously well taken care of, but Vincent almost roared with frustrated anxiety, cursing his differences. It should be him walking beside Catherine, holding her hand, going with her to the hospital, standing at her side when she woke up! He refrained a powerful, primal urge to run to Catherine, shove all these men aside, and take her back with him to the safety of the Tunnels, where he could watch over her, where no one would hurt her any more…

The ambulance left, all lights on, while others could be heard arriving, and he ran back to the closest Tunnel entrance. He had to contact Peter.

*****

"Vincent!"

"Cathy! You're awake! How do you feel?"

Her eyes slowly focused on a familiar face.

"Peter! What…"

"You're in the hospital, you're going to be all right!"

"What happened to me?"

"You were shot, don't you remember?"

She frowned in concentration. "N..no. Peter, where's Vincent?"

"He can't come for the moment, Cathy, you know that, don't you?"

She glanced around the busy emergency room. "Yes, of course, I understand."

"But there's someone else there who wants to see you."

"Hey, Radcliffe, this time you really got us scared! How are you feeling?"

She looked at him and frowned again. "I'm sorry, but…who are you?"

Joe's smile disappeared. "Cathy, don't you remember me? Joe, Joe Maxwell!"

She shook her head. "No! Peter, what's this all about? Please take me home, I want to see Vincent!"

Peter turned to Joe. "Please could you leave us? She's still under the effect of the shock."

"Yeah, of course! I'll come back tomorrow. Just take care of yourself, Cathy!"

"Peter, who's that man? Should I know him?"

"You've been under a terrible shock, Cathy, do you remember anything?"

"No! What should I remember? What happened?"

"But you remember me? And Vincent?"

She gave him a weak smile, and her eyes lightened up a bit. "Why, of course I remember Vincent! He's my husband!"

*****

"Her husband!" Vincent's eyes widened in disbelief.

Peter smiled. "That's one of the few things she's absolutely sure of!"

"Amnesia?" asked Father?

"Selective. I didn't bother her with too many questions, she's still weak, but she seems to remember almost anything about Below, people's names, places, and the necessity to keep it a secret, but very few things about her life Above. And she's blocked out every memory of her job at the DA's office, she didn't even recognize Joe Maxwell. Well, after what she's been through, it's almost understandable."

"What happened to her?" asked Vincent. "I sensed her feelings of shock, and terror, Peter, she was sure she was going to die!"

"Well, we won't know for sure until she can tell what happened, but Joe Maxwell thinks he has it figured out. She was out with one of her colleagues to meet a potential witness, but the criminal she was after heard about it. He's a ruthless man. He killed the witness and Cathy's companion, under her eyes, close enough that she was splashed all over with their blood and brains!" Father shuddered at that idea, and Vincent let out an angry growl.

Peter went on. "Then it would certainly have been her turn if Joe hadn't arrived. The bullet only touched her superficially, but I fear the psychological shock has been much deeper."

"Do you mean she's…insane?" asked Father. Vincent glared at him, and Peter hastily answered.

"No, of course not, but she's had a terrible experience, and for the moment she's unable to face it. The man who was with her was the youngest member of Joe's team, they called him "the kid", and Joe told me he'd insisted on going with her because he admired her so much! So she might be blaming herself for his death, too. Listen, I'm no psychiatrist, but we have none available, so I give you my theory : I think she's momentarily blocked out anything disturbing and retreated in a little world of her own, a place of safety and happiness where she can heal."

"And that "place of safety and happiness" would be Below, with Vincent as her husband?" Father asked dubiously.

"Apparently. It does make sense: Vincent for the 'safety' part, and Below for the happiness…or could it be the contrary?" Peter asked with a mischievous grin.

It was Father's turn to glare, and Vincent looked stricken. What Peter described was their dream! When confronted to the unbearable, Catherine had sought refuge in their dream, claiming it as a sanctuary against all evil…

"You said she asked for me?"

"Your name was the first word she said when she woke up."

"I have to go and see her!"

"Vincent!"

"I have to, Father!"

"Don't worry, Jacob, I think it's safe. Her room is on the second floor, an easy climb for Vincent, and I'll be there as a sentry to make sure nobody enters while he's there."

"But, Vincent, what are you going to tell her? She thinks you're her husband!"

Vincent hadn't thought of that. "What do you think I should do, Peter?"

"Go along with her. She's weak, and vulnerable, and she needs reassurance. Her love for you, and yours for her, are almost the only certainties left to her. You can't deny her that, or you'd better not go." He smiled. "But, surely, telling Cathy you love her won't take so much of an effort?"

"Vincent, you can't…"

"I can, Father…and I will. You know I love her, even if you never liked to hear it. And there is no way I could deny the depth of her love for me. Not any more. Not after sharing her thoughts when she was on the verge of death…Father, even then she was still trying to protect me! Do you think I could refuse her the words she needs to hear from me?"

Father sighed in defeat. "Vincent, I fear you'll get hurt…"

"Catherine is the one who has been hurt, Father, and I will do anything to help her heal!"

*****

Peter opened the window to let Vincent in, and quietly went out of the room.

"Catherine!"

"Vincent! Oh, Vincent, I've missed you so much!"

He knelt beside the bed. "Catherine, are you all right? I was so…" but before he could finish she put her arms around his neck and pulled him down to kiss him, full on the mouth, her lips invitingly parted, her tongue avidly seeking his.

Vincent was taken by surprise. He hadn't expected this…but of course he should have, they were supposed to be married! And Peter had said to go along with her, so he allowed himself to kiss her as he had dreamed to.

It was all new to him and for a fleeting second he wondered if he was doing it right, but Catherine had no such doubts. He could feel her love, her joy, and the pleasure his touch was giving her. Without thought he deepened the kiss, slipping his arms behind her to pull her closer, reveling in her eager response, drinking in the sweet taste of her. He had come so close to losing her, and now she was here in his arms, alive and warm…

Mine, she's mine! growled a fierce voice deep inside him. But almost simultaneously another voice rose, a voice that unpleasantly sounded like Father's, reminding him Catherine was not completely herself and he shouldn't be taking advantage…Suddenly filled with shame by his behavior, he pulled away as gently as he could, but his shame quickly subsided when he met Catherine's radiant eyes, and sensed her happy certainty. However he felt about the way he had acted, it had been exactly what she expected from him…

"Oh, Vincent, I love you!"

