About the Author
The late afternoon sun was bright and warm upon the park bench, unseasonably so for mid-October. The air was filled with the expected park noises; laughing children, old men and women gossiping, people playing chess, living their lives. Joggers with headsets moved past the bench, but she took no notice.
Her face was raised to the sun, her eyes closed as it beat down upon her. Her back was braced against the bench. Next to her, unobtrusive, a carved wooden cane rested, its tip painted white.
Those who passed shot sympathetic glances her way. The very short, almost colorless fuzz that covered her head spoke of recent illness; in a world of elegantly thin women, she was emaciated.
A small boy ran past her, chasing a red-striped ball. Pursuing the boy ran a young woman with short-cropped hair, in jeans and a worn plaid shirt. She glanced at the woman on the bench as she dashed past. Catching up to the toddler, she swung him into the air, making him squeal and laugh. She replaced him on the ground, and he ran to his ball, seizing it in both hands and bearing it proudly back.
As he returned, the young woman did a double take, and looked back toward the occupant of the park bench. Taking her charge by the hand, she walked nearer; to within twenty feet of the bench. Trying not to look as though she were staring, she assessed the woman there, who appeared asleep.
A moment of hard gazing, and she shook her head. "Come on, Jacob," she whispered to the child. "Why don't we go back and see if Father's around?"
"Granpa," the little boy agreed, and, clutching his ball, he went willingly, if slowly, into the depths of the park.
When they arrived at a massive drainage pipe, the plaid-shirted woman carefully checked for observers, then lifted the child into her arms and carried him into the concrete pipe.
Hurrying down to the iron gate within, she entered, then hailed an older woman she saw in the Tunnel. "Mary - can you watch Jacob for a few minutes?"
The older woman agreed, took the boy, and set him down, taking his hand. "How about a snack, Jacob?" At the little boy's eager nod, she started down the carved stone corridor. Before she was out of sight, the young woman called after her, "Have you seen Father?"
"Father is right here," came a strong British voice from just out of sight. Into the light limped an older man, light hair and neat beard shot with gray.
"There's something you have to see, Father - in the park."
"The park, Jamie? But-"
"You have to come, Father."
Acceding to the urgency of Jamie's tone, he followed her through the gate, the concrete pipe, into the sunny park. Jamie lead him back toward the bench, and stopped the same twenty feet away.
She pointed to the woman she had seen, still resting on the bench as before. "Am I crazy, Father?" Her voice cracked, tears nearby. "Please tell me I'm crazy."
Father stared, shook his head, his doctor's eye noting the obvious physical manifestations, as well as myriad subtle ones. His eyes were stricken. "Go tell Vincent. He will need to know. I'll speak to her now."
The nearby tears had moved into Jamie's eyes as she mutely turned and fled toward the place she had just left. Father studied the young woman on the bench again, trying to diagnose by sight. Then he steeled himself visibly and walked over to her.
As he approached, she opened her eyes. They were a fathomless blue, deeper than the sea. But the searching movements as she sought to locate the source of the oncoming footsteps told that those eyes were nearly sightless. He stopped just three feet from her, directly before her.
"Hello, Caitlin," he said softly.
Her eyes fixed on the source of his voice. She leaned forward, placing him in the area of vision that remained to her.
"Father?" Her voice was astonished, and sad.
Father seated himself next to her on the bench, resting his own walking stick next to hers. He took her hand between his; her fingers, he noted professionally, were slightly stiff in his.
"Yes, Caitlin. It's been over four years, hasn't it?"
"It has. I've been in Chicago. And how is Vincent?"
"Don't you know?"
With a nod she acknowledged the reference. "Lately I know he's fine; but, of course, no details. Two years ago he was in such pain and torment - I thought of returning, but there was joy there too, and slowly he has healed."
"Caitlin - Catherine is dead."
"I read the story in the papers. I was - and am - grieved, Father. She was my friend."
"Her son - hers and Vincent's - is the source of Vincent's joy."
"A son - how wonderful!" There was genuine pleasure in her voice.
Father could not keep up the stiff formal small talk. "Enough, Caitlin. It is a brain tumor, is it not?"
Caitlin leaned back again, her eyes reclosed, the sun beating on her eyelids. "Very perceptive, Father."
"And the prognosis?"
She sighed and sat upright again, turning toward him. "They've said six months to a year."
The two sat in silence for a moment then. Father was staggered to hear aloud what he had suspected since he first saw her. Caitlin had obviously battled out her own coming-to-terms, and waited for Father to speak.
"What are your plans, Caitlin?" In four years, she could easily have acquired a family, friends, significant others; but seeing her alone in Central Park lead him to doubt it.
"Oh, I've made arrangements at home." She dismissed his question, the implication behind it.
Father gathered his stick and Caitlin's, stood slowly, still holding her hand. "Come with me, Caitlin," he said. "Come home with me."
She turned, gazing blindly down the path Father had come up. "No..." Her voice, heretofore calm and reasoned, became thick and frightened. "Father, I can't see him - let him see me like this!"
Father held her hand more tightly, felt it tremble within his grip. "Caitlin, this is what you came here for. Even my own feeble empathy tells me that."
"Come with me, Caitlin." Gently he drew her to her feet, supporting and guiding her back the way he had come. The pain in his heart increased as he felt the slight unsteadiness of her gait as she finally came with him.
The slow trip was made in silence. Father felt Caitlin's reluctance, but knew he was right. Carefully he lead her down the steep hill leading to the concealed entrance, steadying her through her frequent stumbles.
As the mouth of the pipe came into view, Father saw a black-mantled figure watching from within. His face was concealed beneath a dark hood, even in the shadows.
Halfway down the hill, Caitlin stumbled again, almost overbalancing Father as well. The black-mantled figure moved swiftly from his concealment, met the two of them there in the open.
He lifted Caitlin into his arms without a word, held her to his heart, then bore her down to the world she had left behind, four long years ago.
Just inside the iron gate waited Mary and Jamie. They watched as Vincent swept past, still carrying Caitlin. Father followed at some distance, his limp hindering him. Vincent was far down the corridor by the time Father reached the two at the gate.
"Father - was that really..." Mary was horrified, by Jamie's description and the brief glimpse she'd had.
"Yes, Mary; it was Caitlin. She's come home."
"Father - she's going to be all right, isn't she? She looked so terrible; so sick..." Jamie shuddered, remembering her friend in kinder days. She again saw Caitlin's long golden-white hair gleaming in its flowing braid, the aura of nervous energy that had always surrounded her. "I nearly didn't recognize her," she added.
Father turned toward them. The heartbreaking sadness in his eyes made Mary and Jamie look away. "Sometimes there are no happy endings, Jamie." Leaning heavily on his stick, he started after Vincent.
A few steps down, he stopped, turned back to the two women. "Mary, be sure that Jacob has his dinner. I think Vincent will need some time now."
The older woman nodded, added, "If you need me, Father -"
"We will." And with that he was off, following the familiar path to Vincent's chamber.
When he arrived, he stopped outside the chamber for a moment, listening to see if he would be interrupting. Hearing no sound, he looked within. Caitlin was lying on Vincent's bed, eyes closed, obviously asleep. She looked so tiny there, so frail. Superimposed upon his vision were his memories, of Caitlin sleeping and waking upon that bed long ago. Painfully he remembered thinking then how thin she was.
He looked about the room, and saw Vincent, seated at the table, his head on his folded arms. Hearing Father's step, he looked up.
His face was a face from mythology, a lion made human. A wild silken mane framed it, flowing to his shoulders. His eyes, though, were deep clear blue, and shone with the essence of humanity. In them now, tears glistened, tracking through the downy fur on his cheeks.
"Why, Father? If anyone ever deserved a long and happy life, she did. Why?" It was a cry of anguish rather than a question. He did not wait for an answer; he went on, "I have been - uneasy, Father, for some time. I did not know why; I did not know it was she; she still shielded herself from me."
"Vincent - she said she was told six months to a year. She did not say when she was told."
There was no answer for several moments. Then Vincent sighed, and looked helplessly about the room. "Father - can Jacob stay with you tonight? Tomorrow I'll find a chamber for Caitlin, but for tonight-"
"Of course, Vincent."
"I'll come by at bedtime and read to him, put him to bed. Tell him so."
"I shall, Vincent. Don't worry about him."
"I finally understand, Father, why you have never been able to help worrying about me. Even now, I worry about Jacob; even when I know he is in loving hands."
"Yes, Vincent; worry is the legacy of parenthood." It was then that Vincent remembered Father's words to him, four years ago - "You, Vincent, are my son. And in some ways I feel that Caitlin is similarly special."
Vincent stood, embraced Father. "There is such pain in love, Father; such pain."
Father had no answer. He returned the embrace, then walked back to Caitlin's bedside. He stood watching her sleep, then reached a hand out toward her. He arrested the motion just before he touched her forehead, bit his lip, turned, and walked out the door. Vincent heard him murmur thickly as he left, "Her hair always was so untidy."
Vincent came over to the bed, and stood where Father had been. He looked down at Caitlin, and for a moment, time swept away and he saw her as she had been four years ago - vital, impulsive, alive. Then reality moved before his eyes, and he saw her in the merciless detail of the present.
Her luxuriant hair, that had mesmerized him more than once, was reduced to an inch of new growth. She'd been scant burden four years ago; today she'd felt as light to him as his son Jacob. And the connection between them was still blocked; in his mind, it was still faint and far away, almost untouchable, even though Caitlin lay only feet from him.
He reached out his hand, as Father had, but completed the motion, and stroked a furred finger down her temple to her cheek. Her skin was cool. He seated himself on the bed, and touched her hair gingerly.
It was just long enough to feel soft against his skin; he remembered twisting long strands of it over his hand. And Catherine, still never far from his thoughts; he saw her with Caitlin, the two asleep in this room across his table from each other. A soft sound of protest escaped him.
Suddenly, within his mind, a long-forgotten switch clicked; like a candle lit in a darkened room, it brightened the corners of his thoughts. "Hello, Caitlin," he said, recognizing the connection she had dimmed somehow when she'd left.
"Vincent." Her voice was reserved; Vincent felt the anxiety, realized she feared his reaction to her changed state.
Vincent knew there was nothing to say at this moment; he let actions speak for him. Swiftly and carefully, he gathered Caitlin into his arms, and held her as tightly as he dared. He let his great hand caress her downy hair, then rested his cheek against it.
He could feel Caitlin holding her breath, waiting for a negative reaction. It felt peculiar to him; it was he who usually waited for such a reaction. "How could you not be beautiful to me?" he asked her, his breath fanning her hair. "You are Caitlin; still and always Caitlin."
A shudder went through her; she burrowed her face into the soft linen of his shirt. Vincent could feel hot tears soaking through the material.
