Objections
 



“Objection your honor, asked and answered,” the judge looked annoyed.  “A dozen times,” Catherine muttered under her breath.  The trial had gone on for almost two weeks, now and Catherine’s patience with the defendant’s attorney was growing thin.

 Nicholas Sherman graduated at the top of his class from UCLA Law School.  He brought his west coast attitude with him to New York, and Catherine resented it.  The blonde-haired, blue-eyed man, stood 6' at least, and just reeked of boyish charm.  Many women would find him attractive, but Catherine did not.  She found him just plain arrogant.  And he was making a mockery of this case and a mockery of the law.

 Catherine had been excited when Joe informed her she was prosecuting this case.  It was her reward for staying in New York.  She had conducted the investigation and had been the one to blow the drug ring wide open.  The defendant, Ron Anderson, was a heartless man, who made his living off of selling drugs in the schools to children as young as 7 or 8.  They had enough evidence to put him away, but Mr. Sherman was not making it easy.  He was coming dangerously close to ethical violations, and Catherine was about ready to file a motion for disciplinary action.  His cross-examination of her star witness was about to put her over the edge

 “So, Tina, do you consider yourself one of the ‘cool kids?’” He asked the 13 year old girl. The red-haired beauty was starting to look irritated as well.

 “No, not really.”  The girl answered.

 “So, you’d probably do anything to get into the cool crowd, wouldn’t you?”

 “NO!”

 “Come on,” Sherman quipped, sarcastically.  “I know what it was like to be 13.”

 “Objection!” Fired Catherine.  “Not only is counsel testifying, he is harassing this witness.  I move to strike that last comment and request an instruction to the jury to disregard.”

 “Sustained.” The judge was also getting tired of these antics.  “The jury will disregard Mr. Sherman’s last comment.”

 “Just one more question, Tina.”  Sherman looked around at Catherine, daring her to object again.  “Did you meet with Miss Chandler prior to trial to discuss your testimony here today?”

 Catherine saw Tina’s confusion and knew she was trying to determine how to answer.  It is not only common, but necessary, for attorneys on both sides to prepare their witnesses, and Catherine had prepared Tina for this question.  Tina looked to Catherine for help, but none was forthcoming.  Such assistance from attorney to witness was heavily frowned upon.  To coach the child in the courtroom would only make the prosecution look tainted in the jury’s eyes.  ‘Tell the truth, Tina,’ Catherine thought over and over again.

 “Yes,” came the child’s answer.  “She discussed it with me.”

 “Did she tell you to hide the fact that you had used drugs long before the defendant allegedly sold them to you?”  Mr. Sherman had no clue how to deal with a child witness.

 Tina answered his question before Catherine could object.  “No.  She told me to tell the truth, and I have.”

 ‘Good girl,’ Catherine thought.  The kid was holding up well.

 “So you admit you used drugs before?”

 “Yes.”

  “No further questions, your honor.”

 Catherine actually thought she heard the judge sigh in relief before acknowledging her. “Redirect, Miss Chandler.”

 Catherine stood and approached the witness stand.  “Yes, your honor. Thank you.”  She looked deep into the eyes of the child before her and saw the girl relax in her presence.  “Tina, at any time did I tell you that you had to testify that the defendant sold you drugs?”

“No, never.” The girl answered abruptly.

 “Are you absolutely sure that it was the defendant who sold the drugs to you at your school?”  Catherine had asked a similar question before, and fully expected Mr. Sherman to pop her with an objection.  She was surprised that he didn’t.

 “Yes, I’m positive.”

 “Thank you, Tina.  No further questions, your honor.  The prosecution rests."

 *******************

Catherine was glad to get home.  She was exhausted and all she wanted was a hot shower before crawling into bed.  The steamy, hot shower relaxed her, soothing her tired, aching muscles.  Catherine rinsed the last of the shampoo from her hair and reluctantly turned off the water.  A familiar tapping resounded from her bedroom window sending a rush of excitement flowing through her.  ‘Vincent.’  Catherine grabbed her robe off the hook and flung it quickly around her shoulders, tying it as she scurried to open the terrace door.  

There he was, waiting there for her as he had done so many times in the past.  “I’m sorry, Catherine.  I disturbed your bath.”  He was well aware of how little she wore beneath her robe.  Water ran down her neck, dripping from her hair.

 “No, I was finished.  You know I’m always glad to see you!”  Catherine fell into his embrace, and he cupped her wet head in his hand.  He had not been to her terrace for well over two weeks, ever since their run-in with Professor Hughes.  Catherine had stayed below until late that same evening.  It was then she first told him she had decided not to go to Providence.  She couldn’t leave him. . .she just couldn’t.

 ********************

 The words sent a shiver running through him.  She read so beautifully.  She seemed to have chosen this piece deliberately, looking at him as she read the final passage, sitting comfortably, casually, with him in his chamber.  “When I stood forlorn, knowing my heart’s best treasure was no more, that neither present time nor years unborn, could to my sight that heavenly face restore.”  And then, she smiled. . .at him, telling him that her decision had been made.

 “Catherine,” Vincent began, wanting to tell her that what he wanted most was to have her near to him.   But he couldn’t.  He couldn’t be the one responsible for holding her back, for keeping her from her dreams and goals, from the life she was meant to live.  “You told me the other night that a part of you was unhappy, for reasons we both know.  Why, then. . .why have you chosen to remain with that unhappiness. . .to deny yourself the possibilities that the world holds for you. . .to deny what is meant to be?”  Vincent’s tone was not harsh, but he was no longer reclining in his previous relaxed position on his bed.  He sat facing her, elbows on his knees, resembling ‘The Thinker.’  He needed to think this through with her now.

 Catherine closed the book she held and hugged it close.  Her eyes gazed back at him, solemnly, as she worked hard from within to formulate the best response.  “Nothing you say, Vincent, will change my mind.  My decision has been made.  It was ultimately my decision.  You know I value your opinion, and I initially accepted the job offer.  But, when you were lost to me .. . . only then did I realize that I couldn’t live with the possibility of never seeing you again.”