" I love you, Catherine!" He marveled at the sound of his own voice saying these words for the first time. How easily they had come to him, and how right they sounded! "I love you so much! Oh, Catherine, if I had lost you…"

She pulled him close and soothingly stroked his hair. "Shh, darling, it's over, I'm here, now, I'll never leave you."

Vincent's mind reeled. After all she had been through, she was the one comforting him! He touched the bandage on her head. "How are you feeling? Does it hurt?"

She smiled. "A little. Ten stitches, and a mild concussion. The worst of it is they've had to shave part of my head. Not much, the nurse told me, but I'll have to wait till they take that bandage off to see for myself." She grinned. "Would you still love me if I were bald, Vincent?"

"I will always love you, Catherine, always!" he husked, and was rewarded with another kiss. When he could talk again he enquired : "Peter told me you didn't remember what happened to you?"

She frowned." Not a thing. They told me I was shot, but…it makes my head hurt when I try to think about it, so Peter told me not to bother, and not to ask either. He says it will come back naturally when I'm ready." He felt her distress and tightened his embrace.

"Don't worry, Peter is right, you just have to be patient. We will not talk about it any more."

"I don't even know what I was doing Above. I should have stayed Below. It's safe, there. Vincent, please, take me back Below! Take me home!" She sounded like a frightened little girl, and it tore at Vincent's heart.

"Catherine…" He was interrupted by Peter.

"The night nurse is coming this way. It would be better to…"

Vincent rose. "I will come back tomorrow, Catherine."

"Wait! Peter, when can I go home?"

"Home?"

"Catherine wants to come back Below."

Peter nodded to Vincent. "I see. Well, they'd like to keep you here for another two or three days, run some more tests to make sure…"

"Two days, Peter, not one more, then you let me go home!"

"Vincent, you really should go…"

"Yes, my love, go…but kiss me first!"

He kissed her, briefly but thoroughly, under Peter's interested eyes, and was gone.

*****

"Vincent, you can't do that!"

"I have to, Father! Catherine needs me!"

"There must be another way! Perhaps professional help…"

"Do you mean you want to send Catherine to a psychiatric clinic?" Vincent was indignant.

"Even if she accepted, it would be no use, Jacob." Peter broke in. "How could people who don't know about Below and Vincent help her?"

"But Vincent, you just don't realize! She thinks you're her husband! She probably assumes you live together, in your chamber, sharing the same bed, and… doing what married couples usually do. And that's what she'll expect of you!"

Vincent swallowed hard. He had thought about that. He straightened his shoulders. "We will share my chamber, Father, and sleep in the same bed…but nothing else will happen. I could never take advantage of Catherine's vulnerable state to…"

"I know what tremendous control you have on yourself, Vincent." Peter cut in with a somewhat mischievous grin "But, from what I saw yesterday night, I'm not sure if Cathy can be trusted not to take advantage of your vulnerable state." He went on, while Vincent turned a bright shade of red under his Father's suspicious eye. "I think I'll have to invent some medical reason against it…I doubt it will hold her back more than a week, though. If she hasn't recovered her memory by then, we'll have to think of something else…or poor Vincent might find himself cornered. You know how determined she can be…I'll bring her down tomorrow night. Be ready!" Chuckling, he went out, leaving a stunned Vincent to face his parent's questions.

*****

Vincent awoke to a reality that felt more wonderful than the most wonderful dream. Catherine was in his arms, in his bed, still lost in a peaceful sleep. She had been Below for ten days, and every morning, finding her there with him was like a new miracle.

He still wondered at how easily and naturally she had settled into life Below…and into his life. Her physical recovery had been quick. Father had removed the stitches from the nicely healing scar on her head two days before, and the bald spot was small enough that she could easily hide it under her hair. After the first two days she had gently urged him back to his usual tasks, assuring him she would be all right, and had soon found ways to occupy her own time. She helped Rebecca make the candles for Winterfest, taught the older children History, and generally took her share in community tasks and chores, bathing the young children and peeling potatoes as if she'd done nothing else all her life. After an initial moment of awkwardness, the other Tunnel dwellers, briefed by Father before her arrival, had quickly made her a place among them, conquered by her warm manners and cheerful efficiency.

Her evenings were for Vincent. After reading the children to sleep they would go for a walk, or visit Father in his study for a talk, or a game of chess. Vincent smiled. Since her arrival, Catherine had behaved toward the old man like a loving daughter, with an affectionate familiarity that didn't exclude occasional teasing…and though it sometimes made Father uneasy, Vincent knew how it also warmed his heart.

Then they would go back to 'their' chamber, a moment Vincent both longed for and dreaded. For, though Catherine had grudgingly but obediently accepted Peter's 'medical' restrictions on their supposed sexual life, they still shared more physical intimacy than he could be at ease with.

Evidently, in Catherine's mind, Peter's recommendations didn't apply to touching, cuddling and kissing…sometimes she would drive him almost crazy with desire, and the touch of mischief in her eyes told him she knew it, and only restrained for his sake, because she knew he intended to take Peter's orders seriously.

But that sweet torture was a small price to pay for all the joy her continuous presence gave him.

He loved to kiss her, he loved to hold her in his arms while she slept, he loved to watch her move around in what was now their chamber, and to hear her lively laughter.

Catherine was happy in his world. More happy than he had ever known her to be. Her happiness hummed in their bond all day long, and so did her love for him. A love she could at last express fully, free from the restraints he had imposed on her. A love he had long denied, much as he craved for it, but he was now glad to accept. It sung in his heart, warming him to the core, lighting up the deepest, darkest parts of him. Catherine was living in their dream, and sharing it with him…

He sighed. How he wanted that dream to last forever! But it couldn't. Catherine had to recover her memories, and face them. It would be painful, and he wished he could spare her some of that pain, but then only could she begin to heal.

And he could feel that moment approaching. Her last few nights had been troubled by nightmares. Not violent enough to wake her, not yet, but he had felt her unrest. The fragile bubble of delusion Catherine had built to protect herself would soon burst, leaving her to face the grim reality.

He tightened his hold on her warm, trusting body. He would be there to help her through it. It might take time, but Catherine was strong, and he knew that finally she would heal.

And what would then become of them? Vincent couldn't fool himself, their relationship would never be the same as it was before. He felt unable now to deny her the words of love she needed to hear from him, and how could he ever live without the sweet touch of her lips under his and the warmth of her love in his heart? Even if the happy life they had shared for ten blissful days had been built on a delusion, it had led him to think such a life might not be impossible for them.