Vincent held her, murmuring stock phrases of comfort, as she mourned the ravages of her illness, knowing at last she was safe. He stroked her hair, held her to him, until she was still and quiet, temporarily purged of emotion.
Her hands, which had been clutching his shirt, relaxed, to lay open against his chest. He could feel their warmth through the thin material. He continued to stroke her hair, her cheek, her back. Slowly he lost his awareness of anything but the feel of her beneath his hand, against his body. Her breath now warmed his neck, as she leaned against him, pressing her cheek to flesh instead of cloth. One of her hands touched his cheek; the other had slid to the open neck of his shirt, to rest against his heart.
Within his mind, the heat was growing, feeding off the heat that blazed from her mind. The room was gone for both of them; their only awareness was of each other. Vincent could feel Caitlin tremble against him, feel the rising heat from her flesh, knowing that she felt the same from him. He dropped his hand to caress the soft skin of her shoulder.
He heard her sigh his name on a long breath. He saw her there, lit by candle glow, so close he could scarce distinguish her from himself. His voice harsh with passion, he murmured,
"A violet by a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye!
--Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky."
As Wordsworth's words died away, Vincent brought Caitlin down to bed with him.
Footsteps echoing down the Tunnel corridor roused Vincent from sleep; after a brief moment of disorientation, he slid from the bed and dressed swiftly.
He stopped, shirt in hand, to gaze at Caitlin, still asleep. A sheet draped her, outlined the fragile contours of her body. She looked defenseless, ill, and utterly beautiful to him. The footsteps in the corridor had nearly reached his doorway, though, so he tore his eyes away and finished dressing.
Father entered simultaneous with Vincent's donning of his cloak. "I just came to tell you that Jacob is ready for his story..." His voice trailed off as he noted Caitlin's state of undress beneath Vincent's sheet. The pause was brief; he continued briskly, "As neither you nor Caitlin has dined, I took the liberty of having Mary bring you something. She'll be here presently. I'll go tell Jacob you're on the way." With that, he exited discreetly.
Vincent seated himself on the bed, glad of the warning. Softly he called Caitlin's name. She stirred but did not wake. He stroked one hand across her bare shoulder, called her name again. This time her eyes struggled open. She turned her head to bring Vincent into her field of vision. The pain that knifed through him at this reminder staggered him, but he refused to feel it, to acknowledge it. He tamped it down into a secret recess within his mind; just, he realized, as first Catherine, then Caitlin had done for him.
Caitlin plainly saw him; her eyes shone so that a lump came to his throat.
"Father is sending Mary with some dinner, Caitlin. And I need to go read to Jacob; it's his bedtime." His love for and pride in his son spilled over into his voice.
"Father told me that you had a son; Vincent, that's so wonderful!"
"Yes, my son, and Catherine's."
Her eyes darkened. "I heard, Vincent; I have no words to tell you how sorry I am." Between them again flowed the communication and connection that had been dimmed for four years. Her joy in his happiness and sorrow at his grief were almost more than he could bear.
"Mary will be here in a moment; I shall return soon."
Caitlin moved slowly into a sitting position, holding the sheet to her. "Go on, Vincent; your son is waiting."
Vincent obligingly went through the entryway, toward Father's chamber; the last flash he saw before the draperies closed behind him was of Caitlin, struggling to get to her feet.
As soon as Vincent arrived to read to Jacob, Father slipped away, leaving the two alone. He went straight to Vincent's chamber, then froze in the doorway.
Within, Caitlin was seated at Vincent's table, clad in her shorts and T-shirt. One Mickey Mouse sock lay on the table before her, the other was in her hand. Stretching out one leg, she leaned down and attempted to pull the sock over her foot. Father watched her for a long moment, struggling with hands not as nimble as before, a body that did not respond as it used to.
Father stepped into the room, went to her. Leaning his stick against the table, he knelt at her feet and pulled on the recalcitrant socks, then shoes. He rose and sat next to her at the table.
"Caitlin, I have no words," he began, then stopped, realizing he was being more literal than he had intended. She stretched out her hand, rested it lightly on his.
"Thank you, Father. You were right. I've come home." She looked away from him, to the great stained glass panel that lit the chamber with golden light.
The silence was filled with things unsaid. Then Caitlin turned back to Father, and looked into his eyes. "Thank you for my life, Father."
Father started to speak, but Caitlin went on, "You, and Vincent, and Catherine gave me a life I can remember now. I loved Chicago; I loved my work, even when I was a temp. I even loved the YMCA."
She laughed; the carefree sound startled Father. "You know, I was going to college, Father; in fact, I was working at a community college." So proud she sounded almost smug, she continued, "I had another year - two at the most - to my degree."
She smiled, lost in her memories. Then, coming to the present, her voice became earnest. "I had to say it - to let you know. I've been happy, Father; I'm so glad you gave me that chance. I'd do it all again, everything that's happened, for the time I spent as ME, just Caitlin."
Father laid his other hand on top of hers, unable to speak. She had finished as well; the silence again surrounded them. Then Father became aware that her hand was trembling in his. He looked sharply at her; her eyes were fixed on nothing, she appeared frozen. In about fifteen seconds she blinked, looked back at Father.
He recognized a petit mal seizure. His voice was sharp. "Caitlin, are you supposed to be on medication?"
"Oh, damn! Father - did I - was it -?"
"A small seizure; about twenty seconds, I should say. And I repeat - are you supposed to be on medication?"
"Yes; it's all in my room at the Y. I'd better go get it."
"My dear, you are not going anywhere by yourself. Frankly, I cannot understand how you got to New York." He considered options, rose to his feet. "I suppose either Vincent or I should accompany you."
"Father, it's late; I can't impose on you this way."
"Caitlin, you seem to have forgotten that night is often a time for action here. And it is no imposition, my dear, to help someone you love." He took his cane, and offered his elbow to her. "Come along now; keep an old man company."
Caitlin laughed, and took his arm. "Yes, Father. I warn you though - it'll be a slow trip. I'm not too fast on my feet anymore."
Father held up his stick. "Neither, my dear, am I. But wait - you haven't eaten yet -"
"I'm not very hungry now, Father. A little walk before dinner will be delightful."
Father led her through the corridors below the city. Just as she had predicted, her pace was slow, even for Father. Silence prevailed for the first few moments. Halfway down a narrow passage, Father stopped and turned. "We've forgotten to tell Vincent." Raising his cane, he tapped a complex rhythm on one of the ever-present pipes. "There - he'll get the message now. Pascal will tell him we'll be back immediately."
Caitlin brushed a hand against the stone wall. "Whenever I got on a train in Chicago, I thought of you and Vincent." She laughed. "My station there was underground, all concrete and damp. It made me think of here."
"What did you do in Chicago, Caitlin?"
"I started out as a 'temporary' word processor. Did you know that if you can type, they'll pay you while they train you? And anyway, I've always loved computers. Zachary had a Macintosh..." Caitlin's voice trailed off momentarily as memories of the events that first brought her to the Tunnel world brought back earlier tragedies of her life.
Determinedly putting it out of her mind, she went on, "Anyway, I learned word processing. I worked as a temp for a while, then got a night job in an enormous word processing center. It was so nice - I came to work, I worked, I chatted with everyone else, I went home. I went to school during the day; Father, it was the best time of my life."
Father glanced at her; even as he led her through the dim corridors, he saw that she shone. Her eyes glowed, and he could almost see the joy surrounding her and her memories. She continued, unaware of his scrutiny, "And libraries, Father - when I was in high school I always liked the library, but I never really knew how dangerous they could be! At the community college, I missed all too many classes tucked up in a corner with a stack of books I'd sworn to myself I was just going to skim." Her smile was for herself; she seemed almost unaware that she spoke aloud.
"I'd get to the library an hour or so before class, and pick out five or six books; sometimes poetry or novels, sometimes science or - or anything! And I'd say to myself, Class starts in forty-five minutes. Just glance over these books, and pick out one or two to check out and read. Then I'd pick up the first book, and the next time I had a thought, it would be too late to catch my class! So I'd tell myself, well, I have another class in an hour and a half, and I have to stop by and see what I missed today in the first class, so I guess I have another hour to read. And all too often, I'd surface too late again."
She ran out of breath, and stopped. But her face was still alive with her memories, making her once again the glowing almost-child he had known four years ago. Then she stumbled on a slight irregularity in the Tunnel floor, and put out her free hand blindly in search of support. With a crash they were back in the present, and Caitlin sighed. "I'm sorry, Father; I get so carried away when I talk about it. I know I ramble on..."
"You speak with love, Caitlin; that is not rambling. When you speak, I can truly feel your joy."
She had no immediate answer. They walked along in warm silence for several minutes, until Father recognized the branching point in the tunnel, and they started on a uphill grade. The silence continued, but it was the silence of no breath to spare.
When they came to another level stretch of floor, Father resumed the conversation as if there had been no pause. "What were you studying, Caitlin?"
Caitlin did not answer immediately. For the first time, Father saw regret shadow her as they walked through the tunnels. He let her deal with it until finally she answered quietly, "Criminology, Father. With an eye to law school afterward." She sighed. "I owe so much to so many, Father; besides you, Vincent, Catherine, there was John Dahlquist. I always felt he lost his life because of me; all the good he could have done, the joy he could have been and brought to so many..." She stopped for a moment. Anticipating the oncoming lecture, she added, "I understand that it wasn't my fault, Father; I know it, I tell myself every day that it wasn't my fault. But I can't help but feel that it still was, in some way. Anyway, I wanted to repay everyone, to atone for disrupting and ruining lives. Law seemed the logical way; I envisioned the D.A.'s office at the end of it all."
Her laugh was shaky. "It would have been a way to give something back for them, and to get something for me as well. It would have been." Her voice was slowly choking off; Father saw tears bright in her eyes. "Oh, how I hate the future subjunctive tense!"
She stopped, drooped her head in a familiar motion. In the past, her hair would have fallen across her face in a protective curtain, hiding her tears. Now, the habitual gesture brought them both closer to the reality she sought to hide from. The tears she had tried to conceal from Father sparkled in the torchlight, fell to the damp stone floor. "Damn!" Even choked with tears, her voice was emphatic with disgust for her breakdown.
Father put his arm across her shoulders in comfort, as he so often comforted his son.
After a second, Caitlin pulled away and took Father's arm again. Without further conversation, they proceeded on their errand to the "Y".
"In the great green room
There was a telephone
And a red balloon
And a picture of -
The cow jumping over the moon
And there were three little bears sitting on chairs
And two little kittens
And a pair of mittens
And a little toyhouse
And a young mouse
And a comb and a brush and a bowl full of mush
And a quiet old lady who was whispering 'hush'..."
Vincent's smoky voice was soft and gentle as he half-read, half-recited from memory. For nearly two months, Jacob's steady bedtime book had been "G'ni Moo". Tonight was the first time the simple rhythms and bright whimsical pictures hadn't evoked even a smidgen of delight within Vincent. Jacob seemed aware of his father's mood, as he squirmed restlessly on the bed, instead of falling asleep as he had for some 60 previous recitations.
