By Ginny Shearin

Chapter 4


Early in the night he became uneasy, his nightmares seeming to return. He moved around restlessly in the bed, again mumbling things Catherine couldn’t understand, as if he were arguing with someone. Catherine would hold his arm a little more firmly and talk to him soothingly when it woke her; and he would gradually calm. Eventually the restlessness passed, and they both fell wearily into a deep sleep.

Vincent woke up slowly, feeling surprisingly well rested and more at peace than the day before. He looked for Catherine and realized it was the first time in days that he didn’t wake to see her moving around his chamber and smiling when his eyes opened. He had begun to wonder if it had all been a dream when he became aware of the warmth under his hand. Turning to look at her without disturbing their linked arms, he tried to avoid waking her; but she woke anyway.

“Are you okay? Is anything wrong? Do you need something?” she mumbled, raising slightly on her elbow. He placed his other hand over hers and soothingly encouraged her back to her pillow.

“No. Nothing. Rest a little longer.”

She let her head fall back to the pillow and smiled, her eyes still closed.

“Is it morning?”

“Yes,” he answered with a slight chuckle.  “We’ve both slept a little late. Father will be here soon.”

“Thank you, Vincent,” she murmured, squeezing his arm lightly before letting it go to sit up.

“For what?” he asked, feeling a small sense of loss where the warmth of her arm had been.

“For helping,” she smiled.

Catherine sat up on the cot, trying to pull herself into orderly thought.

Vincent just watched quietly, enjoying the picture and committing it to memory for times when she wouldn’t be there.

Realizing she was the center of his attention, she laughed lightly and ran her hands through her hair to fluff it a little.

“I must look a mess!” she said self-consciously.

“You’re beautiful,” Vincent answered, smiling.

“You are obviously still ill;” she replied, going directly to her hair brush, “but still entirely a gentleman.”

The easy exchange between them continued while Catherine found clean clothes for herself, moved the cot out of the way and straightened its covers, and put water in the teapot to heat while she was gone. By the time those tasks were accomplished, Father was calling them; and Catherine excused herself to clean up and bring breakfast.

Watching Vincent watch Catherine leave, Father smiled. “You’re looking quite content this morning,” he observed, starting their morning routine.

“I like waking to her smile, Father,” Vincent admitted.

“Have you told her that?” Father asked, taking out his stethoscope.

“Not in words,” Vincent answered, “but I’m sure she knows.”

“Have you learned nothing about women?” Father quipped.

“No,” Vincent reminded him pointedly, “I don’t believe either of us thought it would become an issue.”

Vincent decided to keep his restless dreams between himself and Catherine. He had recovered from the dreams rather well this time, and there was nothing Father could do except worry.

Catherine returned with the breakfast tray, and Father stayed for tea and a little more of a visit.

“After breakfast why don’t we try to help Vincent walk a few steps?” Father suggested. “He can’t stay in that bed forever. He might even be ready for a few short visitations.”          

“That would be good for him,” she replied. “He’s probably getting a little tired of only my company.”

“Somehow,” Father remarked, “I don’t think that has been a significant problem.”

Vincent’s smile acknowledged the truth in Father’s comment, and Catherine’s heart smiled with him.

She held out Vincent’s robe. “Here,” she said, “Put this on before you sit up for breakfast. I don’t want you to catch cold before you have time to recover.”

Knowing what she was doing made Father love her all the more.

When the breakfast dishes were out of the way, the three of them worked out a balancing act that would help Vincent start moving his long unused muscles. With their help he managed to walk around his desk, farther than Father had expected for the first trip. They were all relieved to get Vincent back in the bed. He was exhausted, and holding up someone as large as Vincent was no minor task. Father began to make mental note of which large, muscular visitors he could schedule. Still, they had given Vincent a sense of mobility, something he had been without for too long.

The movement seemed to trigger a desire in Vincent to be back on his feet. He asked Catherine to call Father that afternoon so they could try again, and wanted to walk again before dinner that evening. Each time he moved a little farther.

Catherine had the feeling that Father had probably done a little physical therapy with Vincent while she wasn’t around to watch; but they never mentioned it, and she didn’t ask. Whatever he was doing was alright with her as long as it worked. She just wished that Vincent would feel comfortable enough with her to let her be a part of it.

Father sat a short while to share some of the news he thought they might have missed.

