Her back and thighs ached, and her eyes felt gritty and hot. “I need a break,” she thought, pushing back her chair and rising. She moved to the window and leaned her cheek against the cool glass. That felt nice! Her head was pounding like the street crew that had been out front had moved in with their jackhammers. Something was falling outside, though she couldn’t tell if it was freezing rain or not against the light of the streetlamps; however, the salt trucks were out. Not good.
This latest case wasn’t going as well as she had hoped. Actually, ‘extremely frustrating’ would be closer to the truth. But, when you considered the neighborhood she really hadn’t expected a line of witnesses to appear on her doorstep. She supposed they should be thankful for the statements they had been able to get, not to mention the anonymous phone call.
She sighed deeply. She could feel him. A faint pulse, almost like music playing at the edge of hearing, marked his heartbeat. A warmth inside her told her he was well, contented. Only rarely was she aware of Vincent for she wasn’t nearly the empath he was. In fact, the whole idea of empathic bonds would have been absurd only a little over a year ago - until she met Vincent and her life changed forever. What in the world would she do without him? Thoughts of him revived her flagging spirits. As always.
She walked back to the desk and surveyed the mess. Honestly, it wasn’t worth looking at any longer. She’d read the last page three times without being able to recall any of the details. She began to straighten up and put papers away. After a moment’s thought she slipped a file into her briefcase. She just might feel like working a little when she got home. Gathering up her heavy coat and her briefcase she dropped her empty coffee cup in the wastebasket and headed for the elevator.
Riding down to the parking level she began to think about what needed to be done once she got home. “I know the plants need watering, or they may not recover this time. Then there’s supper.” Catherine considered stopping for a burger on the way but somehow she really didn’t feel hungry, even if it had been almost seven hours since lunch. “A cup of herbal tea would go down nice. My throat feels a little scratchy.” Now that she stopped to think, she felt hot, too. “Oh, no! I can’t be getting the flu now! There’s too much due, and I’ve been avoiding getting sick for two weeks!” Still, there was no denying she didn’t feel as good now as when she had awakened that morning.
The drive home seemed interminable. She got behind a salt truck and slowed down to put a little distance between them. The stuff falling was definitely starting to freeze, and the effort of trying to concentrate on driving was exhausting.
Catherine unlocked the door to her apartment and wearily entered, leaning against the door for a moment after shutting it. There were no messages on her answering machine, which in itself was a minor miracle. “Whew! Maybe this will be a quiet evening after all,” she sighed in relief. “All I want to do is curl up on the couch …after I water the plants, take a shower, and eat something.” She shook her head, “It’s always something.” She tossed her briefcase on the floor beside the secretary and draped her overcoat on the chair. Shedding her suit she headed for the bathroom and a hot shower to alleviate the chill that had sunk into her bones from the raw night.
Standing in the shower a few minutes later she turned up the hot water and set the nozzle on pulse before turning to let it beat on her back. “I sat too long with those files,” she mused, “That must be why my back is so sore.” She ached like she had been beaten. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the cliché it might be with someone else. Catherine was all too aware of just how being beaten felt!
Later, curled up on the couch with a cup of tea in hand, she tried to make sense of that last report. She was pulling out all the statements by the building supervisor:
‘Why was the fire door locked that morning?’
‘It’s always locked.’
‘Why? You do realize that’s a violation of the fire code, don’t you?’
‘Yeah, but the kids in 3A kept going out the door instead of taking the long way. I got tired of the alarm going off.’
‘Did you try speaking to their family about it?’
“Wonderful,” thought Catherine, shaking her head in amazement. “Where do they find these people?”
So intent on her work was she that the soft tap on her French doors almost went unnoticed. However there was no mistaking the surge of warmth she felt inside that had nothing to do with her cup of tea! Laying aside her paperwork she walked quickly to the doors, opened them and stepped into his arms. “Vincent,” she sighed, “I’m so glad you came.” She hadn’t realized how much she had wanted him there with her.
“Catherine, I’ve felt your unease all day. What’s wrong?” Snuggling her close he pressed his cheek to hers. The heat from her skin seemed to sear his. “You’re burning up!” he exclaimed. “Let’s go inside, it’s much too cold for you to be standing here.” He slid his arm around her waist and ushered her back into the room. He let go of her but a moment to close the French doors behind them.
Catherine didn’t know what to say; Vincent had seldom entered
her apartment, and then only for as short a time as possible. But
she wasn’t about to argue since their time together was short and very
precious. She let him lead her to the couch where she moved aside
a stack of papers to the coffee table and sat down. She looked up
expectantly, but instead of sitting down he asked, “Where do you keep your
The question caught her off guard. “What?”
“I said, ‘Where do you keep your thermometer?’”
“Oh, it’s in t he medicine cabinet in the bathroom. It’s on the wall behind…”
He stopped her with a very exasperated look. “Catherine,” he said sternly, hands on hips, “I know I live underground, but I do know what a medicine cabinet is!”
Catherine sat in shocked silence a moment. How had she managed to offend him in a record 1 minute? She began to stammer a profuse apology - then she saw a familiar twitch at the corners of his mouth (he never could keep his mischief contained). “You just wait!” she warned as she threw a pillow at him. He caught if deftly then threw if back as he ducked into the bedroom on his way to retrieve the thermometer. He really did know exactly where it was because he had used it the night he had stayed with her after the policemen had beaten her. She hadn’t been very aware of her surroundings at times that night.
Catherine was still chuckling when he returned and told her to open up. She started to protest that she really did feel fine, but she knew that look, too. Honestly, in many ways he was just like Father. When he set his jaw there was simply no arguing with him.
“102.9`,” came the verdict, “I think you should stay home and try to see a doctor tomorrow. That’s very high for as adult.”
“But I can’t,” she protested, “I’ve got to finish these summaries, and I didn’t bring all of them home. Then the next day is Friday and there’s always a stack of work on my disk to finish before the weekend. And that’s when I’ve been there to work on the pile. Not to mention we have five people out sick right now. I can’t afford to stay out right now.”
“If it’s the flu you can’t afford not to stay home,” he countered, “the strain going around this year is particularly potent. You work as hard as two people, couldn’t you take even one day off?” he pleaded.
