CHAPTER FOUR: DREAMS


You, Vincent, come.

You heard me approach?

I saw you, in the waters. Oh yes, child, come look.

All I see is ripples and reflections, the flame of the candle.

You are your father's son . . .

What do you see?

The past, the future - faces of the dead. Spirits seek their own level, too, Vincent, like the waters; but I'm a crazy old woman - ask the Father. Did he tell you ghost stories when you were young, child?

I fled the headless horseman, road in Kipling's phantom rickshaw....yes....I remember Marley's ghost...

Bound by chains he had forged in life, but there are other kinds of chains, Vincent: fear, love, hate, dreams . . .

Your world has room for spirits, Narcissa. Catherine lives in another world; a world where ghosts walk only in stories.

Are you so sure, child? Come near. Look again. Open your eyes - look deep. Could such a being as this walk the world your Catherine lives in?

When the Blue Bird Sings (Written by Robert John Guttke)

 

 

Caitland stared out into the night through the only window in her room while a single stream of light pierced the darkness from the doorway where Betty Carlisle stood silently observing the young woman. Caitland made no movement to indicate that she was even aware of the nursing supervisor who had entered the room over an hour ago. As with everyone and everything associated with this place, Nurse Carlisle did not really exist for Caitland. Thus, it did not matter to her whether she was alone or not. All that remained for her were splotches of memories that still had not coalesced to form the picture of a whole life. But then, Caitland no longer cared about life.

She sat alone as she had for countless nights, staring with sad, vacant eyes. She seldom spoke, hardly ever acknowledged the world around her. Yet one could see in the eyes that she was aware. Large and more grey than green in the reflection of the moon's pale light, her eyes took everything in, and after taking it all in, they went blank...their light retreating inward as if to hide from the world.

In the two months since Caitland had awakened to find herself installed in a convalescent center for those who she knew the staff considered "the terminally hopeless," her rehabilitation had been less than encouraging. Physically, the young woman's strength was steadily returning through a daily schedule of exercise and physical therapy. There were now few personal needs that she couldn't handle for herself.

It was Caitland's state of mind, however, that had drawn Pinewillow's nursing supervisor to stand within the doorway of her patient's room. The night shift supervisor had reported to her earlier that Caitland was not sleeping well. After an hour of observing her staring without pause into the darkness, Betty was convinced that the report had been a gross understatement. There was much more going on than mere insomnia.

When she'd first received the report, Betty had assumed that Caitland was simply reluctant to rest any more than was absolutely necessary. Certainly that was understandable after the woman had spent the better part of a year in a hospital bed. That assumption, however, was discarded soon after she'd arrived in the room tonight and greeted Caitland. For the briefest moment, the solemn woman glanced up at her, and then with no further acknowledgment, returned to her vigil beside the window.

Betty had no idea what her patient found so engrossing in the pitch darkness, but this obsession was certainly not healthy. Furthermore, as nursing supervisor, she had not failed to notice Caitland's reclusive behavior during the day and had attributed it in large measure to the drastic adjustments she was having to make after more than a year of being so ill. That the same introverted behavior was repeated at night at the expense of much-needed was cause for concern. Betty knew that if there was no intervention to modify this pattern of behavior, Caitland was sure to digress. Daniel remained skeptical of her progress and still refused to notify her sponsor that she was fully conscious. Reluctantly, Betty was forced to admit that Caitland's present behavior would do little to refute his medical opinion.

As for Caitland's memories (or lack thereof), the prevalent opinion was that her subconscious had blocked the memories as a way of protecting her battered psyche from some trauma in her previous life. A final diagnosis had not yet been issued, but the doctors seemed optimistic that she would fully recover her lost memories. Betty knew just how distressed Caitland was by her inability to remember, and Betty's heart went out to this patient who had come from the brink of death only to be lost behind a steel door of forgotten memories. Immediately, though, she shut down those emotions, knowing that Caitland needed far more than a bleeding heart as she continued to struggle; if not for her life, then certainly for her identity.

Now with a more complete picture of Caitland's medical and emotional state, Betty Carlisle made a quick clinical assessment. As her medical training and experience kicked into automatic, Betty released a sigh that more than eloquently expressed her frustration. She had the answer. All the signs were there - had been there all along if anyone had taken the time to see. Despite her tendency to become overly involved with her patients, Betty knew in her gut that Caitland's reluctance to rejoin humanity was the result of depression born of an immobilizing grief. No matter what the tests indicated, Caitland was still an extremely traumatized woman whose nightmares had not ceased merely because she'd awakened.

After two months of following Caitland's efforts to break free of the debilitating influence of her injuries, Betty Carlisle knew her patient was losing the battle on an emotional level that all the medicine in the world could not cure. Watching her, she felt her resolve grow firm. She recalled only as a passing thought Daniel's admonishment for her to maintain an appropriate professional detachment in overseeing Caitland's recovery. That was merely medical mumbo-jumbo as far as she was concerned. Betty Carlisle knew that she could not divorce her continued care of her patient from her personal involvement in her total recovery. Recuperating was more than just repairing the body. It was also healing the mind, and something had obviously broken Caitland's spirit down to its very core. It was just not within Betty Carlisle to professionally stand by and watch her patient's will to live slip away.

Gently, she whispered, "Caitland, I'm leaving now."

There was no response, and Betty had not really expected one. Vowing to herself that tomorrow she would begin the task of helping Caitland find the light in living again, she closed the door behind her, knowing that for tonight she was leaving her patient in total darkness.

 

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The thud of the door closing reverberated through the room as Caitland sat up straighter in the bed, wrapping her arms around slender legs drawn up to her chest. Even in the solitude of her self-imposed exile from life, she was still hauntingly beautiful. Some part of her consciousness now whispered, she's gone, and Caitland released a barely audible sigh of relief. She had been all too aware of Betty Carlisle's presence and quiet departure. She was equally aware of the nursing supervisor's unspoken concern over her nocturnal behavior. Caitland felt no compulsion, however, to explain herself to anyone. The fact of the matter was that there was nothing to explain. The night simply brought her a certain tranquility of spirit that was beyond even her comprehension. She didn't question her attraction to the darkness any longer. It hurt too much to do otherwise.

