A Beauty and the Beast Novel
By Toni Lichtenstein Bogolub

The Meddler:
Yes, yes, But do you dream of daring-

I do dream of daring....

--- Cyrano de Bergerac, Act I


Behind an iron gate, a mammoth figure clad in patched leather and fur stood looking out to the daylight through a man-sized drainage pipe. Holding a well-worn "Sonnets from the Portuguese" bound in dark red leather, he gazed out toward the stray sunbeams. His face was shadowed beneath a hooded black mantle; heavy leather gloves covered his hands. He spoke barely aloud, to himself, in a husky whisper. "What am I doing here? Daylight; I dare not -"

He paused, struggling with himself, then slowly, almost against his will, opened the heavy gate. He slipped the volume into his pocket, stepped through, cautiously made his way to the pipe's open mouth.

Sunshine dappled through the trees around the opening. Staying to the deepest shadow he could find, shaking his head at his own unnatural behavior, he moved into the park.

After several moments of such lurking, feeling ever more and more foolish, he murmured to himself, "This is insane. I must return -" He stopped, arrested by a flash of color from within a thicket just ahead of him. As he moved toward it, a chance breeze fluttered the branches, allowing a ray of sunshine to play across the face beneath the black mantle. At first glance, it was a face from horror films; a great lion's face blended with human, surrounded by a golden fall of mane. As one looked again, though, the horror fell away. His eyes were clear, deep blue; his expression quiet and curious.

Keeping still in the depth of shadows, he edged toward the thicket. The flash of color returned to tease his eyes; as he came closer, he saw a stretch of iridescent material at the base of a spreading bush. As he neared, the material moved, causing another flash. He saw that it was a dress, shimmering with all colors wherever the sun struck it. He could see the edges in tatters, moving in the breeze - then he saw the spreading red stain.

He lost his caution then, and hurried toward the thicket. As he closed the distance, the shape resolved itself into a woman.

He was behind her; she crouched looking out away from him. His approach was silent as some great hunting cat, yet an instant before he reached the thicket, she turned toward him.

He froze, aware that stray beams of sunlight penetrated beneath his hood, to illuminate his face. He waited for the inevitable reaction - in vain.

Her blue eyes went over his mantle, his face, with no reaction. In his smoky whisper, he began, "My name is Vincent. Can I help - "

She didn't let him complete the thought. Her eyes were terrified, but not of him; she searched the environs for something she dreaded to see. She hissed "Quiet!", half-stood from her hiding place, grabbed at his great gloved hands. Pulling him down into the bushy growth's concealment, she gestured for silence, then froze back into position, waiting, watching.

Vincent stayed where he was placed, silent, wondering what was going on. The two of them remained so for long moments, until Vincent decided the time had come to break the silence. As he opened his mouth to speak, he heard in the far distance a car door slam, a engine gunned, fading away to silence.

The woman in the iridescent dress also heard; he could almost feel the terror drain from her, the frozen stillness of her body relax to life again. She turned to Vincent, gazed again into his face.

She was young, he saw; twenty-five at a guess. Her hair was a color he had never seen before, unless in the pale gleam of a candleflame on clear water. The white-gold mass was styled formally, but coming down in strands and sections, here and there decorated by a leaf or twig. And she was tiny; inches shorter than even his Catherine.

As he studied her, he was aware that she returned the scrutiny. Then he glanced into her eyes.

Fathomless blue eyes locked with his. In those eyes he saw exhaustion, sadness beyond measure, and a great familiarity. He hunted through his memories and knew he had never seen her before. Then she spoke softly, her voice barely a whisper; "Vincent."

Somewhere within his mind a switch was thrown, a light appeared; but before he could classify it, the woman folded into his arms, eyes closed, unconscious.

Chapter I

Within a dark, shadowy room, lit by candle and kerosene lamp, an older man with greying light hair and beard bent over a book. An omnipresent tapping and clanging, as on distant pipes, provided unending background music. The walls of the huge room were completely lined with shelves of books of every conceivable title and vintage. There was a sound of swift footsteps in the corridor, then Vincent swept in.

He still wore the great black mantle, but its hood was pushed back to reveal his wild yellow mane. The great lion's face was somber, eyes clouded with troubles.

"Vincent." The older man rose, embraced him. He scanned Vincent's face intently. "In your note you told us not to worry; but you were gone for ten days. How can I help but worry?"

"I'm sorry that I gave you cause yet again, Father."

"You have been with our guest, Vincent; how did she seem to you?"

"In ten days - don't you know more about her than I can tell you?"

"Yes - and no, Vincent. I know much about her - and she has told me, willingly, almost nothing. You brought her to your chamber, summoned me, then vanished." The implied reprimand did not escape Vincent's notice. "Soon after you left, she opened her eyes. She looked around, saw me, waited. I told her someone had found her and brought her here. She said one word - 'Safe.' Then, Vincent, her fever raged and her mind wandered for two days. She'd held herself together long enough to be sure that she was safe, then surrendered her control - as you told me she did with you."

"But Father - you said that you now know 'much about her'. How - "

"She wandered through her past in her delirium; not in touch with the present."

"That would explain...." Vincent's voice trailed off, his eyes seeing some private sight.

Father continued, as if he had not been interrupted, "When she awoke 10 days ago, in answer to my direct question, she said her name was Jane. It is not. It is Caitlin - I cannot be sure of a last name. In deference to her statement, however, we have been addressing her as Jane. Her life above has been troubled by great evil -"

"Her life above? Father, is she to remain here with us?"

"I have invited her to, repeatedly, but she refuses. I believe she originally intended to leave as soon as she was able. I am afraid that is no longer her intention."

There was a moment of troubled silence. Vincent nodded reluctantly. "You are right, Father. I believe that it is her intention to die." The statement hung in the air for a moment.

Father nodded quietly. "I came to that conclusion myself just yesterday - when I believe she made that decision. I told her that she was rescued by a friend, by chance not mentioning your name. The first time that I told her, she almost asked me a question - but thought better of it in the end. I think, Vincent, that she decided you were a hallucination."

Vincent gave a short laugh. Father continued, "Yesterday afternoon, we were discussing the finer points of Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings'." Father smiled. "At first, I didn't think I'd ever hear a whole sentence from her. But the day after her fever broke, as I returned to visit her, I heard a noise. I hurried in; Jane was getting up from the floor. When I asked what she was doing, she very sheepishly admitted that she had been trying to reach the books, Vincent, on your table. After returning her to your bed, I read off your collection of rather eclectic titles, then asked what she wished to read. She answered, 'Everything!'" Father chuckled. "I recall a young lad who said something similar once in my library. Do you remember, Vincent?"

Vincent nodded, remembering very well his own answer on that long-ago day. Father continued, "I placed the stack of books by the bedside, and extracted a firm promise to ask for what she needed in the future. She started to devour them, Vincent; as if her mind were starving. She started reading to the children, too - for just a few moments at first, then on and on as she grew stronger. Jamie, especially, spent a great deal of time with her. She was so eager to discuss what she had read. So - we were discussing some of the finer points of the Elfish language, when Samantha rushed in. By the way, the children have missed you, Vincent. As have I.

"To continue - Samantha called as she came into the room, 'Father, a message from Vincent!'. I felt a sudden chill in air. Jane very quietly asked Samantha, 'Did you say Vincent?' I explained to her that you were the friend who had rescued her. Then I left with Samantha to hear your message." Father paused, fixed his eyes on Vincent's face. His son refused to meet Father's glance; he seemed evasive, uncomfortable.

"When I returned, a scant five minutes later, everything was changed. Jane had been - wary, like a wild animal; alert, intense; alive. Her intensity electrified the very air; it was almost palpable. Her escape was written all over her. When I returned, all the tension was gone. There was peace in the room - but it was the peace of hopelessness. She'd had hope before; at least hope of escape. Somehow hearing your name, knowing you were real, had taken that away from her.

"She asked me when you were returning; I told her I wasn't sure. She asked to see you when you returned; of course I agreed, subject to your approval. Then she leaned back into her chair, fixed her gaze on the wall, and waited. She stayed just like that; unmoving, silent - until earlier this morning. Vincent - she didn't speak another word for more than twenty-four hours. Then, when I went in to bring her a meal, to try again to coax her to tell me why knowing of you was such a blow - she spoke to me. As soon as I had entered the room, she said, 'Vincent is back. Would you ask if he would come here?'"

Father paused, a thousand questions unspoken yet present. "Vincent, at that moment I did not know of your return - and Jane had not spoken to a soul since I left her more than twenty-four hours before. Nonetheless, I went to look for you - and found that you had, indeed, returned. I wasn't even sure that you'd see her, when I told you she'd asked for you."

Vincent nodded, knowing Father's original question still hung in the air. His gaze wandered over Father's study, touched the familiar books without seeing them, as he tried to organize his memories into words. As he began, the scene flowed before his eyes, as though he were reliving it.

Chapter II

As Vincent approached the curtained doorway, before he could call out his presence, a soft, rich voice from within called, "Come in." He hesitated, then went into his own chamber.

As he entered, there was an unfamiliar shock within his mind. Refusing to acknowledge it, he paced slowly to the chair, stood uncomfortably before the slight figure seated there. He opened his mouth to speak, and found that he had no words.

As the silence prevailed, he became aware that her eyes devoured him; moving solemnly, slowly from the top of his head down to his boots, he felt she memorized him. He stood under the scrutiny, still refusing to feel. Then those endlessly deep blue eyes finished their voyage, and traveled back up to his face. She gazed into his eyes, and he finally was unable to deny it any longer. There, within his mind, she was; as Catherine was.

Father's voice snapped Vincent back to the present, although he did not distinguish the words. "What, Father?" His voice was dim; as if he had removed himself in time.

"Vincent; Vincent, are you all right?"

"There is something I have not told you, Father." Vincent sighed. "It's always useless to think of concealing anything from you - nor do I want to. This has disturbed me greatly. It's something that is - strange, and almost frightening to me."

Vincent began to pace across the book-laden room as he sought to explain. "You know of my bond with Catherine, Father; that I feel her feelings, know when she is troubled or afraid." At the far wall, he turned, paused. "Last week, after I gazed into those sad, familiar blue eyes - Father, there is a connection between us - this Caitlin and I."

He waved off the questions he saw springing to Father's lips. "It's not the same as my bond with Catherine; dimmer and darker -" He shook his head, trying to explain what could only be experienced. "Catherine is like a beacon or the sun; I always know where she is. Caitlin is more like a star, a distant sun; when you are close enough, you feel the warmth; further away, it gleams always steady in the sky, unchanging." He shook his head. "Father, I am sorry I left others to cover my duties, but I had to get away, be by myself, try to think things through. I knew of her - wanderings - those first few days, and when she had come to herself. And I felt all the spirit leave her just yesterday. That is why I returned when I did." As he spoke, the scene returned before his eyes.

Her eyes seemed to look into his soul. As soon as he acknowledged to himself that the connection existed, another shock hammered him; he could feel the reflection of his own emotions within her mind. For a single instant, the enormity of it engulfed him; then he put it aside, to study later. There was something troubling within her mind, but it eluded him. And all the time, those sad blue eyes stared into his.

Suddenly she broke the contact; she smiled at him, rested her head against the back of the chair, and closed her eyes.

To Vincent's horror, the bright point within his mind that was Caitlin began to fade, as though a star was slowly being eclipsed. Instinctively he followed, seeking to keep the star bright. As he did, his conscious mind put a name to what she did: suicide.

As Vincent recognized her attempt to die, his own reaction became less controlled. Although an onlooker would have seen two people as still as statues, the energy level within the room spiraled.

In an action that was not physical, Vincent seized the retreating star, denied it permission to leave. Caitlin resisted, but a short struggle proved Vincent's superior strength, and she returned with him.

During the struggle, the room had faded from their awareness; its return took Vincent by surprise. As he blinked, readjusting, Caitlin's eyes reopened. She gazed into his face, touched her eyes to his. Her sad, quiet smile returned, then her eyes fell closed again.

Vincent was frightened for a split second; then the tenor of her mind reassured him. She was asleep.

Chapter III

Vincent drew himself back to the present. "She must have waited for me without sleeping. That is how I left her - asleep. I came for whatever information you could give me, Father, about why she might want to die."

Father's gaze rested on the ceiling as he began to speak. "Vincent, I know nothing for sure. All that I know is what I gleaned from comments made on other subjects and when she wasn't herself; when she spoke to people unknown, during events also unknown. What I tell you now is just conjecture." Father's eyes met Vincent's for a long moment, then he deliberately looked away. "The evil in the upper world is so great - don't I always say that? And yet Jane's story, what I gleaned of it, shocks even me. Jane - Caitlin - she spoke of long nights at the hands of a man she fears and despises. I have no identity to give to him. She called him sir, and by no name. From what I could put together, Vincent, from her ramblings, she has been with this man, always escaping from him and always being hunted down and taken back, for well over five years."

A low growl escaped Vincent. Father nodded, and went on, "Yes - my opinion entirely. She is still little more than a child, despite those deep, wise eyes."

Another long stillness echoed within the room. "This man, whomever he is, contributes more than his share to the evil in the world. The blood you saw upon her dress, Vincent, and the cause of her collapse, was a knife wound. In her back."

Vincent shuddered, shook his head. Father continued, "It was several days old, and I believe she obtained it in her escape. Numerous scars attest to other escapes, other punishments. From what I could gather, she was sold by her own father to this man, those five or more years ago. She has escaped before, been found before, and, she said, any who aided her have been tracked down and - the word she used over and over was 'destroyed'."

"Father -"

"Wait, Vincent." The older man held up a hand. "I am sure, having heard now of your connection - bond, as you have with Catherine, although I note you do not use that word - that I can explain her wish to die. Vincent, for more than five years; since she was perhaps seventeen - what she loved has either betrayed her or been destroyed for her sake.

"Think, Vincent - think of the children who come to the Tunnels, afraid, sure that vengeance will follow them. And few have seen or lived what Caitlin has. You say she shares this bond with you. She has seen enough of that which she loves - yes, loves, Vincent, please let me finish before you object - she has seen too much of what she loves destroyed to have any hope for the future. When she thought you did not exist, were a figment of her imagination, she could entertain hopes of escape, of not letting us know her, not knowing us so that there could be no retaliation. When she learned you were not a dream, she would not see it happen again. Dying seemed to her the only alternative."