She sighed and dropped her head, unwilling to look at him just now. He so rarely asked anything of her, but she honestly didn’t see any way she could take the time off. He just had to understand how understaffed they were right now. Cases still had to go to court, no matter how many people were out.
Vincent, realizing at once how she felt, sat down and wrapped his arms around her, drawing her close. As she nestled against his chest he whispered, “I’m sorry. You know better than I what needs to be done. I shouldn’t have insisted, but you know I worry about you.” He kissed her forehead. “Let me get you some aspirin for that fever at least. Then tell me if there is anything I can do to help you.” He bent down to look under her hair at her face in a gesture so like a little boy she had to smile. “Having you here helps,” she replied.
“Good,” he said, rising. “I’ll only be a moment.” He returned with the aspirin and a glass of water. “Now, have you thought of anything I can do to help you?”
“Well,” she said hesitantly, “if you don’t mind, I could read the statements to you and you could write them down. That would speed things up a good deal.”
“Done!” He leaned over to kiss her lightly on the top of her head. Perhaps he could persuade her to sleep later and let him finish the work. But he doubted it.
Catherine smiled as she retrieved her now cold cup of tea. “I think I need a warm up. Would you like a cup, too, while I’m heating water?”
“Yes, I believe I would. Thank you.” As she started to get up he stopped her with a hand on her arm. “Wait. Tell me where you keep your tea and I will make if while you get your papers together. That will save you some time.” And keep you resting, he added to himself.
“Thank you, I appreciate the help.” She cringed slightly as she said it, her words sounded to stilted terribly artificial to her but it was all she could manage past her surprise.
Five minutes later Catherine had her notes fairly well in order. Looking up she was met with the incongruous sight of Vincent puttering around in her kitchen making tea. She smiled and shook her head. This certainly had been a night for surprises. Thinking back on conversations with her girlfriends she realized that Vincent was every woman’s dream: loving, strong, considerate, loving, intelligent, loving….
“What’s so amusing?” He asked as he felt her amusement seeping through to him as he walked in with the tray in time to catch her grin.
“Oh, nothing. I was just thinking about how lucky I am to have you in my life.” Catherine looked up at him with her love so evident it took his breath away.
Vincent colored slightly and dropped his head. “It is I who is the lucky one,” he whispered. Setting the tray on the table, he sat back down beside her and picked up a notepad and pen. “You know, it might be better if I read the file and let you do the writing. Otherwise you will surely have to answer questions from whoever types this about just whose handwriting this is. Lefties do write just a little different from you righties, you know,” he told her, grinning just a little himself.
Two hours later the clock struck eleven. Putting down the folder in his hand, Vincent said, “That’s the last one.” Catherine let out a relieved sigh, “I couldn’t have done it without your help! Thank you so much!” She slid over into his lap, hr head resting on his shoulder. Vincent put his arms around her and held her close to him. Then tipping her chin up he kissed her softly. “I still believe you’re pushing yourself too hard. But if I can help you in any way, I will. At least we have spent the evening together.” His eyes twinkled, “And I have been able to keep and eye on you.” She pulled back from him and cocked her head to one side. “Why do you think I need looking after?” she inquired, mischief dancing in her eyes. Time seemed to stop as her eyes met his. Vincent took a deep breath to calm the shaking of his voice. “I think I had better leave on that. Besides, Father will probably still be up “reading” when I return.”
Catherine chuckled, “Sounds just like Daddy. He always seemed to be working on some pressing matter or reading when I got home from dates.”
She stood then and took his hand to tug him to his feet. “You’d better get going. We don’t want Father to get mad at us.” They walked hand in hand to the door. Giving her one more embrace before he faced the frigid air he asked her once more to please see a doctor.
“You never give up, do you?”
“No,” he replied matter of factly, “not where you are concerned.”
After receiving her assurance that if she could find the time she would try to see Peter, Vincent left for home. Catherine put the cups in the kitchen, brushed her teeth and fell into bed. Vincent was only just nearing his entrance to the tunnels when he felt her slip away into sleep.
The next morning when she awoke Catherine thought long and hard about getting up at all. The thought of her ‘IN’ box finally got her to her feet. After a quick shower she dressed and fixed a piece of toast and some juice for breakfast. Normally she had a cup of coffee, but today the thought didn’t set too well.
She arrived at the office by 8:00 and passed on the summaries to be typed, thankful Vincent had thought to have her do the writing the night before. Then she plopped down in her chair to begin on the rest of the report. She cast a withering look at the mountain residing in her ‘IN’ box. She firmly believed the folders and papers multiplied when no one was watching.
As the morning wore on, her throat became even more sore and the coughing and congestion set in. She even bought a bottle of water to pour over a cup of ice, hoping the cold would numb the pain in her throat a little. Around 11:30 Joe placed himself in front of her desk, knuckles on the top. “Radcliff, what are you doing?”
She looked up surprised. “I’m finishing the report you wanted by this afternoon.” She quickly added, “I’ve already finished the summaries. Why? Has something come up?”
“Almost everyone in the bullpen has had the flu or is fighting it. And here you sit. Adding more germs to the air! Go home!”
“Between you and Vincent I feel like a chick with two mother hens!” she thought. Aloud she tried to convince him that she was just fine. He didn’t buy it. “Look, Cathy, you’re one of my best investigators. If you take care of this now, you probably won’t be out too long. But if you push it you may end up like Swanson. He kept going with this stuff and finally developed pneumonia. He’s been out two weeks and counting. I can’t afford to have you out that long, too. Besides,” he added with at lopsided grin, “I don’t want it either. Go home!”
Catherine smiled in spite of herself. “All right, all right! You win! Let me make a couple of phone calls and I’m out of here.” Joe smiled and winked at her as he turned to go. He had stopped trying to get her to go out with him, but now he treated her like a cross between an old buddy from the neighborhood and a kid sister. Still, she couldn’t ask for a dearer friend, no matter how rocky the beginning had been.
She picked up the phone and called Peter. At first the
receptionist told her there were no openings, but when she heard Catherine’s
name, she told her to hold for a moment. In less than two minutes
Peter was on the line asking her what the problem was. They nailed
down a time for that afternoon and said their goodbyes.
