Gwen Lord and Chuckie Burge

It was a peaceful day in the tunnel world Ė for once the underground passageways were quiet and no emergency repairs had been needed. Since it was Saturday, there were no classes to teach so Father and Vincent were indulging themselves in a late morning game of chess.

After careful deliberation, Father moved his knight. "What a delightful way to spend a morning," he said reaching for the teapot.

"Yes, Father, delightful," Vincent agreed, "but, are you sure you want to make that move?"

Father finished pouring more tea for them, then set the pot down and studied the chessboard. "You don't have to treat me like one of the children, Vincent, giving me a chance to change my mind. I definitely want to make that move." I think, he added to himself.

"All right, Father, if you say so," Vincent replied as he reached to make his play. Suddenly, the Bond he shared with Catherine opened and he was jolted by her voice in his mind, clearly saying 'Oooh, that feels so good.' Absolute total shock followed as he realized what was giving her such pleasure. Hands - a man's hands.

Vincent lurched to his feet, upsetting the chess board, which went spinning to the floor. He roared his hurt and dismay, then oblivious to Father's questions, fled the chamber.

A deluge of emotions flooded his being, feelings he had never had to deal with before. He felt his very soul was exploding, as rage drove him on, blindly running until he reached a deserted section of the tunnels. There he slowed to a walk, moving in a stupor, but with his pulse racing and his eyes aflame.

He was unable to shut off the Bond Ė their connection; every soft moan of pleasure from Catherine tearing him apart. He came to a breathless stop, then put both hands on the tunnel wall and threw his head back, a deafening roar escaping his throat. Slowly, he turned and leaned heavily against the rocks, then slid down until he crumpled in the dust in despair and buried his face in his hands.

How could she do this? How could she torment him this way? She knew he would feel every ... no ... that wasn't fair. She knew he felt her anger and fear or when she was in danger but he had never revealed how transparent her emotions really were to him. Whether he was afraid of embarrassing her, or himself, he wasn't sure but he had left her with the impression he was only able to feel her extreme emotions.

So she didn't know the pleasure he felt when he allowed his hand to stroke her back and could sense the thrill of his touch coursing through her body or that he shared her ecstasy and joy on those nights when she dreamed of him making love to her. No, she didn't know his guilty secret and now he was paying the price for his dishonesty and deceit.

Deep in his heart he had always known this day would come. The day when his dream would be shattered beyond repair but ... he had thought he would have some warning. That he would know if Catherine began to fall in love and would be able to prepare himself. If he was honest, however, he knew no amount of forewarning could have prepared him for this pain. How was he to endure this torture? This agony?

Catherine was now relaxed and almost somnolent, her complete and utter contentment adding to his torment.

Suddenly he remembered his abrupt exit from Father's chamber and guilt flooded over him. Father would be worrying about what caused his son to bolt from the chamber and what was wrong. No matter how personally devastated he felt, it was not fair to worry the man who loved him so devotedly and worried about him constantly.

Rising, he braced himself against the wall for a moment, then walked unsteadily until he found a communication pipe. He tapped out a message for Father that he was fine and would return later and explain.

He continued to pace through the tunnels, avoiding the corridors where he would be apt to meet anyone, as he returned to the home tunnels. He had to think - to plan. What was he to do? How could he survive without Catherine? How could he survive knowing Catherine was with another man?

Perhaps distance was the answer. He could withdraw from the community and move down into the lower levels of the tunnels. No! That is a ridiculous idea, he chastised himself savagely. Going deeper into the tunnels wouldn't help at all - he was still able to feel her heartbeat when she was 3000 miles away in Los Angeles, a few hundred feet of rock was not going to make any difference.

He now acknowledged and deeply regretted the insanity of his numerous suggestions that she should fall in love and live another life Above. How arrogant to think he knew what was best for her - for them; and how stupid not to realize he would still be connected to her, even if she was with another man.

The immediate issue was what to tell Father. He had no idea but the soft, amber glow of the study came into view and the moment was at hand.

* * * *

Father glanced up and saw the tall frame of his son hesitating in the doorway. "Vincent Ö come Ö come and sit down. I was so worried. What on earth caused you to leave in such a rush? What troubles you so?"

Vincent slowly came down the steps and took a chair across the table from Father. "I Ö I Ö just felt Ö trapped, Father."

"We were playing a simple game of chess, Vincent. How on earth could that make you feel trapped?"

"I donít know, Father. Itís nothing to worry about."

"Balderdash, Vincent! Do you take me for a fool?" He was silent for a long moment, hoping for an answer, but finally spoke gruffly, "Itís something to do with Catherine, isnít it?"

Vincent looked up in astonishment. "How did you know?"

"Vincent," Father sighed, "when you raise a child and you love that child beyond reason, you develop a sort of second sense Ö an intuition for when that child is in trouble. Since Catherine has come into our lives, she seems to be a catalyst for your problems."

"Father I feel Ö I think Catherine has found another," he blurted.

"No, I cannot believe that, Vincent."

"She has, I felt this new emotion from her. Iíve lost her Ö my life is at an end."

"Pull yourself together," Father snapped. "Weíll have no more talk like that. Have you confronted her and heard her side of the story?"


"For heavens sake, Vincent! Who appointed you judge and jury? You must give her a chance to explain." He was quiet for a moment as another thought occurred to him. "Does Catherine even know there is a problem?"

Vincent hung his head in embarrassment. "No," he whispered.

Father raked his hand through his hair in frustration. "I canít believe this! Youíre condemning the girl because you think you felt something through your Bond?"

"I know what I felt, Father!" Vincent said hotly. "I felt her pleasure with another."

"This Bond you have Ė this unique connection, is a marvelous thing but couldnít you have misinterpreted these feelings? Once, before I got to know Catherine, I might well have rejoiced at such a prospect. At that time I felt sure she would one day leave you. But now, Vincent, I believe she loves only you and would never get involved with someone else. Besides all else, Catherine is not a coward. If her feelings had changed, she would have had the courage to tell you."