"Father -" Vincent's voice was troubled. "She will try again. All she needs is a lack of interference. I am afraid to leave her - she must not be allowed to throw her life away."

"Vincent - although I am in agreement with you in this instance, you must remember that, even for the young, death may be a valid choice." He held up a hand to silence the protest already bursting from Vincent. "I said, in this case I agree with you. Vincent, what we need here is Catherine."

"Catherine, Father?" Vincent would have been less surprised had Father suggested the President of the United States - or possibly the Tooth Fairy. "I thought you disapproved -"

"Vincent, you know very well my opinion in this matter. I know great pain is inevitable, on both your parts. Nonetheless, Catherine is the one to speak to Caitlin. Her own experiences show that great suffering can lead to great strength. And she has become an active agent against the evils of the world. It would be good for Caitlin to see that. I never denied that Catherine was a woman of great worth, Vincent; only the possibility of true happiness for either of you."

Vincent's silken mane rested incongruously against a carefully mended doily on the massive chair. The silent shadowy room enveloped the two as Father watched his son deep in thought. He studied the leonine features, the great, clawed hands, the eternally untidy mane, and love and compassion almost burst his heart.

"I will leave you to think about this, Vincent," he said, taking his walking stick and rising to leave. "I wish I could give you all the time in the world, but unfortunately you are right; Jane/Caitlin will try again. I think she'll wait for you to sleep, Vincent, so something must be resolved before then." He leaned down, not so very far, and gently kissed Vincent's forehead. "To sleep, perchance to dream.....", he murmured as he limped from his study. He stopped in the doorway. "Vincent, I truly believe that Catherine must be involved here. From what you've just told me, this concerns her. But of course the final decision must be yours."

In the silence after Father's departure, Vincent continued the soliloquy to the empty room. "And what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil must give us pause; aye, there's the rub..." His voice trailed off. He sat, silent, contemplating his hands as thoughts chased through his mind. He laughed suddenly, to himself, then rose from his seat. "Not ten words has she spoken to me," he muttered. "In fact, I believe the total is five. I deserve a few more words, I think, before I must make this decision."

Chapter IV

Vincent strode the familiar stairs to his own chamber silently. At the arched doorway he paused, almost unwilling to see.

Sternly he chastised himself for a coward, and strode to the bedside. Striving for detachment, he first gazed at neutral ground - the table piled with books, the great golden window, the multitude of candles shedding their flickering, smoky light about the room. Then, with a conscious effort, he deliberately transferred his gaze to the center of his bed.

He tried to study dispassionately what was before him. He saw - in size a child, smaller even than Catherine, barely seeming to occupy any physical space. He recognized the much-mended gown she wore as belonging to Mary, the Tunnels' nurse and midwife. The robe seemed vast on her, even though Mary was not a large woman. His bedclothes and bed barely seemed to yield beneath her; he could almost fancy she floated above it.

Even in sleep, he noted, lines of tension seemed to radiate from her.

His eyes touched the braided length of her hair, tangled translucent golden-white upon his pillows. Her features were fine and delicate, an air of other-worldly fragility surrounding her. And she was so thin - thinner than many of the frightened children as they first sought refuge in the Tunnels, much thinner than Catherine. Yet the same strength he felt from Catherine emanated from her.

Vincent remembered almost guiltily her long, memorizing stare - was he not doing the same now?

"Yes, she would have to be strong," he murmured, still keeping his distance. "To survive; to make her choices..."

He made his way to the bedside chair, and nearly sat on a thick volume lying on the chair's cushion. He picked up the book, was seated. A bookmark made from a scrap of lace peeked from the pages near the end. He opened the book idly to the place marked, and scanned down the page. One passage caught his eye; it had been lightly marked in pencil, then erased.

"'It must often be so, Sam - when things are in danger.' he read quietly aloud. "Someone has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.'"

As he read, he knew that she was awake, listening. In the silence as his echoes fell away, she spoke. "It is true, you know." Her voice was fuller than he remembered; deeper, and richer.

"Ah, but what did Frodo do before he came to this conclusion?" Vincent countered. "He overthrew Sauron, the Dark Lord."

"Frodo, as Bilbo said, was a very special hobbit. I feel more like Gollum, bringing small and great mischief and a great, dark presence just behind."

"Gollum?" Vincent stared at her, appraising. Whatever he had anticipated, a literary debate certainly hadn't been included. "No, Gollum you are not. Eowyn? Or perhaps Arwen Evenstar."

"Oh, but the Elves are 'wondrous fair to look on'!", she retorted. The sad blue eyes that had haunted him were almost twinkling as she hugged her knees to her chest. "Perhaps we're in the wrong book for me."


Caitlin tilted her head, thought for a moment. "I have always felt that perhaps Gweneviere is my model; all she loved and a great kingdom besides, destroyed through her own weakness."

Vincent considered, watching her, against his will always aware of the play of her emotions. "Perhaps Anne Frank might be more apt," he finally said slowly. "Persecuted through no fault of her own."

Jane/Caitlin shuddered, as if his words had come too close to some basic truth for her.

"But I don't think you're here to discuss literature, are you?" The twinkle disappeared; the haunting eyes of his dreams returned. "You're here to tell me that nothing is as bad as all that."

"Not exactly." Vincent considered her gravely, weighing words. "First of all, may I ask your name?"

"Jane - no, my name is Caitlin. When I thought I could leave here without a trace, I said Jane - but now there's nothing to hide. Caitlin - originally Caitlin Pulaski, but just Caitlin now."

"Well, just Caitlin, you are right - literary discussion was not the first thing on my mind." Vincent listened, amazed to hear how calm and unaffected he sounded. As always with Catherine, beneath everything was the play of emotion and thought; he felt her joy and pain at his presence flow under the words. Her resolution lay as a firm floor to both, telling Vincent how difficult his task was to be.

"Caitlin - I do not know you, know your story. All I know is that things are seldom as bad they appear to those caught in them."

"No - I know what I must do. No one is safe with me here; and wherever I go, it will always be the same. Best to stop the tale here, I think."

"But what of those who would wish to read the tale through?"

"As Frodo said, the great tales go on and we are only passing through them. Mine is not even a great tale - just a sordid story. A page from the Enquirer."

"Caitlin - "

"No, Vincent." His name fell from her lips like a caress. "I don't wish to cause you any pain, so I"ll wait - I was quite thoughtless before." Her sight turned inward. "I wanted to see you - just once - and that was selfish of me. I"ve caused you pain, and Father pain, and I don"t want to hurt anyone. There"s so much pain in the world." Her gaze returned to Vincent's face, lit by the omnipresent candles; her voice fell to a whisper. "I don't need to add any more to it. I apologize to you with all my heart. I will also make my apologies to Father. It"s unpardonable of me to thrust this burden onto you."

Vincent reached over and took her hand into his gloved one. "Leaving here before you do this thing will not remove the burden."

"I will not bring death and destruction to this place - to you!" Her voice rose, she tried to reclaim her hand from its too-comfortable resting place. Vincent gently maintained his grip, and she subsided.

"If your way is the only way to prevent that, then we may reconsider. But until I am satisfied that this is so, I cannot permit it." Vincent's stern tone was belied by the unconscious tenderness within his eyes. "Caitlin, promise me that you will not try again until we have looked at our options."

"There are only two options, Vincent - the end for this peaceful place - and you; or my death. I could not live knowing what I had brought down upon you anyway - so there"s really only one option." She held herself aloof, so stiff and alone. Vincent felt his heart would break at just the sight.

"No, there are always other possibilities. Life is not so black-and-white, Caitlin. Promise me."

"All right; I promise." Her voice was thin.

"No!" Vincent's rough whisper was vehement. "I know when you lie. Look at me - into my eyes." She complied slowly, and Vincent continued, "Now - promise me that you will not will yourself to die until I tell you that it is necessary."

Their eyes still locked, Caitlin slowly shook her head, a tiny motion from side to side. "I cannot promise that, Vincent. But - I"ll promise to look at your possibilities. I won"t - leave - without your permission for two weeks. That"s all I can promise you now."

Vincent nodded gravely. "I will take your word, and try to show you other possibilities before you are impelled to take action again."

She looked away, breaking the intimate contact. Vincent was grateful for the respite, a chance to gather his inner resources. He still felt so tentative and unsure - not like himself. His bond with Catherine was his destiny - he knew it. But what was this connection? He was afraid to even explore it.

A deep sigh escaped Caitlin, and she seemed to wilt. Her proud demeanor was gone, and Vincent saw so clearly the weary child that Father had seen. He felt the overwhelming waves of despair and exhaustion, confusion and fear swamp her as the animating adrenaline subsided. His great natural compassion arose, but he feared to follow his instincts. Instead, he released the small hand he still held, and stood up. "You need to sleep," he said quickly. "I will return." He swept from the chamber, painfully aware that behind him, as she lay back and closed her eyes, tears slid down Caitlin's cheeks.

Chapter V

Catherine Chandler, District Attorney, stood on the balcony of her apartment overlooking Manhattan. The night was clear and starry above her, and below, the sounds of the city formed a backdrop to her wandering thoughts. A gentle breeze blew her hair about her face. A soft sound made her turn, and there behind her stood Vincent. Within seconds she was in his enveloping embrace. His great arms surrounded her; arms that she had seen perform feats of enormous strength, yet were always gentle about her. Soft and warm, with a clinging smoky smell from the Tunnels' myriad candles, his leather shirt lay beneath her cheek. As always, the love seemed to almost wash over her, in waves. But after a second, she lifted her head, and stepped back from his arms.

She looked up into his face, past the leonine features that now looked so right to her, into the clear blue seas of his very human eyes. "What's the matter, Vincent? Something's bothering you. Tell me; let me help, if I can."

A wry chuckle escaped from beneath his black mantle. "You know me so well, Catherine. Yes, you may help. In fact, I have come here expressly to ask a favor of you. But first -" Vincent turned his face away from her, looking out onto the city below. "I have a story to tell you, Catherine. It is not pretty - but I know you are strong."

In quick sentences he related the bare bones of the tale, trying to convey the essence of Caitlin's actions without speaking of what was still a thing of mystery and fear, his new connection with her. Still, as he reached the heart of his first encounter with her in his chamber, he was forced to stop. With his face still turned from her, he whispered, "Catherine - you know that you are always with me." He paused, as she murmured an assent. "You have changed my life - I am not who I was before I met you. You are my life, Catherine, first, last and always - my destiny." He turned to face her, took her hands between his, still clad in his heavy leather gloves. "Somehow, Caitlin and I are also connected. I do not know how - or why, any more than I can explain my bond with you in mere words. I just know that it is so. And you must know, to understand her story as I tell it, to know why I must beg this favor of you."

"Vincent - I don't understand. What do you mean, you and Caitlin are connected?"

"Catherine, I don"t understand it myself - just as I don't understand the bond between you and I. Yet there, in my mind, I can feel your confusion; and there also, I know that Caitlin dreams uneasily now. I ask you to accept this, now, as it is, for I have no further explanations."

"Vincent -" Catherine reached a tentative hand toward him, hearing in his soft velvet voice the worry and confusion he did not speak. She touched his shoulder, lifted a hand up to his face, stroked the silken mane back from his temple. Then she gently lead him to the glass-topped table.

Seating him in one of the chairs, she brushed back the black hood that shadowed his face, pulled off the heavy gloves that still covered his great furred hands. She took one of those huge, warm hands into her two small ones, then pulled it to her cheek for a single caress. "Whatever you need me to do, Vincent, I will."

Vincent took her hands between his, held them gently. "I need you to come with me now, into the Tunnels. I need you to speak to Caitlin. Let me finish her story - at least as far as I know it. Then you may judge for yourself, if this is something you can do." Another wry chuckle escaped him. "You will now know what it takes for Father to approve of your coming Below with me; it was his suggestion that you speak to her."

"Very portentous," she agreed, covering her real incredulity with a veneer of humor. "Let me hear the rest of this story, Vincent. I"ll go with you, gladly, but I would like to know what's going on."

"You will know as much as I do," Vincent pledged, then completed his tale of the first encounter with her in his chamber.

Catherine focused immediately on one thing. "Did she give you a name, Vincent? A name for this man she fears? You know, there are a lot of truly evil people the District Attorney's office knows about but can't get. If she could get some evidence, something we could use..."

"No name, Catherine; she fears him too much to be indiscreet even in delirium. I think that is part of Father's reasoning, though; perhaps you can rid Caitlin of this - menace; I believe Father would like to see her stay with us."

Catherine felt a stab of what she ruefully recognized as jealousy. This stranger, who was connected to Vincent, able to stay forever with him in his home, when she must be satisfied with only moments stolen from their separate worlds. She tamped down the emotion, hoping that Vincent hadn't felt it from her, and said overly brightly, "When do we leave?"

"I will meet you in the basement," Vincent answered, then was gone as silently as he had appeared.

"People come and go so strangely here," she misquoted to herself, then took a warm sweater coat from her closet and stepped out of her apartment.

Chapter VI

Vincent met her as promised, in the basement of her building, hard by the brick opening that he had taken her through so long ago, when he returned her to the world Above after her "accident". He escorted her through, into the steamy chill world below the city, the world he had grown up in. With her hand gripped firmly in his, he led her swiftly through the tunnels, down stairways and through passages, until they reached his chamber. He stopped just outside the arched doorway. "She is still asleep, Catherine, but I think it might be a mercy to awaken her now. Her dreams are dark, and frightening."

The casual statement drove home for her what she had thought she knew; what Vincent meant by "connected." She put her hand on his arm, stopping him for a moment.

"Vincent; Vincent, is that what you feel from our bond? When I'm dreaming, if my dreams are nightmares?"

"Yes, Catherine," was the whispered reply. "So many feelings that ripple the calm surface of your thoughts enter my head. Even now, I know what you feel; and you have nothing to fear."

A half-choked sound from the chamber sent Vincent striding in; Catherine followed him closely.

She stood just inside the doorway, watching, as Vincent went directly to the bedside, not knowing that she replayed Vincent's own earlier actions. She watched as he seated himself on the edge of the bed, softly called out, "Caitlin." Briefly she wondered why he hadn't shaken her awake, but then transferred her attention to the mysterious Caitlin.