As the last page was turned, the book closed, the toddler sat up and pointed imperiously to a stack of children's books on a low shelf. "'Nother!" he announced.
Vincent capitulated, guilty for the disturbed day that had evoked this disturbed bedtime. Jacob sometimes seemed to sense his father's emotions; no-one was yet able to discern if this was a two-year-old's uncanny ability to know how "his" adults were feeling or the beginning of an inherited ability of his father's. Even Vincent's bond with that forming mind could not differentiate yet, for Jacob could not differentiate.
"Yes, Jacob. One more - only one," he cautioned firmly, knowing endless readings were in store without such conditions. "Which one?"
"Fish!" Jacob crowed.
" 'Fish' it is." Vincent went to the shelf, retrieved a battered Dr. Seuss - "One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish". The simple rhymes and silly pictures delighted even the youngest.
" 'One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish. Black fish, blue fish, old fish, new fish. This one has a little-' "
" 'tar!" Jacob pointed to the blue star on the cartoon fish's belly.
"Very good, Jacob - star. 'This one has a little-' "
"Car!" One small finger touched the fish in an automobile.
"Say! What a lot of fish there are!' "
As he read, Vincent sighed inwardly. This was a rather lively book for bedtime; maybe it hadn't been a good idea. Maybe he should have asked Jacob to choose something sleepier. But even as that thought passed through his head, he saw and felt Jacob's huge yawn, his restlessness subsiding into sleep. The end of the book was reached just even with sound sleep for Jacob.
Vincent closed the book, stood - then paused to watch his son sleep. The sight filled him with wonder, and joy ... and the lingering sadness that even the years could not erase, the loss of Jacob's mother, his beloved Catherine. Even after two years, the place within him where he had felt their bond was an aching void.
In the past, he'd decided that amputees must feel the same way; you get used to it, but there is always something missing, some vital part of you.
The bittersweetness of these moments, with the bright promise of Jacob recalling the sadness of the past, hadn't touched Vincent in quite a while, but Caitlin's return had torn off all the scabs, reopened the wounds that he had thought were nearly healed. The lively traffic over the reopened bridge between Caitlin and himself brought what he had lost so vividly to him, for her presence brought Catherine back to haunt him. She and Catherine had been filed together in his memory; under "L" for "lost".
He leaned down and kissed Jacob gently on the cheek, turned to return to his chamber. Hovering in the doorway, in an agony of impatience but unwilling to interrupt the bedtime ritual, was Pascal. As soon as Vincent was clear of the draperies, he delivered Father's message.
"Father said to tell you he and Caitlin would be back soon, Vincent. Actually he said 'immediately'. They just went to the "Y" to get Caitlin's things. And I just saw Mary; she said to tell you that dinner is in your chamber, and that it'll get cold unless you get to it right away."
"Would you join me, Pascal?" The notion of sitting alone in the chamber he had so recently and sweetly shared with Caitlin was not appealing to Vincent now. His thoughts were blacker than they had been for many long months, and he knew an extended stretch of his own company would only blacken them further.
"No thanks, Vincent," Pascal refused. "I still have a ton of work to do, before Miranda and I have supper." The short slender young man stood awkwardly for another moment. "Vincent; I just wanted to say - I heard about Caitlin. I'm so sorry. I never really knew her well; but when she was here before, I went into your chamber one day, when she was reading to the children. It was out of "The Return of the King"; the chapter where Eowyn wants to go to die in battle with her brother. It was eery; she could have been Eowyn speaking. That wasn't too long before she went out to kill Towers."
Pascal laughed at Vincent's start of surprise. "It's common knowledge, Vincent; you underestimate the power of gossip. Caitlin was a shooting star when she was here; flashing through and leaving only a memory of brightness behind. She was a magnet for the children, Father was at her beck and call, you disappeared; Caitlin was gone and returned and gone again - and never returned; the pipes talked of little else for weeks!"
The little man turned sober again, lifted a hand to Vincent's shoulder. "I just wanted to tell you - how grieved I - we all are. For her; for Father; and for you." With that, Pascal returned to his message center, deliberately allowing Vincent privacy.
But privacy with his own dark thoughts was the last thing Vincent wanted at the moment. The bright spot moving within his mind that was Caitlin brought him no joy; even now he noticed its radiance was dimmed from previous experiences. If he had been able to hold that brightness before him, he imagined now that it would seem a little blackened and frayed around the edges. He wanted to ignore that knowledge, to put it away from himself. Suddenly he knew he had to talk; to someone who had no emotional stake in Caitlin, yet was a confidant. With a sure stride, he began to make his way to Diana.
Diana Bennett impatiently pushed a strand of hair the color of the late September oak leaves from her cheek. Frowning fiercely, she glared at the forms spread upon her drafting table.
"Paperwork!" she cursed. With a sigh, she bent back to continue filling in meaningless answers to trivial questions. The doors leading to her rooftop stood open, the balloon drapes swaying gently in a quiet breeze. She glanced longingly at the swaying drapes, thinking of the clear (for New York) night, the starry sky, and her waiting telescope. But the rigors of long discipline sent her eyes back to the printed page.
As she attempted to explain, in 25 words or less, what she wasn't sure there was an explanation for, she heard a sound of boots upon the rooftop.
"Vincent?" She rose, drew the drapes aside, and recognized the familiar cloaked figure. "I'll be right there." She scrambled up the stairs, glad both for an excuse to drop her struggle and, as always, to see Vincent.
At her first glimpse of him, staring out into the myriad lights of the city, she saw his melancholy surrounding him. "What's wrong, Vincent?"
He spoke without turning, his strong whisper falling to the busy street below. "Diana - I am sure you remember Zachary Towers."
"How could I forget?" She shivered despite the unseasonal warmth. "It was what - a little more than a year ago? - that he died."
She remembered well the month of increasing tension as she and Joe Maxwell strove to build a case against the notorious mobster. Towers, aware he was being stalked, brought his forces to bear against her. Without Vincent and McGyver's aid, she knew she would have been dead.
"Yes, Vincent, I remember Zachary Towers."
"I know how you work, Diana. When you began to pursue Towers, you read everything recorded or rumored about him, did you not?"
"I did; but Vincent - what -"
Vincent held up his hand to forestall her questions. "Let me finish, Diana; you will see. Your research must have told you of Towers' former - mistress....."
"The one who was found dead on a balcony? You know, Vincent, I met her once, about eight months before she died. I went to a fundraising dance with my sister, and Towers was there - with her. What was her name.....?"
"Caitlin." Vincent's voice almost broke. Diana noted the unsteadiness, continued with her recollections. "I talked to Caitlin for quite a while - almost half an hour. After a few minutes, I wanted to look for a hidden power source."
Vincent chuckled despite himself. Encouraged, Diana continued, "Possibly a small nuclear power plant. You could almost see her energy. We talked about literature, psychology, theater; half a dozen subjects. I always wondered how she got involved with a sleaze like Towers."
She paused, waiting for a reaction from Vincent. When there was none, she finished, "That was the only time I ever saw her. I found out later that she'd been with Towers for seven years." A shudder sneaked over her at the thought. "Either she looked a lot younger than she was, or Towers was a child molester. It was about eight months later she committed suicide - or so the records said. I heard a lot of rumors to the effect that Towers got tired of her and had her killed." She had been moving toward him as she spoke; now she put her hand on his shoulder, turned him to face her.
Gently, seeking an answer in his eyes, she said, "You told me there was some grudge between you and Towers, someone you'd known; was she what was between you, that someone you knew long ago?"
"Yes, it was Caitlin." Vincent paced away from her again, to a far corner of the roof. "I stood on Towers' balcony that night, Diana; the night of her 'suicide' - I witnessed..." He turned to face her again, using the distance to shield his roiling emotions. "Diana, Caitlin did not die that night."
At her start of surprise, he continued, "The newspaper coverage; the files; Catherine arranged them."
"Did she stay below then? But I've never seen her; I know I'd recognize her."
"No - she...left......shortly thereafter." Diana was able to read the "run away" lying between the lines.
"And she's back?" Diana stated the obvious, trying to get to the root of Vincent's melancholy.
"Jamie saw her in the park today, and took Father to her. He brought her below."
"Vincent, there is more here than you're saying. Was she - is she - someone special to you?" She shook her head impatiently at the clumsy phrasing. "Everyone is special to you, Vincent; I know that. But she's more than just that, isn't she?"
Vincent turned from her again, the light from the city making him appear a ghost lion. He stared toward a distant skyscraper. She waited as she sensed his thoughts gather.
Diana had heard so much of the bond between Vincent and Catherine. She had always recognized the existence of the paranormal in her life; she knew with certainty that something beyond the everyday world often came into her work. Although she could not speak for Vincent, something was slowly taking shape for her in Vincent's presence (and sometimes in his absence), but she would not call it a bond. Sometimes she could dismiss it as too much psychology ("it teaches you to read minds," she'd laugh to herself). Other times, though - something that did not happen with others happened with Vincent.
Now, as she waited, she had the sense of seeing crowds of thoughts, ideas, emotions, battling for his attention; all of them black with endless grief and despair. She knew when he was ready to speak, but the words tore through her.
"How many loves must I lose, Diana?" As he turned back, the tears sliding down his face shocked her.
Diana knew Vincent had been softer before - before Catherine's disappearance and death, before his son's captivity and his own torture at Gabriel's hands. Diana had witnessed his tenderness to those he cared for, but red rage seemed likelier in the Vincent she knew than tears.
She moved to him then, to offer what comfort she could. "Lose how, Vincent?" But even as she spoke, she knew the loss Vincent meant.
"She came back home to die," he said starkly, confirming her insight. "She was so obsessed with death, Diana; I fought her for her life. And I thought I'd won."
Diana felt Vincent's pain in the harsh, tense lines of his great body, the silent but steady flow of tears through the soft fur of his cheek. "Explain, Vincent," she commanded softly. "I don't understand. Came home to die -?"
"You say you met her, Diana; indeed, a hidden power source was a very apt description." Diana could see his eyes cease registering the rooftop, resurrect some more grievous sight from his memory. He squeezed his eyes shut, shook his head to exorcize the private vision. "Can you see her as she appeared then?"
Diana summoned the picture and nodded, puzzled. "Tiny; thin; not exactly beautiful but compelling; fragile-looking. I'd say she was about 22 then. That perpetual current of energy - and her hair. I don't think I've ever seen hair that color. Something like silver, and something like gold, with some white - but not really any of them. It had to be natural, or some hairdresser would be rich and I'd see it on every street corner." She looked expectantly at Vincent.
As Diana spoke, Caitlin appeared before him in her restless glory, as she had been when he last saw her four years ago.