Vincent obstinately shook his head, refusing to consider anything but what he had felt.

Father threw his hands up in exasperation. "I give up Ė I donít know how I raised such a thick-headed son. As a long-time survivor of the war between men and women, I warn you, Vincent, you had better have some facts or something more than just your feelings when you confront her. Most women can out argue a man but that beautiful attorney will absolutely make mince-meat out of you."

Vincent had no answer and stubbornly stood his ground. He rose and turned to leave the study. "Iíll talk to you later, Father."

Father watched with a heavy heart as his son left the chamber. There was nothing he could do but wait Ė and hope. And keep a tight rein on himself to avoid saying ĎI told you soí when the time came.

Vincent knew his father was right about one thing Ė he had to face Catherine. He decided to send one of the boys with a note telling her he would arrive about midnight, not willing to take the chance of finding her with the Ďother maní.

* * * *

Catherine found the note slid under her door when she returned. She recognized Vincentís handwriting and eagerly opened the envelope. She was a bit puzzled at the message Ė why was he announcing his arrival? He had never done that before and she didnít understand it. She glanced at the clock and realized her curiosity would not be satisfied for several hours.

* * * *

"May I come in, Catherine?"

Catherine was startled by his request to enter her apartment, but tried not to show it as she stepped back away from the balcony doors.

He followed her into the living room, removing his cloak and laying it over the back of the sofa.

"Make yourself comfortable," she invited, as she sank down on one of the sofas. "Would you like something to drink?"

He shook his head as he sat on the sofa opposite her.

After a long moment of silence, Catherine said, "I'm always delighted to see you, Vincent, but you seem to be rather preoccupied, is there something in particular on your mind?"

"No ... no, I just wanted to see you ... and talk. How was your day?"

"It was okay, how about yours?" she asked, thinking this was about the strangest conversation she had ever had with Vincent.

"We had a very quiet day Below," he replied, then asked in as casual a manner as he could manage, "did you stay home or go out this morning?"

Okay, she thought, I can talk trivia as long as it takes to find out what is wrong here. "I ran some errands this morning, then went to the salon for a manicure and to have my hair trimmed."

"What else did you do?" he asked intently. "I thought I sensed your enjoyment this morning."

"What else?" She was finding this conversation hard going. "Let's see," she said, absent-mindedly rubbing her neck, "oh yeah, I've been having a stiff neck and tension headaches lately so I had a massage while I was at the salon,"

"A massage?" He pondered this for a long moment, wondering if his jealousy could have caused him to jump to a hasty conclusion. "I've never had a massage ... how does it ...?" His voice trailed off as he realized he didnít know how to ask his question.

"Well, I like to spend some time in the sauna or hot tub first to get my muscles as loose as possible. Then you lie on a table with some strategically placed towels over you and someone comes in and gives you a massage."

"A man or a woman?"

"It could be either one. My therapist this morning happened to be a man. I'm glad though because he had very strong hands and even though it was painful, my muscles really needed the work; it's been an extremely stressful week at work." She glanced up and noticed Vincent had developed a strange look on his face.

"Painful? But you said how wonderful it felt," he blurted. "And he had terrific hands and ..."

"What? When did I say that? I might have been thinking that but I would never have said it out loud. Under those circumstances you have to be a bit careful so that everything stays in an impersonal mode." Suddenly things began to click into place. "Vincent, how do you know all this?"

He shrugged uncomfortably, "Catherine, you were moaning with pleasure - your emotions were very strong." He shifted in his seat, much like a naughty schoolboy caught passing notes in class.

"You quite obviously thought something totally inappropriate was going on. What? What on earth were you thinking?" The guilty look on his face crystallized her thoughts. "I don't believe it! You thought I was having a fling with someone?"

"No," Vincent shook his head, desperately trying to backtrack, "no, of course not."

"Oh, yes you did! You thought I was having sex with some man! How could you possibly think such a thing? And you dare to think I would be callous enough to transmit my feelings to you? That I would want you to know ..." She hesitated and thought about this for a long moment, trying to curb her anger. "I wasn't trying to send any message to you, so how did you know what I was thinking?"

"You're getting upset, Catherine, I don't ..."

"Upset? Damn it, of course, I'm getting upset! I've just been accused of some very questionable behavior, so I think I have every right to get upset! Essentially you eavesdropped on my thoughts and misconstrued everything I was feeling." She stood up and began to pace around the living room. "You've got some kind of nerve, Vincent, accusing me of impropriety, when you have apparently been keeping some pretty big secrets of your own." She stopped pacing and turned around to look directly at him. "Just how long have you been able to read my mind like this?"

Guilt etched his leonine features as Vincent leapt to his feet. His mind raced as he desperately tried to think of a reasonable explanation other than the truth. He could no longer tolerate her accusing stare and whirled to leave, bumping the coffee table and knocking a glass onto the floor, adding to his embarrassment. In remorse, he glanced once more at Catherine, then grabbed his cloak and fled through the balcony doors.

"Vincent, wait!" she cried as she tried to stop him, but he was too fast and by the time she reached the balcony, it was empty. "Oh, damn it! What have I done?" she chided herself as she walked back into the silent apartment. She knew how sensitive he was about his Ďdifferencesí yet she had made angry accusations about one of his special senses.

Realizing her error, Catherine grabbed her coat and keys in a panic, racing out of the apartment. During the elevator ride to the basement, she fretted about what to say to him; how she could make things right. But even as she tried to think of conciliatory words, anger once more flared up. How could he do that to her?

She climbed down the ladder into the dusty basement but her quarry was nowhere to be seen. You wonít escape me this time, Vincent, she thought grimly as she began to stride through the familiar tunnels to his chambers. Finding them empty, she headed for Fatherís study.

