SANCTUARY

 

            Catherine sat back in her chair and discreetly rubbed the knot of tension at the back of her neck for the fourth time--or was it the fifth? It had no more effect than any of the other times she'd tried it. Making a concerted effort to keep her mounting frustration from showing in her voice, she leaned forward toward the woman who sat opposite, feet flat on the floor and hands clenched tightly in her lap.

            "Mrs. Malloy, I realize it's hard for you to sign the complaint against your husband, but believe me, it's the best thing to do."

            The faded woman in the nondescript housedress was probably a good eight years younger than Catherine, but looked older. It wasn't so much the unfashionable clothes and dearth of makeup. It was the deadness in her eyes, the flatness of her tired voice. "I don't know, Miss Chandler...he is my husband. I hate to think of him in jail. He'd really hate that."

            *And do you like being beat up?* Catherine thought angrily, but no trace of that anger showed on the surface. "This is the sixth time," Catherine reminded the woman yet again, "and the beatings have gotten worse each time." Her eyes lingered on the sling that held the woman's arm close to her thin body. "He's progressed from bruises and lacerations to breaking bones. Do you want to wait until he kills you?"

            Mrs. Malloy tore her eyes from her lap to face Catherine, shaking her head from side to side. "Oh, he'd never do that!"

            Catherine was becoming increasingly more depressed. The first sign of animation her erstwhile client had shown in almost an hour, and it was to defend the louse who'd done this to her. "Moira, your lip had to have five stitches this time, and he broke your arm. The doctor said you even had a concussion."

            "But Tim didn't mean it," Moira insisted. "It wasn't his fault. I never should have bothered him about money when I saw he'd been drinking. He never hurts me when he's sober. He loves me, really. He feels real bad about it now."

            Catherine leaned farther forward, touching Moira lightly on the unbroken arm. Her voice was soft but intense, willing this woman to understand. "What if you get pregnant again? You've already had one miscarriage--suppose he beats you when you're pregnant. If you won't think of yourself, think of your baby--"

            The other woman pulled her arm away, pressing back into the chair. "He'd never do that! You don't know what you're talking about."

            Desperate, Catherine tried to re-establish her fragile rapport with this woman. "Look, I understand what you're going through. I've been a victim of violence myself, at the hands of someone I thought was my friend." She repressed a shudder as the memory of Steven's hands around her throat burst into her mind with sudden clarity. "And from strangers as well. I know how easy it is to not believe it's happening, or to blame yourself for it. I know how easily it can paralyze you, but for your own good, and your husband's as well, you've got to prosecute."

            "Miss Chandler," Moira replied, "I know about the bad things that happened to you. I read the papers. But it's not the same thing."

            "Moira, it's not that different. Violence is--" Catherine stopped as Moira began to shake her head again.

            "You're not married, are you Miss Chandler."

            Only long practice kept Catherine from a reaction she'd regret. "Not exactly, but--"

            Moira glanced at the ambiguous silver ring that graced Catherine's left hand, a complex combination of satisfaction and disapproval flickering across her face. "Then it's not the same. You can't understand. Not really."

            As vividly as if it happened yesterday instead of almost two years ago, Catherine remembered Vincent putting that ring on her finger as she stood in her mother's wedding dress, basking in the glow of countless candles and the good wishes of a whole community. Only the knowledge that the safety of that community depended on her silence kept her from blurting out to this sad, stubborn woman how wrong she was.

            "Moira, if you won't think of yourself, think of your husband. Maybe if you press charges, he'll get some help. There are counselors who--" Catherine lost heart completely when Moira rose to her feet suddenly, reaching for her purse with the arm that was only bruised. Catherine knew that the game was over, and that she had lost.

            "You're a nice lady, Miss Chandler, and I know you're only trying to help. But a woman who doesn't have a husband just can't realize...I'm sorry. Everything will be fine now, you'll see. I know Tim. He's really gonna change, and things will be different from now on." With a last little smile at Catherine she left, shutting the door firmly behind her.

            When Catherine left the interview room a moment later, she shut the door so firmly the glass almost shattered. Everyone within a fifty-foot radius jumped. Joe popped out of his office, took one look at Catherine's face, and immediately put on his mental flak vest. Reminding himself that this was the sort of thing he was underpaid for, he approached Catherine--but slowly.

            Catherine yanked open a file drawer, almost pulling it on the floor, and jammed the now-moot Malloy file in with such force it almost disintegrated. She didn't know what was worse...frustration at her failure, anger at herself for being unable to convince Moira to put her wretch of a husband away before she became a homicide statistic...or fury at the woman's smug satisfaction in having a husband when well-off attorney Catherine Chandler presumably did not.

            "I take it things didn't go too well," Joe remarked tentatively.

            "No, things did not go well," Catherine acknowledged bitterly. "She won't sign a complaint this time either."

            "Damn!" Joe scowled. "I was sure that after the broken arm--"

            "Her dear, loving, husband is *really* sorry this time and promises never to do it again. He loves her. I'm sure he'll weep copiously at her funeral."

            Joe sighed. "He was sorry the five times before. That'll last until his next drink if she's lucky."

            Catherine's anger seemed to desert her all at once and she sank dejectedly into her chair. "It's my fault. I was so sure I could convince her this time. I just couldn't do it."

            Joe laid a tentative hand on her shoulder. "Kiddo, you're the best. If you couldn't convince her no one can."

            Catherine unconsciously moved the file folders around on her desk, methodically unsorting them. "I'm not so sure, Joe. Maybe next time you should let Becky handle her case. I don't think I have any credibility with Moira anymore."

            "What do you mean? With what you've been through, you've got more credibility than any ten people around here." Joe shook his head. "Becky's good, but her life's been like something out of *The Cosby Show*. The most violent thing she's experienced has been a rude waiter."

            "But she's married," Catherine almost growled.

            "What's that got to with anything?" Joe asked, a microsecond before the light dawned.

            "Mrs. Malloy has informed me," Catherine replied, "that I cannot possibly understand her case because I'm single." Catherine almost choked as she forced the familiar lie out of a suddenly constricted throat.

            Oh-oh. Joe furiously tried to think of something to say. If there was one thing that had been clearly declared off-limits it was Catherine's love life, or apparent lack of it. Which was just as well, because he'd been going crazy trying to figure it out. A good fifteen years after Psych 101, Joe finally understood what "cognitive dissonance" was. On the surface, Catherine Chandler was a thirty-something career woman who dated infrequently but regularly and put a lot of time and energy into her work. But there was something about those dates that didn't ring true. Joe hadn't grown up half Italian without developing instincts about sexual chemistry between a man and a woman, and there just never seemed to be any between Cathy and those guys. They looked convincing, but something wasn't quite right.

            There had always been an intriguing--and downright maddening--sense of mystery about Cathy, and that extended to her dates. There was that bearded Australian pilot who showed up once in awhile. He was good-looking, and witty, but Joe could never shake an inexplicable feeling that he should know the guy.

            And that teacher, Paul Hancock--when Cathy started going out with him, Joe was sure wedding bells were right around the corner. He was even handsomer than the Australian, and liked all the same things Cathy did--opera, classical music, art galleries. They came from the same social background, knew some of the same people. They'd even double dated now and then with Joe and some of his less spandex-bedecked girl friends. But after watching them together for awhile, Joe had an unnerving sense that he was in the audience of a two-actor play. There was certainly affection between Cathy and these men, even love--but nothing erotic that Joe could pick up. He couldn't believe his antennae could fail him that badly.

              The strangest part, though, was Joe's unwavering conviction, albeit on very flimsy evidence, that there really was someone special in Cathy's life, someone who had been there for a long time. He could still remember her return from Christmas vacation two years ago, radiant, looking like a woman whose dreams were all coming true. Right after, she'd bought a house--which seemed way too big for one person--and after a week's vacation the following April she appeared with that silver ring on the third finger of her left hand, where it had stayed ever since. Cathy just didn't seem like a career woman with occasional dates. For the past couple of years, she'd reminded Joe of no one so much as his cousin Gina, who was the most happily married woman he knew.

            Once Joe had run into a morose Elliot Burch in a lower Manhattan bar. After his fourth or fifth drink, Elliot had gotten uncharacteristically personal with Joe and confided that Cathy had made it clear in no uncertain terms that there was someone else in her life. For the last few years she had treated Elliot with a careful friendliness that said more clearly than antagonism ever would that he had no chance with her at all. Maybe it had been a little white lie on Cathy's part, a way of letting Elliot down easy. Or maybe not.

            Another slamming drawer jolted him out his thoughts. "Hey, Radcliffe, I don't think there's much point in saying anything to Becky now. Let's wait and see if it really becomes necessary. Who knows, maybe things will work out and we won't need to decide."

            "Right. And maybe we won't need to decide because the next time we see Moira Malloy she'll be in a drawer in the morgue."

            Joe tried to think of some encouraging response, but couldn't come up with anything. Cathy's scenario was all too likely. He shrugged.

            Catherine turned her attention back to her desk. Somehow her files had gotten all disarranged. Grimly, she began to sort them again.

 

* * * * *

 

            Indulging herself by taking a taxi home from work, Catherine willed herself to relax as the cabbie dealt with the frustrations of rush hour traffic. Decades of Manhattan taxi riding had endowed her with the ability to tune out anything in her environment short of a major collision or crater-sized pothole. By the time she reached her own front door, several layers of work persona had sloughed off and joined years of such emanations in the scruffy back seat of the cab. Carefully negotiating the elaborate security system that guarded her haven, Catherine idly wondered if strong emotions really did leave traces behind, as some students of the paranormal claimed. If so, Catherine thought as she opened her door and slipped into the entryway, psychics must have a hard time riding in the back seats of New York cabs. That led her to thoughts of what else people did in the back seats of motor vehicles, which immediately led her to thoughts of her husband. As she removed her boots to drip in the vestibule and hung up her coat in the front closet, she decided he must be on the premises--the house always felt somehow different when he wasn't in it.

            He usually waited for her upstairs, careful not to show himself near the door, even though the bond would always tell him if she wasn't alone. She was about to head for the stairs when a door opened down the hallway and a handsome tawny-haired creature raced toward her with a loud meow of welcome. Laughing, she scooped up the cat and rubbed his furry chin as a breathtakingly gorgeous two-legged version followed at more sedate pace, smiling at Bulwer's unrestrained feline enthusiasm. His welcome-home kiss was quite enthusiastic in its own way, although somewhat hampered by the cat's presence in Catherine's arms.

            "I'm tempted to remove him," Vincent announced in a mock-jealous voice, "but Bulwer would probably report me to the Humane Society."

            "How could he do that?" Catherine laughed. "I don't think the staff could understand his accent." With a last rub behind his ears, she put Bulwer on the floor where he began to weave around her ankles without a break in his purring.

            Vincent delayed his reply until another and even more satisfactory kiss was concluded. "Now that you have that computer upstairs, complete with modem, I often wonder what he gets up to when he's alone in the house. He can't talk, but are you absolutely sure he can't type?"

            Chuckling, Catherine hugged Vincent happily. "Oh, I am so glad to be home!" Resisting the impulse to clutch Catherine to him like a precious treasure rescued from the flames, Vincent opened his mouth to reply when a piercing shriek suddenly emanated from the kitchen.

            Catherine lifted her head from her husband's chest. "Is that a teakettle I hear before me?"

            Vincent raised an eyebrow at such a mangling of the Bard and nodded. "I thought some chamomile tea might be in order. I sensed you had a particularly difficult day."

            "If you'd been in the office this morning, you wouldn't have needed a sixth sense to tell you I was having a bad day," Catherine admitted ruefully. "Eyes and ears would have been enough--and not particularly good ears at that."

            Vincent knew there were more layers to Catherine's reply than its bantering surface indicated. "Would you like to talk about it?"

            Not necessarily, but you would, Catherine thought as she gently touched Vincent's cheek. "Just let me go upstairs and get out of uniform." Seeing Vincent eye her briefcase suspiciously as she headed for the stairs, Catherine hastened to reassure him. "I promise this contains absolutely no work to be done at home. Believe me; the DA's office has gotten more than its money's worth out of me today already."

             Vincent had made the tea and was waiting in the library when Catherine returned. He had debated the wisdom of having a fire when they would be going Below soon, but decided the comfort it would give Catherine was worth the effort. The pleasure on her face as she entered the room told him his decision had been the right one.

            She had changed into soft slacks and a big wooly sweater in a subtle blend of colors. Now that she spent so much time in the Tunnels, Catherine's wardrobe seemed to have divided itself into Above clothes, Below clothes, and what Vincent thought of as "in-between" clothes, like those she now wore. During extended weekend and holiday stays Below, she was indistinguishable from any other member of the community. On days like this, when she had to return Topside, she was careful to wear something colorful but subdued, something that would blend in Below and give no reminder of the wealth and privilege that cushioned her life Above. Vincent was sure none of the community really cared, but only loved her the more for her exquisite sensitivity to the feelings of their family and friends.

            Catherine helped herself to tea before Vincent offered to pour it for her. Bulwer was happily ensconced on the back of the sofa, his head resting on Vincent's shoulder, and she couldn't bear to disturb him. The cat's fur was so close in color to Vincent's hair that gold blended into gold in the soft evening light, until suddenly two green eyes seemed to appear in the middle of Vincent's hair. Catherine settled next to Vincent's unoccupied shoulder with a contented sigh. A comfortable silence stretched out, punctuated by the occasional snap of the logs and frequent bouts of purring beside Vincent's head. As he felt Catherine's body become increasingly relaxed next to his, he wondered if he should bring up the events of her day.