It had taken only that trauma-filled first month after her awakening for Caitland to discover that the door to unlocking her lost memories could not be forced open. In the quiet solitude of the room, she allowed herself to remember all that she could. She could still taste her fear on the day she awoke in Pinewillow...helpless and alone. Her initial confusion had been quickly replaced with frustration at her inability to regain her past. The psychologist assigned to her case had predicted that in the absence of physiological reasons for her memory loss, the odds were favorable that she would one day remember. But such nebulous reassurance had brought her no comfort. Instead, she felt the rise of her anger...a penetrating fury at a world that had left her ill and abandoned. She knew that somewhere between the hardened layers of hurt and pain, hope had not survived her ordeal - even if she had. Bitterness began to eat away at her, and she found it impossible to look forward to her future when she had no faith in her past.

It was then, in the midst of her deepest despair that the first changes began. Tired to the brink of exhaustion and disheartened, she sat in her room one evening just as night began to descend on the world outside her window. Within minutes she was in the dim twilight of dusk with only a gentle breeze from the open window as her companion.

For reasons she had yet to understand, she found the approaching darkness comforting. There were no questions about her past to consider, or for that matter, her future. There were no demanding therapists, inquisitive doctors, or even concerned nursing supervisors. There was only the all encompassing night that enfolded her and everything around her in a cocoon of moonlight. She felt safe as the night obliterated the painful reality of her presence at Pinewillow. And so she sat quietly and allowed the peace she'd suddenly found to fill her. Completely relaxed and compelled beyond her conscious will to resist, she drifted off to sleep and into dreams.

That night was the first of many where her dreams began to slowly unlock the hidden memories of her past. Shadows of faces she had once known and loved...strange clanging and tapping sounds, the repeated roar of engines amidst children's laughter...a sense of protection and the constant smell of burning oil and candles. And above all else, always there was a voice. Deeply soothing, it spoke quiet words of strength and encouragement to her. She never questioned the voice that lived in her dreams. She only knew that over the next few weeks it became her lifeline to coping with the stark reality of the day. Grateful, she looked forward to the darkening of the skies and prayed that the voice would never stop, each night thereafter leading her gently into sleep and guiding her out into morning.

Pragmatic logic argued to her that the dreams were merely the manifestation of her need to feel secure with so much uncertainty surrounding her. Stubbornly, she ignored that inner voice. Yet, she was all too aware that it was becoming increasingly easier for her to withdraw from life, preferring instead the company of her dreams and the returning memories of happier times. This latest insight was sufficient to again set off her internal alarms, and even the peace of the night and the comfort of the dreams were inadequate to prevent Caitland's practical side from asserting itself and questioning the wisdom of her actions, if not her very sanity. It was such contemplations which had kept her from relaxing into her evening of solitude when Betty Carlisle dropped by.

The thought that she might, indeed, be losing her grasp on reality hit her hard. As she slumped lower into the bed, she felt the overflow of tears coursing down her face. A quickly placed pillow to her mouth stifled the moan of pure misery that bubbled up inside her.

What kind of mad woman am I becoming? she thought helplessly as the tears increased to a steady downpour, and wracking sobs muffled by the pillow made her body shudder. Feeling more lost and alone than she had since the day she'd awakened in this strange place, she closed her eyes and silently prayed for help. From somewhere deep within she felt a calm reassurance flood through her and the deep rumble of the comforting voice of her dreams telling her that all would be well, for she was safe.

Safe in this place? she thought only for the barest second, for it only took a second for her to realize that Pinewillow was not where she would find safety. It was with the person whose voice brought peace each evening to her weary heart. It was only then that she realized that love was the power behind the voice, and she suddenly understood the enormous strength of that love-that defied any reality she had ever known. Somehow, the force behind the voice knew of her despair, and even now she heard the voice clearly, growing stronger in her mind and rolling back the fear in her heart. The relief she felt overshadowed any logic that would have had her confess that what was happening to her was not real. She refused to crush back the only thing in her life that had kept her going for weeks against the emptiness in her heart. Thus, she clung stubbornly to the words, bringing them from her dreams to the here and now of her existence. It was so real to her that for the first time she was filled with a desire for more than nightly visions. She desperately wanted to strip away the curtain that separated the warmth of her dreams from the cold loneliness of her reality; and she had an intense longing to know the person behind the voice that held out the promise of love to her troubled soul.

Tonight she didn't wait for sleep to overcome her. Instead she reached out to the darkness and in her mind she heard the voice bid her come. It was an invitation she needed only once, as she laid out fully upon the bed and prayed that fate and the forces that had wreaked such havoc in her world would, for once, be compassionate and grant her heart's desire. Willing her mind to shut down, she floated on the fringes of consciousness. With certainty, she knew the voice was waiting patiently for her, and as all thoughts fled before the closing embrace of sleep, she found his name: "Vincent..."                  

 

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Through the hazy mist of her dream, Caitland saw herself in another life...a happy life that she shared with another. As the fog parted, he towered above her, a figure huge in her mind and shining golden. This time there were no shadows to obscure her view. He stood before her clearly, and she looked up into his face and saw wonder and love etched in leonine features that didn't frighten her. He was so familiar and so beautiful to her that for the moment all she could do was stare into the limitless depths of his eyes.

"Is this real?" she finally whispered, fearing that even the sound of her voice would cause this most wondrous of all her dreams to go away.

But to her amazement and joy, he cocked his head to one side, and replied gently, "Reality, Catherine, is what we believe in. You chose tonight to believe in me and my love for you. Your belief brought me to you."

"You are Vincent?" she asked slowly.

He nodded his head 'yes' in reply.

"And you called me Catherine. Why?"

"I call you Catherine, for that is who you are. Caitland is only the name you've given yourself for this place where you now exist. But your life was as Catherine Chandler, the woman who I loved...who I've never stopped loving."