“Kanin will be coming home tomorrow,” he told them with a slight air of amusement. He’s been given early release, but the prison authorities apparently let him go reluctantly. It seems he was given the nickname ‘The Peacemaker’. They moved him several times after finding that wherever he was seemed to take on an atmosphere of calm and cooperation. The accident victim’s mother seemed to have accepted that Kanin had paid enough of a price to allow her closure, and she offered no protest to the early release. She also seemed to appreciate that his gift for stilling conflict might save another mother the loss of a child. In the hope of holding on to some of the spell he seemed to cast, the prison staff insisted that he return periodically to visit. Some of our helpers have promised their assistance in the visits. We’ll give him a day or two of quiet time with his family, then maybe he can help with some physical therapy.”

Catherine knew about the early release, having had a small quiet involvement in it. She had also visited him during his incarceration, her guilt gradually easing with his assurances that this had been for the best. It gave him the release both from his own guilt and from a life of constantly looking over his shoulder.

“Has he worked out the details of his parole situation?” Catherine asked.

“We’ve made arrangements with a helper to provide a room and an address and messages to let him know when he needs to appear to live there,” Father told her. “Helpers do this periodically for our people making a transition to or from jobs and lives above. Some of them have been in the same situation.”

During the morning Catherine and Father let it be known that, starting the next day, Vincent could have a few visitors for a short time in the afternoons. Vincent and Catherine spent a quiet day reading to one another, playing cards, playing chess, and talking. The book of art prints provided another opportunity for Catherine to tell Vincent about trips and museums where she saw the original works. That night when Catherine started to move the cot, she stopped next to his bed.

“Are we going to argue about this tonight?”

“No,” he answered.

She settled into bed; and, in an unspoken agreement, he linked their arms and they slept peacefully.


The following morning Vincent was far more anxious for exercise than breakfast. Father and Catherine helped him, and found that it was easier this time. He was visibly stronger. When they helped him back to bed, he was tired from the exertion; but he had enjoyed it as well. He was accustomed to a lot of physical activity. He was now missing it, and willing to endure whatever it took to regain it. Determination was taking over.

To Father, who had watched him over the years recover from various accidents and illnesses, that was a welcome development. Peter’s observation that, to a certain extent, Vincent had always been his own physician had been true. There would be a period of rest followed by a period of determination and then the real healing would begin, usually rapidly. He smiled, feeling that his son was finally on the road to complete recovery. He would have to share that thought with Catherine sometime soon.

Vincent had insisted on breakfast at the desk, and wanted to sit there for a while afterward. Catherine had cleared the dishes and he was writing in his journal. She took the opportunity to change the sheets while he wasn’t in them. She stood with her back to him, smoothing the top sheet. When she bent to tuck in the last corner, she realized she was being watched. She stood and looked over her shoulder with a mischievous smile.

“Enjoying the view?” she asked.

Surprised and a little flustered, Vincent started to answer with an apology.

“Catherine, I . . . .”

Suddenly feeling guilty, she laughed and went to give him a quick, reassuring hug.

“It was a joke. I’m flirting with you, Vincent. Something else you might as well get used to. And you might as well enjoy the view,” she continued, placing a hand on each arm of the chair and leaning closer to glower at him with feigned severity, “because I don’t ever expect to catch you with that look on your face over anyone else.”            

“Never!” was his immediate response, and he even managed a charming smile.

Catherine laughed and seemed pleased with that answer, leaving him still smiling.

He continually had trouble accepting that a woman who was a confident, independent, wealthy, well-respected attorney in her world seemed so content to be in his - changing sheets and taking care of his smallest needs. Of course, typically, he was trying not to admit to himself just how much he had been enjoying the view.

She was back at her task now, smoothing the quilt and gathering the sheets she had just removed from the bed. Going to place them at the doorway to attend to later, she nearly ran over Father as she rounded the screen.

“I’m sorry to break your visiting hours dear; but I thought the two of you should know that the first visitors will be a small contingent of the younger children who insisted strongly that they needed to see Vincent first. Knowing the whirlwind of energy that accompanies small children, I thought you should be forewarned.”

They all laughed knowingly, and Father was thanked for his thoughtful warning.

“Mary has enlisted some of the older children to help and has promised to keep the visit short.”

“It’s time for lunch, Father. Why don’t you stay and visit while I go and bring it back. Shall I bring something for you, too?”

“No thank you, dear,” he answered. “Let Vincent eat and rest a little after lunch so this visit won’t take too much of a toll. Go ahead. I’ll get my visit in now, before he’s too tired to care that I’m here.”

She chuckled as she left. Physical therapy was one stress. Small children were quite another.