* * * *

"Where the hell is he?" Catherine demanded as she charged down the steps into Father's chambers.

Father looked up from his book in surprise. First of all, Catherine was never abrupt or rude - she hadn't even greeted him and was obviously agitated, and he was certain he knew the cause. "Er, good evening, Catherine, was Vincent expecting you?"

"Oh, I'm sure he's expecting me," she said venomously. "He came Above, started a fight and then ran off to the tunnels like a coward."

Father's eyes twinkled and he smothered a smile. "I see ... he didn't have the decency to stand there so you could shout at him - is that it?"

"That's about it," Catherine grimly agreed, refusing to be jollied out of her anger. "Do you know where he might have gone? He is not going to do this to me again! This is one time an argument is going to be hashed out and settled, whether he likes it or not!"

Oh, heavens, Vincent, you've really put your foot in it this time, Father thought. Catherine is absolutely furious and not going to back down. "Knowing Vincent's proclivity for avoiding confrontations, you have my sympathy, my dear. There have been times I would have liked to glue his feet to the floor to make him stay and listen to me." He was deliberately being verbose, hoping to give Catherine time to cool down a bit. "Let's see, we might put out a message on the pipes but if he's truly being difficult he would probably just ignore it. I know," he said with great enthusiasm as if suddenly inspired, "we will send Mouse to find him - of course, first we have to find Mouse ..."

"That will not be necessary, Father," Vincent said quietly from the top of the steps.

Catherine whirled around. She had been so wrapped up in her anger she had not realized he was near.

They stared at each other for a long moment, and then Vincent held out his hand. "Come, Catherine, we will find a quiet place to talk."

"You're very welcome to stay here," Father offered. "I would be happy to go ... er ..."

"Thank you," Vincent said with his usual grave courtesy. "but, no, Father, we need more privacy for this discussion. Catherine ...?"

She walked up the steps to join him but pointedly ignored his hand. She obviously did not want him to touch her, which sent a cold shiver of apprehension through him.

She stopped in the outer tunnel and glanced up at him. "Are we going back to my apartment or do you have somewhere else in mind?"

"This way, Catherine," he said, indicating the corridor to her left. "Itís not very far."

* * * *

After walking a short distance past the kitchen area Vincent said, "Here, Catherine." He reached for a torch on the wall and then opened a heavy wooden door set in the rock wall. "This is an old storeroom weíve cleared out. Thereís nothing to sit on but the sand, however, the door will ensure our privacy."

Catherine entered and glanced around the small chamber before turning to watch him light a few torches on the walls. Finally he faced her and said, "I must apologize for my behavior. First, for reverting to my old habit of running away, and secondly for lying to you Ė or, at least, lying by omission. My only excuse, which is no acceptable excuse, is that I was consumed by jealousy. The thought of you enjoying the touch of another man blinded me to all reason."

"Isn't that rather a dog-in-the-manger attitude? After all ... you won't touch me, am I supposed to spend the rest of my life as some sort of 'vestal virginí?" she inquired acidly. "Or are we having a 'mental affair' - only one of us didn't know about it?"

"Your mind is not totally vulnerable to me, Catherine," he protested, "you can block your thoughts from me, and have done so many times. For example, when Paracelus kidnapped you and you didn't want to lead me into a trap."

"Vincent, I know I can block you but I didn't know I had to be on guard all the time. I'm not just angry about tonight - there is a lot more at stake here. It's not the fact that you can read my mind that disturbs me - it's that you kept it a secret from me."

"I know and I deeply regret not telling you. It was unforgivable but it was not a deliberate decision. This ... ability came about gradually over the last two years. At first I could sense only your fear or anger - very strong emotions. As we became closer I could discern other emotions but you must understand, Catherine, I didn't consciously realize this for a while. I attributed the things I was feeling to my own emotions. When I did realize what was happening, I didn't know what to do about it."

"Did the words 'tell Catherine' ever cross your mind?" she snapped angrily at him.

Vincent flinched at her words. "I knew it was an invasion of your privacy but ... You must remember that our early encounters were very brief and I had no expectation of a lasting relationship between us. Sharing your feelings and emotions was such a beautiful experience for me and I may have subconsciously thought I was building memories to comfort me when you would eventually be gone from my life."

"You've never trusted me, have you?" she said in a hurt voice. "Or believed in me?"

He ducked his head. "How could I believe you could truly want one such as I? Even when, very gradually, I began to realize I could understand specific thoughts - not just emotions. Again, separating your thoughts from mine was a learning experience. This had never happened to me before and I didn't know how to tell you any of this. I was afraid you'd be embarrassed or self conscious about it and cut me out of your life completely." His sense of desperation echoed through his words.

Catherine's anger was waning in the face of his distress. "Vincent, don't you know I could never leave you?"

"I hope not, Catherine, but I haven't told you everything yet."

"There's more?" she asked in astonishment. "You feel my emotions and you can read my mind - what else could there possibly be?"

He raised his head and looked directly into her eyes. "I share your dreams, Catherine," he said quietly.

"You share my dr ... Oh, God!" she moaned as her face flamed with color. She'd been having erotic dreams lately about the two of them; dreams filled with passionate lovemaking.

"Please, Catherine don't be ashamed. You cannot control your dreams any more than I can control feeling your emotions. It is an involuntary action for either of us."

"Ashamed," she mused, "I'm not ashamed, Vincent. I love you and there is no shame in that love. It's just a little embarrassing, that's all." She was silent for a long moment before continuing, "When you shared those dreams with me, did you ... were ..." She shook her head, "Never mind, on second thought, I don't think I want to know."

"It was beautiful, Catherine," he whispered. "If only it could be real."

"It can be real, Vincent." she grabbed his hands and looked into his eyes with longing and conviction.

"No! It can never be, Catherine."