The man’s name was Jacob Wells, but hardly anyone used that name anymore. In fact, many did not know it at all. Here he was simply known as “Father”, for that was what he was to the many people, adults and children, living Below. He was sitting in a comfortable old armchair, wrapped in a lap robe pieced of leather and wool. The cold of Above had invaded this lower world, making his hip more stiff and sore that usual. He was spending a few moments looking over today’s math lesson before the children arrived.
When Vincent entered the chamber, Father knew his son was worried. That could only have one cause: Catherine. He had grown to love her, once he had gotten over the shock of Vincent actually continuing to see her. Had the circumstances been different she would be just the kind of woman a father would want his son to marry. Of course, that was out of the question….
“Father, I need to speak to you a moment, if you have the time?” Vincent began as he walked toward the chair where Father sat.
“Of course. The children aren’t due for at least 20 minutes. What seems to be the trouble?” He chuckled at Vincent’s puzzled look. “You came in late last night, you were preoccupied at breakfast this morning, so something must be troubling you.”
It was times like this that Vincent really didn’t believe Father’s claims against empathy. He always said it came with the territory when you were a parent. “Catherine is ill. When she awoke this morning I could feel she was worse than last night. I told her I would be back tonight, but what if she needs someone to look after her. I know she could call a friend to stay with her, but she would rather suffer alone than impose. With her father gone, she has no one. No one except me, that is. And I really feel I should be the one to look after her, especially since she stayed with me when I was injured.” There was more to it than that, of course. He was feeling just a wee bit guilty about all the times he would disappear from her life for days at a time when he was trying to deny their relationship. The pain he had caused her! He felt he needed to somehow make up for all he had put her through.
Father gave an exasperated sigh and looked over his glasses at his son. Vincent felt ten years old again. “I don’t like you spending so much time Above! What is you are seen? And you certainly can’t be thinking of staying there in the day!”
“Father, I will be inside Catherine’s apartment. No one could possibly get through all the locks she has on that door without us hearing. And besides, if someone should drop by I can always hide in the closet.”
Father saw no humor in the remark. Still he knew what
if was like to love someone and to want to care for them. His last
week with Margaret came sharply to mind. And besides, he had learned
a long time ago that Vincent was going to do what he wanted in the end.
Catherine had been good for him for the most part, though he could have
done without the broken ribs, cuts, concussions, and bullet wounds, however.
“If you feel she needs someone to take care of her, than do what you have
to do. Just make sure you are to be the only guest!”
“I will, Father. Thank you.” He leaned over and kissed the older man on the forehead before he rushed out the door to complete the day’s tasks (and a few extra in case he was delayed in returning).
At 4:30, Catherine opened the door of her apartment and with a sense of deja vu wearily walked in. She draped her persimmon colored overcoat on the arm of a chair and dropped her briefcase on the floor beside the secretary. She began shedding her blazer as she went into the bedroom. She tossed it on top of the hamper along with her skirt, her “take to the cleaners” stack, then put the rest of her clothes inside the hamper. Pulling out a comfortable pair of sweats, some legwarmers, and a pair of heavy socks she hurriedly dressed. She was chilling again and could hardly wait to exchange her suit for something warmer. It had begun showing again, and the wind was howling around the corner of her building. The little time she had been out in the cold had left her chilled to the bone.
Peter said she was to drink lots of fluids and take something for the fever and aches. He had given her a shot and oral antibiotics for the severe throat infection she seemed to have developed and cough syrup. The problem with the antibiotic was it needed to be taken with food, but the thought of eating turned her stomach.
Sighing, Catherine made her way into the kitchen and began looking for something she thought would stay down. Rummaging through the cabinets she came across a can of chicken soup left over from a recipe she had never gotten around to trying. She smiled and thought of her grandmother. The woman had been a firm believer in the curative powers of a bowl of chicken soup.
She managed a glass of apple juice and most of a bowl of soup. Thankfully the soup appeared to be staying put as she took her medication. She set the dishes in the sink. She’d wash up later. “Much later,” she thought. She stumbled back to the bedroom and fell onto the bed, not even taking the time to turn back the covers. Reaching over the side of the bed, she grabbed the edge of the comforter and pulled it over her. Within minutes she was fast asleep.
Far below, Vincent was eating a sandwich as he checked on the clearing of three new chambers, not taking the time to stop for the evening meal. Kipper had brought him a couple of sandwiches a few minutes before at Mary’s request. Father wasn’t the only one to thy to take care of him. The work was almost completed, most of it having been done centuries before as the chambers were formed. Pausing to ‘listen’ he knew when she fell asleep, and was greatly relieved. Sleep could be a marvelous healer. Perhaps she would be better when he arrived.
By 8:30 he knew she was no better. He could sense her discomfort and knew the fever was worse. He put his journal and pen in a pouch with the book he was currently reading, ready to snatch up as he left. He only had to wait until the park settled down for the night, as much as it ever did at any rate. The weather would help in that respect. No matter how much he wanted to be with her now he couldn’t afford to become careless.
Catherine lay in bed wrapped in the comforter. She was shivering with chills, but her face felt hot and her skin sensitive to the touch. She realized her fever must be up, however she did not have the energy to make herself get up.
She sensed rather than heard the tap on her bedroom window. Instantly she knew Vincent had come. Slowly she stood and stumbled to the doors, leaning against the left and unlocking the right. Vincent stepped inside and caught her as a wave of dizziness overtook her. “I’ve got you. It’s all right,” he whispered as he picked her up in his arms. He carried her to the bed and gently laid her down. He sat beside her and smoothed the hair from her face. His eyes sought hers as he cupped her cheek in his hand and softly said, “I’m here, and I will stay as long as you need me.”
She sighed and relaxed into the pillow, turning her head to kiss the palm of his hand. It was cool against her from his trek. Tears came unbidden to her eyes. Seeing them He gathered her into his arms and held her close. He could feel through the bond how miserable she felt. He laid her back and went in search of her thermometer. He was more worried by the heat from her body than he was willing to show. When he returned carrying it and her box of tissues Catherine had to smile. She wiped her eyes and opened her mouth. After all, what was the point of arguing?
