The Red Rose And the Briar
by Toni Lichenstein Bogolub
(This story takes place immediately following "Legacy")
Diana Bennett smiled as she washed her long red hair. Thoughts ofthe new and wondrous world she had found beneath the city filled herthoughts. With an end to the murder spree of a former mental patient,life was nearing normal for those Below again. Her thoughts turned tothe naming ceremony for the son of a very special friend. She baskedin those memories as the water ran. Most of the shampoo had beenrinsed away when the buzzer sounded.
With a sigh she wrapped a towel around her head and went to thespeaker connected to the entryway. "Who is it?" she asked, pressingthe "TALK" button.
A woman's voice came through. "Ms. Bennett; you don't know me. Myname is Emily Blaik. I need to talk to you."
Diana was wary, but the name sounded familiar. "About what?"
"You were investigating the deaths of Catherine Chandler andDistrict Attorney Moreno. This is in regard to that." It was aprofessional voice, polite but firm and assured.
Diana remembered then. "Very well, Ms. Blaik." She pressed therelease, to allow the elevator to open. As it ascended, she quicklytoweled most of the wetness from her hair and tossed the towel ontothe kitchen island.
When the doors slid open behind the steel grate, she lookedcuriously at the woman within. Emily Blaik was about Diana's age, ofmedium height, slender, with blonde hair so short it barely reachedher ears. She was clad in blue jeans and a thick cabled sweater, andlight brown tortoiseshell glasses with very large, very thick lenseshalf-hid her eyes. They gave her face an open, innocent cast, but thedeep blue eyes behind them were alert and intelligent.
Diana opened the gate and invited her in. The two women wereseated on the white sofa, when Emily began, "As I said, you don'tknow me."
Diana interrupted, "Helena Emily Blaik. Formerly of Chicago,Illinois. You've been in New York for the past five years; as ElliotBurch's personal assistant."
Emily inclined her head in agreement. "Absolutely correct. That iswhy I'm here. I was in San Francisco when District Attorney Morenowas murdered and Mr. Burch was arrested. I came back immediately. Andfound that Mr. Burch was missing, presumed to have jumped bail andvanished." She remained poised and confident, but Diana could seestrong emotions boiling just below her calm surface.
"Elliot Burch would not have jumped bail. Even if he was guilty,which he was not. It's been six weeks, Ms. Bennett. I need to findhim. All I've found is dead ends, mysteries, and a persistent rumorthat Mr. Burch was on the boat Compass Rose when it exploded andburned. I cannot and will not accept that until I see his body orspeak to someone who did. I know you were no longer on the case atthe time they found Ms. Chandler's killer, on Staten Island.Nonetheless, I'm hoping you may have some lead or idea, at least aplace for me to begin."
Diana sat for a moment in silence. What could she say to thiswoman? There was something in her voice, in her eyes, whenever shementioned Elliot Burch, even through the calm facade. And she wasgood; Diana was always careful to keep her name and face out of thepublic eye. But Emily found her anyway. How could Diana let her knowthat Burch was dead without compromising the secrets she had sworn tokeep? The quiet determination onthe other woman's face spoke volumes.Emily would not stop without very convincing evidence.
The silence continued. Emily had spoken her piece; now it wasDiana's decision.
"Ms. Blaik -"
"Call me Emily."
"Emily. As you've said, I was off the case. I'm afraid, though,that the rumor you heard was true."
"Did you see Elliot's body?" Emily demanded.
"No, I didn't, but a highly reliable source..."
"Can I speak to this source?"
"No, I'm afraid not." Diana tried to think of some way to convinceher, but failed.
"Ms. Bennett -"
"Very well. Diana, until I see Elliot's body with my own eyes, orspeak - directly - to someone who did, I will not believe he's dead.It's been tried before. Elliot Burch is very hard to kill."
"Emily, all I can tell you is that it's true. Elliot Burch died onthe Compass Rose."
Emily stood up. "Thank you, Diana. I guess I'll have to try someother ideas I had. I appreciate your time."
Diana stood too. "It's the truth, Emily. I wish it wasn't."
"Thank you, Diana," Emily repeated. Walking over to the steelgrated doors, she pressed the button to summon the elevator. "I toldyou the only way I can believe that." She pulled out a rectangle ofcardboard, and placed it on Diana's table. "Here's my card. If youhave any other news, or the name of your 'reliable source', callme."
She pulled back the elevator doors and entered. "In the meantime,I'll just have to keep searching on my own."
As the doors closed behind her, Diana shook her head. The onlywitness was someone Emily was not likely to meet.
Diana awoke early the next morning. Emily's calm face hovered atthe fringes of her mind as she put together her breakfast. There wassomething behind those thick glasses, deep in those determined blueeyes, something desperate and frightened. She felt the need to tellVincent, to see if he knew of a way to end her search.
Diana finished her meal, watered her plants, then headed for theway underground. When she reached the manhole, she checked carefullyfor observers, then slid down to the ladder to lead her Below.
Two minutes later, a figure in black jeans and an enveloping blackwindbreaker moved quietly from the shadows. The manhole cover wasmoved aside again, and another descended the ladder, to stand in thetunnels. A distant sound of footsteps revealed the direction Dianahad taken. Blending into the shadows, along the dimly lit tunnels,the intruder followed.
Diana hurried toward Vincent's chamber, looking out for thesentries. A few turns later, from a hidden peephole came a cheeryvoice. "Diana! Shall I send word along the pipes to Vincent?"
Diana located the watching eyes, matched them to the voice."Jeffrey; of course. I need to talk to him. It's about ElliotBurch."
She heard the taps and clangs that carried her message, and inshort order answering sounds.
"Thanks, Jeffrey." Unseen and unheard, the intruder waited out ofsight, behind Diana. Jeffrey came out from his post. "I'll take youdown to Vincent's chamber. He's there, he says, with his sonJacob."
The two moved down the corridor, the boy talking animatedly to thered-haired woman. Behind them, moving like the water that formed andflowed on the cold walls, the stranger followed.
As they got closer to the occupied portions of the world Below,the lights were closer together, the shadows fewer and fewer. But thestalker was blessed by luck; no other denizens of this world passed,to see the flits between pools of darkness. As they approached theirdestination, Vincent appeared at his chamber door, his son cradledagainst his shoulder.
"Diana. I did not expect you."
"Someone came to see me last night, Vincent. Elliot Burch'spersonal assistant. She's looking for Elliot. She won't believe he'sdead, she says, until she sees his body. Or until she talks tosomeone who did." Diana paced past Vincent, into his chamber. "Shefound me, Vincent. I'm not that easy to locate. She's determined. Idon't know what to tell her."
Whatever Vincent was going to say was lost in Jeffrey's shout."Who are you? What are you doing here?"
Vincent placed baby Jacob in Diana's arms, and raced down thecorridor. About 50 yards away, the boy faced the intruder inblack.
Snow's black-suited form flashed through his mind. His fearinflated the figure facing Jeffrey to enormous proportions.Involuntarily, he bared his fangs with a bestial growl. His handsflexed, claws ready to strike.
Diana had stepped back into the chamber, safeguarding the infant.Unable to see into the corridor, she waited for the sounds ofVincent's rage.
Hearing nothing, she peered around the archway. Jeffrey andVincent stood together. She saw both profiles clearly. Facing them,barely taller than the boy, the intruder pushed back the blackwindbreaker's hood. The torchlight glinted off Emily Blaik's thickglasses.
Diana started down the corridor. The two males were poundingquestions at Emily, who looked from one to the other, then towardDiana.
"Is this where your 'reliable source' is?" If anything, sheappeared calmer than when she had called on Diana.
Vincent looked at his red-haired friend. "Do you know this woman,Diana?"
"She's the one I was telling you about, Vincent. Elliot Burch'sassistant." Diana reached them, baby Jacob cooing in her arms. Shehanded Vincent his son, then performed the introduction. "Vincent,meet Ms. Helena Emily Blaik. Emily, this is Vincent; the 'reliablesource.'"
Emily's eyes were huge behind her glasses, but Diana felt shedidn't even notice Vincent's unusual appearance. Emily focused on theother woman's words, her voice detached and mildly curious."Catherine Chandler's Vincent, I presume. Elliot mentioned you - justbefore he sent me away."
Vincent nodded his agreement. "I am sorry to tell you that Dianawas telling the truth, Ms. Blaik."
"Call me Emily," she murmured, as though they spoke ofinconsequentials at a party.
"Emily. Elliot Burch stepped in front of a bullet meant for me. Hefell into my arms; then the Compass Rose exploded. I barely escapedwith my life. Elliot had no chance."
"So. I have my eyewitness," she murmured. "My quest is ended. Ihad hoped -" A single tear slid from beneath her glasses. Hershoulders slumped forward for a moment, with the weight of her newknowledge. Then she straightened up resolutely. "What is thisplace?"
"It's a very special place, a place of safety," Diana began. "Asecret place..."
Vincent took the task from Diana, began to explain his world, andwhy it must be kept hidden. After a few moments, he turned toJeffrey. "Go tell Father we are bringing a visitor. Then go back toyour post."
The boy nodded, running toward Father's chamber. Vincent and Dianafollowed, both trying to explain the world Below to Emily.
Four Weeks Later
Emily sat sideways in a chair in Vincent's chamber, idly kickingher legs over the arm. Vincent was feeding his son, the child held tohis chest, his eyes never leaving baby Jacob's face. She watched, acompanionable silence binding them rather than separating them.