 She could see the look of disbelief coming over his face.  She took a deep breath and laid the book on the bed in order to take both of his hands in hers.  He did not return her grip, but let his hands rest lightly in her grasp.  “Vincent,” she continued, “neither of us know for sure what the future holds!  I do know that the only way for me to get over any sense of unhappiness that I feel is to face it, head on.  Going to Providence would be running away.  I’m happy at the D.A.’s office.  I enjoy my work.  I don’t need the career boost or a higher salary.  New York is my home, and I don’t want to leave it.  All the people I love are here.”

 With the last line, she squeezed his hands hard and felt him return the pressure.  He opened his mouth to speak, and Catherine knew he would try to convince her otherwise.  He stared deep into her eyes.  He could see what she felt, what she wanted, but still was not prepared to let her give up so much for him.  Seeing his doubt, Catherine drove her point home.

 “You can object all you want, Vincent, but I’m not going to listen anymore.  My world of possibilities are here with you, not in Rhode Island, and if I leave, we may never find out what is meant to be.”

 Vincent rose and crossed the room, bracing himself on the table, as if without it he may fall.  “I have nothing to offer you, Catherine, nothing but this,” he gestured about the room.  “This is no home for you, no life for you.”

 Catherine got up an flew to his side.  “Why can’t you just tell me what you really want?  Why do you deny yourself the opportunity to. . .”

 She was cut off in mid sentence as he impatiently tried to provide her with sensible reasons as to why they could not be together.  “Because any possibility for us means facing the unknown. . .and that unknown may not be what either of us wants.  What I may want makes no difference now, because it is not what’s best for you.”

Catherine was crying now, and Vincent was struggling hard not to.  He had to demonstrate strength to her, in order to prove his conviction to what he was saying.  Inside, however, he was falling apart.  “Rethink your decision, Catherine.”

 *******************

  It had been a long, lonely walk back to her apartment that night.  She had refused to let Vincent guide her, choosing to leave him behind.  Shortly after she had left him, Catherine thought she felt a wave of fear surge through the bond to her, and she was sure it had come from him.  She knew he didn’t want her to go away, but she also knew that his motives were sincere. Still, she felt angry with him.

 Joe was delighted when she told him the next morning that she had decided to stay.  She called the Providence office with her apologies and gratitude.  “New York is my home,” was her message to both bosses.

 Standing now before Vincent, though she wore only her bathrobe, Catherine felt oddly at ease. . .at ease with his presence and at ease with her decision.  But, try as she might, Catherine could not get the disturbing picture of the caged Vincent out of her mind.  She knew that was how most people would react to him.  Out of curiosity, he’d become their research project, and no matter how she or anyone else, including Vincent himself, would object, unfortunately the majority of topsiders would look on him in fear.  At least Professor Hughes had seen the truth in the end.

 Tonight’s visit from Vincent worried Catherine.  The ease of his embrace seemed strange after his recent urgings for her to move on.  “Is anything wrong?” she asked.

Similarly, Vincent could not forget that Catherine had seen him, caged like an animal, weak and dying.  He was grateful that she had found him, but felt degraded by her observation of him.  Vincent knew that Catherine had been forced that night to face the truth about him and all that he was.  She had seen the beast kill, and now she had seen him caged.  He had taken her to his chamber afterwards, but their time of togetherness soon turned into a debate over the reality of all they could never have and all they could.  When she had refused to face his reality, he sent her away.  He then deliberately stayed away from her, hoping she would come to her senses.  He stayed away as long as he could.  But on this night, he had been walking in the park, when a sudden feeling hit him.  ‘Catherine,’ he had to see her, had to hold her.  He had to tell her that he wanted her to stay.  Despite further discouraging words from Father, Vincent wanted her so desperately in his life.

 Now, as he held her scarcely dressed form closer to him, feeling the softness of her beneath her robe, he sensed through their bond the same emotions she always held whenever he came to her.  There was no fear or disgust there, but only love and acceptance.  Pulling back from her he answered her almost forgotten question.  “No nothing is wrong.  I just wanted to see you.”

  “It’s been a long time.  I’ve missed you.”   Catherine smiled up at him, suspecting his reasons for not visiting her sooner.  His eyes avoided her gaze, revealing his inhibitions to her.  “But nothing has changed.  You are the same man to me that you have always been.”

 He turned away from her, and bracing his hands upon the terrace wall, he looked out over the city. . .her city. . .her world.  A world with more hate and chaos than he’d ever seen.  But, it was a world of much beauty as well.  “You saved my life.  I owe you everything. . .everything.”

 “You’ve done the same for me so many times.  You have no debt to pay.”  She could see his pain.  He was struggling with his humanity, with his very existence, and with her acceptance and desire to be with him.

 “I’m so ashamed.  The disgrace of how you have seen me, the monster in his cage.” Vincent’s voice was loud and strong, and his breath increased to a rapid pant.  “The humiliation of it all, Catherine. . .how can you even look at me. . .or touch me?”  Tears streamed down his face as he turned to face her.

 Catherine was dumbstruck.  What he had been through in the name of science was tragic, but it was not his fault.  How could he blame himself for the narrow-mindedness of these men proclaiming themselves to be scholars?  Vincent was right to be humiliated but so wrong to think, even for a moment, that because of his humiliation she wouldn’t want him.  She wanted him desperately.  She laid her hand on his shoulder, “don’t you remember Great Expectations?”

 He nodded, unsure of what her reference meant, but remembering it well.

 "Then surely you haven’t forgotten Dicken’s line, “Take nothing on its looks, take everything on evidence.  There is no better rule!”  Catherine quoted the line perfectly, and Vincent understood her just as well.  “When I look at you, it’s not a monster that I see.  What I see is so beautiful!  I see the man that I love, the face of my friend, the promise of tomorrow.  And I object, Vincent, to your thinking you have to hide from me, that you have to save me from yourself.”  Catherine had been using the word ‘object’ so often this week that it rolled off her tongue without her having consciously chosen it.

Vincent just shook his head, refusing to accept what she was telling him.  Catherine wrapped her arms around his waist from behind and leaned in to him, nuzzling her face within the softness of his mane.  “When I touch you, I can hardly describe what I feel.  A warmth flows through me, and it’s like being home.  In your arms is where I belong, not in Providence.  I’m not going anywhere.  I am staying here with you.”

