Happily Ever After

Darlene Jones


Chapter 1

Five months! thought Catherine. Five months since Vincent had been so ill and she had gone into the cave to try to save him. After, Vincent had lost his memory. He had known she was the woman he loved, but he had not even remembered her name! He never came to her balcony anymore and she missed that terribly. But worst of all, he had lost his connection to her. He could no longer feel everything that she was feeling when she did. Maybe that was for the best she thought considering the state of her feelings these past months. Then again maybe not!

Vincent was better now, at peace, but she sure wasn't. And she could no longer delay telling him the other part of it. Catherine's thoughts were interrupted by Joe. "Hey Radcliff, what are you looking so intense about?

"Just trying to make a decision."

"You ok?" he asked and she could tell he was worried.

"I'll be fine Joe."

"You know how late it is? Go home, Radcliff."

"Actually, I'm going to meet Jenny for dinner. Good night Joe. See you tomorrow."

Glancing at her watch, Catherine grabbed her coat and followed Joe out the door. She hurried home to change for dinner. She had promised to meet Jenny at her office and she was going to be late. She arrived somewhat breathlessly, "Hi, Jen." she called. Jenny gave her a quick hug then stepped back and surveyed her intently.

"What?" asked Catherine.

"You look radiant. How do you do it?" replied Jenny.

Catherine laughed. "Thank you Jen, just lucky I guess."

Later as they were having dessert and the conversation had died down Jenny asked her what was wrong. "What do you mean?" asked Catherine.

"Its hard to explain, but Cath, for the past few months you've been... I don't know... kind of distracted I guess. Cathy, we've been friends for years but ever since your 'accident' you've been secretive." She held up her hand as Catherine started to protest. "Its ok, I know there is someone in your life, and I'm not trying to be nosy. But, this is different." She paused and then added, "Cathy is there anything I can do to help?"

Catherine sighed, "Jen you are a wonderful friend, but no, this is one time you can't help. I have something I need to do and I'm not quite sure how I'm going to do it, but I'll find a way and I'll be fine."

"Does it have something to do with your man? " Catherine only nodded. Jenny sighed with her own frustration of not being able to help. "Its getting late, we better go." she added. Catherine nodded again, they paid their bill, hugged and went their separate ways.

As Catherine walked home she continued to debate with herself. This is ridiculous she muttered under her breath. I'm going to change and go see him right now. She quickened her pace.

Catherine entered her apartment and headed straight to her closet. She spun around as she heard a tapping on the terrace door. It was Vincent! She flew to open the doors and into his arms. "How did you know I wanted to see you?" she asked.

"I felt something."

"Our connection is back?" she asked incredulously.

"No, not exactly, I don't know ... I felt something, something very different, a throbbing perhaps. I knew it had to do with you so I came."

Catherine slowly released her breath. She hadn't even known she had been holding it. "Vincent, there is something different. Something special. I was coming to tell you." He inclined his head to listen. "No, not here. In your chamber. Meet me below, I'll be right there." Vincent looked curious but didn't argue. A few minutes later they met below her building. Vincent reached for her hand. She took it smiling happily - even giggled a little. Vincent looked surprised and questioningly at her. She just grinned, tugged his hand and started to run.

They were both somewhat breathless when they arrived at his chamber and fell laughing on his bed. Well, its now or never thought Catherine. She took a deep breath to steady herself and stood in front of him. "Vincent close your eyes and give me your hand." When he did as she asked, Catherine opened her coat, took his hand and placed it on the swelling abdomen she had kept carefully hidden this last while under loose clothes. Now, only the very thin fabric of her negligee was between his hand and her skin. Vincent's eyes flew open. "Close your eyes." she said. "And wait. There, did you feel that? What did it feel like?"

"A sort of flutter." he replied and his eyes flew open in astonishment. "A baby, that is what I felt. A baby!"

"Not just a baby Vincent, our baby." Catherine said softly.

Vincent hardly dared to say it, hardly dared to believe it, to hope. "Then, that night in the cave? It was not a dream? It was real?"

"Oh yes, it was real, it was very real!" Catherine replied happily.

"You mean we can ...? " Vincent did not finish the question. He could see the answer in Catherine's eyes. He moved toward her, gently brushed her hair to the side, looked deeply into her eyes and bent to kiss her. Catherine met him eagerly. This was what she had waited five months for. She was ecstatic. The waiting was over.

Vincent broke away. "Don't move." he ordered as he went to secure the chamber.

"I didn't know you had doors." said Catherine somewhat incredulously.

Vincent looked over his shoulder at her with a twinkle in his eye, "I never needed them before," he replied. Catherine laughed delightedly. Vincent closed the second entrance to his chamber and turned back to Catherine. He drew in his breath sharply. She had removed her coat and was wearing a beautiful floor length negligée - a rather revealing negligee at that. As he moved slowly toward her she slipped one strap off her shoulder and then the other and let the gown fall to the floor. "Oh, Catherine." was all he could say and it came out in a reverent whisper. She held out her arms and Vincent scooped her up and carried her to his bed.