            Her determination to keep her life as free of danger as possible had been unwavering. They had come too close to losing everything, and Vincent knew she would do anything to keep him safe. The past two years had been blessedly quiet, as if the Fates' intention all along had been to bring them together—despite the obstacles that had once seemed so insurmountable—even if they had to almost kill them to do it. Now that the staggeringly obtuse couple they had lavished their attention on so long had finally taken the hint and established a life together, the gods seemed to have focused their attention elsewhere. In the absence of physical dangers from which he could rescue Catherine, Vincent's hyper-protective instincts had redirected themselves to her emotional well-being.

            Bulwer complained half-heartedly as Vincent shifted to put his arm around Catherine, drawing her closer. "Tell me about this morning. You seemed very unhappy. And angry."

            Catherine took a careful sip of her tea. "Just another exciting day at the DA's office."

            Vincent started to shake his head before he remembered where Bulwer was. Affronted, the cat jumped to the floor and stalked over to the hearth, plopping down ostentatiously in front of the fire. Taking advantage of the situation, Vincent turned to search Catherine's face. "It seemed much more distressing than usual."

            Catherine turned to face Vincent, with a look that might have been amusement, or possibly exasperation. "You know, one of the ADAs is a real fitness freak. A few months ago he was showing everybody--everybody who couldn't escape, anyway--his snazzy new pulse monitor. We got a lengthy explanation of what a target heart rate was and how this gadget could be set to beep if you went above or below it. Mouse would have loved it."

            Vincent was totally confused. If Catherine wanted to change the subject, she was certainly capable of doing it more subtly than this. "I don't understand. What does that..."

            Catherine began to twine strands of golden hair around her fingers. "I think you," she said wryly, "have a Catherine's-emotions-monitor, set to beep if my feelings get out of target range."

            Vincent bowed his head. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to--"

            "Hey!" Catherine's hand moved toward his chin and she firmly tilted his head upward. "Don't you dare apologize. Do you think I don't notice how you bend over backwards to keep from violating my emotional privacy? Most of the time I completely forget you can sense what I'm feeling."

            Catherine took another long sip of tea and then began to speak. "It wasn't anything that hasn't happened before. I guess I was just upset because I really thought I could convince her this time...it's the Malloy case. I tried so hard to convince Mrs. Malloy to press charges, but she wasn't having any."

            "But Catherine, her husband's behavior toward her gets more violent each time. One of these days--"

            "One of these days," Catherine said bitterly, "he'll kill her, and there's not a damn thing any of us can do until then. And she's not the only one. Sometimes this job is like being a time traveler who can observe the past but can't change it--just watch the Titanic steam toward that iceberg, full speed ahead."

            "How can she be so blind to the danger she's in?"

            "Because she doesn't want to see it. She loves him. He loves her. He doesn't mean it. Next time will be different." Catherine repeated the familiar phrases in the flat, uninflected tone of an atheist reciting a litany.

            Vincent stared quietly at the fire for a long moment, oblivious to Catherine's concerned perusal of his face. "How can a man do such a thing to a woman he professes to care for? How can he bring himself to do such damage to a body that has been given to him in love?"

            Catherine put her teacup down on the table so she could wrap her arms around Vincent. "One of the countless things I love about you," she told him fervently, "is that you truly *can't* imagine how a man could bring himself to do that. You've been listening to me talk about my work for years; you've read about it; you know more than one woman in the Tunnels who fled there to escape just that kind of abuse. You know all the theories; you understand it intellectually well enough." She moved one hand to spread it over Vincent's chest, where the familiar slow beat of his heart transmitted itself to her fingers. "But you'll never understand it here, because doing something like that is totally foreign to everything you are."

            Vincent looked down at her small hand on his large chest and tenderly, gently, covered it with his own. "For years I denied you the kind of love you needed, and deserved, because I was afraid I couldn't trust myself to love you without hurting you...afraid of what my loss of control might do to you." He raised his face to look at her, a memory of pain in his eyes that cut her to the heart. "If you hadn't been so sure, I would never have had the courage to love you. If we had been wrong, and I’d hurt you...I never would have done it again, because the first time would have destroyed me."

            Catherine took his hand in both of hers, kissing his clawed fingers as she wrapped her own around them. "But I was right, love," she reminded him softly. "I knew you'd never hurt me. The people you love never had any reason to fear you--only the people who tried to hurt them." Holding the treasured hand to her breast, Catherine leaned forward to kiss Vincent gently on the lips, flooding the bond with the intensity of her love to wash the painful memory away. Vincent responded to the kiss like a drowning man to a life preserver, pulling her close as he hungrily kissed her back. When they finally came up for air, Vincent put both arms around Catherine, and she happily burrowed her face into the familiar nest where his neck met his shoulder.

            Quiet reigned for a moment, and then Vincent spoke again in a puzzled tone. "Catherine, I can understand now why you were so upset--but you were very angry as well. Why?"

            *Damn*. Catherine had been so caught up in the vivid demonstration of how beautiful and loving Vincent was, she temporarily forgot he was extremely intelligent as well. "I was angry at Mrs. Malloy for not taking my advice, and angry at myself for not being able to convince her." Her hopes that he would leave it at that were dashed when Vincent moved his hands to her shoulders, gently turning her to face him again.

            "Your clients often fail to heed your advice. That doesn't make you angry…not like you were this morning."

            Catherine knew hiding it any longer would only make things worse, but she hated the sound of each word as it left her lips. "Moira told me I can't understand her situation because I'm not married. She sat there with her lacerations and contusions and her broken arm and said that to me, and she was actually smug about it. She doesn't know any better, and I was angry at myself for getting angry with her. It's no big deal."

            But Catherine knew, as Vincent turned away from her, that it was a big deal to him, which is why she'd tried to avoid the details of the morning's confrontation. She found herself getting angry all over again, at Moira for giving her the reason and at herself for letting the woman provoke a response severe enough to cause Vincent to notice. Catherine reached out a hand to stroke Vincent's hair. "Dear heart--do you want me to say it again? You know I'd rather be secretly married to you than openly married to anyone else in the universe. You know that."

            Vincent turned to her. There was the ghost of a smile on his lips, but it was a bitter one. He placed his hand on his heart. "I know it here," he assured her. One finger tapped his head. "But I frequently have to remind myself here." His smile faded. "Your other work was too dangerous to your physical safety. I know you changed it more for me than for yourself, but I can't help but be relieved. Still--sometimes I think the work you do now is equally dangerous to your emotional well-being."

            And yours, too, Catherine thought. “There were other things I could have done. I picked this because I thought I could be good at it; that I could be effective with battered women because I'd experienced so much violence myself. Most of the time it's true. And besides--“She had to stop a moment before she could trust her voice. "Besides, I'm so grateful for what we have

together--so completely happy with you--it's a way of sharing that happiness by helping others get as close to it as they can. Some men, a few, can change. If they can't, at least I can help these women find the courage to value themselves more, the courage to begin a new life. Like you gave me all those years ago."

            Vincent's face softened at the catch in Catherine's voice. "I understand, my love. I just wish it were easier for you."

            "Most of the time it is. I promise, if it hurts too much I'll stop. There are other things I can do, but for now this is the best thing." Vincent nodded in reluctant agreement, and she gave him a quick, fierce hug before rising from the sofa and holding out her hand.

            "Come on, I think we both need a vacation from Topside. And speaking of domestic violence, if we're late for dinner again William may start taking it out on the crockery."    

           

            Dinner in the Tunnels finished the work that Vincent's tender solicitude had begun. By the end of the meal Catherine was feeling her old self again. The unpleasant morning had become a distant memory. Afterwards, Vincent had to attend a short Council meeting, so Catherine wandered off to look for Jamie or Lena. Turning a corner, she almost literally ran into a familiar figure.

            "Jenny! I didn't know you'd be down here tonight."

            "Well, I didn't either. But Ben got a sudden bright idea about a new gizmo he wants to build for Chandler Labs, and wanted to talk to Mouse about it. Since I hate to let my erstwhile fiancé out of my sight, I decided to come along. My own plans were leaning more toward a nice romantic movie and you-know-what afterwards."

            "Well, those are the breaks. I found the perfect guy for you, after all. I can't help it if he takes his Helper duties very seriously."

            "Yeah...well, it's all your fault for giving him that space in your house and subsidizing the equipment. He's happy as a pig in--mud."  Jenny shook a finger at her friend. "I'm a Helper too, after all. We got in another crop of those gorgeous advertising posters for our spring line of children's books. Lena's supervising the division of the loot among the prepubescent crowd."

            "Do you know what kind of gizmo he's got in mind?" Catherine trusted Ben not to blow her house up, but much more equipment and her electrical usage would be close to that of a small manufacturing concern. Maybe Joe would decide her deep dark secret was growing marijuana in her rooftop greenhouse instead of vegetables and herbs for William.

            "No, but I think this one's mechanical, not electrical." Catherine started, and Jenny laughed. "Read your mind again, did I?"

            "I don't know if I'll ever get used to the way you do that," Catherine admitted. "Ben can have all the electricity he wants unless it gets me investigated. The kids are having a great time learning that new stuff. And it'll help the ones who decide to go Topside someday get better jobs." They walked along in companionable silence for awhile until Catherine spoke again. "Why still erstwhile?"

            "Huh?" Jenny's thoughts had gone down a different track entirely.

            "Why isn't Ben your actual fiancé," Catherine explained, "instead of your erstwhile fiancé? You spend more time in his loft than in your own apartment these days. Why not make it official?"

            "Is that my landlady talking, or my favorite yenta?"

            "Both," Catherine admitted." I keep expecting you to tell me you're getting married, or at least moving in with Ben. Then I can start figuring out who else I can get to take the place."

            "Shouldn't be hard, since you insist on charging a ridiculously low sum for rent, and only because your friends are too proud to take it for free. The place is worth a fortune."

            "So what, since I can't bear to sell it, or even rent it to a stranger."

            "A Catherine Chandler National Trust Property," Jenny intoned in a fake-British accent.

            "Very amusing," Catherine said. "Even though a house makes a lot more sense, I have too many memories of that place to let it be lived in by just anyone."

            Jenny put an arm around Catherine and hugged her. "I know. I was only kidding. I think it's hopelessly romantic of you and I love it."

            "Well, so much for the landlady. Speaking of romantic..."

            Jenny turned serious. "Cath, things are fine between Ben and me. Wonderful, in fact. But my mother would have a fit if we lived together without benefit of rabbi. We'll get there soon enough, I promise. As my future Matron of Honor, you'll be among the first to know."

            "I hope you remember to say *Maid* of Honor to your mother." Jenny gave Catherine a sharp look, which urged her to keep talking before Jenny could ask a question. "So why not get officially engaged?"

            "Because Ben's afraid," Jenny explained quietly.

            "Afraid? Of what? Does he think...Oh." Suddenly the light dawned. "Because of Miriam?"

            Jenny nodded. Ben had been engaged once before, years ago, and his fiancée had been killed in a traffic accident. It had taken fifteen years, and some unsubtle arranging by Catherine, to develop his courage, and desire, to try again. "A good Jewish boy shouldn't be so superstitious, but if he wants us to stay unofficial until we're headed down the aisle it's OK with me."

            "Well, a little superstition won't hurt anyone," Catherine replied. As long as you're happy."

            "I am. You and I are two lucky females. Why don't we go to your chambers and brag about how cute and sexy your pussycat and my teddy bear are--until they show up, of course."

            Catherine nodded. "Of course. We wouldn't want them to get swelled heads."

            "No way," Jenny agreed with a lascivious grin. "Swelled *heads* are of no use at all."

            It took about two seconds for Catherine to get it and dissolve into helpless giggles. The rest of the evening passed very pleasantly, although Ben and Vincent would probably have died of mortification if they'd heard the conversation of their womenfolk.

 

* * * * *

 

            After that, Catherine stayed in a good mood for the next few weeks. Things at work had settled back into their usual routine; if anything the DA's office was less trying than usual. It was the calm before the storm. A month after her last interview with Moira, Catherine returned after taking a deposition and was pounced on by a worried-looking Rita Escobar.

            "Rita, what's wrong?" Rita had worked there long enough by now not to rattle easily.

            "Cathy, Mrs. Malloy is here again and she insists on talking to you and only you. She looks awful! I wanted to call a doctor, or the police, but she wouldn't let me do anything until she talked to you. I was afraid she'd bolt if I pushed her."

            "You did the right thing, Rita," Catherine reassured her. "Where is she?"

            "The same room you used last time was free, so I put her there. I thought she'd be more comfortable where people couldn't see her."

            Catherine nodded and hurried toward the small room, afraid at what she'd find. Steeling herself, she opened the door and found Moira Malloy huddled in a chair. At first she didn't look much worse than she had weeks ago, but her startled movement when Catherine opened the door caused her to wince in pain. Catherine wondered what the shapeless coat was hiding "Oh, Moira," Catherine cried softly, "what happened?"

            "Miss Chandler, I should've listened to you," the woman sobbed. "Tim was OK at first but then he started drinking again--and last night--last night--" As her voice broke into shuddering sobs Catherine quickly knelt beside the chair to comfort her.  "It's all right, you don't have to tell me now. You should be in a hospital."

            "No, please, I want to tell you now, before I lose my nerve. Tim got this wild idea I was seeing another man and last night he just went crazy! It's not true, Miss Chandler, I've never looked at another man that way since I got married. This guy is just someone I talk to at the market sometimes, just a nice friendly man."

            "I know it's not anything you did," Catherine said gently. "Tim isn't rational, he needs help."

            "He screamed at me last night, just screamed at me," Moira sobbed. "He knocked me around, told me he'd kill me for what I did, but first he was gonna kill my boyfriend. Then he pulled a gun on me."

            "A gun?" Catherine was immediately alert. "He never had a gun before."