Vincent looked at the reading and caught his breath. 103.5. It was higher that the night before. “Catherine, what have you taken?” he asked. She pointed to the bottles on the nightstand. “Those,” she answered simply. Vincent picked up the bottles and read the labels. He recognized the drugs immediately from helping Father over the years, and from reading the journals Peter sent. “When did you last have your medicine?”
“4:30, 5:00, I’m not sure.” She sounded hoarse and she began coughing. Vincent hurried to the bathroom and brought her a glass of water. He propped her up so she could drink.
“Well either way it is time for you to take another dose. And we need to get that fever down. I noticed you need to eat something with the antibiotic. Do you have anything bland, like saltines you might keep down easily?”
She nodded and told him where to look. As he left the room She couldn’t help but notice the cat-like grace with which he moved. It was part of his charm for her. She sank into the pillow, secure in the knowledge Vincent was there and would take care of her. She’d never been totally alone when she was sick. Even after she had finished college her father had insisted on her staying with him on the rare occasions she had been very ill. Now he was gone, and she felt the loss keenly. In the hospital Vincent had promised her father he would take care of her and watch over her always. She knew deep down that Vincent was unlike other men she had known in the past-he would be there.
About that time, he returned with a saucer of crackers and a bottle from a package of sport drink he had found in the cabinet. She had planned on visiting Isaac that weekend and knew she would need the boost afterward. Catherine sat up in bed and scooted back against the headboard when he sat down beside her. “Here. Try to get something on your stomach before you take the medicine.” She nodded her assent and began nibbling the crackers. She even managed to finish her drink. She took her medicine and started to lie down. Vincent stopped her, and then looked as though he didn’t know how to phrase his question. “Would you - be more comfortable if you were wearing your nightclothes?” he asked rather timidly.
Catherine thought a moment then nodded her head. “But I don’t feel like changing,” she told him and began to lie down again.
“Wait,” he stopped her again. “If you will tell me where they are I will get a gown for you.”
Catherine nodded. “Closet. On the right.” Her throat hurt too much to say more. Vincent opened the doors and began sliding the hangers back until he found the gowns and robes. He had seen her in most of the sets due to his late-night forays. They were not exactly the type to wear if one was having chills, though the sight of her in them did sometimes cause his hands to shake. Then he spotted something way in back. It was a flannel gown with the tags still attached. He pulled it out and returned to Catherine. “How will this do?” he inquired.
Catherine looked at the gown, “That’s Mary’s birthday present.”
“Well, I don’t think she will mind under the circumstances. I couldn’t find anything I thought would be warmer.”
“It’s fine. Really. Could you take the tags off for me?”
Vincent made short work of the tags and their plastic strings. He handed the gown to Catherine and started out of the room. He heard her say to his back, “You’re spoiling me.” He turned to look at her and replied, “Every chance I get.”
Once in the living room Vincent allowed himself the luxury of pacing the floor. At least he had gotten her to smile. He decided to wait and see how the medication did before calling Peter for further instructions.
“You can come in now,” she called. “And stop pacing.”
He walked in with a puzzled expression on his face. “How did you
know I was pacing?”
“I know you. Come and sit with me.”
Vincent carried the vanity chair to the bedside. He took her hand in his and asked softly, “Do you need anything? Are you comfortable?” She shook her head, “No, I’m fine. Sleepy.” He squeezed her hand. How small it felt in his! He reached out and gently pushed back her hair from her face. “Sleep,” he said, smiling warmly, “I will stay with you until you are asleep.” Catherine nodded and closed her eyes. Hardly a minute had passed before he knew she slept. He stood and tucked her arm under the covers, and then he leaned over and kissed her cheek.
He walked into the living room and stretched, looking around for his pouch. He finally found it beside the bedroom door. Sitting on the couch he dug around in the bag for his journal and pen. Keeping a watchful eye on the clock (he wanted to check her temperature in an hour) he began to write about the events of the day.
He paused in his writing to look around the room. This was her world, and everything here reminded him of her. The muted sofas and the prints on the walls told of her softer side. The handmade paperweights spoke of an appreciation of the handwork of craftsmen. Her music collection and books told of someone who appreciated the arts. He sighed. What is the world was he doing here? This wasn’t his world; he didn’t belong here. Just before despair overtook him he remembered the small leather pouch hanging around his neck, a token of Catherine’s love for him. Likewise she wore hiss crystal necklace around her neck because she loved him. “Catherine is the reason I am here,” he told himself. “ She is a part of both worlds and a part of me. I can’t desert her when she is ill. That isn’t what love is about.”
Looking over at the clock, he saw that over an hour had passed. He went back into the bedroom and stood beside the bed. For several minutes he just stood and looked at her. He hated to wake her, but he needed to check on that fever. Softly he shook her awake. “Catherine, I need to check your fever. I’m sorry to wake you.” For the first time Vincent felt a small prick of fear. Catherine was obviously not completely coherent.
Catherine herself had a horrible feeling as he woke her. A feeling of neither being quite asleep, nor completely awake, all combined with the burning of her body and the pain in her throat left her feeling as though she were in limbo. She seemed to be watching the proceedings with eyes that were not her own.
Vincent placed the thermometer in her mouth and sat on the
edge of the bed. He picked up her hand and held if gently between
his. Anxiously he watched the clock; the time passed with agonizing
slowness. Finally he took it from her mouth. “102.8. It’s down,
but not enough,” he said.
Catherine only grunted her response for she was so affected by fatigue, the fever and her throat pain she really didn’t care.
Placing the thermometer back in its case, Vincent went in search of a washcloth and towel. He found then in the cabinet in the bathroom. Next, he needed a bowl to put some cool water in so he could begin rubbing her down to bring down the fever. But, as he dropped the cloths on the chair and started from the room Catherine stopped him. “Don’t leave me,” she whispered. Vincent came, leaned across the bed and reassured her he would only be a moment. His soft words and his lips brushing her forehead soothed her.