It never occurred to her to doubt his words, for her heart told her that he spoke the truth. The emotion in his voice was unmistakable, and she found herself falling into a well of forgotten feelings. Her eyes took in all of him as she slowly reached out her hand toward his face. It was a simple gesture that spoke of her loneliness and even more, a rising force within her that had begun to remember their love and longed for his touch. What she didn't remember, however, was that her reaching out was also an act of affection that she would have been hesitant to make in the life she lived before. But in this time and place, it was the most natural thing for her to do...as natural as when he took her outstretched hand in his own, brought it to his face, and gently kissed her palm. It took only this light exchange of touches, lovingly given and received by both, for her heart to open, paving the way for the memories to follow.

"Catherine," he said warmly, "I've waited so long for this time to come."

She thought on that for a moment.

"Waited for this time?...but why?"

"To guide you back through the memories of our life together. It was a life I once thought could never be for one such as myself. But it was your love, Catherine - your fortitude and courage - that proved me wrong. You gave up much for our love: your friends and family, your dreams of a happy life Above. You sacrificed everything, Catherine....everything! Your love for me almost cost you your life."

As he spoke, his expression was troubled, and she could see intense sadness in his eyes. Yet, even as she looked on, he shook his thick mane of hair. As it settled in shimmering waves around his broad shoulders, it was as if the specter of nightmares known only to him slipped away. It was only then that she realized the extent to which he suffered. Had their past been that terrible? Still, when his eyes finally rose to meet hers, they were calm, and he simply said, "Come".

Perhaps it was the brief glimpse of his pain that made her stop, but suddenly she found herself hesitant. Until now, her memories had been brief and filled with the beauty of the life she had once lived. She didn't need him to explain that tonight she would remember something very different; and reluctantly she faced a truth that had been buried deep within: the fact that she wanted to remain ignorant - that her memory loss was a mixed blessing in which the veil of amnesia protected her from a cruel reality that had brought her perilously close to death. With brutal honesty, she admitted to herself that she was a coward - hiding from that part of her past that held the key to her future, and all because she was afraid of what she might find. And now, this being from her past had risen up to insist that she face those very same memories. Standing on the threshold of discovery, she feared what awaited her on the other side and hesitantly, she told him, "I'm afraid."

For a long while there was only silence between them, but when at last he spoke, his voice conveyed such understanding that she could actually feel his strength supporting her. No matter what was disclosed, she knew that with him she would be safe. Intently, she listened to his words and drew strength from his courage.

"Your fear does not deceive you, Catherine. Our past was filled with trials, and we have endured much. But the strength our love . . ."

She heard the sharp intake of his breath and knew then that he was struggling as hard to keep his emotions in check as he was to protect hers. Despite his effort, his hands that could easily engulf her own several times over, began to tremble under the strain. By sheer will, he regained his control and continued.

"Our love, Catherine, was worth everything... In this you must believe me when I tell you that the power of our love has proven greater than the evil that tried to destroy us. Although some of what is required of you tonight will be difficult to face, it is why I am here for you . . "

Before she could stop herself, the bitterness that had become a constant part of her life rose up and cut him off. "But will you be here for me in the morning?...when they poke and prod me and psychoanalyze me to distraction?...or will the light of day find me still alone and confined to that horrid place, wondering if I need a reality check? Tell me, Vincent. Am I condemned to only hear your voice in my mind and see you in my dreams? Because if all of this was to let me know that you are real but forever beyond my reach, then I would have been better off not ever remembering you or this love you say we once shared!"

She couldn't keep the resentment from her voice, and immediately regretted her words when she looked into his eyes. With complete clarity she saw the war that raged within him, and what was more, she knew that it was definitely not his choice to leave her alone.

"Catherine, it is true that you walk now within a dream, but it is a dream of self-healing forged by our love. For this part of your journey and within your dream, I may be with you. But no, I cannot be here when you awaken!"

This last, he actually growled out at her between clenched teeth. To her credit, she didn't flinch, but her mind reached out and grabbed hold of the simmering anger beneath the words. She knew the anger was born of his frustration, but it brought forth memories of a rage that not only had the potential to kill, but had killed...for her. Again she found herself regretting what she'd said and would have told him, except that he was no longer looking at her. He stared past her, hands clenched so tightly that she feared his claws might draw blood. And then, as if the outburst had never occurred, he began again in a voice once more controlled.

"Catherine, even as you sleep, so does the Vincent who you loved. I am as much a part of his dream as I am yours. As your heart has traveled through the darkness seeking the life stolen from you, so has his heart led him to dreams of this place - this darkness - where you exist but are outside his ability to reach you."

He hesitated for a moment as he sought the words - words which he knew would give her little comfort as she faced the morning sun alone. Then, as if not to frighten her, he reached out, taking both of her hands in his, and slowly raised them to lips. Reverently, he kissed the back of each hand with such gentleness that she felt the prickling of tears in her eyes at the beauty of the homage he now paid to her. Wordlessly, she closed her eyes, knowing that her questions had led him to a truth that was difficult for him, but she also knew that no matter how painful, it was a truth he would speak. She was now content to listen with an open heart, and the bitterness that had consumed her only moments before was gone.

Finally, he began again. "It has been difficult for both of us to accept that we could not care for you in all things as we once promised your father - for to protect you was our solemn oath to him before he died. For that I shall always be sorry, as I am now - knowing that I must leave you at this night's end. You see, Catherine, there is as much good in the darkness as there is danger. In my life, the darkness has hidden and protected me....it has been my friend. In our life together, it was only the darkness that gave us the freedom to be together in the world Above. And now, Catherine, the darkness has given me this bridge, allowing me to come to you. But the bridge does not exist outside of this time we have now...I am here, because I am one with the darkness. I am that part of Vincent that can cross the boundaries of his world and yours...and in so doing, I could reach across the barriers of time, space, and distance to be with you."