            "I was so scared, I was sure he'd kill me right there he was so mad. But then he dragged me into the bedroom and…" Moira curled into herself like a whipped animal, unable to go on.

            Catherine's stomach turned over. She'd seen this enough before to know what was coming. In a voice cold as ice she finished the sentence. "He raped you."

            Moira nodded, clutching her sodden handkerchief like a lifeline. "He said he was my husband and it was his right," she whispered. "He said I was a slut and he'd show me how sluts got treated."

            Catherine's rage was a cold, hard knot in her stomach. "Where is he now?"

            "I don't know. He locked me in the bedroom and then he left. At first I hurt so bad I couldn't move, then I didn't want to. But then I kept thinking I didn't really wanna die, and I was sure if I was there when he came back he'd kill me. So I tried to get out. It took me all night, but I did. I couldn't call, 'cause he'd ripped the phone out. All I could think about was getting away before he came back. I came to you because…I dunno…I guess you're the only one I really trust to help me."

            "That took amazing courage, what you did," Catherine told her forcefully. "But you've got to let me get you some medical help. You could have serious internal injuries--and besides, what he did to you is evidence."

            Moira nodded weakly. "I know. I should have let you put him away before...and I sure don't feel so good. Is--is there a bathroom near here? I think I'm gonna be sick."

            Catherine felt a sharp spasm of pity. The poor woman must already feel humiliated, having to come into the office looking like that, and admit to being terribly wrong about the man she'd been steadfastly defending. Catherine wasn't about to let her feel further humiliated by getting sick in the interview room.

            "There's a ladies' room just around the corner. We can go there until you feel a little better. But then we'll come right back here and call some officers…women officers, if that'll make you more comfortable. And a doctor to examine you. OK?"

            Moira nodded dumbly and allowed Catherine to help her up from her chair. As they made their slow progress through the office, Catherine motioned Rita over. "Rita, see if there are still some police officers downstairs waiting to testify on the misdemeanors, and ask if a couple could volunteer to take Moira over to the station. I'm not letting her out of here without a police escort." Rita nodded understandingly and made ready to leave, but Catherine added a last admonition. "If you can't find two women, call the station and see if they can send somebody over fast. Maybe some of Linda's people."  With a last understanding look, Rita moved smartly ahead of them toward the elevator.

            Moira insisted she wanted to be sick in private, and Catherine reluctantly allowed her that last shred of dignity. Sitting in the lounge, one ear alert for any undue distress, Catherine wondered if she should have called the paramedics right away. She was eager to get back and set the wheels in motion. Police, doctor…she'd need a rape counselor, too. She reminded herself to tell the officers about Malloy's threats against the other man, although if his threats were anything but another way of terrifying his wife, it was probably too late to do anything about it now.

 

 

            While Catherine was making her mental lists, Jenny was busy going over the final galleys for a new historical novel, wondering if she'd been sufficiently relentless in toning down the author's tendency toward purple prose. Suddenly, from nowhere, a suffocating sense of danger gripped her, followed closely by terror as a series of horrible images burst into her mind. The second she was able to will her rigid muscles to move, Jenny grabbed the phone and speed-dialed Catherine's work number with trembling fingers.

            "District Attorney's office, Joe Maxwell speaking."

            "Joe! Where's Cathy?"

            "I wish I knew. I was just walking by her desk and picked up the phone. I don't see her around anywhere and Rita's gone too...Jenny, you sound terrible! Is something wrong? Are you in trouble?"

            "It's not me, it's Cathy!" Jenny shouted into the phone. "She's in some kind of terrible danger. I just got this awful image--"

            "Jenny, calm down. I'm sure she's not far away." If anyone else had made a near-hysterical call like this, he'd already have labeled her as a kook and started mentally bemoaning the fact that neither Psych 101 nor law school had prepared him for this sort of conversation. But Jenny…he knew her pretty well now. And he hadn't forgotten she'd been right before.

            Many blocks north and east, Jenny tried breathing deeply to slow her pounding heart and sound less like a basket case. "Joe, I saw Cathy with a red-haired woman in an old tan coat. And there was a man with a gun. You've got to find her--I just know--"

            "OK," Joe said placatingly, "I'll go look right away, I promise. But believe me, everything's SOP here right--Jesus! What the hell was--?"

            "Joe! JOE!" Jenny clutched the phone to her ear, horrified.

She heard the unmistakable sound of glass shattering, and screams. The other sound, the one that had come first, she'd never heard before for real. But she'd listened to Cathy's vivid descriptions, and her mother's memories of Germany before the war. It had to be gunshots. "Joe!" Jenny heard rhythmic noises that suggested a dangling phone bumping against a desk. Abandoning her useless attempts to get a response, she ran out of her office to find another phone and call 911.

            Catherine was supporting Moira in her slow progress back to the office from the ladies' room. Just before they turned the corner, the normal everyday drone of working offices was shattered by a cacophony of noise--loud shouts, screams, breaking glass, and the all-too-familiar sound of gunfire.

            Moira went rigid with shock and terror as soon as she heard

the voice. "Oh God! That's Tim! He's come to kill me!"

            Catherine knew she had to get Moira out of there, although she was frantic with worry about what was happening to her friends and co-workers. Within a second, she was dragging the woman's now-limp body toward the stairway at the end on the hall. "Come on, Moira, help me," she hissed in her companion's ear. "We can get out this way. He won't even know you're—"

            Just as they reached the doorway, a bullet hit the wall about a foot from Catherine's head, stinging her cheek with plaster fragments. Without thought, Isaac's training took over and Catherine dived downward and forward, taking Moira with her. They crashed into the door, shoving it open partway. Feeling adrenalin surge through her like a tidal wave, Catherine shoved the door open far enough to push Moira all the way through and

follow. Hearing another bullet ping against the door as it shut behind them, Catherine dragged herself and Moira to their feet.

            "Come, on Moira, move! That's a fire door, we can't lock it from this side. We've got to run!"

            Catherine's voice, the voice of authority and concern, penetrated the other woman's terror and she began to run with Catherine down the scarred concrete stairs. Blessing whatever impulse had caused her wear flat shoes today, Catherine picked up speed as Moira gradually began to help rather than hinder their progress. The metal door above them clanged as it was slammed

open against the wall.

            "You bitch! Think you can run out on me?"

            Another bullet slammed against the stairs they had just vacated, but this time, fortunately, her husband's bellow galvanized Moira into greater speed instead of frightened paralysis. Catherine tried to keep them out of the line of fire as much as possible, while she judged how fast they could run without risking a fall. She tried to ignore the sounds of heavy running feet behind them, and the shots, and the stream of profanity. Tim Malloy only seemed to get violent when he drank, and Catherine prayed he was drunk enough to spoil his aim.

            Catherine's trained, practiced calculation as they ran for their lives was foreign to Moira. She was in a waking nightmare, and only a small remaining instinct for self-preservation kept her running despite her despair and the pain in her abused body. That, and Catherine's implacable will. She hardly felt the cold as Catherine slammed them through another door that led to the outside.

            She barely noticed they were in an alley as Catherine took them at a slanting run toward a stairwell that led to the basement level of the building next door. Dodging a pile of plastic garbage bags, Catherine dragged them through an unlocked door and past a Stonehenge of storage boxes. In a small space between a stack that claimed to contain computer paper and a crumbling brick wall, Catherine led them unerringly to a trap door that Moira couldn't even see in the dim light.

            Without even wondering at the smooth silence with which the trap door opened, Moira descended as Catherine followed and shut the door gently behind them. They emerged into an even darker and more crowded sub-basement, but her companion showed no hesitation as she led them to the opposite wall. The gloom was so deep here that Moira didn't realize until her groping hand touched it that there was a heavy wooden door there. Pulling with all her might, Catherine opened it just enough for them to slip through.

            Moira helped her push it shut behind them, beyond caring or understanding what was going on, only knowing that it was one more barrier between her and that madman she'd once thought she loved. Groping around on the floor, Catherine finally spoke, but in a whisper. "Moira, can you help me lift this?" It was a huge piece of wood, almost too heavy for both of them, but Moira's racing heart began to slow just a little when Catherine guided it into metal brackets by what could only be memory. A bolt.   

            Moira was almost ready to believe they had made it when she heard the running feet of a large body and the sense of a powerful physical presence filled the darkness. The heavy, gasping breaths and rustle of cloth that filled the small space filled her with helpless terror again. She should have known there was no way to escape...

            "Catherine..."

            It wasn't Tim. It wasn't...and the soft voice held no anger, only a terrible fear.

            She felt Catherine move quickly from her side toward the Voice, pouring out a flood of reassuring words. "It's all right, love, I'm safe, everything's fine. See? Hold me, touch me, I'm all right." Catherine's further words were muffled, as if she were enveloped in cloth--or someone's strong arms. The strange, soft voice was muffled now too, but Moira could tell it was only repeating Catherine's name over and over, punctuated by faint little noises that could almost be incessant, breathy kisses. There was another rustle of cloth, and Catherine's voice was clearer again, but still whispering. "Dear heart, we need to get away from here. I'll explain, but I don't want to talk this close to the door...and Moira's with me."

            "Take Catherine's hand, Moira," the Voice said with reassuring gentleness. Moira obeyed in a daze, as they followed a maze of dark, narrow tunnels, turning so frequently that Moira lost all sense of how far they had come. They slowed as their route seemed to go upward and become lighter. They finally stopped, their guide turning to face them but hidden in deep shadow. Catherine released Moira's hand but kept holding his as she moved to his side. His other arm moved to gather Catherine close, and Moira got just a glimpse of long golden hair spilling out of the deep hood that hid his face. Suddenly exhausted, she slumped to the dirt floor.

            "Vincent, I think we should call Father right now. Moira's been beaten and—and raped; I don't know how badly she may be hurt." Eyes closed, Moira listened to Catherine's rapid explanation of recent events, against the background of a strange metallic tapping. Beginning to drift, she wondered if all this was really some delirious dream...or maybe Tim had killed her,

and Hell wasn't really eternal pain but eternal confusion...

            "Moira, can you stand?" Catherine's voice barely penetrated the fog. "There are some people who have a little bookstore right above us. There's a back room where you can rest, and a doctor can take a look at you. He'll have a woman named Lena with him. She's very sweet, you can talk to her. She'll understand what you've been through. Moira?" Get up, Moira's mind urged, but her body refused to obey her. For a moment, nothing happened, and then she found herself being lifted as easily as she was a child and not a grown woman.

            She felt herself drifting again as she was carried along, so gently that her bruised body barely protested. Having used up her store of courage in their escape, she lapsed back into a fatalistic passivity. Miss Chandler could be trusted. Miss Chandler wouldn't let anything happen to her...she could hear Catherine's low-voiced conversation with the man who carried her, but the words had long ago ceased to mean anything...

            "She'll be safe for now at the Fleischer's. If Mrs. Fleischer is there, she can keep an eye on her until Father and Lena get there; it hasn't been that long since her practical nursing days. Then I can get back and find out what's happening."

            The wide chest under Moira's cheek moved rapidly as the Voice hissed out, "Catherine! How can you think of going back there? You were almost killed!"

            "Dear heart, I have to—I don't know what's happened to all my friends—Becky, Rita—Joe. It's been driving me crazy. And I have to let everyone know that Moira's safe. And besides—" Her voice was as reassuring as she knew how to make it. "There can't be any danger now. Malloy went gunning for his wife in a building swarming with police. They're sure to have him in custody now, or—either way, the danger's past."

            Catherine continued to reassure, and Vincent to voice worried protests, until a barely conscious Moira was delivered to the Fleischer's comfortable little back room. With a combination of grandmotherly concern and professional competence Mrs. Fleischer looked Moira over and voiced the opinion that her injuries didn't appear to warrant an immediate 911 call. Catherine knew that it took all of Vincent's self control to keep him waiting there for Father instead of following her, but it was bright daylight, and by now the streets around Centre and Hogan were probably swarming with police, ambulances, and reporters.

            Borrowing a too-large coat from Mrs. Fleischer, Catherine headed back to the scene, terrified at what she might find. Right now she envied Moira her unconscious state. They had taken a deliberately circuitous path underground on the off chance that Tim Malloy would find their escape route. The surface route back was much shorter, and Catherine hadn't gone far before she had to begin shouldering her way through crowds of reporters and gawkers. Thank God her official ID was still in her jacket pocket from her visit to the jail that morning, and not in the purse in her desk. Thank God, too, that it was a deep pocket and it hadn't fallen out in her headlong flight. The closer she got to the building, the thicker the crowd got, and for about the millionth time she wished she were taller. Isaac's training came in handy again as she pushed her way through in a way that was remarkably effective if considerably less than polite.

            Suddenly a familiar voice split the air, although what it was doing here Catherine couldn't imagine. "CATHY! Look, over there, it's Cathy! She's OK!" Catherine didn't know if Jenny had spotted her with her third eye or the two on her face, but she was grateful. A way opened up in front her, assisted by a herd of very beefy uniformed officers. As Jenny pushed toward her with no more finesse than the police, a knot of fear around Catherine's heart suddenly loosened as she spotted Joe right behind. They all came together in a whirl of tears, hugs, and questions. When they disentangled themselves, Catherine's fear returned when she saw the blood on Joe's shirt and face.

            "Joe, you're hurt!"

            "Hey, relax, Radcliffe—it's only a few cuts from flying glass; didn't even need stitches. I thought I might end up with a sexy scar like yours, but with my luck all I'll get out of this is a funny haircut." He turned suddenly serious. "What about Mrs. Malloy? Rita said she was with you."

            "Then Rita's all right too? Thank God."