Later, Vincent woke with a start and reached for Catherine. When he realized she was not beside him he panicked and cried out her name. "I'm right here Vincent." Catherine reassured him. She was sitting curled up in his big chair her coat wrapped tightly around her.

"What are you doing?" he asked as he rose, went to her and knealt in front of her.

"I was watching you sleep and thinking. There was a time when I thought I would never be able to spend the night with you, to wake up and be with you and not have to leave, not have to go home alone."

Vincent stood slowly, reached for her hands, pulled her to her feet and engulfed her in a hug. She could feel him trembling. She pulled back a little and looked up into his face. "What is it?" she asked. Vincent looked into her eyes for a moment and then drew her even closer and hugged her even tighter.

"Catherine, do you know what you have given me?" he asked, then answered his own question. "How could you possibly know? For you, this part of love was always a possibility. For me it was never a possibility - until you, until now. Catherine, I have no words to tell you what this truly means, to thank..." Catherine put her hand to his lips.

"Sush," she whispered. "There is no need for words." And she reached up to kiss him.

"Again?" he asked tentatively looking down at her. She nodded, suddenly shy, then looked up and said happily, "Again and again and again Vincent. As many 'agains' as we want!" Vincent picked Catherine up and spun her about as she laughed like a child and carried her to his bed. He chuckled as he bent down to kiss her.

When Vincent woke the second time it was to find Catherine still asleep beside him. He lay perfectly still marveling at the feeling of her body curled next to his, marveling that, what was for other lovers, was now theirs. He was almost afraid to feel too deeply, too intently lest it all be lost but he couldn't help himself. He pulled Catherine tighter as she stirred in his embrace and waited patiently for her to wake also.

"Catherine, put your coat on. There is a place I want to take you, something we have to do."

"What about the others?" she asked.

"They are all asleep. Come" he said as he held out his hand to her. Vincent took her to the secret pools, the place he swam as a child, the place they had visited once when Catherine was overwhelmed with the grief of her father's death. This was to be a very different visit he thought. And it was! They swam together, splashed each other, laughed, kissed and loved again.

Back in his chamber, they dried off, ate breakfast and had some tea. They both felt a wonderful lassitude that neither wanted to disturb. They sat in comfortable silence and Vincent found he could not take his eyes off Catherine. He knew that he would marvel at this night forever.

Catherine felt as Vincent and knew, that as much as she hated to disturb the wonderful feelings held in their silence, she would have to be the first to speak. She had planned her words carefully, but Vincent spoke first. "Catherine, about our child - what if...?" He left the thought unspoken.

"Vincent, I have thought of this. I have thought of everything this can mean to us and to our child." she replied. "After all, I have had a bit more time than you to get used to the idea. You were so ill. You needed time to recover, to be yourself once more before I could come to you with this."

"But, what if he or she is ...?"

"Like you?" interrupted Catherine. "And what if he or she is like me? Vincent, we have created a life. We will raise this child in love, with love and surrounded by love."

Vincent relaxed somewhat at her words and began to feel that they could dream as any parents would. They talked for hours and Catherine surprised Vincent with the details of her planning and with her wisdom. Then he chastised himself. Why was he surprised? Catherine had continually astonished him with her love, her trust in him, her intelligence. Why should this be any different? She had lived in both worlds for almost three years now. She had kept his secret and him safe. She was his life and he understood that he was hers and now they would have a child to love. They would truly be a family!

"Father, its almost dinner time and Vincent's door is still closed." complained Jamie.

"That's right." said Mary. "Shouldn't you go to him?"

"Vincent never closed his door before. Didn't know he had a door." added Mouse.

"I know." said Father. "But there must be a good reason and we must wait for him to come to us. Remember he was so very ill for so long. This new need for privacy may be a part of the healing." replied Father but the others could tell he was very worried. "Now, run along. It is time for dinner. I'll be there soon." He didn't follow them immediately. Instead he sat for some time absentmindedly playing with his glasses debating Mary's suggestion. Several times during the day he had started towards Vincent's chamber but something held him back and now he didn't know what to do.

"Father, we have come to tell you something." Father turned to see Vincent and Catherine standing together and he knew that there was a specialness about this.

"Father, we are going to have a baby." Vincent said softly. Father was stunned and it showed.

"But when, how?" he stammered.

"In four months." answered Vincent. Catherine said nothing, only waited.

Father fell back into his chair, a whoosh of breath escaping as he realized the full import of this news. "That night in the cave?" he hardly dared voice the question. Catherine nodded. There was a long moment of silence. "But what if...?"

"Don't say it!" Catherine almost shouted and he could feel her emerging anger at what he had been about to say. Vincent too was stunned at the violence of Catherine's reaction. He started to speak and then thought better of it. "This child saved Vincent's life! This child was conceived in love! And this child will be raised in love! Here or in both worlds!" She paused to draw breath and said more softly as her anger began to dissipate. "You must be happy for us. You are our only parent and you will be his only grandparent."

 

Father looked from her to Vincent who inclined his head in accord with Catherine. It was a long time before he spoke and the tensions were palpable. "Catherine you are right. Can you forgive me? Please?" he almost begged.