A volume of poetry lay open on the desk near her, where she hadapparently been reading. She broke the silence to remark, "I'vealways loved Milne."
Vincent recited softly, "No one can tell me,
Where the wind comes from,
Where the wind goes."
Emily smiled. "I should have guessed you would like that one. Thefunny poems always were my favorites." Still softly, so as not todisturb the child, she began to declaim with great drama,
"There once was a dormouse who lived in a bed
Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red).
And all the day long he'd a wonderful view
Of geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue)."
Vincent's lips twitched. Emily noticed the small motion, andswitched poems. Putting on a mock English accent thick enough to cutwith a knife, she recited,
Weatherby George Dupree
Took great care of his mother
Though he was only three.
Said to his mother,
"Mother," he said, said he:
"You must never go down to the end of the town
If you don't go down with me."
A truly English voice replied from the chamber door,
Put up a notice,
"LOST or STOLEN or STRAYED!
SEEMS TO HAVE BEEN MISLAID."
Father entered the room with a soft chuckle. "I didn't thinkpeople read Milne anymore. Not his poetry, at any rate. Goodafternoon, Emily. I didn't expect to find you here."
"Where else do I have to be? I've got no job now; I haven't takena vacation in five years. No family to speak of; a couple cousins inChicago. My whole life was Burch Properties. As Mr. Burch's personalassistant, I traveled with him, and worked when he worked. There wasnever time to make friends, keep up relationships." She wasmatter-of-fact. "I envy you your closeness, your family."
Father took in the compliment and changed the subject. "Mouse andJamie were quite delighted with your gifts."
"Elliot always inspected everything personally; we spent a lot oftime looking at dark foundations. Those miner's helmets got lots ofwear. But I don't need them now, and I thought they might come inhandy for Jamie and Mouse."
"They were headed for the darkest tunnels Mouse knew when I lastsaw them." Father laughed. "I expect them to be burned out in amatter of days."
Emily nodded, and pointed to a canvas bag lying beneath the table."Batteries and spare bulbs. And when they need more, I can get themvery easily."
"Thank you, Emily. The children are going to get quite spoiled. Idoubt if more than a day has passed since your first visit that youhaven't come by, bearing gifts."
"It's more than my pleasure; it's a way for me to feel, at least alittle bit, a part of your world. I don't think I could live hereforever; but what a wonderful place to be of some help to!"
"I spoke with the Council today, Emily. What you have been doingis rather - irregular. Generally our Helpers don't come and go quiteso frequently as you've done."
"And?" She prompted.
"The unanimous decision was to allow you to do as you please,Emily. William in particular spoke quite strongly in your favor."
Emily grinned. "I promised him my recipe for challah, if I couldkeep coming Below to visit. He's a sucker for a good breadrecipe."
Vincent suppressed a snicker. Father turned one of his sternestexpressions on her, but the twinkle in his eyes was unmistakable."Mouse has told me that he knows of a tunnel that runs past thebasement of your building. He and Jamie are seeing if there is a waydirectly from there to us."
Emily swung her legs onto the ground, stood, and walked over toFather. "That's wonderful." She leaned over, and kissed the older manon the cheek. "Thank you. What an amazing society you've created downhere, Father. I'm delighted to be allowed to be a small part ofit."
Four Weeks Later
"I never knew you could see so many stars from the city," Emilysaid, looking into the night sky through Diana's telescope. "Justthink; that light travels for millions, even billions of years, justto shine down on us; and we defeat it with smoke and glare in itslast mile."
Diana looked up without the telescope. It was a typical night,with visible bands of clouds and pollution cutting the view into slimribbons of stars.
The two women had just finished a huge pizza, made by Emily. Itwas becoming a weekly ritual; someone for each of them to talk to,about things that could not be shared with outsiders.
Emily went on, still intent on the magnified sky, "So Vincent ispretty special to you, is he?"
"He is." Diana's reply was quiet. She wasn't sure she was ready todiscuss him with someone else; not even a friend like Emily. Shechanged the subject. "How did you come to work for Elliot Burch?"
Emily laughed. "In a very Elliot-ish fashion. He was attending aconference in Chicago. I was there, with my previous boss. Now Tomdidn't exactly have the big picture; but then he wasn't really adetail man either. He was a real "man's man"; sounded great innegotiations, especially over expense-account dinners, but he didn'treally know what he was talking about. I tried to cue him, and keephim from queering his own deals too much. I was reasonablysuccessful, and Tom knew it. He didn't like it, but he knew it. Theonly real problem was that Tom couldn't keep his hands to himself.And when he drank, he was even worse." Emily's laugh was rueful. "Areal all-around talent. But I managed okay; sometimes he strained mytact a little, but he paid well, and it was a responsible job.Anyway, I saw Elliot watching me during that conference. Tom wasbeing - diplomatically put, rather difficult."
Emily's description put Diana in mind of several police higher upsshe had run across in her career. "A son of a bitch?" she suggestedhelpfully.
"Well put. Nothing was good enough for him, except me, and he saidI was being holier-than-thou. Plus, he was getting very close to thefree booze, and it didn't help one bit. It was a week of hell, but Ilived through it, and basically managed to keep Tom from embarrassinghimself in public. The last day of that conference, Elliot came overto me when Tom left to use the facilities, and asked if I'd like ajob where I wasn't working against my boss for the best interests ofthe company. I was a little hesitant about moving to New York, so hethrew in use of the condo, and then mentioned the salary he had inmind. I gave my two weeks notice when Tom came back from the men'sroom."
Diana smiled at the picture Emily painted. "And did the job liveup to your expectations?"
"About a thousandfold. Elliot was always on top of things; he knewwhat was going on. He gave me an enormous amount of responsibility,and freedom to get it done in. I loved working for Burch Properties.And Elliot never made a move on me." Her attention had wandered fromthe telescope. She stared out over the city, toward the spot on theskyline where the Burch Tower would have stood. Under her breath shemuttered, "It was the other way 'round."
"What?" Diana had caught the whispered words.
Emily looked at her friend. "I said, it was the other way 'round."She sighed. "I suppose I meant you to hear that, which means I wantedto talk about it." Turning back to the view, she continued, "I wentwith Elliot to Santo Yrisado. You do your homework, Diana, I'm sureyou know the basics; the Goronistas, and President-for-life Dr.Torreon." She spat the name out, her precise pronunciation almost amockery. "Elliot tried to send me home when the crew chief's wifeturned up in the pool, but I refused. If it was safe enough forElliot, it was safe enough for me."
The city sounds filled the next few moments. Diana waited, andEmily resumed softly, "Then came the Annabel Lee , and the Goronistaswent to New York and shot Elliot's father.
"Elliot had us all on the Daedelus in about twenty minutes flat,bound for New York. He took a chopper and went on ahead."
Emily looked back at Diana. "He never told me exactly whathappened. I know his father died when the chopper exploded, andElliot felt it should have been him. I guess Cathy told him aboutVincent then, too - although I'm sure not in so many words." Shepaced back from the edge of the balcony, trying to make Diana see thescene as clearly as it still appeared to her.
"Elliot was broken, Diana. I'd never seen him like that. When theBurch Tower project was killed, one of his dreams died, and it hithim hard - but not like this."
"He came back to the Daedelus late the next afternoon and startedto pickle himself in memory of his father. He was halfway through afifth of vodka when I found him in his office; and Elliot hatesvodka.
"So I dragged him back to his cabin and put him to bed."
Diana had no trouble picturing it. Emily determined would be afearsome force.
There followed a very long silence. Diana could feel Emilysearching for words, trying to describe what came after. Finally shespoke. "The next morning, I brought him aspirin and breakfast. Iwatched him eat, there in the rumpled shorts he'd slept in, then -Diana, there's a very old expression that pretty well covers whathappened. I tripped him, and beat him to the floor."
It was what Diana had expected. Emily went on in a rush of words."He needed someone. It wasn't love, Diana; it was more like despair."Once again she paused, trying to find the courage to tell the rest.At last, softly - "We stayed on the Daedelus for three weeks, betweengetting the project dismantled in Santo Yrisado and travel time.Elliot came to my cabin every night. He fell asleep in my arms. Buthe was always gone by morning." Raw pain laced her tone as she toldher friend, "Sometimes, when he slept, he would dream. He would callout for his father; beg him to understand." Her voice fell off to abarely audible whisper. "And sometimes he would call her name."
"Oh, Emily." Diana crossed the balcony, and put her hand onEmily's shoulder.
"When we reached the city, he went straight to the office, and Iwent back to my condo, and neither of us ever mentioned itagain."
The words floated on the wind for a moment, then Emily turned andstarted in from the balcony. "I can't stick you with the dirtydishes, Diana," she said, leaving the subject behind. "I'll wash andyou dry."
Two Weeks Later
"William, this is wonderful!" Emily took another taste fromthe bowl he had presented to her. "What do you put in this soup?"
"Rosemary, thyme, onions, carrots, and whatever else we've gottenfrom the Helpers - just the usual," the large cook answered. Hewatched as she finished the soup, then took the bowl from her andcontinued his tour of the kitchen.
Despite Mouse's ingenious ventilation, this chamber was alwayssteamy and hot. William's shirt was dark with sweat. Emily's face wasflushed as William showed off his ovens, his domain from which he fedall the Tunnel community.
William turned to her, to observe her reaction. Emily had a handraised to her forehead and an odd expression on her face.