"If we dreamed it Ė we can live it, Vincent, I truly believe that. You have got to have faith in me Ė in us. Why do you only see the negative side? Why canít you believe in the miracle of us?" She stepped forward and put her hand on his arm. "You have such an optimistic nature Ö except for this one damned blind spot! Will you do something for me?"

"Of course I will, Catherine. I would do anything for you."

"Kiss me," she murmured.

He hesitated a moment and then leaned down and kissed her cheek.

Catherine tried to curb her anger. "Thatís not what I meant and you know it. I want you to really kiss me."

Vincent sorrowfully shook his head.

"Arrgh!" Catherine shrieked as she turned away from him and threw up her hands in frustration. "You are driving me crazy!" She walked a short distance away and paced back and forth, muttering to herself. She stopped and stared at him for a few minutes before walking back towards him. "Sit down, Vincent," she said in a quiet, serious voice.

Vincent sank to the sand, wary of this change of mood.

Catherine came and sat close beside him but facing him, her legs drawn up and her folded hands resting on her knees. She leaned forward and rested her forehead on her hands for a moment, trying to calm herself and formulate exactly what she wanted to say.

Vincent instinctively raised his hand to caress her head and comfort her but stopped before he touched her and let his hand drop. In this volatile situation he was afraid to move or speak.

Finally she raised her head and looked at him. "Vincent, I am an attorney. I have a logical, analytical mind. I go into court and no matter what is said or done I remain calm and in control; lawyers call it Ďthinking on their feetí. I donít lose my focus or forget my objectives." She shook her head, "I try to do this with you but I turn into a babbling idiot! I donít understand it and it frustrates me so I lose my temper Ė for that, I apologize."

"Catherine, thereís no need Ö"

She held her hand up to silence him. "Let me finish, Vincent. There are things that have been unspoken between us for too long. To state the obvious, we are not living a normal life, and I donít mean simply the differences between Above and Below. We are so much closer than most couples, and even closer than I realized until today but Ö I need more, Vincent. I donít mean sex, although that would be wonderful; I mean a real closeness Ė an intimacy. We have a Bond, but it doesnít make up for being held in someoneís arms. It doesnít make up for the wariness I sense when I put my arms around you. It doesnít make up for the fact you wonít enter my apartment Ė except under circumstances like tonight. Do you know how much I long for the simple things? To have a quiet dinner in my apartment, to sit in front of the fire or even just watch a stupid television show. I want to be with you and be able to relax and be affectionate and not have you misjudging my intentions."

"Catherine, I donít," he protested.

She gave him a disbelieving look. "So itís my imagination that you tense up every time I touch you? Do you know how that makes me feel? Oh, thatís right," she said sarcastically, "you do know. So, if you know, and if you love me as you say you do, how can you treat me this way? Itís not fair, I have never rebuffed you, although you keep expecting me to, but you do it to me all the time." She sat quietly for a long moment. "I have tried to be patient and understanding Ö but I have had enough!"

Vincent began to feel lightheaded as panic set in. What had he set in motion with his stupid jealousy and accusations?

"A few minutes ago I said I would never leave you. It was an automatic response because I love you, but, what I should have said was I will never stop loving you. Tonight has been the proverbial last straw. Discovering you can read my mind, as well as share my dreams, makes me reconsider the whole situation. If you can read my mind then you can no longer use the excuse of fearing my rejection if you made love to me, because you know that wonít happen. If itís not the fear of rejection that holds you back itís something I donít understand and wonít be able to understand until you explain it to me. Itís way past the time for feelings and intuitions Ö itís time for some plain talk Ė nothing else is going to save our relationship. I want a life with you, Vincent, but weíre at a crossroads here and itís up to you which road we take. I could handle a life of celibacy with you, if thatís what you want Ė the key words there are Ďwith youí. If we were living together I could handle anything. What I canít handle is this on again-off again relationship living apart."

Vincent started to speak but she held up her hands to stop him. "I donít expect Ė or want Ė an immediate answer from you. I know you need time, and solitude, to think it through. Iím going back to my apartment, and I will not return to the tunnels unless you come to me and give me your answer. I heartily dislike ultimatums but I guess thatís what this is. If I donít hear from you by one week from today I will assume that is your answer. I will then do what you have told me to do so often Ö I will remove myself from your life." She got to her feet and stood looking down at him, tears cascading down her face. "I love you, Vincent, and I know what I want out of life Ö I hope you decide you want the same thing." Catherine gazed silently at him for a few moments before she turned and left the cavern.

Vincent realized Catherine did not want him to accompany her but he followed her silently, staying out of her sight, unwilling to let her leave the tunnels alone. He listened to her sobs as she climbed the ladder and closed the hidden doors between their worlds. Leaning against the tunnel wall, he waited until he sensed she was in her apartment, then walked back to the home tunnels, despair almost overwhelming him.

* * * *

The next few days Vincent kept to his regular schedule Below until he realized his preoccupation with Catherine was a danger to his friends on the repair crew. Working with tools and the unknown hazards of the tunnels required a focused mind Ė for everyoneís safety.

As they walked back to the home tunnels one evening he told Kanin he would be away for a few days and unable to help finish the project.

"Iíve noticed you have something on your mind, Vincent. Is there anything I can do to help?"

"I donít believe so, but thank you." After a moment, Vincent spoke hesitantly, "Kanin Ö I realize this is a very personal question and I do apologize, but Ö are you able to win disagreements with Olivia?"

"Oh, ho!" Kanin chortled. "So thatís what this is about Ė arguing with Catherine, eh? Well, I hate to disillusion you, Vincent, but I am very rarely able to win an argument with Olivia. Women are just more articulate in expressing their opinions Ė and Catherine being an attorney Ö well, I certainly donít envy you trying to win an argument with her."

Vincent nodded his head. "Father made a similar remark. I feel so inadequate in this situation."