Walking into the kitchen, he leaned against the counter for a moment or two, breathing deeply. This was very difficult for him, being so close to her for so long. He felt the need to almost physically hold himself in check. He couldn’t allow his emotions free rein. He loved her so much; he could say that now. How long had he denied himself the right to speak his feelings? He didn’t want to frighten her the way he had Lisa. Above all he didn’t want to hurt her. Still he was what he was. Looking down at his hands, at the claws and fur, pointed out sharply his difference. He couldn’t trust the other side of his nature too far. At least he did know his limitations, which was a great deal more that most could say. Taking care of Catherine helped him to put aside his other self.
Vincent gathered himself and pushed upright. “A bowl,” he muttered to himself. “Where would they be?” He ended up looking in three cabinets before he found one to suit his needs. Filling it with cool water he carefully carried it to the bedroom. He placed the bath towel on the nightstand to protect it then set down the bowl.
He eased himself down onto the bed beside her. “Catherine, I’m going to wash your face and arms with cool water to try to get this fever down,” he explained. He knew he really needed to wipe down her body, too, but his mind shied away from thoughts of that. He has helped Father take care of her injuries when he had first brought her down Below, but she had been a stranger then. Her nod was all she could manage past the heat of the fever, the ache of her body, and her whirling thoughts.
Vincent dipped the washcloth in the bowl and squeezed out the excess. Then he began to wipe down her face and throat with the cool cloth. The top buttons of the gown were open so he wiped her upper chest, trying not to look down or feel beneath the cloth. After refreshing the cloth he pull up her hair to wipe the back of her neck. He could feel her starting to relax as he pushed up the sleeves to rub down her arms. It almost seemed the coolness was quenching a fire along her skin, easing her toward the sleep her body so desperately needed. He barely heard her whispered, “Thanks,” as she slipped under.
Vincent sighed, dropping the cloth into the bowl as he stood. “This is going to be a long night,” he thought as he walked to the windows. He arched in a back popping stretch. Pulling the curtain back slightly he looked out. He could see the thousands - millions - of lights shining in the distance. It looked cold out there, especially with the snow that was starting to fall. But it definitely wasn’t cold in the apartment. In fact, Vincent realized he was a little too warm, especially after the continual chill of the tunnels. He walked into the living room and added his heavy quilted vest to the chair that held his cloak. His linen shirt would be enough here.
He looked at the two short couches, and came to the same conclusion Joe had: they looked very uncomfortable. “A very long night, indeed,” he thought ruefully. He walked over to the closest one and lay down. His legs hung over the arm somewhat, so he rolled over onto his side and tucked his legs. After finding a position that wasn’t too uncomfortable he was soon dozing, knowing his bond with Catherine would keep him from sleeping too deeply to “hear” her if she needed him.
In the bedroom, Catherine slept fitfully. Her body was starting to heat up again from the fever; the effects of the cool water were wearing off. She began to toss and turn, unable to find a comfortable position. That horrible feeling of being between waking and sleeping, with the inability to do either, returned. She reached out her hand, she thought, to feel beside her. He was not there. A feeling of panic that maybe he’d left began to rise in her. She began call his name, but she couldn’t tell if her waking self or her dream self called out. It really didn’t matter; he heard her calling. His eyes popped open and in one movement he had rolled to his feet and was headed for the door.
When he reached her he pulled her up into his arms, nestling her against his shoulder, rocking gently back and forth. “Shhh,” he whispered, “It’s all right. I’m here.” He continued talking softly to her and rubbing her back until she calmed.
“I thought you’d left,” she mumbled into his shoulder. “I’m sorry I woke you.”
“Never,” he assured her. “I would never leave you like this.” He laid her back on the pillows, reached for a tissue and wiped her eyes. Then he rubbed her down with the cloth again. He could tell she felt more comfortable afterward. The only problem with the cool water was now she was shivering. He pulled the covers up around her shin, tucking her in the way he did the children. He repeated the procedure twice more during the next hour.
Once more during the night she awoke to find him absent. As he entered the room, he felt the panic surge through her body and hit him in the chest. The next moment he felt her embarrassment. She felt as though she was causing trouble, keeping him from his home and sleep.
In all his life, there had never been anyone who had affected him so deeply, to the core of his being - no one for whom he would willingly risk so much. Maybe he still felt a little guilty about how he had treated her in the past. He could still hear her pained voice telling him it had been so long since she had heard from him she had doubted his coming. What had possessed him to be so cruel to her? She deserved better from him. Vincent walked around to the other side of the bed and sat on the edge, and began unlacing his boots. With those off he turned and lay down on the bed, lifted his left arm and urged her onto his shoulder.
Catherine moved over to lay her head on his shoulder, her left arm rested on his chest. Vincent wrapped his strong arms around her, and smiled as her hair tickled his nose when he rubbed his cheek against the top of her head. Soon she was sleeping peacefully. He lay awake for a few minutes more, savoring the sensation of having the woman he loved in his arms, focusing on love and comfort to keep the dark side away, and then he, too, fell asleep.
Vincent awoke to a feeling of cold dampness on his shoulder. “Catherine is crying,” he thought. “But, no, I do not feel a sadness.” He turned slightly so he could better see her face. In even the low light of the bedroom he could see she was still peacefully asleep. As he smoothed back her hair he realized it felt damp, and her face under his palm felt cool to the tough. Stroking his fingertips down her arm where the sleeve of her gown was pushed up he knew the burning was gone. “The fever has broken!” he breathed in relief. He relaxed completely as his fears were allayed at last and slept the remaining hour before dawn.
Vincent awoke the next time to an unusual sensation. Sunlight was filling the room, driving away sleep. His left arm was slightly numb with the weight of Catherine’s head, but he wouldn’t have traded this moment for anything. Especially when he watched her wake up. She rolled over slightly and stretched. Suddenly, she froze, her eyes popped open and she glanced quickly in his direction. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you.” He began to get out of bed, somewhat abashed. A light touch of her hand on his chest stayed his movement as surely as iron chains.
“It’s fine. I was just surprised to wake and find someone in bed with me.” A smile was tugging at the corners of her mouth as she gazed at him, “Is there something I should be remembering?” she teased him, watching him slowly accept her words and the feelings that went with them. When would he ever understand that for her there would never be anyone else? Her father had told her he hoped she would find someone she would love as much as he had loved her mother. Well she had found him, if only he would let her love him. Not just the way things were now, but really a true, committed relationship. She had thought they had worked out that problem with what had happened between him and Lisa all those years ago, had convinced him he could not hurt her, that his hands could give love and not just pain. Maybe….