"Is anything wrong?" he asked.
She replied quickly, "No, nothing, William." Her gaze becameunfocused, and she added, "The heat's just making me a littledizzy..." She blinked, then fainted at his feet.
William was just fast enough to keep her from hitting her head ona chopping block. He lifted her easily, and carried her into thecorridor, where the normal chill of the Tunnels fought the kitchen'sheat. With the wooden spoon he still clutched, he tapped an urgentsummons to Father against the pipe running along the wall, thensettled himself on the floor, Emily stretched out beside him.
By the time Father arrived, Emily was sitting up, leaning againstthe stone tunnel. William was also still seated on the floor.
"Now, what happened here?" Father asked, opening his black bag,studying the two of them.
Emily said, "Absolutely nothing" at the same instant Williamreplied, "Emily fainted, Father. In the kitchen, just a few minutesago."
"It does get hot in there," Emily protested. She looked up atFather, who was approaching her, stethoscope at the ready.
"Yes it does," Father agreed. He ignored her protest, took herpulse, listened to her heart, studied her face. Emily rolled hereyes, sighed in long-suffering fashion, and waited with mock patiencethrough the examination.
"Am I still alive?" she asked sweetly when he was finished.
"Quite alive," Father replied. "Do you think you're ready to moveinto a chair? William, would you get one?"
"Of course I am," she answered, and started to her feet. Halfwayup, her knees buckled and she started to sink back down.
Father was ready, though. He caught her, gestured for William toplace the chair, and steered her into it. Then he forced her headbetween her knees, and instructed, "Just breathe normally."
"How can I breathe normally when you've folded me in half?" shegrumbled, but Father watched the color slowly come back to her face.After a few moments, he allowed her to sit upright.
William was still hovering, muttering about dinner being latewhile concern filled his face. Father studied Emily through narrowedeyes. "Stand up slowly," Father told her, "and lean on me."
"I can stand..."
"Young lady, please do as I tell you." His voice had an edge ofcommand.
"Yes, sir," she mumbled, artificially meek. She did as she wastold, and this time her rise was uneventful. Father started down thecorridor. Emily accompanied him without resistance for a few minutes,then asked, "Would it be all right if I knew where we were going?"Father heard strain beneath the humorous face she showed to theworld.
"To my chamber."
She was silent at that, and did not speak again until she wasseated on the other side of his desk, looking into his knowingeyes.
"Well, Father?" She tried to keep her tone quizzically cheery, butfailed by a hairsbreadth.
Father looked at her for another moment in silence. Finally hesaid, "You do know you're pregnant, Emily." It was more of astatement than a question.
"Yes, Father." She leaned back in the chair and closed her eyes.Her voice was steady with only that tiniest hint of strain beneath."Just about four and a half months. I know to the day when ithappened."
"The father - does he know?"
"The father died before I knew, Father."
The obvious struck Father suddenly. "Elliot Burch!"
"Exactly. In San Francisco. A week before Cathy Chandler's bodywas found."
"What are you going to do?"
"What choice do I have? Elliot deserved a better deal than he got.He certainly deserves a legacy besides those steel towers." She wasstill cool, unemotional.
"And what about you, Emily?"
Father changed the subject. "Have you seen a doctor yet?"
"Besides you? Not yet. I know I should, but -"
Father took a small piece of paper, wrote briefly on it. "Here.Peter Alcott is an old friend of mine, and a Helper as well. He's ingeneral practice. You can tell him that I sent you."
"Thank you, Father." She folded the paper and stuck it into herpocket. "It had to come out sooner or later. It's the sort of thingwhich becomes rather evident." Her tone was dry.
"Would you like to carry the news yourself? Or just wait..."
"Let's have Pascal put it on the pipes," she said wryly. "Goahead, spread it around. It'll be no secret soon enough." She lookedpointedly at her abdomen, hidden in the baggy sweatsuit.
Father studied her. "Have you thought about what you're going todo after the baby is born?"
She shrugged again. "The same things I'm doing now, but with ababy." She sighed. "I'm pretty well fixed Above, Father. My condo ismine; Elliot gave me the deed a year ago, as a year-end bonus. Hepaid me a terrific salary for five years, and kept me too busy tospend it. I'll manage."
"I'm sure you will. But remember, if you ever need help..." Theend of the sentence was understood.
Emily leaned across his desk and touched his hand. "Thank you,Father. That's good to know."
Father reverted to his physician mode. "I want you to see Peter assoon as you can. And stay out of William's kitchen for a while!"
Emily grinned, snapped a crisp salute, then stuck out her tongue."Yes, SIR!" She stood and started out the chamber. Halfway to thedoor she paused, turned back. "Thank you again. It helps to knowthere's a place like this." Then she resumed her exit, her stride asbrisk as ever.
One Week Later
It was weekly pizza time. This week the two women were eating inEmily's home, a plush one-bedroom condo overlooking the park. Dianahad heard the rumor Below, when she'd visited the previous day, fromevery person she passed. When Vincent had confirmed the truth of it,she decided to wait for Emily to broach the subject.
"You know my first name is really Helena," Emily was saying as shesliced the mushrooms. "It's a family tradition; my mother's name wasHermia, her father's name was Demetrius. Some ancestor was overlyfond of Shakespeare, and especially 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. Iwas really glad I never had a brother. Lysander; that wouldn't havegone over too well in the Chicago Public School system."
As she sprinkled green pepper rings over the homemade sauce, Emilysuddenly stopped her meaningless chatter. "You were Below yesterday,Diana. I'm sure you heard the rumors."
"They're true." Being Emily, she let the words hang in the air fora moment before continuing. "It happened the first time I ever flewwith Elliot," she said. "He generally sent me out a day or two earlyto get everything set up, and came himself at the last minute;usually in his private plane. Anyway, in all of five years, somehowthis was the first time we got onto the same airplane at the sametime." Emily stopped her story, then looked around as if in search ofeavesdroppers. Finding none, she confided in a stage whisper, "I'mscared of flying." She laughed ruefully. "And I mean terrified. Whiteknuckles, nail biting, flinching when the stewardess drops a cup - Ihate to fly."
Diana looked at her curiously. "Didn't your job involve a lot oftravel?"
"Sometimes I flew two or three times a week." Emily shuddereddelicately. "But otherwise, it was such a great job; what's a littleinconvenience?"
Diana nodded, seeing more in Emily's eyes than her words. Therewas a brief pause while sliced onions were added to the fillings onthe pizza.
"However - I was telling you how I got myself into this. So Elliotand I are on the same flight, and of course Elliot plans to work allthe way to Frisco. He has me tell them to book us seats together,flanked by his bodyguards; in first class, of course."
"I swore to myself he'd never know. I figured I could manage toact normally. It was only a five-and-a-half hour flight."
The beginning of that flight was crystal clear in her mind. As sherelated it to Diana, she was suddenly back on the plane, in thecushy, spacious seat, her fingernails digging into the palms of herhands even though they still sat at the gate.
Elliot opened his black leather attache case and pulled out afolder. "About the union contract for the steel workers on the newdevelopment in Newark -" He cast a cursory glance in Emily'sdirection. He broke off to stare at her for a second. "Em, what'swrong? Are you sick?"
Emily took a deep breath and shook her head resolutely. "Nothing,Elliot, I'm fine. I have the contract here -" She reached for her ownattache, and noticed Elliot staring at her hands. She was beyondtrembling; her hands shook. Then the plane began to taxi, and theroar of jet engines filled the cabin. Elliot would have sworn thatEmily's face couldn't have gotten paler, but she blanched another fewshades.
Putting down the file, Elliot took her hand. It was icy to histouch. Her glasses slipped down her nose. With one finger, he pushedthem back up. "What's the matter, Em?" Genuine concern sounded in hisvoice.
The tenderness was her undoing. She looked away, all her fineresolves fading into dust. In a small voice, she told him, "I'mafraid to fly."
He laughed, and she almost hit him. Then the runway was reached,and the plane paused for a second, turned and began to speed towardtakeoff. Her hand tightened convulsively around his, gripping so hardit hurt. The other hand was curled around the armrest, her knucklesas white as her face. Her eyes were closed tightly, and her teethfastened into her lower lip. As Elliot watched, he saw bright dots ofblood appear as her teeth broke the skin.
"Poor kid; you're really terrified." He put his arm around her,and gathered her to his shoulder as best he could, considering theywere seatbelted in adjoining seats. As soon as they were in the air,he summoned the stewardess. "Brandy," he ordered, as Emily protestedweakly from the shelter of his embrace. Elliot ignored her. When thebrandy arrived, he made sure she drank it all, then ordered her asecond. And a third.
After the third, Emily was a little more relaxed. She finallynoticed she was still clutching Elliot's hand, and quickly let go.Elliot laughed at that too, then set out to distract her for theduration of the flight.
Emily had seen Elliot ply his charm before, but he had neverturned his capabilities toward her. He was as intoxicating as thealcohol, which he kept replenishing.
She was not a drinker. Functions she attended with Elliot werework; there was no social life. The adrenalin supplied by her fearkept her reasonably sober, at least until the plane landed. Therelief brought by the wheels touching the earth and the plane slowingwere swamped by cumulative effects of alcohol.
It was at this point that her recollection became rather fuzzy.She vaguely remembered Elliot pushing her into a taxi, and SanFrancisco passing by the windows. Then there was nothing until shewoke up, in the dark, in her hotel room.