She had prepared herself for a stunning beauty, despite Vincent's meticulous description; perhaps statuesque to match Vincent's height. When she saw the slight figure on the bed, she almost laughed at her preconceptions. Then a sleep-borne motion turned Caitlin's face toward Catherine, into the light.

"Vincent, I've seen her before!" The words burst out of Catherine as she took a step further into the golden-lit room. "But where? Where?"

Vincent looked at her in amazement. "Do you know where, Catherine? Can you remember? It might help to explain so many things."

Catherine shook her head in frustration. "I've seen her, Vincent; I know it. I'm good with faces; my father always joked that I could still recognize my nursery school friends when I was in college. But I don't know where."

Vincent turned back to the still-dreaming Caitlin. "Wake up," he whispered to her. Still in his mind were the darknesses of the dreams she walked through. "Caitlin, wake up." He stretched a hand slowly toward her, gingerly touched her shoulder with his bare hand.

It was as if a bomb had exploded by Caitlin's ear. She sprang into a sitting position in microseconds, her eyes open and searching.

The first thing she saw was Catherine, lingering a few paces inside the door. Vincent felt instantly the burst of pain and sense of betrayal within her mind.

"No more District Attorneys!" Her tone was strangled, the words coming almost without volition. "Never again! " Her eyes sought Vincent, standing out of the way near the head of the bed.

"This is no option, Vincent." Her voice was still harsh, coming from some great distance within her. "This is no option." Before Catherine's horrified gaze, she closed her eyes, and subsided onto the tangle of bedcovers. Catherine had no doubts that she was seeing what Vincent had told her of, what she had only half-believed; a woman willing herself to die.

As quickly as the thought flashed through her mind, Vincent moved faster; he leapt onto the bed, and gripped the fallen Caitlin by the shoulders. His eyes, too, closed; Catherine had the feeling that he had left the room, although she still saw him before her. She could feel something going on, but her senses did not seem adequate to interpret the data.

Before she could do more than take another step into the room, Vincent"s eyes reopened. Slowly, reluctantly, Caitlin"s opened too; slow tears began to course down her cheeks.

"You shouldn't have done it this time, Vincent," she whispered.

"No, you shouldn't have done this, Caitlin," Vincent replied sternly. "I would never trick you, or act against your will; but I must hold you to your promise. Two weeks you said, and two weeks it shall be. But it would help if you would tell a whole story. How can we find options if we don"t know what we're seeking?"

Caitlin remained limp in Vincent's grip. Her eyes had reclosed, but her ragged breathing echoed through the smoky chamber as she fought off sobs. Catherine took a step closer to the bed, then said sharply, "Vincent! Your hands - "

Her tone sent his gaze to where he still gripped Caitlin's thin shoulders. To his horror, his exposed claws had scratched through the oversized gown, leaving thin red lines along Caitlin's shoulders. He laid her back onto the bed gently, took a step back. Catherine could hear him fighting for control as he said to her, "I must get Father." He exited more hastily than Catherine had ever seen him move, save in cases of dire urgency.

Caitlin remained huddled on the bedclothes, barely muffled sobs shaking the entire bed. Catherine watched, conflicting and helpless feelings warring within her, not knowing what to do.

Just then Father hurried into the room. Vincent was right behind him, but paused, again, just inside the doorway.

Father came immediately to the bed, and gestured for Catherine to move so he could tend Caitlin's shoulders. Taking out his black bag, he began to fuss with cotton swabs and alcohol, treating the faint scratches. Although she shuddered at the cold stinging touch, she did not say a word; her sobs gradually subsided to mere hiccups as he finished. Then he stepped back, and left Caitlin seated on the bed, her head bowed still.

"Caitlin, I apologize for my son's clumsiness," Father said gently. "If he had any manners, he would apologize himself. But I do not feel that clumsiness is enough reason for all of this." He gestured inclusively around the room. "If Catherine's presence bothers you, blame me - I told him to bring her here, to meet you."

Caitlin lifted her head and stared. "You"re Vincent's Catherine?" she breathed. "But - I didn't know you were a District Attorney. That"s not how Vincent thinks of you."

"Does that make a difference?" asked Father, gesturing futilely for Vincent to join them.

"All the difference in the world," Caitlin murmured. Her eyes, still drowned in tears, were seeing things not present. "I killed a District Attorney once."

"What!?" leaped from three throats at once. Caitlin sighed. "I asked him to help me get away. I got him evidence to put Zachary away. Then Zachary found out, the D.A."s evidence was gone - and John was dead."

"John? John Dahlquist?" Catherine knew with a certainty now where she had seen Caitlin before. "This man - it's Zachary Towers, isn't it? You were at the Whales" Foundation ball with him a couple of weeks ago!"

Caitlin nodded dispiritedly. "Yes. I was. I pleaded a headache, staged a faint, and ran. One of Zachary"s bodyguards saw me getting away. He threw the knife." She gestured vaguely toward her back. Simple declarative sentences issued flatly from her. She continued, "I shouldn't have dared to run again. I know what happens."

She turned her eyes toward Vincent, still on the far side of the doorway. "I told you there were no choices." Her eyes closed again, and she sank back to the bed.

Exclamations started from both Father and Catherine, but Vincent cut them off. He murmured, "She's asleep again." His short laugh was bitter. "She hasn't got her strength back yet. That"s all that saved her, Father." Finally he stepped into the room. "When I went to bring her back, she fought like a tiger. I prevailed; but it took all my strength. That is why I so lost touch with my hands." He looked ruefully down at them, now reclad in his gloves. "This Zachary Towers; who is he, Catherine? And what of the District Attorney Caitlin spoke of?"

Father answered before Catherine could. "Zachary Towers is bad news, worse news than even I imagined. In the newspapers, he is always 'suspected of having underworld connections.' From what I have gathered he is vicious, brutal; a true animal." He gazed at his son, an animal in form but not in spirit, shaking his head at life's injustices.

"He's everything you heard, and more," Catherine replied. "If she could give me something to put him away..."

"First let me hear about this District Attorney," demanded Vincent. "The one she says she killed."

"He was before my time, Vincent," Catherine answered absently. Her mind was still working on the notion of bringing Zachary Towers down. "Joe told me about it. He said, and I quote, that he'd give up his slim chance of paradise, his left arm, and his best briefcase to get Zachary Towers; because of John Dahlquist."

She continued, "John and Joe started together in the D.A.'s office; they were good friends. John told Joe that he'd been approached by Towers' girlfriend; she gave him evidence - hit files, double sets of books, all sorts of goodies. John showed them to Joe, and he said it was great stuff; surefire conviction. Then, the day before John was going to get the subpoena to serve on Towers, John didn't show up for work. Joe was worried; he went to check John's files. They were cleaned out. John turned up three days later in an alley, shot in the head; what they call ‘gangland execution style." He left a fiancee, a widowed mother, and a lot of very angry D.A.'s." She shrugged. "That's the story as I know it. Towers' reputation is as bad as any I've ever heard; they say he never lets anything of his get away."

"A charity ball, Catherine?" Vincent picked up an earlier piece of information.

"About two weeks ago; I went with Joe. Vincent, he pointed her out to me there; told me the story. He said he was never sure if John had been set up or not; he pointed her out to me as 'the one who destroyed John Dahlquist.'"

"You see, Vincent," Father spoke again from the bedside. "She herself said, 'destroyed'." He shook his head. "Perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps her solution is the only one."

"I cannot believe that, Father. Not yet. She promised me two weeks, and I am going to hold her to every minute of it." He shook his great head ruefully. "Although how I am going to manage that if she truly begins to regain her strength, I don't know." He turned and held out his hand. "Come, Catherine - let us have a council of war, the three of us. We will leave Caitlin to sleep; I would like to have something that I can tell her when she awakens."

"Vincent; what if she tries again-? While we're gone?"

"I will know, Catherine; wherever I am, I will know."

Chapter VII

Vincent's "council of war" was not going well. Seated in Father's chamber, the discussion so far had covered what Catherine called the "high points" in the savage career of Zachary Towers. As always, evil of any magnitude was beyond his understanding; he could never see why anyone wanted to hurt, to inflict pain. As she detailed murder and destruction, he could only shake his head in bafflement. He came back to a point that Catherine had made. "You said she had evidence; 'surefire' evidence. Where would that have come from?"

"Maybe she could get hold of it again."

"Catherine, I will not send her back to that monster. "

Father agreed. "I would sooner let her do what she wishes, and die, than have her return to such a life. Although she has escaped before, each time the cost is higher. There are no guarantees, Catherine, that she could escape again. In fact, he might kill her outright this time. And consider this; she said he destroys any who aid in her escapes. What will we do if he finds our home?"

"Vincent said you knew she'd escaped before. How often? When? How?"

Father held up a hand to stem the tide of questions that rushed from her. "As I am sure Vincent also told you, my information is almost secondhand. The things she told us just now constitute the only straightforward statement about her life she has made. I only spoke of things I had put together, from a combination of slips of the tongue and delirious ravings, over the past week. I'm afraid the answers will have to come from Caitlin, not me. And she did not seem overly inclined to chat."

Vincent paused suddenly, his head cocked as if listening to far-away sounds. "I believe we may have some answers soon."

There was a long silence following his words. Finally Catherine blurted, "What do you mean, Vincent?" He only held up one hand, then gestured toward the doorway. "Come in, Caitlin", he called out gravely.

The subject of their conversation stepped into the chamber. Vincent gestured toward a vacant chair. With a gracious half-incline of her head, she seated herself. Although it was evident even the short journey between chambers had tired her, there was still something indefinable that attracted the eye.

Catherine looked her over carefully, seeking the source of Zachary Towers' obsession. Even in disarray, her hair pulling loose from the heavy braid thrown carelessly back, even as she refused to meet the eyes of anyone in the room, her presence was powerful. Worn by lack of sleep and injury, she seemed never still, leaking energy. Her face was not beautiful, but compelling; her eyes were deep and sorrowful blue. The much-mended, voluminous nightgown, now ripped about the shoulders, made no more difference to her bearing than had the extremely expensive, iridescent evening gown she"d worn to the Whales' Foundation ball. Looks meant nothing to her; she didn't seem to take note of her appearance.

Looking carefully at the floor, Caitlin began, "I - want to start by apologizing. I acted without thinking. That happens too often; that's what happened at the ball. I saw a chance, and, before I could talk myself out of it, I was out of that building and on my way - anywhere. If I'd stopped to think then, none of this would have happened."

"Escaping that man was not a sin, Caitlin," Father interrupted. "But you did give Vincent your word."

"Yes, Father. And I will stand by it - two weeks, no matter what. Or until Vincent is satisfied there are no other options." She lifted her head and gazed at Vincent. "I apologize, Vincent." Her voice had fallen so low that Catherine had to strain to hear it. "I won't put you through that again."

To Catherine, it sounded as though she was begging for - something - from Vincent. Acknowledgment, a touch, anything. Despite herself, she wanted to go over and push Vincent toward her, do something to make him respond. But he merely nodded, made a rough growl of assent.

Catherine rushed in, to fill the void, "What can you tell us about Zachary Towers? Where did you get the evidence you gave to John? Can you tell us where to get any of it again?"

"Slowly, Catherine," admonished Father. "Caitlin, we'd like to help you, if we can. The only way I see that could help you is to see if we 'his gesture included those present' can bring down Zachary Towers."

Caitlin looked stricken. "Please, don't even think that way! You don't know; you've never seen what he can do. He has ears everywhere; he'll find out, he'll kill you!" Her tone was panic-stricken; her gaze darted about the room, like a small animal seeking a way out of a cage. She rose from her chair to kneel at Father's feet. "Don't do this," she pleaded. "Please, don't even think it." Her breathing was ragged. She looked toward Catherine. "Tell him - tell them both," she begged. "He'll kill you - all of you, and everyone here, and as far as he can find."

Catherine interjected gently, "I've seen violence before, Caitlin. We can get protection..."

"No, no!" Caitlin's voice rose hysterically, ringing from the distant corners of the library. "You don't know! Oh God, you can't do this!" Still kneeling, she hurled herself toward Vincent. "You must release me from my promise now, Vincent; you must! I can't allow this to happen!" She laid her clasped hands on his knee, pleading.

Vincent stood, bringing Caitlin to her feet as he rose. His motions held the sureness that Catherine knew; gone was the struggle she had sensed before.

He neatly reversed their positions, seating Caitlin in the vacated chair and kneeling at her feet. She grasped his hands, eyes still wild, and leaned forward, continuing her pleading, almost beyond words.

"Caitlin," Vincent began gently. His strong whispered voice failed to penetrate her agitated state. Freeing his hands from her frenzied grasp, he shook her by the shoulders. Catherine noticed the brief hesitation as his hands closed over the scratches still showing through the nightgown's tears.

Putting more power into his voice, he repeated, "Caitlin!"

This time his voice reached her; the hysteria abated in her eyes. "Surely you can see it now, Vincent." Her voice was flat and exhausted. "Please let me go."

"I cannot, Caitlin, just as I could not let Catherine do such a thing. Not without seeking another solution. But we are still groping in the dark." He rose smoothly to his feet, pulled over Caitlin"s vacated chair, and seated himself facing her, then repossessed her hands. "You must tell us all you can of Zachary Towers. I will claim my two weeks, and they will not be idle."

"I can't, Vincent."

"You must, Caitlin."

"Caitlin," interjected Father, "think of it this way - either we will come to a solution, or we will come to see that you are right. You must tell us what you know."

Caitlin mused over Father"s point of view for a long moment of silence, then capitulated with a sigh. "As you wish."

Chapter VIII

"It's like wading through a swamp, Vincent," Catherine murmured. "Who can believe that such raw evil could exist?"

"She is so tired, Catherine; her spirit bends beneath the weight of her accumulated guilts; and she is guilty of nothing but strength - being too strong to be totally broken by such a brute."

A shiver ran down Catherine"s back; she took strength from leaning into Vincent"s warm embrace. "I see so much every day, Vincent; you'd think I get case-hardened, used to the terrible things that people do."