Catherine dreamed of a life Below with him. She even wanted to marry him! Would he have the courage to make her dream, their dream, come true? Would it really make her happy? Would the only life he could offer be enough for her, for that part of her that was momentarily silent, the part that belonged Above?

The perspective of making love to her didn't scare him as much as it had. He was becoming accustomed to the contact of Catherine's body, and her touch on him. Holding her, kissing her, cuddling her felt so natural and so right he'd come to doubt anything could really be wrong between them.

And there was no way he could deny her desire for him. It soaked their bond, sung in her every gesture, and surprised him with its violence. The unrestrained passion and fierce possessiveness he found in Catherine's heart matched his own feelings toward her. Violent feelings he had always been wary of, because he thought they belonged to what he thought of as his other self, but he was now forced to acknowledge as simply human, inspired by the strength of the love they shared. He was beginning to believe what Catherine had so often told him, that she had nothing to fear from his dark side, because that part of him loved her too…

Catherine stirred in his arms and snuggled closer, rubbing herself sensually against him. The feelings coming through the bond and her slow rhythmic motions left no doubt of what she was dreaming about…Love her, love her now! Make her yours and keep her forever! It took all Vincent's control not to listen to that inner voice, a voice he couldn't even blame on his other self anymore.

Not now! Not…yet!

He gently disengaged himself from her hold, while he was still able to, but before he could get up Catherine's eyes opened, and her arms circled his neck, pulling him back.

"Vincent?" He found himself bathed in the light of her radiant smile and shining eyes, in the warmth of her love and desire flowing to him through the bond. Her whole being was calling out to him, and he had to summon all his will not to answer that call.

"I ..I have to get up, Catherine, there is a meeting in Father's study this morning." he managed to croak. He tried to pull away but she held him tight.

"I'll get up too, it's my turn to help Mary with the younger children…but there's no way you're going to leave without kissing me good morning!"

He let himself be kissed, trembling in his desperate struggle to keep a hold on his raging desire. When she finally drew away he was panting heavily. He looked into her darkened eyes.

"Catherine…"

"It's too bad we both have things to do…" her voice was husky, and as breathless as his "…I would have loved to stay in bed with you, Vincent…now hurry and get away before I change my mind!"

"After the meeting I'll be away all day with Kanin and some others, digging this new passage in the lower levels. I will see you tonight, Catherine."

"Yes, tonight, Vincent…" He took his clothes and headed to the bathing chamber, trying not to think about the implicit promise in her voice.

*****

During the meeting he had trouble concentrating on the maps and plans Father was showing them. He could think only of Catherine, and of what risked to happen tonight if he didn't find a solution. He feared he wouldn't be able to resist her much longer, and she knew it…But what could he do? He could not run away from her and seek refuge in the darkest, deepest tunnels, as he had sometimes done in the past when he felt his control weakening. Catherine's memories could come back any moment, he couldn't desert her now, and risk not being there for her when she would need his support. Tell her he wanted to sleep in another chamber? It would hurt her, she wouldn't understand. Explain her? "Sorry, Catherine, but, you see, we are not really married, I was just pretending…"

Vincent sighed. He was trapped, cornered as Peter had warned him he would be, and he tried to ignore the treacherous voice rejoicing about it deep inside him. Tonight he would go to Father for advice. The older man would be delighted to get such a good opportunity to say 'I told you so!', but together they might find something.

He brought his attention back to the meeting. After that he would be off for long hours of digging through hard rock, and hopefully he would come back exhausted enough that he would want only to sleep…but he doubted it. When Catherine was close, sleep was never his prior need, however tired he might be.

On their way to the lower levels they passed the entrance of the nursery. Catherine was there, giving little Nathan his bottle, and Vincent stopped a few seconds to watch them, mesmerized by a scene that stirred deep feelings within him.

Nathan was the latest addition to the Tunnel population. Two months before, Vincent, walking in the Park at night, had heard a faint wail and found an unconscious girl lying under a bush, a crying baby cradled in her arms. He had brought them back to the Tunnels, but the young mother, almost a child still, had died from exhaustion and famine only a few hours after her arrival, despite Father's efforts. The baby, though weak, was healthy, his mother had visibly used her last strength feeding him and keeping him warm. At least she had died in peace, surrounded by kind, caring people, and assured her son would be loved and well taken care of. But her death was nonetheless a tragedy, and a shame, that had sent Father into violent diatribes against the heartlessness of the world Above, and caused Vincent to wonder once more what had happened to his own mother…

As if Catherine had sensed Vincent's presence, she lifted her face and smiled radiantly at him, before turning her attention back to the baby in her arms. Vincent walked on like an automate, stunned by the strength of the longing he had felt in her, a longing that matched the deeply buried feelings the sight of her with a baby had awakened in him. Catherine wanted a child. His child!

He spent the day in a turmoil of contradictory thoughts, questions, doubts, hopes and fears whirling frantically and unproductively in his mind, while his body worked with desperate energy, attacking the rock as if it were responsible for his frustrations.

When they came back to the inhabited Tunnels he was so tired he could hardly walk, and his arms were aching. His companions eyed him with concern. He hadn't said a word of all day but done the work of at least three ordinary men, digging as if the rock wall was some personal enemy of his. Kanin had already seen him act like that, and it usually had something to do with Catherine…He shared the general Tunnel opinion that Catherine and Vincent belonged together, and fervently hoped they would finally find the happiness they deserved.

Vincent headed to the warm bathing pool close to his chamber. He remembered Catherine had promised to help the children make cookies, hopefully that would keep her occupied the time for him to take a quick bath and talk to Father. He shed his dusty clothes and descended into the pool, sitting down on the rock ledge with a contented sigh. He remembered he had decided to wash quickly, but the warm water felt so good on his aching muscles he allowed himself to relax, just for a minute…

When he opened his eyes half an hour later, he realized with a shock he wasn't alone anymore. Catherine was there with him, gloriously naked, rinsing shampoo out of her hair. He knew he should get out of that pool as fast as he could, but he just stayed there, unable to get his eyes off her, watching the play of her muscles under her wet skin, fascinated by the movement of her breasts when she lifted her arms to pour water on her head.