"Trust me, Vincent, every man feels the same way. No matter how much you love a woman Ė understanding her is another matter entirely."

* * * *

Vincent went to his chamber and packed the things he would need for a few days. On his way, he would stop by the kitchen and add some food to his pack. He went to Father and explained he was going to the river far Below and spend a day or two. "You were correct that I jumped to conclusions but Catherine and I could not resolve our differences."

"Can I help you with any of this, Vincent?" Father asked. "I would promise to listen and not judge."

"No, thank you, Father," Vincent replied. "I just need some time alone to think. Perhaps we can talk when I return."

Sorrowfully, Father watched his son climb the steps and disappear into the tunnels. He no longer feared a relationship for Vincent with Catherine; rather he feared what would happen to Vincent without Catherine in his life. He prayed they could find a solution to their dilemma before they were both emotionally scarred beyond healing.

* * * *

The week following her ultimatum to Vincent dragged slowly by. Each day Catherine would hurry home after work and wait impatiently, hoping to hear a familiar tapping at the balcony doors. During the long evenings she would replay the events of that fateful evening in her mind; one minute, certain she had been right, the issues had to be resolved Ė the next, castigating herself for losing her temper and forcing Vincent into decisions he wasnít ready to make. Then a moment later, she would be angry again because he had kept secrets from her. When she finally went to bed she would fretfully toss and turn all night.

At work, she was distracted and short-tempered causing Joe and her other co-workers to exchange questioning glances and avoid her as much as possible. She was so wrapped up in her own problems; she didnít even notice their concern.

* * * *

The first night Vincent walked until he was too exhausted to take another step. Wrapped in a blanket and his cloak, he spent a few hours dozing on the hard stone floor.

The next morning he built a small fire and took supplies from his pack to brew a cup of tea and eat some food to sustain him. Revived, he sipped a second cup of tea and let his brain begin to try to sort out his problems. His thoughts circled round and round. First thinking there was no way he and Catherine could have a future together Ė they were too different; he had nothing to offer her and there was the possibility a more intimate relationship could be dangerous for her, and heartbreaking for him if she found his body repugnant. But Ö then he would remember her words, *If you can read my mind, then you can no longer use the excuse of fearing my rejection if you make love to me, because you know that wonít happen*

After a few hours of constant back and forth musings his head was splitting. As he rubbed his temples to try and relieve the pain, his eyes roamed absent-mindedly over the tunnel walls. Suddenly he stopped, realizing he had done it again Ė he had run away from her instead of staying so they could work out their problems together. He was a fool! He had to return immediately. He still wasnít sure they could have a future together but he could not make a decision for the two of them, by himself Ė they had to make this decision together.

He gathered his supplies and replaced them in his pack. After a quick glance to be sure he had forgotten nothing, he slung the bag over his shoulder, picked up his torch and began to retrace his steps.

A hour later, disaster struck. Vincent rounded a bend to find the tunnel completely blocked. He spent some time shifting rocks before concluding the land slide was too deep for him to clear. He uttered a rare curse and sank to the floor in despair. The only other way to the home tunnels was to return to where he had spent the night and take a long, circuitous route that would add days to his journey. He knew sitting here and brooding would not make it any shorter so he climbed to his feet and began his trek.

* * * *

By the evening of the 8th day, Catherine sorrowfully concluded that Vincent had given her his answer. Now she had to make some decisions of her own. Decisions that would affect the rest of her life Ė in fact would determine what she would do with the rest of her life. She could not stay in her apartment, always listening for a tap at the door. In fact, she realized she could no longer stay in New York or she would always be looking for Vincent in the shadows wherever she went.

* * * *

The next morning she tried to work for while, then gave up and went to Joeís office. "Hi Ė you got a minute?"

Joe smiled, "For you, Radcliff? Always Ė sit down."

"Iíve got something to tell you, Joe. I havenít typed up my resignation yet but Iím quitting."

Joeís smile faded abruptly. "What? You canít, I need you here, Cathy. Is it something Iíve done?"

"Itís not you, Joe, itís me. I have to leave New York Ö I have to get away. There are too many problems."

"Hey Ö problems, we can deal with Ė donít be hasty."

"Yes, if they were work problems, but these problems are Ö personal."

"Itís that Vincent guy, isnít it? If heís laid a finger on you, Iíll Ö"

"Yes, my problem is with Vincent Ė but he hasnít hurt me; at least not physically."

"Let me talk to him, Cathy."

"You canít."

"Yes, pal, I can. If heís upset you, I can talk to him and put him right."

"If only it was that simple, Joe."

"Hey Ė try me! Iím not losing you because of a guy who upsets you so much you donít just want to quit - you want to leave town! Thereís got to be another answer."

"Just believe me, Joe, I need to quit and Iím going to give you my resignation today."

"You canít quit!"

"Did somebody crown you King, Joe? You donít have any say in this Ė Iím quitting!"

"Ok, ok, hold on a minute." Joe raked his fingers through his hair in frustration. "How about taking some time off?"

She started shaking her head.

"Come on, Cathy, you owe me that much. At least take a few days, or a week maybe, and think about it before you make a decision you might regret. Then if you still want to quit, Iíll tell Moreno you turned in your resignation but I was holding it, trying to talk you out of it."

Catherine considered this for a moment and decided agreeing was the easiest way to avoid a fight with Joe. "All right," she agreed, "one week Ė starting today."

* * * *

Although his despair urged Vincent to run at breakneck speed through the tunnels, his common sense dictated a slower pace as he traveled the unfamiliar territory. Only his years of experience and his inner awareness of which forks in the tunnels would lead him in the direction of the home tunnels kept him from losing hope.