Emily's face was red, but her voice remained steady as shecontinued the story. "Diana, I woke up at 3:00 a.m. our time,midnight theirs. It was about two hours after that flight wasscheduled to land. I was on the bed in my room, fully dressed exceptfor my shoes. Elliot and I always take - took - adjoining rooms. Heliked to work at odd hours, and it was part of my job to beavailable." For the first time she looked away from Diana'spenetrating eyes. "We always did; and we never locked the adjoiningdoors." She shook her head. "Elliot hadn't touched me since we leftthe Daedelus. I guess two hours wasn't long enough for all thatbrandy to wear off; or maybe that was just an excuse for something Iwanted to do. I took off my clothes, went through the door, and -well, I knew Elliot always slept in the nude. And I'm sure you cantake it from there."
She turned deliberately back, and met Diana's gaze. "The onlything I can really blame on the brandy was what I didn't do. Which iswhat led to this." She patted the now-visible curve of her belly."And that, Diana, is my sad story."
She laid the slices of mozzarella cheese over the finished pizza,and slid it into the oven. "And how was your day?"
Three Weeks Later
"And so we meet here, each year, to give thanks to those who havehelped us. And to remember even the greatest darkness is nothing solong as we share the light." Father's voice filled the vast chamberwith the traditional opening words of Winterfest, and then the GreatHall was ablaze with candles. From her place at Vincent's side, Dianalooked out at so many now-familiar faces. She picked out closefriends among the Tunnel dwellers, and a few surprises - people shewould never have expected to be Helpers.
"David! David Shapiro!" She left Vincent, to greet an old friendshe hadn't seen in years. "I should have known."
"A rabbi sees many people in trouble," replied the quietblack-haired man. "This is a wonderful place for tired souls. Itgives you hope for the rest of us. I must say, though, that I'm notsurprised to see you. Any news concerning Vincent spreads fast."
They caught up on each other for a few minutes, then David movedaway, with a promise to keep in touch.
Diana turned and looked through the throng for Vincent. Seeing himsurrounded by Helpers, she went in search of other friends.
This was the only time during the year that most of the Helperscame Below; many yearly acquaintances were being remade, and most ofthe denizens of the underground world were surrounded two and threedeep by Helpers. Diana wandered aimlessly for a little while, thenthe press of the crowd began to wear on her. She sought a quietcorner, away from the chaos of impressions.
She spotted Emily sitting alone by a far wall. Her friend'spregnancy was quite evident, even from across the room. Diana crossedthe distance and sat in a chair next to her.
"Anything new since last night?" Emily greeted her. Their pizzaget-together had been just 24 hours ago.
Diana laughed. "Not really." Emily shifted a little in her chair,trying to find a comfortable position. The two woman sat watching theBrownian motion of the gathered guests.
"Hypnotic, isn't it?" Emily murmured. "I've always liked to sit atthe edge of a group like this and take off my glasses." She did justthat. "Now what I see could as easily be atoms under an electronmicroscope, or grains of colored sand in an hourglass. It's verysoothing; you can feel the scale of the universe in the sameness ofthe motion."
"I didn't know you were a philosopher, Emily." Father had come upupon them unseen.
"Everyone who wears glasses is a philosopher, Father." Shegrinned. "At least, those of us who truly can't see without them. Allyou have to do is take them off, and the world is a magicalplace."
"James Thurber said much the same thing," the older managreed.
"And he was a lot funnier than I am," Emily replied, replacing thetortoiseshell frames.
As they talked, Father sized Emily up in quick glances. A smallfrown creased his brow; he resolved to have a word with Peter beforethe end of the evening.
Father was always in demand at Winterfest; it was not long beforeSebastian drew him away. Diana watched Vincent circulate, and triedto catch his eye, to bring him over. But the back of his black cloakwas the most frequent view she saw of him.
Diana sat with Emily for another hour or so; in that time, nearlyall of the inhabitants of the Tunnels came by, to chat for a briefwhile. Mary had mirrored Father's faint frown, gentle worry shadingher face as she looked at Emily. Diana swore that they spoke toeveryone - except Vincent. If Diana hadn't known better, she wouldhave thought he was avoiding them.
During a break between visitors, Emily said, "Why don't you gofind Vincent? I'm sure he's looking for you."
"Emily, he can see where I am. I'm sure of it."
"Humor me. I know you want to be with him; leave your old AuntEmily, I'll be just fine."
"I hate to leave you sitting here alone."
"To start with, how long have we been alone so far? Ten minutes?And further, I will have you know that for five years, I went toevery society function or charitable event attended by Elliot Burch.I had to circulate, keep my ear to the ground, find and confirmrumors, and otherwise be in the thick of things at each and everyone. I like sitting and watching the crowd for a change. So go ahead,shoo, go find Vincent!"
"I'll bring him over to say hello to you," Diana told Emily. "I'msurprised he hasn't been here yet."
Emily smiled at Diana, and, needing very little encouragement, theredhead rose, and made her way through the crowd to that very specialman's side.
She saw Diana speak to Vincent, with a motion of her hand inEmily's direction. Vincent replied to Diana, who still tried to urgehim to Emily's side. Watching, Emily sighed, rose to her feet, andlumbered away, vanishing into the press of the crowd, and departingthe Great Hall unnoticed.
Three Weeks Later
Samantha came to the entrance to Father's chamber. "Guesswho's here!"
Peter stepped around his guide, and entered the chamber.
Father came around the desk to shake his hand. "Peter! It's alwaysgood to see you. But what brings you below?"
"Jacob, have you seen Emily Blaik lately?"
"Not for more than a week. I was just wondering myself where she'dbeen. It seemed she was here nearly every day." Father's expressionbecame suddenly concerned. "Has something happened to her, Peter? Didshe lose -"
"The babies? No, Jacob, -"
"Babies?" Father interrupted. "Then Mary and I were right, atWinterfest. Twins, Peter?"
His friend nodded. "We just found out a week ago. After what youand Mary said, I scheduled her for an ultrasound. That's a test youwould enjoy, Jacob; imagine seeing the unborn baby simply and easily,in real time! Journal articles can't convey the thrill I felt thefirst time I watched one. But as to Emily - I didn't like the way shetook the news. Too quiet. I tried to call her the next day; all I gotwas her answering machine. She never returned my calls. I went by herplace a couple of times; there was no one home. She hasn't picked upher mail either. Frankly, I'm worried, Jacob. I had hoped she'd comedown here."
"I don't think she's been Below, but let me check." Father steppedout into the corridor, and tapped a message on the pipes. "I've askedPascal to relay this to all sentries, and add a general alert. Ifanyone's seen her, we'll know soon."
They waited for the replies, which started immediately. Every onewas negative.
"Perhaps Vincent's friend Diana can help. She and Emily havebecame close."
As if in response to his thoughts, Vincent appeared in thecorridor, coming toward the chamber.
"Well, Vincent!" Peter greeted him heartily. "And how's littleJacob?"
"He is well. Mary is with him now. It's good to see you, Peter."Vincent shook hands with his father's oldest friend. "I heard themessage about Emily over the pipes, Father. Is something thematter?"
Peter shook his head. "I don't know, Vincent. I hope not." Herecited the facts he had just given to Father again. "Have you seenher this week?"
Vincent averted his gaze. "No, I haven't seen her sinceWinterfest."
Father put his hand on Vincent's shoulder. "We all understand,Vincent. Following what happened to Catherine so closely, it mustbring back evil memories quite clearly."
"Am I so obvious, Father?" This time the clear blue eyes metFather's ruefully. "But it's not so much the memories, as the dreamsof what might have been. What Catherine and I might have shared. Ilook at Emily's changing body, and I see only Catherine, as she musthave -" He stopped, unable to continue.
Peter stared at the pair as they spoke, looking back and forth asif unable to believe what he heard. When he spoke, he turned his backto Vincent, and addressed only his old friend. "Jacob, the first timeEmily came to me, almost all we talked about was all of you. I'vefound that true of most Helpers who come to me. But she was so fullof delight and pleasure, recounting conversations and mutualinterests of half a dozen people. Especially Vincent. She seemedquite fond of Vincent. When I tried to talk to her about her child,she quietly changed the subject. I thought I was crazy at Winterfest;that I couldn't be seeing what I saw. I couldn't believe it ofyou."
Peter turned to the younger man. His tone was harsh as he went on."Did you know Emily was just Cathy's age, too, Vincent? Another lashto flagellate her with. I know how you've suffered here. Some of thepain has been mine. For God's sake, I delivered Cathy. I knew her allher life. But do you people think you have a corner on suffering?Can't you see pain unless it's your own?"
His vehemence startled them. He bore in on Vincent again. "What ifCathy'd lived and you'd died, Vincent? Would you want Father to shunher, while she carried your child, to avoid the dreams of what youand she might have been? You told me yourself that Burch saved yourlife, in the end. He died for you, Vincent. And this is how you treatthe woman who carries his children?" For the first time, Peter lookedat Vincent with something like scorn. "Are you both so blind youcan't see how much that poor girl loved Elliot Burch?"
It was as if a bright light had illuminated the tunnel. Oncestated, it was so obvious that neither man could believe he hadn'tseen. Peter watched the expressions of surprise and recognition, thenshook his head. "You've known her for a lot longer than I have. Youclaim to be her friends. Didn't you stop to ask why she searched sohard and so long for Elliot Burch? Out of loyalty to her employer? Toask for a raise? And when you knew she was pregnant - couldn't yousee that Emily Blaik isn't a woman who sleeps with a man she doesn'tlove?"