 Vincent turned to look at her at last.  He gripped her firmly by the shoulders, refusing again what she had just told him.  “No, Catherine.  You must try to forget me. . .to realize the impossibility of anything more between us.  It can never be.”

 “You don’t know that.  How can you know that if you won’t even try.”  The  green of her eyes dimmed to a dull grey as they filled with tears.  Vincent started a retreat over the terrace wall.  Hoping to stop him, she cried out, “Don’t let them do this to you.”  In that ‘them,’ Catherine expressed her angst at not only Professor Hughes and Jonathan Gould, but also at Father.  “Please, Vincent, stay.”  Her hand gripped his wrist.  “Did you come here just to tell me again that I should leave you?  I won’t.  No matter what you say. . .no matter what Father says.  Please . . .”  Catherine’s plea was wasted, for Vincent was not yet able to admit the depth of his feelings for her to anyone but himself.  No!  He couldn’t allow her to alter the path of her life for him.  He pulled free from her grasp and disappeared into the darkness.

 ********************

Catherine was definitely having the week from hell.  It had been three days since her meeting with Vincent on her terrace.  She had gone below yesterday and had called out for him over the pipes, but he did not respond.  She was worried about him.  She had no intention of letting him go . . .not now, after she had fought so hard to get him back.  He was no monster.  He was the most human being and the gentlest man she had ever known.  The real monster sat here in the courtroom with her at the opposite table.  A man who sells drugs to children.

 She had to try to put Vincent out of her mind for now, because she had an important trial to win.  The defense had finally rested, and closing arguments were on today’s docket. 

 “Ladies and gentlemen,” Catherine addressed the jury halfway through her closing.  “You have heard the testimony of five children, all of whom say they purchased drugs from the defendant.  These children were approached in their school, a place where they are supposed to be safe.  Well, the truth is, ladies and gentlemen, they weren’t safe, and many like them still aren’t safe.  The defendant is but one of many dealers infiltrating our school system.  He is a dangerous monster, and he belongs in a cage.”  Catherine paused, needing to get her rising emotions under control.  Thoughts of Vincent were taking over her mind once more.  She took a deep breath and continued.  “The defendant has told you of his terrible life, filled with tragedy and abuse.  He has tried to convince you that, because of his background, he may have taken a wrong turn or two down the path of life.  Yet, he denies selling drugs to any of the children who have identified him. The defendant is lying.  He is making excuses, ladies and gentlemen.  He is using his past as a crutch.  He is using it to try and gain your sympathy.  But the judge will instruct you that you may not use sympathy to decide this case.  The State urges you to consider the overwhelming evidence presented against the defendant in this case and to return a verdict of guilty.  Pity the children, ladies and gentlemen, not the defendant.  Thank you.”

 ********************

“Yo, Radcliffe,” Joe hollered at her as she returned to the office.  “I hear the jury returned a quick verdict on the Anderson case.  Good work!”  Joe gave her a much deserved pat on the back.

 “Thanks, Joe.”  It wasn’t the first case Catherine had won, but it was nice to be acknowledged for her efforts now and then.  “Wanna do lunch?  My treat.”

 “Sure, if you’re paying, I’m eating!”  Joe headed with her down the hallway.  It wasn’t often they had lunch together, as lunch itself was a rarity in the office lately.  Jokingly he added, “We’re not going to the vending machine are we?”  Catherine was often guilty of treating co-workers to a microwave burger and coffee.

 Catherine laughed.  “Not today.  I need to get away from the law for awhile.  How about some real food, say, Lingles?”  Lingles was a popular little mom and pop place, lacking somewhat in atmosphere, but it was only a five minute walk, and the food was out of this world.  

“Sounds great,” Joe agreed as the elevator closed behind them, “but you sound a little strained.  You okay, Cathy?  Second thoughts about turning down Providence?”

 “No, Joe.  I’m fine.  Just a little tired.  Too many late research nights!  Thanks for worrying.”  She smiled a reassuring smile, hoping to covey to him that what she had just said was true.  She knew, however, that it was a lie.  She wasn’t fine.  While she wondered a little what Providence would’ve been like, she was most afraid that the recent turn of events had caused all she had with Vincent to slip through her fingers.  While she was reasonably sure that he did not want to stay away from her any more than she wanted him to, she knew he would try with all his might to set her free.  She was afraid she’d never see him again.

 Lunch was a fairly quiet event.  She and Joe refused to discuss work, and the conversation consisted only of small talk and constant reminders from Joe of how glad he was that she had decided to stay.

 “Hey, Radcliffe, why don’t you take the afternoon off.  It’s Friday, and there’s nothing on your desk that can’t wait til Monday.  Take a break!  You’ve been under a lot of stress the past couple of weeks.”

 “Are you sure, Joe?” Cathy asked considerately, paying the check.  She didn’t want to appear too eager to put anything off, yet an extra half day added to her weekend could be beneficial to her sanity.

 “Yeah, I’m sure.”  Joe hailed her a cab, giving the driver her address.  “Have a good weekend, kiddo!”

 Cathy gave Joe a quick peck on the cheek before getting into the cab.  “Thanks.  I’ll see you bright and early Monday morning.”  As the cab pulled away, Catherine asked the driver to cut through the park.  She would use the afternoon to go below and reason with a very stubborn Vincent.  Neither Catherine nor the driver were aware of the blue Cadillac following them.

 ********************

The cab pulled up to the curb just a few yards away from the drainage tunnel.  Catherine paid the driver and stood by the curb until he was a safe distance away.  She proceeded toward the entrance, but she was grabbed from behind.  The assailant was strong, and try as she might, Catherine could not break his hold.  His right arm was wrapped firmly around her neck, and his left hand held a knife.  Realizing that he could slit her throat with ease, she ceased struggling and went limp in his arms.  Isaac’s words ran through her mind.  ‘Don’t ever let them take you to a second location.  Fight like the devil if you have to, but don’t get in that car.’  Fight?  With what? This guy had a death grip on her and she couldn’t move, let alone fight.  Seeing no available alternative, she let the man lead her toward the car.

