JoAnn Baca

Vincent prowled Catherineís balcony, waiting impatiently for her. He knew she was attending a gallery opening and likely would not be home for several more hours, but he had not been able to force himself to remain Below until he felt her return to her apartment.

His thoughts were so chaotic, his mind filled with such strange premonitions, and he needed some physical outlet. He had believed the climb Above to her balcony would provide some relief, but now he was caged on this small expanse of concrete and brick, unable to run, unable to breathe, unable to think clearly. And so he kept pacing -- back and forth, back and forth. He was so overwhelmed by his inner turbulence that at first he did not hear the snick of the bolt sliding back on the door as Catherine turned the lock and entered her apartment.

As she entered the unlit room, she caught sight of a flurry of motion, of a darker shadow moving back and forth against the gloom of the night outside her balcony doors. She wasnít surprised that Vincent had come Above, but his apparent distraction concerned her more than a little. Lately, he had seemed agitated, although he calmed considerably in her presence. But seeing him this way tonight unsettled her. Whatever was happening, it was getting worse.

She was plagued by the possibility that he was close to a breaking point, as he had been several months before. That dark time...the nightmarish visions heíd barely withstood and the resulting anguish his Tunnel family and Catherine had endured as theyíd nursed him from the brink of death..... She shuddered, recollection chilling her. It had taken so much out of him, left him weakened in body and soul-tired. If she had any power over things, it would not happen again. Resolutely, she raised her chin and determined to face whatever lay beyond those balcony doors tonight.

Vincentís perception of Catherineís presence snaked through their Bond, eventually piercing the churning emotional storm within him. He turned just as she threw the balcony doors wide and stepped out to meet him.

"What is it, Vincent?" Her concern was reflected in the troubled eyes which quickly took in his disheveled state and the tight, irregular breathing pattern which caused his chest to heave with the effort.

"Catherine! The dreams...they...." he began hurriedly, almost breathlessly. He only choked out his last word, his breath seeming to fail him. A coughing fit shook him, and he shook his head violently, as if to dispel it.

Catherine, troubled by his inability to speak or even breath properly, begged, "Let me get you some water?"

He nodded abruptly, and she ran to the kitchen, shoving a large glass beneath the tap and filling it quickly with cool water. When she returned to the balcony, she noted with relief that he had seated himself on a wrought iron bench, his hands clasping his knees, and he was making an attempt to still his heavy breathing. "Here. Drink."

He took the glass from her with a trembling hand and gulped the water thirstily, handing it back with a silent plea. Without a word, she returned inside and came out again with a full glass, which he downed more slowly. His breathing was returning to normal, and his hands shook less as he again handed the empty glass to her. He shook his head when she indicated she would get more. "No, thank you. Iím fine now."

Catherine set the glass on a nearby table, then sat beside Vincent, hoping her physical proximity would have a further calming effect upon him. "Now, tell me."

"The dreams...are returning." He seemed more self-possessed now, but she could tell he was controlling his voice only with great effort.

"The ones concerning...my death?" Her voice held all the compassion in her soul for what those words, said aloud, would do to him. But better she should utter them than force him to speak them.

His eyes widened in terror as if he watched some internal vision, helpless to prevent the constant replay in his mind. "You are...taken from me.... I can do...nothing...."

She made a decision then, the only one possible. This dear, tortured man had been put through enough. She would not allow him to risk himself for her anymore. Whatever she needed to do, she would. "I can do something, though. And I will. Iím going to the office tomorrow and resign, Vincent. My job isnít worth risking your health."

"No!" His distraction vanished as he focused on the words she had said. Now all he could think of was preventing her from taking such a life-altering step.

Shaking her head, she replied, "Whatever good Iím doing for the community at large cannot outweigh the damage my activities are causing to your well-being. Something has to give." Her tone was firm, resonating with a fierce finality.

"You cannot leave your job, Catherine, not because of me!" His voice held a pleading quality that nearly broke her heart. She thought with dismay, Heíd rather fall apart again than ask for this.

"What better reason do I have?" she said, the natural gentleness of her voice arguing as persuasively as her words. "Your dreams center on the dangers inherent in my job. Whatever your subconscious mind makes of them, thatís the point at which the nightmares start. My job is making you sick, Vincent. Itís not worth it. So Iím going to quit."

He became adamant, desperate to convince her not to do this thing. "You cannot change your life because of a dream, Catherine."

She smiled tenderly at his words. "Iíve already changed my life because of a dream...our dream. And Iíll continue changing it until my life becomes my dream."

He sat stunned. "I should never have told you...."

Shaking her head, her voice husky with sympathy, she replied, "And do you think I wouldnít have noticed the toll all of this is taking on you? No. You did the right thing. Sharing your pain, your confusion, is just as important as sharing the happy times. I donít want you to leave out a thing."

His eyes were glazed with pain. Hoarsely, he argued, "But...you do so much good...."

"How much good would I be able to do if something were to happen to you? Do you think I could go on with my life without you?" She took a chance then, reaching up to cradle his cheek in her hand. To her surprise, she felt a slight pressure as he nestled his face gently against her fingers. That simple gesture spoke volumes...and gave her the courage to continue her argument - for his sake, and for hers.

"You are more important to me than any job, than anything at all. The dream we share is the only imperative in my life. I will do whatever it takes to keep it alive...and you safe."

He lowered his gaze, unable to withstand the intensity in her eyes. The relief he felt as he listened to her shamed him. He had no right to impose his fears upon her, to cause her to leave a job she loved in order to spare him...unpleasant dreams.

Reading his heart, Catherine whispered low, "I want us both to be happy, Vincent. Can you honestly tell me that my leaving the D.A.ís Office would not make you happy?"

He lifted his face to hers again, but merely stared at her, the dichotomy in his heart unexpressed. He couldnít lie to her. It would do more than make him happy. It would bring him a peace of mind for which he had longed for nearly two years. But neither could he acknowledge out loud what was in his heart. This is Catherineís life, he reminded himself desperately. She must live it to the fullest.

But he didnít need to say anything. What she needed to know she could read in those incredible blue eyes that never could...or would...lie to her. "You donít have to answer. I know you. I know how much my job has cost you. Iíll bear that responsibility...and that blame...for all of my life. But I promise to never stop trying to make it up to you."

She could feel the protest forming in him as he raised his head higher, his body tensing for a reply. But before he could speak, she stilled him with the simple expediency of a completely unexpected kiss.

She hadnít planned to kiss him, but suddenly, as she thought of all he had endured because of her, a kiss seemed the only thing possible to offer him...and the only argument he could not overcome. Yet, even though she had initiated it, the kiss took her by surprise. Her lips were immediately sensitized to the curves and valleys of his unique mouth, and she knew without a doubt that the soul-deep craving it inspired could only be satisfied in his arms.

On his part, Vincentís startlement was replaced almost immediately by a sense of sweet intoxication. Surprise melted into a passionate yearning to taste this woman who was all of life to him. He had never experienced a tenth part of the bliss that now coursed through his being as Catherineís lips pressed to his own. Whatever protest he had planned dissolved in the knowledge that this...all of this...was right. When she pulled back, a part of him almost refused to let her go. But she didnít go far.

"Do we understand each other?" she murmured against his slightly parted lips.

His fervent "Yes" was muffled as her mouth caught and clung to his again. And just before he gave himself over completely to the rapture of Catherineís kisses, he spared a last, fleeting thought to the nightmares which had plagued him for so long, consigning them to deep oblivion - for he knew without a doubt that he would never have another as long as he lived.