"You have an excellent eye, Diana."
She shrugged. "It's part of my job, Vincent - I observe. Especially people."
"As I told you, Caitlin returned today. Diana - the light shines through her now. Her hair is still like a candle on the water; what there is of it, just a inch of softness. That overflowing energy of hers; now she hoards her energy, Diana, like a miser, and spends it frugally. There is so little left." Vincent fell silent.
The brutal picture his words conjured replaced her remembrance. She was sickened, understanding some of Vincent's grief. She had barely known the mercurial Caitlin, and the vision saddened her immeasurably. Vincent had obviously known her well indeed.
Suddenly amidst his stoop-shouldered grief something pulled his attention - as though he heard a sound beyond her hearing. As she started to ask, he murmured, "Jacob. He's awake - frightened -" In reassurance, he added, "This happens on occasion, Diana; Jacob is still a baby. Today was disturbed, and it has disturbed his sleep. Someone will come to him soon."
A moment passed in silence; Vincent's "listening" look added a frown. "Perhaps Father and Caitlin have not returned yet. But where is Mary?" After another moment in silence with Diana, he started toward the edge of the rooftop. "I must return to him, Diana."
She stretched out one hand, touched his cheek. "I'll come with you."
For a moment, she thought Vincent was going to refuse. Then -
"Perhaps you should, Diana," he murmured in capitulation. "To see Caitlin again; to talk to Father. And Jacob is always glad to see you. I shall meet you below, then." He disappeared over the ledge, above the well-lit street.
Diana knew exactly why she hurried down through her apartment to the entrance she knew so well. Little Jacob might be glad to see her, and older Jacob was a wonderful friend; but Vincent had come to her for support, and she meant to give it.
Caitlin and Father had barely returned from their journey, each lightly laden with the more important of her possessions, when a wail from Father's chamber announced that Jacob was awake. Father immediately turned to go to him, then stopped and eyed Caitlin.
"Young lady, you go lie down, and get some rest." She knew the way between the two chambers well; and with her cane in her hand, he was sure she could make the trip safely. As he had suspected she would be, Caitlin was drained; the effort to stand could almost be seen. But as always, she denied it; rather than returning to bed, Vincent's bed, she moved slowly after him.
Father started to remonstrate with her, but another wail sent him into his chamber, through the great doorway, to comfort Jacob. He was frustratingly aware that Caitlin was following.
Within, the candlegleam illuminated a crying little boy, standing clinging to the top rail of his crib. The only word that could be understood over his sobs was "Da! Da!"
Father rested his stick against the side of the crib, lifted the little boy into his arms. "Hush, Jacob," he soothed. "Da isn't here right now, Jacob. Grandpa is." He continued to talk to the child, but Jacob's sobs did not stop.
Then Caitlin entered. Jacob's wails had not lessened; he was pushing against Father's shoulder, calling, "Da! Da!" She followed the sound, swinging the cane in slow tapping arcs before her, until it touched one leg of the crib. She stood near enough to Father and Jacob now that she could see them dimly. With a soft thud, her cane dropped to the floor. Her hands were steady and sure as she lifted Jacob from Father, to cradle him against her shoulder.
Her murmurings held no words, no sense that Father could make out, but the child quieted, settled his head into the curve of her shoulder. Father watched in the dim light as a small thumb slipped into Jacob's mouth, two bright watery eyes were slowly covered by drooping eyelids. As his grandson fell back asleep, Father heard words slowly emerging from the steady stream of murmuring sound.
"I know, Jacob," she whispered, seemingly unaware of eavesdroppers like Father. "The night is so dark, and full of scary things. But your Da is always with you, isn't he? Even when he's not here. I know, Jacob; but you're safe here. You're always safe here; this is home."
Caitlin's voice went on, but Father heard no more words. He wanted to hold her as she held Jacob, to sooth her and assure her safety from "scary things".
Lost as he was in the poignancy of the moment, he at first did not hear her soft request.
"Help me, Father," she whispered again, and Father immediately took the sleeping Jacob from her trembling arms and laid him back into his bed.
As soon as he had straightened from his task, Father received most of Caitlin's weight against him. He had known her to be exhausted before; now she could not stand without his aid. He found himself more than half-carrying her as they left the sleeping child to his rest.
Diana and Vincent followed the slanting stone tunnel down toward their destination. Diana knew them to be less than ten minutes from Father's chamber when Vincent ceased his swift progress. Although he had reined his pace to hers, she was still glad of the chance to catch her breath.
"What is it, Vincent?" Only moments ago he'd informed her that Father was with Jacob, but the little boy remained inconsolable. This news had been thrown over his shoulder as they continued on their way. Now she looked into Vincent's eyes, and was stunned; his expression was that of a man struck over the head with some heavy object.
"Vincent - has something happened?"
But Vincent was unable to speak, in the grip of an experience unlike anything he'd ever known. He had been concentrating on his bond with Jacob, trying to reassure his son, if he could, if that was possible. The star of Caitlin was ever present, but for the moment he was ignoring it. Then with a start, he felt the star flame and brighten; and reflect to him the emotions, impressions, he received from his son. Jacob's fright and sadness retreated, and peace and comfort were returning him to sleep. The peace and presence that Jacob's mind relayed to him was echoed, strengthened, repeated from a different angle by Caitlin's mind. The two traces seemed to reinforce each other, adding up to more than either of them alone.
Although he was comforted by Jacob's return to slumber, the experience left him shaken and saddened beyond what he had thought possible. For a single interminable minute, his longing to experience such a moment with Catherine made him physically ill. On its heels came the realization that any such moments were surely limited and rare; for as Jacob's mind faded into sleep, the strength added to Caitlin's brightness dissolved, a sun fading to a streetlight.
With both calls to his attention faded, he realized that Diana gripped his arm, called his name. He pulled himself back to the present, to himself, and took one of Diana's hands. "Jacob is asleep now, Diana. But I must still return."
Her gaze was serious, candid. "What happened just now, Vincent? It was as if you were gone, in some other place entirely."
Vincent spent long seconds returning her gaze. He started to speak, then shook his head. "Explanations are too long for this moment, Diana. Later; when there is more time."
She was forced to accept this, to follow Vincent's swift passage back to his world.
Only feet from his chamber door, Father knew he was not equal to the task. His lame leg would not support his own weight; it clearly could not support both of them, slight though Caitlin might be.
"Caitlin; I'm sorry. I can't ---"
"No, I'm sorry, Father." Her voice was a breathy whisper. "It's my fault. I didn't think; I never think."
As she spoke, with Father's help, Caitlin slid into a sitting position, her back supported by the stone wall. Father reached out with the head of his stick, and tapped out a message on one of the omnipresent pipes. Then he awkwardly lowered himself to sit next to her.
As soon as Father was seated, Caitlin leaned against him again. Father put his arm around her, not surprised by the stifled sobs or the tears that had started down her cheeks. He held her as she cried, almost silently.
Caitlin raised her head from Father's shoulder, began to apologize again. "I'm so sorry, Father." Rough with tears, her voice was still breathy and harsh. "It's just that; well, Jacob. He was afraid of the dark; he woke up, and didn't know where he was. The darkness scared him...."
"Vincent's chamber is always well-lit," Father answered, more to have something to say that with any point in mind. Somewhere in his mind, he filed a question for the future; but now was not the time. He had expected this to happen sooner or later.
Caitlin was so lost in her emotions that she did not see Pascal come toward them at a dead run, in answer to Father's summons. Father saw him, though, and held up a hand, waved him back. Caitlin's release was uppermost in his mind now. As Pascal retreated down the corridor, Caitlin's voice picked up again, so low Father almost missed her words.
"I'm so scared, Father," she whispered. Father held her, made encouraging reply-noises, and waited.
"The dark is closing in, Father. All around; and I'm losing myself in it. The endless dark, 'Darkness Unescapable'; I can feel it waiting..." Each word came on an indrawn breath, nearly a sob. "I'm so scared."
She was crying now as Jacob had cried, completely abandoned to the overwhelming emotion. Fleetingly Father realized that he had his wish of moments ago and that it was not nearly as simple as it had seemed when he'd wished. For the moment he could only offer the comfort of his presence; for unlike Jacob's, her fears were of reality.
A sound caught his attention; from down the corridor, Vincent was hurrying toward them at the breakneck pace only he could maintain.
Diana stood in the great tunnel and watched Vincent's back retreat rapidly.
About two minutes ago, she reflected, he'd told her Jacob was asleep. She hadn't pressed Vincent for any further explanation, or asked any questions; she'd only followed him.
The pipes running through all the tunnels and corridors were always alive with sounds; messages, she knew, flying back and forth, an underground telegraph and telephone. It was a constant companion for those below; like the city's traffic noise, it was the hum of the world working.
And Vincent knew every code, every style used. So Diana hadn't been surprised when one set of taps had seized his attention, caused him to lean toward the pipe to assure his translation. His expression went from concern to fear; "That was from Father. He requests Pascal's assistance just outside Father's chamber; urgent, repeat, urgent." He stood there just long enough to say, "I must go, Diana; you know the way." Then he was gone, his cloak swirling behind him, leaving her far behind. She followed, knowing explanations lay ahead, and praying that nothing desperate would greet her.
The overheard message had galvanized Vincent; although he knew nothing terrible could befall Caitlin or Jacob without his immediate knowledge, still the underscored urgency sent cascades of frightening possibilities through him. Somewhere in his mind, he also recognized the pattern of overwhelming emotion overtaking him; Caitlin's fears had done this to him once before, four years ago; when he searched desperately for her after she fled in her crazy attempt on Towers' life. But too much had happened, had changed since then; he could not afford the luxury of belief in her safety until he saw her.
He did not check his pace until he was in sight of Father's chamber; and there were Father and Caitlin, seated on the cold stone floor. Caitlin, as he had known, was sobbing against Father's shoulder.
Some sound of his passage had preceded him, for Father looked up. Vincent had slowed to a rapid walk, and was nearly on them, poised to sweep Caitlin up and bear her away. Father must have divined his intention, for he looked into Vincent's eyes and shook his head. Vincent stopped, puzzled, opened his mouth to speak, but Father shook his head again, more emphatically this time. He pointed down the corridor, opposite the way Vincent had come, clearly indicating that Vincent should leave.
Stubbornly, Vincent took another step toward Father and Caitlin, but seeing the sternness of his father's expression, and knowing of the relief that can come in tears, he obeyed, albeit reluctantly.
Down the corridor, around the corner, he found Pascal, who had moved just out of earshot, waiting for Father to signal him to return.
"What happened, Pascal?"
"I don't know, Vincent. I got Father's message, double urgent, emergency code; I dropped everything, dashed over. I found them on the floor like that; then Father sent me away. I didn't know what to do, Vincent. I mean, Father can't lift her, and sooner or later, they'll need to get off the floor." He shook his head.
