THE JOINING

By Margaret Davis

(This story first appeared in the fanzine Within the Crystal Rose, Volume 1.)


Catherine, Joe and District Attorney Moreno emerged from the Justice Building into a sea of reporters. A forest of microphones were thrust in their direction as the person holding each one shouted questions, each trying to be heard above the others. Catherine and Joe stepped back a pace to let the District Attorney be the focus of the crowd and the mini-cams.

"Please, just let me make a statement," Moreno began and waited for comparative silence before he continued. "Today the people have given us a victory. But in the face of this victory, there is no rejoicing. Three children died because of crack. How many more of our children must die before this city, this nation goes to battle to save them from the scourge of drugs?

"It is not enough to destroy the factories in South America or to catch an occasional shipment. We must cut off the demand for the drugs! Only then will our children be safe. That's the message you need to convey. Thank you."

Catherine felt proud, proud to be a part of the team that brought a drug dealer to justice; proud to work for a man who ignored threats from the drug world to bring the recruiter of young children to deliver drugs to trial. And yet there was sadness for the families who had lost their children in violence.

This trial had been heart wrenching. Little children drawn into the sordid world of drugs, lured into the maze by the promise of money to spend at the arcade and the candy store. Seven and eight year olds who carried crack in their backpacks and who paid the ultimate price drugs extract from all they touch, death.

* * * * *

When she finally arrived back in the office, Catherine looked at the piles of folders and paperwork on her desk in dismay. 'They must be hatching at night, the stack is twice the size it was yesterday.' Wearily she dropped her briefcase beside the desk and sat down.

"Radcliffe, I need to talk to you," Joe stood beside Cathy's desk with a ghost of a smile on his face. "I have your next assignment."

Catherine fumed as she followed him back to his office. 'Not even time to take off my coat,' she grumbled to herself, Joe motioned to her to sit down and closed the door.

"Joe, my desk is covered. I'll need two weeks... "

"Hold it, Cathy, let me at least tell you what the assignment is," Joe said with a smile. "Moreno is so pleased with the verdict, he's given us some comp time for all the nights and weekends we worked." He watched her face and was rewarded with a grin.

"Really, Joe?"

"Yep, starting Monday. A week, Cathy, I may sleep the first three days."

Catherine was grateful for the time off, but wished it could start now. Time to sleep and time to be with Vincent, she'd had little enough of either lately.

"Go home, Radcliffe, we'll get everything sorted out tomorrow and then... veg out."

"Thanks, Joe." Catherine left his office, picked up her briefcase and headed for the door. She was tired and hungry and fortunately, late enough that flagging down a taxi was no problem.

When the elevator opened at her floor, she was not sure she had the strength to walk to her door. 'Come on, just a few more feet, you can do it,' she coaxed her body. Just knowing the trial was over was such a relief, as the tension left her body it felt like the muscles turned to mush.

The door swung inward and she saw a dim light from the kitchen. There was a wonderful smell in the air. He was here! Hurriedly she closed the door and slipped on the chain.

"Vincent?"

"I'm here," came the answer in that soft, silk on steel voice. He came forward and took her in his arms, savoring the feel of her against him. He could feel her profound weariness mixed with her happiness.

"I've brought some soup for you, William made minestrone tonight."

"It smells delicious, I'll go wash my hands." Catherine thought back to the first time Vincent had brought supper just three weeks ago. It was the first day of the trial. She had worked in the law library for hours on a list of additional precedents Moreno had given her. She had left after she read the same page four times and it still didn't make sense.

When she arrived at home, she found a little lamp on in the living room and Vincent in the kitchen. She had not been frightened for she had instantly recognized his cloak draped over one end of the loveseat.

"Catherine, I felt your weariness and your hunger. I brought you some of the casserole from dinner." Vincent had explained his mission as he helped her remove her coat. He had made tea and sat with her while she ate.

In the three weeks of the trial, he had brought her supper on the days she worked very late, concerned that she would ignore her hunger in favor of collapsing into her bed straight away.

It was a routine that had a very comfortable feel. Several times after he left, Catherine could not help but long for a time when he would be there always. He had told her so long ago they would only be together if they could move through the fears. Surely the last six months met that requirement.

Returning to the present, Catherine moved to the table where he had set a place for her. When he placed the bowl of soup in front of her, she leaned forward and took a deep breath.

"It smells so good. There's something about soup that is so... well, soothing is the only word I can think of," she said and picked up her spoon.

"We won, Vincent. They gave us a guilty verdict early this evening. I know it's only one person, but it's a start."

"The most important fact is that you are doing something," Vincent replied. "So many are overwhelmed at the scope of the problem, that they are defeated without a battle."

"Yes. When I think of the pain of those three families. One of the mothers talked with me yesterday while we waited for the verdict. She asked me what she could have done differently to have avoided this. Billy was her only child. Vincent, I felt so helpless, I had no words to comfort her."

