"So now you're sleeping peaceful

I lie awake and pray

That you'll be strong tomorrow and we'll

See another day

And we will praise it"

Sarah McLachlan, 'Hold On'

From the album: 'Fumbling Towards Ecstasy"

 

CHAPTER THREE


Monday afternoon and hospital number three. Hospitals had never been Catherine's favorite places. Granted, there really weren't very many people in this world for whom they were. There was always pain, worry, fear, despair, and grief clinging like mist through the hallways. It was seen in the faces of the people who ended up here: the children, felled by chance by gangsters' bullets, the drug addicts, screaming their need as they writhed in the throes of endless nightmares, and the families, hearts like ice as they waited to be told the fate of their loved ones. And the people who worked here, dispensing equally news of ultimate hope or drowning sorrow, cloaked in the icy professionalism that preserved their sanity and provided their only armor against the entirety of these places.

Catherine had put off visiting this particular hospital as long as possible. At the top of the steps before the front entrance she faltered, unable to continue. The memories that echoed in its halls were painful and fresh. The darkest times of her life had transpired within these walls. Her father had died here as had her mother many years previously. Each step up the concrete stairway raised another painful memory. The monotonous click and whoosh of her father's respirator, both sustaining his life and stealing his humanity with its mechanical, uncaring precision. Her mother, pale and emaciated from the cancerous poison that was slowly destroying her from within, helpless. Herself, recovering from the surgery which had repaired the scars on her face, alone in a cold, impersonal room. Surrounded by the fragrance of dying flowers, she recalled desperately wishing for that calm and reassuring presence she thought she would never experience again. The old-fashioned but genuine care she had received in a primitive rocky chamber Below far outshone the slick facade of concern presented by any modern facility.

Unbidden, her mind slipped once again to the patient now experiencing that loving care. After awakening in Vincent's bed on Saturday and realizing she had slept into the afternoon, Catherine had decided to remain below for the weekend. After the events of the previous night, a part of her felt sure that Vincent needed to feel her presence nearby. Even in his unconscious state, she believed he still felt her through the bond. She had tried to use that, to send him reassurance that she was unharmed, and to send her love as well. Although whether he would accept it now was doubtful.

Oh, but it had started out so wonderfully - to grasp opportunity and finally express her love physically! His response had been unexpected. Instead of the fearful or angry withdrawal her mind had predicted, her heart's deepest hopes had proven true. After initial stiffening, a habitual and ingrained denial of any intimate touch from her, he had accepted, no, seized the gift she had long waited to bestow. It had felt so right. The rumbling purr of pleasure from him, at once a surprise and yet, somehow, almost expected. The leader had become the follower as, swept up in the overwhelming power of shared feelings and emotions ravaging through them, the world had faded to become only the feel of him, the taste of him. Until&

Shaking her head, Catherine stopped herself. It happened. No matter how hard she wished for it, the facts would remain unchanged. For now, the pieces of her dreams - their dreams - lay shattered. She unconsciously lifted her head with resolve, a gesture both familiar and heartening. They would pick up what pieces they could and go on. She had done a lot of soul searching over the past weekend. Perhaps, once they had reassembled and repaired what remained, the dream would live again. It wouldn't be the same. The shape might be changed.  Some pieces would be crushed beyond replacement, leaving empty gaps, and perhaps new pieces would have to be invented. They would find a way. They had to. Without him, there was nothing.

Well, speculation was useless at this point. This was something they must deal with together. Presently, Vincent was under Father's care, unconscious but physically recovering. She had barely left his side until this morning, when she had returned to her apartment to change for work. A part of her, one that she had not been aware of until Vincent, now told her they needed to be close. Briefly she recalled the first time she had felt that new awareness, when he and Father had been caught in a cave in. For a moment she had not known what the piercing pain in her head had been, the howl of fear through her mind, until she had felt the touch of 'otherness' that colored it. Instinctively she had realized its source was Vincent. The longer they were together, though, the stronger her awareness of that voice was becoming. From nothing at the outset of their relationship, gradually her sense of him was increasing. Often now she could feel a vague echo of his emotions, surely not as strongly as his perceptions of her through the bond, but definitely present. With a sigh, she refocused on the hospital doors before her. Hopefully, this new awareness would be of help when he awakened. She would need all the help she could get.

Why was nothing for them ever easy?