"You can go back to your work now, Pascal. I'll wait."
"Thanks, Vincent." Pascal started to leave, halted, turned back. He invited Vincent's attention to the surroundings with a wave; all around, people loitered or passed slowly, evidently drawn by Father's message, curiosity, and a desire to help. Indicating the small crowd, he repeated softly, "A shooting star, Vincent." Then he turned and was gone to his neverending duties.
Being out of earshot did not keep Vincent from knowing Caitlin's stormy emotions. Their power washed through his mind like the incoming tide; wave after wave, ever deepening, until he thought he would drown. Thoughts and words had never been the strength of this bond; feelings, impressions, were what connected them. Vincent longed to rush in, and chase or sooth away the terrible fear, the dread; but there was no physical enemy, no imagined danger he could banish. There was only reality, and it was destroying him.
Intense storms are usually short. Father could feel Caitlin calming, but he feared she had only reached the eye of the hurricane. He waited for the next inevitable, mentally counting the seconds.
As soon as she was able to speak, Caitlin began to apologize. She was very startled by Father's burst of laughter.
"I'm sorry," Father said without meaning it. He explained, "I've started to count the seconds until you apologize. Only seven this time." He offered her a handkerchief, watched her mop her face and blow her nose.
"Am I that predictable?" Caitlin half-smiled at her own question. "No, don't answer that. I'm not sure I want to know."
She straightened up, noticing their unorthodox position for the first time. "And now I've brought you to this - sitting on cold floors with weeping women." Her tone was light, but her words were serious. "Always too impulsive; it would've been better if I hadn't come back."
Father sighed. "I must say I've been expecting this too, Caitlin." He took a moment to ease his stiff leg, resettle Caitlin against his shoulder. Wishing she were young enough to seat in his lap for the coming lecture, he began the argument he'd been preparing for since the moment of her return.
"You were right to come back, Caitlin. For a number of reasons. First, my dear - from what Vincent has told me, he would have known of your death when it occurred. Is this not so?"
Nodding, Caitlin began to speak. Father hushed her gently but firmly. "You still haven't learned to listen either. Just answer my questions as simply as possible, then shut up and let me finish."
She opened her mouth to answer, then quickly shut it again, and nodded meekly. Father laughed, "Good girl!" His voice returned to its more serious tone.
"Caitlin, do you think Vincent and I would mourn you less if you hadn't returned?"
Gathering her thoughts to answer this unexpected question took a moment. She looked overly meekly at Father for permission to speak. He granted it with a murmured, "Please go ahead."
"Four years is a long time, Father. Maybe if I hadn't returned ... I could have been just a sad memory."
"Caitlin, if while you were in Chicago, perhaps last month, you had felt Vincent die, would you mourn less for not having seen him?"
"No!" she breathed, feeling the horror of such a moment. "I'd've wanted to see him again, one more time, to..." Her voice broke off abruptly as she realized what she'd said.
"Your own words, Caitlin." Father's voice was quiet. "And before you ask - no, leaving now is quite a poor idea as well."
"I must be really predictable." Caitlin's voice was wry as Father's words struck dead center.
"In the same way that a wounded deer is predictable, Caitlin; when you decide you're too much trouble, you flee."
Caitlin squirmed at the description, but acknowledged ruefully its truth. "Explain, then, why I should stay. Everyone has seen me; they can mentally say goodbye now. My presence is hurting you; it's torture for Vincent. I know. If I left, maybe I could dim out the connection again ..."
"And if you can't? Will Vincent have to suffer your death without being able to comfort you? Relive his worst nightmares? Even if you can do it - will we always have to wonder if you died forsaken, alone?" Father's words were deliberately brutal, trying to force Caitlin to see, to think ahead, beyond immediate pain.
At the end of the corridor, Vincent appeared, pulled by Caitlin's anguish. Almost thankful for Caitlin's limited vision, Father once more waved him sternly away.
Vincent complied again, ashamed that he took the easy way out. How could he hope to bring comfort to Caitlin when the pain and anger raged so in him? He disappeared again from Father's sight, around the corner.
As Caitlin grappled with the awful picture he'd presented, Father continued, "Yes, you have brought pain with you, Caitlin. But you are worth your life, Caitlin. A death in the family always will bring pain. The peace and comfort come later, from knowing you've given love and support, helped to make someone feel loved, and safe. If you leave, Caitlin, you will deny us comfort after you're gone; by denying us the chance to help."
There was a long, long silence. Father nearly held his breath as she assimilated his carefully planned points. He waited for her to break the silence. When she finally spoke, at first he was puzzled.
"You know, Father, I needed a whole name - more than just Caitlin - for the real world. I just couldn't re-take my father's name." She shuddered at her memories.
"At first I thought I'd use Mom's maiden name. But then I came up with something I liked better." She turned her face into Father's shoulder, and he noticed to his amazement that she was blushing. But her voice remained firm as she went on, "My name is Caitlin Beth Jacob."
She gave Father a second to absorb the name, then added conversationally, "Did you know that 'Beth' can mean 'of the house of' in Hebrew?"
Father squeezed her thin shoulders as firmly as he dared, then cleared his throat.
"Young lady, I think it's time we got off this cold floor." He raised his voice. "Vincent!"
They both heard footsteps come round the corner; but it was not Vincent they saw.
Kiley, a red-headed engineer and one of Vincent's closest friends, rounded the corner and stooped to lift Caitlin from the floor. Father saw his carefully reasoned arguments go up in smoke. How could Caitlin listen to reason now? For Father knew with sinking certainty that Vincent had fled.
Already levels and corridors away, Vincent knew there was no way to escape. He'd known before he fled that it was illogical; Caitlin was always with him, just as Catherine had been. There was nowhere he could go to get away; still he headed for a quiet place, needing time alone, time for the first wild shock of grief to fade.
It was just really sinking in now; despite subjective time, Caitlin had been back less than one full day. He could barely accept her return; how could he accept that she would leave him as Catherine had?
He thought he'd assimilated the grief, the pain that was ahead; but suddenly, as he had paced the corridor, with Caitlin's pain overwhelming his senses, the full anguish of Catherine's death had flooded through him again, as fresh as the day she'd died in his arms. It had been unbearable then; for months his rage and grief ruled his life, pressing him into actions he was still ashamed to remember. The love of Father, Diana and his friends, and Jacob's infant need, had held him together, and the passing time had caged the beast, faded the pain, eventually to bearability. But now it was going to begin again.
"Strength; is there enough strength in the world to survive this twice?"
Even as he hurried toward the dark, peaceful hiding place he longed for, Vincent tried to will himself strong and calm. So often in the past he had drawn on the facade of calm to present to the world, to Catherine, and released his true emotions only to himself, or at most to Father. Now he could not manage the facade; the expectation of pain went too deep.
For the first time, he wanted to hide from the insistent light that was Caitlin. He tried denying that he felt her with him, pushing away her nearness, closing a mental eye against her brightness. No one attempt was notably successful, but together they worked; he felt the distance grow, as if her star had dimmed several magnitudes.
Removed now, he was able to note that Caitlin had calmed. The impressions were no longer of chaotic, overwhelming terror; apparently Father had succeeded in comforting her. But the calm he knew to be an overlay; a tissue-thin barrier. Beneath, the same pain and fear seethed.
He stopped to consider his destination. Dark and quiet, peace, nothing to experience, to remind him that people or feelings or life existed. As always, rage was the handmaiden of his pain; the beast arose, and he wanted to lash out, to rip and to tear.
In the back of his mind, he knew this episode must be brief; but for the moment, darkness and solitude would shelter him, protect others.
He still held Caitlin's trace at as much of a distance as he could. Thus, the sharp stab of her reaction to his flight did not sear him. It shamed him; but not enough to send him back, not yet.
Swiftly he rejected possible destinations; the Waterfall Chamber was too open, too beautiful, too full of memories. The Whispering Gallery was wrong; voices from Above were something to escape now. Suddenly came a long-ago memory, of playing hide-and-seek, shivering in the delicious dark, in a vast room reached by a tunnel not tall enough for standing. He was never found when he hid there, but the chamber had faded from his memory as manly pursuits replaced more childish ones. Yes, it was perfect - dark, quiet, reasonably remote - and all stone, hard and unbreakable.
It was but a short trip to his dark and secret spot. The entrance was as he remembered, but much smaller; he had to crawl to enter. "I was much smaller then," he murmured as he forced his way through.
Within feet it opened onto a room. It, too, had grown in memory; he found it just the size of an ordinary sleeping chamber. But it was exactly what he sought.
Vincent took a deep breath. The darkness turned red before his eyes; his feral growl echoed off the walls. Snarling, he slammed one fist into the dark stone wall. The pain raced up his arm, and he welcomed it. He followed with a flurry of open-handed strikes, his claws scratching over the cold stone, leaving his hands bloody and bruised. Each jarring pain loosened the tight knot over his heart. The insensate walls absorbed Vincent's rage and grief, until he collapsed in the dark, spent but calmer.
The darkness was his friend again. Its soothing presence surrounded him, hugged him, the silence broken only by the sound of his own heartbeat and harsh breaths. The release Caitlin had found in tears came to Vincent now; before he could think, his weary body and spirit relaxed into sleep.
Diana came toward Father's chamber just in time to see Kiley lift Caitlin from the floor. Father was awkwardly levering himself up as well; Diana grasped his hand and helped him to his feet.
"Take her to Vincent's chamber," Father ordered Kiley, as he retrieved his stick. Caitlin lay passively in the big engineer's arms; Father fretted to see no fight left in her. As instructed, Kiley strode off. Diana lingered with Father, who was taking a moment to loosen the kinks from his prolonged contact with the cold floor.
"Where's Vincent?" she asked.
"I have no idea where that damned son of mine is," Father gritted.
Diana had never heard him swear before, or speak so badly of his son. Quickly she changed the subject.
"That", she motioned after the vanished Kiley, "must be Caitlin." She'd only caught a glimpse, but even Vincent's harsh word-picture had not prepared her.
"Yes, that was Caitlin. So Vincent went to see you tonight."
Father started down the corridor, and Diana matched his steps. She could feel a cold rage within him, shutting him off from casual conversation. They journeyed in silence.
Steps from the entryway to Vincent's chamber, Father stopped. Consciously relaxing his tense shoulders, he took a deep breath. He turned to Diana, belatedly continuing the brief discussion they'd begun.
"How much did Vincent tell you about Caitlin?"
"He told me she'd come back to die. And I rather gathered that she's very special to him."
"To me as well, Diana. And to Jamie and Mary."
"Jacob, I met her once; about eight months before her 'suicide'. I remember her as special, too. And I wouldn't have recognized her if I hadn't been told she had returned; and in what condition."
"Yes. She hasn't much time, Diana; I'd like what she has to be as happy as possible."