Catherine nodded slowly and the tensions broke. Father moved toward her tentatively and they embraced. Immediately Father became the doctor and asked her about her health, her diet and her exercise. Catherine laughed as she indulged him answering in detail and smiled happily at Vincent.

"Father," Vincent interrupted at one point, "Catherine wishes to stay here until the baby is born and she wishes for you and Peter to help deliver our child."

"I am truly honoured," said Father and I know Peter will be too.

Later that evening Pascal put out a message on the pipes and the entire community gathered in Father's chamber. Vincent told them of the baby. There was a moment of silence and then it seemed that everyone spoke at once. Even as he was bombarded with advice from the men,. "Watch out for the mood swings." warned crusty old William, "I'll make you a cradle," offered Canan, Vincent watched delightedly as the women and children clustered around Catherine. They were full of advice, concern and from the children many questions. "Can I baby-sit?" asked Jamie. "I'll make toys." offered Mouse. "I have lots of baby clothes." said Olivia. "And I'm sure Canan will make you a cradle."

Eric looked at Catherine somberly. "If the baby is a girl will you name her Elly?" he asked.

Catherine glanced at Vincent who nodded and she replied. "Yes, Eric we will."

Eric threw his arms around Catherine's neck. "She could be a little sister for me," he said, "and I could take care of her the way Elly took care of me."

Catherine sighed as she remembered the lovely girl who had died in the epidemic. "Elly would be very proud of you Eric. If the baby is a boy will you still help us take care of him?" she asked seriously.

"Of course." said Eric.

Eventually, Vincent and Catherine were able to withdraw slightly. "You look tired," said Vincent. Catherine smiled at his concern and admitted she was.

"Let's slip out and return to your chamber." she suggested.

"Our chamber." he replied and kissed the top of her head.

Catherine looked up to see Vincent smiling proudly at this correction. She felt warm with the wonderful feelings of security, belonging, caring and love. "Our chamber." she echoed as they quietly slipped away from the excited group.

 

2

 

Catherine woke Monday in her own bed and groaned. She had to go to work and she really wanted to be below with Vincent. Well, that will come soon she thought and wondered how Joe would react to the news that she was taking a six month leave.

Not well, it turned out. "Radcliff, you can't! You know how busy we are! Besides, you can't be replaced!" Joe was upset. He could not imagine the office without her.

He had been so suspicious and leery of her when she first asked to work in the DA's office. The rich kid trying to be a do do-gooder. Later, he could not understand why she would have left her father's prestigious law office to come to the drudgery and incredible work load of what they did in the DA's office. He still didn't really understand why she had made the switch, nor did he understand why she hadn't gone back to the firm when her father died. Joe knew that had been an option for her.

But, Cathy had stayed and they had become true friends. There were times when Joe wished that friendship would or could be more. In fact, Joe thought, he wasn't upset about the work but because of the secrets Cathy kept. He was jealous he realized in a moment of being honest with himself. There was someone in Catherine's life - she was so secretive about him. Maybe this leave has to do with him Joe thought. Lucky guy!

"Hell Radcliff. If you need the time take it." he smiled ruefully. "Sorry for flying off like that."

"I understand," replied Catherine. And she did. She knew Joe was a little in love with her. "Joe, I will be back. You are my best friend. I could never leave you and I am only going away for awhile because I have to."

"I know." he answered and he too understood that friendship was all he would have form her and he was grateful for that. "When, do you want to start your leave?"

"Next week?"

"Well, then Radcliff, get to work. You will have to finish the depositions you are working on and brief Ted and an intern to take over. Can you get it all done in a week?" She nodded as she came around her desk to hug him.

"Thank you Joe. I'm going away so I won't talk to you until I get back. Don't worry about me. I'll be with family."

Telling Jenny was harder. "But Cathy, we have been friends since we were little. We have never gone six months without seeing one another. And what family?" she demanded. "You have never talked about aunts or uncles or cousins!" Catherine was only able to calm her with promises that she would write often and call if there was a need.

It was much easier to tell Peter of course as he had been a Helper from the beginning and he was delighted to be asked to assist at the birth. He was relieved when she said she was taking a leave and staying below. He knew she would be well cared for and protected. Even so, he promised to check in on her regularly.

The remainder of the week was a whirlwind of activity for Catherine. She worked daily with Ted and the intern, all the while keeping Joe informed of progress. She also managed to slip in some shopping for maternity and baby clothes and packed the other things she thought she would need.

 

3

 

"Hi Joe, its Jenny. I've had another letter from Cathy."

"How is she?" he asked. "No wait a minute - I've got six things going at once here. Why don't we meet for dinner?"

"I'd love to. I'll bring the letter and you can read it for yourself." She smiled happily as she hung up. She liked Joe, liked him a lot and wondered why Cathy had never tried to fix them up.

Joe looked up from the letter. "She sounds different." he said. "Happy."

"That's what I thought." replied Jenny. "But there is still something strange. I've had how many - four letters from her and she sounds happy in all of them - almost purring like a contented kitten, but none of the letters had a postmark so I still don't know where she is."

"She told both of us she was going to be with family, but you don't think she has any living relatives?"