As if to reassure them both of the truth of his words, he held her hands tighter within his own, and only then continued. "In the light of day, all that we share now is only a specter to Vincent, a distant, recurring dream that makes him grieve even more for the loss of you. But for him it must be this way. If he were to ever consciously come to the reality of your existence, to understand that you are alive and in this place, nothing would stop him. I could not stop him. He would move heaven and hell to come to you, Catherine, without thought for his safety or whether such a rescue would be possible. Most assuredly he would get himself-or I suppose I should say, the both of us killed in the process, or even worse, he could be caught and imprisoned. I do not fear death or the danger, but I do fear being caged. This place in which they have placed you is isolated. The terrain is all above ground, and there would be no protection during the journey or once we arrived so far away from the tunnels and our home. After finding you again, Catherine, I have no wish to lose you to the reckless abandon of that part of me that would senselessly kill or be killed."

           

For a moment he paused, and once again she had the feeling that he was wrestling with saying the words. A slow shudder passed through him and he looked down at her with concern. Having already surmised where his words were leading, she silently nodded for him to continue. He did. "Catherine, if we are to ever be reunited in this life, it is you who must travel the difficult road to be by my side again...and you will have to travel it alone. Do you understand what I'm trying to explain?"

Still silent, she nodded as she felt the strong stirring of memories-memories that assured her of the lengths he would go to save her. In that moment she realized that regardless of how much she longed to leave Pinewillow, she could never jeopardize his life in such an attempt. Some of the old Catherine shone through as the answer crystalized in her mind and a mischievous gleam came to her eyes. With a self-deprecating smile she answered him. "If I've understood you correctly, it would seem that this time I will need to save myself."

Hardly fooled by her bravado, Vincent merely nodded his head and waited. He knew she had listened to his words carefully, so it came as no surprise when confusion clouded her features, and she took a step back, looking up at him for the first time with trepidation.

"You've spoken of Vincent as though he were two separate people. You said, the both of you, but if the Vincent of my memories now sleeps and dreams as I do, then exactly who are you?" she demanded.

He paused and looked away, and she wondered why it seemed that everything she asked required him to pause, filtering her words through and carefully choosing his reply before revealing the truth. Had their relationship been that strange? And as he turned back to her, she knew the answer. It had been standing before her all along in his wondrous, yet undoubtedly leonine features - features which, until that moment, had not appeared strange or alien to her, only familiar and comforting.

Lifting her eyes to his, she found herself mesmerized as she sensed, more than saw, the transformation of his persona, bringing a wildness to him - an intensity that had not been present before. Catherine stood absolutely motionless, effectively paralyzed under his gaze that was suddenly more predatory than comforting. Perhaps it was because while his eyes still told her plainly of his love, they now also spoke to her of something more primal. Under his unwavering appraisal, the heat of his body radiated an aura of masculinity that surrounded her; and desires, long suppressed, rose up from the very depth of her being. She had a sudden urge to touch his face-to trace the unique features of his lips and run her hands along the width of his shoulders. Longing, almost painful in its sudden intensity, filled her, as the blue of his eyes glittered like shards of glass in the darkness. Her awareness of him intensified, and she was certain that he could sense every emotion, feel every desire of her heart. Yet, with a courage she hadn't realized she possessed, she met his gaze openly, refusing to hide, allowing him to feel how his presence was affecting her, allowing him to know that she desired him. And then it burst through: all the memories that had been gradually pushing against her consciousness. Her breath caught in her throat, and she closed her eyes against the onslaught of images. Perhaps she swayed, for she felt his hands gripping her arms, supporting her.

"You ask who I am, but you already know me," he said in a low voice that stripped away the veneer of civility and left her all too aware of his maleness. Warmed by the timbre of his voice, she realized that she did know him-she had always known him on an elemental level that defied logic and relied only on instinct and feeling. On that plane, she suddenly recognized, he was not a stranger, but the other half of her heart and soul. Deep within, where hope had barely survived, the memories began to come forth, telling her of a love, limitless in its commitment but complicated by constraint and fear.

The faint frown that suddenly marred her expression alarmed Vincent, but he also sensed that she had finally opened herself to the memories of their existence together. In the face of his fear that she might not comprehend the complexity of his nature and their relationship, he found himself unable to hold back the truth any longer. If they were to ever be reunited, he needed her to not only accept him, but to acknowledge his rightful place in her life. Yet, with the same calm tone that belied his uncertainty and inner turmoil, he told her.

"I am Vincent, Catherine - that part of Vincent who knows what it is to truly love you - but whereas his world is of light, mine is of darkness. I am one and the same with him and he is me...no matter how much he has rejected that fact in the past. I am the part of his psyche that he learned to fear and hate, but I am also what has helped him to endure this time apart from you. I am the courage he needed to rescue his son, and the strength and rage he called upon to protect you and his family from those who sought to do you harm. I am the essence of his passion; the primal need of a male for his mate that he tried so hard to ignore and even harder to subdue."

"Fear led him to believe that should he permit himself even the slightest expression of his love for you, he would somehow harm you. For all that he has become a remarkable leader and protector of the world Below, when it came to loving you and trusting himself, he was a fool. And it may have continued that way if circumstances had not taken the decision out of his hands - and placed it into yours. Catherine, it was me you were with in the cave...that night. You came to me, prepared to face death at my hands, to sacrifice your life to bring me back from a vortex of self-hate. And so you brought your courage and your love, like a beacon cutting through the fog of my insanity. You defied death, Catherine, for my sake; and for the sake of your love, I refused to let him die. I wouldn't die!"

His voice had not risen, but its intensity reached out to her, easing the shock of his revelations. Slowly, she opened her eyes, and dropping his hands from her shoulders he stood silently before her for untold moments, submitting himself to her piercing gaze and allowing her to come to terms with the truth of his words. He had no idea if the present Catherine could embrace what he was without reservation, as she once had. Indeed, if she could not bear to accept him, he knew all was lost. The truth could no longer be put off. Simply, with Catherine now awake, he was unsure for how long he could continue to shield her presence from his own consciousness. Yet, he had seen the dawning recognition in her eyes and knew her memories were bearing a truer witness to their past than he could ever hope to convince her. It was all up to her now - and he silently prayed that the love they'd shared could endure this final test. Taking a deep breath to steel himself against the very real possibility of her rejection, he plunged on.

