OVERTURES 8

 

From Catherine’s Desk

 

I didn’t get flowers for Valentine’s Day. Nor Candy. Nor perfume. Nor lunch (cancelled at the last hour because of unforeseen scheduling conflict). Nor supper – choir practice, you know. I did get a huge card about a cupid names “Vinnie” (honest!) and ...

 

... I got fabric. This not an unusual occurrence at my house. I’ve gotten silk for my birthday, wool for Christmas, cotton, linen and various synthetic weaves to celebrate the multitude of private and public holidays that are part of my family life. Sewing is my second love--what I do to keep my hands out of trouble when my mind is too restless to write, and it comforts some part of me to hold the possibilities in my hands, instead of in my mind.

 

That’s what I like the most – the holding, the touching, the savoring of texture and fullness in my hands. Each length of cloth that makes its way into my collection is a brand new opportunity to imagine, to sculpt, to create something beautiful and unique. I am continually awed and amazed by the magnitude of possibilities inherent in each piece of newly-washed fabric.

 

I’ve learned a few things about sewing over the years: how to retrieve a box of pins from a deep pile carpet; how to say “ow” very quietly so as not to wake up my husband; and especially, what not to dangle off the back of the sewing machine when my cat is in the room.

 

This may sound fairly obvious, but I think the most important thing I’ve learned from sewing is that you have to take some chances. The first cut I made in the yards and yards of bridal satin lying in a pale pool beside my Grandmothers’ dining-room table was one of the most heart-stopping moments I have had outside of contact sports.  What if I measured wrong? What if the style doesn’t suit me?

 

What if I don’t like it when it’s finished?  What if he doesn’t like it?! I would never find the answers to those questions without the first clean slice of the scissors. I would never find the answers without risking failure.

 

Unfortunately, taking risks means occasionally taking a flop. I will not soon forget the time I made six identical – and completely unusable – pockets for a plaid blouse, nor the Awful-Daisy-Dress that hangs in my hall closet as a grin reminder of my “figure type.”

 

Still, my closet is full of daring ventures which are, for the most part, functional, practical and occasionally beautiful. I have long since given up cursing what failed in favor of appreciating what came up roses (or fabric, as the case nay be.) Sewing –and flopping – has taught me to be more forgiving of myself when I strive and fail than when I risk nothing, and gain nothing in return. I hope it has alsotaught me to forgive others when they risk and fail. we all have a few daisy dresses in our closets.

 

When I find I’m dwelling overlong on the daisies, I remind myself that, although I bled from every finger and both thumbs while working on it, my wedding dress turned out fine. (Bleed on the carpet, Honey – not on the dress.) I did measure correctly, the style suited, I liked it, be liked it and it served the purpose well enough. In other words, the wedding “took,” bruised fingers notwithstanding. Almost five years later, Hub is still sending me valentines.

 

Isn’t it nice to know that there will always be some risks worth taking?

 

Safe journeys,

 

Catherine

 



 

VOICES IN THE DARK

 

The Falls fell in all their glory for an inattentive audience. Near the water's edge, two figures strolled, hands clasped tightly.

 

“—and sticky”, Catherine finished, running a sweaty hand around her damp neck. “Hot and sticky, she repeated.

 

Vincent laughed ruefully. “Next time,” he teased, “you may not be so quick to volunteer to work in the garden.”  He caught her arm and turned her to face him, eyes sparkling with mischief. “Or to volunteer me,” he added pointedly.

 

Catherine fixed him with a half petulant, half playful look.

 

“I enjoyed working in the garden – I've never seen such a nice, healthy hydroponic garden. It's just that now I'm hot.”

 

“And sticky, Vincent teased. Glaring at him, Catherine allowed herself to be drawn against his broad chest. She sighed and closed her eyes for a moment –resting. He wrapped an arm around her slender waist and let out a soft sigh, deeply content.

 

“Ugh,” Catherine said after a moment. “You're hot, too.” Still leaning on him, she looked up into his eyes.

 

“Let's go swimming!”

 

Vincent laughed, turning towards the tunnels again.

 

“Catherine,” he began. “I hardly think—”

 

Something soft hit him in the back of the neck.  He caught it automatically and glanced at the soft wad in his hands. It was Catherine's sweatshirt.  Vincent whirled – just in time to get hit in the chest with her rumpled jeans.

 

“Catherine!” Vincent was aghast. Exhibiting superb balance – among other things – Catherine stood first on one foot, then the other, removing her socks.

 

“I don't care, Vincent – I'm hot.”

 

Vincent glanced apprehensively toward the chamber entrance, and something hit him on the back. It was not a sock. Slowly, Vincent turned around, bracing himself for whatever he might see. Catherine divested herself of her only remaining article of clothing, walked to the water's edge, and dove.

 

“Her form,” Vincent thought absently, “is perfect, although the dive left something to be desired.”

 

With a gasp and a splash, Catherine resurfaced, wiping water from her eyes.

 

“Come on in, Vincent. This feels good!” She disappeared beneath the water. Dumbfounded, Vincent looked once more towards the door.

 

“Vincent.”  Imminently practical, Catherine's voice drew him round to face her. “If someone were to come in now – would it really make much difference whether you're here in the water with me, or out on the bank holding my  underwear?” Hastily, Vincent dropped the lacy undergarment. Despite himself, Vincent cast one more anxious look toward the doorway and turned back to face her, defeated.

 

“No,” he mumbled.

 

“Then start stripping and hit the water.” She smiled and pushed a silky length of hair back from her face, watching him with interest. Vincent made short work of the shirt, laying it neatly in a pile with her things, and reached for the soft leather belt. Catherine shot him a speculative look that made his warm to his toes and he crossed his arms self-consciously across his well-formed chest.

 

“Turn around,” he insisted.  Catherine laughed, bobbing in the water.

 

“You must be joking.”

 

“Turn around, please, Vincent demanded stubbornly. Beside herself with mirth, Catherine complied. Vincent picked the oddest times to be prudish! She heard the clink of metal on stone – Vincent's belt – and gave him just enough time to shimmy halfway out of his trousers—

 

“I'm peeking!” she called merrily. She was not. Vincent whirled to find her swimming gracefully in the other direction. With a wry smile at his own foolishness, Vincent dropped the last of his clothes on the growing pile, strode to the edge of the overhanging rocks and pierced the water with scarcely a splash. With a gasp and a roar, Vincent surged up out of the water near her, blue eyes wide with shock. Catherine grabbed his shoulder and pulled herself into his arms, pushing his drenched mane of tousled hair back from his forehead.

 

“I know,” Catherine said breathlessly. “I'd forgotten how cold the water was.”

 

Vincent nodded vigorously. “I'd forgotten how wet it was!” Catherine laughed and kissed him, drawing him down under the icy water. Cold and wet indeed, the water was invigorating. Vincent caught her hand and pulled her after him to the deeper water, slowing his own powerful strokes to match hers.  Hand in hand, mirroring each other perfectly, they swam the length of the chamber again and again until the chill penetrated to the bone, and they were forced to flee to the warmth of their discarded clothes on the bank.

 

~

 

“What happened to you guys?”  Jamie took in their damp clothes and sopping hair. “It is raining Up Top?”

 

Catherine and Vincent exchanged long looks.

 

“No rain, Catherine explained. “We went swimming in the—”

 

“Chamber of the Falls,” Vincent interjected quickly, shooting a warning look in Catherine's direction. She pretended not to notice, eyes innocently wide.

 

“Vincent and I were helping out in the garden – it got hot and went for a swim to ...” – she caught Vincent's eye – “cool off.”  While Vincent sighed in relief, Jamie shifted her load to the other arm and pushed a sweaty tendril of hair away from her eyes.

 

“Gee, that sounds great. I'm going to see if Mouse wants to go. It's at least a thousand degrees in his chamber and we've been working on stuff all afternoon. She grinned suddenly and leaned forward in a conspiratorial fashion. “He’s trying to get everything working at the same time.” They laughed together, enjoying the joke.

 

“I'd better get down there,” Jamie said at last, “before he gets into anything else.”

 

“Good luck, Jamie.”

 

“Bye!”

 

“We'll see you at supper.”