"I'm pretty sure not." replied Jenny. "In all the time I knew her she never talked about anyone other than her mother and father."

"She promised she'd be back in six months and she sounds fine in her letters so much as I hate it I guess we'll just have to be patient," muttered Joe. Jenny grinned at his frowning countenance. "What?" he asked.

"Actually, I shouldn't laugh at you. I feel the very same way."

Meanwhile, Catherine was oblivious to all in the world above and happy to be so. She went for long walks in the park with Vincent. She even continued her running in the very early mornings with Vincent on guard. While Vincent worked with Father and the others keeping the tunnels in good repair or bringing food she sewed baby clothes and even learned to knit! She told Vincent she was knitting a baby blanket but really she was working on a sweater for him. And they talked. Oh, how they talked! For hours, day and night. The bliss have having time together that was not measured in minutes awed them both.

Vincent surprised her one day with a chess set he and Mouse had made for the baby. "Really Vincent, don't you think that is a bit premature?" Catherine teased. But Vincent insisted it was never too early to begin and in this Father backed him totally. Vincent also went through all of Father's books - no mean task considering their number - searching for the stories he wanted to read to their baby. He hounded the helpers to find him more. Really, he's becoming something of a pest thought Catherine with a smile. A totally lovable pest she admitted.

Father and Peter were even more trouble, both constantly checking to see that she was all right until she wanted to scream. Vincent would smile at her and wink and she would regain her patience with them.

She and Vincent also spent hours discussing possible names. Catherine was sure the baby would be a boy. Vincent was less certain and she suspected he really wanted a daughter although he would never say. Vincent was very indulgent with her in all things but he did make one request - a very unusual request coming from him. She argued with him but he insisted and when he explained his reasoning Catherine acquiesced.

And then the baby came - readily, easily with a wonderfully healthy cry. He was perfect. Vincent and Catherine were both too happy to speak but the others were more than willing to make up for that. Father and Peter were boastful - as if they themselves had produced this wonder. The children all wanted turns holding him - until he started to cry that is. Then they all thought he was just like Vincent who had cried for three days straight when found and brought to Father. The adults began to plan the naming ceremony and finally they all left.

"Just the three of us, at last." said Catherine.

"A family," replied Vincent. "Do you realize Catherine, that I had Father and the others and then, I found you, but until this moment I never really had a family?"

"I know," she said looking up at him holding their child in her arms. She reached one hand to caress his cheek. She pulled him toward her and kissed him gently. Vincent raised himself slightly and looked down at her. They were motionless for a long time. Then Catherine spoke, "Vincent there have been many times when I have been happy and content with you but never have I been happier than I am at this moment."

"I can feel it." He responded.

"You can! Our connection is back?!"

"Yes, I felt it the moment our baby was born."

"Then the miracle of his birth is even greater than either of us thought?"

Vincent nodded and moved to lie carefully beside her. He placed his arm under her head as a pillow. "You have always been right Catherine. With love all things are possible. If I had an eternity, it would not be enough time to love you," whispered Vincent more to himself than to Catherine as a tear rolled down his cheek. She heard and cried but they were tears of pure bliss.

 

4

 

"Where can I find Mr. Maxwell?" asked the courier. The receptionist gestured behind her towards his office. "You're Maxwell?" asked the courier. Joe nodded. "Message for you. Told me its personal and its urgent. Sign here." Joe signed and tore open the envelope, curious now, as personal messages at work just didn't happen. The message read simply,

Urgent. Meet me at the corner of Fifth and Main at 8 tonight. Peter.

Joe couldn't think of anyone he knew named Peter and threw the note in the trash. A few minutes later Jenny called. "Joe, I just got the strangest message brought by courier." Jenny didn't know it but she now had Joe's full attention.

"Read it to me."

"It says Urgent. Meet me at the corner of Fifth and Main at 8 tonight. And its signed Peter."

"I got the very same message a few minutes ago and was going to ignore it but not now."

"What do you think it means?" asked Jenny.

"I don't know. I'll pick you up at 7:30 and we'll find out."

Joe and Jenny arrived at the corner early, curious and a bit nervous. Joe kept checking for traps and Jenny searched each face in the crowd for someone familiar.

"Thank you for coming." The voice behind made them both jump. My name is Peter Alcott, the distinguished looking gentleman introduced himself. "Please join me for a coffee so I can explain." Joe and Jenny looked at each other in puzzlement as they followed him in to a small cafe. There was something familiar about him but Joe couldn't put his finger on it.

"I have asked you here tonight because there is someone you must meet and a place you need to see." began Peter.

"Who?" asked Joe suspiciously.

"Please, let me explain. The man you will meet is Jacob Wells. He and I became good friends when we were in medical school. Over 40 years ago Jacob was blacklisted by the un-American Activities committee."

"That was serious stuff," Jenny interrupted. "Why was he a suspect?"

"Jacob worked for the Chittiton Institute. He lobbied for a halt to nuclear testing. He testified that the bombs were being set off in front of our own soldiers."

"And of course that was the wrong attitude at the time," Joe interjected.