 “Ronnie’s gonna love this,” the man addressed the second man who was in the driver’s seat.  As she was pushed into the back seat of the old Cadillac, Catherine realized the two men were Ron Anderson’s thugs.  With squealing tires the car drove off down the Cental Park drive- through.

 ‘Damn,’ she thought to herself.  How could she have been so careless as to let this happen.  She struggled to maintain control of her fears, not wanting to beckon Vincent to her rescue.  She had to get out of the car.  Once the car had pulled out of the park and back onto the busy city street, Catherine made her move.  She threw open the car door, jumped out and ran. The driver stopped the car and the man with the knife got out and followed her.  Looking for an entrance, any possible entrance, into the tunnels, Catherine made a fateful turn into an alley.  She hid in an empty doorway, allowing the assailant to pass her by.

 Looking around, she noticed a manhole in the rear of the alley.  Tired from running, she used what remaining strength she had to pry the steal lid open revealing the gaping hole beneath . . .the hole in the ground that would lead her to Vincent and to safety.

 ********************

Vincent’s reading group had run overtime this afternoon.  The children had begged him to finish the final chapter of Treasure Island.  He had no more than recited the last lines when desperation overcame him.  “Catherine!” he spoke her name aloud.  The children were aware of how important she was to him, and were less than surprised when he dropped the book on the floor and bolted out of the chamber.

 She was in trouble, and Vincent knew he had to hurry.  He could sense her sudden panic and a chill swept over him.  She was not far from her home, yet not far from below.  He pinpointed her location and realized she was trying to get to him.  ‘I’m coming, Catherine,’ he thought.   Suddenly the feeling coming through the bond was only one of pain.  ‘Keep fighting, Catherine,’ he tried to coach her, ‘don’t give up.’

 ********************

 As Catherine struggled with the manhole cover, the assailant turned to see her.  He kicked her forcefully in the back, sending her painfully to the ground.  As he tried to pick her up, she returned his kick, striking him squarely in the groin.  She knew now that the manhole was off limits.  She could not risk being followed below.  So she forced herself to her feet and ran on down the alley.  She was running farther away from Vincent, but farther from her attacker as well.  

How he caught up to her she didn’t know.  One hand grabbed her jacket and the other hit her with a closed fist, hurling her into a brick wall.  The sharp, stinging blow was delivered to her cheek, and Catherine could feel the heat in her face.  She tried to run again, but was pinned to the wall by a hand wrapped around her neck.  With her knee she dug into the thug’s thigh, and with her feet she kicked anywhere she could.  However, she was no match for his strength, and he threw her to the ground.  The man, ugly and evil, sat on top of her.  His face was scarred and he had two blue tears tattooed beneath his left eye.  He smiled an egotistical smile, revealing the absence of his front teeth.   Catherine continued to squirm, attempting to pry him off of her.  

When the man spoke, his thick cockney accent made his words difficult to understand. Catherine hadn’t noticed it before.   “You’ve been more trouble than you’re worth.  Face it, dearie, you can’t get away.  You gave it a good try, but now you have to die.”  The man drew his knife, and Catherine was faced with the reminder of what had happened to her last April 12th.

 “No,” she cried out.  “Not again!” 

 And then she heard it.  The familiar roar filled the late afternoon air, and echoed toward her.  “No, Vincent,” Catherine whispered, knowing he could not come to her in the daylight.  But he was there, towering over her, yanking the now trembling attacker off of her and effortlessly throwing him into the wall.  The man’s head hit the wall hard and he slid lifelessly to the ground.

 A police siren whined in the not so distant street, and Catherine and Vincent heard the sound of footsteps running toward them.  “Go, Vincent,” she pleaded, pushing him away from her.  “I’m alright.  Get out of here!  Hurry!”  Reluctantly Vincent ran back down the alley and to the  safety of the manhole from which he had emerged, the very one Catherine had pried open. Two armed policemen approached her as she stood dazed awaiting their arrival.  “Freeze,” one hollered.

 “I’m with the D.A.’s office,” she responded, slowly retrieving her I.D. from her jacket pocket.

 The cop stood ready to return fire in case she had gone for a gun.  Viewing the card she presented, he lowered his weapon and asked, “What happened here?”

 “He’s dead,” said the other cop, “no sign of bullet or knife wounds.”

 Catherine exhaled and began her explanation.  She had to make it believable.  No slash wounds?  “I just prosecuted a guy named Ron Anderson.  Two men approached me in the park, and forced me into a blue Cadillac.  It was old. . .late 1970's maybe.  I believe them both to be associated with Mr. Anderson.  When I tried to get away, he followed me.”  Catherine pointed to the dead man.  “We struggled, and eventually I was able to shove him into the wall.  He must’ve hit his head.”

  “You’re not looking so hot, yourself,” the officer said to her.  Catherine was badly bruised.  She was scraped, scratched, and bleeding.  The officer turned to his partner and added, “Mike, call an ambulance. . .one for him and one for Ms. Chandler.”

 “No, please,” Catherine intervened.  “I’ll be alright.  I just want to go home.”

 ********************

 The police car dropped her off at her apartment.  Catherine hurried upstairs, anxious to get to her balcony and to Vincent.  Her back hurt, her legs were weak, and her head was throbbing, but all she could think of was falling into the safe haven of his arms.   She flung open the door to her apartment and removed her jacket on her way across the living room. She burst out onto the terrace but no one was there.  Disappointed, Catherine looked out over the city.  The sun had just set and the sky had a vivid pinkish hue.  Perhaps it wasn’t dark enough, or perhaps he didn’t get away safely.  She entertained these thoughts to avoid the possibility that he had simply chosen not to meet her here.  Unable and unwilling to face that truth, she decided to go below.

 Slowly, mostly due to stiffness and pain, Catherine descended the stairs leading from her sub-basement into his world.  She was somewhat familiar with the way to Vincent’s chamber, but the passages now seemed foreign to her.  Unbeknownst to Catherine, the way had been changed.  Catherine proceeded down the tunnels choosing her way carefully, listening and looking at every trail’s wear and tear as Vincent had taught her to do.  ‘Never take a path not worn by the trampling of other feet,’ he had advised her one night while walking her home.  ‘The ways are always changing to keep intruders out.’  The trouble was that all of the paths before her looked new.  None exhibited any sign of use by tunnel dwellers.  Was she an intruder?  ‘The ways are always changing.’  The words ran over and over in her mind until finally Catherine realized she was lost.