 

Catherine waited until Jamie was out of earshot and gave Vincent a reproachful look. “You worry too much,” she insisted. “I wasn't going to say anything ... much.”

 

Vincent curved a long arm around her shoulders and kissed the damp top of her head. “That's what I was worried about.

 

~

 

“Here's the last of the stuff,” Jamie said brightly, stepping over the clutter to where Mouse was. Mouse grunted in acknowledgement, deeply engrossed in what he was doing. With a sigh, Jamie settled her hip on the edge of the desk and picked up the leather-bound volume lying face down on the workbench.

 

“Mouse – you're not supposed to lay books like this.” She cradled the book gingerly, skimming the neat, handwritten lines. “Especially one this old.  What would Pascal say if he knew how you were treating his father's old journals like this?”

 

Mouse looked up apologetically. “Sorry. Ran out of hands.”

 

In spite of herself, Jamie smiled. “How's it coming?”

 

Mouse gave a frustrated sigh and pushed back from the table.

 

“Not working,” he confessed dejectedly. “Can't get it to go.

 

Jamie slipped up behind him and put her hands on her friend's shoulders, gently rubbing some of the tension away.  She felt him relax a little, the tense muscles softening a little under her ministrations. The contact was nice.

 

“I'm sorry it's not working,” she sympathized. “Why don't we go do something else for a while?” Mouse covered her soft hands with his rough ones, grateful for her presence. He tilted his head back and looked up into the brown of her eyes.

 

“Like what?”

 

~

 

A cold stream of water hit him solidly in the ear. Sputtering, Mouse whirled –just in time to get hit from the opposite direction.

 

“Jamie!” he complained, loudly lamenting his mistreatment. Somewhere off to the side there was an answering giggle and Mouse's keen ears homed in on the sound.  He feinted left, spun in the other direction and caught her firmly about the waist as she squealed in surprise and tried to wriggle free.  His hold, however, was unrelenting, and Jamie struggled in vain.  Exasperated, Mouse looked down into her laughing brown eyes, weary and not in the mood for rough-housing.  Her hair had fallen loose from its hasty braid and was lying in a damp curtain across her shoulders, and the t-shirt and knee-length tattered jeans made her look like some rag-taggle water sprite, come to torment him.

 

“Jamie ...” he began sternly, but Jamie put an effective end to his scolding. Impulsively, she clasped her hands over his ears, pulled him down to her level, and kissed him with all the enthusiasm and vigor she possessed.

 

“Her lips are cold,” Mouse thought to himself, but they warmed quickly under his as he answered her kiss with gusto. What had started as an innocent, playful kiss was fast developing into something more interesting. His arms molded her closer against him until he could feel the heat from her body through the damp cotton, and the weariness of the day was forgotten in the unexpected passion that flared between them. Mischief turned to befuddlement, and Jamie found herself sagging against Mouse's comforting solidness, twining her arms around his neck while their mouths worked together.

 

“Jamie,” Mouse murmured, bending to press experimental kisses on her neck. Instinctively, she arched against him, fingers tangled convulsively in his hair as his lips found the hollow of her heck. In spite of the freezing temperature of the water, Mouse's skin was flushed and warm and Jamie pressed closer, trembling from the cold and the intoxicating feel of his mouth on her skin.

 

“Oh, Mouse ...” Jamie whispered. His hands slipped down her back, seeking a more intimate purchase on her slight form, and he was rewarded when she caught his face between her hands and returned his kisses hungrily.

 

Mouse was drowning in sensation – the heady awareness of every breath Jamie took, the exquisite warmth of her body as she clung to him, the taste of her skin ... Every impulse told Mouse to sweep this sweet, trembling girl up in his arms and make tender love to her here and now, before the moment passed, but a flurry of alarms was going off in his head, and he held her gently until she ended the kiss.

 

Jamie pulled back uncertainly and looked at him, aware of the

sudden shift in mood.  Her eyes were huge, and her lips were flushed from the intensity of their kisses.  She swallowed shakily and reached to touch his face.     

 

“Mouse ...?”

 

Her hand was unbelievably soft against his cheek and it took every shred of self-control Mouse possessed to not pull her back into his arms and carry her off.  He caught her hand instead, turning it over to kiss the sensitive palm while his eyes burned into hers.

 

“Not ready for this,” Mouse whispered. “Not the right time.”

 

Waist-deep in the numbing water, Jamie was regaining her composure rapidly. The image of her wanton behavior came flooding back in a wave of embarrassment. With a cry of dismay, Jamie blushed furiously and tried to pull free. Mouse held her with some difficulty while she struggled, pained by the breach his words had caused. For the third time, Mouse fought the impulse to let the moment take them both. It would be so easy to catch her up against him and cover her with kisses, so natural to let their hearts lead them down this untried path, so ... wrong. This was not the way Mouse wanted them to come together – caught up in the heat and haste of the moment. Loving Jamie was a lifelong task, and Mouse would not – could not – risk their future for the fleeting pleasure of an afternoon.

 

“Jamie,” he began, ducking to catch her eyes, but she would not look at him.  Jamie tried again to wriggle free from his embrace, silently cursing the sting of tears against her eyelids, but struggling with him only made her more aware of how close they were, and how close they had come to—

 

“May I please go?” Jamie whispered, grateful at least that her voice didn't crack. Before he could respond, Jamie gave an improbably twist and slipped away, climbing sodden and shivering from the water. Mouse scrambled after her, unwilling to let the afternoon end so dismally.

 

She shunned his company on the walk back, watching her boots scuff the damp, sandy floors while Mouse almost trotted to keep up. Jamie stopped abruptly before the arching stone entranceway to her chamber.  Mouse started through the doorway, hoping for a chance to talk, but she stopped him with a hand on his chest, turning towards him without meeting his eyes. That small contact made them both start, and Jamie hastily withdrew her hand before Mouse could cover it with his own.

 

“Jamie—”

 

“I want to change clothes, Mouse. I'll see you at supper,” Jamie interrupted, hoping against hope that he would not realize she was lying. She had already humiliated herself enough for one day, and given the raging state of her emotions, she'd be lucky if he left before she divested herself of what little dignity she still possessed. How could she have thrown herself at him like that!? The memory brought a fresh wave of color to her cheeks. What must he think of her? It was obvious, Jamie reminded herself grimly, that he didn't feel the same way, and the pain of his rejection only intensified her chagrin and misery.

 

“Wanted to talk about—”

 

“Not now, Mouse! I'm cold and I'm wet and I want to change clothes. Please, just ... go away.”  She darted through the chamber door .

 

Wounded and bewildered, Mouse watched her go, cursing himself for his impetuous behavior. In spite of his best efforts, he'd presumed too much, gone too far. What must Jamie think of him? How could he have assumed that her kisses meant as much to her as they meant to him? With a wordless moan of frustration, Mouse threw himself back against the wall and closed his eyes. The moment he did, he saw her standing before him, dripping wet, reaching up to catch his face.  Angrily, Mouse shook himself, banishing the vision. He sighed and trudged toward the bathing pools, and a dry set of clothes.

 

~

 

“I wonder what's going on with Jamie and Mouse,” Catherine mused idly, straightening the covers on the bed and fluffing the pillows once more for good measure.

 

Vincent looked up absently from his book.

 

I think Mouse is still looking for that freshwater spring. Jamie's probably along for morale support, and to keep him out of trouble.

 

“Still?” Catherine asked. She shook her head, waving the thought away. “That's not what I meant.”

 

Vincent sighed and closed his book indulgently.

 

“Tell me,” he queried. “What about Jamie and Mouse?”

 

Catherine's face broke into a wide grin.

 

“You're totally oblivious to all of this, aren't you?” she said, incredulous. Vincent looked defensive.

 

“All of what?” he demanded. Catherine laughed, strolling across the room and twining her arms around his shoulders.

 

“Jamie and Mouse,” she informed him solemnly, “have been 'noticing' each other for quite some time now.”

 

“Yes,” Vincent informed her dryly. “I had noticed that.”

 

“And?”

 

“And ... what?”

 

“And now they're not speaking.”

 

“Not speaking? Really?”

 

“Really. Ever since last week when we went swimming.” Catherine giggled and pressed her face into his neck. Her nose was cold against this collarbone, and Vincent curved his arms around her automatically. “Isn't it wonderful?”