"Exactly." replied Peter.

"One of my university courses focused on that era." Jenny told the two men. "From what I learned it must have been pretty brutal. What happened to him?"

"He lost everything. His career, his reputation and worst of all, for him, his wife. They were very much in love and Margaret believed he was innocent but her father was Chittiton institute and he decided Jacob was guilty."

"The poor guy wouldn't have had a chance under those circumstances." Joe vocalized the thought for all of them.

"No. Margaret's father had the marriage annulled and took her to Paris. For Jacob, that was the final blow."

"But what happened? Where is he now? Why do you want us to meet him?" The heartbreak of Jacob's story made Jenny anxious for him and more curious than ever for herself and Joe.

"Come, I'll show you and let him tell you the rest of the story himself." Peter led them from the restaurant, down the street to an alley, into the back door of a building, and down the stairs to a pile of boxes. He moved the boxes to reveal a hidden door. "Jamie is waiting below. She will take you to Jacob." Joe and Jenny stared at Peter.

"What is this? Joe was suspicious.

"You have to trust me. This is very important. I can't tell you more than that. I'm sorry." said Peter.

Then Joe grinned at Jenny. "This is too much. There is no way I'm backing out now. You?"

Jenny shook her head. "I'm with you." Joe took her hand and they descended the stairs to see a young girl waiting for them.

"Hi," she said brightly. "I'm Jamie and I'm supposed to show you the tunnels and take you to Father."

She started off briskly and they had no choice but to follow. The constant tapping she said was their system of communication - a sort of Morse code on the pipes. She also explained how the entrances and security and sentries worked, but wouldn't answer any other questions. "Father will tell you." was all she would say.

"I know about people living in the steam tunnels under the Waldorf-Astoria." Joe told Jenny, "but I thought they were all moved out and this is much more extensive."

Before Jenny could reply they rounded a corner and were in the entrance of a huge room filled with an incredible assortment of "stuff" but it was the books that drew their attention. They were everywhere! "Father, we're here." called Jamie and promptly left.

Father turned and descended the stairs from his loft. "Thank you Jamie. Mr. Maxwell, Miss Aaronson please be seated." He gestured to two chairs at his table and offered them tea. "Thank you for coming. I wasn't sure you would. The circumstances are somewhat unusual."

"Wild horses couldn't have kept us away after we heard your story and especially after Peter took us to the tunnels." was Joe's comment.

"What is this all about?" asked Jenny.

"Peter told you how I lost everything?" They both nodded. "I was left wandering the streets not caring if I lived or died. A young girl found me and brought me here. It was a place she and some others had come to for refuge. And after my experiences above it was exactly the escape I needed. We, all those of us here at the time, banded together and began to build a community where we could all be safe. We have been here ever since

"Living under the city all this time?" Jenny was incredulous. "But how, food, money, clothes, how?"

"We live on what your world casts aside and we have helpers. They provide what they can."

Joe interrupted. "Helpers like Peter." It was a statement not a question.

"And you help them," added Jenny and this was not a question either.

Father nodded and then continued. "Some are born here and remain forever. Some come for a time to heal their wounds before they return above. Others go to school, get jobs and become helpers. Each has his or her own reasons and needs." Father gave them some time to absorb what they had seen and heard. Then he added emphatically. "Can you understand this? It is very important that you do."

There was a long silence. Jenny and Joe looked around the chamber again, then at each other somewhat helplessly. Jenny, who by nature was a sympathetic person, was the first to answer. "I feel like I have time traveled to some sort of medieval castle or something." she said looking around the room. "It is hard for me to understand because I have come from a comfortable and safe life, but yes, I think I can see why this would be a choice for some."

Father nodded with understanding of Jenny's conflicting thoughts and emotions and looked at Joe. Joe was much more cynical than Jenny and had more difficulty with all of it. He was not ready to acknowledge even to himself that this was a place where he might have found refuge. Nor would he admit this was a man to whom he could have expressed his feelings and his doubts for instinctively he trusted Jacob. Finally he spoke. "I don't know what to think or feel. I have worked for the DA's office for years and so part of me is angry that I never knew about this 'second city' in a world where I am supposed to have a grip on things, know what is going on." Joe's burst of anger continued. "What do you want from us? Why are you showing us all this now?" he demanded.

"Because Vincent and Catherine asked me to."

"Catherine?" Joe and Jenny exclaimed simultaneously.

"She's here? Where? We want to see her?" Jenny added.

"That is why you are here." Father replied patiently and gestured for them to follow as he led them to Catherine and Vincent's chamber. Joe and Jenny looked around them in awe. This room was even more fantastic than the first, crammed with objects of all sorts, and even more books, but still maintaining a certain dignity. Jenny is right, thought Joe; this place does have a medieval quality.

"It's like a fairy tale," breathed Jenny. Joe could only nod in agreement. Then they saw Catherine emerge from the shadows. She was wearing a pale pink knit dress of some sort with a angora over collar set with pearls - very old fashioned, thought Jenny, but perfect for this room and she looked lovely.