Frowning, Diana replied, "Of course, Jacob. But what -"
"Vincent has disappeared, Diana. I don't expect him to be gone long; he wouldn't leave Jacob. But she needs him now; this minute."
"What can I do?"
"Probably nothing. If you know or think you know where he is, it could help."
"I'm as much in the dark as you are. He started back here because little Jacob was awake and frightened; halfway here, he told me you'd arrived, but Jacob was still crying. Then he stopped and stood absolutely still for about three minutes. I don't know what happened, but he was - away. He didn't hear me, or see me. Then he came....back, told me to meet him, and took off. That's the last I saw of him."
Father shook his head. "It's been a long time since I wanted to spank my son," he said.
"He was in such pain, Jacob. I haven't seen him like this in a long time."
"We're all in pain now, Diana. And Vincent is needed here; more than I am, or anyone else."
"I'm sure he'll be back soon. He won't leave his son, even for a day, without telling him."
"Yes - but soon enough?" Father frowned, then began the few paces to Vincent's chamber. He beckoned Diana to follow. "You say you met her?"
"Only once; at a big society thing. I doubt she'd remember me."
"Come along anyway." They entered the familiar golden-lit chamber together.
Kiley had seated himself at the table to await Father's arrival. Caitlin was back on Vincent's bed, as still as sleep but with open eyes. Father noted her eyes tracked only noises now. Soundlessly he approached the bed, then waved a silent hand before her. She didn't even blink.
He cleared his throat, and her eyes moved toward the sound. With a grimace, he noted the uneaten dinner still lying as Mary had set it, untouched.
"You must be hungry, Caitlin. It's well after midnight."
"I haven't much appetite lately, Father." Her attempts at independence were gone. She wore her calm as a cloak, blanketing off any emotions or reactions. "After the radiation, nothing had much taste anymore."
"You still need to eat, Caitlin. Now more than ever."
"In the morning, perhaps. I would like a drink of water, though."
Father brought the glass to her, sat on the edge of the bed. Caitlin made no move to take the glass, or drink. He raised her shoulders; she did not attempt to help him, passively accepting the aid. Father held the glass to her lips. She took a small sip, then murmured, "Thank you. That's enough."
Father gently let her back down onto the pillows. "Did someone else come in with you, Father?" Caitlin asked. Her tone was polite but uninterested.
"Yes, Caitlin." He motioned to Diana, who approached the bed. "This is Diana Bennett. She's been a good friend to all of us."
"Hello, Caitlin. I'm sure you don't remember, but we met once, a long time ago."
"About five years ago? Police special investigator?" She turned her glance toward Diana's voice. A tiny frown rippled across the unnatural calm of her face. "I can't see too clearly in this light; is your hair red?"
"That's right," Diana answered in surprise. "I can't even remember which charity that shindig was for."
"Brazilian rain forests, I think."
"You're right." Diana was beyond surprise now.
"Trick memory," Caitlin murmured. Her eyes had drifted shut even as she spoke.
Father was watching her, and motioned Diana away, to follow Kiley, who had just started out the door. "It's the time for you to sleep, Caitlin," he said gently. He started to follow Diana, but Caitlin called him back.
"Father - just a moment, please."
He returned to the bedside. She waited for the echo of Diana and Kiley's footsteps to fade, then lifted her hand in his general direction. He reached out and took her hand; she closed it tightly.
"Father - I love you." He could barely hear the words.
"I know, Caitlin. And I love you - you are the daughter of my heart, the little girl I never had. But now is a time for you to sleep. We can talk in the morning."
"I had to say it, Father. To be sure that I said it."
"There will be plenty of time in the morning."
Caitlin yawned, her eyes still struggling futilely to stay open. "Father - could you send Jamie and Mary to see me in the morning?"
"They'll come to see you tomorrow, I'm sure, Caitlin."
"In the morning..." She couldn't stay awake another second. Father felt the tension in her hand relax slightly; he laid it back on the bed, pulled the patched quilt over her. With one last lingering look, he went out of the chamber.
His scowl intimidated lesser mortals, but Diana knew it for an expression of his inner pain. "Damn that son of mine!" He shook his head. "We must find him, Diana. I'm fairly sure she'll stay until she sees Mary and Jamie; but even that is no guarantee."
"Stay, Jacob?" Diana thought she understood, but needed to hear an explanation. The whole evening had been nothing but one long inexplicable experience.
"I don't know if I can explain it, Diana."
She groaned. "Just like your son."
Father's scowl deepened. "It's those two who are alike." His gesture covered Caitlin and the absent Vincent. "She fears being too much trouble. He fears his dark side, his 'beast'. And what do they both do? Run away - one way or another."
"Are you afraid she'll kill herself?"
"Diana -" Father groped for a way to express Caitlin's unusual abilities in shorthand. "She needn't do anything as active as that. She can will herself to die." His eyes grew distant as he remembered the events leading to her departure from the world Below four years ago. "But it's just another way for her to run, Diana. A different direction."
"Will herself to - Jacob, I'm not sure I can believe that."
"Diana, I've seen it begin in Vincent, and in Caitlin. I have every reason to believe I've seen it carried through in another ten or twelve cases. No, it's real enough. Unfortunately."
"And you believe that's what Caitlin will do? Just die?"
"As I said, I do think she'll wait to see Mary and Jamie. She asked to see them - in the morning."
"Why now, Jacob? Because Vincent's run off?"
"Diana - I know you've heard of the bond that existed between Vincent and Catherine. There exists a similar, but two-way connection between Vincent and Caitlin. Or so they tell me."
Diana was flabbergasted. She felt as though the world had tilted on its axis, and she was the only one aware of it. After that moment of disorientation, though, many strange events of the evening sprang into focus. But one persistent question troubled her. "Jacob - if they are connected, as you say, why did her reappearance shock Vincent so?"
"When she ran away, four years ago, she found a way to dim their communication." Father sighed. "Diana, in some ways this is as much of a mystery to me as it is to you. I can only tell you what Vincent has told me, and what I have gathered. From what Vincent has said, his - awareness of her was nearly gone. On the farthest edges of his mental 'peripheral vision', as it were."
"No wonder Vincent is so distraught!" Images crowded through her mind, showing angles and reflections and ramifications of what Father had told her.
"Diana, I too can imagine Vincent's state of mind. My son is facing what in some ways is a replay of the worst experience of his life; one that almost destroyed him. But in other ways this is very different. Caitlin's death is an inevitable; but it will be no sudden shock, out of the blue. She is here with us now, Diana. She came home, to surround herself with the only family she knows." Father's usually cool voice was passionate. "Just half an hour ago, I was telling Caitlin this - that the peace and comfort of the survivors comes from giving love, from comforting the one who is leaving. Vincent must be made to see this as well." Father paused for breath. "Caitlin is like my child, Diana. She will be gone far too soon. It tears at me to think of losing her, but I know that she needs me now, and that enables me to bear the pain. How do you think Vincent will feel if she chooses to 'spare him pain' and ends her life before he can return?"
"Jacob, you said that their connection was dimmed when she left. Is it still dim, now that she's back?"
A flash of Caitlin naked beneath Vincent's sheet gave him the answer. "I have every reason to believe their communication has resumed."
"Won't Vincent know she needs him, then?"
Father shook his head. "One can only hope, Diana."
After offering Diana a chamber to sleep in, and being refused, Father summoned Kiley to escort her home, and retired to his own chamber. He crept in silently, checked Jacob, then settled onto his own bed in the mostly dark, sure he would not sleep.
Floating in the mists of sleep, dream images just fading, Father made a smooth transition to wakefulness. The dream must have been pleasant, he thought to himself, without opening his eyes, for he had a distinct memory of laughter. Then he heard real laughter, not far from his bed.
One giggle belonged to his grandson, he knew. He recognized another voice as Jamie's. But there was a third voice. Bolting out of bed, he stared across his chamber.
Jamie was there, kneeling on the floor with Jacob. Seated in a chair, hand and fingers forming a bunny, Caitlin was softly singing a children's song about a rabbit who liked to hit field mice. Both Jamie and Jacob were clearly delighted, and Caitlin's giggle joined theirs at frequent intervals. Father had the distinct desire to pinch himself. This all seemed much more like what he would want to dream than reality. He watched the three of them for another moment.
At the conclusion of the song about the bunny - which ended, he noted, with a most execrable pun, convulsing both women in laughter again - Jacob got up and ran over to his books. He pulled one from the center of the stack, causing it to collapse, sliding books around to a distance of three or four feet. In two-year-old fashion, he ignored it, and brought his book over to Caitlin. He shoved it into her lap, and Father saw Caitlin feel for it before she could take it from him. It was at that moment he could accept he was really awake. He was sure that in a dream, his mind would not allow her sight to have lapsed entirely, as he had seen last night.
Little Jacob followed his book into Caitlin's lap, and she explained gently and gravely, "I'm afraid I can't read that to you, Jacob. But I know a story about a little boy who had a pet beetle. Would you like to hear it?"
Jacob nodded his head very vigorously, put a thumb into his mouth, and leaned against Caitlin, looking up into her face as she began,
"I found a little beetle, so that Beetle was his name,
And I called him Alexander, and he answered just thesame.
I put him in a match-box, and I kept him all the day ...
And Nanny let my beetle out -
Yes, Nanny let my beetle out -
She went and let my beetle out -
And Beetle ran away."
Father smiled in delight and nostalgia. A. A. Milne's poems had been a constant in his own childhood, and he had seen to it that Vincent grew up with them too. As Caitlin took Jacob through the tale and to the recapture of the pet, Father remained still, trying to reconcile his memories of last night with the scene before him.
"And Nanny's very sorry, for you-know-what-she-did,
And she's writing 'ALEXANDER' very blackly onthe lid.
And Nan and me are friends, because it's difficult tocatch
An excited Alexander you've mistaken for a match."
Jacob removed his thumb from his mouth and cried, " 'Nother, Caity! 'Nother!"
Coming up to them, Father said sternly, "That's enough for now, Jacob."
The little boy looked up, yelled "Granpa!" and hurled himself from Caitlin's lap, to grip Father's knees, then beg, "Up! Up!"
Father obligingly swung the little boy into the air, then replaced him on the floor. Jamie had gotten to her feet, and she took small Jacob's hand. "Let's go get some breakfast, Jacob," she said with great sensitivity.
"No! 'Nother story!"
"Jacob..." Father warned, but Caitlin said, "One more - only one! Okay?"
" 'kay", Jacob replied, pulling loose from Jamie's grip and climbing back into Caitlin's lap.
"This one is my very favorite, Jacob," she said, then started:
"Belinda lived in a little white house,
With a little black kitten and a little grey mouse,
And a little yellow dog and a little red wagon,
And a realio, trulio, little pet dragon.