"Search the depths of your heart, Catherine. You saw the worst in me and still you came to me that night. It was in your arms that I found absolution, and surrounded by your love, I discovered my humanity. In making love with you, I experienced the ultimate passion and the greatest joy in being a man. And even more than that, by giving you everything that I am, you in turn gave me a gift I treasure above all others: a son. Catherine, we created life that night. We have a son."

"No," she whispered. "I would remember. . ."

"But you do remember, Catherine. Don't be afraid to open yourself to our past - for while there was pain, there was also much love - for each other, for the entire community Below and your friends Above. I know you, Catherine Chandler, and you do remember love - our love."

Still trying to grasp all that she'd been told, she stammered helplessly, "How is this possible?"

"Catherine, no being - even one such as myself - can forever exist at war within itself. Your acceptance of all that I am brought together the warring halves of my soul as no other force could, healing the rift that was literally tearing me apart. Perhaps that is why our memory was lost when we first awoke in the cave. At that time it was as if we'd truly been reborn. Still, what you began with the gift of your love continued. It brought about in me a transformation, Catherine - a fusing together of my disparate personalities. We were finally at peace. Over the months that followed, my physical body recovered completely, and more slowly the personalities began to merge. On my part, the shock of joining with my other half gave way to my understanding of what had happened to me; of all that had occurred during the weeks I stayed with you in your apartment; of everything that we shared in the cave. By the time I was fully aware, though, it was too late. You had been abducted, and my connection to you was gone, interrupted by our child that you were carrying."

"I still can't explain why I was the one to first regain complete control. Yet with those memories as my guide, I have waged a new battle within: the battle to keep your presence hidden from my conscious persona. What you should understand, Catherine, is that despite my coming to you tonight as the dark personality of Vincent, we are one now. We are whole. Deep within I found the strength to screen your presence and tonight, with your memories on the brink of recall, our bond finally opened enough to guide me to you. I suspect that this division - where I am still able to separate from the Vincent you know - has only occurred because of my desperation to locate you for the sake of my survival."

At this she stopped him and asked, "Vincent, what has happened to endanger your survival?"

Although his hair now concealed his face from her, she still heard his answer clearly:

"Why, you, Catherine."

Now it was her turn to lower her head, and her hair that had grown past her shoulders fell like a curtain around her, shielding her features. Barely above a whisper, she said, "Tell me."

"Catherine, you are believed to be dead by all who love you. Without the bond, Vincent watched you slip away in his arms, not sensing that you had not crossed over into death. Now after more than a year, his grief still overwhelms him. He has continued this long only for the sake of our son, Jacob. Yet, his guilt in not saving you-his regret over the time wasted in fear of the love he so wanted to share with you - his anger at himself for not being there for you when you needed his understanding. This, and so much more, consumes him with the dawning of each new day."

Blinking back the tears that threatened to spill upon hearing of Vincent's pain, she whispered "Didn't he believe that death had no dominion after all?" And to her astonishment, she heard Vincent laugh for the first time.

"I see you are remembering more and more with each second that passes. But to answer your question, yes, he did believe. That I am with you now is testimony to his faith that death had no dominion over love. But in the physical world of his existence, he saw you die. That is a hard reality for anyone to reject. And yet, within his heart, he has never stopped loving you; and in his dreams, you live. For now, he remains unaware of my part in keeping your life force hidden from his perception, but even I can't control his dreams, Catherine. Those dreams tell him that you live outside his ability to reach you, and it is inevitable that eventually he will reason it all out - as I did. Then he will know as a certainty what now he only believes is his imagination. If he comes to that understanding before you can come to him on your own, I fear there is nothing I will be able to do to stop him from leaving the safety of Below, other than to lend my strength to his search for you."

She believed his words, and along with her newly regained memories, it was as though a veil had been lifted from her view. She remembered a hundred nights with Vincent - and one night in particular - rolled up into a single image of love. She also now comprehended the magnitude of the risk he had taken in coming to her tonight: not only the risk of awakening in Vincent the truth of her existence, but holding out his love to her without any assurance that she would accept him. Looking up at him, she smiled. "Vincent, thank you for loving me so very deeply. Thank you for your faith in our love against all the evidence to the contrary, and thank you for always being there for me. You were right, I do remember the dream we shared, and in remembering, I know that you never failed me. You've always been my savior, my hero. And more than anything, I want to leave this place to be with you and our son. Vincent, I want our dream."

Reaching out, she touched his brow and gently smoothed away the worry lines that revealed his uncertainty. "Don't look so troubled, my love. My heart is still yours, bonded to you - to all of you - for all time."

As she spoke, she saw that he understood her decision - that without reservation she had once again embraced him, their love, and the dream of a life together. Her smile grew wide with pure joy as she watched the look of amazement cross his features. He then shook his head slightly, as if testing his grasp of a reality where the woman before him, his Catherine, now remembered him and still chose to love him. Holding out his arms, he gasped with pleasure as she flung herself into his embrace. Vincent felt the power of their love like a tangible force, enfolding them in its protection and bracing them against the remaining truth which Vincent knew he must now impart.

"Catherine, our love has brought us together tonight, and it will again. And even though I must leave you soon, it need be only for a short space of time. You have within you my spirit and the strength of our love to sustain you in this ordeal. Only one thing remains. You must have the courage to face the truth of what happened to you which failed to end your life but nearly crushed your spirit. Catherine, you must let go of that fear. Then you'll be prepared to meet any obstacle that may face you in coming back to me and our son."

"What is there left for me to face?"

"That, Catherine, is also why I am here." He paused and looked away. She knew that he was thinking of the time that was against them, calculating what was left of the night before the first rays of the sun would force him to leave her alone once more. Bringing his attention back to her, he said quickly, "My time with you grows short. Will you let me lead you through the darkness?"

Immediately, those familiar words took her back to a windy passageway, echoing the excitement of many excited voices and filled with the image of him more beautiful that she had ever imagined. The love that shone plainly in his eyes anchored her, and she returned it in full measure. "Vincent, with you, there is no darkness. Lead me wherever you will."