 ********************

 Vincent sat in his chamber, feeling her arrival into his world, knowing that she would soon need his guidance to get home.  He sensed the confusion that overwhelmed her, and he began his mission toward her.  He walked briskly but did not run.  He didn’t know how to explain to her that it had been at his direction that the passages between them had again been altered.  He had not expected her to venture below on her own, after having gotten lost once before.  She had come searching for him during her investigation of the subway slasher, and had gotten tangled up in a maze of confusion then too.  

Catherine stopped walking, knowing he would come. . .that he would not allow her to wander the tunnels aimlessly for very long.  Aching and bruised, she sat down and leaned against the rough rock wall.  The hardness of the wall dug into her back at the spot where the man had kicked her.  Catherine gasped in pain and leaned forward to rest her head on her knees.  

Vincent, feeling her sudden pain, began to run, fearing that she had come upon danger.  In only a few graceful strides he was at her side. \Catherine looked up at him, but neither said a word.  Vincent exhaled the breath he’d been holding, relieved that she was safe.  However, he was somewhat amazed by her persistence.  Likewise, Catherine was dismayed. . .dismayed and a bit hurt because he had not come to her. The expression on his face demonstrated his concern, but she knew the resistance in his heart.

 “Why, Vincent. . .why did you change my way to you?”  Catherine’s voice was shaky and unsure, but it was all she had to say to him at this moment.

 “Come with me, Catherine,” Vincent said, avoiding her question but extending his hand.

 “No,” she replied defiantly, refusing to take his hand.  She was certain that if she went with him he would take her home rather than below.  Her best bet, then, was to stay put, because he would not leave her here and risk her wandering deeper into this maze.  “You didn’t answer my question.  I won’t let you run from me, and I won’t let you avoid the issues.”

 Vincent could feel her disappointment.  As always, he attributed her emotions to his differences.  He lowered his hand and stood staring down at her.  His expression was serious and his voice stern.  “This is not a trial, Catherine.  And I am not being prosecuted!”  Vincent so rarely took such a gruff tone with her, and Catherine only stared back at him, unsure of what he would do next.  His temper was flaring up.  She could see it.  Yet she was not afraid.  No, he would never hurt her.  Of that she was sure.  However, she had obviously frightened him by being so confrontational.  ‘Good,’ she thought to herself.  ‘At least you’re expressing your true emotion.’

 Vincent turned from her, feeling his control waning.  A piercing roar escaped his throat and with a fiery hiss, he raised one clawed hand into the empty air.  Facing the wall, he released his anger and struck out.  Through this display, Vincent found the courage to answer her question, calmly.  When he regained control, he said matter-of-factly, “I didn’t think you would return to the tunnels, Catherine.  The way was changed to discourage you, so that you would stay away from me and follow another path.”

 “The path to Providence.”  She stated sarcastically under her breath.  

“I don’t know,” he responded quickly, “just another path, apart from me.”

 “You never told me I couldn’t come below.  And even if you had, you know I can’t stay away.”

 He knew that what she said was true.  He had never literally told her to stay out of the tunnels.  Deep down, he knew what she wanted.  She wanted to be with him, to continue their relationship and see where fate would lead them.  He wanted that too, but didn’t know how to tell her.  He couldn’t ask her to give up anything, her hopes, her dreams, her ambitions, her chance for a better life, just to be with him.  Father was right.  He knew that.  He had to let Catherine lead her own life.  As far as Catherine was concerned, that was just what she was trying to do. “I’m sorry.  I changed the route without thinking first.  I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

 Vincent turned to face her again, feeling a bit braver.  “Catherine,” his velvet-soft voice returned to soothe her. All harshness was gone now, and the sound of him speaking her name made Catherine tremble, visibly.

 Vincent sat down beside her, careful to maintain some distance between them. “Catherine,” he said again, “why are you here, when you should be resting?  You have been through quite an ordeal.”

 “Yes,” she responded barely above a whisper.  “Lately my life is an ordeal.  All of it.  All I wanted was to see you when I got home.  I went out on the balcony but you weren’t there.  I needed you.  Couldn’t you feel it?”  Suddenly, she feared his utter denial of her need for him.  “I just wanted your arms around me, because. . .”

“Because,” he finished for her, “I make you feel safe?”  Had he just accused her of using him as a safety net?

 She paused, and then said simply, “No.”  Her eyes met his and she continued.  “I was going to say ‘because I love you and I need that closeness from you.’  Yes, I feel safe with you, but not in the sense that you imply.  You’re more to me than a bodyguard, Vincent.  You saved my life today, and I am grateful.  But you took too great a risk.  And there is more to us than a reliance on each other for safety or protection.  You can’t always protect me, Vincent.  Even you are not infallible.”

 Vincent did not know what to say.  Every word he had spoken thus far only seemed to make matters worse, so he decided to shut up.  Catherine went on, “Why did you come to me this afternoon?  In the daylight?  If you meant for us to go our separate ways?”

 Vincent responded in shock to her question. He couldn't believe she could ever imagine him not coming to her in such dire need.  His mind fought to formulate an answer.  He knew now he would have to admit that he needed her.  He would have to acknowledge that their bond could not be severed.  “How can you ask me such a question, Catherine?  When I feel your fear. . .”  A deep sigh escaped him.  “I cannot and will not stay away and allow you to be endangered or hurt when I have the power to prevent it.  Not even in the daylight.  I would willingly give up everything. . .my life” he amended quickly, “to save yours.  You’ve done no less for me.”  

Catherine smiled an anxious smile.  The lawyer in her temporarily took over.  She was going to win this ‘case’ over Vincent’s objections, damn it, if it was the last thing she ever did. “You said you would give up everything, Vincent.”  Catherine shook her head.  He knew she had seen right through him.  Without hesitation she proclaimed lightly, “You thought you had slid that one by me, didn’t you?  Why is it that you can give up whatever you choose for me, but you deny me the right to give up anything for you?  Does that seem fair?" 