 

“That they're not speaking?”

 

“No, of course not. But if they aren't speaking, it's a sure sign that they're falling in love.”

 There was a thoughtful pause. “Funny,” Vincent said dryly. “I don't remember that part.”

 

Catherine cut off his teasing with a kiss.  “Falling in love is different for different people.” She laughed and kissed him again, with more enthusiasm. “And Mouse is definitely 'different.' They'll be fine.”

 

Vincent sighed and wrapped his arms more securely around her, enjoying the warm press of her body against his. He had the sneaking suspicion that there was still a great deal he didn't understand about falling in love – and just as well.

 

~

 

For the first time in his life, Mouse was cursing his lack of timing. Everywhere he went, it seemed he'd just missed Jamie, or she had been seen somewhere else only minutes before. He was coming to the disheartening conclusion that Jamie was avoiding him, and the thought made him sick at heart. Jamie would believe him! She would help him explain.

 

“Oh, now really Mouse,” Father was saying gently. “If there were another freshwater spring on this level, don't you think we'd have found it by now?”

 

Not if it's in the Maze, Mouse thought, saying instead, “But – Pascal's father—”

“He must have been mistaken. Or perhaps the ways changed. Mouse, those journals are over thirty years old.”

 

“Know that. Some things change. Some things don't. Water—”

 

“Mouse, I'm very busy right now,” Father insisted, but his voice was kind.  “If there is a freshwater spring on this level, I'm sure you'll find it, and when you do, I'll be delighted to hear about it. Then  we'll talk about getting a crew together. Right now, however, I've got a class to teach. If you'll excuse me ...”

 

Mouse watched Father tread slowly down the familiar hallway and sighed, frustrated by his inability to explain his line of reasoning. Jamie had always been better at explaining things, better at talking to Father, better at talking to anyone. The spring was there – he knew it was there. The problem remained to find it, and it looked as though Mouse was really and truly on his own. Mouse indulged in a split-second of self-pity.

 

If the spring was there, he would have to find it by himself. Okay good, okay fine. Didn't need help – not even hers. Mouse squared his shoulders determinedly and started for the Maze. Be fine. No problem. He hoped.

 

One thing was certain: without Jamie, life with Father was just not the same.

 

~

 

Someone was coming – Jamie, from the sound of it. Pascal heard her uncertain footfalls while she was still some ways off and smiled to himself. It had been quite some time since Jamie had come to keep solitary company with him in the Pipe Chamber – sometimes reading, sometimes napping, lulled by the muffled clang and clatter of the messages traveling back and forth through the great pipes.   Sometimes Jamie just sat with him, not saying much – not needing to. He heard her pause in the doorway.

 

“Can I—”

 

“Come on in,” Pascal called, turning to flash a smile at her over his shoulder. Jamie returned the smile sheepishly, realizing he had heard her coming. A resonant clang bumped its way through the center of the larger pipes and Pascal whirled, cocking his head slightly and closing his eyes.

 

“East end,” Jamie said automatically. Pascal turned and gave her an appraising look, nodding with satisfaction.

 

Lower east end ,” he corrected gently, making a note in the log and tapping out a quick reply. “All's well,” Pascal tapped. “All's well here Below.” He patted one of the larger pipes and Jamie shuffled forward, settling herself on it and pulling one leg up under her chin. Pascal sat too, but the air of poised attention did not leave him. Jamie knew he was listening, but she also knew that no messages would escape his keen hearing while he was on duty – and precious few when he was not. She heaved a ragged sigh and started to speak. The attempt failed, and she fell silent once more, chewing her lower lip.

 

“Pascal,” she said suddenly. “Have you ever been in love?” Unbidden, the image of Ruth Ann came to life inside Pascal's head, making him catch his breath. For a moment, the vision stood before him, vibrant and breathtakingly real.

 

“Once,” Pascal said simply. He smiled and tried to catch Jami’s eyes. “And you?” Deftly, he turned the conversation back towards Jamie letting her talk. There was a long silence.

 

“I don’t know,” Jamie admitted at last. “I– I was going to ask you.” She looked at him earnestly, her brown eyes intense.

 

He was touched by her bluntness, and the absolute trust in him, that showed so clearly on her face. Pascal took a deep breath and held it for a moment before he answered.

 

“Well,” he probed gently. “What makes you think you might be in love with ... someone?”

 

Jamie blushed, looking away.

 

“Nothing, she insisted. “I was just ... wondering.”

 

Pascal nodded solemnly. “Oh,” he said. “I see.”

 

There was a long silence while Pascal busied himself with the log and Jamie waged some private internal battle of her own.

 

“If—” she began.

 

He turned expectantly.

 

“If I was ... in love ... how would I, I mean, what are you – I –” She looked up miserably. “I think I ruined everything!” Jamie looked a little as if she wanted to cry, and Pascal started to reach for her, but she fought the impulse down and set her jaw determinedly.

 

When did she get so beautiful? Pascal thought with a shock. Where was I when she was growing up so beautiful? He looked her in the eye, his expression gentle.

 

“Tell me,” he coaxed. Jamie nodded dismally.

 

“We were such good friends. We used to do everything together ... I mean we still do – well, not everything, but—” She waved the air as if to erase her last words and made little noises of frustration. There was a profound silence while Jamie gathered her courage. Pascal remained quiet, letting her grope for the right words. There was nothing to do but plunge ahead. “What would you do if someone grabbed you and kissed you?”

 

Pascal was momentarily startled.

 

“I mean really kissed you?” Jamie said doggedly. “Not like 'goodnight' or something.”

 

“Mouse did that?!” Pascal could not keep the surprise out of his voice. Mouse was impetuous, to be sure, but he never thought—

 

“No,” she blurted miserably. “I did!”

 

Pascal had a sudden fleeting image of just that, but banished it before a smile could reach his face. He experienced a heartfelt pang of sympathy for Mouse, trying to stand against Jamie's kisses. Pascal chose his next words carefully.

 

“What happened then?”

 

“Well, I – I mean we, didn't ...” Her cheeks were crimson. “He kissed me back,” she said softly, “but I don't think he really wanted to.”

 

Pascal could not imagine, but the unhappiness on her face was genuine.         

 

“I don't think he loves ... I don't think he feels the same way about me.” She took a deep, ragged breath, on the verge of tears again. “We don't do anything together now. Not even as friends. I messed everything up!”

 

He did reach for her then, putting his arms around her shoulders and patting her back gently while she wiped her face. She accepted his embrace while she made one final sniff and scrubbed once more at her tears.

 

“Something in my eyes,” she muttered, pulling away. Pascal did not argue, releasing her easily as she stood back.

 

“Have you talked to Mouse about all of this?”

 

“No,” she responded quickly.“None of it. I don't want to see him.” She buried her hot face in her hands. “I'm so embarrassed. He probably thinks ... I don't want to see him now.”

 

“But, Jamie—”

 

“No!  I feel so ...stupid.  I just don't ...” She looked up suddenly, fire in her eyes.     “Don't you dare say anything to Mouse—”

 

“Whoa, whoa,” Pascal interrupted sternly. “I'm not going to say anything to Mouse.” He looked her in the eye. “But I think you should. Everything is a lot simpler if you put all your cards on the table.” Jamie nodded bleakly, hating this game of hide and seek she was playing.

 

“I don't think I can right now,” she admitted, looking at her toes. Pascal grasped her shoulders and gave her a comforting squeeze.

 

“You don't have to right now. Give it some time.”

 

Jamie nodded, beginning to turn away. Pascal caught her and turned her back to face him, smiling into her sad, brown eyes. “And don't be such a stranger, Jamiebug. You know I'm always here for you.”

 

In spite of herself, Jamie smiled, sagging gratefully against him. “Oh Pascal,” she said softly. “What would I do without you?”

 

Pascal laughed and looked down into her wealth of honey-colored hair. He thought about Mouse, and felt another pang of compassion.

 

“I have the feeling you'd think of something.”