She saw he was looking at her and grinned. "Awake at last?" She seemed perfectly at ease, as if taking a bath with him was a usual situation. "I heard on the pipes the team had come back, I suspected you'd go straight here. So when Samantha spilled a bowl of icing sugar, most of it in my hair, I decided I'd join you, and I found you fast asleep. Poor darling, you must be so tired! Let me take care of you."

"Catherine…I must…Father…" He started to get up but stopped, suddenly conscious of his arousal, and turned his back to her to get out of the pool, but she held him back.

"Father will wait, you haven't even washed your hair yet, it's still full of dust. Come here, I'll do it for you." The light touch of her hand burned through his naked skin, and he let himself be led to the shallower end of the pool. She made him sit on the bottom, with water up to his chest, and knelt behind him. With a sigh of defeat he abandoned himself to her loving hands while she carefully poured water on his head and shampooed the dust and grit out of his hair, tenderly massaging his scalp. It felt so good! Nobody had taken care of him like this since he was very young. As soon as he had been old enough to be conscious of his differences, he had always taken his bath alone, not wanting anyone to see his animal-like body. But Catherine certainly didn't find his body loathsome, he could sense her love and deep contentment as she watched and touched him.

Having finished rinsing his hair she took the soap and lathered his shoulders and back. He couldn't help a moan as she started massaging him gently, easing the tension out of his tired muscles. The conscious, reasonable part of his mind was screaming at him to get away, but her small hands held him down as surely as iron chains. Her nails scraped slowly down his spine, making him moan again, and he could feel her pleasure and growing arousal at his response. She leaned closer, rubbing her breasts against his back, and he felt kisses on his shoulders and the nape of his neck. Her hands traveled slowly down his chest and caressed his stomach, making him shiver with fear, or maybe anticipation, he didn't know, and he didn't really care anymore…

"Catherine!" The name ended in a low growl as her hands finally reached their goal. He heard her soft chuckle in his ear. "Seems like you're not that tired, after all, my love!" While she talked she caressed him gently, making him growl again with incredible pleasure.

Swiftly, without releasing her gentle hold, she moved to kneel in front of him, and slowly leaned closer. He saw her flushed face, her darkened eyes, felt the hot wave of her desire, and he knew he was lost.

"Catherine!" he made a last desperate attempt to draw away but her hands came around his neck to hold him still.

"Shh, love, it's all right! I love you, and I want you. Now!" A sparkle of mischief appeared in her eyes. "We won't tell it to Peter, promised!" Then she kissed him, and with a moaning sigh he surrendered, his arms closing around her body to pull her closer. Her naked skin against his felt like heaven, and he abandoned himself completely to her gentle but determined assault. She joined their bodies in one smooth, sure move, hushing his cry and her own moan with a burning kiss.

All Vincent's fear and doubts had flown away. Never in his most wildly erotic dreams could he have imagined such bliss. It felt so good, it felt so right! This was his woman, his mate, and her body, her love, were the only place where he truly belonged. Instinctively, his body found the movements that matched Catherine's in a rhythm as old as love itself.

The bond between them was open wider than it had ever been. The waves of pleasure rising in him were Catherine's, were his…were theirs. They were truly one, now, and as the waves carried them together over the edge, he lost himself blissfully into her, repeating her name again and again in a soft husky growl.

For long minutes they remained still, tight in each other's arms, while the waves slowly subsided. Finally Catherine drew away slightly to look at him, her eyes shining with love and hazy contentment.

"Mmm, this was wonderful, my love! I needed it. We both needed it, it had been so long!"

Suddenly, like a splash of icy water, the realization of what had happened fell on Vincent. What had he done? Catherine was not completely herself, he should have protected her as he always did, protected her even from her own desires! But he had been unable to resist the call of his own covetous body! He was...an animal!

He pulled away from her flesh as if it burned him, ignoring her cry of dismay. In one powerful leap he was out of the pool. He wrapped himself in his cloak, hastily picked up his other clothes.

"Vincent what's wrong?" she started to get out of the pool but he turned his back to her.

"Please, forgive me, Catherine!" he moaned. He could feel her shock, her pain and her total incomprehension, but braced himself against them. He had to get away, he couldn't trust himself with her any longer. He rushed out of the chamber.

"Vincent, wait!" She started after him but her wet foot slipped on a stone and she fell, her head violently hitting the rock wall.

*****

"Vincent?"

His face emerged from the darkness, and she heard his beloved voice.

" I'm here, Catherine! Are you all right?"

"My head…hurts! He…he shot me!"

"Shot you?"

"Salvano!" she looked around, saw Father and Mary. "Vincent, you saved me once more! Thanks God you weren't hurt, I was so scared!"

She saw them exchanging puzzled glances. "What's wrong? Vincent, tell me!"

"I didn't save you. Joe did."

She frowned. "Joe? But then…why am I here?"

Father was beginning to understand. "What is the last thing you remember, Catherine?" he asked gently.

She concentrated for a second, then her eyes widened with anguish, and she gripped Vincent's hand.

"Salvano! He trapped us in that warehouse! He …shot that man, and he shot Michaels too! Oh, Vincent, all that blood!" She clung to him and he closed his arms around her, feeling her desperate need for comfort. "And I was so scared you were going to come, and get yourself killed too because of me!" She snuggled closer in his arms as tears finally welled up in her eyes. " Michaels was so young! I can't believe he's dead! I should never have taken him with me!"

He held her a long time while she cried, until finally she fell asleep in his arms. Laying her back on the bed, he sat down at her side to watch over her. Now the healing could begin. And he would be able to stand by her and help her through it, as she seemed to have forgotten everything about his shameful behavior. But the price for it was high. The price for it was their dream. Like a promised land, it had been shown to him, and then taken away, because he had proved himself unworthy of it.

*****

Later Peter came down to examine Catherine, and confirmed what Father had said. The second shock on the head had unlocked her lost memories, but seemed to have wiped out the last two weeks. Maybe they would come back to her one day, maybe not, amnesia was a mysterious and unpredictable phenomenon. They gave her a rather vague account of her stay Below, skipping the "husband" part not to distress her uselessly (and after Father had taken a look at his son's anxious face).

The version Vincent had given of the accident was the truth…but not all of it. Not able to think of what had happened, much less to talk about it, he had told Father Catherine had joined him in the pool while he was asleep, that he had run away and she had fallen trying to follow him. Father had accepted it without other comment than the expected 'I told you so!', relieved to find only a bruise and a light cut on Catherine's forehead.