"She looks like she belongs here," said Joe not understanding why that thought made him feel both happy and sad. Jenny didn't hear. She was rushing to Catherine, hugging, laughing, half crying and bursting with questions. Joe wasn't far behind with his own hugs and questions.

Catherine laughed with them. "If you'll both slow down, we'll explain everything. But first there is someone you have to meet." She added this last in a serious tone. Catherine moved into the shadows briefly and returned with her baby. "I'd like you to meet my son." she said simply.

Joe and Jenny were stunned. "Cathy you kept secrets, but I had no idea!" sputtered Jenny.

"Cathy, you've pulled some stunts - but this?" Joe paused. "You are full of surprises, Radcliff. You never cease to amaze!" The two of them clustered around Catherine and admired the wonderful child. Joe knew he might be pushing the limits with Cathy but he had to ask. "Why here, Cathy?" and he gestured to the room.

Catherine looked at them both for a moment. "Joe, Jenny ... please sit down." They took two chairs and she curled up in Vincent's big chair across from them with her baby. "I'm not sure where to begin." she paused.

Vincent began for her - a voice only, from the shadows. "The night Catherine was attacked... the men who attacked her left her in the park to die. I found her. She was unconscious and bleeding badly. I brought her here. She had broken ribs and lacerations on her face. Father cared for her"

"My face was bandaged. I was afraid... afraid of this place, afraid I was blind, afraid of being attacked. Vincent cared for me. He read to me, brought me tea and talked to me. He helped to take the fears away." That soothing voice alone would do it thought Jenny. Any woman would love that voice.

"Ten days later I took her back to her apartment." Vincent paused.

"I had plastic surgery and returned to work. But I knew I had to do something with my life. So eight months later I came to apply at the DA's office."

"And I thought you were just some rich kid playing the do-gooder." said Joe ruefully.

Catherine chuckled then sobered. "I left Vincent believing I would never see him again and the thought was more than I could bear. Not a day passed that I didn't think of him or want to see him, but I had no idea of how to find him. I went below my building many times but the tunnels were too confusing - a maze and I knew I would quickly be lost."

"I knew from the moment I found Catherine in the park that I loved her." said Vincent. "I knew it was impossible. I also knew I had to see her again. I went to Catherine's terrace, thinking only to leave a gift."

"I wouldn't let him go," said Catherine. "I couldn't! We sat on the terrace and talked all night and Vincent told me something wonderful ... special."

"I don't know how it happened or even why," said Vincent. "From the moment I knew I loved Catherine I could feel what she was feeling. I knew when she was happy or sad or afraid. I knew."

"Cathy, didn't that make you feel like you had no privacy," asked Jenny, slightly

shocked.

"Vincent knew what I was feeling, but not what I was thinking." replied Catherine. "And I trusted him and knew he trusted me. I felt safe and loved." she added simply.

There was silence and the baby started to cry a little. Catherine rose to rock him and Jenny went with her. Joe got up and wandered the room restlessly considering all that he had heard. Then he spotted the painting. "My God, Vincent!"

"Yes, that is me!" Joe spun around to face him.

"No wonder you are down here." The two men studied each other warily. "How did this happen to you?"

"I don't know." replied Vincent quietly. "I don't believe I'll ever know."

After a time Joe asked. "You and Catherine have kept this secret for three years. Why show us now?"

"Vincent insisted." said Catherine coming up behind Joe and she could tell this surprised him. They all looked to Vincent to explain.

"The secrecy of our relationship has been a burden Catherine has had to bear. Always she has me and Father and the others down here, but she is the one who must go above and tell no one. She is the one who must be alone up there"

"There was a time when I wanted to live here, in Vincent's world, but he wouldn't let me."

"Why not?" asked Jenny.

"Because Catherine is a woman of both worlds. To deny that would be to diminish what she is. Now Catherine will go above with our son." Vincent paused and looked at Joe and Jenny. "Catherine needs a family above too. A family who knows about this place, about me."

"Why us?" asked Joe.

"Jenny, you have been my best friend since we were children. Joe, we met after I began my new life with Vincent and you are the most important friend I have above in this new life. Will you be my family above?" Catherine asked them both.

Joe looked at Jenny, put his arm around her waist and drew her near. They both looked at Vincent and then to Catherine. "Yes." they replied together.

"My very own 'topsiders'," enthused Catherine. "There is one more thing."

"When a child is born we have a naming ceremony. The whole community gathers in Father's chamber." Vincent explained.

"We would like you to be here." said Catherine. "Friday evening."

Joe and Jenny agreed. Then, Jamie arrived to guide them out. There was a flurry of good-bye hugs and promises to return on Friday.

When all was calm again Vincent looked at Catherine questioningly. She smiled. "You were right Vincent. I feel better already knowing that I will have a family above." Vincent moved toward her, picked her and the baby up and carried them to his chair where he held them in his lap. Really, I seem to be making a habit of this he thought. He looked down at Catherine holding their son, curled against him, eyes closed, almost asleep. He was sure she didn't mind!

 

5

 

"Can you believe it?" asked Joe.

"We're just a block from my apartment." said Jenny in amazement as she looked about.

"My god, this explains so much." said Jenny as they began to walk. "The secrecy."