Advancing to the glass doors, she nodded in thanks to the young man, probably an intern, who held the door for her. His admiring glance went completely unnoticed, as Catherine shook off her preoccupation. She had a job to do here; it was time to focus on that.

First thing this morning she had begun with a city map, marking the locations of all the assaults. She had then drawn a large circle, using a rough central point and encompassed all the assault sites. Concentration was difficult; it seemed that the DA's office was even more riotous than normal. The various noises were a serious distraction given her precarious emotional state of mind. The strong smell of a leftover onion bagel in a nearby trash can had almost made her gag. "Concentrate, Chandler! Focus!" she had muttered to herself as, shaking her head, she had successfully shut out the cacophony. Within the circle, she noted the locations of various hospitals, and began making calls. There were only three hospitals in the area that had the facilities and staff for organ transplant surgery, and this was the last on the list.

Stepping into the lobby, she proceeded towards the front desk. The harried looking woman manning reception acknowledged her with a glance as she spoke emphatically through her microphone headset. "I'm sorry sir, but as I've said, our Confidentiality Policy prohibits me from giving out that kind of information, may I suggest - Humph." With a touch of a finger, the tired looking woman disconnected the caller. "Hung up on me. Can I help you?"

"Yes, my name is Catherine Chandler." Reaching into her purse she pulled out her ID and showed it to the woman. "I'm with the District Attorney's office. I was wondering if you could direct me to the head of your Surgical Department, or your Organ Transplant specialist if you have one?"

Eyeing the ID speculatively, the woman replied, "Our Chief of Surgery is Dr. Wilfred Morgan. He's probably in surgery right now, but if you want to see his Assistant, Sandra Berrigan, I'm sure she could set up a meeting for you."

"Sure, that sounds fine," Catherine answered after a second's consideration. "Where can I find her office?"

"Take the elevator to the third floor, turn right, it's on the left, Room 305".

"Thanks a lot, Ms&?"

"Demers. Lucy Demers" the woman replied as the phone lines started buzzing again. Glancing down at the blinking lines, she grimaced.

"Well, I hope your day improves. Thanks for the help." With a smile, Catherine turned and headed for the banks of elevators, slipped into the next available one, and hit the button for the third floor. Glancing at the other occupants, she noted the rather cute fellow, about her age. Three years ago she would have given him a second look. That had been a different life though, and she had been a different person.

The ping of the floor indicator preceded the doors sliding open. Their progress was accompanied by a sharp high-pitched screeching sound that made her wince. Following the directions given by the receptionist, she turned right and proceeded down the hallway. The sharp smell of disinfectant seemed to permeate everything, along with that subliminal smell of sickness common to all hospitals. The nameplate on Room 305 read "Surgical Administration." Hesitating at the door, she glanced into the office. "Hello?" Catherine called. "Is anyone home?"

"Coming," replied a female voice, from one of the four open office doorways leading off from this central area. From the door labeled 'Dr. W. Morgan' a woman's head appeared. "Yes, can I help you?"

"Hi. Lucy Demers at reception directed me here. I'm looking for Sandra Berrigan."

"Well, you've found her," the woman said with a bright smile. Backing out of the office bearing a large box, the petite dark haired woman walked to the only desk in the room and dropped it heavily to its surface. At Catherine's quirked eyebrow at the box, Sandra rolled her eyes. "Filing. It never ends, it breeds." Dusting off her hands she perched on the desk corner. "What can I do for you?"

Catherine fished her ID out of her purse for seemingly the twentieth time today, and explained she needed to arrange a meeting to speak with Dr. Morgan, who she understood was performing surgery at the present time. Automatically, she noted the woman's reaction to her occupation and identification. Throughout her experience in investigation, she had noted that often people gave much away in that first second, when 'District Attorney' was mentioned. This woman, she noted, was an open book. Surprise, giving way to puzzlement, but absolutely nothing incriminating or remotely suspicious. Discussing the appropriate time for a meeting, the two managed to reconcile schedules and settle on Wednesday at three o'clock. Catherine found herself responding to Sandra's friendly efficiency with respect and admiration. If Dr. Morgan proved to be any reflection of his assistant, this last interview should be relatively painless.