            "Thanks to the errand you sent her on, she wasn't anywhere around when all hell broke loose. Nobody in our office was seriously hurt, although a couple did get hit—including Becky, can you believe it? Last I heard, the SWAT team had Malloy boxed up in the alley."

            "Moira's OK, more or less. He beat her and raped her last night, and that run down the stairs certainly didn't help, but I don't think she's in immediate danger. I've got her safely hidden for the moment, and some friends keeping an eye on her."

            Joe looked at her sharply, opened his mouth to speak, and then shut it again almost immediately. An unreadable look passed between them, not for the first time. Catherine reached out a hand to touch Joe's arm, in unspoken thanks for all the questions he had never asked her over the years. Joe put his hand over hers and raised his eyebrows. "Cathy Chandler and her Baker Street Irregulars to the rescue again, huh?"

            As Catherine smiled in response, Joe's attention was caught by a tall man waving over the heads of the crowd as he made his way toward them. Catherine recognized Bob Parker, head of the police SWAT team. "Parker, what gives?" Joe asked as the man approached.

            The man ran a hand through the sweat-soaked hair that had been plastered to the skull by his protective helmet. He shook his head sadly. "The negotiators tried to talk him down, but that crazy fool tried to shoot his way out. One of our marksmen got him."

            "He's dead?" Catherine breathed.

            "Dead as a man can get, Ms. Chandler. Don't know if the guy was that big an idiot, or it's suicide by cop." He shook his head again in wonder at the folly of his fellow humans. "You folks should be able to get back in your building in another hour or so."

            Catherine would have given a great deal to escape Below and soak the afternoon away in one of the hot springs, preferably with Vincent. But she knew her day here had only begun; neither did she anticipate with any pleasure the shape Vincent would be in. After two and a half years of relative calm in their lives, this incident was too much like the bad old days for comfort; God only knew what agonies he would be suffering. She turned to Joe. "I guess I'd better see if Moira is in shape to travel."

            Joe nodded. "I hate to put her through any more, but even with Malloy dead we'll still need her statement. Oh, geez—" A pained look crossed his face. "She'll have to do an official ID on her husband's body. I don't think he has any relatives around here."

            Catherine closed her eyes briefly in sympathy at what the poor woman still had to face. "I don't know," she sighed. "Maybe that's the only way she'll ever feel safe again...seeing him dead with her own eyes." Catherine turned to Jenny. "I'll walk you to where you can find a cab, and maybe you can tell what in Heaven's name you're doing here."

            At first pushing their way back through the crowd, against the current this time, demanded all their attention. Only when the press of people thinned out enough to allow them to walk side by side did Jenny explain the vision of danger and those terrifying moments on the phone that had brought her to the scene. Catherine shook her head in wonder, as she always did when Jenny demonstrated her remarkable gift. Why it should still astonish her, Catherine didn't know, considering her husband's gift was no less remarkable. But then, he still astonished her after almost two years of marriage...and right now he was probably thinking of his gift as more of a curse.

            "Cathy—hello!"

            "What?"

            Jenny frowned. "I stopped talking quite a while ago and you haven't said a word. What's wrong? What went on in there?" By the time Jenny had been brought up to date on Moira's sad story, they were standing in front of the Fleishchers' bookstore. When Catherine reached for the knob, Jenny put a hand on her arm. "What you've just been through would explain why most people would look the way you do right now, but you've been through this sort of thing before. There's more to it."

            Catherine clutched Mrs. Fleischer's coat around her. A light snow had begun to fall. "That's just it, Jenny. I have been through this before, too many times—but not for almost three years. Not since Vincent's breakdown. He's afraid of what this might do to him, to us. I can tell. I prayed we'd never have to face this sort of thing again...I so hoped it was all behind us."

            Jenny took Catherine's cold hand in hers. "Hey, you're not going to cry, are you? That'll only mess Vincent up more."

            Catherine sniffed and straightened her shoulders. "Right. We've been through worse, we can get through this." She opened the door and they entered the warm, musty interior, redolent with the familiar odor of old books. It smelled like Father's study; only the scent of candles was missing.

            "Ah, Katerina, liebchen, you're back." He came from behind the counter to give Catherine a hug. "And Jenny, such a nice surprise. We haven't seen you since Winterfest."

            Jenny smiled. "Well, Dieter, someone has to publish those books in the first place so you'll have something to sell down the road. We're doing our best to keep ours out of your store and selling for cover price as long as possible. Which reminds me, I’d better get back to work—unless you think I should stick around, Cath.?"

            "Thanks, Jen, but nobody can help me with the next part." She wasn't just talking about the official hoops that remained to be jumped through, and Jenny knew it. Catherine also knew that her friend would always be there to provide a sounding board or a shoulder to cry on if needed...and she might well need it soon. Jenny gave her a long look, then nodded and left the store.

            Catherine turned to Dieter. "How's everything in back? How's Moira doing? Is Vincent still there?"

            "He's nearby, in the sub-basement. He didn't want to stay in sight in case the poor woman recovered, although that doesn't seem likely soon. Go on back; Anna can give you a better idea of how things stand. I've been minding the store, not that we're likely to have many customers if this snow keeps up."

            Catherine patted the man's shoulder in gratitude as she made her way to the back room. Anna Fleischer was bent over the cot where Moira appeared to be either asleep or unconscious. Lena was sitting by the bed, and Father was closing up his medical bag. "Father, I'm glad to see you. I was worried about how badly Moira's been injured. Anna didn't think there was anything life-threatening—"

            "And Anna, as usual, was right. Which is not to say the poor creature doesn't need medical attention. I've given her only the most cursory examination. After the kind of violation she's experienced, the last thing she needs is to wake up and find some strange man—well, her vital signs are reasonably strong. I've been reluctant to give her any prescription painkillers, since it would be rather difficult to explain how she came by them."

            Catherine nodded her agreement. "At least she doesn't seem to be hurting now. Is she unconscious or—"

            "Merely deeply asleep," Father reassured her. "The sleep of exhaustion, it would appear."

            "She hasn't had any sleep in twenty-four hours, at least."

            "Catherine," Anna began sternly, "If she's been raped you shouldn't wait. Such evidence should be collected as soon as possible."

            Catherine gestured toward the door, unwilling to give them the details where Moira might possibly hear. She had learned more than she'd ever wanted to know about sleep and coma during those painful weeks spent by Vincent's side three years ago. Every agonizing, terrifying, uncertain hour of that time was burned deep into her memory. She didn't want to risk any further emotional damage to Moira by having her find out so abruptly that she was now a widow.

            Lena flicked her eyes away from Moira for a moment. "Go ahead, I'll watch her. You can tell me the details later if I need to know."

            Catherine sent her a grateful glance as she, Father and Anna retreated into the bookshop. As they made their way through the canyons between the tall bookshelves, Catherine explained that Dieter should be told as well, since he was involved in this rescue. He assured them the place was empty of customers. The light snowfall had turned into a near-blizzard, so it was unlikely there would be. They found a place where Dieter could just see the door and rest of them were hidden by the walls of books, and Catherine told them the whole sorry tale, as simply and unemotionally as she could manage.

            When she finished, none was willing to intrude upon the sudden quiet. It was an old story and a common one, but none in this group were the sort that could listen to such a tale of another's pain with indifference. Catherine forced herself to break the silence.

            "So you see, we don't have to worry about gathering evidence, because there's no one left to charge. But we do need to get Moira to a hospital so she can be checked over carefully. She's not going to have an easy time of it, but putting things off won't make it any easier. The question is, how much do we involve the Fleischers? Nobody knows the details yet, or exactly where I took Moira. Do they really need to—"

            "Catherine," Anna broke in, "I think it would be better if the poor woman were taken from here in an ambulance. I won't hear of getting her where she needs to be any other way. We'll have to tell people to come here for her. They only need to know you brought her here, not exactly how. If her husband was killed by the police, no one will be that interested in a detailed investigation, surely?"

            Catherine nodded. "Hardly. The police have enough live criminals to keep them busy to spend much time pursuing this. They'll need a statement from Moira eventually, which could be a bit of a problem. But they'll hear mine first, and if Moira's doesn't agree they'll chalk it up to her fear and confusion at the time. If I'm lucky I can get to her first and prepare her. She's not going to want to make trouble for anyone who helped her, I'm sure of that."

            Father frowned in some concern, but agreed that Catherine's analysis was most likely correct. Borrowing the Fleischer's phone, Catherine made the calls necessary to set the official wheels in motion. Hanging up the phone at last, she followed Father back to the room where Moira still lay asleep. Lena and Father headed toward the Tunnel entrance in the sub-basement. Father was surprised when Catherine followed. "Catherine—don't you need to be there when the ambulance arrives?"

            "Between the snow and the way this whole incident has snarled up the traffic, it'll take them a while to get through. Anna will pound on the floor if she sees any official vehicle. I need...I just have to talk to Vincent for a minute."

            Father looked at her a moment in silent understanding. He and Lena quickly melted away when they encountered Vincent, tense and silent, as close to the entrance as he could manage while still remaining in the shadows. His tenseness relaxed just a little as Catherine hugged him. Even though the bond told him she was safe, he could never wholly believe it until he held her warm, solid presence in his arms.

            Catherine raised her face to search his, although she could barely see in the dark. "It's OK. It was all over before I got back. The man who shot at us was killed by the police. We're safe, love." Vincent's arms tightened around her, lifting her as he bent his head to kiss her deeply. It seemed like forever until they broke apart. At times like this Catherine wished it could be forever, that they could ignore the pain and the need of the world around them, shut it all out, and make their love an inaccessible island. But she knew neither of them could, and it was one of the things they loved most about each other. It was just hard to remember that when it meant she had to tear herself away now, when she knew Vincent still had an emotional price to pay for all this. A pounding on the floor above made her run for the stairs as Vincent melted away into the shadows of Below. Only when she emerged into the store seconds ahead of the paramedics did she realize Vincent hadn't spoken a word.

 

            A coatless Catherine rode in the ambulance with Moira. She even smiled ruefully when a paramedic wrapped her in a blanket that bore the legend, "Property of St. Vincent's." He was hardly a saint, but she was unquestionably his—although he probably wouldn't be amused, appalled as he was at the faintest suggestion that one human being could own another. The smile left Catherine's face as she wondered how big a setback this would be to her efforts to convince him he was human, that his differences just weren't that important to the many who knew and loved him. She tried very hard not to hate Tim Malloy for what he'd done, not only to his wife but to her own friends and colleagues, and, most of all, to Vincent. If anyone deserved a life free of any more pain, it was he. That was one of the things that made her angriest, the way a person's violent acts could have far-reaching effects on people caught in the crossfire, literally or figuratively. It was the selfish arrogance that got to her most, the lack of caring about all the lives, known and unknown, affected by that violence.

            As the ambulance pulled up to the entrance, Catherine was jolted out of her reverie by the sudden opening of its doors and the flurry of activity as Moira was carried into the Emergency Room. Catherine recognized the two police officers who were waiting—a man and a woman who were members of Manhattan's respected Sex Crimes Squad. One of them followed Moira's gurney as the second officer approached Catherine.

            "Are you OK, Ms. Chandler? Do you need to see doctor or something?"

            "I'm fine, Sergeant Rodriguez. I just wanted to follow through and find out about Mrs. Malloy's injuries...I still feel responsible for her. Besides, my coat's still back at my office and the ambulance was the only vehicle around."

            "Sorry about that. We figured we should come here instead of..." He consulted his notebook. "Fleischer's Bookstore. Since the perp's dead the investigation won't amount to much. No point in bothering your friends if we don't have to. Few enough people are willing to get involved; no sense discouraging 'em, right?"

            "Right," Catherine agreed fervently. "And Lieutenant Carillo—"

            "We figured it'd be better if the Lieutenant followed up with the victim. If she's been beat up and raped by her husband, she'll be more comfortable talking to a woman."

            "If she can talk at all," Catherine replied. "She seemed pretty much out of it, and she was in a lot of pain when she came to me. She may not be able to..."

            Lieutenant Cecilia Carillo returned, shaking her head. "No dice. The docs said she won't be in any shape to talk to anybody for awhile. She'll live, but she's hurt pretty bad and they're pumping enough drugs into her to keep her out for a long time. How 'bout you, Ms. Chandler? We can take you back in the squad car. My partner here's a gentleman; he'll lend you his jacket. He'll survive if we turn the heater up all the way."

            "Yeah, it's easy being a gentleman when your partner has a black belt in karate," Rodriguez joked as he handed Catherine his jacket, despite her protests. Both officers were silent as they drove slowly over the snowy streets back to Catherine's office building, recognizing her need to rest from her nonstop ordeal. It took longer than usual because of the snow, but the snarl of traffic that had surrounded the scene of yet another shooting in Manhattan had largely dissipated. No hostages, no celebrities involved, just a tawdry little domestic—it wouldn't be more than a blip on the evening news.

            They found a room free in Catherine's building, since the Crime Scene Unit still had her office—and her coat—off limits. The officers were right, Catherine needed rest, but she had used the ride over to go over her story instead. She kept as close to the truth as possible, since she had no idea what Moira would remember, or say. Her account of what Moira had told her, and what she observed, was very detailed; she treated their escape as a mere epilogue. The officers took diligent notes, interrupting her only to clarify now and then. Catherine tried not to betray herself with a huge sigh of relief as they snapped their notebooks shut, apparently satisfied.

            Lieutenant Carillo leaned back in her chair. "I gotta say, Ms. Chandler, your little network of street people and whatever would be the envy of most cops. It's amazing. Especially—" Carillo looked at the table.

            Catherine smiled. "Especially for an ex-corporate lawyer from Radcliffe? Don't be embarrassed, it's not the first time I've heard it. Joe Maxwell used to say it all the time, in one variation or another."