They spoke at the tunnel mouth, in the predawn dark following the council of war, which had finally ended after several long hours spent listening to Caitlin detail event after event in her life with Zachary Towers. Remembering, Catherine buried her face in the folds of Vincent's voluminous mantle. "To think a man could sell his own daughter to satisfy a gambling debt! And at seventeen..." She reflected briefly on her own seventeenth year - the country club, the trip to Europe, her own sports car.

"Towers killing his own bodyguard because Caitlin liked him.... And when she told us about her horse---" Catherine looked back toward the Tunnel world, where Caitlin was still closeted with Father. "To kill an animal because its owner had displeased him; and in front of her, too! And so much more - how can we allow such a man to exist at large in our society? But I don't see a way to take him off the streets." Her arms encircled Vincent in a quick embrace, then she stepped away from him, toward the light. "I'll be back later, Vincent; maybe we can come up with something." She exited, disappearing from his sight into the early morning sun.

Vincent watched her go, noting with loving eyes the way she walked; straight and tall, despite a long, difficult night. "Try to sleep, Catherine," he murmured to her now distant silhouette. "But you will probably head off to your office as soon as you have eaten - and perhaps before."

Then he turned, to rejoin Father and Caitlin. As he entered through the iron gate, he found Father awaiting him. They walked together back toward Vincent's chamber in silence, then Father shook his head. "I put her back to bed in your chamber; she is exhausted and needs to sleep."

"Sleep will not come easily to her now, I think. Nor will it to me. Father - what are we to do?"

"Vincent - I may have an idea; a different approach to the problem. This is just a germ of an idea, but it's possible there is another way to resolve this. I need to talk further to Caitlin, though - and she is not up to it now. You saw her; she was practically asleep as she sat, there in my library."

"Father - this is unlike you. To wish to interfere in the affairs of the world Above; to have an outsider in our midst -"

"She is not an outsider, Vincent; unlike Catherine, she seeks escape from that world. In the days since you have brought her here, I've come to know her. So many who come to this world, Vincent, you take under your wing; so many look to you as a mentor, a loving guide. Their plights touch you, and your love enables them to turn their lives around, to heal their spiritual wounds. They are all my family as well; but you, Vincent, are my son. And in some way, I feel that Jane - Caitlin is similarly special." He looked troubled. "I am aware that it is usually your voice that pleads for me to interfere, or allow interference, with the world above; and mine argues for noninterference, lest we give ourselves away. Perhaps some of your noble spirit has rubbed off onto me; but in this case, I feel I must interfere." He looked away, as though embarrassed by this confession.

"Father, I love you," was Vincent's reply, along with a kiss and gentle embrace. "But interfere how? What are we to do to help her?"

"As I said, I must speak further to Caitlin, and she needs to rest now. Vincent, I ask you to go to her now. Speak to her; try to ease her burden. I know it will not be easy for you - "

"I was on my way to her when you met me. She is greatly grieved, and guilty; she regrets her promise to me, and wishes to go back on her word. She needs to know that she is not guilty, and must not change her mind." Vincent stopped walking, faced Father. "But how am I going to reach her, Father? She does not trust anyone in this matter; how am I to relieve her burden when she cannot believe that I know whereof I speak?"

"She loves you, Vincent," was Father's soft reply. "Love can work miracles. You already know that. Follow your heart; it will never lead you wrongly." With these words, the two had reached the entryway to Vincent's chamber. Father gave his son a parting hug, and left him.

Standing just beyond the doorway, he knew, as he had known before, that Caitlin was awake within. Her voice came to him softly. "Come in, Vincent." The sad weariness in her tone and mind brought him over the threshold, but again he stopped just inside the door.

Clad in a plaid shirt and pants belonging to Jamie, she was seated in his bedside chair, just as she had been on his first entrance, so long ago but only yesterday. Her blue eyes met his, obvious pleasure at his presence warring with exhaustion and despair. She savoured the sight of him briefly, then turned her face away. "Go away, Vincent. Go to sleep; you've not slept for more than a day."

"But neither have you; not really." Leaning down, Vincent lifted her into his arms, then carried her to the bed. Seating himself, he eased her weight onto the bed without letting her go. She held herself stiffly at first, then, within the pressure of Vincent's encircling arms, she let out a deep sigh, and relaxed into his embrace. Her cheek pressed to the soft leather of his shirt, and his black mantle encircling them both, she spoke so low that Vincent could barely hear her. "You should be with Catherine, Vincent; I can't bring you anything but pain."

"But," Vincent replied, "as a very wise woman once told me, it's such a sweet pain."

He pulled her more tightly into his embrace, resting a lightly furred cheek against her hair. "Love is not to be rationed, Caitlin; love is infinite in size. There is enough room for both you and Catherine in my heart."

"It's not right, Vincent," Caitlin protested sleepily. "I can't..." Her voice trailed off as the warmth and security of her position, abetted by her exhaustion, did as Father had predicted; Caitlin slept.

Vincent sat quietly for nearly an hour, feeling Caitlin's gentle breathing against his chest, enjoying the feel of her hair against his cheek. Her dreams were peaceful as well, conveying only contentment as she lay curled against him. Then, as exhaustion threatened to overwhelm him as well, he lowered her onto the bed, and started to leave the chamber. Two steps out, he abruptly stopped, returned to the bedside, and stood staring at Caitlin for several minutes. Finally, after soothing the hair back from her temple with the back of his hand, he forced himself to leave, seeking a bed for his own rest.

Halfway to his chosen destination, he encountered Father. "She's asleep," he reported briefly, and continued on his way, but stopped half a dozen paces down the corridor, and addressed Father again. "How can it be, Father? I told it to Caitlin, and it is true, but I do not understand it. Caitlin is in my heart as surely as Catherine is; a part of me, beloved forever, as is Catherine, now and always. How can this be?"

"I do not pretend to understand the human heart, Vincent; but it has always struck me that love is one thing that multiplies as it is divided; the more you love, the more you can love. And I have never met anyone else with your enormous capacity for love."

"Father - can we help her? Or is her solution the only one? How can I allow her to die, when I have just found her? How can I stop her if it is truly the only way to protect all of our world?" His great shoulders drooped. "I must sleep now, Father. Perhaps a rested mind will see more clearly."

"Sleep, Vincent; exhaustion always makes things blacker than they are. I have an idea; when you and Caitlin are rested, perhaps we can do something."

With only Father's quiet words to support him, he made his way to his chosen bed and such sleep as he could force himself to.

Chapter IX

Catherine made sure that she was not being watched, then swiftly entered the tunnel that lead to the world below. Hurrying to the iron gate, she saw Caitlin, her long hair now unbound, standing with Jamie on the other side, peering out into the gathering gloom. "Caitlin - Jamie. Where's Vincent? Where's Father?" Her tone was urgent.

"Asleep and asleep," Caitlin replied, opening the gate. She noted the dark circles under Catherine's eyes, and laughed. "Where we should be too, I think."

"You're right," Catherine answered dryly, coming through the gate and falling into step beside Caitlin. "I left you asleep two different times earlier, and you still look like you"ve been awake for a week." She yawned. "Sorry - I didn't mean that the way it came out. That's how I feel, too." They moved slowly through the tunnels, Caitlin occasionally taking extra support from a wall.

"How can I sleep? There's so much at stake." Caitlin's eyes grew distant as she remembered falling asleep in Vincent"s arms in the early morning. She had awoken a scant hour later, alone, and unable to reclaim her repose. "But can't we let Father and Vincent sleep now? I can see your news is urgent, but can it wait just an hour or two?"

Catherine nodded reluctant assent; Caitlin motioned Jamie off.

Catherine and Caitlin eventually reached Vincent's chamber, and entered together. Catherine felt a stab of pure jealousy at the way Caitlin seemed to belong in the room. She seated herself at the table, and waved Catherine to the other chair. They sat facing each other in silence, powerful emotions stirring the air between them in almost palpable waves.

"Hungry, Catherine?" Caitlin motioned toward a simple meal spread on the table; cheese, bread, a sliced apple, water. "What's mine is yours," she said. Sudden silence fell over the room as images of Vincent passed through two minds.

"Anyway - have something. I'm sure you haven't eaten; you have that 'lean and hungry' look."

With a laugh, Catherine acquiesced, and helped herself. She watched Caitlin covertly as they both ate in silence.

Exhaustion is the great leveler, thought Catherine. Through the haze of weariness that followed only a snatched hour of sleep, relaxed by the simple meal, Catherine could encompass no emotion except weariness. Even the nervous energy that characterized Caitlin was dimmed, although never absent. As they sat facing each other over the remnants of dinner, Catherine's head drooped as she fought off sleep.

Caitlin leaned forward, and broke the long silence. "You don't have to worry, Catherine. I'll be away from here soon." Her tone tried to be reassuring, but only managed tired and dispirited.

"Caitlin," Catherine started, but Caitlin overran her, rushed on, "He loves you, anyway. He told me so..." Her voice trailed off, as she leaned back and fixed her eyes on a point just below the ceiling. Her eyelids slid closed, then opened with a jerk.

"Caitlin - Vincent told me of his connection to you. He said that you're also - connected - to him. Sometimes I know if he's threatened, or in danger, but usually - nothing. Do you....Are you..." Catherine groped for appropriate words.

"He sleeps," Caitlin whispered, still without looking at Catherine. "No dreams; a deep, healing sleep." Her eyes suddenly met Catherine"s, blue and blue. "He loves you, Catherine."

"Call me Cathy," Catherine blurted, unable to think of anything else to say.

Caitlin didn't even acknowledge the interruption. "I can feel it always in his mind; he loves you. His spirit is so special; gentle, giving, strong. You are what he needs....There is such great darkness beneath his spirit. You bring him light..."

Catherine understood now what Vincent meant by "She saw my soul." Those blazing blue eyes seemed to see even her thoughts.

Then Caitlin blinked, and the sense of contact was broken.

Catherine felt she should say, do, something; but exhaustion clouded her mind. She could see that the brief burst of energy had spent Caitlin as well; they sat in almost-companionable silence, both overwhelmed by weariness. Catherine"s eyes began to close; the world retreated as her mind shut down for sleep. Her eyes, not fully closed, registered Caitlin in a similar stage of presleep; then she remembered no more.

Chapter X

Vincent woke to Father's hand, gently shaking his shoulder as his name was called. He blinked sleepily, then came abruptly awake. The traces within his mind told him that Caitlin slept nearby; still uneasily, unable to truly rest. But stranger than that, he also felt Catherine nearby - and also asleep.

"Vincent, the sun has set in the world above. You've been asleep for nearly ten hours." Father's voice barely registered through Vincent's thoughts.

"Father, is Catherine here?"

"Not that I know of, Vincent; why?"

"I know she is nearby; asleep."

Just then Jamie stuck her head into the chamber. "Catherine came looking for you, Vincent."

"Where is she, Jamie?"

"Caity took her to your chamber." She popped out of the room with a cheery wave, and proceeded on her way.

Father observed in mock gravity, as they navigated the steamy stone corridors, "Caitlin has quite a following among the children." Noting Vincent's puzzled look, he elaborated. "They missed your stories when you were away, Vincent; Caitlin would read to them as much as she was able. I had to shoo the children away, to let her get some rest. And she and Jamie talked for hours. Actually, I am amazed that no one mentioned your name before Samantha did, was it just two days ago? But sometimes such improbables happen."

They reached Vincent's doorway, and Vincent entered. He put his finger to his lips and motioned Father in. Before them, seated on opposite sides of the table, the crumbs of their meal still before them, slept Catherine and Caitlin. Father could see Vincent's eyes fairly glow with love, as he stood regarding them.

Vincent began to retreat from the room, to leave the two women to their much-needed sleep, but Caitlin stirred and opened her eyes.

"Vincent?" In the sleep-blurred tone were emotions normally held firmly in check. Then she shook her head, sat up straighter, and whispered, "We can't talk here; Catherine needs her rest."

"Catherine," came Catherine"s voice firmly, "is awake. And I came here to warn you." The urgency of her mission, temporarily forgotten, returned with a tidal wave sweep. She turned to Caitlin.

"I asked Joe about Towers. Caitlin, the word is out, he says, that Towers will pay any price to have you back." She paused, considering phrases, then stated baldly, "Dead or alive." She turned to Father. "He's pulling in all his resources on this." She laughed. "Streets are cleaner than usual; all his hoods are scouring the streets for Caitlin. Joe says whoever brings her back to Towers gets pretty much whatever he wants."

"Vincent, I told you so." No hysteria from Caitlin this time; only overwhelming hopelessness. Even Father and Catherine felt the emotion wash them; Vincent drowned in her despair.

Father's voice was sharp. "Caitlin; we will all hold you to your word."

With offended dignity, Caitlin rounded on him. "I will stick to my word exactly, Father; I must have Vincent's permission, for two weeks. Less one day." With her nose stuck in the air, she flounced out of the chamber.

Catherine watched her stalk away, then turned to Vincent. "What should we do, Vincent? She"s safe here for now, but what about the future? Towers is tenacious...he'll won't give up easily."

"Something Caitlin said yesterday gave me an idea," said Father. "When she's a little calmer, I need to talk to her further. Perhaps she"s gone to my chamber; why don't we check?"

The three moved the Tunnels slowly, in deference to Father"s slower pace. But his chamber was empty; there was no sign of Caitlin. 'Where could she have gone? She doesn't know her way around yet; she barely ventured past these chambers. Where could that girl have gone?'" Concern was the chief note of Father's voice, over a base of annoyance.

"She certainly has a quick temper, hasn't she?" Catherine murmured.

"Now that you mention it, no. I've never seen her take offense so. But she's exhausted; perhaps that's why she -"

"Catherine," Vincent interrupted urgently, "Why were you with Caitlin?"

"When I came to the Tunnel entrance, she was there with Jamie. I - sort of assumed that you'd known I was coming, and sent her to meet me; but you were asleep, weren't you? I wonder ..."

"There you are, Father," Jamie's voice carolled from outside the chamber. "Where was Caity going?"

Vincent spun toward the doorway. "My God. Father - just now; she left so angrily, but I felt no anger in her. Only despair. Father, she's gone Above." Vincent's voice held helpless certainty.

"Above? But Vincent - with Towers out for her blood - she's a dead woman," Catherine protested.

"I am sure that is her intention," Father injected brusquely. "She said 'exactly' keep her word, Vincent; what was it she promised - exactly?"