Now the name of the little black kitten was Ink,
And the little grey mouse, she called her Blink,
And the little yellow dog was as sharp as Mustard,
But the dragon was a coward, and she called him Custard."
Caitlin unfolded the tale of the little dragon with "realio, trulio daggers on his toes" as Jacob, Jamie and Father all listened, spellbound. Father had to suppress snorts of laughter at the boasts of the animals, and the much-teased Custard's rescue of them from the pirate who climbed in the "winda". Caitlin concluded,
"Belinda is as brave as a barrel full of bears,
Ink and Blink chase lions down the stairs,
Mustard is as brave as a tiger in a rage,
But Custard keeps crying for a nice, safe cage."
"Come on, Jacob," said Jamie, holding out her hand.
"Kiss," demanded Jacob of Caitlin. She hugged him, kissed his cheek, accepted his wet smack in return, then waved as their footsteps retreated.
"Caitlin -" Once again, Father found himself bereft of words. Caitlin seemed to have that effect on him.
"I know. When you left last night, I'd decided to cash it in. And now here I am, and what's changed, right?"
"That sums it up nicely," said Father dryly.
"I woke up early this morning, and lay in bed in the dark." Father winced, but Caitlin went on, "It's always dark now, Father; since last night. You know that, don't you?"
"I was lying there thinking, at random; I thought about the leaves turning in the park. This year, all I could see was a blur of color; but I know how they look. And I started to think about Cyrano de Bergerac . It's a favorite of mine; like Custard." She giggled again, and Father marveled at the happy sound. "Anyway - Cyrano. At the end of the play, when Cyrano comes to see Roxanne despite his fatal wound, there's a little exchange about falling leaves, and how they know how to die. Cyrano says, '... A little way From the branch to the earth, a little fear Of mingling with the common dust - and yet They go down gracefully - a fall that seems Like flying!'" She paused, to consider the words again. "I was sure that was what I was doing; 'going down gracefully'. Then I thought about it. Leaves cling to their branches, until the last possible moment; then they fall. It's not the fall that matters; when you can't hold on any longer, you go. The point is to hold on." She reached a hand toward Father, who took it firmly.
"How does it feel to be infallible, Father?" she asked lightly, trying to contrast with her former seriousness. "You were right again. I am worth it." She turned toward him, still searching futilely with her eyes.
"I'm here, Caitlin," he murmured, giving her a sound to fix on.
Now with a focal point, she went on, "I'm being completely selfish; I want to be with you as long as I can." Her eyes wandered again, as if hoping to spy Vincent returning.
"Caitlin, I'm sure that Vincent will return quite soon," Father tried to reassure her.
"Father - this time he's the one who's dimmed the connection. I really don't know." Her unseeing eyes moved from their fix to stare off into space. "I think he's awake now, but he doesn't want to be touched. So I've - well, backed away is the best way to put it. I'm not 'listening' to him anymore. When - if - he's ready, he'll let me know."
"Father, I love him very much. If this is the way that is best for him, so be it." Her voice was calm and steady, but Father felt her hand tremble in his. "But I love you too - and Jacob, and Jamie, and Mary, and everyone else I've met here. I want to be with you as long as I possibly can, as long as I can enjoy your company."
Knowing that she could not see him made it easier for the tears to well up in Father's eyes. He squeezed the small hand he held, its slight spasticity restating her illness. "Thank you, Caitlin Beth Jacob." His voice was as firm as he could make it. "I am very proud that you are 'of my house.'"
Maintaining his grip on her hand, he changed the subject. "Would you consent to breakfast with me, Miss Jacob?"
Caitlin regally inclined her head. "Certainly." She rose slowly from the chair with Father's help, and they went off to breakfast.
The throbbing of his hands, pacing with the beating of his heart, pulled Vincent from the pit of sleep. Opening his eyes did not change the darkness before him; then he remembered where he was. The ache in his hands was echoed by soreness all the way through his chest; his hands felt flayed, his arms strained. The calm aftermath of his violence was still with him. But there was something else; something he didn't recognize.
As soon as he was fully awake, he knew the time had come for him to return. Jacob's delicate presence within his mind was content; but he had to get back.
Gingerly he turned within to touch the trace he had isolated from his awareness last night. Steeling himself, he took a deep breath and let her presence wash over him.
Caitlin's light was, as he had feared, already a little dimmer than before; collapsing and fading slowly, pulled inward by the terrible gravity of her illness. But the pain that had so racked her spirit last night had been replaced with a quiet peace. As he cautiously allowed the peace to enter his soul, he was once more overwhelmed. Caitlin and Jacob were together again; and joy and laughter flowed through him.
He wanted to be a part of the moment this time, to hold them both and never let go. He sprang to his feet, ignoring the protests of muscles stiff and sore from his previous night's activities. The absolute blackness around him seemed lighter; he crawled through the low tunnel to the torchlit corridor, to swiftly return to those who awaited him.
As he neared Father's chamber, he realized it was deserted; a quick trip showed him his own chamber was empty as well. He sat at his table for a moment, his back toward the doorway, and rested his hands on the wooden surface. They were scraped and raw from the violence of the previous night, but he gave them no thought in his need to find where Father, Jacob, and Caitlin had gone.
Jacob was content, enjoying himself - but no longer with Caitlin. Vincent knew when they were together. The two links seemed to fuse when his son and Caitlin were together.
The peace he had sensed from Caitlin still flowed through him like a slow-moving stream, the cool sweep marred only occasionally by the ripples and debris of her former pain and fear. He was amazed still by the change; he was afraid to believe it. He had to see her, touch her, to know that it was true. Where would she be? So many places; as he decided to try William, and see if there was a possibility of food for himself as well, Father came into his chamber.
"So - the prodigal returneth."
Father paced around the table to face Vincent, brimming with anger over last night's flight. Halfway there, Vincent's hands came into his view. Father's anger fell away, and he looked into Vincent's face. He didn't have to ask how it had happened; he had seen the results of Vincent's demons before.
Lifting one great hand to examine the raw scrapes and dried blood, he shook his head. "Come with me, Vincent. Your hands need tending."
"I must find Caitlin, Father. And I haven't seen Jacob yet today."
"They are both fine just now. It will only be a matter of minutes to clean and bandage these up. And I want to speak to you." Insistently Father gripped Vincent's elbow, and his son complied, rose, and went with him.
"Vincent - what you did last night nearly caused a tragedy."
"Father, I -"
"You will listen to me now, Vincent. You and she are so alike."
"She doesn't listen well either."
"How is she, Father?"
"Don't you know?"
"I am not sure whether to trust my perceptions. Her pain last night was so deep and her terror so sharp; but today all I can sense is peace."
"She finally found what she left to search for, Vincent; herself."
They had reached the hospital chamber, and Father allowed Vincent to precede him. He seated his son in the available chair, and began to pull out gauze, washcloths, warm water. As he cleaned and bandaged Vincent's bloody hands, Father picked up his lecture."She nearly decided to leave us, Vincent. What would you have felt; what would you have done if you'd returned to that?"
He waved down an attempted protest from his son, and continued, "I know your pain, Vincent. I understand. But you don't understand. Wasn't the worst element of Catherine's dilemma your helplessness? Your inability to find her, to hold her, to comfort her, to ease her passing if you could not prevent it? You were able to tell her goodbye; that is all. You have the chance to remedy that in your heart with Caitlin. And believe me, my son, you will find your comfort after she is gone in remembering those hours you spent filling her life with love."
Vincent looked away. "Father - when she is with Jacob, they touch each other; through me."
It took a moment for Father to assimilate the bald statement. He pondered, then asked quietly, "What does that feel like, Vincent?"
"Like being a tunnel full of light. And like nothing in the world I have ever experienced."
"Vincent, she is blind now." Vincent shuddered, but made no answer. The enclosing dark of his hidden chamber returned for one eyeblink, then was gone.
Father went on, "She needs you. But you must make the choice; to stay and see this through; or to go. If the pain is too great, I must ask that you leave now. Caitlin told me that you have removed yourself from the connection. Go to one of your solitary places; we will send you supplies, and summon you when it's over. Jacob will be well cared for, as you know."
"I could not leave her that way, Father. But I see myself reflected in her heart, and I don't recognize the man she sees. Four years make many changes...and she really only knew me for weeks."
"How long does love take, Vincent?" Father's voice was quiet. "For you and Catherine, it took less than 10 days."
Vincent was silent, pondering Father's words. At last he said, "I came back. That is my answer. I can't leave her, Father; any more than I could have left Catherine. When I returned, I was eager to see her; my second thoughts are through. Where is she, Father?"
"I left her with Pascal, in the Pipe Chamber. Let us go together to find her."
Nearing the Pipe Chamber, the endless metallic music was slowly eclipsed by voices. As they were about to enter, Father halted Vincent, gesturing him to listen.
It was Caitlin's voice, speaking to Pascal over the constant background chatter. "... And I thought, I'm just not used to city noises this close. You don't hear much from a penthouse. I thought I'd get used to it. But after a year, I still had trouble falling asleep."
"My next apartment was in a building on the outer edge of suburbia, set in five acres of forest. Walk out the back door, and you're surrounded by trees. There was a creek, with a fallen log for a bridge, about three minutes away. It was quiet there, with only crickets and owls at night - and the occasional noisy neighbor. But Pascal, I still couldn't fall asleep."
For a moment, the tapping, clanging prevailed. Then Caitlin's voice resumed, quiet sadness predominant. "Hospitals have their own sounds, not like anything else in the world. Rubber shoes and rubber wheels on polished floors; beeps and grunts and ..." Her voice trailed off, then resumed more briskly, "But one afternoon, when I was in the hospital sub-basement, lying on a gurney, waiting for my turn in Radiation, I heard it - tapping, banging, clanging on pipes. I never knew who did it or why; but when I heard it, I knew why I couldn't sleep. Listening for just a minute made me feel at home. That's what I missed."
The pipes' music took over from her voice; Father stepped into the chamber, followed by Vincent. They saw Caitlin seated on the floor before the nest of pipes. One hand and one cheek rested on their cool metal, letting the vibrations' song flow through her. Pascal was still smiling at Caitlin and nodding. Father could see the warmth her story had brought to him.
No sound of their entrance could have been heard over the din of messages, but suddenly Caitlin lifted her head from its resting place. She turned toward the entrance where Father and Vincent stood. Tentatively she stretched a hand in their direction.
"Vincent?" Her voice trembled, as if she so feared being wrong it was an effort to speak his name.
Vincent crossed the space in two strides, and knelt before her. He took her outstretched hand, and pressed it to his cheek. "I'm here, Caitlin." His whisper could barely be heard by Pascal and Father, but Caitlin heard. She took her other hand from the pipe and reached eagerly for him. Still kneeling, he pulled her to him, enclosing her in his strong embrace. Caitlin threw her arms as far around Vincent as they would go, and clutched him to her.