Having it put to him that way it didn’t seem fair.  Catherine, however, was not taking into consideration the obvious differences between them.  Vincent was, after all, not just any man.  He was not like Tom or Elliott.  “Catherine, if you were still involved with Elliott, and you wanted to see him, what would you do?”  

Catherine didn’t like his bringing Elliott into this, but his question seemed harmless enough.  To her the answer was obvious.  “I suppose I would call him, Vincent.  But you don’t have a phone.”

 “And there is no bond.  There is nothing connecting Elliott to you, allowing him to sense your feelings or your needs.  I feel it all, Catherine.  Every time your thoughts turn to me I know it.  Your wants, your needs, your desires, are all an open book to me, not just your fears.”

 Vincent paused, shocked by his own admission.  “I didn’t come to you tonight, Catherine, because I knew that you were safe, and I needed to maintain my separation from you.  It seemed the best way to protect you.”

 “So what’s your point.”  The idea that he could be so aware of her desire for him unnerved her.  She tried so hard to hide such feelings, to protect him from facing such intimacy so early in their relationship.

 But that intimacy was very much on Vincent’s mind.  He looked down at his own hand resting against the earth.  He was still seated beside Catherine and was closer to her now than he had remembered being initially.  He rotated his hand, observing its texture, the rough skin of his palm, the fur of his fingers and wrist, the claw-like hooks adorning his fingertips.  “The point is, I am not like Elliott or other men.  We cannot ignore these differences.  I have lived with these differences my entire life, and I am used to them. . .I was used to them, until I found you.  Now, I  don’t know anymore. . .I don’t know what is right and what is not.  I don’t know what is meant to be, Catherine. . .and I’m afraid.”

 Catherine had not expected him to open up to her so directly.  Sure it was what she’d hoped for, but nonetheless it took her by surprise.  She didn’t convey that surprise to Vincent. Somehow, someway, she had to convince him that his differences went unnoticed.  She chose her words and actions carefully.  “Vincent,” her voice was but a whisper, “I too see that you are different than the other men I have been with.  But, you and I. . .we don’t see the same  differences.  You see only the physical, Vincent. . .your hands,” she enclosed his hand in hers, “your face,” with her free hand she stroked his cheek, “your ability to fight, to protect those you love.”

 “My violence,” he interjected.

 “Yes,” she didn’t deny the accuracy of his statement because to do so would be to deny the truth.  “But, it’s such a poetic violence, born of love.  There’s no evil there.  I feel safe with you, not because you have the strength to protect me, but because I know that you could never hurt me.  The differences that you see so vividly, I hardly see at all.  The differences I see setting you apart from the others are a kindness, and a gentleness so rare. . .an honesty, a sense of purity unbeknownst to most of my world.  Vincent, you are right to be afraid.  This is all so new for both of us.  Relationships between any man and woman are scary.  That’s a fact of life!”

 “But you have had other relationships, Catherine.”  A lone tear escaped to Vincent’s cheek.  ‘Perhaps,’ he thought, ‘just perhaps Father had been wrong this time.’  “Until now, none of this was possible for me, and I had grown accustomed to that.  I struggle now with my own desire to be near you, and my growing awareness of both my own feelings and yours, fearing that the reality. . .the hope. . .of actually seeing the dream through will only disappoint us.  I don’t want to cause you such disappointment.”

 Although she had heard every word he had said, Catherine’s mind was stuck on his having, in a fairly candid fashion, acknowledged his desire.  Not wanting to focus too much attention on that issue, she addressed the more basic topic of risks taken and opportunities lost.

“The major worry, the main fear that is prevalent in all relationships is the risk that someday it will end. . .that the magic will fade. . .that one of the parties will decide to move on, leaving the other behind.  That fear is nothing unique to our situation.  We’ve already had to face it, and choices have already been made.  I chose to stay in New York because you are more important to me than a higher paying job or a step up the career ladder.  In disagreement with my decision, you’ve continually tried to send me away.  Is that your true choice, Vincent?”

 Vincent could only shake his head ‘no’.  His voice failed him.

 “Then we must take the risk, or we lose the opportunity.  The dream just may have a  happy ending, you know.”  

Catherine’s next move astounded him.  She stroked his hair, bringing her palm to rest on his cheek. The tips of her fingers discovered his well-hidden ear.  She guided his face to hers and kissed him.  Their mouths met for the first time in a short, sweet kiss.  Vincent’s heart beat much faster, and he returned her kiss with a newfound confidence.  The sweet taste of her lips and their soft caress, though new to him, didn’t frighten him now.  For in this kiss he saw the proof that he could have this relationship. . .that Catherine really did want to be with him. . .that his well-meaning Father had been wrong.  He allowed himself to dream again. 

With the inner bruises healing, it was time to address the more obvious ones.  Catherine’s face was a pinkish-purple where she had been punched.  Her arms were scratched and bruised, and her clothing had tears revealing scrapes and scratches.  Vincent stood up and once again offered his hand.  This time she took it.  As she tried to stand, Catherine winced in pain.  The stiffness in her back and shoulders made it hard for her to move.  “Come, Catherine, I’ll take you to Father.”

 “No, Vincent.  He won’t like it that I am here.  He blames me for your being caught above.  I’ll see a doctor tomorrow, I promise.  Please, just walk me home.”  Catherine took a step forward, but Vincent didn’t budge.  He held onto her hand, and she stopped and turned to face him.

“Your apartment is that way.”  He pointed in the opposite direction.  “That is the way to my chamber, and to Father.”  For the first time ever in her presence, Vincent laughed.

 Despite her injuries and pain, Catherine laughed with him.  “Then I’m going the wrong way.”  She pulled gently on his arm and tried to coax him into leading her home.  She’d come below looking for Vincent.  She didn’t want to face Father.

 “I will have Mouse mark the correct path for you, discretely, but so that you will be able to find your way.”  Vincent closed the arms-distance between them, and cautious of her injuries, he enclosed her in his embrace.  Catherine sighed in relief, having needed his arms so direly tonight.  Unable to lift her arms too high, she wrapped them around his waist. He wasn’t wearing his cloak and his cotton shirt was worn.  He could feel the warmth of her hands penetrating the thin layer of fabric.  His body tensed a bit with the sensation of having her hands on his almost bare flesh.  “Please let me take you to Father,” he whispered.  “I’ll protect you!”  Vincent actually made a joke, partially to ease his growing desire.