His sense of direction was intact but days of walking till exhausted, then stopping for food and a few hours rest had completely disoriented him time wise. He had lost all perception of whether it was day or night Above Ė or how many hours or days had passed. He was desperately afraid he would be too late. He had no sense of Catherine through their Bond and did not know if she was shielding herself from him or had already left the city. One thought kept echoing through his mind. *I love you, Catherine Ė I need you. Please donít leave Ė come back to me. *

Eventually the tunnels began to look more familiar. He stopped to rest at one junction and realized the left fork would permit him to be in the home tunnels within a few hours. The right fork would take longer but would bring him close to the chambers where Narcissa lived. The urge to return home, as swiftly as possible and contact Catherine, was almost overwhelming but his conscience would not allow him to do so without first checking on the well-being of his elderly friend.

As usual, when he reached her chambers, Narcissa was expecting him and had tea ready. He had long since given up trying to find a rational explanation for this and simply accepted it.

"Do not be troubled, Vincent," she said as she stirred her tea, "your Catherine will wait for you."

"I have no sense of her through our Bond."

"You have been a very foolish young man and tried to push her away from you but she is steadfast and will not leave you."

"How can you be sure? She was so very angry with me."

"Have you been listening to Father, again?" Narcissa asked. "He always doubts me but you know I speak the truth. The stones have told me things about you and Catherine."

"What things? Please, Narcissa, tell me."

"You must bring Catherine to me. I will tell you together Ė it is the way it should be."

When he could not persuade Narcissa to tell him, Vincent agreed to bring Catherine Below as soon as possible. He then resumed his journey to the home tunnels.

* * * *

Sitting at home that evening, Catherine thought about her conversation with Joe. Perhaps he was right and she was being too hasty Ė not about the job but in giving Vincent an arbitrary deadline. Talk about impulsive Ė here she was charging around, shredding the very fabric of her life, simply because she got mad as hell with Vincent. She needed to get a grip on her temper Ö and emotions, and might even she admitted in shame, need some advice. There was one person she had always depended on for a sympathetic ear and cool reasoning, her long-time friend, Jenny.

An hour later the two friends were curled up on cushions in front of the flickering flames in the fireplace.

Jen took a sip of her wine. "So Ö why the emergency get-together?"

"Oh, no emergency, just some things I wanted to talk about," Catherine said vaguely.

Eying her friend skeptically, Jen said, "Yeah, me too. OkayÖ so who goes first?"

"You go first," Catherine offered, knowing she really didnít know exactly how she was going to tell Jenny what was going on.

"Well Ö Iíve had another of my dreams about you, several dreams, in fact."

"Oh, geez! What was I doing this time?" Catherine asked in exasperation.

"It wasnít just one specific dream, but the general feeling I got from the recurring dreams was you were drowning."

"Drowning Ö as in water?" Catherine said sardonically, "You do remember that I am an excellent swimmer?"

"Donít be a smart ass Ė I donít literally mean in water. It was more like you were being swamped in feelings and emotions and could find no way out so you were drowning Ė so to speak. I also kept seeing a long, dark tunnel and in the distance a large, shadowy figure in a cloak was holding out his arms. Sometimes I would hear a voice saying, "I need you, Catherine, please come back to me." I donít know if it was the guy in the cloak or not but I gotta tell you, if that sexy voice was calling me Ė Iíd be running Ö to him."

Catherine was intrigued. "Did you see anything else about the guy?"

"No, nothing specific but there were other things that worried me."

"Youíre always worrying."

"This is different," Jenny insisted.

"In what way?"

"Well, for starters, I see your apartment deserted, yet your stuff is still there. I also see glimpses of you livingÖ well, I donít really know where, but itís dark, almost like a cave. Iím warning you, Cathy, watch every move you make for a while. Iím afraid it might be someone like that stalker you had Ė that maybe youíre going to be abducted and held somewhere."

Catherine smiled at her friend. "Quit worrying Ė I understand this dream of yours and Iím not going to be abducted. You had me going for a minute Ė I was expecting the worst."

"Excuse me," Jenny said sarcastically, "What could be worse?"

"To lose the man I love," Catherine said enigmatically. "A lot of things are up in the air at the moment, Jenny, I am drowning, in a way."

"Explain Ö I canít try to help if you donít tell me."

"To start with, today I turned in my resignation but Joe wants me to reconsider, so Iím thinking about it."

"Youíve done what? Why on earth would you quit your job?"

"Well, Vincent and I had a serious disagreement about our future. I told him if I didnít hear from him in a week I would not only quit my job, I would relocate and start a new life somewhere else."

"Vincent is this mysterious guy you wonít talk about?"


"Are you nuts? Youíre going to leave your job, your friends, and the city you love because of some damn guy?" Jenny gave a dramatic, exaggerated look around the living room. "Where have you hidden my friend? The one who is extremely intelligent and always logical. I canít believe this nonsense!"

Catherine began to laugh. "Well, so much for a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to cry on with all my troubles. I should have known youíd give me a hard time."

"When you start talking about moving and leaving me behind, you damn right Iíll give you a hard time. So, what the hell is the big problem with you and this Vincent?"

"Oh, God, Jenny, itís hard to explain. To reduce it to really simple terms, itís similar to a Ďrich girl Ė poor boyí situation. He doesnít think heís good enough and I should find someone more Ö well, more Ö"

"Your social equal?"

"Yeah, kind of. Itís more complicated than that but he canít believe I only want him Ė I donít care about money or status anymore. Heís changed me, changed my whole outlook on life. Unfortunately, I havenít been able to convince him of that. He is afraid I would tire of his lifestyle and want to return to the one I have now. Heís not willing to give us a chance to see if we could make it work."

"And heís worth all this aggravation?" Jenny asked.

"Oh, yeah," Catherine grinned. "Heís worth it. I love him, Jen, and I donít think I could ever love anyone else as much."

"Then, go for it, girl. Have it out with him, itís not like you to give up and run."