The barest hint of a smile flickered across his face, and wordlessly, he lowered his head to hers. The warmth of his breath feathered across her face, just before he gently kissed her. The chaste pressing together of their lips started out as the most beautiful sensation Catherine had ever known. However, it failed to fill the need in either one of them, and at the tentative touch of Vincent's tongue, begging for entrance, it rapidly changed to a hunger that neither could turn away. Eagerly, she opened her mouth to his, and was rewarded by a low growl of satisfaction that broke the silence as his tongue slipped between her lips. With a boldness that she found exhilarating, he began to explore the moist warmth of her with a rhythmic abandon that left her moaning deep in her throat. Her hands clung to him for dear life, for she no longer trusted her legs to support her; and within the all encompassing pleasure of his kiss, Catherine felt herself lifted from time and space, floating on the strength of a love so complete that the last vestiges of despair and hopelessness faded away.

Gradually, Vincent pulled back, breaking the kiss. And even as his body trembled with the force of his need to possess her, he felt the heightened intensity of their bond and knew that in pulling away he was leaving her both aroused and bereft in the whirlwind of their passion. Yet it couldn't be helped. Vincent watched the flush of desire in Catherine's expression and knew the same was mirrored on his own face. Still he did not resume the kiss, and instead just waited. In what were mere seconds in real time, Catherine's eyes widened in surprise as she saw her past laid out before her. The images in her mind brought forth memories of the man who now held her arms in his arms. She saw Vincent as a friend, confidant, and protector amidst a past life of injustice, crime, and danger. Instinctively she knew that in the not so distant past, it had been his arms holding her; protecting her with his body; and using his unique gifts in her defense. It had been the fire of his faith in mankind that had warmed her when the world was cold. It was his strength that had kept her safe, time and time again. It was his compassion and love that had sustained her during the darkest times in her life; and it was his voice, with its deep timbre of understanding, that had spoken encouragement to her anguished heart during the months since she had awakened from her illness. He was her life and her reality. Then, abruptly, the visions ceased.

Through the heavy cloak that Vincent wore, she felt the ragged rise and fall of his breathing. With the same insight that had led her to understand so many truths that night, she realized that their kiss had been the catalyst through which Vincent had shared those memories with her. A fierce protectiveness was in his eyes, and she felt his hold tighten around her. For some reason that she couldn't place, she felt an answering need to calm and reassure him. Softly she whispered, "I'm alright, Vincent. You told me these were the memories of our past...so they can no longer hurt us. Right?"

His hold lessened then, and time seemed suspended as again he lowered his head to her. Gently, he told her, "Yes, Catherine. The memories can no longer hurt us, and as always, your courage humbles me. Hold me tightly now, and know that I love you."

This time, as his lips touched hers, the attraction was immediate. She felt the power of his love like a live wire that set her body aflame with desire. The very maleness of him resonated in the depths of her being, and she could feel the incredible energy that throbbed through his body. Willingly, she drowned in the feel and taste of him until nothing else existed except the desire to completely immerse her soul and body with his. The tighter he held her, the wider the floodgates of their bond opened, allowing her access to his heart, his thoughts, his memories. He crushed her hungrily against him, so close that she felt the rhythm of her life force link with his until they became one breath, one heartbeat, one soul. The world had fallen away under an avalanche of buried feelings, and her love for him, so secretly guarded for so long beneath the layers of her subconscious, opened under his passionate caress. Then ever so slowly, his hold on her eased and once again he gently pulled away.

Eyes wide in amazement, she swallowed hard and whispered, "My God, what was that?"

"It's our love, Catherine. I told you of its power."

"And is it 'always' like that?"

Vincent smiled ever so slightly, but answered her. "Catherine, there were so few times in our past that my other half allowed himself the freedom of kissing you that I wouldn't profess to know what 'always' is like. But based on kissing you now and what you're making me feel - yes, I suspect that for us it will 'always' be like this."

"That's incredible," she said, grinning. "You're incredible!"

Still, he knew no words could ever describe what they had experienced in each other, and so he simply nodded in understanding and held out his hand. "Come, Catherine. Time grows short."

Thus, hand in hand and with him by her side, she faced the memories. As she watched, a mist-shrouded picture unfolded in which she saw herself pull Vincent's inert body onto her lap. The apartment she knew had been hers, and the time was of another shared memory of days gone by when she had struggled to keep Vincent from passing away from her. He had always been her strength, caring and protecting her in all things. But in this, his mortal struggle for survival, it had been her arms that comforted him; her words that had calmed his nightmares; and her hands that had bathed his fevered brow. Even deadly with feral rage, he could not bear to harm her. And yet, despite all she had done, it had not been enough to stop the madness or to keep him from fleeing to the farthest depths Below, determined to die apart from her.

Now, reliving that time, she remembered the heaviness of his weight and how he had stared at her with eyes glazed over in fever and fear. More than that, she remembered the hopelessness she'd felt as he'd fought, weakened and delirious, against the dark force that was inside him. If only he'd known then what he knew now: that his salvation was in embracing his other side, rather than fighting it. If only he'd been able to heal the wounds of self-hate, she thought sadly.

She closed her eyes, and her despair reached Vincent. For the first time since the sharing of their memories had begun, he felt her courage falter. Releasing her hand, he pulled her closer to him, holding her firmly within his embrace and insulating her as best he could against the images. Catherine understood now that these were the events that had led to her losing everything. That was why he had wanted to be with her. She looked up into his eyes, and his emotions that had always been so guarded in her remembrance of him, were naked to her now. His love was like a physical force supporting her, and she buried herself deeper within his embrace.

Kissing her hair, he whispered, "Truly these images are only of our past, Catherine. I survived because of you... because in the darkest hour of my life, you never doubted my humanity and embraced even that in me which we both know is not human...and you shared it all with me. Let the memories flow. They cannot harm us now."

She accepted his encouragement without a word and rested her head on his shoulder. She was determined not to turn away from her past, no matter how difficult. Still within his arms, she turned away from him to face outward and saw within the thinning mist the faint outline of a cave. She could no more control a sudden shudder at the sight any more than the gasp that escaped her lips; and even as his arms tightened around her, she knew his words had not prepared her for what she suspected was to come.