 Catherine gave in, knowing that if she went home, she would not go to the doctor.  She trusted Father.  He had skillfully mended her face.  But, yet she feared him as well.  She knew he still harbored some distrust of her, although less now than he had at first.  She knew it was more out of concern for Vincent, than an actual fear of her betraying their world. . .for that she would never do.  “You win, Vincent, but I am the last person he will want to see.” .

 “That’s isn’t so.  He doesn’t distrust you.   He knows what we face is difficult.  But he knows what you mean to me, and perhaps his fears have also been my fears.  Give him time.  Give him the chance.  He will come around.”

Catherine allowed Vincent to support her as they walked arm in arm through the tunnels. Much had been accomplished between she and Vincent, and both felt more positive about their relationship.  Catherine, however, had to tackle Father’s objections now. . .a plight she knew would not be easy.  

********************

 “Catherine?”  Father looked inquisitively at her disheveled appearance. “What happened?”

Obviously, Vincent had not told him about coming to her in the daylight.

 Catherine knew he would be angry, and opted not to volunteer that information.  “I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  I’m fine, Father, really.  I should be going.”

 “Sit,” Vincent told her, pointing to the examination table.  Then he turned to address the older man.  “Father, she is not fine.  When I found her she was being kicked and beaten by a man with a knife.”

Father stared blankly at his son, trying to process what he had just heard.  “When you found her?  Vincent were you above this afternoon?”  Vincent nodded.  Catherine looked away.

Father began a preliminary examination of Catherine, checking her over for any sign of broken bones or serious injury.  “You both know the risks.  You cannot be so careless!”

 “Father, Catherine is not to blame!”  Vincent’s voice was strong.  “I chose to take the risk.  She could have been killed.”

 Father was not pleased.  “Not only could you have been seen, you could have been followed!  You both could have been killed.  You’ve been caught above, Vincent.  You know what they’d do with you.  When you take that risk, you place this entire community at risk as well!”

 “I know, Father.”  Vincent lowered his head, averting his eyes from both Father and Catherine.  He knew Father would be angry, but he did not anticipate being lectured in front of Catherine.

 Catherine was uncomfortable being stuck in the middle of their quarrel.  “I’m sorry, Father.  Blame me, not Vincent.  It’s me he protects.  He has tried to separate himself from me. Perhaps I have been selfish in not listening to him.”

 As Father attended Catherine’s scrapes and scratches, he addressed both her and Vincent.  “It doesn’t matter who is to blame. . .just be more careful, both of you.”  Catherine nodded her agreement, feeling like a punished child.  Father began poking at Catherine’s back and ribs, causing her to gasp in pain.  

“Vincent, would you go and ask Mary to bring me some ice, please?  She’s badly bruised,  and I need to examine her further.”  Vincent nodded, excusing himself from the room, but not before he had heard Father’s next request.  “Remove your shirt, please Catherine.  I want to take a look at your back.”

 Catherine obliged, wishing Vincent had not left her and Father alone.  ‘You were supposed to protect me,’ she thought, chuckling to herself.  She did not want to be alone in this room with Father.  Part of her wanted to holler at the old man for doubting and distrusting her. The other part of her, however, wanted to praise him for raising Vincent to be the man that he had become . . .the man that she loved.

 Father tried to focus on providing medical care, also wanting to avoid a confrontation with Catherine.  He could see how much this woman cared for his son, and he knew she would not go away.  He had grown used to protecting Vincent, but there was no protecting his son now. Vincent and Catherine were adults, and Father knew he would have to get accustomed to seeing them together.  Still, the idea of it made him restless.  Father had seen Vincent through puberty and adolescence by instilling in him the idea that such things, such relationships, would never be a possibility.  And until now, Vincent had accepted that explanation.

 So Catherine and Father shared the room in silence, until Father saw her back.  “Dear God, Catherine!”  the doctor exclaimed, lightly touching the large bruise that covered the lower portion of her back.

 “Ow!” Catherine arched her back away from his touch.  “He kicked me there,” she told him as if it would help his diagnosis.  

“Try and hold still,” he coached, applying light pressure to the spot once more.  She continued to squirm.  “Is there any place where it doesn’t hurt?” he asked. 

“Not really,” she answered.  

“Does it feel like anything is out of place, Catherine?”

 “It doesn’t feel like it.  It’s just tender to the touch and stiff, but from fighting I feel stiff all over.”

 Father nodded his understanding.  “You may get dressed.  I’m going to give you something for the pain.  It will make you very tired.  I want to see you tomorrow, after you have rested.”  Father prepared a shot for her, much to Catherine’s regret.  She hated needles.  “I’ll have Mary prepare a room for you.”

 “You mean stay below?” she asked, buttoning her blouse, unsure that she’d heard him correctly.

“Yes, I want to keep an eye on you.  This bruise on your back worries me a bit.  If the pain gets worse, I want to know immediately.”  Seeing the frightened look on Catherine’s face, he reassured her, “It’s probably nothing, child, but we’re better safe than sorry.”  He placed his hand on her shoulder and smiled.  “Catherine,” he said, the concern in his voice changing from that of a  physician to that of a parent or friend.  “I don’t object to your relationship with Vincent.  I know you care a great deal for him, and he cares for you as well.  I’ll admit, I have doubts that it will last.  But my concern, my dear, is for both of you.  I fear that both of you will be hurt.  I am an old man, and I worry.  It is a parent’s prerogative.”

 ‘No objection?’ Catherine thought, conscious of the fact that she was staring at the man.

She could scarcely believe what she had just heard.  “Thank you, Father.  I never expected that.” She mustered up half a smile, but it was not enough to stop tears from filling her eyes.  “I love him, Father.”  For the first time, Catherine understood Father’s reasons for discouraging Vincent from pursuing her.  “I’d like to be able to say that you’re wrong. . .that we won’t get hurt. . .that we can have what all other couples have. . .but. . .while neither of us would intentionally cause the other pain, neither of us knows what lies ahead.  And yes, that is frightening.”