"Youíre right, Jenny, Iíve been letting my temper overrule my common sense," Catherine said. "I jumped to the self-righteous conclusion Iíd been lied to but the truth is Ö itís a complex situation and neither of us is completely right or wrong."

"Thereís my lawyer friend back Ė arguing both sides of the problem," Jenny joked. "So whatís next?"

Catherine shook her head. "I donít really know. I guess Iíll have to swallow my pride and make the first move and go talk to him Ė apparently heís even more stubborn than I am."

Jenny gave a mock gasp of horror. "It canít be Ö heaven help your future children with that kind of heritage."

Catherine laughed along with her friend while hoping in her heart she would have that chance Ė to have children with Vincent.

* * * *

Not wanting to put in an appearance at the office and have to fend off questions she didnít want to answer, Catherine left a message on Joeís home answering machine requesting a meeting away from the office whenever it was convenient for him. When he returned her call, he suggested dinner the following evening.

* * * *

When they were seated at the restaurant, Joe picked up his menu and grinned at her. "Radcliff, Iíd really like to enjoy this meal with you so I suggest we stick to casual conversation until our after dinner coffee Ė okay?"

"Itís a deal, Joe, no shop talk." Catherine laughed, "Except, Iím not sure I know what else people talk about Ė do you?"

"Sports?" he asked hopefully.

Catherine shook her head. "Nope Ė how about ballet?" she teased.

Joe made a face at her suggestion, and then asked, "Movies?"

"When do DAís have time to go to movies?"

"Geesh, youíre ruining my day. We donít have much of a life outside of work, do we?"

"Speak for yourself," she retorted. "At least Iím trying to have a life."

"Now you sound like my mother, nagging me to find a nice girl and settle down."

"Sheís right Ė tell me more about your family, Joe. All youíve ever told me is how great your Momís lasagna is."

So Joe told her about his mother and the rest of his family and how he had been forced into the role of surrogate father to his sisters, as well as being a big brother, after his fatherís tragic death. "Sometimes I have trouble remembering what it was like before Ė to just be a kid," he confessed.

"You and Vincent are so much alike, Joe. At a young age, he was also forced to accept adult responsibilities. If he and I can solve our problems, I want the two of you to meet Ė I think you might become good friends."

"Do you think you can resolve your differences?"

"I hope so. I havenít seen or talked to him yet, but," she grinned, "my temper has cooled off a bit Ė so thereís a possibility."

"I hope you can work things out," Joe said, then added jokingly, "and thatís very generous coming from a guy who wishes he was in Vincentís shoes."

"Oh, come on, Joe," Catherine chided. "You only talk like that because Iím committed to someone else. If I was footloose and fancy free, youíd be running for the hills."

"Try me," he dared. When she didnít reply, he changed the subject. "What didnít you want to talk about in the office?"

"Have you told anyone I was going to resign?"

"Nope. Iím waiting for you to change your mind and realize you canít live without me."

"I have, Joe, I no longer want to quit." As his face brightened, she cautioned him, "Wait until you hear my terms for staying."

"As long as you donít want a raise, I can probably handle anything else."

"Damn, I really needed a raise," she joked. "Seriously, what I do need is to be in the office or court and out of the field Ö thatís non-negotiable. I would also like shorter hours but I know what the system is like and thatís not always possible."

"If staying out of the field is what it takes to keep you Ė you got it!"

She smiled and held her hand across the table. "Shake on it?"

"If thatís the best offer I can get," he teased as he clasped her hand.

* * * *

Joe left her at the door with a brotherly hug and a kiss on the cheek. The friendly gesture warmed her heart and for a moment she was distracted and allowed her control to slip on blocking the Bond. For the first time in days, she felt whole again and knew with a certainty that Vincent was here. She flew across the room and out the balcony doors.

There he was, silhouetted against the city skyline. She froze, unsure Ė then he stepped forward and held out his arms. There was no greater joy than being held by the man you loved, Catherine decided as she snuggled deeper into his embrace.

"Catherine Ö I missed you so much."

"Then why did you make me wait so long?" she murmured.

"I went to the lower tunnels to think, instead of staying where we could discuss our problems. Iím so sorry for that. When I realized I had reverted to my old habits and started back I discovered a cave-in so I had to return by a much longer route. There are no communication pipes that deep so I could not send messages to the home tunnels. I was afraid you would give up on me and leave."

"I thought about it," she admitted. "But I realized I couldnít Ė at least not before we talked again. Iíve taken a weekís leave from work, so I was going to come Below tomorrow."

"Catherine, before we try to discuss our problems, would you do something for me?"

"Anything Ö you know that."

"The longer route I took led me very close to Narcissaís chambers and I could not pass without stopping to check on her. She wouldnít tell me why, but she insisted I bring you to see her. Itís too late tonight but would you meet me at the threshold in the morning so we can go talk to her?"

"If you think itís important, of course I will."

"She has been a trusted advisor to me all my life. Before I had a chance to say more than hello, she assured me that you would not leave me. She also told me I was very foolish to have tried to push you away."

"As always, she is an extremely wise woman," Catherine joked.

Vincent smiled, "Yes, she is. If weíre to meet early in the morning, I should return Below and let you get some rest." He gathered his courage and leaned down to place a brief kiss on her lips, then said, "Until tomorrow."

Before she could recover from her surprise, he had disappeared from the balcony.

* * * *

"Come, my children, Iíve been expecting you," Narcissaís voice boomed in the darkness. "I have made herb tea for us."

Catherine glanced up at Vincent. "How Ö?"

Vincent shrugged. "Donít ask Ö itís much easier if you just accept what you hear and see in her chamber."

They entered the shadowy cavern, and Catherine looked around in amazement. The unusual items visible in the dim light hinted of wizardry and magic, reminiscent of fairy tales she had read as a child.

"Sit, my children."

Catherine took a seat at the table. "How are you, Narcissa?"