            "It happens," Rodriguez offered. "Who'd'a thought that Kennedy kid would turn out to be so good at interviewing witnesses? Linda Fairstein went to Vassar and now she prosecutes the scummiest sex crimes; took to it like a duck to water. Ya never know." He winked at Catherine.

            Catherine smiled back. Clearly the official part of this interview was over. She gave silent thanks that her reputation had preceded her. Maybe she wouldn't be so hard on Joe in the future, since his kidding around about her "Baker Street Irregulars" made it a lot easier to explain stunts like this. Police were used to working with the help of a network of informants and street people, after all; they seemed to take all this in stride. After a little more desultory conversation, hands were shaken all around and the officers left.

            No familiar yellow tape barred Catherine's entrance to her office now, and a piece of cardboard had been taped over the shattered window. A swarm of lawyers, paralegals and secretaries surrounded her as she entered. Leaning wearily against someone's desk, she went through her story again, while they brought her up-to-date on the injured. Catherine learned that Becky had sustained a fairly superficial bullet wound in the arm, and Jefferson, one of the paralegals, had been shot in the thigh. Neither wound would leave lasting damage, but both people would be in the hospital for a little while. Half a dozen others had been cut by flying glass, and had been treated by paramedics at the scene. Even Joe had finally consented to be treated, after he was sure all his people were taken care of. He was still talking to the police, as far as anybody knew, trying to figure out, among other things, how Malloy managed to bring a gun into the building.

            Catherine continued talking on automatic pilot. She knew that people who'd shared a traumatic experience needed to discuss it; it was therapeutic. It was also getting harder and harder to participate, as her adrenaline subsided and the reaction set in. Finally the group broke up and drifted away to their various work stations, and Catherine almost collapsed into her chair. She sat there staring at the surface of her desk, trying to remember what she had been doing when her day had taken such a bizarre turn. She jumped out of her chair at the sudden touch of a hand on her shoulder.

            "Joe!"

            "Oops, sorry. I didn't mean to startle you after what you've been through today, but you didn't seem to hear me when I talked to you. Were you wigging out?"

            "I suppose you could say that. I was trying to get my brain to work, but I guess I didn't succeed very well."

            "Listen, kiddo, nobody's brain works without food. Get your coat; I'm taking you out to lunch. A big bowl of pasta is what you need."

            He didn't seem in the mood to take "no" for an answer, and Catherine discovered she was starving. It was hard to believe it was only lunchtime—albeit a late one—considering all that had happened that morning. They braved the snow and wind only long enough to reach a little hole-in-the-wall Italian café that was a favorite of Joe's. A lovely, warming bowl of minestrone, followed by tortellini al pesto, went a long way toward improving Catherine's mental processes, and even her spirits. Joe carefully avoided talking about the morning's events, much to Catherine's relief. Instead, he told her a long, involved, and wickedly funny story about his cousin Luigi's attempts to explain some very dubious business deductions to an IRS auditor.

            Smiling at Catherine's laughter, Joe leaned back in his chair and picked up the menu again. "They make a great cannoli here. And the tiramisu—"

            Catherine put up a hand to forestall any further temptation. "You've already fed me two or three times what I usually eat for lunch. I'll probably nod off at my desk this afternoon."

            "No you won't. You're only going to see it long enough to get your stuff, then you're taking the rest of the day off. That's an order."

            "But—we've already lost the people who were injured, and there were all those appointments that had to be postponed, and—"

            "And the day's pretty much a total write-off, so losing you for a few more hours won't matter that much. The afternoon's half gone as it is." He rose, tossed some bills on the table, and headed to the coat rack. As he helped Catherine on with her coat, he added one last argument. "Give me a break, Radcliffe. If I put you back to work after what you went through—you almost got killed, for God's sake—I'd be the Monster of the Week. Don't make me look bad."

            Catherine knew when she was being manipulated, but decided to give in on this one. She was tired, and the opportunity to see Vincent a few hours earlier than planned was too good to pass up. As the walked back to the office, Catherine suddenly remembered one more thing she meant to ask. "What about that man Malloy was jealous of? Did he get hurt, or was it just talk?"

            "Malloy did go after the guy, but the lucky bum was out. I think he'd taken his wife and kids out to the movies or something. Our perp did a lot of screaming and banging on his door, until the neighbors yelled out they'd called the cops. Then he went back to drinking for the rest of the night."

            Catherine was relieved that there wasn't yet another victim. The rest of the journey was completed in silence, heads down against the wind and snow. It was much too difficult to talk with a scarf pulled up to one's eyes, anyway. Suddenly Catherine had an idea. "Joe...I really don't have anything at the office I need to go back for, since I'll probably be too tired tonight to accomplish anything. I'll just stop in for a minute at Fleishcher's and catch a cab home."

            "Good luck finding one in this weather. Just in case, I could tell you where the nearest subway entrance is."

            "Believe it or not, boss, I do know where the subway is. I even take it every now and then, just for a lark." With a final wave, she headed off in the direction of the bookstore. When she entered, Dieter looked up in surprise.

            "Ah, it's you! I might have known it wasn't a customer."

            "Well, it is, but for your Tunnel entrance, not your books. I've been told to go home, and this is not the day for doing it overland."

            Anna, hearing the sound of voices, had come out to join her husband. "It's a long walk, Katrina, and you must be exhausted."

            "I need to walk off the huge lunch my boss just forced on me. Besides, it'll keep me from getting too stiff until I can get to one of the hot springs."

            Anna's nurse persona took over. "Were you hurt too, dear? Why didn't you get checked out at the hospital?"

            Catherine shook her head. "I just hit the floor and a couple of doors harder than usual, that's all. A nice hot soak is all I need. And thanks for everything, by the way. If you see the police at all, they won't ask you much."

            Dieter snorted. "After the East German secret police, the NYPD will be child's play."

            Catherine laughed. "Don't get cocky." Anna followed her to the Tunnel entrance and made sure it was concealed again after Catherine disappeared Below. It was a long walk, but several years with the Tunnels as her second home had accustomed Catherine to long walks and physical activity. She could travel the length of Manhattan on foot easily if she had to. She knew the sentries would spot her and relay a message about her presence Below, not that Vincent needed the pipes to tell him where she was. Catherine hoped he'd be able to meet her. His classes were all in the morning; and she couldn't think of any major projects going on right now that might require his presence.

            Suddenly, she felt sure he was close, and a moment later he appeared around a bend in the Tunnel, running toward her. She broke into a run and threw herself into his arms. For a long moment they did nothing but hold each other. When they finally parted, Vincent took Catherine's hand and they resumed walking toward the Hub. There was silence for awhile. Catherine was trying to think of something to say to fill that silence when Vincent spoke.

            "I didn't expect you so soon, or so far away. I don't sense anything wrong..."

            "There isn't anything wrong. Joe insisted I take the rest of the day off, after feeding me to bursting. I wasn't about to argue. I've been dreaming about a good hot soak for hours. And I couldn't wait to see you."

            "You aren't hurt, are you?"

            "Just a little stiff and sore. I had to bash open a door the hard way, and run pell-mell down a flight of concrete stairs. Nothing major." She could feel Vincent's hand tense in hers as she described her actions, no matter how matter-of-fact she tried to sound. She stopped, pulling on Vincent's hand until he faced her. "We need to talk about this. You know we do."

            They resumed walking in silence for a minute or two, until Vincent gave a deep sigh. "I know." They said nothing else for some time, until they approached the southernmost of the hot springs. Vincent stopped at the entrance. "Why don't you use this one? The sooner you get relief the better."

            "I don't have a robe or anything..."

            "I can get what you need and bring it back here."

            Catherine searched his face. "I was hoping you'd join me. A little massage would be very therapeutic."

            Vincent dropped his eyes. "I won't be long, I promise. I can bring back some of your favorite oil, and something warm for you to wear."

            Catherine suspected his offer was partly husbandly solicitude, and partly a ploy to postpone dealing with the day's events a little longer. But he had admitted the need to discuss them, and she didn't begrudge him a little more time to get used to the idea. The pool area was deserted. Catherine undressed, with Vincent's help, and let him support her as she entered the water. The shoulder that had hit the floor was definitely starting to get sore. She made use of the ibuprofen in her purse before Vincent took her work clothes away. He kissed her gently before he left, reinforcing his promise.

            Catherine sank gratefully into the hot water up to her neck. It felt wonderful. Normally, the moist heat combined with being Below would be enough to relax her muscles completely. Her worry for Vincent and the need to keep alert for their talk kept her a little tense this time, although some of the soreness began to recede. She tried some of the meditation techniques that Miyoko had taught her, with only partial success.

            Soon she heard the sounds of Vincent's footsteps in the corridor. Interesting how she could tell it was him. Their bond seemed to operate only sporadically in her direction, but even without it she was sure. She knew him by the rhythm of his stride, his scent, the sound of his breathing in the dark, the way his physical presence filled a room. She opened her eyes to see him laying out towels and robes, and a bottle of oil. Before she could ask him to join her, he began undressing. She smiled. Great minds with but a single thought.

            As if making up for the battering they had taken that morning, the afternoon was proving to be one gift to her senses after another. Joe's lunch had certainly taken care of taste nicely, and now watching Vincent undress was giving her sight a treat. If he did give her a massage with that scented oil later, touch and smell would be accounted for. And every word he spoke in that unique honey-and-gravel voice made her grateful for a sense of hearing. His sudden smile told her that her pleasure was coming through the bond loud and clear. His eyes never left her face as he lowered himself into the water and sat next to her, slipping an arm behind her head.

            "Does this hurt?" he asked, as he tentatively settled his hand on her shoulder.

            "No, it's the other shoulder. And even if it weren't, your touch is better than medicine any day." They sat quietly for some time. Catherine was so comfortable sitting in the soothing water, cradled against Vincent, that under any other circumstances she would have drifted off into healing sleep. If only that other shoe weren't suspended in mid-air, ready to drop...

            "Catherine?" His muscles tensed, as if preparing to face an enemy. "Will you tell me what happened when you went back? What you found?"

            Relieved that he was finally ready to talk, Catherine brought him up to date on the events of the morning, stressing that no one had been seriously hurt by the now-deceased Mr. Malloy. She described her interview with the police, and her belief that the details of her rescue of Moira would not be too closely pursued. When she could think of nothing more to say, she turned toward Vincent, resting her cheek on his shoulder as her other hand stroked the muscles of his chest. "I'm so sorry this had to happen, dear heart. I thought we were free of this forever." Her voice broke, and Vincent's arms went around her, holding her close.

            "It seems we congratulated ourselves prematurely." His voice held a tone of bitterness Catherine hadn't heard in years, and had hoped never to hear again.

            She slid a hand up from his chest to stroke his face. "How did it make you feel, when you knew I was in danger--was it as bad as before? Is that why you're so upset?"

            Vincent covered her hand with his own, closing his eyes and leaning his head back against the stone. "You've had enough to deal with today; you shouldn't have to come home only to face my demons, my fears. I'm sorry..."

            Catherine pressed her body more tightly against his. "For better or worse, remember? I promised that two years ago, and I meant every word. This isn't your problem—it's ours. Tell me." His arm held her so close she could feel as well as hear his deep, shuddering breath.

            "It wasn't quite as bad as before. I didn't feel so out of control. More evidence of the correctness of your theory that before we became lovers, we unconsciously sought danger and violence in our lives because it was the only way to express our passion. If this had happened three years ago, the Beast would have taken over. I'm sure of it."

            "But he didn't," Catherine reminded him gently. "You're whole now, light and dark together. You don't have to fear losing control that way again."

            "Don't I? Are you sure? I was far away, and it was daytime. By the time I reached you, I could tell the worst of the danger was over. What if I had been closer? What if it had been dark? Can I be sure I wouldn't have killed again?"

            The steam from the pool almost hid Catherine's tears as she saw the pain on his face, heard it in his voice. "Can anyone who's killed, no matter how justified, be sure of that? Can I? I've killed, and I'd do it again under the circumstances. I'm not proud of it, and I wish it hadn't been necessary, but it was, and I'm not ashamed of it either."

            Vincent lifted his head to search her face. "It's hardly the same. I've killed so many times..."

            Catherine shook her head. "No one innocent ever died at your hands. You have to remember that."

            "Perhaps. But lacking innocence does not necessarily mean deserving of death."

            "No, it doesn't. But that's the risk someone takes who chooses a life of violence. You never chose to kill anyone, you were driven to it. You hated it. You could only go on because you always believed it was your duty to protect those you loved. In my case...with the bond...it wasn't even duty, it was some kind of primal instinct. And without, I'd be dead several times over. Don't ever forget that."

            Vincent shuddered. "No, I'll never forget that. Keeping you safe was...is...worth any price." He bent to touch her hair with his lips, then kissed the tears from her cheeks. It was a losing battle as her tears began to flow in earnest. "Catherine, dearest, what's wrong?"

            Catherine bowed her head, unable to speak for a moment. When she finally found her voice, she couldn't look at Vincent, only the steamy surface of the pool. "I tried so hard, I really did. I never wanted you to feel this way again. I tried to make my life as safe as I could, I really tried! It's not fair." She found Vincent's hand and clutched it. "I'm going to quit. It's the only way."

            "No! You mustn't do that, not because of this. Not because of me."

            Catherine raised her tear-streaked face to his. "Why not? Nothing is as important to me as you. I won't let anything get in the way of your safety, or cause you pain. How could I live with myself if I did that?"

            Vincent gently smoothed her tears away with his fingers. "Would giving up your work mean so little to you? Be so easy?"