Again, once stated, it could not be denied. Vincent looked atFather. "I must go try to find her, Father. Peter is right; we havebeen blind." He shook his head slowly. "Once I heard it, I knew it tobe true. Why didn't I see before?"
Emily's huge blue eyes, blinking away tears behind her glasses,while she calmly ascertained that Elliot was, indeed, dead, swambefore him. That first day, Vincent had been sure she didn't evennotice him, as someone different, unusual; she saw only the lastperson to speak to Elliot. Why didn't it occur to him there was areason for that?
Peter added, "I'm planning to recommend complete bedrest for her,starting in a couple of weeks. She has no one to look after her."
Vincent spoke, his mind whirling with these discoveries. "Tonight,Father, I'll go to Diana, see if she has heard from Emily. Then - ifI must, I will search for her, as she searched for Elliot." Thedarkness of his long hunt for Catherine enveloped him, showing himwhat Emily must have felt as she, too, hunted for a lost love.Vincent remembered the long tunnel of his mourning, his quest for hisson. It had been over six months since Catherine's death, and stillhis heart was often heavy with the thought of her. And he lived amongfriends, who knew his grief and supported him through it. He tried toimagine what it would have been like for him to endure this timewithout words of comfort, and the understanding love of his family.He failed.
Father had not spoken a word since Peter began his tirade. Hebroke his silence only to say, "Bring her back with you, Vincent."Then his son was gone.
Diana had been able to give Vincent no clues. "I haven't spoken toher for about a week. We were going to get together last night, but Ihad to cancel. I left her a message. I was starting to worry too."She stepped away from Vincent, there on her balcony under the stars."Twins. Emily must be in shock."
"Diana - did you know Emily loved Elliot Burch?"
"From the first time I spoke to her. It was in her face, in hervoice; every time she spoke his name."
"Why couldn't I see it?"
"It wasn't something obvious; perhaps no one noticed but me."
"Peter noticed. And after seeing her only three times."
"Vincent, you can't blame yourself for everything in theworld."
"I can only try to put right what I have done wrong, Diana. It waspainful for me to see Emily, after I knew she was with child. Ithought only of Catherine. But Emily is my friend; and, as Peterpointed out, Elliot Burch died saving my life. If he had not steppedbetween the assassin and me, I would have been the one to die in thatexplosion."
"This is all very true. But you can't help your feelings,Vincent."
"Perhaps not. But I can help the way I act. Peter's words ring inmy ears; he asked, 'What if you had died and Catherine had lived?Would you have wanted Father to shun her, while she carried yourchild, to avoid the dreams of what you and she might have been?' "Vincent turned to face Diana, his eyes haunted by the vision he hadconjured. "I must find Emily, Diana. Before, when I looked at her, Isaw only shadows of lost happiness between Catherine and I. Now I seeCatherine's pain; what she must have suffered alone, waiting, with mychild....."
"Vincent, let it go. It is long over. Forgive yourself. I knowthat Catherine has forgiven you."
"I could not save Catherine. I know that. I could not even spareher pain. But I can keep another from suffering alone."
With those words, Vincent took his leave of Diana, heading for oneof the 22 buildings owned by Burch Properties International, the onewhere he knew Emily lived.
Vincent ascended the building toward the balcony he had marked outas hers. When he reached it, he paused for a moment, looking out overthe city below. The view reminded him of Catherine; he looked outacross the park, and picked out her building. The night closed inaround him, and the blackness that was never far from his soulengulfed him. He recalled the hopeful young man of many years ago,and the dreaming lover he had been. For a moment there was nothingfor him but the pain. Then the bond with his son stirred within him,and the memory of love given to him in his hour of need moved theblackness back. He remembered his errand again, and turned to thebalcony doors.
There was no light showing through the doors. He knocked, andwaited. There was no stir within the apartment. He tried the door;unlocked. He stepped into the dark, and called her name softly."Emily. It's Vincent. Please answer me, Emily."
Silence greeted him. His eyes coped with the darkness with ease.He moved from the living room toward the bedroom.
The bedroom door was closed, but Vincent's acute hearing detectedmuffled sounds within. He knocked tentatively on the closed door.There was still no answer.
Hesitantly he turned the knob and slowly opened the door. Thebedroom was as dark as the rest of the apartment. Perhaps she wasasleep; not unreasonable, given the hour.
The curtains were drawn, leaving the room in near total blackness.Vincent saw clearly the huddled figure on the bed. The muffled soundsturned into sobs. Vincent crossed the space swiftly, and knelt facingher.
He touched her shoulder. "Emily; Emily, look at me."
He felt the tremors come from deep within her. Her eyes were redand swollen; the glistening tears on her cheeks fell to join theirpredecessors on the dampened pillowcase. With one knuckle, he tracedthe route of a tear. She didn't react; she didn't seem to notice him,completely lost in her misery.
"Emily, please speak to me," he whispered.
"Go away, Vincent," was her reply. She turned away from him. Itwas an awkward, two-stage motion, as the bulk of her children weighedon her.
"Emily, Peter is worried about you. So are Diana, and Father. AndWilliam and Mouse. All of your friends are worried."
"Go away, Vincent. I'm fine. Leave me alone."
"Emily, you must think of your children."
Her voice was stronger. "Go away, Vincent. I'm taking care. I'meating right. Now GO AWAY."
"Elliot would not want you to act like this."
That brought a laugh. "Of course he wouldn't. He loved CathyChandler. He wouldn't have wanted this to have happened at all." Shegestured toward the sheet that bulged following the contours of herbody. "And I didn't want this either, Vincent. All I ever wanted wasElliot."
The storm was unleashed again; her tears flowed like streams.Vincent gently took her into his arms, letting her cry. She haddenied her pain for so long, but the weight of it had finally brokenher. Between her sobs, in short, hiccupping sentences, she told himwhat Peter and Diana had deduced, of her love for Elliot Burch. Hisheart ached to hear her. There were some things worse than losing alove. Her heart was Elliot's, but he never knew; he never wantedit.
Catherine had told him that Elliot really loved her; his actionsafter her death supported the claim. But the truth of it touched himonly now, borne by Emily's pain, as she whispered against hisshoulder of Elliot calling Cathy's name in his sleep, on theDaedelus, in Santo Yrisado.
Vincent held her as she sobbed, until quiet filled the room. Itwas a strange sensation; as she leaned against him, every so often hefelt a small nudge against his ribs; one of the unborn babiesstirring within her. "Emily, come Below with me."
He felt her shake her head against his shoulder. "Emily, Petertold Father and me that he will want you to stay in bed, startingsoon. Who'll take care of you?" He put one great hand against hercheek, and brushed away the tears still streaming from her eyes."Also, Father has charged me not to return without you."
She gave a watery chuckle, and Vincent knew he'd won. "So, unlessI want you to stay in my condo with me, I have to come."
"Yes, Emily." Vincent still held her gently, marvelling at thesmall kicks that tapped at his ribs even through all the layers ofclothing between them.
"All right, Vincent. Most women in my position go home to mother;but she's been gone for ten years. So I suppose I'll go home toFather instead."
Vincent shook his head at the pun, and released Emily to dress andpack. In short order, she entered the hallway, to meet Vincent in thebasement and go to stay Below.
Nine Weeks Later
Vincent entered the chamber silently. Emily was curled on her leftside, per Peter's instructions. She was also sound asleep. He tookthe opportunity to study her as she slept.
She had taken off her glasses, and her face had the naked look ofthe glasses-wearer unspectacled. Her fine blonde hair fell almost toher shoulders now; a little longer than Catherine had worn hers.There was a pillow supporting the babies inside her, their presenceoutlined by the huge mound of blanket. With just over a month left tothe term of her pregnancy, the children seemed to have taken over herbody completely.
As he watched, she turned her head a little in her sleep. A softsound came from her; then she whispered "Elliot!" With a start shewas awake; she groped for her glasses, and encountered Vincent'sgreat hand as he gave them to her.
She slipped them on and blinked up at him. "What a dream!"Softened by sleep, she looked like a child herself. "I dreamt I sawElliot again. He was a lot closer this time, Vincent." She hugged thedream to her, her only chance to still see the man she loved. "He wasonly about fifteen feet away."
It was a recurring dream; she'd told Vincent of it half a dozentimes in the past two weeks. She saw Elliot, standing - somewhere.The first time he was so far away she could barely see him. "But Iknew it was Elliot, Vincent." As soon as she saw him, in her dream,she called to him. He would turn, and see her. He would recognizeher, and smile, and then she would wake up. "If only I could stayasleep just a little longer, Vincent," she murmured to him once,semi-seriously. "Maybe he'd talk to me." Each time she dreamt it,Elliot moved a little closer.
It frightened Vincent. Recurring dreams had come to him many timesin the past; nearly always, they carried some portent from the worldbeyond his dreams. What could this one mean? He was afraid that Emilywas preparing herself to join Burch, in death; he understood the urgevery well, and Emily had only allowed herself to mourn her love'sdeath for a short time.
Preoccupied with his thoughts, he was unprepared for herchange-of-subject question. "Do you dance, Vincent?" Her eyes weredreamy, focused on some past occurrence.