"Old and tired, child."

"But you are well, I hope."

"As well as this old fool can be," Narcissa cackled. "Vincent, donít just sit there Ė pour the tea for us. Did the father not teach you any manners?"

Accustomed to being scolded by the elderly seeress, Vincent silently poured the tea and passed the cups around.

After they drank their tea, Vincent cleared the table as Narcissa requested and brought her two small baskets of stones from another table. She took a selection of stones from one basket and held them cupped between her palms as she mumbled incomprehensibly. She held out the stones to Catherine who accepted them. Narcissa repeated the ritual with stones from the other basket, handing them to Vincent.

"Catherine, cast the stones on the table in this direction," she said, gesturing with her hand. After Catherine complied, she instructed Vincent to cast his handful of stones.

Vincent and Catherine did as they were told and suddenly the chamber took on an even stranger appearance. A mist began to surround them as Narcissa waved her hands above the stones and began to chant in some unknown tongue. Finally she rested her hands upon the table and tilted her head back, her nearly sightless eyes stared at the ceiling as she began to speak. "A man has just been elected to the U.S. Senate. He intends to carry on with the work he began in his years with the Manhattan District Attorneyís office; to protect those who cannot protect themselves and insure the rights of those who are different. His great-grandparents would be so proud of a family which nearly did not come into being."

Vincent asked, "Who were his great-grandparents?"

"Why, child Ö you and Catherine. Your great-grandson grew up hearing the family history, told and retold to each generation. He became an attorney because of you, Catherine, and he will continue his work in the Senate so that someday, people who are Ďdifferentí can feel safe and wonít have to hide from the rest of the world as his great-grandfather did. It will only come to be if the two of you believe in each other and have the courage to take a leap of faith into the future." As her words echoed through the chamber, the mist thickened momentarily, then disappeared; as had Narcissa.

Catherine looked at Vincent in alarm. "What happened to her?"

"Itís all right, Catherine. She doesnít like to talk after one of her visions. I believe they tire her and she slips away to rest." He stood up and held out his hand, "I think we should return to my chamber before we discuss this."

* * * *

They walked back to Vincentís chamber in companionable silence, each mulling over the words Narcissa had spoken; each trying to figure out what to say, how to express their feelings to each other. The solitude was not uncomfortable, rather they both rejoiced in the fact they were together for at least this moment in time.

They walked into his chamber and Vincent lit some candles. "Would you like some tea?" he asked. When she shook her head he gazed at her for a long moment, then walked up to her. Seemingly of itís own volition, his hand reached out and his sensitive fingers began to trace the contours of her face. "Catherine, before we talk, I Ö I Ö" His other hand joined the first and he cupped her face between them, staring into her eyes, searching the gray-green depths and finding what he had known all along but wouldnít admit. She loved him Ė only him, and always would. He leaned down and pressed his lips to hers gently, lightly at first but with increasingly more passion as she responded to him. Their arms wrapped around each other as the kiss deepened, each holding the other as if their very life depended on it Ė and perhaps it did.

"Vincent, have you had time to Ö ah, ah Ö I am so sorry," Father stammered, "I did not realize, ah, that is I Ö ah Ö oh, heavens, I do apologize for intruding."

Catherine and Vincent had by this time managed to turn their heads and look at Father in bemusement, their minds clouded by passion.

"Iíll leave you two alone Ö Iíll be Ö er Ö well, it really doesnít matter where Iíll be," he muttered as he turned to hobble from the chamber.

"Father," Vincent called out. As the elderly man turned to look, his son smiled and said, "Weíll talk to you later, Father Ö we love you."

With a smile and a wave of the hand, Father left the chamber.

Vincent looked back at Catherine. "I think we embarrassed him, but it was probably a good thing we were interrupted. We do need to talk," he kissed her briefly again, then stepped back, "and we were getting sidetracked."

Catherine smiled and took the hand he held out. "But what a lovely way to get sidetracked. Iíll admit you certainly took every rational thought completely out of my head."

Vincent led her to the table to sit down, and then prudently took a chair on the opposite side of the table. At this point, proximity would hinder instead of help their discussion. Allowing himself to kiss her, really kiss her for the first time, had seriously damaged the iron control he had always kept on his emotions when he was around her.

"Perhaps that has been part of our problem we, or at least I, have been too rational, too fixated on the negatives instead of the possibilities." He stared at her beautiful face in wonderment. "How could I have been so stupid as to be afraid to kiss you?"

She smiled gently at him. "Itís a very human trait, my love, to be fearful of the unknown or apprehensive about changes Ö and despite all your protests to the contrary, you are human." She hesitated for a moment, "The things Narcissa said about our future Ö do you believe her?"

"In the past, she has told me that what she sees are possibilities of what could be or what might happen. As an example, she might see a fork in a tunnel; one direction could lead to trouble or potential danger and the other to a different type of experience. She never tried to force my decisions but tried to teach me that it is always up to the individual what choices they make; which direction they go. I think what she was telling us today was like that fork in the tunnel; this might be our future but only we can decide if it is worth the risks and if we have the courage to try."

"From my viewpoint, Vincent, it is not about having the courage to try, it is facing the bleakness of my future if we donít."

He reached across the table and took her hand. "For me, as well. These last days apart have shown me how empty and hopeless my life would be without you to brighten my existence. I love you, Catherine, and if you still want to share what little I have to offer you, Iím asking you to marry me and share my life."

"Vincent, youíre offering me your love and the chance to be a part of this wonderful extended family Below; all the things I have dreamed of Ė how could I possibly refuse? Yes, I will marry you Ö and we will have that Ďhappy lifeí my mother wanted for me."

Vincent stood up and led her to his big chair where he sat down, tugging her gently onto his lap. They snuggled together in utter contentment, trusting in each other, knowing whatever the future brought they would face it together.