            Catherine closed her eyes briefly at his touch, then fixed him with her direct gaze. "Of course not. But working with Joe is what I’d miss most. Still—do you realize that I've already been there longer than usual? People tend to stay for only three or four years to get the experience, and then move on to something else. The ones who stay longer do it because they have political ambitions, or because they really love what they do. Sometimes too much."

            Vincent frowned in puzzlement. "How can one love one's work too much?"

            Catherine had both of her hands around Vincent's now, idly stroking its furred back under the water. "I've seen what's happened to some of the people who've stayed a long time...I've seen them change. They often become cynical and mistrustful. Everybody's a criminal to them, actual or potential. One of the reasons I admire Joe so much is that he hasn't let that happen to him. At least not yet."

            Vincent leaned a little to touch his lips to Catherine's hair. "It hasn't happened to you, either. And I know that you stay in your job Above partly for us Below. What would have happened to Kanin, to Mouse, without you and your skills and contacts Above?" His voice roughened. "And Father—he could be languishing in some prison now, trapped Above in a cage, away from his home. I think he would have died if that happened, just as I almost did. We both owe our lives to you."

            Catherine's fingers stopped their movement as she clutched Vincent's hand more tightly. The pain in his voice almost brought those long-buried memories to the forefront of her mind, but she relentlessly pushed them back. Vincent had enough pain of his own. "You make me sound way too altruistic. Jenny thinks I have a Mother Teresa complex or something. That I overdo it because I'm still trying to prove something. Still trying to make up for my Fashion Law days. I think she may be right."

            "She often is," Vincent conceded. "But you have no need to prove yourself, dearest. Everyone who knows you at all knows what a generous spirit you have—and you do great good where you are."

            Catherine took one hand away as she leaned her head back against the stone wall of the pool. It seemed too heavy to hold up, and she closed her eyes. "Maybe, but there are plenty of others who could do as well. There are always way more applicants for jobs in the DA's office than there are places."

            Vincent's soft voice washed over her. "But few with your combination of experience and compassion." She felt his fingers twine more tightly around hers. "Please, Catherine, don't do anything precipitate because of what happened. Because of me."

            "That's a hard promise to make. You're the most important thing in my life."

            "As you are the most important in mine. That's why I can't allow my uncertainties to hurt you. I wish I could have kept them from you, but even without the bond you understand me too well. But you must understand also, that what happened to you today was not the cause of my distress, it only brought it to the forefront." He was silent for so long Catherine almost stirred herself to speak, when a tone she hadn't heard in his voice for years made her shiver.  "I spent most of my life dreading the Beast, fearing what he might be capable of. Never being sure I could control him, and terrified of what might happen if I could not."

            She rose from the side of the pool to wrap her arms around him, hugging him tightly as if to absorb his pain into herself, but she was unable to keep the trace of a sob out of her voice. "Vincent...I can't bear it when you talk that way about yourself."

            Vincent's arms surrounded her as he hugged her back, contrite. "Oh, my love, I'm sorry. I know how horrible it was for you years ago, when I was almost lost to myself." He gently stroked her back as he rubbed his cheek against her hair. "I've always used the Beast as a metaphor for everything I feared in myself. You proved to me the wisdom—the necessity—of accepting all the parts of myself, of facing my fears. Old habits die hard...I'm sorry. But it's not the same now as then, and never will be. Our love has changed that, forever."

            Catherine's voice was muffled, her face still pressed to Vincent's chest. "But you're still in pain, now, that's obvious. And if it's not my fault for what happened today, what is it?"

            She could feel his chest move beneath her cheek as Vincent sighed deeply. "I'm not sure why it's been on my mind recently. It's been so long, I had hoped that particular fear had vanished for good." His voice became even quieter, almost a whisper. "I don't want to kill anyone ever again. I've had enough killing to last a long lifetime."

            Catherine squeezed her eyes shut as tears threatened to flow again, but his voice strengthened. "People have threatened us before, here Below, that had nothing to do with you. Look what Lin and Henry brought down on us, in all innocence. Our sanctuary has been found, now and again, by those who would do us harm. It may happen again." Catherine slipped one hand around from Vincent's back to stroke the powerful muscles of his chest. "It doesn't always have to be you who protects Below. You've done more than your share."

            "It hasn't always been me, Catherine, and yes, others have protected us. Remember how Cullen redeemed himself for bringing ???? upon us. And since my...illness, everyone seems to have made an effort to depend more on themselves and less on me."

            Catherine began to relax against him. "So maybe it will be all right. I won't make any big decisions right away, I'll promise you that much. But this isn't something that just occurred to me, you know. I've been thinking about my future Above for some time. What I'm doing now is important to me, and to others, but I'm not sure it's realistic to expect that I'll do it forever, especially..." She tried to swallow her words, suddenly fearful of where they might lead.

            "Especially what?"

            Catherine willed her body to stay relaxed. "Especially if we have children. I don't think I'd want to do something that kept me away from them so much." Now it was Vincent's body that suddenly tensed against hers. "Vincent, what is it?"

            "Perhaps that's the answer..."

            "What do you mean? The answer to what?"

            "To why my old fears have surfaced again."

            "I don't understand..." Catherine pushed herself away a little so she could search Vincent's face. "Please, tell me what you mean. Don't keep it inside."

            Vincent didn't meet her eyes; his gaze seemed fixed on some far point over her shoulder. "Do you remember the first time you watched me kill for you? As if you could forget...how did it make you feel?"

            Her heart sinking at his question, Catherine replied quickly. "More than anything, it made me feel grateful that I wasn't going to die after all."

            "I remember the look on your face..."

            She called up her most reasonable voice, trying to camouflage the turbulence of her feelings. "Of course I was startled, even shocked. Remember, I'd seen very little of you then, and you'd been the soul of gentleness with me—helping me heal, body and spirit. Seeing you like that surprised me...but you saved my life! I wasn't about to quibble about the details."

            Vincent's gaze dropped, but still he avoided her eyes. "But it stayed with you. There was a time when even you feared me, however briefly."

            Catherine's eyes closed involuntarily, but that couldn't keep out the painful images that arose before her mind's eye. "Only a few moments, before I knew you very well. And I'm more ashamed of that than anything else I've done in my whole life." She opened her eyes again and fixed them on his face, silently begging him to look at her. "Why are you bringing this all up now? It was another time, almost another life."

            Finally his eyes rose to meet hers, dark with ancient pain. "Because, Catherine...more than anything else I fear the look in my children's eyes the first time I kill for them."

            Catherine winced as though she had been struck. Only long practice at protecting Vincent kept her from flooding the bond with the pain his words gave her. As it was, some of it must have leaked through, because he quickly gathered her close again, with a heartbreaking sound halfway between a groan and a sob.

            "Catherine, I'm sorry—I can't seem to say anything that doesn't hurt you. That's the last thing I should be doing."

            Wrestling her seething emotions into submission, Catherine hugged Vincent as closely as she could and still allow herself to speak. "No, I want you to be honest with me. I don't want you to hold those feelings inside, where they can eat away at you like they've done in the past. You have me now, and you always will. We'll get through this together."

            Vincent sighed. "I really do want a child, my love, despite how reluctant I was at first. You gave me the courage to risk it. I don't know why I should have these doubts now."

            Catherine's hands moved unceasingly up and down his back in broad, soothing strokes. "I do. I've only known you for five years, after all, and been your wife a little less than two. You had over thirty years before that to convince yourself of all the things that were impossible for you, all the things you couldn't have. I believe with all my heart that we can have almost anything any other man and woman can have, except maybe that ice cream on Fifth Avenue." She kissed Vincent's chest. "But you've got a lifetime of doubt arguing against that belief—and all I have to stand against that is what my heart tells me."

            "The same heart that told you we could be lovers. That we could build a life together."

            Catherine lifted her head to kiss along his jaw line. "Yes. This heart has a pretty good track record up to now. You should trust it more."

            "Perhaps I should." He tilted his head downward to capture her lips, and she kissed him back gratefully, happy to focus on something other than his fears.

            Their kisses began as comfort, as apology, as promise. Soon however, the powerful feelings that had been called forth by the events of the day worked their alchemy. Comfort was soon transmuted into passion, into a sudden undeniable hunger that turned kisses deeper and touches more insistent. In mere moments, Catherine's need to feel Vincent inside her was so great she could hardly bear it, and the evidence of his arousal pressed insistently against her thigh.

            She slid off the stone seat, urging him to follow, and stood with her back against the hard, smooth wall of the pool. Wrapping her arms around his neck, she pulled herself up against him, kissing his throat and neck incessantly. As she began to wrap her legs around his hips, his powerful hands slid underneath her, lifting her against him as he entered her in a single powerful stroke. Catherine cried out as she felt that thrust in her very depths, and quickly met his insistent rhythm with her own. One hand was tangled in his hair, another clutched the fur of his back as their bodies came together again and again, trying to burn away their fears with the white heat of their passion. The repeated impact of Vincent's flesh against Catherine's was echoed by the slap of the waves as the water in the pool was agitated by their frantic movements.

            For a little while, all the hurts and fears of the outside world retreated, and Catherine's universe shrank to the space between the muscular body now so intimately a part of hers and the unyielding stone that pressed against her back. There were no screams or gunshots here, only the slapping of the waves and the muted sound of their bodies meeting under the water. No cold wind blasted her skin, only the steamy, voluptuous air and Vincent's breath against her ear, ragged with passion. Nothing else existed; only the single creature they now became as the boundaries of their separate selves dissolved into a bond-enhanced maelstrom of sensation. When their release finally came, it was so powerful only the pressure of Vincent's body kept Catherine upright. Spent, he dropped his hands from under her hips to clutch at the wall for support and dropped his head against her shoulder.

            The surface of the pool had calmed to its usual quiet bubbling before either of them ventured to move or speak. Vincent found enough strength in his legs again to support himself, and moved back to look at Catherine and gently stroke her injured shoulder. "This pool was supposed to help soothe your hurts—the ones you got from impacting a hard surface. Making love to you with a hard stone wall against your back was probably not a good idea."

            Catherine slid her hands down to Vincent's waist and smiled. "I don't know, it seemed like a great idea at the time. And believe me, I didn't feel a thing—not on my back, that is." She slid her hand down his flanks as she moved closer. "Everything that counts feels terrific."

            Vincent smiled in return, bending down to meet her lips in a slow, tender kiss. "Do you want to stay in here longer?"

            Catherine shook her head. "It's tempting, but I'm afraid I'll dissolve if I do."

            Vincent took her hand to steady her as she climbed out of the pool. Moving to the adjoining chamber, they dried themselves off away from the direct influence of the humid air. Wide benches lined two sides of the chamber, one bare wood and one padded. Vincent gestured toward that one. "You should let me massage your shoulder while the muscles are still warm."

            "Yes, Doctor," Catherine replied meekly. "I'll be a good little patient."

            Vincent expressed his doubts with a raised eyebrow as he collected the oil and another towel to serve as a pillow. Catherine lay face down on the bench, already exceedingly relaxed from the vigorous internal massage she'd just experienced. This was going to be the icing on the cake. She smiled to herself as she remembered how insistent Vincent had been at first that he couldn't possibly act as a masseur, that his clawed hands weren't capable of such a task. Shortly after they were married she'd been helping Jamie and Mouse move cases of canned food to a new, larger storage area and hurt her shoulder lifting one too many. He'd patiently explained that any number of other people had the skill—Father, Mary, Rebecca. She was insistent that it would be perfectly possible with a little care, and she was proved right. Except for a few techniques that required the tips of the fingers, his strong and gentle hands were ideal.

            She sighed happily as she felt those hands carefully kneading her shoulder. The spicy scent of the oil was pleasant, almost as pleasant as the sound of Vincent humming various Childe ballads as he worked. For some reason, he couldn't help himself, but Catherine liked it; it was all the more soothing that way. He carefully worked the back of her shoulder and all the way down her arm until it felt like overcooked spaghetti. She was half-asleep when Vincent's hand against her side made her flinch.

            "Did I hurt you?"

            "It's tender there—that's where I hit the floor. I'll probably have a nice big bruise there by tomorrow. I suppose massage on that spot would do more harm than good."

            "I have other techniques," Vincent replied.

            Seconds later, she felt the lightest touch of his lips against her skin. "Hmm—I don't know what Father would think of that particular technique, but it sure works for me."

            "Actually, Father has always employed this extensively on children under five. I thought it might be effective on a certain adult as well." She could hear the smile in his voice. "If you can summon the energy to turn over, I'll do the front of your shoulder."

            Catherine managed. This was always her favorite part. She watched Vincent through barely open eyes as he poured the oil and began to work. At first his eyes stayed fixed on his task, but soon they began drifting down occasionally, then more frequently. The next time his eyes moved downward, Catherine decided she needed to take a particularly deep breath, and enjoyed the reaction that caused. When she judged that her shoulder had had enough massage, she allowed her feelings free rein every time Vincent's eyes lingered on her breasts, or lower.

            Before too long, she felt a seductive trickle of oil on her other shoulder. His hands moved in unison now, one on each side, in ever-widening circles. She timed her breathing so that her chest moved upward when his hands reached their lowest point. Finally, when she thought she couldn't bear the waiting a second longer, she felt his oil-slick hands slide over her breasts. She gasped at the long-awaited touch, and opened her eyes fully to feast on Vincent's face, once more suffused with that devastating combination of love and desire that always turned her to jelly. As he stroked across her chest, gathering her breasts in his hands, his lips parted so that the gleam of his canines was just barely visible. Catherine always found the sight unbearably erotic, and she moaned as she pressed her hands on top of his.

            Vincent moved to lie beside her on the bench, kissing her deeply as she opened her mouth to his probing tongue and her legs to the muscular thigh that pressed between them. As they kissed, her hands moved downward, pressing him close as they traveled along the length of his back and around the curve of his hips. Shifting his body further, he supported his weight on his arms as Catherine moved to allow his whole body to lie on top of hers.