Vincent slid his arm from under her head and rolled so he could prop on his elbow. “How are you this morning?” he asked softly, his anxiety from the night before still fresh.
“Better, I think. My nose is stuffy and my throat still hurts some, and I have a headache. Other than that I feel better.” She ran a hand through her hair, feeling how damp it was. “What on earth? I must have sweated last night.”
“Not exactly. Your fever was elevated most of the night. During the morning hours it finally broke.” He pointed to his still damp shirt to emphasize the point. “I imagine your gown will need washing along with these sheets.”
“Uh oh. You can’t wear that all day.” She realized what she had said, “Day! Vincent it’s daylight! You stayed here all night, didn’t you? What will Father say?” She still felt a little less than comfortable around the older man, knowing he didn’t totally approve of their relationship, though there had been signs of improvement lately.
“Father knows where I am, and I have his blessings.”
That took a moment to digest. “Well is you are going
to stay here all day you will need to wash that shirt. You can’t
wear it all day like that.”
“Catherine. I am supposed to be taking care of you, remember? Though you do make it difficult at times.” His tone was teasing. He picked up her hand and kissed it, his eyes becoming serious. “I am very relieved you are feeling better this morning.”
She was warmed by the look in his eyes. “So am I. Now, I think I feel like getting a shower. After last night I think I had better.”
As he lay looking into her smiling face, Vincent thought she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, even rumpled as she was from the turbulent night just past. He felt the first rumblings as his control over himself beginning to slip. Rolling to his feet he padded off toward the kitchen, telling her he was going to put on some water to boil, and she was not to strip the bed, thank you, he would take care of that later. Catherine lay in bed a few minutes more, smiling at his hasty retreat; she knew very well why he had left so quickly. How could she not know when she had felt it, too? Chivalry was not dead after all. She rolled out of bed and headed for the bathroom, not wanting to keep that damp gown on a minute longer.
She turned on the water nice and hot. Stepping in she sighed as the water pounded the tense muscles of her shoulders and back. Washing her hair of the sweat made her feel human again. Flipping her hair out of her eyes as she rinsed it left her reeling with dizziness. After a few deep breaths taken holding on to the side of the shower stall she resolved to take things slower.
In the kitchen, Vincent put on a kettle of water, set out cups and vainly tried to stop the shaking of his hands. Fatigue, he decided. Suddenly, he froze in mid-motion. “Catherine!” He heard the water running, knew she was in the shower, and knew her dizziness could cause a fall. He was almost to the bedroom door when he felt her recover. He stopped and ‘listened’ to her until he was satisfied she was fine before returning to his task. “And what would you have done?” he asked himself, somewhat at a loss as to what to do. “She’s in the shower; would you have scooped her up and carried to bed?” Actually, that’s exactly what he would have done, though he would have been mortified afterward. At least the situation hadn’t come to that point, and he’d see she didn’t over exert herself today.
He was leaning against the counter, arms crossed when she walked out of the bedroom, toweling her hair. He knew he would never get tired of watching her move as she made her way to his side. Opting against more sleepwear (whether for her comfort or his, he didn’t know) she had chosen a favorite pair of lounging pants, t-shirt and a much too large plaid shirt. Then he noticed she was carrying another shirt.
Launching into an obviously well prepared speech, Catherine handed him the shirt. “Here, Daddy called these his vacation shirts. It should fit you, so you don’t have an excuse for not changing. You can just toss your shirt into the wash with the sheets, or rinse it out in the sink, which ever you prefer.” She turned and began fixing her cup of tea, leaving him holding a shirt and very confused. How had she known he had no intention of taking his shirt off in front of her? Even her, his love. He’d have to deal with that later. Right now Catherine was foremost in his mind.
Putting his arm around her he escorted her to the table and
seated her in a chair. “How are you feeling? Dizzy?”
She looked at him sharply before smiling and shaking her head. “Right
now my greatest concern is you. I want you to try to eat something so you
can take your medicine.”
“I know I should, but I don’t feel hungry.”
He sat beside her at the table, picked up her hand and, eyes locked with hers, brought it gently to his lips. “I know, but please, for me?” Whew, was it getting hot in here, she wondered? Looking into those deep pools of blue she beheld the love and concern lying there. No, it was more that mere concern; it was worry she saw there, with a large portion of love. How could she refuse him anything? She let him fix a bowl of hot cereal and some toast. With a catch. She would eat if he would change his shirt while she ate. “You are going to be here quite a few more hours, you know.” She pinched her nose to emphasize the point.
Vincent sighed and rolled his eyes, “You win! Never try to argue with an attorney!”
“Or a woman!” she quipped, “Which means, you know, that you’ll never win!” Vincent groaned.
Ten minutes later, Catherine was nibbling on a piece of toast and eating a bowl of oatmeal Vincent had prepared. She could hear water running in the bathroom as he washed up. Why had she insisted he change his shirt? She had never done anything like that before. Was it curiosity? Well you know what they say about that. She wrinkled her nose at that thought. What a poor choice of words! Maybe she had been hoping it wouldn’t fit. She had never seen Vincent without his shirt before. Well, she had, but his ribs had been so wrapped he might as well have been wearing one. Shying away from that line of thought, she considered their relationship. She was closer to him than anyone in her past…without going to the next step. She didn’t want to scare him away by suggesting a formal commitment, even though as far as she was concerned there would never be anyone else for her.
She was jolted out of her reverie by his sudden appearance at her side, his movements so silent it was almost eerie. “The sleeves are a little short, but otherwise it fits,” he told her.
“That’s easy to fix,” she said reaching out for his arm. She rolled p the sleeves a couple of turns, unable to help notice the hair (fur?) covering his hands extended up his forearms, gradually thinning as it neared his elbow. It was soft and silky to the touch. “There. That should be more comfortable.”
“Thank you, Catherine,” he told her. How happy he would be if he and Catherine could be together always. Little, seemingly insignificant tasks were things they never seemed to have time for; their time together was so brief. “Catherine, you really should lie down; you are not well yet.”