Stepping out of the office, Catherine noticed the door to the Ladies' Room just across the hallway and decided it might be wise to utilize the facilities before braving the rush hour traffic. One thing about hospitals, at least their bathrooms were usually clean. After performing the necessary functions, she automatically checked her reflection in the mirror as she washed her hands. Wow, Edie hadn't been kidding! This morning, when she had asked her friend to pull up and print the exact locations of the assaults, Edie had commented that Catherine looked a little under the weather. Actually, to be honest, the more precise wording was, if she remembered correctly, "Girlfriend, you look like hell." Leaning a bit closer to the mirror, she examined herself a bit more critically.

'It's amazing what stress can do,' thought Catherine with a rueful shake of her head. 'I don't think I've ever let myself go like this before.' Her hair, normally a neatly kept satin sweep, felt dry and was in serious need of shaping. Nothing a good hot oil treatment and visit to her hairdresser wouldn't fix. Thinking back, she couldn't remember the last time she had indulged in such a small luxury. Pushing her bangs off her forehead, she noted the hair stubble around her eyebrows. 'Yechhh. Can I even remember where I left my tweezers?' A small dark glint just under her chin caught her critical eye. Tilting her chin up, she smothered a gasp of mortification. A hair! A dark hair, under her chin! Disgusted, she reached up with her fingers and tried to pluck the offending thing out, to no avail. Seeing her nails, she paused to examine them. They definitely needed work. Manicures were a rare treat she did not generally take for herself, unlike the weekly sessions she had religiously kept a few years before. Nowadays a nail file used in the back of a taxicab or some other snatched moment had to do. Well, it was starting to show. As she rummaged in her purse for her hairbrush, she could hear the low rumble of voices in conversation from outside in the hallway. They seemed unusually close and clear. But then, these older public buildings had strange acoustics sometimes.

Giving her hair a quick sweep through, she leaned over absently to replace the brush and dig out her lipstick. Placing the top on the counter, she rotated the tube and leaned forward to apply a fresh coat of the soft rose. The loose sleeves of her coat struck the empty top, sending it to drop with a plastic 'clink' to the floor, and roll partially underneath the garbage can beside the door. "Damn it," she thought as she followed it, and knelt down to peer under the canister. 'There you are, you little‑" Slipping her fingers into the small space, she tried to capture the offending top and draw it out. It was just out of reach.

Sitting back on her heels with an unladylike expletive, Catherine contemplated the necessity of tossing out a practically brand new lipstick for the want of its stupid top. As she glared at the trash receptacle, a rather nasal whisper from the hallway caught her ear.

"I told you, I need more time than this! First we've got to locate a match, and that's not easy! Then‑"

Another male voice responded to that urgent protestation. "I don't want to know the intimate details! I wouldn't ask if it weren't important. ‑ Look, this client doesn't want to wait. There's a lot of money on the line here! I'm willing to go above our usual price if we can expedite this."

"How much above?" The sly question was underlined by an unusual crinkling noise.

"Double, maybe triple if it is quick enough."

For a moment the low voices halted as a cheerful voice called out a greeting.

The second man responded, low hushed tones giving way to louder, friendlier ones. "Yeah sure. It's Monday, isn't it?" followed by a rueful chuckle. A few seconds later, he continued at the former low volume. "Look, I need it by the end of the week. OK?"

"I'll try... You meant it? Triple?"

"Triple if in two days. Double by Friday. Do we have a deal?"

"Yeah, but no guarantees. It's not like going to Wal-Mart, you know. But I should be able to accommodate you by Friday at the latest."

"Good. Until then."

After a few seconds of silence, Catherine slowly stood, lipstick top forgotten. What an interesting conversation. Silently she approached the door. Reaching out to push it open and glance outside, she was just about smacked in the face as the door flew open before a woman with a young child in tow. Her cry of consternation was echoed by Catherine's.

"Sorry 'bout that. Just about knocked you out. You OK?" The woman's face creased in concern as she ushered the little girl ahead of her into an empty stall.

"Yes. I'm fine." Opening the door, she shot a look both ways down the hallway. Nothing - at least nothing unusual. A janitor pushing a cleaning cart, several doctors conversing over clipboards, a nurse carrying a basin. The nasal voice was no longer evident. An unusual smell caught Catherine's attention and she sniffed the air carefully. Mint. A faint scent of mint. The janitor's cleaning cart continued to rumble down the hall and the fellow pushing it paused in front of her.