"To refrain from willing herself to die. . . And this way, Towers' men will do it for her. I must go after her, Father."

Jamie's face appeared at the entryway. "Where was Caity going, Father?" she repeated. Vincent brushed past her, vanished down the corridor.

"We don't know, Jamie," Father murmured softly.

"Father - she hasn't gone back to that man, has she? She was so scared of him; she pretended she was brave, but I knew better. I guess I knew she was going to; she had me show her the way into the park, just before Catherine came."

"Jamie - where did you find out about this man? What has Caitlin told you?"

"Sometimes at night, when the other kids were asleep, I'd come in to talk to her. She didn't seem to sleep much; she liked to talk. I think we sort of understood each other. Anyway, we'd be talking about something, like books or animals, and she'd stop talking all of a sudden, and look sad. I'd ask her what was wrong, and she'd just say something like, I'll never get away from him, or, He's still out there somewhere. Then she'd shake her head and start off on some thing else. She never wanted to talk about her home, or the Tunnels, or her life; no important stuff, really. "

"She didn't want to hear of Vincent, I think; in her heart she must have known he was real, but if she never was told about him, she could go on thinking he was an hallucination." Father shook his head. "When I told her my very real son was the Vincent of her imagination - well, we know what happened."

"I'm more concerned with what's going on now," Catherine added. "Where would she go? Jamie, did she ever talk about any certain place?"

"Catherine, I doubt that Caitlin is headed for any specific place." Father answered. "When you said 'scouring the streets', I believe that was her inspiration. I think she intends to show herself, and hope that one of Towers' men spots her and kills her immediately, rather than taking her to Towers."

"Father -" Jamie said, suddenly pale, "This afternoon, Caity asked me for a knife. I was going to let her borrow my favorite, but she told me that she'd never be able to return it, so I gave her my second-best. And Tommy said she borrowed one from him, too."

Surprise colored Father's tone. "Catherine - she isn't just going out to die. She's going to try to kill Towers herself!"

Suddenly Vincent was back in the room with them. His eyes were anguished, and in his hand he held a sheet of paper. "She's gone back to him, Father - to kill him and die in the attempt."

Chapter XI

"We know, Vincent." Father's voice was harsh with pain, for himself, Vincent, and for Caitlin. He took the sheet of paper from Vincent's nerveless hand.

" 'Vincent, Father, Catherine, Jamie,' " he read softly aloud. " 'I have set out for Mount Doom. Perhaps I can bring down Sauron. At least I can save the Shire. Goodbye, dear Gandalf. 'As a father you were to me, for a little while.' " Father's hand trembled, his voice thickened.

"Gandalf?" Catherine asked, almost without knowing it.

"She would claim I was like him." Unshed tears shone within Father's eyes. "Manipulating behind the scenes; starting a new order..." He returned to the note. "'Goodbye to my faithful Sam. I am wiser than Frodo in this; Sam cannot come with me now.' "

"That's me!" Jamie blurted. "She'd read to us from those books, and I always wanted to be Sam!"

" 'Catherine,' " Father went on, " 'Cliched but true, 'Tis a far, far better thing I do now than I have ever done before.' Take care of Vincent. I wish I could have known you better.'" Father paused, clearing his throat. "'Vincent - 'In my most sweet unreasonable dreams, I have not hoped for this!' "

A low groan escaped Vincent. He finished, almost below their hearing, " 'Now let me die, having lived.' She speaks to me with Cyrano's voice."

Catherine moved to him, embraced him. He pulled her close, taking solace from her presence.

Father finished, "She's signed it 'Caity'. "

Silence reigned for a moment, then Jamie turned to Vincent. "We've got to help her, Vincent! I mean - you can't let her just go and get herself killed; can you, Vincent?"

"No, Jamie, we cannot. But Father; where can we start? She is unharmed so far; unharmed but exhausted and frightened. But I am sure she cannot remain so forever. Or for long."

Father turned to Jamie. "Perhaps Catherine was on the right track. Jamie, did Caitlin ever talk about any specific place or person she might be going to?"

Jamie considered. "I don't think so, Father. Like I told you, she didn't want to talk about anything like that - people or stuff."

"Think, Jamie." Vincent voice was gentle but urgent. "Did she ever mention anything in the park, perhaps? She left that way; I was able to follow her trail perhaps to the planetarium. I had to turn back there; still too early, too many people about."

"Caity once said something about a newspaper stand, right at the zoo, I think. About waiting in a big car while that man talked to the newsstand guy."

"I know it," Vincent nodded in acknowledgment. To Father and Catherine, he said, "It's a starting point. I feel she is not too far away yet; this might fit."

Almost silently, in advance of any protest by Catherine or Father, he disappeared from the room.

Chapter XII

Night lay heavy on Central Park. The lights of the city sprang up on all sides, but shadows ruled the open land. Vincent himself was like a shadow as he moved through well-known territory. His black mantle seemed to be made of darkness; even one who was looking for him might have been fooled. Swiftly but secretly, he made his way to the zoo, and the newsstand Jamie had mentioned.

Everything was still and silent when he reached his destination; no other human beings within range of even his heightened senses. The air was cool, and the night was clear, but the very stillness seemed ominous. The tree branches slashed against the blue black sky. The newsstand stood alone, in a pool of light beneath a street lamp. He approached it; circled it in shadows. Nothing was there to draw the eye; nothing he could see out the ordinary; just the litter of thousands of daily visitors scattered across the grass. The sight of it, stark, sharp-edged, sent tiny shivers along Vincent's back. After one last lap around the area, he moved toward Fifth Avenue, and the boundary of the park.

The perpetual traffic and bustle continued along the street as he moved silently and invisibly. He saw nothing that caught his eye, nothing that did not belong; but the lights looked wrong, somehow; too sharp, too bright.

On a whim, he moved toward the statue of Hans Christian Andersen. It was a favorite place of his, delighting his mind with memories of tales as the night seemed to bring the author to life. It was, as always, a quiet spot. But the quiet gave him no peace tonight; the memories of pleasant evenings listening to the tales as a child had no power to reach him. The sense of impending doom made the shadows of the trees seem to reach out for him, the darkness an enemy rather than a trusted friend.

Vincent stopped for a moment, to collect his racing thoughts. Logic was far from him now; he could hear Caitlin's words in his head, the conversations he had with her, her final written message to him. Beneath the memories still lurked her trace within his mind, assuring him that nothing, as yet, had befallen her. "She is somewhere here," he murmured to himself. "In the park yet, I think." He moved north, toward the reservoir, trying to gage her nearness within his mind. An uncertain compass, it was all that he now had to go by.

Trusting almost to luck, he tried to let the connection guide him. He turned toward Fifth Avenue, moving like a wind through the trees. Well back from the streetlights and headlights, he surveyed the carriages and cars moving before him. Every angle, every facet, seemed to be reaching for him; in every pool of shadow some terrible danger lay in wait. Suddenly the sense of impending doom heightened, almost overpowering him.

"Caitlin!" The unease, the ominous darkness; they came from her mind to his. That quick understanding enabled Vincent to distance himself, gain a measure of perspective. The planes of the street looked more normal now. But still streaming into his mind almost unbearably was that sense of impending doom. She was near now, very near; Vincent stepped almost to the edge of the shadow that concealed him, searching. So much life; so many cars, so many souls still moving on the street before him. He tried to survey it all, to tune his sight so that only Caitlin might register. So many things took his eye, but none was what he sought.

He stepped back almost to the trunk of the shading tree, trying to think of what to do next. His back against the rough bark, he pondered for a moment. Suddenly he was glad of the solid supporting tree; Caitlin's mind exploded in terror, a brief flash of pain, then silence.

As he staggered against the rough wood, a ray of sunlight flashed through the night. He looked out, over the street, and saw the spill of Caitlin's white gold hair, like blown sand, against the dark sleeve of a suitcoat. Her eyes were closed; a tiny trickle of blood dripped from the corner of her mouth. He saw a large man load her still form into a black limousine, slam the door. He moved futilely toward the street as Towers' man drove away with an unconscious Caitlin.

Chapter XIII

After a desperate but failed attempt to follow the limousine while remaining concealed, Vincent thought furiously, trying to find a course of action. Every line of thought, every idea, seemed impossible, foolish. With defeat a sour taste in his mouth, he turned back to the park's entrance to the tunnels.

Within moments, he faced Catherine, Father, Jamie, in the entryway by the Tunnels' gate. "Caitlin lives," he began. Hope lit three faces, until he softly continued, "But Towers has her." He described quickly the scene that had flashed before his eyes, then added heavily, "She is not conscious yet. I wish now that I could void her promise to me."

"Vincent, you were unwilling to give up on her before; do not be so quick now." Father cautioned. "Catherine, do you think you can discover where this Towers lives?"

"He's got a penthouse facing the park; give me two minutes with the computer at the office, and I'll have an address for you."

"So much of the cruelty and violence Caitlin told us of took place there; it is safe to assume that he'll take her there, I think." Father limped toward the great iron gate, and motioned Vincent to take Catherine through. "Vincent will see you to your apartment, Catherine; can you get the information over the phone?"

"Yes, of course I can. But once we know - what can we do?"

"I will do what I must, Catherine," Vincent stated quietly. "I cannot leave her to that monster."

"Vincent -" Father cautioned, "Remember, your safety and Caitlin"s is our priority. A frontal attack will not work here; I will not lose you to Towers as well."

"Father - please don't worry about me."

"I will always worry about you. How could I not?" The two men exchanged a quick hug.

"Come, Catherine - there is no time." As he took a solitary step toward the iron gate, Jamie grabbed his sleeve.

"Please let me come, Vincent," she begged. "I can help - you know I can!"

"Jamie." Vincent's voice was firm but gentle. "We went through this once. It is too dangerous. Catherine will not be coming with me either."

"That's what you think," Catherine muttered under her breath, as Vincent hurried her toward the tunnel, away from Jamie, into the night park.

Chapter XIV

The journey to Catherine's apartment and back to the park was accomplished quickly. From the vantage of the Alice in Wonderland statue, Vincent and Catherine gazed up. Catherine pointed to a building brightly lit even at this, the midnight hour. "That's it, Vincent. If she's not there, I wouldn't know where else to begin."

"She is there, Catherine." Vincent spoke with quiet certainty, but in his eyes she saw the turmoil and anger that brewed within. "Catherine - please, go back to your home. I told you before; this is no place for you."

"Vincent, I am a District Attorney. If there is anything illegal going on - like attempted murder - there is no place I belong more."

"Catherine, I doubt if you can use my means of entry." Vincent gestured toward the raw side of the building. "The penthouse?"

"He has the entire top floor. Vincent -"

"I will be careful, Catherine. If you will not return home, at least remain here." His embrace was firm but quick. "Caitlin is still unconscious; I would reach her as soon as I can."

Before Catherine could speak, he was gone, blending into the night. Catherine"s glance scaled the side of the building, noting the balcony far above the street, off that top floor penthouse. She settled onto a bench near Alice in Wonderland. "Off with their heads!" she murmured to herself with a soft laugh. She imagined Vincent as the White Rabbit, and the Tunnels as the rabbit hole. For a moment, the rest of reality fell away, and her smile stretched wide. Then her attention snapped back to the present, and her gaze ran up to that balcony. So far above her, she knew she could make out no details, but she could fancy that Vincent had already reached that entry into the penthouse. She shivered; "Whoever is above, please watch out for Vincent," she murmured. "And Caitlin."

Chapter XV

Catherine's flash of humor reached Vincent as he stepped lightly onto the balcony. It was like a brief breath of air in a sealed closet. As he maneuvered within the balcony's shadows, to glance into the penthouse, he wondered what had been so amusing.

Through the french doors was an enormous room, carefully decorated. Halfway across the room, white leather couches were arranged in "U" facing the balcony, flanked by marble coffee tables. On the far side of the huge living room, Vincent could see four men gathered about a square table, smoking, playing cards, laughing. Guns were clearly visible in shoulder holsters worn openly. Then all thoughts but rage fled as the light within showed him Caitlin.

She lay crumpled on the floor, just inside the doorway from the balcony, like a rag carelessly dropped. Swiftly darkening bruises marred her face, the corner of her mouth sticky with dried blood. His rage rose until he could see only its red before his eyes. For a moment he moved toward the entrance from the balcony, intending only to smash and destroy. But he caught himself, forced the rage down. He needed to think now; perhaps his rage could be put to use later.

Father's caution sounded again in his head; "Your safety and Caitlin"s, Vincent; a frontal assault is not the way."

"But what am I to do?" His thoughts formed themselves into words, spoken only to the wind. "Subtlety; what am I to do?"

In the shadows of the balcony, his thoughts raced and circled. Caitlin would not be safe as long as Towers searched for her; if he simply removed her, it would not solve the problem. That would only set the deadline back to two weeks, at which point he knew he would lose. But two weeks was longer than he had now - and Father was right; four men, with guns, were poor odds.

At that moment he saw, and felt, Caitlin stir as consciousness began to return. The faint sounds that came to him through balcony doors left slightly ajar made him wince; if she were heard -

From within his worst fears were confirmed; a gruff voice called, "Hey boss - she's wakin' up!"

A small, dapper man clad in an immaculate, expensive suit entered from the hallway. He seated himself at the base of the "U" of leather, and, with a negligent wave of his hand, signaled that she was to be brought before him. Two of the bully-boys flanked her, and dragged her upright by her arms. Caitlin hung limp between them, her head still lolling as consciousness returned slowly.

"You just don't learn, do you, Caity dear?" His voice was precise and bored, his posture relaxed. "You should certainly know by now that you can"t escape." There was no motion from Caitlin, hanging between the two burly bodyguards, but Vincent felt her terror rise, suffocating her. Still she did not move.

Caitlin felt caught in a time loop; no, this couldn't be happening again. Her overworked and overtired adrenal glands seemed to be on strike. All she felt was the rising fear - and the sure knowledge that Vincent, rage nearly overwhelming his senses, was nearby. Where, she could not tell; but near, too near.

She took comfort in the cool feel of Jamie's knife beneath her sleeve, against her forearm. The second knife lay against her calf, even though Caitlin knew she'd never have a second chance. Silently she tried to will Vincent to leave, to take himself back from danger, while keeping herself a dead weight. Then Towers spoke again, and his hated voice compelled her unwilling attention.