            His hands now moved to cradle her back as his lips left her mouth to kiss their way slowly down her neck and shoulder until they reached her breasts. Unlike his frantic hunger in the pool, Vincent now made love to her with a slow thoroughness that brought her time and again to the brink of release but never quite over. The thumb of one large hand caressed her nipple on one side while his lips and tongue suckled and licked the other. Just when she thought she couldn't bear the intense sensation a moment longer, he lifted his head to look into her eyes for a long, melting moment before reversing the process. When his hands and mouth began to move slowly down her torso, touching and tasting her every inch of the way, Catherine began breathing in short, shuddering gasps. It seemed only seconds after Vincent's hands parted her most intimate center to allow the touch of his eager tongue that she exploded in wave after wave of release, pressing his head against her as if that could make it last forever.

            Finally she lay back, astonished at the intensity of the experience. She could feel Vincent move against her thigh as he drew in deep draughts of air. "Vincent," she whispered as she gently urged him upward. He kissed her once, very gently, before allowing her to guide him inside her. Despite the obvious urgency of his need he thrust slowly and deeply at first, waiting until her own need built again to match his. Catherine needed little but the sight of his face, lips drawn back and hair in wild disarray, to fan her smoldering desire to a blaze once again. As Vincent began to move more quickly, she met him thrust for thrust, wrapping her legs around his back to pull him more deeply inside her. Finally their release came, less an explosion this time, but even more of a dissolution, an almost-total loss of self as the two halves of a sundered soul were briefly made one.

            It took a long time for Catherine to notice the intrusions of the everyday world again, and even longer for Vincent. But intrude it did, and Catherine could not suppress a little shiver as the literal heat of passion subsided. Despite the warmth generated by the hot springs, those mysterious currents of air that managed to find their meandering way Below reminded Catherine rather forcefully that she hadn't a stitch on.

            Still in the state of almost stuporous amazement that was often an aftereffect of lovemaking for Vincent, Catherine's flicker of mental discomfort alerted him before he became sufficiently aware to notice its physical signs. Stretching as languorously as his feline cousins, he rolled off the bench to retrieve the warm clothes he had brought for Catherine.

            "I hope this is warm enough," he worried as he helped her into the soft garments. "I thought these would easy to put on, and loose enough to be comfortable."

            "They're perfect," Catherine assured him. "I'd forgotten I left these Below. Must have had a premonition...hanging around with Jenny all these years, it was bound to happen."

            Vincent smiled as he dressed himself and helped Catherine pick up odds and ends. Holding hands, they emerged from their warm refuge and began a long, slow walk back to the Hub.

            "You must tell me if you're tired, Catherine," Vincent admonished. "I can carry you without any trouble."

            "I promise," Catherine replied, "but there's not a thing wrong with my legs, you know. A good walk will help keep me warm, after all. Not as well as certain other things, perhaps..."

            "But it's rather difficult to make much forward progress while engaging in those other things," Vincent said with a perfectly straight face. "And eventually Father would assume the worse and send out a search party..."

            "And we'd hate to be responsible for the shock experienced by anyone who found us," Catherine finished.

            Vincent raised those eyebrows again. "Do you really think they'd be that shocked, after all this time?"

            "Not at what we were doing. I'm sure everyone knows what we do by now. But surely they couldn't help but be startled at how enthusiastically we were doing it. And how well.

            "And yet how modest we remain nonetheless?"

            "Exactly." Catherine attempted to look modest but failed miserably.

            They talked of inconsequential things on the way back, avoiding—as if by unspoken agreement—any further mention of fears, or hurts, or futures that might or might not come to pass. Catherine noticed the pipes every now and again updating their progress. When they finally reached their chambers, Vincent insisted that Catherine get in bed immediately; Catherine was equally adamant that they should seek out Father and Lena, so they could be brought up-to-date on the rescue in which they had participated. Potential marital discord was averted when the rescuers in question popped their heads into the couple's outer chamber.

            "Have you ever been in the tropics, Catherine?" were Father's first words.

            Catherine and her husband both turned to stare. "Excuse me?" Catherine asked, bemused.

            Father leaned nonchalantly on his cane as Lena unobtrusively headed into the inner chamber to turn down the bed. "I saw it once when I was young. A phenomenon that sometimes occurs in the western sky just before the sun sets. It's called the 'green flash.'"

            "I've heard of it," Catherine responded warily. "I've never actually seen it."

            "Well, my dear, I suggest you just look into a mirror when you're arguing with Vincent. Or me, for that matter." He turned to his son. "Vincent, you've just saved yourself a trip to the equatorial regions."

            Vincent's mouth twitched. Catherine folded her arms in front of her chest. "Am I going to have reason to argue with you soon, Father?" she asked sweetly.

            Father straightened and walked to the door of the inner chamber. "That depends—are you going to get into bed? Your doctor recommends it as well as your husband."

            "Good grief, I'm not an invalid! I only—"

            "You've only had an exhausting day, both physically and emotionally. Your mind may not admit it quite yet, but your body certainly will, given half a chance. Besides, you should get under some nice warm covers before you cool down from your walk. It will help keep your injured muscles from stiffening up."

            "How did you even know—" Catherine glanced at her husband. "You must have been playing with the pipes when I wasn't listening."

            "If I correctly interpreted the spirited discussion under way when I arrived," Father continued, "your main objection to taking care of yourself properly was a desire to let Lena and me know what happened. Since we're here now, surely you can give your narrative just as well lying down as sitting up?"

            "Even Mother Teresa would bow to the logic of the situation," Vincent couldn't resist adding.

            Catherine knew when she was beaten. Her fleecy sweats were as close to pajamas as made no difference, so she wasted no time getting into bed. It did feel good to lie down, cocooned in the fat comforter that had been Mary's wedding present.

            "I've heard Catherine's account, so I could bring tea," Vincent offered. "Are you hungry, Catherine? Is there anything else you'd like?"

            Catherine smiled, her last vestige of resistance melted by warmth and comfort. "Tea would be lovely, but that's all I need. Joe forced so much on me at lunch I may not need actual food until tomorrow. Would you like something Father? Lena?"

            Now that the requirements of hospitality had been satisfied, Catherine launched into her story. Since Catherine didn't usually discuss her cases in depth, except with Vincent, she filled in more of Moira's background and the history of physical and emotional abuse she had suffered. Father asked a number of medical questions, drawing out all Catherine knew about the nature and extent of the young woman's injuries. Lena seemed more concerned with the emotional trauma, past and future. Despite her youth, she had seen all too much of the pain men and women can inflict upon one another.

            "What will happen to Moira now?" she asked.

            Catherine leaned back against the pillows and closed her eyes. "A good question. I don't even know for sure how badly she's hurt. I hope to see her in the hospital tomorrow, if she's up to it. She still has to find out she's a widow, and then identify her husband's body. What an awful situation to wake up to."

            Father looked pensive. "Has she any resources at all? Do you know her well enough to judge...we could consider giving her shelter in the Tunnels..."

            "She has family upstate...I wonder if they've been notified?" Catherine opened her eyes again and stared at the stone ceiling, trying to remember her earliest conversations with Moira. "They were estranged, but I don't know how seriously, or how much Moira's husband had to do with it. It was pretty clear she didn't want to talk about it, and if Moira didn't want to talk about something, it was almost impossible to change her mind."

            Father frowned slightly. "I wish we knew how much she remembered of her rescue. I wish I could be sure she presents no danger to us."

            "I can't be sure she doesn't," Catherine admitted. "But I don't think so. She was pretty much out of it, and was an awfully dark route. Besides, she has no reason to make things difficult for me; quite the opposite."

            "She could make things difficult without meaning to, if she talks too much about what she saw, or heard. Or—some people in her position might actually resent a rescuer for being right."

            "Wouldn't be the first time," Catherine mumbled sleepily. "Didn't seem like it yesterday, but she was pretty messed up. Go see her early as I can tomorrow..." She didn't hear Father and Lena as they made their quiet way out. She didn't even wake when, hours later, Vincent slipped carefully into bed beside her. Watching her, reveling in the sound of Catherine's quiet even breathing beside him, it was a long time before Vincent slept.

 

*****

 

            Catherine's intention to be at the door of Moira's room the minute morning visiting hours began fell under the onslaught of the avalanche of backed-up work now released by the return of business as usual. Colleagues with minor injuries were back at work, but two would be out for a while yet, leaving even more work to be redistributed. The DA's office was a zoo at the best of times, and by eleven o'clock Catherine was getting frantic. When a scheduled deposition of a witness was canceled at the last minute—said witness having been rushed to Bellevue with possible cocaine reaction—Catherine was determined to take advantage of the situation and escape. She was just grabbing for her purse when Joe poked his head out the door of his office.

            "Chandlerwait up!" He closed the door behind him and approached Catherine's desk.

            "Joe, can't it wait? I really have to—."

            "I've got a visitor," Joe interrupted. "I think you'll really want to talk to her."

            "Are it isn't something Rita could take care of? She's really good and...who is it?"

            "Name Sheila Baker mean anything to you?"

            "No. I don't know anyone by that name. Can't she wait until tomorrow? Or even later this afternoon? I have something that needs to be done right away."

            "Something more important than talking to Moira Malloy's sister/"

            Catherine stared at Joe; the stare soon turned into a glower. "Cute, Boss. Why didn't you tell me that in the first place?"

            Joe grinned. "Because I can't resist jerking your chain once in a while?"

            "Once in a while my foot," Catherine grumbled as they both headed toward Joe's office. By the time they reached the door, she had her lawyer face on, but tinged with a curious anticipation she couldn't quite repress.

            "Mrs. Baker," Joe announced to the woman sitting in the visitor's chair, "this is Catherine Chandler. She's been working on your sister's case from the beginning."

            The woman who rose from the chair bore a clear resemblance to Moira, or Moira as she would have been without years of trouble and abuse to drain the life out of her. Catherine sensed a faint aura of sadness—not surprising, if she cared at all about her sister—but underneath it all a resilient spirit. Catherine hoped that such a spirit might be buried under Moira somewhere.

            Mrs. Baker rose from the chair and extended a hand to Catherine. "Miss Chandler, I'm so happy to meet you. Mr. Maxwell's been telling me how hard you've worked to help my sister."

            Catherine shook the woman's hand. "Without as much success as I would have liked, unfortunately. Have you been to the hospital? Have you spoken to Moira?"

            "I got to New York too late last night to see her. When I called the hospital they told me she probably wouldn't be really alert until this afternoon. I went by this morning but Moira was asleep the whole time. I couldn't bear to wake her, she's been through so much."

            "There are a lot of things I'd like to discuss with you, and I'm sure you have a lot of questions for me." Catherine looked at Joe pointedly. "If Mr. Maxwell can spare me for awhile, I'd like to take you to lunch so we can talk. Then perhaps we can go back to the hospital and see if Moira's awake."

            "Of course, Ms. Chandler," Joe agreed solemnly,

            Sheila Brady reached for her coat. "That's very kind of you—I didn't realize the Manhattan DA's office took such a personal interest in people."

            Joe opened the door for the two women. "We don't usually...can't afford the time, with our workload. But a lot of us were becoming very concerned about Moira."

            As the left the office, Mrs. Brady's eyes rested on the cardboard that still covered the spot where Tim Malloy's bullets shattered the glass yesterday. "I guess you can't help but feel involved in this, after what that awful husband of hers did to your office. The policeman who called me said no one was seriously hurt—is that true?"

            "It's true," Joe assured her. "Most of what we do is pretty dull. Talking to witnesses, talking to judges, talking to other lawyers. But once in a while things get exciting." Especially around Cathy.

 

*****

 

            Catherine took Moira's sister to a small family restaurant she knew nearby. The food was good, but not expensive enough to make anyone uncomfortable at being treated to lunch. There were some quiet booths for conversation, and since the proprietors were Helpers, they were good at unspoken language. Catherine could signal her need for privacy and know she'd get it. The wind and snow didn't encourage conversation on the short walk to the restaurant. Not until they had settled in their booth, hung up their coats, and ordered their lunch did Catherine bring up the subject of the hour.

            "I'm glad you're here. I was worried about what Moira was going to do after she got out of the hospital. She told me once she had family, but wouldn't talk about them, and gave me the impression she was estranged from them. I guess the police tracked you down?"

            Sheila nodded. "Moira had my name and address tucked away in her wallet. Believe me, the estrangement was all Moira's idea. We all warned her about Tim, tried to convince her not to marry him. Worked as well as that sort of thing usually does."

            "All of you?"

            "There's me, and our brother Bill. He's career Navy, so he's not around much. Our Mom died when Moira was only fifteen—breast cancer. That probably had something to do with Moira getting a little crazy, and hanging around with guys like Tim."                     

            "Losing a mother when you're young can be pretty tough, especially if you're a girl," Catherine agreed with feeling.

            Sheila looked at Catherine speculatively. "Well, whatever caused it, Moira just stopped listening to her family. She'd been pretty good in school up to then, but her grades started going down, she started skipping school. She managed to get through high school, though, and was even talking about going to secretarial school. Then she met Tim."

            "Where did all this happen? Moira never told me where she came from, except 'upstate.'"

            "Messina. Way up in the northeast corner. It's a nice little place, but Tim kept telling her it was a nothing town, and the only place worth living was 'the Big Apple.' He had big plans, all right. But he was a bully even then."

            "Couldn't she see that?" Catherine asked. "Or didn't she want to?"

            "Oh, she went so far as to admit he wasn't perfect. But that didn't matter, because she was gonna change him, through love."