“You’re right. I am tired.” She considered a moment. “I think I will get a pillow and lay on the couch. We could listen to some music if you want.”
“That would be wonderful. Especially since I just remembered the sheets on the bed need washing. Come on. Let’s get you settled and I will strip the bed and get them in the wash, if you will tell me how to run the machine?”
The two of them set about getting Catherine settled on the couch with a pillow (and a clean case) and a light blanket to cover with, and Vincent learned the fine art of using a washing machine. Actually he was thinking it could spoil him quite easily. When she was settled and the sheets washing, Vincent knelt by the couch to see what she wanted to listen to, and was exceptionally embarrassed when his stomach chose that exact moment to tell the world someone had forgotten to eat. Past the giggles Catherine told him to put in any cd he wanted, and shooed him into the kitchen to get his breakfast.
She sank into the pillow with a grateful sigh for her head was beginning to hurt again and her throat was still scratchy. From the kitchen came the sounds of cabinet doors opening, the refrigerator door, cutlery, all the sounds of domestic life. And she loved it.
Several minutes later Vincent came and sat on the floor beside the couch. He brushed back her hair and asked how she felt. “I still feel awful, though hardly as bad as last night. Have I told you thank you for staying?” she asked him.
“I think so. Every time you look at me.” They smiled.
He stroked her hair once more, “Would you be more comfortable if you went back to bed?”
“No thank you!” she told him. “I hate having to stay
in bed when I’m sick. When I was little Mother and I would have war
about me getting up.”
“I do not mind your staying up if you’re comfortable,” he told her, smiling. “Besides,” he added, “I would hate to have that temper turned in my direction.”
Catherine grinned mischievously, “I’ve never denied having one! But Father has told me stories of a certain little boy who turned him gray before his time. I wish I could have seen you then,” she added wistfully. “Are there any pictures of you as a child? I have only seen Elizabeth’s paintings.”
He shook his head, “No, thankfully. Though Mouse is trying to repair an old camera. When he does, no one will be safe.” He paused then asked her if she had any pictures from her childhood. Catherine directed him to the appropriate drawer in the secretary. Inside he found three albums and a box of framed prints. He gathered everything up and returned to the couch. For the next hour while Catherine slept he sat in front of the couch and looked at the pictures. All had a label underneath, written in a neat, precise script. He assumed it was her mother’s as it was replaced by a child’s handwriting about the time Catherine was ten.
Gazing at the pictures Vincent glimpsed a world he had never known, nor would ever. A husband and wife with a child playing and laughing in the sun, running across the grass, playing in the sea were visions he would never experience. He felt as though someone had stabbed him in the heart when he thought of himself and Catherine. Catherine must have sensed his distress because she moaned in her sleep, a frown marring her features. Vincent reached out quickly and laid his hand on her arm to reassure her, suddenly made aware once again that their Bond was beginning to work both ways, and was becoming stronger. She sighed at his touch and soothing words; a small smile replaced the frown. She looked very fragile and delicate lying there, and so very precious to him. If one walk through the park in the sun could be had in exchange for Catherine, he’d stay in the shadows for the rest of his days.
When Catherine was quiet, he leaned back against the couch and continued looking at the pictures and listening to music until he heard her stir again, about an hour later. “Two hours. Not a bad nap. How do you feel now?” he inquired.
She rolled onto her side and snaked an arm across his shoulder. “Better,” she replied. “Not great, but better.” It was such a new sensation, having him here with her: new and wonderful. “I hope you haven’t been bored while I slept.”
“How could I be bored? I’ve listened to your new tape of Renaissance dance songs-“
“It reminded me of Winterfest when I heard it,” she interjected.
“I know. I thought the same thing. I could watch you sleep, or I could look at your pictures. I suppose you might say I have had the best of both worlds.” He reached up and covered her small hand with his. They sat there for another minute just enjoying each other. Then he set aside the album and reached for the box.
“Several of those were Daddy’s,” she told him. “I haven’t
looked at them in s while. Not since I had to pack up the office.”
He nodded, feeling the thin veneer over the sharp pain. It was less
than the night Below when he had held her as she cried herself to sleep,
but it was still there, still sharp. He started to put the box back
on the coffee table, not wanting to cause her sadness, but she stopped
“No, go ahead. It’s all right.”
Reaching in he pulled out a frame wrapped in tissue paper. Inside was a silver frame, a young woman smiled out at them. “That’s my mother, when I was about five,” Catherine told him.
“She was very pretty. You resemble her, you know,” he told her, leaning his head back against her shoulder.
The next picture was of a little girl whose big smile revealed two front teeth had been left for the tooth fairy.
“Second grade,” she told him before he could ask.
“Don’t you like your picture?” he teased.
She snorted, “Would you? He used to keep that one right next to my senior portrait…and delight in showing it to friends. The senior portrait is the next one.”
Vincent lifted out a photograph of a very lovely young lady, already showing a glimpse of the beautiful woman she was to become. “It’s a very beautiful portrait, Catherine, but I believe you’re more beautiful still.” She gave his shoulder a squeeze, warmed by his words.
Then Vincent lifted the last frame from the box and pulled aside the tissue paper around it. On the right was a wedding picture, the couple in older style dress, about mid-fifties. Closer inspection told him these were Catherine’s parents. On the left side was a verse that read:
‘To have and to hold,
From this day forward.
For better, for worse
For richer, for poorer
In sickness, and in health,
Till death alone shall part us.’
He had heard those words, or variations of them, many times before. Numerous couples had wed Below since he had become old enough to remember such occasions. His mind was drawn to one wedding in particular, even if it was Buddhist, and Catherine looking so lovely he was pierced to the heart with her beauty. Now those words took on an entirely new meaning. He dared to wonder at that moment if he and Catherine ever be able to let those feelings inside come forth. Suddenly he realized Catherine was speaking.
“I said, is something wrong?”
“No, nothing’s wrong,” he assured her.
“Well I was beginning to wonder. You had such a faraway look in your eyes,” she told him.
He placed the picture back in the box and turned to face her. Gently his arms enfolded her and pulled her head down against his shoulder. Her hair felt so soft against his cheek, the scent of her shampoo and soap mixed with the scent of her filled his senses.