"My dear, you are simply too much trouble. I really can't have this sort of disruption again."

Although she had expected it, what she knew was her death sentence still had power over her; she tensed against her will at the velvet menace in his voice.

"You were very close to me, my Caitlin; but no one is indispensable." He motioned for her to be brought directly to him. He raised her chin with one hand, looked deeply into her eyes. She knew his expression, and her stomach sank the rest of the way.

"Yes, I've had enough of you, Caitlin; but you need to be punished before I can dismiss you. No one causes me such trouble and doesn't pay."

Caitlin could see the raw red color of Vincent's burning rage before her. She crammed her rising panic into a sealed compartment in her mind, forced calmness over her thoughts; gratefully felt the lessening in Vincent's tension in response. She struggled to keep the calm uppermost as she anticipated Towers' next move.

"Let her go, boys," he commanded. "Maybe this time she'll come crawling. I might even be nice and kill her right away - if she begs nicely enough." He still sat at his ease, relaxed and comfortable.

As the bodyguards released her, Caitlin let herself crumple again to the floor. As she fell, she slid the cool metal blade into her hand, ready.

"Come on, pretty Caity," jeered one of the onlookers, an overbulked formerly handsome specimen.

Towers' voice slashed out with a whip"s crack. "She's of no use to me any more, Steve; but she was once my property."

"Yes, sir," the rebuked jeerer mumbled, stepping back abashed.

"Now Caitlin," Towers' voice retook its oily velvet. "As I rather expected. That's one of your many charms, my dear - your complete lack of common sense."

Towers stood then, towering over her. He stared down at her for a moment, then carefully scored a vicious kick directly into her ribs.

Caitlin gasped, curled in upon herself. Through the haze of pain, she heard the low menacing growl from the balcony. Next to her pain, Vincent"s rage escalated in her mind.

The noise, as she feared, did not go unnoticed. The five men were suddenly cold and all business. Four guns were unholstered, as the bully boys crept to the french doors. The one called Steve kicked them open, and all four burst onto the balcony.

Caitlin lay paralyzed, waiting for the sound of gunfire to signal their discovery of Vincent. But there were no sounds but those of four well-trained killers thoroughly searching an empty balcony. As her fear for Vincent subsided, her quick wit prevailed.

Clutching Jamie's blade, she forced herself to her feet as quickly as she could. All of Towers' attention was focused on the balcony search, as he stood only feet from her, well away from the open french doors. She drew her arm back, and stabbed into the side of his chest with all her might. The knife penetrated an inch before Towers could react. As he started to turn, Steve returned, holstering his gun, and saw the tableau.

Reacting instantly, he tackled her and they hit the floor, the knife skittering away to land far beyond her reach. Towers screamed, "Kill her! Kill her!" His voice was shrill, losing its velvet menace.

Steve fumbled for his gun, and Caitlin took advantage of the motion and scrambled to her feet. She hurled herself toward the balcony, right through the confusion of the three remaining guards all trying to reenter the apartment at once.

"Get out of the way!" screamed Towers. The men scattered, leaving Caitlin outlined against the moon as she steeled herself to go over the rail. A shot rang out, and she tumbled back to the balcony floor, one hand gripping the wrought iron railing for a moment before falling back.

The four men started to move back out onto the balcony, but Towers waved them peremptorily back, and snapped, "Close those doors. She's not going anywhere now; not anywhere that matters."

Blood was seeping slowly into his expensive suit. "For God's sake, call the damn doctor," he snarled as he sat back onto the couch and began to remove his jacket and shirt. "Damn little hellcat. Lock the balcony doors. Leave her out there overnight. If she's still alive in the morning, we'll deal with her then."

Even as Steve moved to obey Towers' command, a shadow slid over the balcony rail. Vincent lifted Caitlin from the floor and gathered her to him. He moved from direct line of sight of the doors, then paused. His eyes dark and burning, with fear barely overmastering rage, he lay Caitlin gently back onto the floor.

"Vincent..." Her voice was light, breathy; none of the substance that it had held, even in exhaustion and despair, remained.

"Be still, Caitlin." His glance went to the light still streaming through the french doors. As gently as he could, he slung Caitlin in a fireman"s carry over his shoulder. "It is not far this way, Caitlin." He infused all the reassurance and love he could into his voice, his thoughts, but Caitlin did not stir again. Within his mind, her presence remained, but began to retreat, ever so slowly.

Vincent's mantle quickly became a strong, soft rope, binding Caitlin to him. Moving as silently as a great cat, even so burdened, he once more slipped over the balcony rail.

Chapter XVI

Catherine half-dozed on the bench facing Alice in Wonderland. The park at night would have frightened her not so long ago; tonight it seemed friendly and safe, reminiscent of Vincent. Twice rustling among the trees snapped her to attention a garbage-foraging squirrel and a squirrel-foraging owl let her relax her guard each time. The third time a human figure appeared by the statue, hooded and cloaked; in an instant Vincent was by her side.

"Vincent! Did you..." Her words fell away as she saw the burden in his arms.

Cradling her like the child she resembled, Vincent carried Caitlin in swift paces to Catherine. She fell into step beside him as he measured his great stride to her shorter step. In the moonlight, Catherine noted the blood soaking Vincent's mantle and hands. With beginning panic, she asked, "Are you-"

"I am unharmed, Catherine. But I must take Caitlin to Father as quickly as I can." He halted for a moment, to lock eyes with Catherine. "Please - come after me. I do not wish to wait alone tonight." Then he was far ahead of her, his ground-eating stride taking him rapidly away. Catherine continued at her own pace, to the concealed entrance she knew so well.

It was a fifteen-minute walk for her; after she had scrambled through the huge culvert, she made her way to the heavy iron gate.

Jamie stood waiting for her. Her eyes were red, and she sniffed as she opened the gate.

"How is Caitlin?" began Catherine. Jamie started to answer, then broke down, sobbing onto Catherine's shoulder. Catherine held her gently until Jamie reasserted her control. Catherine repeated, "How is Caitlin?"

"Father says he doesn"t know," Jamie sniffed. "Oh Catherine, she's been shot, and that man broke her ribs. Vincent is with her, and Father - " Jamie stopped for a moment, took a deep breath, forced herself to calm. "Come on, Catherine; Father said to bring you right there."

With Jamie in the lead, they traced the long path to Vincent's chamber. Entering the curtained doorway, Catherine felt a flash of deja vu. There, in the center of Vincent's bed, lay Caitlin, as slight as when she first saw her. But dried blood dark in Caitlin's hair tangled upon the pillow beside her, and Vincent seated on the edge of his bed, Caitlin's hand resting in his, gave the lie to her image.

Catherine came up behind Vincent, rested her hands on his shoulders. "How is she?"

Father replied from the other side of the bed. "Lucky to be alive," he said tersely. "So far. Very lucky. She's lost quite a bit of blood, but the bullet went straight through, and seems to have spared any vital organs. Frankly, I am more concerned about the broken ribs; they were sharply dislocated."

Catherine felt Vincent"s shoulders tense. One great furred hand reached out and stroked the untidy hair back from Caitlin's closed eyes, while the other continued to possess her hand. His voice was harsh. "I stood outside that room and listened to all of it, Catherine. The cruelty - the shots. She tried to kill him, but failed. She was terrified at first, but after a moment, so calm I did not think her danger was so great." He sat in silence after that, all his attention focused inward.

Father paused at the doorway, and said, "I have a few more antibiotics. I think this is a good time to use them."

He left, taking Jamie with him, leaving Catherine and Vincent alone with Caitlin. Catherine wrapped her arms as far as they would go around Vincent, leaned against him. In silence, she willed her strength to him, trying to let her love wash over him and comfort him. Vincent sat as still as a stone, only the motion of his breath and the slow beat of his heart betraying him.

Caitlin was still also, but it was the stillness of deep unconsciousness. Her breath barely stirred the bedclothes; by no flicker or trace of motion did she reveal herself.

The tableau stayed so for long moments; Vincent bowed in grief, Caitlin"s hand resting in his; Catherine holding Vincent, leaning against his strong back, willing all her comfort to him; and Caitlin. Then Vincent began to speak, his resonant whisper surrounding them, all his attention still focused on Caitlin.

"Catherine, you and I have our dream; we have each other, our stolen moments from our separate worlds. The path we have chosen is not easy, but it is our choice." He continued, still not looking at her, "Caitlin has had nothing; no dream, her only hope to die rather than risk what Father has built here." He could not bring himself to speak of Caitlin's desire to protect him.

Laying Caitlin's hand back onto the bed covers, he turned to face Catherine. "She has no will left, Catherine. She is spent." His hand traced the line of the only scar remaining on Catherine's face to remind them of their first meeting. "She is strong, but strength is not invulnerability. She has been beaten down, wounded with knife, sting, and tooth, and a long burden." And I have no healing power to put forth; how can I help her to find peace?"

Never had Catherine been more aware of the sharply controlled side Vincent presented to her; the deep pain that he felt was written on him in ways she had not seen before. Did he hurt so over her out of her sight? She had always known that he held himself under great control; only now did the depth of the facade reveal itself.

"Vincent -" Catherine said, taking his hand between hers. "Love is a great healing power. Your love is what helped me to heal myself; Caitlin deserves no less of a chance. She needs your strength to help her now. What you and I have is never ending, and you are always close to me. But she needs you now, Vincent." She laid the soft fur of his hand against her cheek, then held it to her lips. With a soft kiss, she turned and left the chamber.

"Catherine - " Vincent started to call her back. He strode to the doorway, then paused. He watched Catherine disappear down the long hallway leading to the Great Stair. His love for her rose within him, pride and respect for her heart and spirit filling him. At the same time he was aware of her quiet satisfaction and her great abiding love for him, there in her mind. He slowly turned from the arched doorway, and returned to Caitlin's side.

Chapter XVII

When Father reentered the room, Vincent was still seated as he had left him, on his own bed, Caitlin's fragile hand resting in his own, but alone. Silence prevailed as Father busied himself with a doctor's routine. When he had finished, Vincent asked softly, "And how is she, Father?"

"Much as before, Vincent; alive, very weak. And where is Catherine?"

"She has gone home."

"Vincent, get yourself some food. I will stay with Caitlin."

"No. I must stay with her now; she needs me."

"You must prepare yourself for the worst. Caitlin was in a weakened condition before, and these are serious injuries."

"I know. That's why I must stay. She has no fight left; I must do her fighting for her."

"You can't force her to live. She must do that for herself."

"Not force her; encourage her. You yourself said it to me; love can work miracles."

"Sometimes even love isn't enough." Father frowned, changed the subject. "I told you before that I had an idea, a different approach; in a way, this may have made it easier."

"Why so mysterious, Father?"

"As this concerns Caitlin, it must be her choice. But I think there is a real chance now; perhaps better than before. If she survives."

"She will survive. I wish you could be more plain, but I suppose I shall have to wait."

"Yes, patience is a great virtue; one that sometimes is strained in you. But I am afraid that patience is what is required here; patience and love. I have no doubts about your abilities in that regard. But try to keep your hopes in perspective. She is a very precious person, Vincent, and you know that I love her too. But the human body is a finite machine, and can take only so much punishment; especially when the spirit is shadowed, as Caitlin's is."

He laid his hand over Vincent's, covering Caitlin's hand as well. Vincent noted a suspicion of moisture in his eye, and his voice had thickened. Changing the subject, he touched Caitlin's hair, matted rusty brown with blood. "I'll send in Mary to wash her hair; it's a pity to leave it like this." Then he left the chamber.

Vincent lost himself in memories of the brief moments he had actually spent with Caitlin. Their first daylight meeting in the park, the disaster of the encounter in his chamber, two brief talks, a long monologue, and the pursuit and rescue were the sum total. But he knew so much more than the moments seemed to imply; her spirit, emotions, love had been with him steadily since that first meeting in the park. He looked back at her, willing her eyes to open, to warm with the involuntary smile she held for him alone. He sat so for several moments, willing, to no response. Then Mary entered, carrying bowls, water, soap, towels. She went directly to the side of the bed opposite Vincent, covered the pillow with plastic.

"Hello, Vincent," she said as she wet Caitlin's hair, and began to raise suds. She plainly expected no answer from him as she continued her task. The water turned cloudy brown as slowly the matting blood was cleaned away. With each rinsing, Caitlin's hair took on a wet, dark gold gleam, like willow leaves against an autumn sky.

Mary worked in silence. She glanced up every few moments to look at Vincent, who was watching as though mesmerized.

With one last sudsing and rinse, Mary ran her fingers through the wet golden mass. "I think that's enough now," she murmured aloud, then briskly but gently toweled the excess water away, leaving Caitlin's hair just damp, closer to the white gold Vincent knew. After removing the protective plastic, she took a soft cherrywood brush from her pocket, and began to smooth the tangles and snarls.

Vincent watched for a moment, then released Caitlin's hand and stood. "Mary," he said, "I'm sure you have other things to do." He pulled off his gloves, held out a hand. "Let me."

She relinquished the brush, and Vincent resettled himself on the bed, began to work the brush through Caitlin"s hair, which was drying to the soft silk that he remembered against his cheek.

Mary gathered the basin of soiled water and towels, leaving clean water and another towel beside the bed, and started to leave. She stopped halfway out, and turned to speak to Vincent. But he was engrossed in his task, having already forgotten the rest of the world.

Vincent watched the rich red wood move through the so-close-to-white of Caitlin's hair. Like a stream made solid, her hair flowed over his fingers. Like Caitlin herself, it defied his will; it clung to his hands, the sheet, the brush as he tried to smooth it.

The texture fascinated him; soft and satin, sliding along the length of his hand one moment, clinging electrically the next. He continued to wield the brush long after there was any real need for it.

Finally he could no longer delude himself that the job was unfinished, and he laid the gleaming wooden brush on the bedside table. One last time he tangled a golden strand about his hand, watching the candlelight play over it. He let the ends trail off his hand, his attention consumed by the beauty of light and texture. On the edge of his perception he saw a flash of blue. After a long second of puzzlement, he realized that Caitlin"s eyes were open; her presence within his mind had brightened as he was lost in her hair.