The last time he'd heard that question was at a Winterfest longpast, and he and Catherine had danced to the music of the wind, therein the empty Great Hall. He drew himself back from that moment, andheard Emily answer herself. "I don't. I always stepped on mypartner's feet, or tripped. But Elliot taught me to waltz." Her laughwas wistful. "At least, he taught me to waltz with Elliot. I couldnever manage to transfer that skill to anyone else."
Her face shone with the happiness of her memory. "I went to mostof the society things Elliot attended; he wanted me to mingle and seewhat I could hear. It's amazing how many secrets people reveal atsocial functions, if you know how to look and listen."
"But there was one charity event, about a year after I came to NewYork. It was so boring all the people Elliot wanted me to look forhad already left. Elliot was going to leave, too; he asked me, 'Howabout a turn around the floor before we go?' I told him, 'I don'tdance.' "
"Elliot said, 'Have I finally found something my capable assistantdoesn't do?' " Emily's ears turned red, blushing as she rememberedthe gently teasing compliment. "And he took me out onto the floor,and taught me to waltz."
When she turned to Vincent, the underlying sadness was clearlyvisible on her face. "For the first time, I knew why people liked todance. But I could never manage to waltz with anyone but Elliot. Ipracticed, at home, alone; but I always tripped over my partner'sfeet, unless I was dancing with Elliot."
She reached out for Vincent's hand, and looked into his eyes."Sometimes I envy your Catherine, Vincent; she and Elliot aretogether now."
"I know, Emily."
"But I suppose it wouldn't matter anyway; Elliot never loved me.He loved Catherine."
"Yes, I believe he did; in his own way. He was a different manwhen he died, because of her."
"Elliot was a realist, Vincent." Emily's voice was firm. "He didwhat he had to do, to accomplish his dreams. They were great dreams,that created so much for this city; jobs, housing, theatres...Sometimes he had to be hard. He was a good man."
"A very good man, Emily," Vincent agreed, remembering how Elliothad been unable, finally, to betray him.
"Elliot sent me to San Francisco five days before he died, to do ajob I knew immediately had been invented on the spur of the moment.He wanted me out of the way; maybe if I'd come straight back, orrefused to go, maybe..."
"Emily, hindsight is a fine thing. Neither of us can change whathas already happened; no matter how we might long to."
"Yes, Vincent." She sighed. "Sometimes it's very nice to talk tosomeone who truly understands."
"Yes, Emily." He was only sorry he hadn't seen the truth of herstatement months earlier.
Three Weeks Later
"Father, Father, Mary says to come quick; it's Emily!"Samantha leaned, breathless, against the wall by the Mirror Poolwhere Father had been studying the stars shown within the water'sdepths. He immediately rose to his feet and followed the impatientSamantha, who went running ahead, then stopped to beckon Father tohurry. "Mary said it was an emergency, Father!"
Father's mouth tightened to a grim line. Mary did not use thatword lightly. He pushed himself to move faster, ignoring the familiarpain shooting through his hip.
Despite the hurry, it took a good five minutes to reach thehospital chamber. Father worried every step of the way; only twoweeks from her official due date, in truth Emily's babies shouldarrive any day. She was in the hospital chamber now, awaiting Peter;he was to come tomorrow to take her Above, put her in the hospital toawait the birth. So much could go wrong in a twin pregnancy; thehuman body was designed to bear children one at a time. Everypossible complication passed through his mind several times on thejourney.
Once within the hospital chamber, he found Mary trying to rouseEmily. Emily's replies were confused and groggy; with a chill, Fatherknew what he would find.
Her skin was cold and clammy; her pulse fast and thready. "She hadthat dream again, Father. You know; the one with Burch in it. Shesaid this time he was so close she could touch him. She seemed sodrowsy; at first I thought it was because she just woke up, but thenshe just got more and more confused. Oh, Father, I'm afraid she'sbleeding!" Mary exclaimed.
Father had to concur; he ran his hands over her gravid abdomen,and was rewarded with a wince when he reached the upper rightquadrant. "You're right, Mary. We must prep her immediately." Heturned to Samantha, who was still catching her breath. "Samantha, goto Peter. Tell him we need him, now. I would guess he is still at hisoffice. Hurry, Samantha!"
She was gone without a word, and Father turned back to Mary. "IfPeter doesn't get here soon, we'll have to start without him. Prepareher, Mary; I'll put the word over the pipes. Vincent will want toknow."
"Yes, Father." Mary was already at work.
The message reached Vincent in his chamber, as he laid his son inhis cradle for a nap. Jamie was with him, watching, still timid abouttouching such a small human being. Little Jacob was asleep as he waslaid down; Vincent whispered, "I must go now, Jamie."
The girl nodded; she had understood the pipes' tidings as well."I'll stay with him, Vincent."
"He should sleep for several hours, Jamie; I will return beforethen."
"Okay, Vincent," she whispered after his retreating back.
Halfway to the hospital chamber, he suddenly thought of Diana. Sheand Emily had become very close; he moved to the pipes, and tappedout a message to Jeffrey. When he heard the reply noises, he made hisrequest of the boy - to go Above, to Diana's, and bring her Below.When the affirmation came, he started toward his destinationagain.
Before he went a dozen paces, an urgent message sounded throughthe communication system. An intruder, outside the iron gate, in theruined culvert in the park. With a curse for bad timing, he turnedand set out for the concrete entrance at top speed.
The sentry was waiting on the other side of the rebuilt wall. "Hecame into the drainpipe about ten minutes ago, Vincent; he's lookingall around, like he knows about the door. But I've never seen himbefore." He moved back from the peephole to allow Vincent access.
From that vantage point, Vincent saw a thin man with abrown-and-white beard and long wavy hair streaked with white, whichwas gathered at the nape of his neck with a rubber band. Along thehairline in front of one ear marched burn scars, of recent vintage;still red, not faded to their final shade of white. The man lookedtoward the hidden peephole, and his blue eyes were the confirmationfor Vincent. He moved back and released the latch, then went throughto the other side.
The man was startled, and stepped back a pace. He looked at thecloaked presence before him, and began, "Vincent! I figured if Isurvived, you must have. I came to see if you found Catherine's ch-"He stopped abruptly. "Hell, I have no idea why I'm here, Vincent. Ijust - had to come. I had to."
"The heart has ways the mind can never comprehend," Vincentmurmured, surprised, and yet accepting. "Come with me, Elliot, and Iwill show you why you came."
He took the former tycoon's arm, and led him into the worldBelow.
Vincent had kept his pace down to a normal man's level, but eventhat was too much for Elliot. The other man was still recovering fromhis terrible injuries of nearly eight months ago. "What do you mean,you'll show me why I came?" Elliot was breathless, but the questionhad to be asked.
"I cannot tell you in words," Vincent said softly. "You will seein a few moments."
At that moment, Diana appeared, at the far end of the tunnel theyfollowed, also bound for the hospital chamber. Elliot looked at her."Diana Bennett! What in the world are you doing here?"
Diana froze for an instant in shock. "So she was right," shemurmured finally, shaking her head. "You are hard to kill."
"Who was right?" Elliot demanded. A little of his oldimperiousness came back. Then his voice changed abruptly. "Was itEmily? Do you know where she is?"
"Yes, Elliot, it was Emily," Vincent answered. The gentleness ofhis voice send cold fingers of apprehension down Elliot's spine. "Weare going to her now."
As they continued their journey, words poured out of Elliot, asthough he'd needed to talk to someone for months. "I sent her away.The night Cleon Manning quit, I finally realized just how dangerousit was getting. So I called an old friend in San Francisco, andtrumped up an urgent job for her. It should have taken her two orthree weeks. It was the best I could do on short notice; but Ifigured it would keep her safe, at least until the mess with Gabrielwas over, one way or another." A hollow laugh escaped him. "I evenmade her fly out. I knew how panicked she got; I still wonder why shenever told me before. Or why I never knew. She took a train fromChicago, when she first came to work for me." The words were almostpanted, but Elliot did not seem to be able to stop.
"She flew out to Frisco, like I told her. She stayed for fivedays, then flew back; the day after Moreno's murder. Of all thestupid things - . Em should have stayed there. I've been looking forher for weeks now; she just vanished. No one's seen her, heard fromher. She can't do that - she should know I can't run my businesswithout her." He stopped, totally out of breath and suddenly awarethat he was babbling.
They had reached the hospital chamber. Once inside, all threestopped abruptly. Father and Peter were there, in the act oftransferring Emily to the screened table in the center of the room.She was already draped and prepared for the surgery to come. Theimmediate focus was on her belly, stretched and enormous. Elliot'seyes travelled over that body, up to her face.
Just as it had taken Vincent an moment to recognize the changedElliot Burch, it was not until Emily stirred, opened her eyes, andsquinted that Elliot knew her. "Em? Emily?" There was doubt in hisvoice; he could not believe that this was his assistant.
"Elliot?" Her voice was not even a whisper. Her eyes closed again,in a face as pale as she had been on the airplane bound for SanFrancisco. Father and Peter finished the transfer, then screened thetable off from the rest of room.
Vincent escorted the dazed Elliot to a chair on the far side ofthe chamber. The strong man who built steel towers to the sky wasgone, at least for the moment. Probably some time in the future thetycoon would return; but the man before him was tired, and not fullywell.
Diana sat on one side of him, and Vincent on the other. Theyremained in silence at first. Elliot's eyes were glued to the shadowson the screens, watching as the doctors began the emergency surgery."What happened to her?"
"She's pregnant, Elliot." Diana's tone was dry.