Catherine was quickly learning where everything happened in the tunnels, how responsibilities were handled, how the jobs were done. The government bureaucracy she worked for would have this world turned upside down in a couple of weeks, she thought; yet these people had things running like clockwork. If they were scheduled for a job, it was done - None of the “This isn’t my job.” or “My union won’t let me handle this.” that her world dealt with all too often. In spite of some obvious inconveniences, this was definitely a much more pleasant way of life. She delivered the sheets to be washed, stopped to talk to some of the community members she met in the hall, and stopped in the kitchen to pick up a lunch tray.

“Unless you’re helping out more than it looks like you are, young lady, I guess you’re finding out about that boy’s appetite,” William pointed out as he filled the tray.

“I don’t know, William,” she answered with a grin, “maybe I was just too busy mooning over him to notice before.”

“Then he’s a lucky man,” William responded with a gruff sort of smile. “You make sure he lets you have your share.”

“Yes, sir,” she smiled over her shoulder as she left.


The children appeared at the door at mid-afternoon, bringing books, notes from some of the older children, and pictures they had drawn as get-well gifts. There were about eight four, five, and six year olds of various sizes and ethnic origins, all looking at Vincent as if he might break. They had obviously been told that he was sick and they were to be on their best behavior. Kipper and Samantha had come along to help Mary if they got out of hand - and to have a few minutes of their own with Vincent.


“What are all those things in your hands?” Vincent asked them.

“They’re for you, Vincent,” answered the youngest girl, Teresa, looking up shyly with big brown eyes. “These are from the big kids.” She handed him the notes.

That was all it took for the others to lose all semblance of decorum. They all started talking at once.

“Yeah, that’s ‘cause we get to see you before they do.” “I have stuff, too.” We made you some pictures.” “Will you hang them up somewhere?” “We miss you.” “Are you better yet?”

“Wait,” Vincent smiled, as patient with them as ever, “You should take turns so I won’t miss anything. Now, may I see those pictures?” The tallest boy, Tommy, handed him the pictures; and Vincent looked at each of them, finding something to praise in each one. “Since the notes are from the ‘big kids’, I’ll read them after your visit.” He took a moment to hand the notes to Catherine. “What else do you have there?” Vincent asked. “It looks like you brought books.”

“We’re going to read you a story to make you feel better,” answered Jennifer, who had one of the books. She was nearly jumping up and down in anticipation.

“Well, since I can’t come down there today, I guess you’ll have to come up here with me so I can see all the pictures,” Vincent told them quite seriously.

His bed was immediately full of excited children, all clamoring for the best spot. Catherine, Kipper and Samantha held a couple of them back briefly in regard for Vincent’s safety, and helped arrange them in some reasonable fashion. He pretended to be afraid at first and chuckled as they gradually settled down around him. They had chosen The Little Engine That Could, one of the books Catherine had brought at Christmas the year before. Mary thought the reading might go a little easier for all concerned since the younger children had most of it memorized. Catherine and Mary sat in the chairs near the bed, spoke quietly now and then, and enjoyed the scene. Kipper and Samantha settled on the foot of the bed and watched. The children took turns reading. They all chimed in on “I think I can,” and conscientiously showed Vincent all the pictures.

Looking at the second book and imagining how slow some of the “reading” might be, Vincent offered to read to them. They had a book of children’s poems, so each child was allowed to chose a favorite. After the poems were read, Mary and her assistants announced the end of visiting hours. The children climbed all over Vincent giving him hugs and kisses before scrambling down from the bed, then the chaperones gathered their small charges to go. Teresa, no longer feeling shy, ran back to the side of the bed.

“Can you get better now, Vincent?” she asked.

He leaned over toward her with a twinkle in his eyes.

“I think I can, I think I can,” he said in a stage whisper, playing to his appreciative, giggling pint-sized audience. As Mary led them out, Catherine accepted hugs from each of them. Their laughter and chattering voices drifted back into the room from the passageway.

Kipper and Samantha had asked permission to stay for a few more minutes since their jobs here had been accomplished.

“Do the two of you plan to read to me, too?” Vincent asked them with a smile.     “No!” Kipper shot back immediately. “You’ll have to get Catherine to do that. You make me do enough of that in class.”

“I’d read to you if you wanted me to, Vincent,” Samantha told him, “but Catherine is much better at it.”