"The witnesses who found her." said Joe, thinking of the deaf girl, Laura who had testified in the murder of a policeman.

"All the concerts in the park she was always going to with someone." added Jenny.

"But she didn't have a date for the Mayors Ball." Joe added. Then he abruptly stopped walking. "The time she almost drowned. She was wearing a strange cloak. Do you remember? She said someone had given it to her to keep warm" He paused. "It had to have been Vincent's. Jenny, you dreamt she died! She didn't only because Vincent saved her. It must have been him! The trunk of the car was torn right off! He must have done that!" Joe was stunned at the thought.

"I think he would be capable of that," said Jenny after some thought. "You can sense his power even when he is perfectly still. And Joe, that night, when you left, Cathy insisted I leave too. She said she wouldn't be alone. Vincent must have come to her."

"Elliot Burch never had a chance." said Joe. And this made him glad. He had never trusted or liked the man.

Slowly they continued walking and talking. They speculated about Vincent of course but if he himself couldn't explain, they soon realized their attempts to find answers were futile. Catherine had accepted him as he was and for her, they would too.

It was nearly dawn. They were in front of Jenny's apartment. For some minutes they were both lost in their own thoughts. Then Joe bent to kiss her good night. To his surprise the kiss became much more than one of friendship. Jenny, too, was startled by the depth of feeling in that kiss. They drew back from each other shyly. "Goodnight.' Jenny said softly and turned to enter her building. She was smiling. Joe watched the door close behind her and let out a whoop of delight. Well what do you know he thought. I like her! I like her a lot! I wonder why Radcliff never tried to fix us up? And he headed home on light feet

Joe and Jenny stood together at the naming ceremony unabashedly surveying the crowd. There were close to a hundred people Joe guessed. And then he spotted Peter and recognition came. He's the doctor who delivered Cathy he told Jenny remembering the 'first time I met her' story. Even more pieces were falling into place.

Father was speaking. "We welcome this child with love that he may know love. We welcome this child with gifts that he may know generosity. Have you chosen a name?" he asked looking to Vincent and Catherine.

"We have." replied Vincent. "His name is Jacob Maxwell Chandler." Most did not know Father's name so did not understand the significance of the choice. But Father did and his pleasure was obvious. And Joe is thrilled thought Catherine and when she winked at him, he beamed. "They are both pleased, I think." Vincent said to Catherine in an aside as everyone crowded around excitedly with their gifts.

"And proud," Catherine added, her eyes still on Joe.

Later Father found Vincent alone. "Thank you for the honour." he said simply.

"It was Catherine's wish," replied Vincent.

"That makes it an even greater honour." said Father thoughtfully remembering all that Catherine had done for Vincent and grateful that she had given him a life never dreamed possible.

It was some time before Joe could capture a minute alone with Catherine. "Radcliff, I don't know how to thank you."

"Vincent insisted." she replied.

"He did?" Joe was incredulous. "Why?"

"Because he trusts you. He likes you. He knows are my true friend and he knows you have a good heart." Joe beamed at Catherine and she grinned back.

"No one had ever paid me a higher compliment." he told her with true sincerity.

Finally the party began to break up. There were only the two couples and Father in his chamber. Jenny and Catherine were fussing over little Jacob. Joe turned to Vincent and held out his hand. "Thank you for the honour. I will not let you or Cathy down," he said.

"I know." replied Vincent and the two men shook hands firmly.

 

6

 

"Hi Joe, I'm back." said Cathy from his office doorway. Joe jumped up to greet her, giving her a quick kiss on the cheek.

"Radcliff you look great, but are you sure you should be here? It's only been a couple of months since your baby was born."

"I'm sure Joe. I'm ready and Jake is fine below with Vincent and the others. He couldn't have better care you know."

"Tell you what Radcliff. For the first few months we'll cut your case load in half and I won't take no for an answer."

"Thanks Joe. That would help a lot but I didn't want to ask. Well, I better get to work. Ted is waiting to bring me up to date."

"One more thing. No more field work for you."

"You can't do that!" protested Catherine.

"Like hell I can't. I'm still the boss." Joe was firm. "Cathy, you are a mother now and the field work can be dangerous."

"But Joe, I have to carry my share of the work load."

"Radcliff, you know I'm right and you know Vincent would agree. And don't worry, there is still more than enough work for you!"

"Ok Joe, you win. But that doesn't mean I have to like it." Catherine pretended to still be miffed. "You and Vincent planned this didn't you?" Joe's sheepish grin told her she was right. "But I'm not giving up my lessons with Isaac," she muttered rebelliously under her breath.

Truthfully she admitted to herself an enormous relief. She had faced enough danger in the last three years to last a lifetime, nor did she want to risk Vincent in situations where he might need to come to her rescue. She needed Vincent safe and Jake needed both of them safe and sound thought Catherine, and was not surprised that, tiny as he was, Jake had the power to make her accept such restrictions.

"Radcliff I'm glad you're back." Joe waved her out the door as his phone rang.

A few days later Joe caught Catherine at the elevator as they were heading down for lunch. "Radcliff. I need your advice."