 

~

It was hard to see, even with the dual light from his helmet. Mouse picked his way through the labyrinth of stones and streams, stooping low to avoid hitting his head. He closed his eyes, concentrating on the memorized instructions. Two steps north, one and a half west and thirteen more north ... look for a huge stalactite pointing the way ...  He retraced his steps for the hundredth time, willing some miracle that would make this time the right one. The drip-drip of water from overhead taunted him mercilessly and he wished forlornly for Jamie's companionship. Jamie knew when to keep quiet, but he missed her teasing, often insightful observations. She always seemed to see the things he missed, and right now he missed her. Angry at himself, he dismissed the thought and concentrated on his instructions ... and thirteen more north should lead him right to ...

 

Wait – something was wrong, no – not wrong, different this time. What had he done different? He had been thinking about her, and lost count of his steps, but there was something startlingly familiar and different about the scene before. How many extra steps had he taken? Six?  Seven maybe?  Could he have misread the directions? He closed his eyes and tried to imagine the journal page before him, edges yellowed by time, the writing faded – faded! Mouse felt a hopeful thrill of intuition. Maybe it said eighteen, not thirteen! He took a cautious step backwards and opened his eyes, fully expecting to be face to stone with a huge stalactite pointing ... nothing. Mouse slumped dejectedly. Nothing but clear space. He heaved another sigh, ready to start over at the entrance, but something cold and wet hit the back of his neck and trickled inside his shirt. Mouse looked straight up, the beams of light from his helmet making eerie patterns on the ceiling.  There!  Straight above him! – the unmistakable signs of a new stalactite forming – on the broken base of another one!  The original “arrow” must have broken off in one of the more violent shifts the Maze had so frequently. If that was the arrow, then—!

 

Mouse fell to his knees on the gritty floor, and plunged his hands into the shallow pool of water directly beneath the new arrow. It was icy cold, but that was forgotten as Mouse felt the unmistakable surge of pressure beneath his fingers.  He'd found it – the fresh water spring that Pascal's father had written about!  Must have been mistaken, indeed!  Hah! He felt giddy with excitement.

 

Mouse would show them, but first he wanted to show Jamie – Jamie who had always believed in him.  He stood so quickly he conked his head on a low hanging stalactite, cursing his own clumsiness.  He righted the helmet and scuttled out of the Maze.

 

~

 

Jamie was half-heartedly darning socks, sitting on the edge of the bed with one long leg tucked under her.  Mouse came bounding into the room with his usual exuberance – without knocking – and fell on his knees before her.

 

“Guess what?” Mouse demanded.

 

“What?”

 

“Have to guess,” he insisted, pulling off the helmet.

 

Jamie grinned and shook her head, the darning forgotten. “I can't guess, Mouse.  Tell me.”

 

Mouse considered her plea for a moment, teasing her, until Jamie leaned forward and socked him playfully on the shoulder.

 

“Tell me, Mouse.” 

 

He leaned towards her eagerly and his voice dropped to a whisper.  “Found it.”

 

Jamie wrinkled her brow, completely puzzled.   “Found – what, Mouse?”

 

“Found it – found the spring!  The spring!  Knew it was there!”

 

“The fresh-water spring?”  Jamie laughed in delight. “I knew it was real! Where is it?”

 

“In the Maze!”

 

“The Maze?!  Mouse, you know you aren't ...” She trailed off. There would be hell to pay later, but she was unwilling now to quell his enthusiasm.

 

“Come see!”

 

Jamie looked guiltily at the pile of darning in the basket at her feet. “I can't, Mouse – not right now. I've got work to do and I—”

 

Mouse made a small sound of frustration and reached to clasp her long legs, worrying them playfully.

 

“Please Jamie,” he pleaded. “Wanted to show you first.”  He looked up at her soulfully. An untamed lock of hair fell over one blue eye, and quite without thinking, Jamie reached to tuck it behind his ear, her hand lingering on his face. Until that moment, they had both forgotten the events of the past two weeks, lost in the excitement of the discovery. Her touch brought the full weight of their memories to bear and left them both shaken.

 

Mouse came off of his heels, kneeling before her and sliding his arms around her waist. He bent and caught her lips beneath his before she could protest. But Jamie wasn't protesting.  Caught off guard, she swayed against him, clinging to his shoulders and answering the pressure of his lips. Everything Jamie had told herself over the past fortnight about the impossibility of this relationship evaporated when he held her close to him and kissed her with such unaffected ardor.

 

Mouse had surprised even himself. All the promises he'd made to himself had crumbled to dust when she'd touched him, and he'd reached for her blindly, wanting to hold her in his arms, to touch the softness of her skin. There were a thousand things her wanted to say, a million tender words inside, but he could think of nothing but the joy he felt in her willing response. Gently, Mouse turned her in his arms, nuzzled her ear and the incredibly soft, smooth skin of her throat. He heard her gasp, felt the sharp intake of breath as her ribcage rose with his. Mouse held her until she steadied, cradling her against him. With infinite tenderness, Mouse turned her face back up to his. Damn, Jamie thought to herself. I've done it again.

 

“Jamie,” he murmured, bending to her again.

 

“Mouse, don't ...”

 

Mouse looked up in surprise.

 

“Jamie? What—?”

 

“I have to go,” Jamie insisted, the words coming out in a rush. She tried to shrug free of his embrace.

 

“No—” Mouse began, but she cut him off with a savage sweep of her hand.

 

“Yes! I'm sorry Mouse – I didn't mean to ... I know you're just being nice, that you don't ... that you aren't—” Tears sprang up in her brown eyes, and Mouse was so astonished he loosened his hold on her.  She jerked away as though he were white-hot.

 

Not just being nice,” he insisted, coming to his feet. What the devil was she talking about? Jamie looked incredibly fragile and forlorn, and Mouse reached for her, wanting to comfort her, but she pulled out of reach, scrambling backwards on the bed.

 

“Yes you are! I'm sorry Mouse,” Jamie said tearfully. “It was all a mistake. I know you don't—” She turned away from him, and Mouse saw her body tense, ready to flee. On the heels of that thought came the sudden sure knowledge that if Jamie gained the doorway he would spend the next two weeks trying to find her, and never know what had just happened to make her so upset. He did the only logical thing.

 

Mouse tackled her before she could tumble off the bed, pinning her in his arms. Jamie let out a short yelp of surprise and tried to wrench free, but he was expecting that and held her firm in spite of her earnest efforts. Grimly determined, he locked his arms around her and held her until she quieted.

 

“Don't what?” Mouse demanded. “Tell me.”

 

Jamie turned her face away from him, seething. “Nothing to tell,” she gritted.  Being this close to him made her irritable, and served as a sharp reminder of the sort of closeness she had imagined sharing with Mouse.

 

Watching the play of emotions across her face, Mouse sighed wearily and let his guard down, relaxing his hold of her.  Jamie tore away from him and – almost – landed on her feet. She raced for the doorway, but Mouse made a desperate lunge and caught her wrist, unbalancing them both.  Mouse fell back with a crash on the bed, but his hold on her did not loosen.  Jamie fell with a solid thump on top of him.

 

“Didn't mean ...”

 

“Sorry, I—” They spoke together.

 

The temptation was overwhelming. There was no time to think, and thinking hadn't exactly gotten him anywhere.  Mouse cupped her face between his hands and kissed her over any protests she might care to make. There was a millisecond of hesitation as Jamie warred with her pride, but her pride had been a poor substitute these past two weeks for the warmth of his arms. With a sound that was somewhere between a sigh and a whimper, Jamie melted against him and returned his insistent kisses.

 

It was Mouse's turn to gasp. Jamie's sudden surrender had caught him totally by surprise, and he found himself drowning once again in the soul-shattering sweetness of her touch.  His arms pressed her closer along his length and he tangled one long leg with hers, securing her lithe figure next to his.  Her hair had fallen free from its chignon – her hair was always falling free – and Mouse ran his fingers through the silken tresses, marveling in their fragrant texture.  Absently, Mouse tucked the loose wisps of hair back from her face, and she opened her eyes.

 

Easier than easy, Mouse thought to himself, to get lost in those eyes. Jamie's eyes were huge, as soft as doves, and her flushed lips quivered slightly as she gazed at him. Unable to help himself, Mouse stretched up to plant a kiss on the smooth white column of her throat, and felt her tremble.  Guided by her response, he pressed fiery kisses along her jawline, across the wildly thrumming pulse in her neck and stopped at last to leave a stirring kiss in the open collar of her blouse.