"I can see that," Elliot shot back impatiently. "Who? When? What'swrong?"
Vincent replied, "As to who - Emily told us it was you. In SanFrancisco." Vincent remembered very well the shock of discoveringthat he had a child. Something within him froze, hoping that Elliotwould not live the same nightmare, and hold his children without everbeing able to hold their mother again.
The other man dropped his head into his hands, pressing hisfingers against his eyes. "I'd forgotten San Francisco. Has it beenonly nine months since then?" he whispered. "It feels like ten years.Twenty."
"It has been but a span of months, Elliot."
"They've been very long months." Some of Elliot's dry witreturned.
"They have," agreed Vincent.
"You know, while I was recovering, I realized how much I depend onher. I was so used to having what I wanted in front of me,practically before I could ask for it; it was hard to put up withordinary mortals." His laugh was short. "Her real first name isHelena; out of 'Midsummer Night's Dream.' It should have been Puck; Iswear she could 'put a girdle round about the earth in fortyminutes.' Or else she had a magic wand. She always knew what I needed-" The aftermath of Santo Yrisado overran him. "Even when Ididn't."
He focused back on the shades of the operation in progress, acrossthe chamber. "I have so many questions," he said, to no one inparticular. "What's Em doing here? Where is here?"
"She came to Diana searching for you, and followed her down to ourworld, here below the streets. She became our friend; a Helper, whogave us aid and brought gifts from the world Above. When she neededhelp, we tried to be here for her."
"Why isn't she in a hospital? Forgive me, Vincent - but shedeserves the best." He gestured around the stone room, with its lackof modern equipment.
"Her doctor, Peter, was going to take her Above tomorrow."
"It is an emergency. They had to operate immediately; there was notime to move her."
Elliot bowed his head into his hands. There was a helplessnessabout him that Vincent recognized. It was his own despair, whenCatherine was missing and their bond was gone, that he saw. "Emily isa very strong woman. She's had a difficult time; carrying thechildren has put a great strain on her body."
"Children?" If Elliot had been dazed before, he was overwhelmednow.
"Twins, Elliot," Diana said gently.
The hum of low-voiced conversation from the makeshift operatingtheatre had been the undercurrent for their conversation. Then therewas a new sound; the hearty wail of a newborn baby.
Elliot jerked upright as though he were on strings. Mary came outof the screened area, a flannel-wrapped bundle in her arms. Shewalked over, and showed the child to them. "Look, Vincent, Diana - agirl!"
Vincent took the tiny bundle from Mary, and held her out toElliot. At first the builder shook his head, shrank back - thenslowly he leaned forward, to look into the small face. The baby'seyes were open; they were the same deep blue as Emily's. Elliotlooked down at his large hands, studied them for a moment, as if notsure what they were for. Then he held them out, and Vincent gave himhis child.
Elliot held the baby in his hands for a moment, staringincredulously. She yawned. With infinite care, Elliot brought thechild to his body, and cradled her against him.
Vincent watched him, seeing the love he knew this man was capableof. While Elliot was engrossed in the baby, Vincent turned back toMary. "The other -?"
Mary just shook her head, sadness in her eyes. Vincent felt asharp pang of loss for the other baby, whom he had anticipated for somany months.
"Emily - how's Emily?" Elliot still held the child against hischest. The dawning wonder of his daughter's existence was replaced byconcern.
"It's too soon to know," Mary told him compassionately. She lookedat the small gathering. "The long part of the operation is stillahead. It could be an hour or more."
The continuing undertone from the other side of the room drewtheir attention. Then Father called, "Mary - we need you!"
"Coming, Father!" She hurried back to her place, leaving the childwith her father.
"Emily's a fighter. She'll pull through." Diana's words werespoken as much to reassure herself as him.
"Em can handle anything." If there was doubt in his mind, Elliothad conquered it. The driving self-assurance that had marked him inthe world Above lent him a feeling of control. The events of the pastnine months had rearranged his world, and today was beyond hiscomprehension. Certain that he would wake up back in a hospital bed,still drugged and in pain, he resolved to enjoy the dream while hecould.
He looked again at his newborn daughter. "Emily's baby," hewhispered. He touched a tiny hand, and the fingers curled aroundhis.
"And yours." Vincent reminded him, understanding the other man'sthoughts exactly.
Emily blinked her eyes. She felt strange; but that wasn't unusual.The entire past six months had been one long experiment in how unlikeherself she could feel.
She peered around her, but saw nothing but undefined shapes. Thatwas a friendly feeling; she couldn't ever remember waking up andbeing able to see clearly. She tried to reach out, to search for herglasses, but her arm was being held flat. She considered it, but hermind seemed to be tied down as well; it was hard to think. She peeredat the multicolored blurs and squinted, trying to bring anything intofocus.
A person-shaped blur appeared, then came closer. She attempted toidentify it. Too short for Vincent; too thin for William or evenFather. Too tall for Mary or Mouse. She heard the blur take somethingfrom the table beside her. It sounded like her glasses. Then a pairof hands came toward her, and slipped the glasses gently onto herface. Everything sprang into view - and Emily refused to believe whatshe saw.
She screwed her eyes shut and counted to ten silently, thenreopened them. The apparition refused to disappear, but instead wassmiling at her.
"This is not happening, so I must still be asleep," she saidaloud. Her voice cracked as she spoke; something was definitelydifferent about her body, but she couldn't seem to pinpoint it.
In answer, her visitor leaned over and kissed her on the forehead.His lips were warm and soft, and she started to melt inside. "Now Iknow I'm asleep!" she muttered.
His familiar shout of laughter filled the room. Emily allowedherself to really look at him. It seemed to be Elliot; but he was sothin. The added white in his hair and his beard aged his face, andthe rough scar in front of his ear made him look less like a polishedtycoon and more like a pirate. He wore a heavy cotton sweatsuit,entirely black, which added to his roguish appearance.
Elliot's expression became utterly serious. He walked around thebed, and pulled up a chair next to her free arm.
He took her hand and held it. He cleared his throat, and started,"Emily, I -" Then he looked down into her eyes, dazed andunbelieving, filling up with tears. His carefully planned speech flewfrom his mind. Gripping her hand tighter than he knew, his voiceharsh, he groaned, "Oh Em, I lost you! I thought I'd lost you." Helifted her hand to his lips, then held it against his cheek.
This didn't seem like something from her dreams. It couldn't betrue, though. Elliot was dead; she had finally accepted that. Hecouldn't be here; and he most certainly couldn't be looking at herwith such joy and hunger. It had taken months, but the reality ofElliot's death had penetrated, and she had learned to live withit.
The thought of the past months cued her fuzzy brain, and sherealized what was different. "The babies," she breathed, her eyeswidening with fear.
"She's beautiful, Em. The most beautiful thing I've everseen."
"She? But - there were..."
Elliot placed his finger against her lips, preventing her fromfinishing her sentence. "We have a beautiful daughter. She looks justlike her mother. That's enough."
But tears were already rolling down Emily's cheeks. "I tried sohard to do everything they told me," she sobbed. "I did my best. Whatdid I do wrong?"
"Don't cry, Em. Please don't cry. Things happen that we have nocontrol over." He wanted to take her into his arms, but the IV tubesand surgical dressings made him wary. Emily's soft sobs tore at hisheart. He pressed her hand tighter to his cheek, and wiped the tearsfrom her face with his free hand. "Hush, Em." His urgency and pain,and frustration at not being able to hold her, made his voice shake.In five years, through Santo Yrisado and the fiasco of the BurchTower, he had never seen Emily cry. It seemed to shake thefoundations of his soul to see her now.
"Emily, please." He was begging her, for his own sake as well ashers. Her pain overcame his fear of hurting her; with exaggeratedcare, moving to sit lightly on the bed, he slid his arm beneath hershoulders and leaned down to her, to shelter her in his arms as wellas he could.
Her glasses dug into his shoulder; he pulled them from her faceand tossed them back onto the table. Then he leaned awkwardly back toher, to hold her as tightly as he dared.
Emily stiffened at Elliot's embrace. Her thoughts and feelingswere in chaos; grief, loss, relief at the end of her ordeal,disbelief, bemusement and joy jumbled together with an edge ofphysical pain. And each thought or emotion was moving in a fog; shecouldn't seem to grasp or examine one. Even the physical was suspect.The shoulder she leaned into felt real; the edge of beard thattickled her ear was a detail she remembered well, from Santo Yrisadoand San Francisco. But the totality was beyond her comprehension.
There were too many conflicting emotions for her present state.Like an overloaded switchboard, her mind closed down. As sleepoverwhelmed her, she thought she heard Elliot whisper, "I love you,Em."
The sound of voices across the chamber woke her the second time.She recognized Father's firm tone first. "Perhaps it would be betterif you waited until she was stronger -"
Vincent's velvet whisper was next. "Father is right. She's hadenough shocks for one day."
Another voice answered, "I don't agree. You don't know Emily theway I do. She saw me before; she won't let it drop at that."
"She may not remember seeing you. She was not completely out fromunder the anesthesia yet." It was Father's voice again.
"She'll remember me." Much of Elliot Burch's natural arrogance hadreturned.
"Elliot!" His name escaped her lips involuntarily. All three menstopped talking to move to her side.
Elliot reached her first, and handed her her glasses. Then hesettled where he had been before, perched on the edge of the bed, andtook her hand.
Seconds of silence stretched to a full minute, as the men waitedfor Emily's reaction. All she did was stare at Elliot, devouring himwith her eyes.