“If everyone is leaving the reading to Catherine, then perhaps you would tell me what you’ve been doing,” Vincent suggested. “I’ve missed most of the news lately.”  They talked about their classes. Olivia had taken some of them swimming, bribing them with cookies to take Luke in the water so she didn’t have to get wet. Kipper teased Samantha about being in love while Samantha denied it vigorously and threatened revenge at the earliest opportunity. Then Kipper finished by saying, “and I went above to do some errands for Catherine.” Kipper was suddenly very quiet and Catherine said nothing; so Vincent, in spite of his curiosity, simply thanked him.

“I’m sure that Catherine appreciated your help.”

Sensing that Kipper might have fallen into uncomfortable territory, Samantha put her need for revenge on hold and reminded him that Vincent needed his rest.

“I enjoyed our visit,” Vincent told them, Thank you for your help with the younger ones.

“Sure, Vincent,” Kipper answered.

“Any time you need us, let us know,” said Samantha as they stood to leave.

“You have the patience of Job,” Catherine chuckled, standing next to the bed when the two children were gone. “You must be exhausted.”

She was amazed to see that, rather than exhausted, Vincent seemed energized. It was clear how much he had missed seeing the children. Catherine smiled down at him, squeezed one of his shoulders and left her hand resting there. He smiled and shook his head, remembering the wiggling, giggling mass of miniature humanity who had just bounced into his bed and back out of his chamber.

“Something like a summer storm, weren’t they?” he said with a small chuckle, “Blowing in, roaring a little while, and blowing out again.” He looked up at Catherine and placed his hand over hers.

“They love you, you know. You’re wonderful with them. You always know what to say to make each one feel special. That’s a rare gift. You think of them almost as your own, don’t you?”

“I suppose I do,” he answered. “I used to feel like an older brother; but since Laura left us the lines have gradually begun to blur.  It was difficult to let her go.”

“They couldn’t ask for a better big brother - or a better father figure,” she said, intending nothing beyond a compliment.

Vincent’s hand slid away from Catherine’s, and he lost the buoyant bearing he had just moments before. Even though he understood her intent quite clearly, he thought maybe this was the right opening to face another truth head on. Catherine needed to understand this clearly, too.

“That’s all I can ever allow myself to be, Catherine - a father figure.” He emphasized the last word. “Even if I knew it possible for me to father a child, I couldn’t allow it. I couldn’t be so unfair as to intentionally create a child who might be confined to a life like mine. I know that child would have me for guidance; but I’ve lived this, and guidance isn’t enough. Even if the first child didn’t look like me, the next ones might . . . or their children. Regardless of their appearance, I would have contributed genetically. The consequences of that selfishness on my part would leave generations in its wake - young people afraid to have children for fear they might look like this.

“Those children would be loved and respected in this community. I know that. They would be safe in my world; but if anything happened to this community, there would be no safe place for them. All it would take is another Burch Towers in the right place, and our community could be destroyed. The thought that one of my children or grandchildren could be captured or caged the way I have been, or confined for medical experiments, or used the way Paracelsus would have used me, is something I am not willing to risk. I have to accept that I will be the only one of my kind, that I will leave no trace of myself when I go.”

“I know all that,” Catherine said softly, sitting on the side of the bed to face him, “and I will agree to it.”

He took her hands in his.       

“I know you want children. I can feel it when you’re with them. I’ve felt the longing in you when you see one of the women here announce her pregnancy. It pains me to know that I can’t give you that.” He took in a breath and released a deep, sad sigh. “I know you would want my children and love them as unconditionally as you love me, but I can’t give them to you. I won’t. You have to understand. There can be no compromise in this. To have a life with me you have to accept that, and you shouldn’t be confined to such a promise.”

She touched his arm gently. “But I have chosen to be confined to that promise. If I did have children, Vincent, whose would they be? When accepting one kiss from Elliott hurt you so deeply, how could I possibly allow myself to create a child with someone else? I could never do that to you. I could never do that to us. I make decisions for myself, remember? This is my choice, too; and you have to accept that.”

She moved her hand to touch his face, stroking her hand across his cheek, pleased that he allowed it so easily.

“The fact that you exist at all is a miracle. The fact that I’m alive to appreciate your existence is a miracle. The fact that you found me and saved me, that this bond exists between us, that we share this kind of love, that either of us have lived through the dangers of the past couple of years . . . all of those things are miracles. The birth of a child . . . .  How many miracles can two people expect in one lifetime? Maybe we’ve simply used up our share. To ask for that much more would surely be tempting fate.” She rested her hand on his shoulder again.