Vincent left his chamber to Catherine and spent a sleepless night near the waterfall, letting the soothing sound of rushing water bring his tormented soul a semblance of peace.

The next morning he went to see her. She was up, dressed in Topside clothes, obviously waiting for him.

"How are you feeling, Catherine?"

"Apart from a sore head, all right." She smiled a little sadly. "Time for me to go back."

It was as much a question as a statement, and he silently nodded. "I will take you home." They exchanged a long look, knowing they both thought of a similar conversation long ago. He saw her threatening tears, felt her distress. "You have the strength, Catherine. You do! Remember, I know you! And I'll be with you every time you need me."

She gave him a trembling smile. "I know you will." She sighed, and straightened her shoulders. "Well, let's go, then. But I'm not going to my apartment. I've got to go and see Joe first. I haven't even thanked him for saving my life yet. And he must want my deposition."

"Catherine, maybe you should…"

"Vincent, it's the reason why I go back. It has to be done, and the sooner, the better!"

He didn't insist, feeling how much strength she had to summon to maintain that determination.

When they reached the Park entrance all her apparent bravery had deserted her as she turned to him to say goodbye. "Oh, Vincent, I don't want to go, I don't want to leave you!" He gathered her to him for a parting embrace. He wanted so much to tell her he loved her, to tell her to go ahead with courage, face what had to be faced…and come back to him! But, though he knew it would have given her the strength she needed, he felt he didn't have that right. Not anymore.

"I'm always with you." he only said. But when she turned and started reluctantly toward the entrance of the drainage pipe, looking so small and forlorn, it was all he could do not to run after her and take her in his arms. Instead, he reached for the command of the hidden mechanism, and the sliding door shut between them, leaving him more alone than he had ever felt.

*****

Catherine snuggled closer to Vincent, and in response he stirred in his sleep, his arms tightening around her in a gently possessive hold. A triangle of golden fur showed through the open collar of his nightshirt, and she refrained the urge to let her fingers trail in that silky softness. She didn't want to wake him up. Not yet. She managed to take a look at his relaxed face, he was so cute when he was asleep! She listened to the strong, slow, steady beats of his heart, breathed deeply in the unique musky fragrance of his skin, and let out a blissful sigh. He was wonderful…and he was hers! Surrounded by the familiar rocky walls of their chamber, held close in Vincent's arms, she felt warm, safe, and loved.

"Good morning, Catherine."

The deep rumble in his chest startled her and she raised herself up on an elbow to look into his smiling face.

"Good morning, my love. I'm glad you're awake at last, there's something I couldn't wait to tell you."

He arched an eyebrow. "And what might that be?"

"I love you! Do you realize I haven't said it to you since yesterday night? That's an awfully long time!"

The wonderful sapphire eyes took a warm glow.

"It is indeed. And an equally long time since you last heard it. I love you, Catherine!"

She grinned mischievously. "And how long has it been since you last kissed me, Vincent?"

His arms came up around her to pull her down. "Undoubtedly too long!" he husked. The beautiful, unique mouth captured hers and…

What was that noise? That shrill, insistent, unfriendly noise? It sounded like…an alarm clock!

That was stupid. There were no alarm clocks Below. No need for them.

Catherine went back to Vincent's mouth…only to realize she was hugging a pillow. She sat up with a gasp. She was in her bed, Above. Her cold, lonely bed, in her cold, lonely apartment, in that cold, lonely world Above! With a scream of despair, she silenced the still shrieking clock by throwing it against the wall. Hugging her knees, she cried. A dream, only a dream again. One of those dreams she'd had almost every night for over a month. Oh, they certainly weren't nightmares! They were wonderful, blissfully happy dreams, there was only one thing wrong with them: they were dreams, and waking up from them was becoming more painful than she could stand.

Not all were as… precise as the one her alarm clock had just interrupted, but they were all on the same subject: her happy life Below with Vincent, the fulfillment of their dream. She saw herself, dressed in Tunnel clothes, sharing Vincent's everyday life, playing with the children, talking with Kanin and Olivia at supper, or reading quietly in their (their!) chamber.

Sometimes Vincent wasn't even with her, she was with Father, or William, or Rebecca, but always she had the same feeling of…belonging. She felt safe, and warm, and loved…and then she woke up!

She threw a hostile look at her apartment, and the pink walls stared back just as grimly. Since she'd come back three months before, she'd felt as a stranger in this once familiar and cozy place. In the beginning, she'd thought it was due to her loss of memory, and that it would get better with time, but it hadn't. If anything, it had got worse…and those dreams certainly didn't help!

They felt so real, even when they were about something she'd never experienced in real life…like Vincent's kisses. He'd never kissed her, but she knew the taste of him, the texture and shape of his tongue and the sharp smoothness of his canine teeth. When she saw Vincent, she had to remind herself not to stare at his mouth, and she kept a firm hold on her emotions not to let him know how much she longed for a real kiss, which she somehow was sure would be exactly like in her dreams…

And that other dream! It came back regularly, mostly after Vincent's visits on her balcony. The mere evocation of it made her pulse race faster. It was about Vincent and her, in a warm bathing pool. In her dream she had his whole magnificent body at her entire disposal, to do with as she wished…and, boy, she did! At the beginning she could tell he wanted to run away, but he didn't, and the most erotic moment was the instant of his acceptance, when the panicked look in his eyes left place to an almost feral glow of desire.

That dream was full of vivid details, the feel of his hard muscles when she massaged his shoulders, the low, sensual growls that came from his throat while she caressed him. The scent of him,

the heady, musky fragrance she'd had only had hints of before behind the usual candlewax and leather odors clinging to his clothes. And the glorious sight of his golden naked body!

She sighed. Thinking about that dream did her no good. It was bad enough that it came almost after every one of Vincent's visits. Vincent loved her, and she knew it, but he held so much of himself back! Was she going to wake up from a dream one day, and find herself disappointed to be with the real Vincent?

