AFTERMATH

Debbie Ristick

The night above wore on, but in a secret chamber far below the city, two people conversed softly in the darkness. They talked of many things, their surroundings lit by only the glow of a single candle. Feelings that had been kept hidden for so long were finally expressed, needs and desires withheld for so long finally shared. The hospital chamber was quiet, deserted except for them and the small cradle between their beds; their only interruption was the occasional demands of their newly born son, a child each of them felt was the most special thing that had ever happened to them.

Vincent stared at the baby for a long time, thankful that all had turned out as it had. When he finally met Catherine's gaze, he was able to tell her of the fears he had kept inside for so long, to tell her what he had gone through the past six months, what he had been afraid of. Staring at the chamber ceiling for a moment, he trembled with the knowledge of what he had almost lost, of what would have happened had he not arrived when he had.

Though very tired, Catherine listened to him, reassuring him, holding tightly to his hands. She leaned across the open space between them and kissed him tenderly, smiling at the electricity that flowed along the bond. With every passing moment she could feel their bond strengthening, redefining itself, including all three of them within it. That knowledge gave her a sense of triumph and accomplishment.

When Vincent finished, Catherine smiled. It was time to hold nothing back, time to tell him everything. She explained her reasons for hiding the pregnancy, clarified her concerns and worries for him after his illness. She spoke of her captivity, assuring him that no one had hurt her once her pregnancy had been discovered and Vincent had tried to come to her. "I decided, after they moved me," she explained, "that something had happened at that warehouse - that the man holding me had seen you somehow and knew the baby was yours. That was why he kept me, why I was given good medical care. I was given good food, allowed to bathe and take short, supervised walks in the hallways; but no one ever spoke to me. I was miserable."

Closing her eyes for a moment, Catherine smiled. "I always knew you would come for me," she added quietly. "I just didn't know when or where it would be. I had no idea where I was."

When the tears she had tried for so long to hold back finally came, she told him everything else. She admitted that she had been lost without him, that she loved him deeply and desired him, sometimes uncontrollably. She told him of that dark night in the catacombs, told him that all had been all right, assured him she had never been in any danger from him. "This will not change," she insisted. "It's time for us to be together now. It's time for us." Then she held him close as he told her again of his love for her, of his relief, of the fear he had lived with every day for the past many months.

They spoke of Diana, of how she had assisted both of them in this, in more ways than they would probably ever know. They both agreed that she must be invited to return Below as soon as it could be arranged, especially since they had a naming ceremony to plan for. Without her, this would not be happening.

After getting everything out, each of them relaxed, staring into each other's eyes, unwilling to lose these private moments to anything. Catherine yawned uncontrollably, then burrowed beneath the fresh-smelling covers on the bed. Reaching out to the man beside her, she relaxed, knowing his eyes never left her. "Rest now," she whispered, unable to keep from slipping into a much-needed sleep. "We're home with you; everything will be all right now."

Vincent sighed, feeling the comfortable peace that enveloped her as sleep claimed Catherine. She was home; she was going to stay. He could rest.

Later, after assuring himself that he heard no voices from the hospital chamber, Father looked in on them. He couldn't help the smile that lit his face. His son was sleeping soundly for a change, looking far better than he had in months. Catherine was asleep as well, the thick patchwork comforter on the bed curled around her.

"Well," he said softly to himself as he took another comforter from beneath the great bed and gently laid it over his son, "they need this rest desperately."

Glancing down into the cradle on the floor, Father smiled. The baby looked up at him innocently, then yawned contentedly, knowing he was safe and surrounded by only people who loved him. The child was a miracle, as his father had been many years ago.

Looking at Catherine, Father couldn't resist a smile. She slept peacefully - perhaps for the first time since this ordeal had started. She still looked awfully tired and weak, but he could feel her inner strength. She had come through this trial, had proved to all she was a survivor; at last she could finally rest. Yet when he looked into her face once more, he became intrigued, for there was something there, something almost magical in her expression. He knew they had been in here talking for a very long time - he had heard their voices rise and fall as emotions - sometimes very deeply felt - were expressed. Then the room had become quiet, and for a moment, he'd thought something was wrong. He'd almost gotten up out of his chair to investigate, but had stopped, knowing he would probably be intruding.

Obviously this decision had been the correct one, for everything seemed to be just fine. This woman was a wonder! Whatever she wanted of him and the world he had helped create would be hers. She was good for his son, was good for his world. She was home, and this was where she could stay if she wanted. She was all right, her child - Vincent's child - was all right; this was all he needed to know for now. "God bless you, Catherine," he whispered, turning away from the sleeping pair. "God bless the day Vincent found you in the Park." Whatever his initial misgivings had been about her - a rich man's daughter - now Father found himself wishing more and more that he had not treated her as he had. When she had first come Below to them, she had been an intruder, something to fear, something that would confuse and hurt Vincent. Tonight, as he looked at them lying close to each other, his opinion had done a complete turn. She was indeed a miracle; if she wanted to love his son and give whatever help she could to this world, then she could, and he would always support her. And, he sighed, since it was obvious the relationship had progressed in the ways he knew Catherine had wanted it to, he would give them his blessing.

Feeling as though a great weight had been lifted off his shoulders, Jacob Wells slipped out of the hospital chamber and turned down the corridor to his own chamber and the book he had left. Perhaps now, he hoped, everything would go back to the way it was before Paracelsus had tried to overpower their world with his darkness. Perhaps by meeting this challenge head on as they had, Vincent and Catherine had denied the dark for the final time; perhaps now they would be finally free.

'"Mine was a different life before Catherine," Vincent had said to him once, many, many months before. "So was mine, Vincent," Father said softly to himself. "So was mine."