 

Jamie's head was spinning.  Everything was happening too fast, and she couldn't fit all the pieces together.  Mouse – kissing her! Every time she thought she had a handle on her relationship with Mouse, he turned all the tables and left her foggy-headed and defenseless. There were at least a thousand things she wanted to say, a million things she wanted to ask, but she couldn't think when he was so close, kissing her so earnestly.  Jamie tried to pull back, but Mouse misinterpreted her intentions and resisted.  Jamie tried harder to disentangle herself, but the gesture backfired and she overbalanced, landing on her back beneath him.

 

There was a timeless, electrical moment while they stared at each other. Every system was go, every nerve on fire. Jamie thought fleetingly about twining her arms around his neck and letting the moment take them wherever it would, but the timing seemed so abrupt, and she felt so woefully unprepared for—  With a start, Jamie realized what Mouse had been trying to tell her that day in the Chamber of the Falls.  He hadn't rejected her – he was protecting them both from the myriad consequences of behaving so impulsively.  What she had perceived as lack of affection was in reality a testament of Mouse's devotion to her welfare. Shamefaced, she blushed, remembering how unfair she had been.

 

“Mouse, I—” Jamie began, but her words were lost as his mouth covered hers. She returned his kiss tenderly, but without the ardor she had shown before. Gently, Jamie put her hands on Mouse's shoulders and pushed him away.

 

Mouse was remembering that fateful day at the Falls, too, but he had arrived at rather different conclusions. As far as he could fathom, everything was just fine as long as they were kissing. It was only when he tried to say what was on his heart that things went wrong. He bent to her again but she ducked her head, evading his kiss.

 

“No, Mouse,” Jamie said softly. “You were right. This is not the right time.”

 

Incredulous, Mouse stared.  He could feel the frantic beating of her heart, the flushed warmth of her skin, the ragged breaths that Jamie took. The look on her face told him that he could sway her with his kisses, and she would surrender in his arms. He pressed her closer.

 

Almost too late, Jamie read his intent.  She caught his face between her soft hands and looked him steadily in the eye.

 

“I love you, Mouse,” Jamie said simply.  “But this is not right, not now.  Please, go home.”

 

Mouse struggled between his heart and his desire, wanting desperately to be with her.  He ran his hand down the small of her back in a featherlight caress and saw her close her eyes and bite her lip, felt her sway towards him.

 

“Jamie ...”

 

“Please, Mouse – please,” Jamie pleaded, eyes still closed. “Just ... go home.”

 

One more kiss, and she would be his. Mouse bent to take her lips beneath his, and found that he could not. She was helpless beside him, completely defenseless in his arms, and he could not bring himself to betray the faith and trust she placed in him by overriding her objections.  With a low moan of frustration, Mouse rolled free and threw his legs over the edge of the bed. Irritably, he shook his head, trying to clear it. Jamie sat up and watched him, full of sympathy and remorse.  She laid a gentle hand on his shoulder.

 

“Oh, Mouse, I'm sor—”

 

“Okay good, okay fine,” he snapped, brushing off her caress. “Got the message already.” He stood up and stalked from the room.

 

After a moment of stunned silence, Jamie ran after him.

 

~

 

“Did you talk to him?” Catherine pulled on her coat and reached for her briefcase.

 

Vincent shook his head slowly. “No, he wasn't in his chamber. The laboratory is quiet.  Arthur scolded me thoroughly, but there was no sign of Mouse. He must have been up and out before anyone awoke this morning.”

 

Catherine rolled her eyes and leaned forward to kiss him goodbye.

 

“I'll never understand morning people,” she murmured. Vincent smiled

and returned her kiss distractedly. She disentangled herself and started for the door.

 

“I've got to work late tonight, so I won't be home until—”  Her fair brow furrowed and she muttered something under her breath. “I have an eight o'clock deposition across town tomorrow morning and I have to get my car serviced then, too. I'm going to have to stay Above tonight if I'm going to keep my appointment. I guess I won't be home tonight.” She smiled apologetically and held out her hand to him. “Do you want to come Above? We could have a late supper at my apartment and rent a movie ...?”

 

Vincent looked thoughtful for a moment, pondering the invitation. It was always more risky to go Above, but there seemed no alternative at times. He looked into Catherine's eyes and had a fleeting picture of her standing on the moonlit balcony, the night air rustling the silk of her gown.

 

“Yes,” he murmured softly. “I'll come to you.” He held her eyes for a long moment, and knew that she saw what he saw. “No movie.”

 

Catherine blew him a kiss, finding her cheeks flushed slightly with the vision. “No movie,” she agreed, and left for the subway passage that would take her to the D.A.'s office and the day's work.

 

~

 

Jamie's cry had brought him at a dead run, heedless of the pits and low-hanging stalactites and cursing himself for a fool.

 

Why hadn't he answered immediately?  Why had he told her where he was going?  Mouse hung his head guiltily, knowing the answer full well.  He'd been angry – at her, at himself, at his inability to express what he felt for her--and now his lack of self-discipline might cost them far more than embarrassment.

 

Jamie's ankle was badly twisted from her fall, and she'd suffered a near-knockout blow when the entrance behind her had crumbled, kicking up dust and debris and nearly robbing his breath as he'd tried to pull her free.  Her right arm was badly scraped and he tried not to fidget in the enclosed space.  The first cave-in had precipitated another, and there was precious little maneuvering room where they sat in the frigid water.

 

Air was not a problem – there were countless high, thin passageways that would keep the air circulating almost indefinitely, but that was not necessarily a blessing. Mouse knew that he could not hope to dig them free – not with Jamie injured and little room to move – and that no one would find them here, in the middle of the crumbled Maze. They had no food, and the purity of the water was suspect, to say the least, despite the presence of the spring.  The water rose steadily, chilling them both to the bone.

 

The first twenty-four hours had been the hardest. Mouse kept her talking and awake despite her protests, but the conversations had made little sense, and little difference. He doubted Jamie remembered much. Mouse curved his arms around her, hoping to warm them both. Jamie's face was grey, her breathing unsteady, and she cried out softly in her sleep whenever he shifted.  She slept fitfully, curled against his chest, and he let her, now that the danger of concussion was – hopefully – past. More than anything in the world, Mouse wanted to tell her how sorry he was, how abysmally he had behaved and how very much he loved her, but he found the words choked in his chest. It was too soon to talk of such things – too soon to let her know that he had no hope of rescue. If only ....

 

“Mouse ...?”  Mouse looked down in surprise. Jamie met his gaze solemnly, wide-eyed and reasonably alert under the circumstances. “You're bleeding,” she said matter-of-factly. “Here, let me—” She sucked in air between her teeth as her raw forearm brushed the wool of his scarf.  Jamie recovered nicely, staring at the bloody scrape with detachment. “I don't remember doing that,” she said absently, and reached again for the gash on his forehead. It wasn't deep, but the blood had dried in a thin line down the side of his face.  Jamie took his scarf and dipped it in the water, gently dabbing the blood away. She did the same for her arm, revealing badly lacerate skin, but no significant damage.  Mouse had propped her swollen ankle up on some loose rock, and Jamie sighed when she saw it.

 

“Damn,” she muttered softly. “I guess that means I'm not going to walk out of here.” She peered around their tiny prison determinedly, but the expression on her face gradually turned bleak. “I guess it doesn't matter, does it?” she said at last.

 

“Someone will come,” Mouse insisted gruffly.  He looked her square in the eye, willing himself to believe it, and saw Jamie take heart and hope from his resolve.

 

“Maybe they will,” she said at last, and tried a shaky smile. She suppressed a shiver and Mouse wrapped his arms more tightly about her.

 

“Sorry about ... everything,” Mouse murmured into her hair, wishing he had more to offer.

 

Jamie looked up into his eyes again, and there was love, and compassion and an unshakeable faith in the depths of her brown eyes. “I'm not, she insisted. “Not about ... everything. If they don't ... I mean, no matter how long it takes them to find us, I'm not going to be sorry about everything.” She kissed him then, lips brushing softly, and Mouse tasted tears, but he was never sure whether they were hers or his. Jamie shifted soggily, leaning back against him for warmth.

 

“Let's sing,” she said softly. “Please, let's sing something to pass the time.”