Catherine breathed in t he wonderful, unique scent of him, candle smoke, leather, and musk. She felt so very comfortable and content. Then she heard him whisper softly, so softly she was unsure she’d really heard him say, “I love you.”
“I love you, too,” she whispered softly in reply.
They held each other for several minutes, each savoring the peace and love. Finally, Vincent pulled back to gaze into her eyes, reaching up to cup her cheek in his hand. What might have come next was arrested by the frown that creased his forehead. “I will be back in a moment,” he told her, rising and going into the bedroom. Seeing him kneel before her with the thermometer in hand, Catherine groaned, “Really, Vincent!”
“Catherine, please, humor me.” The look he turned on her made her laugh. She might as well, for there was no arguing with him when it came to her welfare. He was just like Father; she had seen Vincent try to argue with him often enough to know it was futile.
“Huhmm. 100`. I thought as much,” he stated when he read the scale. “Take these,” he told her, handing her two tablets, then passing her glass of water to her.
“Ok, Ok,” she remarked somewhat peevishly, then regretted it as she saw the hurt in his eyes. “I’m sorry. I just don’t take being sick very well, I’m afraid.”
“Neither do I, or so I understand. I don’t need to take offense, either, when you feel so poorly.”
Since she was up, and it was about lunchtime, they decided to take a break and get some food. Especially since medicine on an empty stomach was courting disaster. Catherine had a bagel and a glass of juice, while Vincent rummaged in the cabinets for something simple, like soup. Afterwards, Catherine sat on the couch with the afghan wrapped around her legs and suggested a game of backgammon. “I’m not much of a chess player, or a masochist for that matter. At least with the dice I may have a little luck on my side!” She also directed him to a classical music radio station she had found and thought he might enjoy. He agreed to a game as long as she did not push herself too far, reminding her he had a book with him he could read if she slept again. “Don’t worry about me being bored,” he added.
Mischief dancing, she saluted and snapped out, “Yes, sir!”
Vincent’s eyebrows disappeared into his hair and he mocked a swoon, “I had better get that in writing!”
The rest of the afternoon was spent enjoying each other’s company, playing backgammon (she actually won two games to his one), listening to music, and talking about times they had shared. When Catherine became weary she laid on the couch, her head pillowed on his lap as he read. Even though he had remade her bed she didn’t want to miss one second of his company. As he softly stroked her hair, she drifted off to sleep.
Early that evening, Catherine awoke, rolled onto her back and stretched. He put his book down and smiled to her. “Awake?” he asked. She was so lovely to him when she first awakened.
“I think so. Hungry, too”
“Wonderful! That is a definite improvement. I’m hungry, too.” As she sat up and stretched again, he questioned her as to what she would like to eat, fully intending to cook it for her if possible.
“I’m not sure. I think I had better look and see what I have. I haven’t exactly felt like shopping for a few days. The larder may be somewhat bare.”
After searching they came up with some frozen chicken, some soup, rolls and some cheddar cheese. Together they managed a fairly good meal. Well, Vincent cooked under Catherine’s direction. He wouldn’t let her do much except sit on a stool by the counter.
The whole mealtime ritual took on a whole new meaning for Catherine as the two of them prepared the meal and sat down at her table to share it. The normal everyday activity was one she had often despaired of sharing with him, yet here they were. When they were finished she managed to talk him into letting her help him straighten the kitchen on the promise she would head for that stool if she felt the least bit dizzy. She had no doubts she would never make it; with their bond Vincent would feel it and sweep her up and carry her to the couch the instant the sensation hit.
Afterward they sat on the couch, Catherine snuggled up with her head on his chest. Though she loved to hear the rumble of his voice when he spoke she didn’t want to hear the words he had to say this time, “I must go soon. Already it is dark. Soon the city will quiet enough for me to return Below.”
“Hush!” she told him. “I don’t want to think about you leaving yet.”
Dropping his head to rest his lips on her head he whispered, “I don’t want to leave you, but I must. I will stay with you until you sleep, then I must go.” Vincent could feel her unhappiness, but there was nothing he could to ease her pain. Maybe that was why he was hurting so.
The rest of the evening they simply enjoyed each other’s company, trying not to think too far ahead. He read a book of poems to her while the music played softly in the background. At last she could keep her eyes open no longer. She had pushed herself beyond the point where she should have stopped and gone to bed. But she was loath to let the evening end. Oh, how she wished he could stay! “Someday,” she thought as she walked into the bedroom, “we will make a place for the two of us. I don’t know how or where, but we will!” She slipped into her pale blue, silk pajamas and started to return to the living room. Vincent met her at the door already wearing his own shirt and vest. “You need to get some rest.”
“I suppose you’re right,” she nodded. “I am tired.”
“I know.” He walked over and turned down the covers for
her, like he had done for the children so many times. “You do need
to sleep to heal.”
Smiling slightly, Catherine slid into bed, allowing Vincent to tuck her in. “You’re going to spoil me,” she ‘scolded’ him.
“Probably.” He sat in the chair beside the bed and took her hand, looking deeply in to her eyes as his lips brushed the back of hr hand. “I’ll stay with you until you are asleep. Then I must leave.”
“I wish….” She began.
“I know,” he whispered. He reached over with his other hand and began stroking her hair, at the some time sending thoughts of peace and love to her. “I will see you tomorrow night. Rest now.” Slowly she closed her eyes and relaxed into the soothing realm of sleep.
He sat a few minutes more ‘to let her get deep asleep’ he told himself. Actually he was enjoying gazing at her. Finally he could delay no longer; he rose, slipping her arm under the covers and pulling them up around her chin. He walked silently into the living room where he picked up his pouch and slung it over his shoulder.
As he walked toward the balcony door, he stopped to look at Catherine sleeping peacefully this night. As he looked his mind was drawn back to her parent’s wedding picture. The words of the vows sprang into his mind. Then he made a vow of his own: one day they would never have to part like this. One day they also would say:
‘To have and to hold,
From this day forward.
For better, or worse
For richer, for poorer,
In sickness, and in health,
Till death alone shall part us.’