Finally she whispered, "I feel like Sam at the end of Lord of theRings. 'Is everything sad going to come untrue?' "
"No, but 'a great Shadow has departed'," Vincent murmured. Therewould always be wistful melancholy for him in seeing such scenes, butthe worst of his pain was passing. Diana was a healing force for himnow; thoughts of Catherine could bring great pleasure as well aspain, as Father had told him.
While these thoughts ran through his head, there was anothersilence. Finally, Emily turned to Father and asked in a small voice,"Is this real?"
Elliot intercepted the question and answered, "I'm real, Em." Helifted the hand he was holding, brought it to his lips, and kissedher palm. Then he leaned toward her, and laid her hand on his chest."Feel my heart, Em. I'm alive. I'm real."
She closed her eyes, and Father reached down to the IV'd arm andtook her pulse. Her eyes opened immediately at his touch, and shenoticed the equipment for the first time. Panic chased out otheremotions. She looked down at the too-flat sheet covering her. "Whathappened? The babies?" There was terror only a breath away.
"Emily, the placenta detached prematurely. You were bleedinginternally." Father's voice was heavy. "One of the babies wasstillborn."
"Em, we have a daughter." Elliot spoke firmly, dragging herattention from Father. "A beautiful baby girl. She has your eyes." Heput forth the full power of his personality, making her focusentirely on him. Both Father and Vincent saw for the first timeexactly what had propelled Elliot Burch to his position in the worldAbove. His very presence demanded full attention, and everything hesaid had the forceful ring of truth.
Emily's mind was still on hold. Emotion seemed to be all that wasleft to her. She had conflicting urges to laugh, cry, and scream.Most of all she wanted to pinch herself. The hand that gripped hersfelt solid, but how could Elliot be here?
As she grappled with the situation, a new sound entered theequation. The cry of a hungry baby filled the room.
All heads turned toward the sound. Mary, who had been knittingquietly next to the cradle at the other end of the chamber, liftedthe tiny complainer and brought her to Emily's bedside. "Father,Vincent, this young lady wants breakfast." She shooed them out.
She handed the baby to Elliot. "Hold her while I help Emily." Itwas easier the second time, more natural. He cuddled the tiny form tohis shoulder, murmuring wordlessly to her as Mary efficiently helpedEmily prepare to feed her. "Now don't try to move, dear," she said toEmily. "Let us do all the work."
She motioned to Elliot to bring the child over, then directedbriskly, "Unwrap her a little. Skin to skin contact is very importantfor babies. That's good. Now, give her to Emily -" She directed himin positioning the child, who quickly got the idea, and was soonfeeding hungrily.
No one who had known Elliot in the world Above - not even CathyChandler - had ever seen the expression on his face. Compounded ofpride, love, and awe, it was an expression Mary was quite familiarwith. A man looking at his beloved wife the first time she held theirchild, always looked like that. She smiled to herself and left thefamily alone.
A few candles created a flickering twilight in the hospitalchamber, in deference to the late hour. Elliot slouched in a chairnext to Emily's bedside, the cradle holding his day-old daughter nearhis feet.
Next to him was Vincent, his own son settling down to sleepagainst his father's shoulder. Sizing up Elliot's posture, Vincentsuggested quietly, "Why don't you get some sleep, Elliot? Emily andthe baby are asleep now."
The other man shook his head. His glance touched the woman and theinfant. "I don't think I could sleep. Too many shocks for one day."He watched Vincent holding his son. Something about the half-lightand the gentle lion-man invited confidences.
"You know that I really loved Cathy, Vincent. But she was always adream; something that was beyond my reach."
He sat in silence, then leaned over to look at Emily. He calledher name softly. When there was no answer, he continued, "Don't tellEmily, but when they fished me out, after the Compass Rose , I waspretty broken up. I don't think I was expected to make it."
Elliot stopped, trying to frame the experience for Vincent. "WhenI was 18, I was in an accident on the waterfront; I drifted in andout for a week or so, after that. I guess when they found me, Iflashed back, and told them I worked on the docks. There was a nightwatchman missing in that explosion too; they assumed that's who Iwas. By the time I realized who I really was, I also knew enough tokeep my mouth shut."
"I was lucky, Vincent; this guy had no family, no friends. No oneto prove I wasn't Alan Robinson.
"Those first weeks, when they were sure I would die, and so was I- I thought about Cathy constantly. I created a wonderful fantasy; aplace to be with her, where there was no pain.
"But Vincent, I discovered after a while that the voice I waslistening for was Emily's. When the door started to open, the personI wanted to see come through it was Emily. Slowly she took over eventhe fantasies. I think I decided to recover when I dreamt about her,on the Daedelus, in my arms; and woke up calling her name."
Elliot looked Vincent straight in the eye. "I did love Cathy; shenever loved me. But loving her changed me, Vincent. It opened my lifeto possibilities, and let me see what was under my nose." He lookedfrom Emily to their daughter, and shook his head in wonder. "I'vespent six weeks searching for her. Like searching for Cathy; coldwith terror that I might find the same thing. And to find her now -Vincent, what can I say? It's beyond my wildest dreams." Elliotyawned and leaned his head back against the chair. Despite hisearlier protestations, his eyes slid closed and he was asleep withinseconds.
Vincent took his now-sleeping son, and stole silently out of thechamber.
"Repeat after me," said David Shapiro. Beneath the canopy, Emilyand Elliot stood side by side. "Dodi li, v'ani lo."
Emily dutifully repeated the words. Elliot repeated them as well,and turned to look at his bride. "My beloved is mine, and I am mybeloved's," he translated in a clear voice.
"By the power vested in me by the state of New York, I nowpronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride."
Elliot leaned down, and kissed her unhurriedly and thoroughly.Then he walked across the chamber to an empty chair and brought itback with him. "Now sit down," he commanded.
As Emily complied, Vincent recalled entering the hospital chamberin the early morning, a week ago, a few days before Father allowedEmily to return to her home.
The candles had flickered down to bare twilight. As Vincent camein, he glanced toward the bed Mary had made up for Elliot. It was aspristine as when she had carefully tucked the sheet in. His gazeproceeded to Emily's bed. She was there, still flat on her back,sound asleep; and Elliot was curled against her, one arm flungpossessively over her even in sleep. He turned to leave, reluctant todisturb them, but Elliot was already stretching. His eyes half open,he saw Vincent, and waved to indicate he would join him. Silently,the bearded man rose, rubbing the back of his neck. He met Vincent inthe center of the chamber, and whispered, "Come on out into thehall."
Once outside, Elliot stretched again, and continued rubbing thekinks from his neck. "Good morning, Vincent. Man, am I stiff."
"Good morning, Elliot. Mary had another bed in the chamberprepared for you, if you were uncomfortable."
"I wasted five years, Vincent," the builder said, motioning towardEmily, asleep in the chamber. "I'm not spending another nightalone."
Vincent smiled to himself as he watched Elliot rest his hand onEmily's shoulder, as if she were so much a part of him he couldn'tbear to be away from her.
Rabbi Shapiro moved to join the crowd, and Father came to stand bythe couple. Mary, who had been holding the baby, handed thefour-week-old girl to her mother. Father began, "And now we celebratethe child."
Diana looked at her friend. Last night, over yet another pizza atEmily's place, they had talked about the future.
"Diana, I don't even know what my name's going to be!" Emily wasseated on the couch, with her feet up on the coffee table. "Elliotisn't sure yet if he intends to go back to being Elliot Burch, orstart over as Stanley Kazmarek, Jr. I did tell him, however, that Irefuse to call him 'Stosh'." Both women laughed.
"Seriously, I think that 'Elliot Burch' will turn up again beforelong. He loves the city so much; he won't be happy being less than hewas. Despite his protestations to the contrary."
The subject in question appeared in the hall, carrying a fussingbaby. "I can do a lot of things, Em," he said, "but feeding the babyisn't one of them." He scrutinized her carefully. "You look tired.Sure it isn't time to call it a night?"
"Elliot!" she protested as she took the child. But Diana took thenone-too-subtle hint, and rose to leave.
"Tomorrow's the big day, Diana," Emily called after her.
"How could I forget? You've talked of nothing else for two weeks!"Diana laughed as she let herself out.
Father's voice brought her back to the present. "We welcome thechild with love, that she may be able to love. We welcome the childwith gifts, that she may be able to give. And we welcome the childwith a name."
Elliot took the baby from his new wife, and held her as he said,"Her name is Catherine Titania Kazmarek."
Diana reached for Vincent's hand. He took it gratefully, thankfulagain for his friends and family. Then Elliot caught his eye, andnodded almost imperceptibly. Vincent looked across the room to thequartet of youngsters providing the music. Shortly, the strains of awaltz filled Father's chamber.
Elliot handed the baby back to Mary. Raising Emily gently to herfeet, he asked, "May I have this dance?"
Vincent saw tears in Emily's eyes as she moved into Elliot'sembrace. For the few moments that they danced, he felt that thechamber was filled with the light that shone from her eyes; a lightthat matched that in the eyes of the man who looked down at her.
Note from the author: This story has a prequel; in this case, theoriginal story is Third Season, but the prequel takes place aroundthe televised episodes, showing you where my original character wasduring all the scenes that featured Elliott. I'll send anyone theprequel, "The Harvest and the Seed", for the "price" of emailcomments on the stories--I'd appreciate it.