"There are no words to ease the loss of a child, especially a loss under violent circumstances, Catherine. But what you have done today will make the world Above a little safer for other children."

They rinsed the dishes in silence and then moved to the balcony for a few minutes before he left. There was a brisk breeze that rustled the leaves on the plants and tugged at wisps of their hair. They stood shoulder to shoulder gazing down on the glittering array of lights. The sounds of the traffic that drifted up to them was not enough to disturb their contemplation.

"Eight more hours," Catherine said, finally.

"Until what, Catherine?"

"A whole week off! Moreno gave us a week to make up for some of the long nights and weekends. A return of probably one hour for every four we put in, but a nice gesture anyway."

Vincent murmured, "Well deserved. What are your plans?"

"I don't know, I want to sleep and catch up on the laundry, and I hope you and I can spend some time together. We've not had time to talk, lately."

"Perhaps you could come Below for a few days. The children and Father have been asking for you." 'And I have been thinking about us and our future, we do need to talk,' he added silently.

"I've missed everyone, too. I could run all my errands on Saturday, meet Jenny for brunch on Sunday and then come Below Sunday evening."

"I'll see that your chamber is prepared." A shiver of anticipation drew an icy finger up his spine. Catherine, close by in the night, was not a thought to dwell upon, yet. He forced his attention back to her.

"... tomorrow night? I'll fix dinner this time."

"As soon as it's dark, I will come to you," he replied and was rewarded with a gentle smile and a hug.

* * * * *

After morning meal Vincent gathered up clean clothes, soap and towels for a bath. He had already checked Catherine's chamber. All was in order waiting for her arrival this evening.

High above him, Catherine slept peacefully. Over the months their bond had gradually returned to its former level, and once again he could feel her moods and emotions clearly. While Vincent was grateful for its return, in some ways he wished the connection could be muffled at will. Catherine's dreams drew him until sometimes it was as if he saw through her eyes. She dreamed of loving him, dreams of sweetness and passion.

Vincent dropped his clothes at the side of the mineral pool and gingerly stepped into the water. It was hot but not unbearable. Gradually he immersed himself until he could recline on the underwater ledge with just his head above water resting on a towel at the edge of the pool.

The water moved against him gently, bubbling up from the natural spring. Slowly the tensions flowed from his body and his eyelids closed. He drifted in that place between sleep and awareness, lulled by the warmth of the water.

Catherine dreamt of a place, warm and misty and quiet. The water beckoned her. She dropped her clothes and entered the pool. There was room to lie down and enjoy the currents pushing over and around her. She opened her eyes and Vincent stood beside the pool. She extended her hand to him in invitation. He dropped his cloak and stood before her unashamed of his body. Taking her hand he moved into the water with her.

Vincent's eyes opened suddenly. He looked around for her and realized the sense of her presence had been only in his mind. He reached for her consciously through the bond and gently touched her. Her feelings of love and desire flowed through him along with her wish for a permanent relationship, a commitment.

Vincent wondered if their bond had carried to Catherine his thoughts of their future. For weeks he had thought of little else, going over and over in his mind the questions and doubts about a life together. Again and again he was reminded of Catherine's acceptance and love, her unshakable belief in the rightness of their love. She had demonstrated her faith in their bond and their love when she followed him where madness had driven him.

He had been determined to subdue the dark one, even if it meant his death. Her screaming of his name had pulled him back from the abyss of despair. Vincent worried at the problem long after his self-inflicted wounds had healed.

When stripped of the guilt, the doubts and the cocoon of limits he placed around it, their love for each other rose up a clear and shining thing. Pliant as a reed, strong as the finest steel, it was this love that carried them through all they had endured together. And finally, Vincent with rigorous honesty stripped the fears down to the very basics. Would she find his body ugly? Was he capable of hurting that which he loved best? The answer to both was, No.

Catherine had seen him as he was, naked and driven to the edge by the struggle. Howling his misery, roaring his agony, beyond the bounds of speech or thought, he came instantly to himself when she screamed his name and touched him. Even in that instant he knew not even the dark one would hurt her, he loved her as well.

Vincent had waited for the right time to share this with Catherine. The preparations for the trial and the mourning for her father had necessitated a delay. Now the time off and her imminent visit drew him near the time to tell her, to ask her.

He thought of the plain gold band hidden in his chamber. Made from the gold piece left on her balcony so long ago to draw him to her and into Paracelsus' lair. Now it was a thing of beauty with delicate engraving inside, Forever and Always. He hoped to see it on her finger as a symbol of their love.

* * * * *

"Jen, I haven't given Christmas a thought. Thanksgiving was just a blur. We spent so much time in the law library that I felt like it was my new home. All I needed was a bed and a closet."

"A big closet," Jenny added with a laugh. "Maybe two closets."

The two friends laughed together as only best friends can. Though it had been weeks since they had last seen each other, they had kept in contact with brief phone calls. Sometimes it was just a message on the answering machine to say, I'm thinking about you. They never seemed to run out of things to say, the conversation leapfrogged as a comment brought a idea to mind or the memory of something to share.