            "Uh-oh." Catherine had heard that before. She'd even thought it herself briefly, back in the Stephen Bass days. But his possessiveness had only gotten worse, and she realized she had to get out. Perhaps that was why Moira's case had affected her so much. There but for the grace of God...

            "Yeah. Famous last words, huh?" Sheila twisted her water glass around. "Anyway, she and Dad had a big fight one night, and the next thing we knew she'd eloped with Tim and headed for the city. At first she wouldn't have anything to do with us because she was mad, I guess. But after Tim started beating her up and stuff—I think she was ashamed. Didn't want to admit she'd made a mistake, you know? She could be pretty stubborn that way."

            "I know. But what about now? Sounds like you're willing to be there for her, if she's willing to accept help."

            "We always were. Maybe now that Tim's gone she'll be more willing. I think he had something to do with keeping her from contacting us."

            Catherine looked at her watch. "If you're finished, we could go find out now. Moira might be awake."

 

            When they approached Moira's hospital room, a plump, bustling nurse met them coming around the corridor. "Mrs. Blake—I'm glad you're here. Your sister's just beginning to wake up."

            "How is she?" Sheila twisted her gloves in her hand.

            "She's been through a lot, poor woman, but nothing that won't mend. I don't think she'll be with us for more than a few days."

            Sheila and Catherine visibly relaxed. "I'm so glad!" Sheila exclaimed. "Is it OK to see her now."

            The nurse winked. "Best medicine she could have, I'll bet."

            Still, when they reached the door Sheila hesitated. Catherine had planned to wait outside at first, but Sheila was nervous about seeing her sister for the first time in years, and under such circumstances. "Could you come in with me? Please?"

            "If you're sure..." Catherine feigned reluctance, but in truth she was dying to be there. She hadn't wanted to intrude on what should be a private family moment, but she was still concerned about what Moira might remember, or say. She tagged along behind Sheila Blake. It would have been difficult to judge which of them was more nervous.

            Moira was sitting up in bed, pale and bruised, but still looking much better than Catherine's last sight of her. She looked like a woman who'd put down a great burden. She must know, Catherine thought.

            At the sight of her sister, Moira's face crumpled into tears, and she reached out a bruised arm. Sheila rushed to her bedside immediately, embracing the injured woman as best she could around tubes, cast and bandages. "Oh, Moggie, I'm so glad you're gonna be all right!"

            The childhood nickname, unheard for so long, caused Moira's tears to flow even faster. "Sis, I've been such an idiot! Can you ever forgive me?"

            Catherine tried to make herself inconspicuous. It was clear this reunion was going to go well after all, and she was feeling uncomfortably voyeuristic as the two sisters exchanged tearful expressions of affection and regret. She was even toying with the idea of quietly escaping back into the corridor when she realized Moira was calling her.

            "Ms. Chandler?"

            "Hi, Moira. I'm glad to see you looking better."

            "If this is better, Sheila's gonna wonder what I looked like before." She turned to her sister. "Sis, do you think you could go to the cafeteria and rustle me up some orange juice or something? I guess I slept through lunch. And I need to talk to Ms. Chandler about a few things."

            Sheila rose, grabbing yet more tissues from the table beside the bed, and blew her nose. "Sure. Don't you want anything else?"

            "I dunno if I could handle anything else yet. My..." She looked away. "My jaw's still kinda sore."

            "Right." Sheila fumbled for her purse, tears threatening again. Visibly forcing herself under control, she turned to Catherine. "If I don't see you before I get back, Miss Chandler, thanks for everything. The lunch, and coming here with me, and...everything."

            Catherine smiled and took the woman's hand. "It was great meeting you. It's a great relief to know Moira has people to support her."

            As her sister's retreating footsteps grew fainter, Catherine turned to Moira, unsure how to begin. What do you say to someone when the last time you were together you were running for your lives, through a subterranean world most people didn't know even existed?

            Fortunately, Moira broke the ice. "I woke up real early this morning for a little while. Some police lady came over to talk to me...Castillo, is that right?" At Catherine's nod, Moira continued. "She told me what happened to Tim. She was real nice about it."

            "I'm sorry, Moira," Catherine said softly. "I'm sorry it had to end that way."

            'Yeah. Well...when she told me, all I could think of was, 'now he can't ever hurt me again.' Married to the guy ten years, and that's all that mattered in the end."

            Catherine couldn't think of a single thing to say.

            "Miss Chandler—that Castillo lady asked me what happened yesterday."

            With skills honed by years of practice, Catherine kept her inner turmoil from betraying itself by voice or gesture. "How much could you remember?"

            "I said I didn't remember much after Tim started shooting at us. I told her you helped me get away by ducking through some basements or alleys or something. That I'd be dead now for sure if it weren't for you. She said I probably didn't remember 'cause I was still—trauma something..."

            "Traumatized." Something in the other woman's tone told Catherine that much of this conversation would be unspoken. "Do you think you might remember more later?"

            Moira concentrated on smoothing the sheet around her. "Probably not. Besides, I was so hurt and so scared I probably dreamed most of it anyway, right?"

            "Probably."

            Moira became so quiet Catherine had to strain to hear. "That Voice that I dreamed about talking to you couldn't possibly have been real. It was too beautiful. I never heard a real voice like that. So worried. So full of love."

            Catherine was silent for a moment. "You'd be surprised at what life can bring you," she replied carefully. "As long as you don't stop dreaming. Your life has been a nightmare these last few years...but sometimes when things are at their worst, you look back and find that what seemed like the end of your life was really the beginning of a new one. A better one."

            Moira lifted her head to look Catherine in the eye. "Miss Chandler—I'm sorry I didn't listen to you. I'm sorry I said some of those things to you. I thought I had you all figured out, but..." The ghost of a smile appeared on her ravaged face. "I think maybe there's a lot more to you than I thought. Than anybody thinks."

            "It's wonderful to see you smile, even a little. I've never seen it before. I hope to see it again."

            "Maybe. But I don't think I'll stick around New York much longer. And I'm really sure I'm not gonna remember anything more about yesterday."

            Catherine stood up and took Moira's hand gently. "Thank you."

            "You tried to help me, over and over, and you ended up saving my life. I owe you."

            "Not any more. Now, I thing I'd better get back to work before Joe Maxwell blows a gasket. Besides, you and your sister have a lot to talk about."

            As she walked down the hall to the elevator, Catherine was thankful, not for the first time, that the women of her family were not subject to fainting. She felt like a balloon that had suddenly lost all its air. Her sense of relief was so profound Vincent must surely be able to feel it. He'd probably be able to figure out they were in the clear, and tell Father. Now Catherine could make an effort to concentrate on work for the rest of the day. And there was no way she'd escape taking some of that work home. Better spend tonight in the house Above. That way she only had to deal with Vincent fussing over her, instead of Father and Mary and William and God knows who else.

 

*****

 

            Soon things Above and Below settled into their normal routine. Moira's bruises faded. She stayed in Manhattan only long enough to bury her husband, then headed north with her sister. First Becky, then Jefferson, returned to work, flaunting their injured limbs like badges of honor. One of the secretaries who did all sorts of crafts as a hobby made them mock Purple Hearts out of polymer clay, and both actually wore them for a week. At least Becky took hers off in court.

            Vincent said no more about his fears but Catherine knew they were not dead, but dormant. It bothered her that he still held them. In two and a half years of peace, the incident with Moira's husband was the only thing that even came close to the early part of their lives together. Even that had been resolved quickly, with no lasting physical harm at least, to anyone but the perpetrator. Catherine had so hoped that the years of marriage and near-normal life would have caused Vincent's fears to gradually melt away. For a while she thought they had, but clearly she had been over-optimistic. She was out of ideas though; maybe only time could accomplish that. A lot of time. Well, they had the rest of their lives.

            Catherine was in her house Above one Saturday, watching a light rain eat away the snow in her backyard garden, when the phone rang.

            "Hi, girl friend. Want to go out and troll for chocolate?"

            "Jenny! If you're that desperate for chocolate, Ben must not be around."

            "Got it in one." Jenny sighed. "Some kind of science teacher workshop. And you know how conscientious Mr. Wonderful is."

            "Tell me about it. I'm up here staring at the rain because some shoring collapsed in one of the outermost tunnels, and course nobody can repair it like Vincent. It's amazing how often that happens on a weekend."

            "How come you're not Below? You could always find something interesting to do down there—driving Father crazy, for instance."

            "Been there, done that. Besides, I had to take a postponed deposition this morning. I got home less than an hour ago. And driving Father nuts is not as easy as it used to be. Getting together with you sounds like a much better idea; it's been too long."

            "Great—my place or yours?"

            Catherine felt a sudden rush of nostalgia for her old apartment. "Yours. It's about time I checked up on my favorite tenant. You make the tea; I'll bring the chocolate."

            "I'm your only tenant." Jenny agreed with alacrity. "But better you than me...shall we go for quality or quantity?"

            "Jen, we're stuck by ourselves on a rainy afternoon in late March, too wet for winter and too cold for spring. An ideal day for snuggling, and our significant others are elsewhere."

            "So what you're saying is..."

            "We need to mainline. I'm getting truffles."

 

            "Mmmmmm...." Jenny licked the remains of dark chocolate amaretto off her fingers. "This is almost better than sex."

            Catherine rooted through the box looking for the last chocolate mint. "It is better than sex with some people."

            Jenny took a sip of tea to cleanse her palate. "So, what is Tom Gunther up to these days?" As she leaned forward to put her cup on the coffee table, a pillow sailed by her head with considerable force.

            "That is not funny!" Catherine glared at Jenny, but soon dissolved into hysterical laughter. "But God help me, it's true!"

            It took some time for the hilarity to subside. Catherine leaned back against the sofa, catching her breath. "Can you imagine what my life would have been like, married to that man? Or to Stephen Bass?"

            "Considering that in retrospect it made you grateful for being slashed and left for dead in the park..."

            "I'm forever grateful for whatever it took to bring me and Vincent together." Catherine rose and walked to the glass doors. Her eyes lingered a moment on the rain-swept balcony, seeing in her mind's eye the misty outlines of the park beyond. "Almost five years ago."

            Jenny moved to stand beside Catherine. "April 12 has a lot of memories for you," she said softly. "But I like to think about two years ago. That was a lot more fun."

            Catherine slipped an arm around Jenny's waist. "Sure was. Imagine, our second wedding anniversary is in less than three weeks. Sometimes I can't believe it's been that long—other times I feel like I've been married to Vincent forever."

            "I guess that happens with things that are meant to be."

            Catherine turned to her friend. "I think you and Ben are meant to be. I just wish that wineglass would get itself smashed pretty soon."

            "Me too," Jenny sighed.

            "I thought you were being suspiciously blasé about the whole thing. You really want to get married, don't you?'

            Jenny nodded. "I need more chocolate. Now."

            They moved back to their seats, but Jenny just stared at the truffle box.

            "Jen, I don't understand what's keeping him. It's obvious you two are crazy about each other. I know you said he's a little spooked because of what happened to Miriam, but that was fifteen years ago. Why doesn't he just fool the fates by running off with you and eloping?"

            Jenny sighed and inhaled a truffle. "It's more complicated than that. You wouldn't think so to look at him, he always seems so 'up' and outgoing with the kids, Above and Below, but he's really very—distrustful of happiness. Like if there's a silver lining, there's got to be a big old cloud lurking right around the corner."

            "All because of one bad thing that happened to him fifteen years ago?"

            "Ah, Cath, it's a lot more than that. His parents were Holocaust survivors, you know. I can't imagine the hell they went through, and at a fairly young and impressionable age. I'm sure they tried to keep it from affecting their children, but that kind of thing has got to scar you for life."

            "I never knew that—did Ben tell you?"

            "No, his sister Ruth did. When she saw Ben and I were serious about each other, she sat me down for a heart-to-heart about the family history. The family had been doing really well before the war, deluding themselves that the bad old days were a thing of the past. Deliberately ignoring a few thousand years of history."

            "First the silver lining, then the cloud."

            Jenny nodded. "Of course, the whole thing with Miriam only reinforced all those old family stories. She was killed only days before the wedding, you know. Can you imagine, being on the top of the world like that, and having it all crash down around your ears with one phone call? It must have been devastating."

            "I had no idea it was that bad." Catherine shook her head. "I thought he was the perfect guy for you, but I didn't expect it to be this much work. Is he really worth it?"

            Jenny regarded Catherine calmly. "Was Vincent?"

            "Touché," Catherine responded. "Game, set and match. I just hope it doesn't take you three years like it did me."

            Jenny smiled lasciviously. "Well, I'm already ahead of you; at least I didn't have to wait...let's see, two years and...eight months plus to sleep with the guy."

            Catherine reached for a truffle. "Just thinking about that calls for more medicine. I wouldn't wish that on anyone. I wanted that man so much there were times I thought I'd explode."

            "It was worth waiting for, wasn't it?"

            Catherine regarded a hazelnut-flavored truffle like Hamlet with Yorick's skull. "Ooooh, yes. Way better than this."

           

           

           

 

 

 

------------

Notes:

            Themes--love and violence, how they intertwine, Eros & Thanatos

Fear--fear of love, fear of its power (Ben)

            Parallel story w/Ben & Jenny...bring out Ben's fears of taking that final step...something happens to Jenny--bomb on subway? caught in crossfire of something? disgruntled employee or domestic thing at work?--Ben realizes how stupid he's been to let fear hold him back, regrets all he's not done

            Shows Vincent that he's not the only one who fears for those he loves and wants to hurt those responsible--maybe even have confront the person who did it and almost kill him--have Vincent stop him

            Sanctuary not a place, but a person and a way of life--live every day in a life-affirming way, don't let fear of future pain prevent loving now

            Tie in Moira's sanctuary with her sister