 

~

 

Pascal paused outside Mouse's chamber, warring with his conscience. He had promised not to talk to Mouse, true, but Jamie hadn't said anything about Mouse talking to him. Besides, Jamie had all but disappeared for past two days. He composed his face and walked into the laboratory.

 

Arthur chattered a scold at Pascal, but the laboratory was strangely quiet. There was a stillness that implied that nothing had been touched for some time. Arthur whimpered for attention, and Pascal noticed that the food bowl was empty, the raccoon's goblet dry. “That isn't like Mouse at all,” Pascal mused unhappily. He refilled the animal's food and water and let his eyes wander the room. Everything lay quiet, taunting him with silence. Nothing to indicate where or when ... Jamie would know. With a sudden thrill of fear, Pascal wondered if Jamie's room would be equally quiet, and knew without asking that it was.

 

Pascal scanned the room once more, his eyes finally resting on the leather-bound volume lying face down on a workbench. Pascal lifted it automatically, closing the book to preserve the binding ... Something struck him oddly familiar about the book and he looked at it for a moment before he recognized it. Almost tenderly, Pascal opened the timeworn pages and began to read.

 

~

 

“Nothing,” Catherine said worriedly. “I don't think she slept in her bed last night.” A sudden thought struck her and she colored delicately, looking quickly to Vincent. “Do you suppose ...?”

 

Vincent pondered for a moment.

 

“No,” he said at last, “I don't. Perhaps there's some clue in Mouse's lab.”

 

They exchanged solemn looks. “I think we'd best hurry,” Vincent said quietly. They did.

 

~

 

Vincent rounded the corner so quickly he almost knocked Pascal off his feet, but Pascal seemed not to notice. He was pale as a ghost, and he clutched a small book convulsively in his hands.

 

“Pascal,” Vincent said at once. “What's wrong? Have you seen Mouse and Jamie? They're missing.”

 

“No they're not,” Pascal said softly.          “I know where they are.”

 

Catherine sighed with relief.

 

“Thank goodness,” she said breathlessly, but Pascal shook his head slowly. He held the book up for them to see and let it drop heavily to his side. When he looked up, his eyes were haunted.       

 

“They went looking for a spring that my father wrote about in the his journals.” He swayed for a second and Vincent reached quickly to steady him.

 

“Dear God,” Pascal said at last. “They're in the Maze.”

 

~

 

“I'm so cold,” Jamie said drowsily through chattering teeth. They were past the point of pretending that someone would come, and the loss of hope was almost a relief. Mouse nodded. The water was now up to their waists, and he could no longer feel his feet. With arms that were stiff, and shook from hunger, Mouse pulled Jamie into his arms one last time and held her close against him. He felt her sag softly and knew that she was sleeping, the only refuge that she had from the cold and wet.  He wished he'd told her that he loved her, wished there had been more time to talk, to share, to hold her in the darkness. He felt lightheaded himself, and knew that he might not wake up again if he fell asleep.  Okay good, okay fine.  He was so tired.  Maybe it would be easier just to close his eyes and let the darkness take them both. He closed his eyes and felt himself begin to drift.  The cold melted away and he felt incredibly lethargic and peaceful, the tranquility broken only by the faint sounds of shouting from above.

 

“Funny,” Mouse thought to himself. “Expected singing – not shouting.” He focused blearily on the darkness that was the ceiling and saw a golden shape looking back. “Never thought angels would look like Vincent.” There was a blast, and everything went black, as Mouse tumbled forward into  unconsciousness.

 

But not for long.

 

“Gently, gently,” Father was saying as Mouse snapped alert. He was standing – miraculously – on a dry, sandy floor and there were arms around him, warm, welcoming arms holding him and helping him out of his soaked jacket. Mouse turned unsteadily to see a makeshift stretcher with ropes come out of a huge crevice in the floor.

 

Crevice ...? Floor ...? Fuzzily, Mouse remembered a blast, and people shouting, Vincent reaching for him and lifting—  Mouse stopped abruptly. Still as death, pale as the moonlight, Jamie lay quiet on the makeshift carrier.

 

“We've got to get her to the hospital chamber,” Father said, but his voice seemed miles away. Mouse shoved through the press of people and fell by Jamie's side. Her lips were blue and she shivered even in slumber but her chest rose and fell with each shallow breath. Before anyone realized his intent, he was swaying on his feet with Jamie in his arms.

 

“Oh, Mouse!” Father admonished. “Don't do that. Here, let Vincent—”

 

Mouse whirled on him suddenly with a strength that was frightening.  The look in his eyes told Father that nothing short of his own death would prevent Mouse from this final act of love, even if it was too late.  Especially if it was too late. “No,” Father told himself sharply. “I mustn't think that.”  What he said was, “Very Well. Bring her this way, but quickly. We haven't any time to lose.”

 

~

 

“Jamie? Is ... is she ...?!”

 

“She's asleep Mouse – resting,” Mary said gently. They had managed

to raise her temperature and treat the rest of her injuries, but Jamie

was feverish, lost in delirium. Mary could not fathom why Mouse was not.

 

“Want to see her,” Mouse insisted.

 

“Mouse, Honey, Jamie's asleep. She needs to rest – and so do you. Why don't you—”

 

“Not telling the truth!” Mouse shouted.  Mary looked at him quizzically, not understanding the source of his hostility.

 

“Well of course I am,” Mary said gently.  “You've had a terrible ordeal and—” Mouse was utterly beside himself, and there was no one here to help her settle him down. She grasped his shoulders firmly and looked him square in the eye. “For a moment, and a moment only,” Mary said sternly, and led him back to the hospital room.

 

Mouse stood poised in the doorway, watching Jamie sleep, drinking in the sight of her.  Mary walked on in, laying a solicitous hand on her hot forehead.  She looked back up at Mouse and smiled.

 

“See, she's sleeping,” Mary repeated, and to her complete surprise, Mouse sagged against the doorway and began to sob. Mary was beside him in an instant, gathering him in her arms. She guided him over to a chair and sat him in it, stroking his hair as though he were one of the children. At this moment, perhaps he was. “What's the matter, Mouse?” she probed gently. “Are you hurting? Tell me what I can—”

 

“She's ... still here,” Mouse managed at last. “Thought she was ... gone.”  He buried his face in his hands. “My fault,” Mouse said miserably. “All my fault.”

 

~

 

“It took some doing, but I finally got Mouse to rest,” Father gloated. It had been three days since Jamie and Mouse were pulled from the belly of the Maze, and Mouse had barely eaten or slept.  It had taken an act of divine will, and a series of threats from Father to get Mouse more than ten feet from Jamie's beside. Jamie's fever had broken, but she had not really come back to herself, still lost in the fever dreams. “I packed him off to the bathing pools and a nice, comfy—”

 

“Father.”  Vincent stood in the doorway of the hospital chamber, and there was something odd in his voice that made Father trail off and tread softly for a look.  Mouse lay sprawled in the chair next to Jamie's bed, snoring softly.  Were it not for his damp hair and the change of clothes, you would never had known he'd gone.

 

~

 

On the seventh day, Jamie sat up sleepily and looked around the room, trying to focus her eyes. “Mouse,” she called. “I'm hungry.”

 

By some slim chance of fate, Mouse was not in the room. He'd been sent off for bed rest under threat of banishment from Jamie's bedside, and it had still taken Father and Vincent to see that he went. Father whirled and stumbled over to her side, forgetting his cane in his delighted haste.

 

“Mouse isn't here,” Father said gently, putting a hand to her forehead and peering at her pupils. “But I'll wager that I can play waiter just as well. What would you like?”

 

“Mouse,” Jamie thought immediately, but she didn't dare say it. She tried a smile. “Some soup would be nice.”

 

“Soup it is, then,” Father said quickly. He grasped his cane and started out the door.

 

“Father?”

 

He turned to face her. “Where ... mean, is Mouse okay?”

 

“He's fine,” Father said carefully. “Would you like me to get him ...?”

 

“No,” Jamie said quickly. “That's okay.”

 

Father nodded once, without saying what he felt. He left the room with some alacrity for the kitchen, via Mouse's room.