Within the cave, Catherine saw his form pacing furiously like a trapped animal. With a jerk, he paused and released a horrifying howl of incomprehensible rage. Spent for the moment, he fell to his knees.

"Oh, Vincent," she whispered, and as if the apparition of the mist had heard her, he raised his head. She looked into wild savage eyes that held no glint of his humanity. There was only the Other - -the wounded animal who now roared as clawed hands tore ruthlessly at his clothes. Within seconds the hooded cape was flung to the ground and his white tunic hung in shreds. Angry red welts marred his body where his claws had heedlessly ripped into flesh. The power of death that Vincent's dark side wielded with exacting judgement had turned on him, and with a final heart-wrenching cry of frustration and pain, he shrank against the far corner of the cave.

She shuddered again at the sight of his desolation, remembering the cave that had been so remote and devoid of all human warmth. Silently she prayed that the vision would soon be over, and as if in answer to her silent prayer, a dangerous stillness descended. Out of the darkness, the form of a woman appeared. Vincent had sensed her presence from the moment she entered, and even Catherine could now hear the soft landing of her footsteps. From where he crouched, Vincent was quiet - too quiet. The woman's next steps placed her easily within his reach, and he raised himself to his full height, his countenance touched by insanity and his roar a great cry of pain and anger that froze the woman in her tracks. Though it was no surprise, Catherine still gasped as she recognized the mirror image of herself. She remembered being so afraid - not only for herself, but for Vincent.

He moved in on her with claws extended, and his arm swung upward with a predator's precision, poised to deliver the death blow against this person who had dared to approach his lair unbidden. Truly terrified now, she screamed out his name, and in the end, it was her voice alone that stopped him. The moments seemed to tick by in slow motion as latent recognition came to his tortured eyes. She watched in awe as rage was replaced by awareness. He knew her. He knew her smell and the warmth of her body, and something stronger than his state of dementia held him back from the kill. What stood before him was no phantom of the darkness, but the woman he loved. That one lucid understanding amidst an ocean of delirium stopped him. He paused, confused.

Then, Vincent simply collapsed before her.

And as he staggered and fell, so did her world. She tried to support his weight as he descended, and was dragged down to the cave's floor. With frantic movements, she clambered over his prone form, laying her head upon his chest and listening for a heartbeat: but there was no beat, no breath to him. She checked him over, looking for a pulse, a sign - anything - that would tell her that he still lived, and she found nothing. She cried out his name, but he didn't answer...didn't move. Panic seized her heart, and all that was left was the echo of her anguished cries reverberating off the now silent walls of the cave.

It wasn't only against his death that she cried, but against her life continuing without him. She had always believed that his death would also be her own: for if they were not destined to be together in life, their love was such that surely their souls would join in death. Now, as she skimmed her fingers over his still body, it appeared even a love beyond death was to be denied to them. And as these thoughts formed to become her reality in the passing seconds after Vincent collapsed, rage at so cruel a fate filled her. Life apart from Vincent was not an option; and even as she gently cradled his head between her hands, everything within her rejected this harsh severing of their bond. It heralded the end of their dream, and it was only now that she realized the true importance of the dream to her very existence. Without Vincent, without the hope of a future together, everything was stripped from her life. Then remembering how Vincent had breached the very walls of Death to reclaim her after she had drowned, she knew she could do no less. Vincent was the other part of her soul, and if he could not find his way to her on this side of life, she was determined to join him wherever he had gone, even if it meant her death.

It was as simple and as complex as that, and all because she loved him - more than any life - Above or Below. Thus, with fierce determination, she clung to her faith in their love, filling her mind and heart with every moment of their life together: every touch he had given, every declaration of devotion and love he had ever uttered - everything. Then she summoned from within all the love and passion she had held at bay for so long. Trembling, she covered his mouth with her own. With only the power of love as her guide, she allowed herself this one final joining of their lives in the world of man. She was ready to die to stay at his side and reaching out with her heart, she demanded that either he answer her summons and embrace life again or that he make room and share his death with her.

On a plane that transcended the world of man, Catherine stood and challenged Death for the right to keep Vincent by her side. Death hesitated, temporarily suspending his hold on the male who had just arrived unexpectedly, giving up without a fight. Upon closer inspection of this latest arrival, Death frowned. This soul had sacrificed life for the sake of another. It was obvious-the power of love surrounded the male like a tangible force. Then there was the woman. Death knew trouble when he saw it, and he had no intention of admitting her into the realm of the dead - a woman whose love blazed like fire and who was, even now, storming the very gates of the Afterworld in search of her lover. The bond of love that these two shared presented a unified force that even the finality of the grave would be hard pressed to contain. Death had no intention of spending all eternity battling, for he knew they would never concede. In their case, Death would have no dominion. Death reviewed his scheduled arrivals and noted that he had not called these two lovers. He neither needed nor desired them in his domain. Their all-encompassing love would only upset the balance in the halls of the dead; and in a quick decision, he loosened his hold completely over the spirit of the male. Death felt no sense of failure or defeat in his actions. Eventually he would welcome them again, but at their preordained time. As for whatever had engineered the male's sudden arrival and the female's quest to join him, Death refused to give it a second thought. It was enough for now to set the male's spirit free to choose life over death. And with that, Death turned his back on the two lovers to greet the next scheduled arrival.

On the plane of reality, Catherine slowly felt the change in Vincent. She kissed him now with a new desperation, feeling hope rise out of the ashes of tragedy. And when she felt the first response of his mouth beneath her own, she knew she had him back. Nothing of this world or the next could have forced her to leave his side at that moment, and amidst her tears, she whispered his name again and again, leading him with her love into full consciousness. Slowly, his eyes opened and he slid his hand to the back of her head, anchoring her to him. No longer passive, he now fully participated in the kiss, breathing in her essence.