"Must be a new woman," Catherine laughed. "What is it Joe?"

"Yes, there is someone and I want to ask her to marry me," he replied. "What do I do? What should I say?'

"This is serious then?" asked Catherine. Joe nodded. "Joe, whatever you say or do, if she loves you it will be right."

Joe looked relieved. "I knew I could count on you Radcliff! I'm going to ask her right now." He was gone before Catherine could reply.

"Good luck." she called after him.

Catherine's days were busy ones. When she wasn't at work she and Vincent spent hours with Jake. They would often sit in their favorite spot under the band shell and let the concert music wash over the three of them. On some weekends Catherine took Jake to her apartment and for long walks in the park. She and Vincent wanted him to be comfortable in her world right from the beginning. Sometimes Jenny was with her and sometimes Joe too. They both fussed over Jake as did everyone below. He was a truly well loved baby! And maybe a bit spoiled too!

"Cath, Joe and I have something to ask you," said Jenny one evening while the three of them were having dinner in Catherine's apartment, Jake sleeping soundly in his crib.

"You sound serious. What is it?" Catherine asked slightly alarmed.

"I've asked Jenny to marry me," said Joe.

"Would you be my maid of honor?" asked Jenny.

"I'd be delighted." replied Catherine as she jumped up to throw her arms around them in delight. Suddenly she remembered Joe's question about proposing. "So, whatever you said was right?" she asked him.

"Radcliff you are wise and wonderful." Joe replied. "We do have another request. Do you think we could have a second wedding party with you and Vincent and everyone Below. Would you ask?"

"Of course you can. I don't have to ask. Just tell me when and what you want." The two women began planning, forgetting about Joe. "Wait a minute." said Catherine. "Let's go below now and plan with Vincent." Joe and Jenny agreed readily. Catherine scooped up Jake and they were off.

Below was no different. After giving Vincent the news the two women were back as the planning, forgetting both men in their excitement. Joe looked at Vincent and asked, "Are women always like this?"

"I suspect so." replied Vincent. "Do you play chess?"

"Yes."

"Then we might as well play. They will be planning for hours." The two men went to find Father's set. Catherine and Jenny didn't even notice them leave.

 

 

Epilogue

 

Vincent and Joe stood a little apart from the crowd watching the swirls of activity.

"Can you believe it?" asked Joe. "This is our tenth Winterfest!"

"Yes." Vincent turned to him. "Do you remember your first visit here?"

"Are you kidding? I couldn't believe any of it a first. Didn't want to either."

"You hated me a little that night."

Joe had the good grace to not deny Vincent's words. "Yes, I did. You had Catherine and your incredible connection and Jake and I was pretty jealous."

"And then you found Jenny and built your own circle of love."

Joe started to respond, but they were interrupted. "Dad," cried Jake as he and Mike flew up to their fathers. "Mom says we're old enough for lessons with Isaac and we can start next week if it's ok with you. She says that's her Winterfest present to us!"

Mike was just as excited. "Is it ok Dad?" he asked Joe.

"Who's Isaac? And what kind of lessons?" asked Joe.

"Isaac taught Catherine everything she knows about self-defense and that knowledge saved her life many times, mine too." Vincent explained for the boys.

Sensing Vincent's trust in this man Joe answered, "Well then, if it's ok with your Mom, its ok with me."

The boys started away and then turned back. "Don't forget Dad, you have to take us swimming in the secret pools again this week," reminded Jake.

"And you promised to take us to a basketball game." Mike wasn't about to let his father forget either. "Be sure to have some of the cake Mom helped us make he told both men. "We have to go now. We promised Father a game of chess."

"He's our teacher, but we almost always win," boasted Jake and off they went.

"Boy, they don't forget a thing!" said Joe.

"No, but they seem to think we forget everything." laughed Vincent. "Remember them as babies? It was a lot simpler then. All they did was cry!" Then he turned to Joe and added, "I knew the moment when you had finally accepted me without reservation."

"When?" asked Joe, not fully conscious of it himself.

"At the naming ceremony, when you named your son Michael Vincent Maxwell. I felt that was the true beginning of our friendship."

Joe thought about that for a moment and then turned to watch the boys. "They are the luckiest of children, aren't they?" he stated.

"How so?" asked Vincent. He knew the answer but he needed to hear Joe say it.

"They have the very best of both worlds." Joe looked at Vincent. "I do too." Vincent nodded and the two men embraced, best of friends.

They turned to see Catherine and Jenny approaching. "And we are the luckiest of men," said Vincent, his eyes glued to Catherine. As if, after ten years he still can't believe his good luck, thought Joe.

"What are you two, looking so smug about?" asked Jenny.

"Our secret. Man stuff" and Joe swept her to the dance floor before she could protest.

Vincent turned to Catherine, "May I have this dance, my lady?" he asked inclining his head to her slightly. Catherine curtsied and gave him her hand. Vincent raised her hand to kiss it, bowed gallantly and led her into the dance. Her heart swelled as Vincent swept her into the dance and the music soared around and above them.

Like a fairy tale, she thought. We will all live happily ever after!