This had to stop. She wished she could tell Dr Sanders about those dreams, but it was out of question. Nina Sanders was the therapist Peter had insisted that she saw after she had come back Above. She was specialized in helping victims of severe accidents or assault, and their families, to come to terms with what had happened to them. Catherine had gone reluctantly at first, but had soon been conquered by Nina's keen insights, and quiet empathy. After a series of conversations, they had decided together Catherine was finally over the Salvano episode. Of course, she'd always regret she had taken Michaels with her…but now she would be able to live with it. Salvano had killed Michaels, she hadn't. She knew she would now be able to face Salvano in court, and depose calmly against him when he would be on trial. She'd also told Dr Sanders many things about her parents, and on that subject too the therapist's help had been valuable. But Catherine couldn't tell her a word about the most important part of her life…

Maybe Peter could help her. Of course she couldn't tell him all…but enough that he would understand. She'd phone him from work, and ask if she could see him at lunchtime.

Work. She sighed again. When she had come back, Joe had told her she'd been taken off investigation , and to his great surprise, she hadn't objected. She was definitely over the need to prove herself that had led her to endanger her life so often.

She now realized her life was so entwined with Vincent's the risks could never be for her only. This time, as it sometimes happened in extremes circumstances, she had shared Vincent's emotions when he thought he was going to lose her, a despair so deep it had even surpassed her own fear for his life, and she never wanted to cause him such pain again.

The desk work she did now was not dangerous, and often proved as useful as investigation, but it was boring. And every morning it was becoming more difficult to drag herself to the office.

With a resigned shrug, she extracted herself from bed and headed to the bathroom to start another day.

*****

Catherine tried to keep her attention on the brief she was writing, but her mind kept coming back to Peter. She couldn't believe he had actually grinned when she'd told him of her troubles, and she still had difficulties making sense of his words.

"Cathy, your dreams are about Below, you won't find a solution to them Above."

"Peter, be clear, please, you sound like Narcissa!"

"The only advice I can give you, Cathy, is to tell Vincent about those dreams."

"But Peter, I can't…"

"Tell him! And now if you will excuse me, I have other patients waiting." And he had gently, but firmly ushered her out.

She let out an exasperated sigh and looked around the office, feeling restless and out of place, as she did nearly all the time, lately, almost as if she was living someone else's life. That was it! That was what her dreams meant, what Peter had been trying to tell her. This life wasn't hers anymore!

Like after her first assault, the time had come to make drastic changes. And her dreams clearly indicated the direction those changes should take…

With a renewed determination, she settled back to work. Hopefully this would be her last brief, she could at least make a proper job out of it…

Half an hour later she wrote her last sentence and closed the folder. She tidied up her desk, picked up her coat and briefcase, and stormed into Joe's office.

"Joe, I'm quitting! Sorry, but I just can't go on like this!"

She braced herself for the expected outburst, but to her surprise, he only sighed.

"I know, Kiddo, I've been watching you, you're doing your best…but you just aren't at it anymore. Maybe you need some more time to get over it. Dr Sanders…"

"She can't help me with this! It's not about what happened with Salvano, I'm over it all, now…but things have changed. I have changed. I'm leaving, Joe!"

He sighed again and looked straight into her eyes.

"Going to that special place of yours…with that special guy of yours…Vincent, huh?"

She gasped. "Joe, what do you know about Vincent?"

He shrugged. "When you woke up in that hospital, you didn't remember me, but you asked for him. That's all I know but it tells a lot, Radcliffe!"

She could see in his eyes it had hurt him, and still did, despite Dr Sanders' explanations about her loss of memory. She put her hand on his arm.

"I'm sorry, Joe, I…"

He shrugged again and smiled wryly.

"Don't be sorry, Cathy, guess that's just the way things are…Wonder what's so special about that guy!"

She couldn't help an impish smile, and answered without thought.

"Better ask what isn't special about him!"

Joe frowned. "What do you mean?"

She tried to answer in a light tone.

"Only that you're right. He's very special to me!"

"Aren't you going to let me meet him one day?"

She sighed. "It's not simple, Joe. The decision isn't mine." She hesitated, but went on, she couldn't just leave Joe like this, she owed him at least some kind of an explanation. And, deep inside, she knew he could be trusted. "I know Vincent would like to meet you, too. He's very grateful to you for saving my life…he was there too, but he came too late, the police was arriving. If it hadn't been for you…"

Joe shook his head. "I don't understand, Kiddo, if he was there, why didn't he show up? Just to make sure you were going to be all right?"

She took a deep breath. "Because if he'd just shown up, as you say, you'd probably have shot him!"

"Shot him! But why?"

"Because of the way he looks. Vincent is different. And after what had happened, you and the others were in a mood to shoot first, and ask questions after."

"Different?"

She smiled. "Definitely! I find him beautiful, and I'm not the only one who thinks so, but I can't deny his looks can be …intimidating. His very existence has to be kept a secret, or he'd be in danger. You know how people can be frightened by anything different. Some would want to kill him, others would treat him as a freak…or a laboratory experiment… Joe, Vincent is the most human being I've ever met! But because of his differences he has to live in hiding, among people who know and love him."

Joe stared at her silently as her words sunk in, knowing she had just trusted him with the most important thing in her life. He wondered what could be so wrong with that Vincent's looks. Apparently he was deformed enough that some people could see him as a monster, but the light in Cathy's eyes as she evoked the mysterious man in her life told she obviously didn't share that point of view.

He finally smiled and saw the relief in her eyes. "So that's what all that secret was about? All those times you seemed to disappear…"

She smiled back. "I was in Vincent's home, with his family and friends. But that place has to remain a secret too, he depends on it for his safety."

"And that's where you're going now?"

"Yes. Vincent has to lead a very restricted life, and until now he's never accepted to let me share that life with him. He believes it would be too much of a sacrifice for me to give up all I have here…" She shook her head. "As if anything could be more important to me than him! So I'm going there, and I'm going to ask Vincent, no, beg him once more, to let me stay with him…but this time I won't let him refuse!"

Joe saw tears welling up in her eyes and put a comforting arm around her shoulders.

"To do that, Cathy, he'd have to be the biggest fool on earth …and a bright girl like you couldn't be so in love with a fool!"

She smiled at him through her tears, leaning in his gentle embrace.

"I hope you're right, Joe!"

"Of course I am, everything's going to be OK, you'll see…or I'll go punch that guy's face personally!"

She chuckled at the thought. "Better not. I wouldn't want you to get hurt!" She kissed him warmly on the cheek. "Thanks for listening to me, Joe."

"Thanks for talking to me. I understand how much all this means to you… Cathy, I want you to know you can trust me. Now get off! What are you still doing here?"