Oblivious of the watching eyes, they held each other, until Father cleared his throat theatrically. Even then nothing happened, so he tried again.
This time, Vincent raised his head, looked into Father's eyes. "Shall we go find Jacob?" Father suggested gently. "I'm sure he wants to see you, Vincent."
Vincent looked down at Caitlin, still clinging to him, her expression full of wonder and joy, which shone as well in his heart. He knew the time was short; he anticipated the experience of being with Jacob and Caitlin when they were together.
"Yes, Father," he said simply, standing, and raising Caitlin to stand beside him, leaning into his strength. "Let us go find Jacob."
"Are we almost there, Vincent?" Caitlin's voice was breathless with excitement. She clutched his arm, cocked her head to listen. "I can hear it - I think I can hear it!"
Vincent looked down at her, amusement shining in his eyes. She was fully as eager for this as he had been to see her with his son, more than two weeks ago. "Yes, Caitlin, we are almost there."
The journey to the Chamber of the Waterfall had taken more than twice as long as usual, with Vincent enforcing frequent rest stops, and a picnic lunch en route. Still feeling it was too great a journey, nonetheless he had succumbed to her pleas. How could he deny anything she wanted so badly?
"I've heard so much about it, Vincent; please, I want to go there just once." Her voice carried the words, but it was the desperate yearning within her mind which decided him. He'd still tried to argue, to talk her out of it, even to mentioning the one thing that still could hurt her; her sightlessness.
"Vincent, I would have given anything to see it," she answered softly. "But I want to go there; just once. To be there. Jamie and the children all love it so. It sounds so beautiful."
"It is," he replied, seeing the misting waters and the great stone walls.
"You love it too, Vincent. So very much - it must be truly extraordinary to be there, even if I can't see it. Please take me there."
In the end, as he'd known he would, he acceded to her pleas. And now the journey was nearly over, and the roaring of the water as it fell from its great height was clearly audible. Caitlin clapped her hands in delight as they stepped into the echoing cavern. Before them was the huge waterfall, cold and pure water falling from its great height.
Caitlin raised her face to the spray. "I can almost see it, Vincent." She closed her eyes to help her imagination.
"Let us sit down, Caitlin." Vincent helped her to his ledge, seated her, stretched himself out beside her. Caitlin leaned forward, trying to feel the size of the chamber, to hear the vastness of the waterfall. She reached into the pocket of her Chicago Bears windbreaker, and pulled out a small red plastic bottle.
"I've dreamed of doing this, Vincent. I've seen it in my imagination so often, even though I've never been here," she said, unscrewing the top with excruciating slowness, her stiff hands not cooperating. When the bottle was open, she fished inside, pulled something out, then thrust the bottle toward Vincent, who accepted in bemusement. Using both hands, she positioned her prize in front of her mouth, then blew out slowly. Shimmering rainbowed bubbles floated from the wand out over the Chamber, toward the waterfall, drifting with the air currents.
Holding the wand out toward Vincent, she let him guide it back into the bottle, then loosed another cloud of iridescent films to float on the wind.
"Tell me, Vincent," she begged. "Tell me what they look like."
"Like opal butterflies by moonlight," he murmured, amazed by the beauty of the moment.
She sent a few more flocks out to shine in the heavy moist air, then replaced the wand, closed the bottle, and returned it to her pocket. She leaned back against Vincent's solid chest, rested her head against his arm. "I wish..." The words trailed off, but the strength of her wish reached him, made his heart ache.
He concentrated, putting all of his consciousness into seeing the beauty of the bubbles, the few still drifting and the clouds released before. He tried to fill his mind with the picture, hoping some of it might be carried to her. "Open your heart, Caitlin," he whispered. "See through my eyes."
Her gasp of delight warmed him, as he knew that some of what he tried to convey reached her. Caitlin followed the line of his arm, grasped his hand tightly. "Thank you, Vincent." Tears sounded in her voice, but Vincent felt only joy within her.
The last of the bubbles burst into nothingness, leaving only a memory. Vincent let his mind resume its normal perceptions.
Caitlin sighed, then eased herself down to stretch out beside him, pillowing her head on the arm that supported his head. She shivered a little, and he pulled his cloak to cover her, then drew her closer to his body for warmth. She snuggled against him, as Jacob did, then her thin body relaxed into sleep.
Vincent savoured the moment, determined to live in the
present. With no thoughts of futures or pasts, he called upon
his beloved Shakespeare, and murmured to the thunder of the
"...'Gainst death and all oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room,
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
So, til the judgement that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lovers' eyes."
He closed his eyes and lay back, recreating the image of the bubbles floating through the vast open space, reflecting the rainbowed colors of the waterfall's mist. In the white-noise silence, seeing the evanescent bubbles drift through his mind, then vanish, he felt the presence of everyone he had ever loved and lost; Catherine, Winslow, Ellie; all those he could no longer touch. Their presence was a comfort now. Caitlin was still warm and breathing in his arms, but soon she would join them. And they would welcome her, hold her safe, as Catherine was held, for the day they would all be together. The surety of his vision brought him the final measure of peace he sought. He would "carpe diem," seize the day; and when it ended, he would go on.
Wrapped in his cloak, Father limped through the cold and drizzly late November morning. The sky was grey and white with cloud and smog, and most of the trees were bare. The night had been long and full of sorrow; he had a rare desire to walk Above, in the park, now, before the final ceremony.
Not far from the tunnel mouth, he passed a tangle of bushy undergrowth. "Vincent found you here that first time," he murmured to himself. Further up the path, he passed a vacant park bench; it, too, drew his attention. "This is where Jamie found you again," he whispered. He continued through the cold wet park, alone except for an occasional dog walker.
Feeling it was time to return, he turned, started back up the path. To his left, behind a park bench, he saw a massive oak, great branches stretched black against the sky. On an upper branch was one, lone flame-red leaf. It fluttered in the cold breeze, then broke loose from its mooring, to dance down on the gusting wind. Father watched it tumble, blowing through the sky until it landed softly on the grass. Tears filled his eyes; he blinked them away, eyes still on the fallen leaf.
"You taught the leaves how to fall, Caitlin. A little way; but it seemed like flying." He broke down then; covered his face with his hands.
Softly a great gloved hand descended onto his shoulder, guiding him gently to the bench. Vincent's insistent whisper crept through the pain. "Father, Caitlin would not want you to suffer so. She would want you to remember the laughter. Death was a release for her."
Father raised his head and saw the tears running down Vincent's face. He opened his arms, and the two men embraced, finding comfort in each other's presence.
"Come, Father," Vincent said, standing and helping Father to rise. "We mustn't be late for the ceremony."
The two walked back to the Tunnel entrance in silence.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The gathering convened in the Great Hall, but moved, at Vincent's behest, to the Chamber of the Waterfall. "That is what she wanted," he told Diana, who walked beside him as he carried small Jacob through the corridors.
The little boy was unnaturally silent for a two-year-old; but he was not sad, just quiet. It had been nearly a week since Caitlin last played with him; four days of rapid deterioration, and she had bid them goodbye yesterday morning.
Vincent could almost feel her in his arms still, lying against his shoulder, too weak to sit alone. The light within him that was Caitlin was a dim and tattered candle, no longer a star. He felt she was waiting for something; when Father entered the chamber, he knew.
As was his custom, Father sat down on the bed next to Vincent and took one of Caitlin's stiff, curled hands between his two hands. As soon as she felt the contact, she whispered, "Father; Vincent - it's time."
Both men wanted to deny it, but could not. Vincent tried to brace his mind, his heart, but suddenly felt the connection cease, as though dammed at the source. Caitlin whispered "I love you." Then she was gone.
"Vincent!" Diana had raised her voice. With a start he came to the present, and realized they stood at the Chamber of the Waterfall. Everyone looked to Vincent for guidance, and he lead them in.
The thundering water and spray were at his back as he faced the gathering.
"It was Caitlin's wish that we remember her here. There were two things she asked that we do." He looked out at his family, his friends - one and the same. Jacob still straddled his hip, his solemn eyes moving from Father to Mary to Jamie to Vincent.
Earlier today, upon Father's return, Vincent had tried to convey to the child that "Caity" was gone. Jacob had looked back at him, shaken his head. "No, Da."
Father knelt before the little boy, and repeated quietly, "I am afraid she is gone, Jacob."
Once again Jacob shook his head. Father looked up at his son, but Vincent's face was thoughtful. "He's right, Father. She is not gone. She lives always, in my heart." Jacob nodded vigorously, putting his small hand over the center of his chest.
"You're right, Vincent." Father's voice was still grave, but some of the paralyzing grief was gone. She can never be gone." Looking about him at the beauty she had so wanted to see, he felt her very near him.
The peace Vincent had always and recently found in this Waterfall chamber came to him again. He held out his hand to Jamie, who wore Caitlin's windbreaker. From its pocket, she produced the red plastic bottle, and Vincent removed the cap. He turned to face out over the Chamber, and held the wand before Jacob's lips. With a quick breath, a flurry of small bubbles floated out into space, drifting on the currents.
As before, they were beautiful, running with rainbows in the light. "Jamie?" Vincent asked. She produced a sheet of paper from another pocket, cleared her throat. "Caity said to remember her in laughter. She wanted me to read this." Although her eyes were red, there were no tears now. Firmly she began,
"Belinda lived in a little white house,
With a little black kitten and a little grey mouse,
And a little yellow dog and a little red wagon,
And a realio, trulio, little pet dragon."
Vincent replaced the bubble wand in its bottle, then lifted it to his own lips. As the bubbles floated out over the cavern, one was caught in an updraft. It soared slowly, slowly up, until it vanished from sight against the chamber's vaulted roof. "Goodbye, Caitlin," he whispered.
Teal Bee - Toni Lichtenstein Bogolub lives in Deerfield, IL and is a member of the Chicago Area Tunnel Society (CATS). Toni is fairly 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 (and often desperate for!) fanzine feedback.
Toni's B&B stories are scattered about in a number of zines:
Two of Nan Dibble's "Phoenix" zines (1 and 4)
One of Kathy Resch's "Masks"
"Media Rare" - a CATS publication
"Rich in Hope"
"The Chronicler's Tales"
and in the brand-new
"Media Well Done" (a CATS publication).
Her own B&B zines include:
"To Dream of Daring/From the Branch to the Earth"
"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" is available for $20 plus $3 p&h from Jackie Paciello, 9109 S. Parkside, Oak Lawn, IL 60453.
For those who like to plan WAY ahead:
She'll also have 2 B&B stories in "Remote Control #6", due out in May of 1996.
"Remote Control #6". SASE to Kathryn Agel, 9-11 Ayres Ct., Bayonne, NJ 07002-3510 for info. Be sure to mention you're interested in reading Toni L-B's stories (She got bumped from the '95 issue!)