 

~

 

“Funny—! had the distinct impression that Father sent you here to rest.” Almost forty-eight hours had passed since Jamie snapped out of her delirium and Mouse had not budged from his room. Pascal leaned in the doorway of the laboratory, arms crossed across his chest. Mouse looked up guiltily, dropping whatever he'd been working on.

 

“Couldn't rest,” he said simply. “Wanted to think about something.” Wanted not to, was more like it. Since Father had brought news of Jamie's recovery, he'd been avoiding the time he'd have to meet her eyes.

 

“About Jamie?”

 

Mouse looked up in surprise. “Yes.”

 

Pascal unfurled himself from his stance against the doorframe and settled one hip on the edge of the workbench near Mouse. “Maybe,” he suggested gently, “you're thinking too much.”

 

Mouse stood up suddenly. “Don't know anything about it!” he accused, turning sullenly away.

 

“I know everything about it,” Pascal responded. “At least, everything that's important.”  Mouse whirled and stared at him in stunned surprise. Pascal stood up so they were eye to eye and looked at Mouse for a long moment. Shamefaced, Mouse dropped his eyes.

 

“Almost killed her. Made a mess of things,” he said wretchedly. His voice dropped so low Pascal had to lean in to hear him. “Didn't even tell her.” The look on his face spoke eloquently of how completely miserable he was. Pascal grabbed Mouse's arms before he could turn away, much as he had stopped Jamie in the Pipe Chamber.

 

“Yes,” he said simply. “You both made a huge mess of things. In fact, I'd have to say that going traipsing off into the Maze – which is forbidden, by the way – is almost the dumbest thing you've ever done.” Pascal smiled wryly. “The dumbest thing would be letting another hour pass before you tell Jamie what you just told me.”

 

“Can't,” Mouse said miserably. “Can't find the right words. Always say the wrong—”

 

“Mouse. Just tell her what you feel. That can't ever be wrong.”

 

Mouse looked at Pascal hopefully. Pascal smiled and squeezed his shoulders fondly.

 

“Go,” he said. Mouse went.

 

~

 

Mouse plunged through the doorway before his courage failed him. Jamie looked up quickly and started to smile, but the grim look on his face made her fall silent and look down. The silence grew unbearable and Mouse took a deep breath and plunged his hands into his pockets, still not meeting her eyes.

 

“Didn't mean for any of this to happen,” Mouse blurted at last. “Should have told you before.” 

Jamie's heart sank.  “You don't have to explain,” she whispered, not trusting herself to say more.

 

“But I do! Can't say what I mean. Can't ever say—” Suddenly, Mouse knelt on the floor beside the bed and took her two soft hands between his own. His blue eyes were intense and he formed his next words with great deliberateness.   

 

“I ... love ... you ... Jamie. Want to marry you.”

 

Jamie swallowed, or tried to, and blinked rapidly to halt the tears that were already spilling down her face.

 

“Oh, Mouse,” she said wetly, “I want to marry you, too.” She looked at him with a mixture of exasperation and deep contentment, and touched his face. “You never even told me that you loved me before.”

 

Mouse looked down and under, catching her eyes. His reproach was

gentle. “Never thought I had to.”

 

For the first time in what seemed like forever, Mouse found himself holding Jamie's slender form against his. He came to his feet slowly, pulling her with him. Slightly off-balance because of the cast, Jamie leaned into his embrace. She tilted her face up to his, long hair falling over his hands. Mouse bent and Jamie stretched up to meet him halfway as their lips met for a few extremely satisfying moments.

 

“Better than good,” Jamie intoned solemnly, and suddenly there was more than teasing in her eyes. Mouse met her look with on of his own and nodded emphatically. “Yes,” he said with feeling. “Better than better.” In one smooth movement, Mouse bent and swept Jamie quite literally, off her feet.

 

“Mouse! What are you—?”

 

Mouse looked pointedly around the hospital chamber, then at her neatly-wrapped foot. “Ready to leave already?”

 

“Well, I—” Jamie sighed and nodded energetically. “Yes,” she said at last. “But you can't—”

 

“Can to.”

 

“Can not.”

 

“Can to!”

 

“Mouse—!”

 

“Want to leave here or not?” Mouse demanded. Meekly, Jamie nodded.  Mouse stopped by the chair and stooped to let her grab her worn duffel; Jamie caught it and wrapped her arms around Mouse's neck again, holding on tight. They paused for one more look around the tiny room where many a late-night vigil had passed, and many a heartfelt prayer.

Very gently, Jamie touched Mouse's face.

 

“Oh, Mouse,” she said softly, “What am I going to do with you?”

 

Mouse beamed at her, completely irascible. “Marry me,” he said simply, and carried her off.

 

~

 

“Vincent – put me down this instant,” Catherine demanded, “or I'll ... I'll—” She was not in a position to do a great deal, slung casually over Vincent's broad shoulder.

 

“When you're safely home,” Vincent insisted solemnly. “I can recognize your 'volunteering' mood, and I have other plans for this evening. Catherine grew still for a moment, thinking about that.

 

“I was not going to volunteer you,” she asserted. He ignored her, and she thumped him ineffectually on the back.

 

“Vincent, so help me—!”

 

~

 

“—healing nicely,” Father told Mary as they treaded toward the hospital chamber. “I told her she could move back into her room as soon as she's up to it. She's been moping quite a bit.” He shot Mary a look to see if she'd caught his drift. She had.

 

“Yes,” Mary said softly. “And it's such a shame. They were such good friends, and ...” Mary blushed slightly. “Mouse loves her so. I only wish—”

 

There was a sudden break in all conversations as the three parties converged on the intersection at the same moment.

 

Mary stared at Jamie, Jamie looked at Mouse, Mouse stared at Father, and Father could not take his eyes off of the shapely rump – presumably Catherine's – slung nonchalantly over Vincent's shoulder. Catherine couldn't see anything, and was determined not to ask. Vincent returned Father's stare mildly, putting the best ... face possible on the situation.

 

“Hello Father, Mary,” Vincent said gravely. He nodded to Mouse. “It's good to see you ... up and about, Jamie.”

 

Jamie smiled, and Mouse followed Vincent's lead. “Taking her home,” Mouse said casually, and strolled past them all in the direction of Jamie's chamber.

 

Vincent crossed to the other side and disappeared from view. Father looked at Mary for a moment in consternation.

 

“Do you ever,” he queried softly, “get the feeling that you've missed something?”

 

~

 

Catherine yawned daintily, covering her mouth and stretching. She had – finally – forgiven Vincent his wife-napping, wondering what on earth Father and Mary had thought. It had been an entertaining end to an entertaining week, but she was truly pooped, and climbing into that big bed beside Vincent's warm form sounded wonderful. Vincent looked up when she yawned and smiled at her warmly.

 

“Yes,” he said with a small smile. “It has  been a long day.” He closed his book and held the covers for her while she burrowed beneath them. The candles were snuffed in short order and the room fell into quiet. Temporarily.

 

“You're on my hair,” came a mumbled voice.

 

“Sorry,” came the muffled reply.

 

There was a gasp in the dark. “Your feet are freezing!”

 

“My feet? When was the last time you cut your toenails?”

 

The bed creaked and groaned as they shifted, and there was a soft chuckle.

 

“Mmm--but the rest of you is warm.”

 

“So glad you noticed.”

 

There was silence, broken only by the occasional clang and clatter of the pipes.

 

“Do you think Jamie and Mouse—”

 

“Say good night, Gracie.”

 

There was a long sigh, and the unmistakable sounds of snuggling in the dark.

 

“Good night, Gracie.”

 

 

 

ACCUSTOMED TO YOUR FACE

 

Vincent sighed and closed his book. He drew one long leg up to his chest and rested his chin on it. Catherine was stretched out on her stomach on a worn woolen blanket. She licked her index finger and used it to turn the yellowed page. Behind them, the roar and hiss of the water could be faintly heard, and the foam kicked up on the water's surface gleamed whitely in the dim light.  Vincent sighed again, wanting attention.  Catherine hurried through the last paragraph on her page and closed the book over her finger. She rolled onto her side, smiling at him fondly.

 

“Did you want me?” she teased.

 

Vincent managed to look innocent and injured at the same time, but Catherine only laughed and held out her free hand to him. Appeased, Vincent curved his fingers around her tiny hand and returned her smile. His eyes were very soft, and the deepest blue she had ever seen.