"Damnation. Don't people know this ain't no garbage dump? Who did this?" she heard him mutter to himself as he bent down to scoop a crumpled bit of cellophane wrapper from the ground. "Cain't people pick up after themselves no more?"

With a sudden flash of inspiration, she stepped forward hurriedly and put her hand on the janitor's arm. "Excuse me. Can I have that please?" The man gave her a puzzled look that plainly stated he doubted her sanity. Slowly he opened his hand and she plucked the yellow wrapper from it. Bringing it to her nose, she inhaled. Yes ‑ the same caramelly minty scent she had smelled in the air as she came out of the washroom, in the spot where the recent conversation took place. Carefully folding the wrapper, she absently recognized the crinkling sound of cellophane as she tucked it into her pocket.

Catherine gave a disarming smile to the befuddled janitor. "Thank you," she called quietly as he resumed his interrupted progress. Ducking back into the washroom to fetch her purse, she emerged and strode quickly to the elevator. She was sure she overheard him mutter faintly, "Ya gotta love this town" as she passed by.

* * * * *

A few hours later, Catherine stepped down the ladder from her basement tunnel entrance, precariously balancing a small overnight bag. It would be tough, but she would be spending her nights Below for the next little while, at least until Vincent recovered. 'Other people commute,' she thought with a mental shrug. Granted, this was not a normal commute, but it was necessary, for her if not for him.

After leaving the hospital Catherine had rushed back to the office, just in time to catch Edie before she shut down for the night. It was amazing what an excellent bribe medium chocolate was. In Edie's case, it wrought major miracles. Showing her the candy wrapper, Catherine had asked if it was possible to trace its origin. Catherine herself hadn't recognized it as a popular candy, but there was a manufacturer's name on the cellophane's edge. After swinging a major lunch deal out of this, Edie had promised to get on it first thing in the morning. Knowing her usual efficiency, Catherine expected results by noon. Satisfied with her day, she had tidied her desk, returned a few phone calls, and headed for home. Not her apartment. But home.

A stop at the apartment was a must though, in order to take a quick shower, change clothes, pack a bag, and get rid of that disgusting chin hair! The rest would have to wait. Reaching the garage, she had proceeded to her car, and slipped behind it to the storage room entrance. Lately, she had begun parking her car as close to the tunnel entrance as possible. No one would think it strange if they saw her walking from the elevator to her car. However, they might notice if she didn't. Maybe paranoid but, as the saying went, 'just because your paranoid doesn't mean you're wrong."

Pausing only to rap out her arrival on the pipes, she proceeded directly to Vincent's chamber. As Catherine entered the cozy and welcoming room, she paused in the doorway. Vincent lay curled on his side, facing the door. She couldn't help smiling as she looked at him. He looked so adorable when he was asleep. One side of his face was scrunched into the pillow and his wonderful hair was in complete disarray, a lock falling over his nose. Slowly she approached and sank down on the bed beside him. She smoothed back the hair from his face and tried to tuck it behind his ear out of the way. Smiling, her hands traced the outline of his left ear. She had seen his ears for the first time when she had cared for him those four days in her apartment. They had come as a surprise then. With his other obvious facial differences though, their appearance should have been expected. They were more rounded than the normal ear, with no earlobes. A ridge of fur, much like the one on his nose, ringed the outside. She now realized why he never bound his hair back, even when he was working and it could get in the way. It was another attempt to hide his differences. Beneath her stroking hand, Vincent let out a gusty breath and, surprisingly, wriggled his head on the pillow, almost imperceptibly pushing into her touch.

The footsteps and distinctive tap of a cane that heralded Father's arrival interrupted Catherine's contemplation of her beloved. "Hello, Father," she called out softly as the elderly man rounded the corner and entered the chamber. He was awkwardly hanging onto his medical bag while striving not to spill a mug of the ever-present hot tea. Rising quickly, she divested him of the tea and he made his way to Vincent's bedside, placing his bag on the small table.

"Thank you, my dear," Father acknowledged absently as he checked Vincent's vitals. Straightening, he bent over to rummage in the black bag. "So, how was your day Up Top?"

"Not too productive, I'm afraid. But I think I might have a lead on this latest case. I just hope it pans out. Father, when I arrived, Vincent moved. I thought with the drug, he wouldn't. Are you still keeping him asleep?"