“As for leaving no trace of yourself when you go . . . .  You already have traces of yourself all over New York. Laura and Michael are just two. Laura’s strength and signing and Michael’s scholarship to college are because of your teaching and your encouragement. They take you with them, even when they aren’t thinking about you. I live a life that makes a difference because of your influence on me. I’ve seen that a lot of others do, too.” Trying to sound a little more cheerful, she added, “Besides, you’ve already given me more children that I know what to do with. Remember the ‘summer storm’ that just blew through? The nursery is full of children who need both of us. We could always adopt a baby the way Father adopted you if we feel the overwhelming need to wake up for two o’clock feedings.” Without a word, Vincent gathered her into his arms and they held each other quietly for a long time.

That night Vincent’s nightmares returned. Catherine woke to find him thrashing back and forth, moaning, “No! No!” His voice was getting louder, and she suddenly felt the overwhelming torment of his dreams. There was a roar building in him that would not only wake Father, but frighten half the tunnels as well; and she intended to take care of him herself. She scrambled into his bed and grabbed his shoulder, shaking him and calling his name.

“Vincent, it’s alright. You’re just dreaming.” He began to calm a little, and she shook him again. “Wake up. It’s only a dream. I’m here.” She knew it must have been frightening. His face was damp with perspiration and she could feel his heart racing.

Vincent opened his eyes, looked around and sat up. He put his hands to his face, and took in a long breath, trying to collect himself. When he released the breath, it transformed into the word, “Catherine.” To her surprise, he pulled her tightly into his arms, repeating her name.

“What frightened you so?” she asked, returning his embrace just as strongly.

“The dreams,” he answered, still feeling their full effects, “Like the ones I was having before.

“Tell me,” she whispered.

“There’s no need to concern you.” he answered shakily.

“Talk to me. Don’t close me out,” she pleaded. He hesitated, then the words poured out through unsteady breaths.

“I had lost you.  You were gone. Our bond was gone, and I couldn’t find you. You died . . . because of me.”

“Did you think you had hurt me?” she asked, stroking his hair.

“No. They hurt you because of me,” He shook his head slightly. “The unspeakable things you endured because you dared to love me.”

She pulled away to look at him. “There’s more to it, isn’t there?”

“Yes,” he answered, but he hesitated again.

“Tell me,” she insisted. “We’ll face our fears together from now on. Promise me that.”

“Catherine . . . .” he began, trying to dissuade her.

“All our fears, all our concerns . . . together,” she insisted. There was another hesitation, then with another rush of words he answered her, his head down, unable to look at her.   

“They took you because you carried my child . . . They killed you and took our son. I had lost you, and I couldn’t find our child.” He took her in his arms again, almost as desperately as he had the night she nearly drowned. “Hold me, Catherine.”

She wrapped her arms around him as tightly as she could. He had finally asked for her care instead of just accepting it when it was offered. She wondered if, in his present state, he could realize how much that meant to her - to them.

She woke sitting propped against his pillows, his head on her shoulder and his arms still around her waist. Her cheek rested on his hair. One of her arms was protectively around his shoulders, and the other rested on his upper arm. She smiled and nuzzled his hair, imitating the habit she loved in him. Thinking back to the agony he was in during the night, she wondered how many times he might have had such dreams while he was ill. Their conversation after the children left had apparently dredged up other reasons to worry about her safety and for not allowing himself the joy of being a father. After the dangers they had both endured in the past two years, she had to admit they were valid concerns. She pulled her arm around him more tightly and softly kissed the top of his head. She didn’t want to wake him, just to know he felt safe and loved.

When Vincent finally opened his eyes, his first words were an apology, concerned for the burden his weight must have been.

“I’m the caregiver right now,” she smiled down at him, not willing to let him go quite yet. “It’s all part of the job - and one of the more pleasant aspects of the job, I might add.”

“I can’t imagine that pulling me out of a violent nightmare could have been all that pleasant,” he answered, sitting up slowly and feeling a little self-conscious about his response to his dreams.

“Not the nightmares,” she agreed, “but I like that you talked to me instead of keeping it locked in. You can tell me the rest later when it doesn’t seem quite so close. And holding you under any circumstances” she smiled, “the pleasure was all mine.”

“No, it wasn’t,” he answered, glancing at her with a slightly self-conscious smile, still looking a little uncomfortable with all this truth. “Thank you,” he added, reaching to cover her hand with his.

She decided getting out of his bed would be wise. It was getting more difficult not to think of pinning him to the bed and ravishing him right then and there.

 Chapter 5