She put another light kiss on his lips. "Thanks for everything!" she whispered.

He smiled sheepishly. "Forget it, Radcliffe. Just be sure you invite me to the wedding!"

She was already at the door and turned a smiling face to him.

"I will…and believe me, Joe, if, no, when that wedding takes place, it will be like none you've ever been to!"

*****

Vincent sat in his chamber, absentmindedly staring at the book he was attempting to read. He looked around his familiar place, that now felt almost hostile, filled with Catherine's absence. How he missed her! He missed the long quiet evenings, the cozy intimacy, the feel of her body against his… But most of all he missed the warmth of her love. He knew Catherine loved him, nothing could change that, but what came to him through the bond now was once again carefully restrained, locked behind the walls he had himself imposed on her. Even during the time they spent together he found himself missing the closeness they had shared. They were back to their previous relationship, back to chaste hugs, light touches and unspoken words, but it wasn't enough for him anymore, neither was it enough for Catherine. Now he could fully measure how much she was denying herself for his sake.

And he missed her happiness, too. Catherine's days Above were dull, filled with a soft, resigned sadness. He knew she was finally over the trauma, but her job didn't bring her much satisfaction anymore.

The nights were another kind of torture. In her dreams, Catherine relived the time they had spent together. Awake in his bed he would share those dreams with her, reveling in the warmth of her unrestrained feelings, until the morning came and her sharp sensation of loss and aloneness added to his. Sometimes she would dream about what had happened in the bathing pool, filling him with both delight and shame, but the dream always ended too soon, leaving them both unfulfilled, yearning for each other.

He sighed. Dreams were all that was left from their wonderful time together. Once he had dared hope they could come true, but his own unworthiness and lack of control had condemned them to remain dreams.

" Vincent!"

Father's voice startled him. He had been so enmeshed in his thoughts he hadn't heard him enter.

"You look tired, my son."

Vincent shrugged. "I have not been sleeping very well, lately."

Father sat down in front of him, his concern evident in his eyes.

"Tell me!"

"What is there to tell?"

"That you miss Catherine."

A sigh. "You know that. And please, don't say "I told you so"! I knew what the risk was. I knew how much I would miss her if she chose to go back Above."

"Did she really?"

"Did she what?"

"Choose to go back living Above. It seemed to me you didn't leave her much of a choice…"

Vincent shook his head. "Father, I don't understand. She had to go back. She had to face what had happened so she could heal."

"Yes, and she knew it. But was there any obligation for her return Above to be…definitive?"

"Father!"

The older man smiled wryly. " Surprising, isn't it, that I should be the one telling you that! But I still have eyes to see, however blinded I may have been in the past. It was impossible not to notice how well Catherine adapted to the life Below, how happy she was here with you, how happy you were when she was living among us. Just as I can't help seeing how unhappy you both are now… Vincent, I've always wanted only what was best for you. Questioning years-long certainties is never easy, but looking at Catherine and you together, seeing the love and happiness you shared, led me to think that I had been mistaken, that…maybe…?"

Vincent moaned, hiding his face in his hands. "Please, don't say it, Father! I had thought about it too. I had even begun to hope we might…" he lifted a tortured, tear streaked face to his parent. "But I ruined it all! I couldn't control myself and betrayed Catherine's trust. I am unworthy of that dream, Father!"

Father took his son's hands in his and looked straight into his eyes. "Vincent, did anything happen that you didn't tell me?"

"Oh, Father, I am so ashamed of myself!" Between deep racking sobs, Vincent finally told what had really happened in the bathing pool. All the time he kept his head down, unable to face the shock and condemnation he was sure to find in his parent's eyes, but when he found the courage to look at him again, he saw only love and understanding in Father's gaze.

And the older man's words made him gasp with surprise.

"Well, it would seem that your fears…our fears… were unfounded, after all."

"Father!"

"Obviously Catherine wasn't harmed."

"She was!"

"Vincent, be fair! She hurt herself running after you!"

" But I lost myself. I knew I had to go out of that pool, but I just could not leave her!"

"Did…your other self…?"

Vincent shook his head. "No. Sometimes I wish I could blame what happened on… my dark side, but it was only me."

A mischievous sparkle appeared in Father's eyes.

"Not only you! From what I understand, Catherine was more than willing…"

"Father, she was not completely herself at that time. She didn't know what she was doing!"

"Do you really think so? I believe she knew it very well, on the contrary!"

"Because she thought I was her husband!"

Father looked straight into his son's eyes.

"No, Vincent, because you are the man she loves! And you were unable to resist her, because you are a man in love. A man who has been denied the right to love as any other man…by his frightened and prejudiced father."

" Please don't, Father! I know that all you did, you did out of love for me, and concern for Catherine's safety."

Father smiled wryly. "Well, that only proves how much damage can sometimes be caused by the best intentions. Catherine is like a daughter to me, but it took me all that time to admit that you and her are something that was meant to be….Vincent, what's wrong?"

"She's coming, Father! Catherine is coming Below!"

Father smiled and rose. "Go to her, Vincent, and tell her everything."

"Father, how could I…!"

"You owe her the truth! Tell her, and then ask her what she wants to do. I have no doubt what her answer will be…and neither have you! Now go!"

Vincent silently nodded and rushed out. Jacob Wells sat back in the chair, sighing with relief. Since he had received Peter's message, he had been thinking of arguments susceptible to convince his stubborn son. He chuckled at the thought of two elderly doctors playing Cupid. Well it seemed to work…

*****

Catherine had rejected the idea of going first to her apartment to collect a few things. Though she firmly intended to stay Below, arriving with a suitcase might be a little too obvious…and she didn't want to frighten Vincent right away. Hearing about her dreams would be disturbing enough for him! Particularly if she told him about the bathing pool…She shook her head, she certainly wouldn't tell Vincent about that, as it was likely to send him running down to the deepest tunnel he could find ! Later, maybe…

She entered the drainage pipe, and as she opened the grate, the inner door slid open too.

"Vincent!"

She went straight into his arms, for an embrace that surprised her by its strength…and its closeness. Usually, when Vincent held her against him, his strong arms somehow held her away too, always maintaining a subtle distance between them. But not this time. This time was like in her dreams, and she reveled in the feel of his body against hers.

But Vincent's next move surprised her even more. Bending his head, he kissed her. A light, short greeting kiss, as if that was the most normal thing between them...