He took her hand without speaking. The tap and clang of messages running along the pipes was the only sound in the room, but the silent communication ran between them like a rushing stream. Vincent saw the warmth he had longed for within her eyes, and knew his reflected the same back.

As Vincent by now could have predicted, it was Caitlin who broke the tie. Her voice still disturbingly insubstantial, she breathed his name, then whispered, "Where's Catherine?"

"At home, asleep, where she should be." Vincent's answer, while true, teased gently. Caitlin blinked, then whispered, "How did I get here? Towers - I didn't;" a long pause, then, at the edge of his hearing " - I failed."

"Failed? A greater victory I have never seen. You returned, faced him, conquered your fear. And also did to me what Catherine once did - refused to feel your fear for my sake. Am I not correct?"

Caitlin looked away from Vincent's face. "Yes."

"As to how you got here - I brought you home."

"The balcony - I thought it was a dream..." Vincent had to lean closer to distinguish the words. He noted uneasily that only her eyes moved; even her lips seemed to barely stir as she spoke. Her hand was still a weight in his, as if she husbanded all her energy only to speak to him. Although he could feel some returning strength within her, he wished for more.

"Hush, Caitlin. Rest now. I will stay. You are safe."

She started a feeble protest, tried to lift her head. Vincent could nearly see the waves of dizziness and pain that lanced through her. The protest turned into a moan. Vincent noticed the basin and towel left behind by Mary. With his free hand, he wet a corner of the towel, then drew a wide line of coolness across Caitlin"s forehead.

"Rest now." No longer a request, it was a command. But Vincent softened it by laying the back of his hand against her cheek. He could see her relax. A soft pressure told as she leaned into the caress. Her skin, too hot, dry to his touch, startled him. As much as he had been lost in Caitlin's presence, suddenly he longed for Father to appear.

Vincent freed his hand, bathed her forehead again. Her eyes followed his every move, but her thoughts seemed lost in a heavy fog. He watched her shallow breathing with increasing nervousness now; his desire to stay with Caitlin rapidly overborne by his desire for a professional medical opinion.

Caitlin murmured his name again, then her eyes drifted shut. Unsure if this was a good sign, Vincent released her hand. He was contemplating going in search of Father when he heard footsteps in the stone tunnel beyond the chamber. In came Father, leaning heavily on his walking stick.

"Caitlin was awake, Father, for a few moments. But she's so hot, and seems so weak. She could barely speak."

Father nodded, taking Caitlin's pulse, assessing her with professional eyes.

"Vincent, fever is the body's normal response to invasion. And yes, she is weak - and will be for quite some time. If she survives."

"There is no if, Father."

"There is always an if, Vincent. She does seem a little stronger." Father measured a dose into a syringe, quickly administered the injection. "Morphine. She should sleep for several hours at least."

"I will stay, Father."

"I thought you would, Vincent." Eyeing the empty syringe, he murmured, "I will send one of the children to Peter for more. We'll need it. I"ll return in a hour or so."

"I shall be here."

Chapter XVIII

"Enough, Vincent!" Father's usually calm voice was hushed but emphatic. "You have not left this room for two days. I doubt if you've slept; I know you have barely eaten. Even I will concede that Caitlin is on the mend now; you, on the other hand, will probably be the next to collapse, and cause me no end of trouble." He glared at Vincent in mock anger, his concern alive in his eyes.

"Not yet, Father." Vincent spoke from the bedside chair, his gaze never leaving Caitlin's face.

It was plain that she was merely asleep now; curled on her side like a child, hair neatly braided, her face turned toward Vincent. It was always so, Father had noticed; like a flower and the sun, Caitlin always showed her face to Vincent.

"Not yet, Father," Vincent repeated. His eyes were red and gritty with exhaustion, his face drawn, but there was a great peace about him. "She still needs me."

"If you keep this up, Vincent, you will be unable to help her," Father retorted sharply.

"Don't worry about me so much, Father. I'm tired, but I've been tired before. As long as Caitlin needs me, I will stay."

"Vincent, I am sure that Caitlin will be the last one to begrudge you a night of sleep and a quiet meal. And for a little while, she can make do with my feeble company."

"Vincent - listen to your father." Caitlin's voice was still too light for his liking, but the improvement over two nights ago was striking.

"Caitlin -" Vincent's voice was soft, gentle.

"Vincent - we are never really apart. You're always with me, and I with you. Go, please, eat and sleep. I will be fine with Father - and even alone."

Recognizing in her words and mind the speeches he often made to Catherine, and thus their half-truth, he stood. "All right, Caitlin. I'll leave you in Father"s hands. I won't be long." He left, intending to eat, change his clothing, and return.

Father seated himself in the chair Vincent had vacated. He looked toward Caitlin, whose eyes followed the path Vincent had taken out the door.

As soon as the echoes of his footsteps had died away, Caitlin turned her attention to Father. Accusing blue eyes full upon him, she asked quietly, "How could you do this - to me? To Vincent?"

Father was taken aback. Although her manner was one of utter calm, her eyes brimmed with heartbreak. She took a deep breath, gathering control, and continued, "I expected it of Vincent, but you, dear Father, understand reality. I have failed - even at failure." She paused, struggled to raise herself higher on her pillows. With a gentle, physician's hand, Father helped her resettle, well supported. There was a moment of silence as Caitlin allowed her strength to return.

Looking back into Father's eyes, she continued, "I never expected to see this room again - or you. Or Vincent."

"Caitlin, I can recognize a suicide note," Father replied succinctly.

"Then why couldn't you let me die?" The question was asked starkly, simply; suddenly Father realized that Caitlin's iron grip on her emotions was for Vincent"s sake. He would know of any troubles or terrors in her mind, so she would not allow herself to be troubled or frightened.

"Why, Father? Why prolong the suffering? My promise to Vincent has ten days to run; those ten days are just so much unnecessary pain."

"Caitlin," Father began, but she continued without pause. "I could"t even get myself killed; what a spectacular failure! Surely I could have done that right!" Realized that her thoughts would soon bring Vincent running, she stopped to calm herself.

This time Father was firm. "You are to listen to me, Caitlin, before you go on."

"Father, surely you can see -"

"I said LISTEN, Caitlin. First is that I have never seen the need for this death you obsess yourself with. But that is a moot point now. Yes, Caitlin, moot," he silenced her attempt at interruption. "As I understand it, your fear is that Towers will not rest until he believes you are dead. Is that correct?"

Caitlin nodded agreement, began, "Surely you can see -"

"You are not a very good listener. You must let me finish before you interrupt. Caitlin, what you are not seeing is that it is not that you be dead, but that Towers believes you to be dead. This, I think, you've already accomplished; after all, he saw his man shoot you, and I'm sure there was blood on his balcony. Where can he think you went, except over the side or to another balcony - to be discovered dead the next time the balcony's owner steps out for air? You, Caitlin, are already dead in Towers' eyes. Our only task should be to reinforce that belief."

"But -" Caitlin started to object, then stopped, trying to assimilate the new point of view. "But - I don't dare. If any of his people ever see me, if he ever sees me -"

"There are many ways to hide, Caitlin," Father explained gently. "You could remain with us; or leave the city entirely. There are other places than New York, you know."

"You said reinforce, Father; how - "

"I believe that I have an idea. Caitlin, do you think that a photo in the newspaper of your 'dead' body will convince Towers - considering the frame of mind that he must already be in?"

"A photo in a newspaper? My dead body -" Caitlin was slow in grasping the picture that Father presented. "If he thinks I'm dead-"

"He will stop hunting you. You will be free."

"Do you think it can work, Father?" She was unwilling to trust hope after so long; unable to believe that anything could come between her and what she had firmly convinced herself was her destiny.

Father could see her initial intention to reject fighting with her only real hope since he"d first spoken Vincent's name. Putting pressure on his side, he added, "It wouldn't be difficult. Photographs are easy, and I"m sure between our Helpers and Catherine, publication would not be a problem either."

"This is so different, Father. I need to think about it."

"Yes, do. Caitlin, you need to believe that you're entitled to a life."

Father was about to elaborate into a lecture when he saw that Caitlin was already drooping with fatigue. Instead, he went on, "But now, more than ever, you need to rest again. Dream about possibilities, Caitlin; even reality is full of them." He used his stick to rise to his feet, then went about the room, snuffing candles until the room approached twilight. He sat back into the bedside chair.

He could see the gleam of her eyes, still following him. He was reminded of the days when he sat beside this bed, in the twilit darkness, reading bedtime stories to his young son Vincent. With a sudden surety, he reached for the volume still resting on the floor by the chair. Opening to the first page, he began in a comfortable voice, "'Chapter One. A Long-Expected Party. When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.'"

A soft sound of delight rose from the bed, and Father could almost feel Caitlin relax. He continued reading aloud until her breathing was slow and regular, then settled more comfortably and buried himself silently in the beloved tale.

Chapter XIX

The half-lit room, with Father absorbed in his volume, greeted Vincent's return an hour later. Father's frown also greeted him. "Vincent, you need to sleep as much as she does." Father kept his voice low.

Vincent sighed. "Father, this is where I belong now." He reached down and took the opened volume from Father's hands. Reading a paragraph or two, he smiled. "I'd almost forgotten the magic of this journey," he mused, then helped Father to rise from the chair.

"Vincent, I spoke to Caitlin while you were gone."

"I know, Father."

With a nod, Father acknowledged the connection's powers. "Let me tell you what we spoke of." He quickly outlined the plan as he had presented it to Caitlin.

The simplicity combined with the altered point of view shone a bright light over Vincent"s worry, never far from the surface of his thoughts.

"And what did Caitlin say to this?" he asked, cutting to the heart of the matter.

"Not too much, Vincent. It's very hard for her to see another side of this now; so much of her energy has been invested in her own view. And she is still weak; a few moments of conversation exhausted her."

Vincent nodded. "But it's important that we put this plan into motion as soon as possible, isn't it?"

"I would think that the 'discovery' of her body should come within the week. Much longer might be suspicious. And with details to arrange, we should start this matter now, Vincent. We must send for Catherine, and perhaps Thomas."

"A photographer is certainly what we need here," Vincent agreed. "And I am sure that Catherine will help."

"I will send a note with one of the children, then." Father started through the doorway, paused, then returned. He went to the bedside again, stared at the still-sleeping Caitlin. "Such a world of trouble you are, my dear."

Wisps of her willful hair had escaped from their braid and curled about her face. Father's hand was gentle as he pushed them back. He spoke as he did to Vincent; the love and worry shaded to his voice. "But worth every iota, if we can save you, and help you dare to reclaim your life." Without meeting Vincent's eyes, he turned and limped swiftly from the room.

Vincent stared after his father for a long moment, then returned to Caitlin's side. With the ease of many repetitions, he settled into the chair, and returned to the volume.

Chapter XX

Vincent matched strides with Aragorn, looked out for the slower hobbits as they approached the great mountain Weathertop. Then an unidentified noise reached him; he stopped the travelers with a wave, went swiftly to investigate -

And awoke to find the noise coming from the bed before him. Caitlin was trying desperately to muffle sobs that tore up from some great depth within her. Her face was awash with tears, her hair dampened by their salty flow. Vincent could feel the pain, within her mind and her body, as her healing wounds protested the violence of her storm.

Vincent quickly moved to the bed, took Caitlin carefully into his arms and settled her against his shoulder. "Hush." His voice was soft, almost inaudible above her sobs. "You'll hurt yourself. Hush, and tell me about it." He continued to murmur to her until she quieted, half in response to his presence and half to hear his words.

"Oh, Vincent," she sighed. A few residual sobs still shook her from time to time; he felt her wince with each tremor.

"Hush, Caitlin. Tell me why you're crying."

"What am I going to do, Vincent? If this plan of Father's works, what am I going to do? Who am I?" She huddled into Vincent's warmth, trying to explain. "For almost seven years, I've been Caitlin, Zachary Towers' little mistress. No choices; for three years, my father's life was hostage for my good behavior." She shuddered. "When he finally drank himself to death, my only choice became to escape. After three or four attempts and failures, I went to John, the D.A. You know what happened then. I still thought there was a chance, somehow; that's why I ran from that charity ball. Then I met you, and Father - and I knew there was no chance. Everything was so clear." She laughed softly, an edge of shrillness touching her voice. "Oscar Wilde was right; nothing settles your mind so wonderfully as the knowledge that you are to be hanged in the morning. So to speak." She paused to catch her breath. Vincent soothed the strands of hair from her face, waited for the rest of the flood from behind the now-broken dam.

"Even when I thought there was a chance, I never thought about a chance for what. What am I going to do - who am I after seven years? The last time I thought about what to do with my life, I was seventeen. My two big ambitions were a part in the spring play and a date for the Senior Prom. I didn't get either; I got Towers instead." Her laugh was repeated, an edge of hysteria creeping in. "If this is really all over now, Vincent, I have nowhere to go, nothing to do, nothing to be. I never graduated from high school; I was a senior when I went to Towers. I have no skills, no abilities; no ambitions, no dreams, Vincent. If I"m free - free to do what?" There was a moment of silence, broken only by Caitlin's valiantly stifled sobs. Then Vincent spoke.

"Caitlin - to begin with, these tunnels are your home for as long as you wish; the rest of your life, if that is what you choose. This is a wonderful world; there are always many things to do, to see. The Cave of the Winds; the Great Hall; the Whispering Gallery; so many wonders, and always things for every person to do. But this need not be your home; it can be a place for you to find out where you wish to go, what you wish to do. A refuge, for a time." Vincent paused, knowing his words were finally penetrating Caitlin's defenses. "Whatever the results, now is not the time for you to worry. Know you are safe; know you are loved. Rest and heal, Caitlin; that is all you should be doing now."

There was a long, long silence. The connection between them was alive with Caitlin's slowly settling emotions, Vincent's surrounding wall of love. He could feel the point at which her thoughts turned to the future he painted. She still could not accept the picture as permanent; but enough of it penetrated to give her peace for the moment. "I suppose we should go ahead with Father's plan, then," she murmured into his shirt.

"When next I see him, I will tell him you have said so. Now rest again, Caitlin." He chuckled. "That's all I ever say to you; rest now, sleep now. And you always listen; for a moment."

"Yes, Vincent." Her docility masked a flash of humor. "I seem to be saying much the same to you; and you listen as well as I do."