"Moved, did he? Well, that's quite possible. I've altered the dosage and medications a bit, just enough to keep him relaxed and asleep. He has some very limited mobility. It's better this way; he's pretty big to have to turn manually. This way he can drink, so we can get fluids and liquid nourishment into him. Perhaps you can help us with that later, he always responds better to you." Throughout, Father had been preparing a syringe. Lifting Vincent's left arm from under the covers, he gave him a shot. "Just more of the relaxant, don't worry. You're next, so could you roll up your sleeve, please?"

As Father removed the needle from the now empty syringe, Catherine caught the oddest smell. A sticky, sour tang. It seemed to be coming from the used syringe. "Ickkk. What is that stuff Father? It smells horrible." Father looked up at her, puzzled.

"It's a morphine style drug. I wouldn't use it normally, but it's the only thing he seems able to tolerate to any degree, and the only thing that works decently. Hughes used it on him. But it doesn't have any smell." Father raised the syringe to his nose and sniffed at it in confirmation.

"Yes it does. It's disgusting." Father looked at her strangely.

"Well, maybe it's one of those recessive smells." At Catherine's familiar inquiring tilt of the head, no doubt a mannerism unconsciously copied from his son, he continued. "We're just now beginning to understand the role of genetics in human individuality. I'm sure that in the next couple decades things will become clearer, but some of the initial research has been fascinating. You know of dominant and recessive genes?"

Catherine nodded her head, remembering back to high school biology

"Well, just as some people are born with blue eyes, and some can't curl their tongues, there is a recessive gene which dictates whether people can smell some substances. There is a chemical in male sweat, androstynene or something like that, can't remember exactly, but some people can smell it strongly and some can't smell it at all. Perhaps this is another expression of that. Humph. Interesting." Preparing another needle, Father approached Catherine. "This is just a broad spectrum antibiotic. God knows what might have made it into those wounds in the few hours before treatment. Let's just nip infection in the bud now, shall we?"

Catherine mutely looked away while Father gently swabbed alcohol on her arm. She felt the pressure of the needle against her arm.

"This won't hurt as much if you would just relax. Stop tensing your muscle."

Catherine glanced over into Father's concerned eyes, and made a conscious effort to relax. Finally with a bit of a push the needle slid into her muscle.

"Honestly, Cathy, you're with my son too much, you're getting to be as hard to inject anything into as he is," Father joked half-seriously. Taking a stern tone, he continued, "There is nothing any of us can do now but just wait this out. Stressing yourself to the point of illness is not going to help the situation. So be a good girl, settle in and relax, all right?" At her sheepish nod, he smiled, then glanced rather uncomfortably at the sleeping form in the bed beside them. "I take it you're spending the night in here again?"

Catherine followed Father's gaze to Vincent's slumbering form, covered with warm patchwork quilts. "Yes. Somehow, I feel he needs me close now. We need each other close."

With a nod of acknowledgment, Father gathered up his things and turned to leave. "Well, at least see William before you retire, I'm sure he saved a plate for you from dinner."

"I will. Father, thank you. For everything."

Father turned and limped back to her. Setting his hands to either side of his head, in a familiar gesture he leaned forward and lightly kissed the crown of her head. "Somehow you've become like a daughter to me. I fear for you both." Embarrassed, he limped quickly from the chamber, leaving Catherine smiling.

* * * * *

With a troubled sigh Catherine slid into the big bed next to the warm lump that was Vincent. She had done as Father suggested and gone to see William. She had even managed to eat the meal he had set aside for her; apparently she had been hungrier than she thought. She had also ensured that Vincent drank some of the water, vitamin and glucose mix Father had provided. He really hadn't awakened for it; she had just propped up his head, held the liquid, and let the natural swallow reflex take care of the rest. Now, as she felt the warm and comforting presence that was Vincent, she felt relaxed for the first time all day. For just a moment, she could pretend that everything was OK, that she was just turning in after a normal hard day's work. Lost in the fantasy, she drifted quickly off to sleep.

Sometime in the night she surfaced partially from slumber. In her sleep she had pressed closer to her beloved. Her nose was buried in his chest and his arm had come around her waist to pull her close. He had his face resting against the top of her head. Vincent's musky natural scent that she loved so much curled around her senses like an extra warm blanket.

Drifting back into the warm pool of sleep, for a moment she thought she heard a soft purring.


Continued in Chapter 4