"I am glad you came Below, Catherine."

She tried to regain her composure.

"I… I wanted to see you, there are things I have to tell you."

He nodded. "Then we will go to my chamber. I, too, have some important things I want to say to you."

On the way she remained silent, keeping a firm hold on her emotions, trying not to let the mad hope provoked by Vincent's kiss and his words rise too high. He said nothing either, just holding her hand tight in his as they walked at a brisk pace.

Once arrived in his chamber he surprised her once more by closing the curtain across the entrance. Then he turned to her, his blue gaze almost frighteningly intense.

"Tell me."

"You first!"

"Please!"

She took a deep breath. "I quit my job. Told Joe I was resigning."

"Why? I know how much your work means to you!"

"It did. But not anymore. I…I feel I don't belong there anymore."

"Is it because of …what happened to you?"

She shrugged. "No. Dr Sanders helped me a lot with that…but I've had real strange dreams lately, dreams I can't tell her about. So I went to see Peter…and the only thing he said was to tell you about them."

She thought she saw a hint of a smile on Vincent's face as he enquired. "And what are those dreams about, Catherine?"

"They're about life Below. They're about…us, you and me living together Below. Vincent, they're about our dream!" She searched his face for a trace of fear or unease, but his eyes were calm and warm on her as he listened intently, and she went on. "They're such beautiful and happy dreams…and they feel so real! When I wake up, it feels as if I had lost something very precious, and it's got worse with every passing day. Just as if my dreams were the reality and my life was a dull, gray nightmare. I just can't go on like that!"

He gathered her to him, gently stroking her hair, laying soft, light kisses on the top of her head. "It's all right! There is a logical explanation to those dreams. Something you don't know. Something I should have told you some time ago, but I lacked the courage!"

She backed away slightly to look at him. "Vincent, what is it? Is it what you wanted to tell me tonight?"

He nodded. "Oh, Catherine!" his voice was low and husky, and he avoided her eyes "Your dreams…are not really dreams. They are memories of the ten days you spent Below after going out of the hospital, those ten days you don't remember."

"Vincent, you don't understand, in those dreams you and me are living together!"

He brought his gaze back to hers. "We did. When you woke up in the hospital, after that terrible shock, you had forgotten almost all about your life Above. You thought you lived Below, and you were sure I was…your husband."

She gasped. "My…husband?" She felt herself blushing, and it was her turn to avoid his gaze. This was one of her most secret wishes, one she dared hardly acknowledge even to herself, and in the shock of what had happened her unconscious mind had betrayed her, revealing that longing to Vincent…and probably to others, too!

He cupped her chin, bringing her eyes back to him. "Peter told us that after that unbearable experience, you needed…a momentary refuge, and I understood that refuge was our dream. You were not strong enough to face what had happened, you needed reassurance, so we…"

"So you went along with me! Vincent, I'm sorry I imposed that on you! It must have been so difficult for you to…"

A caressing finger on her lips stopped her. "Catherine, those ten days…and nights, have been the happiest of my life! Sharing that dream with you, even for a short time, was more than I could have hoped for." His voice was deep with emotion, and in his luminous blue gaze she read what he dared not yet say in so many words. Vincent wanted the dream to go on!

Trying to keep a hold on the wave of joy rising in her, she spoke softly.

"In my dreams, Vincent, I felt at last free to tell you…how much I love you, and you…"

She didn't have long to wait for the expected answer. "I love you, Catherine, I have always loved you."

She smiled radiantly at him, not even trying to control her emotions anymore. Like a bright sunshine coming out of the clouds, the full strength of her love swept over Vincent, filling him again with that warmth he had so missed since she had left his world. She raised her face to him, her lips parted in a blatant invitation.

"And in my dreams we…"

Vincent's kiss was all she had dreamed of, and more. He took her lips with a heated abandon, and such mastery that for a fleeting second she found herself wondering just how much practice he'd had during those ten days…and nights. The vision of the bathing pool flashed before her eyes. Could it be…?Then she stopped thinking clearly, abandoning herself totally to overwhelming sensations. She molded her body against Vincent's, and his strong hand came down to the small of her back to pull her even closer to him. She was delighted to feel the evidence of his desire against her, and even more delighted he didn't even try to hide that desire from her.

His lips traveled slowly down to her throat and he moaned softly, his breath hot on her skin.

"I've missed you so much! My world had become such a lonely place without you!"

She stroked his head soothingly. "It's over now, my love. I'm here, and I won't go away anymore." She drew away slightly to look at him. " Vincent, I came down to stay! I don't belong Above anymore. I belong here, with you, you know it's true!"

He returned her intense gaze for a moment, and slowly nodded. "Yes, I know that now. I want you to stay, I want it more than anything…but first I have something to tell you, something you don't know yet…about…another of your dreams."

She understood immediately and her eyes brightened. "The bathing pool! You mean that happened really too?"

He lowered his head. "I knew I had to prevent it from happening, I knew I must not take advantage…but I wanted you so much! I lost all control, I just couldn't help myself! Catherine, will you ever forgive me?"

She shook her head. "Forgive you ? Vincent, if that dream is accurate, I'm the one who should apologize! I practically raped you!"

She smiled at his relieved and slightly bemused expression, and her eyes suddenly danced with mischief. Slowly her hand traveled down his torso, caressed his stomach and lingered a second on his belt buckle. "But I'm glad I did!" she added as her hand slid lower and grasped him gently, making him growl as he had in her dream.

Just like then he didn't pull away, even leaning slightly into her touch, and his darkened eyes held the same scorching heat. "Catherine…" his voice vibrated through her whole body, making her tremble with anticipation. Suddenly he swept her up in his arms and carried her to the bed.

He lay her down among the pillows and straightened to shrug off his cloak. Looking down at her, he felt as if his heart was going to burst with overwhelming joy. His Catherine! She was here, in his world, in his bed, waiting for him to make love to her! She was here to stay!

"Oh, Catherine, I love you!"

"I love you, Vincent. You have made all my dreams come true."

He smiled and knelt beside the bed "Not all of them yet. Catherine, will you marry me?"

She chuckled softly. "You already know the answer to that, don't you? Yes, my love, I will!"

He joined her on the bed and she closed her arms around him with a contented sigh. "Oh, Vincent, I'm home at last!"

"So am I, Catherine, so am I!" he whispered against her throat. "For your love is where I belong, now and forever!"