What a wonderful thing, friendship. Each knew she had only to pick up the phone and say, I need you, and the other would be there. And when one of them was angry or moody, the other forgave, casting aside the unpleasant and retaining the essence, the heart of their relationship.

"Well, let's go shopping then. Wear comfortable shoes and bring your plastic," Jenny invited. "How about Friday?"

"Okay. Meet you at Bloomies at five."

"Done."

They parted with a hug and a laugh, each thankful for the love and companionship and sense of family she received from the other.

* * * * *

Catherine strolled through the tunnels hand in hand with Vincent. The last two days had been spent catching up with the happenings in the tunnels, letting Father beat her at chess and sleeping, long restful hours. Now they were in search of a quiet place to be alone, sometimes a difficult feat in the underground community.

The Mirror Pool was far from the living quarters and provided an ideal spot for them. They watched the constellations reflected in the water for a time before moving to sit on Vincent's cloak with their backs against one of the walls. Alone took on a new meaning as they talked together and the hours of night slipped away.

"Catherine."

The sound of her name and the feelings behind it brought Catherine immediately to attention.

"Do you remember when you asked me if we would ever be truly together?" At her nod, he continued. "I told you we had to move through the fears. You said you were not afraid, but I was. The future is an uncertain thing, Catherine. There are no guarantees, thirty years, thirty days, who knows where the future lies?"

In Catherine's heart the bud of hope nurtured these many months, began to open. The Future! He had thought of the future, their future?

"My fear has always been that I might hurt you." At her first words of protest, he held up his hand and she fell silent. "When you came for me, followed me, touched me, you placed your life in my hands. I did not hurt you. Our bond, our connection remained, though I had cast off all vestiges of the man.

"It endured when all else was gone. You saw me as I am... all of me, which is my other fear. I am different, Catherine. I never thought to find someone who loved me in spite of my differences."

"Not in spite of, Vincent, because of your differences." Catherine's voice was soft with the emotions cascading though her heart.

"No one can say where our future will lead us, Catherine. If you will have me, I would be all to you that I can for such time as we have remaining."

The tears slid down Catherine's cheeks as she took her hands in his, "It will never be long enough. I love you."

"Catherine, my heart, I will love you until my last breath." He leaned down and took her mouth with his, sealing his promise.

After a time they pulled apart and gazed into each other's eyes. Reflected there, they saw peace and joy and a love that would never die.

"Catherine, there are many decisions to be made." He stopped as her fingers were placed gently over his lips.

"And we will make them Vincent, in time. The most important one has been made, we will have a future, together; and whatever its shape and form, it will be enough, Vincent."

"If we are to join, Catherine, I would speak vows with you. We need time to prepare. I will come to you Above, tomorrow."

"Will you walk back with me?" she asked. She wondered if they met anyone how she would keep from shouting her joy.

* * * * *

Catherine made one more walk through her apartment to see that all was in order. Candles covered the tables in all the rooms, fresh roses glowed like jewels in their vases, champagne cooled in the refrigerator. All was ready.

She showered then dried her hair and brushed it to a lustrous curve. Lotion was smoothed on her skin and the most delicate touches of makeup added to eyes and lips. She dressed in delicate undergarments, mere wisps of lace and fabric, and donned an apricot silk blouse under a creamy woolen jumper. As she added earrings, she heard the familiar tapping at the door.

Catherine drew in her breath as Vincent entered from the balcony. His hair was freshly washed and framed his face in a golden halo. A white, deeply ruffled shirt was tucked into dark green trousers that clung snugly to his thighs. Leather boots and a green brocade vest completed his outfit.

Vincent laid his cloak across the chair and stepped forward to take both Catherine's hands in his. "Are you ready?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Catherine, I love you. I will live with you, love you, protect you and be a husband to you for as long as we shall live." From his pocket he took a ring and slipped it on her finger. "I promise before God to share all with you: joy, sorrow, health, sickness until the end of time."

"Vincent, I love you. I will live with you, love you, accept your guidance, and be your wife for as long as I live. All that is mine is now ours. I promise before God to share all with you in plenty and in want, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others, until the end of time."

They remained clasping hands and gazing into one another's eyes for a moment.

"My wife," Vincent said softly as he took her in his arms and kissed her.

Catherine nestled under his chin and murmured, "My beloved husband." She felt his happiness clearer than anything she had ever experienced in their bond and rejoiced that their dream was finally reality.

* * * * *

The moonlight streaming through the balcony doors, shown on the couple standing beside the bed. Clothing fell to the floor until nothing was between them but air. Vincent took Catherine in his arms and pulled her close. She fit against his body as if made to measure. Mouths whispered words of love.

She felt him lift her easily and carry her to the bed. Each touch of his hand fanned the flames of her love and the touch of his mind intensified the merging to one. Together they rose to mingle with the stars in the radiance of their love.