 

“Tell me something.”

 

Vincent sighed – The Game again.

 

“What should I tell you?” he intoned solemnly.

 

“What you're thinking,” Catherine answered. “What it is that makes you so melancholy?”

 

Vincent looked thoughtful. “Melancholy ...” he mused. “Is that what I'm being?”

 

Her voice was dry. “I must say, brood better than anyone that I know,” she taunted gently. He shot her a stern look and she managed to wipe the grin off her face.

“I'm thinking about the play we saw the other night,” Vincent said at last. 

 

Catherine's lovely brow furrowed.  Play ...? What on –”

 

Understanding came in a rush.

 

“Oh – the movie.”

 

Vincent looked up distractedly.

 

“Yes – Pygmalion.”

 

My Fair Lady,” she corrected gently. He waved her corrections away, intent on his point. Catherine sat up, the book forgotten. She waited for him to continue.

 

“I'm thinking about the professor – about the song he sang when he realized Eliza had left him – that she was gone.”

 

They gazed at each other for a long moment before she spoke. “I've Grown Accustomed To Your Face,” Catherine said softly. Vincent nodded. He paused, groping for the right words.

 

“That's how I felt – how I feel about you sometimes,” he began.

 

Her face softened for an instant and she reached for his other hand, but when she looked back up, her eyes were twinkling with mischief.

 

“Are you trying to tell me I'm 'old news,' Vincent?” she teased.

 

Vincent protested immediately. “No – I didn't mean ...” He trailed off, realizing he was being teased. “I meant,” he said carefully, “that I've come to think of you as a necessary part of each day.”

 

She was nodding slowly, smiling at him with all the tenderness she possessed. While he watched, she turned his hand and kissed the open palm. “Catherine ...”

 

She looked up. “I've grown accustomed to your face,” Catherine began, crooning in a sweet, unsteady soprano. “It almost makes the day begin ...”

 

Vincent looked away, amused and embarrassed.

 

“Catherine—” he said again, but she continued.

 

“I've grown accustomed to the tune ... you whistle night and noon ...”

 

He looked at her quickly. Vincent's lips were capable of many delightful things, but whistling wasn't one of them. She blushed to her hairline without missing a beat.

 

“Your smiles – your frowns –”

 

“Catherine, please – you're embarrass

 

“Your ups and downs ... are second nature to me now,” she warbled doggedly. “Like breathing out and breathing in ..”

 

Vincent grasped her hand and began to pull her into his arms. Giggling, she resisted, rushing the last lines of the song.

 

“I-was-serenely-independent-and-content-before-we-met. Surely-I will-always-be-that-way-again—and yet ...”

 

She was in his arms.

 

“I've grown accustomed to your touch, accustomed to your smile, so accustomed to your—”

 

Vincent wrapped his arms around her and kissed her, his melancholy evaporating. Catherine let her head fall onto his shoulder as she returned his leisurely kiss. At last, Vincent pulled away, shaking his head in amazement.

 

She touched his cheek, the sensitive skin of his lips – so very different from her own.

 

“Face,” she said softly.

 

 


 

 

TUNNEL VISION

(WARNING Season Three References)

 

I've been struggling with this one, folks.  I'll not even bother to deny that my tunnel vision was working overtime this past season, but for some reason, in just wasn't as fun. To be perfectly honest with you, I even considered sheathing my claws and adopting a “paws off” attitude while everything sorted itself out. It certainly sounded appealing. It certainly sounded safe. It certainly didn't sound like me.

 

I've always believed that strength and love shine out most clearly under duress, and heaven knows we've had about all the duress we can take.  If you will forgive me for some rather grim (Grimm?) jokes, I'm ready for the fur to fly again. (Yes, it does feel good to be back.)

 

Has anybody else ...

 

... noticed that the icicles hanging in the tunnels during “Snow” are actually made of rubber? They “boing” when Vincent brushes them out of the way

 

... pondered the fact that, although Catherine is never given any real clothes, they obviously have someone come in to cut her hair! In six months time, it hasn't grown at all! (Thanks, Mom!)  Kudos as well to Jamie for the new do—isn’t she lovely?

 

...caught the disappearing blood stain on Vincent shirt? He has it when he's below, after having just defeated Snow, yet when he climbs to the roof to deposit the body, it is mysteriously gone! Fancy that! (I simply must point out that Vincent, who is supposedly weak from blood loss and grief, not to mention various and sundry internal and external wounds, would not--could not--should not—have carried anything anywhere, much less a grown man to the top of a New York skyscraper.)

 

...thought about renaming the third season? Titles that come to

mind are Three Men and a Baby, (Thanks, Eric!) or Beauty and the Beast: The Next Generation. (Don't you just love it?)

 

...realized that Gabriel, who is pathologically unstable, could never be the ruling force behind any organized international ring of baddies? He's simply not got enough on the ball, and his insistence on meeting everyone--Elliot, Diana, Vincent, even Catherine--face to face is not only dangerous--they could kill him where he stands--but blatantly stupid--they could identify him

 

...thought about the fact that, with Catherine out of the picture, Vincent becomes “fair game”? (Oh, go on.  You're just mad 'cause you didn't think of it yourselves.)

 

...recognized the incongruity of having Gabriel use Diana as a messenger to Vincent. A real villain would never--never!--have let Diana survive--dinosaur fans or no--especially since she doesn't have the smarts to conceal her distinctive hair color, shoplift some clothes or go inside, for heaven's sake

 

...wondered why Diana, who has obviously learned to handle a gun and use it with no compunctions for self-defense, who (literally) lives in a cage, who carries a gun into the tunnels (only when she doesn't need it) and who knows, or should know the scope of the evil she's dealing with still has no qualms about casually telling anyone within hearing range that she's been exploring the tunnels beneath the city, or about sitting, unarmed, on a gravestone in the middle of the night in New York City?

 

...questioned whether or not it was chronologically possible for Catherine's gravestone to have read “1989”?  It does.  If we know that “The Watcher” takes place in April, and the other second season episodes after that, even considering that the whole pregnancy only lasted six months, it seems that Catherine's funeral could not have taken place before late December. Still, those in attendance aren't dressed that warmly

 

...had a mixed reaction to the fact that Mouse is still “eavesdropping” on people's messages? I was both disappointed, and comforted .

 

...wished they'd taken more than two or three stock shots of the baby? It reminds of that Vincent-riding-the-subway clip that resurfaces at the drop of a hat.       (Or the other shoe...)

 

...wondered what happened to keep Gabriel's tapes from landing in

the hands of the press, or the police or even Joe thought how unlikely it is that Joe, with all his healthy, cynicism and skepticism, would take Father's word about Catherine? Joe and Father are strangers to each other and Joe has no reason to trust Father. (Please don't suggest that Joe acted on a hunch—his hunches were wrong about everybody else: Moreno, Elliot, even Catherine, when it came down to it.) Since Father used his real name, he has a decidedly suspect past and a great deal of explaining to do, plus the fact that there are prints and photos of him in one of the New York police departments. Joe would have looked up all of those things .

 

...wished beyond wishing that Vincent's and Catherine's baby had not been born and brought home at the cost of so, so many lives? After this last season, I have to feel that Paracelsus won after all. Someday, somehow, Vincent will have to look into the eyes of his son and say, “I killed for you before you were born.” I find it ironic and sad that Vincent, who could not stand the thought of being “born in blood” has left his only child such a violent legacy .

 

...found Gabriel's demise completely unsatisfying? Pardon me if I've missed something, but why is it a triumph when Vincent, who has every right--even that of self-defense--to kill Gabriel in the heat of the moment, does not? Why isn't it a tragedy when Diana shoots Gabriel in cold blood? (Neither Catherine nor Vincent at any time killed in cold blood. How unfair to Diana, to make her so icy.)

 

...applauded the name they chose for the baby?  On that, I believe we are all in complete agreement.

 

Well, I did manage to get rather grim, but I'm only doing what I've always done--calling 'em like I see 'em. We have endured, and so, it would seem, has Tunnel Vision. The fairy-tale lives, and there is no compromise. Not from where I sit.

 

There is one bright spot in all of this madness: For the moment, however fleeting, the pun police are the least of my worries.

 

 

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