"Ah, but so far I've remained healthy and whole, Caitlin; I want to see you the same. Then perhaps I will listen better." He cradled her more firmly to him, moving to lean against the headboard. "At the risk of repeating myself yet again, I will say - sleep, Caitlin. Problems are seldom insoluble; even the most difficult yield to love and logic. The future will take care of itself; I will take care of you until it comes. With Father's help."

She made no audible reply to Vincent's command, but her slight body relaxed in his embrace. With great care, she lifted one arm and laid it across Vincent's chest, to pull him closer yet. Then she obeyed his command, closed her eyes, and slipped into a restful sleep.

Chapter XXI

It was thus Catherine and Father found them. Vincent leaned on the headboard, one arm cradling Caitlin to him. She was curled against his side, her cheek to his ribs, one arm thrown across his chest. Both were sound asleep.

Catherine thought she had reconciled her jealousy two days ago; the bolt that shot through her was an unpleasant surprise.

Father's shrewd eye missed nothing. He took Catherine's arm, and they slipped from the chamber silently, leaving the two to their slumber. Walking away was an act of bravery for Catherine; all of her being cried out to remain, to take Caitlin's place in Vincent's arms.

She knew that she could not be replaced in Vincent's life, in his heart; but the sight of the two curled together on Vincent's great bed reminded her of what she and Vincent did not have; might never have. She longed to be the one with him, forever; yet their dream seemed so impossible now.

Father watched the emotions flash across Catherine's mobile face as she tried to deal with her reactions. "Caitlin will never come between you and Vincent," he said.

"I know," Catherine replied. "But I mustn't come between Vincent and Caitlin, either." She pondered, then shrugged. "Each of us deserves a better deal than we've had; more choices. But I can't remake the world so that Vincent can live above; and I can"t leave my work, my world. All we can do is live within our limitations."

"The heart has no limitations, Catherine," Father answered. He let the statement hang in the air for a moment, then changed the subject. "I believe there is a solution for Caitlin's dilemma."

He swiftly outlined the plan, as he had done for Caitlin and Vincent. Catherine nodded, seeing the possibilities burst forth. "You know, I think an old friend of my father's has an apartment in that building; if it's in the right place, that would be a likely balcony..." Ideas cascaded as she envisioned photographs, explanations, procedures. "If we handled it as a witness protection thing, I think we could get all the cooperation we need."

"It's important that we begin as soon as possible, Catherine; Towers will be expecting some discovery of the body soon."

"We'll need to take photos; a little careful posing, maybe a little make up..." Catherine's mind whirled with the possibilities.

"One of our Helpers is a newspaper photographer; I've sent Kipper for him."

"I need to go back to my apartment; I think Gregory Baldwin still lives there..." Muttering plans to herself, she let Father escort her back to the basement of her own building.

Chapter XXII

"It certainly looks gruesome enough." Caitlin, clad in Catherine's old baggy pink fleece sweatsuit, made a face at the evening newspaper. Lounging in an armchair in Catherine's apartment, her feet propped on an ottoman, she barely resembled the limp bundle that Catherine remembered Vincent carrying only days ago.

But Catherine also knew the image was only that; an hour before, Catherine had helped her into that chair, Caitlin's legs still barely able to support her.

"Gruesome, yes; but very convincing." Catherine took another look at the black and white picture, depicting Caitlin, her distinctive hair clearly spread about her, lying crumpled on a balcony within a chalk outline. "If I hadn't been there, Caity, I would have sworn this was your corpse."

The photo session was a memory almost as bad as the picture looked. What still haunted Catherine was the image of Caitlin posed on the balcony floor as Thomas drew the chalk line around her, her face drawn with pain; and Vincent, hovering just beyond the range of the camera's eye, ready to snatch her from the floor as soon as it was possible.

To Caitlin, the entire experience was nothing more than a haze of pain. The need for haste had caused the photo session to take place only eighteen hours after Father's first suggestion. Vincent had borne her from the safety of his chamber through the Tunnels, up the Great Stair, into the basement of Catherine's building, where the Helper Thomas had waited. Her father's friend did indeed have a balcony at the proper place, but the risk of carrying Caitlin there had dictated the choice of Catherine's balcony as photographic stand in.

Vincent could not enter by conventional means; so Thomas and Catherine had supported Caitlin up and through the halls. Vincent had made his way to Catherine's apartment by his usual route, and when Catherine swung the door open, he had seized Caitlin from them and carried her out to the balcony, where she had lain on the cold floor for fifteen minutes, blanking her face and relaxing her body as Thomas directed.

The latter part of the photo session was vague to Caitlin. Unless Vincent spoke, all she heard was her own heartbeat and the rising ringing in her ears. She remembered the chill of the balcony floor invading her body, freezing her until she felt lost in the snow; strange for a mild spring night. She remembered that thought very clearly; then shadows and meaningless voices until awakening in Catherine's bed, Father bending over her, and Vincent cursing himself nearby.

That was a scene burned into Catherine's mind as well; Thomas speaking to Caitlin, getting no reaction until the remark was repeated by Vincent; Vincent's growing concern as he urged Thomas to finish; and the instant that Caitlin had slid into unconsciousness, as Vincent pushed Thomas roughly aside and carried Caitlin in to Catherine's bed.

Although she could not realize it, she was seeing what others saw when Vincent reacted to Catherine's danger.

Caitlin broke through the chain of memories in a way that Catherine had mentally labeled her 'Scarlett O'Hara - I'll think about it tomorrow' style. With a loud and deliberate yawn, she tossed the newspaper onto the coffee table and stretched; or started to, then thought better of it. "I think it's about time to hit the sack," she announced. Catherine smiled; when pushing aside unpleasantness, Caitlin's vocabulary descended to a high school bravado.

It was amazing, thought Catherine as she helped Caitlin to settle into bed, how much she liked this woman who still was a child in so many ways. Seeing Vincent cherish Caitlin still aroused primitive emotions; but she also knew more firmly than ever that Vincent loved her, Catherine. And how could anyone resist Caitlin, alternately serious and funny, forever seeing sides to everything overlooked by others?

In some ways it fascinated Catherine; was Caitlin thus before her long ordeal with Towers, or had she developed so to shield herself? No matter; the result was an unusual person, one she was beginning to feel was like the imaginary playmate she had as a child.

Her secrets of and with Vincent had isolated her; she knew that. Perhaps this was just a normal reaction to the ability to drop her guard. Catherine stifled a yawn of her own, and went to stand on her balcony.

As she had more than half expected, soft sounds heralded Vincent's arrival only moments later. Catherine went to him, forgetting everything else in the warmth of his embrace.

Long peaceful moments passed in silence, the sounds of the city barely heard in their private world. During their moments together, they existed in a vacuum. Nothing could intrude; indeed, nothing else existed.

But the same thought was in both their minds, and broke through their preoccupation. Catherine was the first to speak.

"Caity went to bed, Vincent; just before you arrived. Her first day out of bed must have tired her out."

Vincent's voice was gentle, as he explained, 'she's awake yet, Catherine; she knew I was coming, and left to allow us to be alone."

Catherine sighed. "Maybe you can talk to her, Vincent. She won't discuss anything more serious than weather with me. Maybe it's too soon....."

He shook his head. "Her experiences have been so intense, Catherine; perhaps she's just resting from the intensity. But I suspect not; I think we are seeing defenses long honed to perfection." He added, "Father told me she is well enough to return to us, whenever you and she are ready."

"If she wants to, she's welcome to stay here for a while longer. I enjoy the company; and it's wonderful to have no secrets to guard."

"That will be her choice, Catherine. She is still so weak; Jamie spent some time with her today, as did Mary and Father." His eyes grew pensive. 'she won"t speak frankly to me either, Catherine; I can feel her trying to paper her thoughts and feelings over, to hide herself from me."

"Why, Vincent? It's all over, she's safe now."

"Catherine, she cannot change herself so quickly. I hope she"ll let us help her reclaim her life. I fear she will not."

"Whyever not, Vincent?"

"She doesn't believe she deserves it, Catherine. You should understand; acts of violence leave undeserved guilt in their victims. Caitlin cannot separate what was done to her from her own worth."

Catherine considered, remembering the effects of one random act of violence on her life. What would seven years have done?

"Catherine, try to talk to her. Tell her of your experience; let her know she can survive, remake her life."

Suddenly it struck her; Caitlin had no normal adult experience to fall back on. "I'll try, Vincent. But I don't know if she'll listen."

"All any of us can do is try; in the end, the choice must be hers, for good or ill." With one regretful glance toward the room where he knew Caitlin lay awake, he settled with Catherine on the balcony, and pulled out a leatherbound volume. Opening it, he read.

'shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate;
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his golden complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee."

Chapter XXIII

The night, as always, reigned over the tunnels; at this time it also reigned over the city. Vincent slept restlessly beneath his worn patchwork quilt, troubling dreams twisting his sleep. Soft footsteps approached his chamber, and Father and Catherine entered. Father frowned, then cleared his throat. With a growl, Vincent flung the quilt to the floor and was on his feet, animal reflex acting before he truly awoke. Then he blinked sleepily, slowly coming out of his dreamworld.

"Father; what's the matter? Catherine - Catherine, why are you here?" Vincent was instantly alert. "Has something happened - wait -" He held up a huge, clawed hand, gesturing for silence. His eyes grew unfocused; Father and Catherine could almost feel Vincent questing for something beyond their ability to sense. The tension around his leonine figure grew, almost to palpability; then, with a deep sigh, he seemed to find what he sought and saw them again.

"Caitlin's left, hasn't she? Somehow she has blocked me out - or she thinks she has." The tender humor in his voice reassured his visitors. "She is still there; at the fringes of my mind, almost beyond touch but not quite." His tone became more serious. 'she made her choice, as I said, Catherine."

Catherine came to Vincent's side, to rest her head on his great shoulder. In her hand was an envelope, featuring her name in a flowing hand. "She left this for me, Vincent. Caity told me not to show it to you, but I must." She slid the envelope into his hand. "You need to know what she said." She sighed, feeling Vincent's love surrounding her as she leaned against him. "At first, Vincent, I was - threatened, jealous." Vincent's rumble acknowledged that he had been fully aware of this. "But in those two weeks she spent with me, she - I - Vincent, every day I learn more and more about love and the resiliency of the spirit, from you, from my work, from everyone here - especially from you. But Caity taught me so much. She truly loves you, Vincent - as truly as I do. But read her letter - she says it better than I could."

With one arm still gently about Catherine, Vincent looked down on her from his great height. Looking straight into her eyes, he spoke softly, as if unaware that they were not alone. "Nothing can ever threaten my feelings for you, Catherine. You are my love, first, last and always." Catherine snuggled into his embrace, her eyes reflecting that love back to him. "But Caitlin is also my love, Catherine - love is not like a cake, that diminishes as it is divided. Caitlin will also be with me always. I will never be absolutely complete without her. As I know you know."

He squeezed Catherine gently to his strong chest. Slowly, he opened the envelope, unfolded the shocking pink paper. A soft chuckle greeted the color. 'she finds her own way to do things, always." Her voice came to him as he contemplated her words.

"Cathy -

As I write this, I am not sure that I can believe it - I'm safe! I can 'dream of daring'; go where I want, find out what life is like. I am going to find out. "The Road goes ever on and on ... And I must follow, if I can." I'm leaving now, Cathy - I must leave for everyone's sake.

Vincent thinks that it can work - all of it. You are the first real friend I've ever had. You will always be a light in my memory, showing me pathways and strengths beyond my wildest imaginings. Thank you. I love you always.

But I must go. Cathy, I cannot stay here to hurt you and Vincent. I am too dark for him - he needs your light in his life. The Tunnels are such a wonderful home, but Vincent's life has had too much darkness. He won't believe that I can't be with him; not while I'm here. Perhaps when I'm gone, when I leave his mind and his sight, he will acknowledge the truth.

Oh Cathy, how I will miss you - all of you! You and Jamie, my friends; Father's wisdom and gruff love; the children; but knowing all of you has shown me that others can be trusted, and loved.

Take care of Vincent, Cathy - he loves and needs you so. I'll be fine.


Vincent gently touched the irregular splotches where Caitlin's tears had marred her words.

Catherine asked, "Where will she go?"

Pulling Catherine more tightly to him, he looked over at Father.

"I don't know; but she is a survivor, Catherine. I know she will find her way, put together a life for herself. She is safe for now," he said. "I know. And Father - I know she'll be back." His rough, soft voice was barely audible. "When she finds herself, she will return. To me - to all of us."

---The End---

About the Author

Teal Bee - Toni Lichtenstein Bogolub lives in Deerfield, IL and is a member of the Chicago Area Tunnel Society (CATS). Toni is new to America Online, but not new to Beauty and the Beast fandom, having written 20 Beauty and the Beast stories that are in various zines, and four of her own Beauty and the Beast zines. She can say, like so many of us: "It (B&B) changed my life!"

She would love to hear from anyone who wants to e-mail her about her stories online as she is always interested in fanzine feedback.

Toni's stories are scattered about in a number of zines:

Two of Nan Dibble's "Phoenix" zines
One of Kathy Resch's "Masks"
"Media Rare" - a CATS publication
"Rich in Hope"
"The Chronicler's Tales"
"The Garden"

and will soon be in the forthcoming

"Media Well Done" (a CATS publication) and "Remote Control"

Her own zines include:

"To Dream of Daring/From the Branch to the Earth"
"Ad Astra"
"Yearning Hearts" - written with another of our America Online family, Debbie Ristick (DRistick), which received three nominations for Fan-Qs at Tunnelcon III, and contains "Thy Sweet Love Remembered", a novella co-written with Debbie Ristick

How to get them:

"Origin/Destiny" (a very limited number of copies are left) is available for $11 postpaid. Teal Bee: A Lothlorien Enterprise, c/o Toni Lichtenstein Bogolub, 437 Swallow Lane, Deerfield, IL 60015.

"Media Well Done" will be available in May for $18 plus postage. Send a SASE for info to Jackie Paciello, 9109 S. Parkside, Oak Lawn, IL 60453.

"Remote Control", will also be available in May, 1995. SASE to Kathryn Agel, 9-11Ayres Ct., Bayonne, NJ 07002-3510 for info.