 Father handed Catherine a handkerchief and she wiped her eyes.  “He loves you too.  I can see that.  And I guess, it took me awhile to get over my skepticism and admit that you see him for all that he is and truly accept him.  Then I realized, you were capable of seeing something that I would not permit myself to see.  You look at him, and you can see all that he can be.  And, where I may discourage him to enforce his safety. . . out of love I assure you. . .you find the strength to encourage him.  For that, my dear Catherine, I am grateful.”

 “I worry about him too, Father.  That’s why I came below.   I wanted to see that he made it home safely this afternoon.  The thought of him getting caught above again scares me to death. But we can’t keep him caged either, Father.  His freedom is everything to him.  He needs to walk the city, to experience new things.  I wish you could trust me.”

 “I don’t distrust you.  I just want you both to be more careful.”  Catherine nodded, sniffling and beginning to feel sleepy.  Mary arrived with two ice packs, a nightgown, and some supplies for Catherine.  “Ah, Mary, good.  Get her settled in the guest chamber with an ice pack against her back.  The other one she can put on her face for a bit or anywhere else it is needed.”

 “Come on dear,” Mary helped Catherine to her feet.  “You need your rest.”  Mary was the one who had cleaned her and dressed her when she had been below for those ten days following her attack by Marty Belmont’s men.  This older woman liked Catherine and was glad for what Vincent and Catherine shared.

 Catherine followed Mary toward the door, then turned back to Father.  “Good night, Father.”  She leaned in to him and placed a daughter’s kiss on his cheek, then left him standing befuddled, alone in the room.

 ********************

 “You should be comfortable here.  Are you warm enough?  Are you all right by yourself?  I could have Sarah sit with you tonight.”  Mary was overly accommodating, but very sweet. “I’ll be fine, Mary, really.”  Catherine changed into the tunnel gown and sat on the edge of the bed.  The guest room was large and homey, filled with well used antiques and treasures salvaged from the world above.  The appearance of it made Catherine forget she was far beneath the city and a good distance from the central chambers.  “Have you seen Vincent?”  Catherine hadn’t seen him since he had left her alone in Father’s care.

 “Not since Father sent him to find me.  He said then that he would check in on you.”

Mary helped Catherine to get situated, leaning her comfortably on the pillows with an ice pack beneath her back.  “The cold will sting at first but it will help, so try to endure it as long as you can.”

 “All right,” Catherine agreed.

 The older woman turned to leave.  “If you need anything,” she said, “my chamber is to the right, the next one down.”  

Catherine nodded.  “Mary?” she called out.  “May I ask you a question?”

 “Of course, dear.  What is it?”  Mary stepped back into the center of the room.

“Do you think I’m bad for him?”  Catherine’s question was anything but ambiguous, and she knew Mary would give her an honest opinion.  This woman did not know how to lie. “No, dear.  I think he needs you, and you need him.  You have my blessing.”  Mary’s smile said it all.

 “Thank you for everything, Mary.”  Catherine smiled back.

 As Mary left, Catherine considered asking her to send for Vincent.  She wanted to see him and wondered why he had not come back.  She wanted to tell him about her conversation with Father too.  Lying back against the ice and against the soft, feather pillows, thinking of a life with Vincent, Catherine fell asleep.  

********************

 Several hours later, Catherine began to stir.  Her ice had melted and the ice pack was warm now and filled with water.  The guest chamber was dark, except for one dim candle burning on the dresser by the door.  Catherine placed the ice pack on the night table and turned over onto her side.  A rustling sound startled her, and once her eyes adjusted to the darkness she was able to see Vincent sitting in the chair across from her bed.  He was awake but he did not get up.

 “Catherine, are you all right?” he asked, noticing that she had awakened.

 “Yes.  What are you doing in a chair?”  she was still groggy from the medication Father had given her and was slow to formulate her thoughts into words.  

“Watching you sleep,” came Vincent’s reply, and he chuckled softly at her.  

“Why?  Aren’t you tired?”  Catherine yawned and lay down on her side facing him.

  “Only a little.  Mary said you were asking where I had gone.  I spoke with Father.  He said that you and he had quite a discussion.”

 “Yes.  We did.  You were right, Vincent.  He does trust me.”  Catherine leaned up on her elbow supporting her head in her hand.  “He just worries and wants us to be cautious.”

 “I know.  And we will be.”  Vincent was caught in a cat-like yawn, causing him to expose his teeth.  Catherine watched in awe of him.  He was amazing.  Everything felt so right again.  Oh, Vincent still had reservations to be faced at a later time, but for now he was content to sit with Catherine and to guard over her as she slept.  He stretched and reclined back further in his chair.  Catherine, on the other hand, felt guilty having him watch her from a chair when he could be tucked comfortably in his own bed in his own chamber.  Yet she did like having him so close.

 “Do you trust me, Vincent?”

 Her query caught him off guard.  “Of course, Catherine.  Why do ask me such a thing?”

 “Because you look miserable in that chair.”  He did too.  As tall as he was, he looked awkward, stretched out so that his legs angled to the floor.  “You will be the next one with a sore back, and I am out of ice.  Father can give you a terrific shot, though.  It’ll make you forget what pain is.”  She laughed a little and moved over to the other side of the bed.  “Are you dead set on staying here. . .to keep an eye on me?”

 “Yes,” he replied softly, “both eyes.  But what does that have to do with my trusting you?”  Vincent didn’t get it.  He was, indeed, a bit naive, but he also assumed that Catherine was not making much sense due to the medication.

 Catherine was tired, but she made perfect sense.  “Come to bed, Vincent,” she whispered, closing her eyes and lying all the way down again.

 Vincent sat back up quickly.  He wasn’t sure he had heard her correctly.  “Catherine. . .” he began, in an effort to decide whether to lie down beside her or to voice one of the many possible objections as to why he shouldn’t.  Making his decision, and desperately wanting this closeness to her, he removed his boots and slowly moved to lie beside Catherine on the bed.

Catherine snuggled up into his arms, and Vincent began to wonder why he had been so long in  accepting the gifts she offered to him.  He was glad she was safe, glad she was not in Rhode Island, and glad it was he she’d chosen to love.