For a while having Catherine by his side, stretched out along his body and kissing her with a love that emanated from his very soul, was enough. Inevitably, though, desire filled him, compelling him to seek the ultimate confirmation of his life with the woman he loved. He didn't question why he felt no reticence, he only knew that the need to make this woman completely his was essential to his continued existence. It was life, rather than death; and the boundaries and limitations that had so often prevented him from expressing his burning need, no longer held him hostage. Lying within the deep recesses of the cave, he felt his body come alive. Catherine's scent assaulted his senses, the warmth of her mouth clinging to his inflamed his already aroused state, and her love called forth an instinctive compulsion to mate with her - to insure through their joining that death would never have a chance to triumph over life.

Raising himself on one arm, he pulled her to him, partially pinning her body beneath his own. Catherine realized then that the lifeless, tortured creature of minutes earlier was truly gone. In its place was the man she loved. For her, time was suspended as she looked up at him, waiting to see if this time he would give in to their love. She released a sigh of relief, as she felt him tug at her clothing and pushed upward to help him remove the barriers that separated their bodies. And all along her eyes never left him, mesmerized by the burning hunger of the completely aroused male who displayed no sign of hesitation or inhibition. Now both unclothed, he stopped and stared down at her. The need for him was more intense than she had ever experienced, and it was then that she realized that she could sense the fullness of their bond. Through it she felt his desperate longing for her. Even more urgently, she felt his need for her acceptance of him - from the splendor and primal sensuality of his warrior's body to the fragile heart that had only begun to beat again. He needed her; and even as every cell within him cried out for completion, he remained still - his desire held in check by an iron will - waiting for her to yield body and soul to his safekeeping. And with more joy than she thought she could experience, she opened her heart to him. In his heightened state of awareness, he felt her acceptance and her joy. He heard the soft panting of her breath, felt the rapid beating of her heart. But it was the full force of her passion, urgent with the desire to join with him, which staggered him.

Catherine could, likewise, sense in Vincent the primal compulsion to mate that thrummed along the Bond, and she reveled in the knowledge that she was the focal point of his desire. What she had not expected, however, was to feel the very same urgency and desperation. The need to give herself over to him, to immerse all that she was into the elemental act of physically joining with Vincent was nearly overwhelming. She had never been so aware of his masculinity, and as he bent and began to gently lave her neck, moving downward to lightly nip and suck at her breast, she felt the beginning contractions of her release. Sensing her needs, he pulled her closer, alternating his attention from one breast to the other, as a furred hand slid downward to the juncture of her thighs. Catherine needed no further urging other than the gentle pressure of his hand to open herself to him. Raising himself on one elbow, he looked down at her and with male possessiveness, spread his hand to span her from hip to hip, covering her sex completely. Without a word, he laid down his claim to what would, from that time forth, be his. Joined to him as she was within their bond, Vincent sensed her understanding, her acceptance, and her complete submission to him.

From that point on there was only one focus for either of them. Catherine's senses were flooded with pleasure as Vincent began to explore her, watching her intently and rubbing in rhythmic circular motions with the pad of his thumb and forefinger. As increasing moans of pleasure escaped Catherine, Vincent bent his head to again capture her breast, this time suckling greedily as he gave over to desires long hidden. The onslaught of feelings were simply too much, and Catherine fell off the edge of reality into the arms of release. She had no idea when he ceased to touch her. All she could sense now was his need held barely in check as he gently shifted her to her stomach and, guiding her by the hips, pulled her up to her knees to rest against his straining erection. Though desire had been satisfied, Catherine still felt the longing for fulfillment that only Vincent could bring her, and impatiently she now leaned back into him. She wanted him within her more than her next breath, but Vincent's low growl halted her frantic motions as he held her hips still. Through the Bond, she felt his iron-clad determination not to harm her, and with slow deliberation, he entered her - opening himself wide to their bond in search of any discomfort. To Catherine, his caution was as wonderful as it was maddening, as he took his time to fill her completely. But once he had, it became her turn to savor the frantic edge of Vincent's lust as she arched her back and said softly, "It's time. Let yourself go, Vincent. You won't hurt me."

As though a cord had snapped, another growl escaped Vincent, and he pulled himself almost completely out, and then surged forward again. This movement he achieved once, twice; and then he wrapped his arm securely around Catherine's mid-section, holding her tight against him as instinct drove him to a different, more demanding rhythm: he driving deeper and she welcoming him as all the limits fell away. Catherine knew the whimpers of desire were emanating from her, but there were no words she could utter to express the sheer joy of being joined to him. And then there were no thoughts at all as she was overwhelmed by Vincent's rising passion that drew her deeper with him into the whirling vortex of their bond, even as he drove himself deeper into her body. Merged as one, their sensations grew more acute. She could sense the strain and coiled readiness of his body as their passion spiraled ever higher and at its apex, they found the brilliance of their love radiating in a cascade of colors, sensations, and emotions. Helpless to hold back the tidal wave that drove him relentlessly to release, Vincent roared out his domination in one final thrust, pouring all that he was - all that he would ever be - into her keeping.

Long minutes passed before Vincent could sense anything outside of his connection to Catherine. Then shaken by the magnitude of their loving, he slowly eased down to lie with her amidst the clothes that had created their bed on the cave floor. Catherine rested across his body, her head pillowed on his chest, his arms holding her close. For a long while, they simply rested, bodies and souls, in the warm cocoon of love that was the aftermath of their union. Then as Catherine looked up at Vincent, she rejoiced in his expression of utter calm. Now fully spent and released from anguish, secure in Catherine's love and finally at peace within, the strain of the past week caught him unawares. Pulling Catherine more securely within his embrace, he closed his eyes. Grateful for his life, his love, his very being, Catherine lay quietly, thinking of all that they had shared and how close she had come to losing him. It was then that she began to cry.

> > > > > * < < < < <

Though they stood well apart from the scene that unfolded before them, she felt Vincent shudder. Turning back to face him, she laid her head upon his chest, trying as much to soothe him as to calm the wild beating of her own heart. She could no more deny the truth of what she'd just witnessed than she could stop herself from responding to his closeness. She could feel his muscles, tense and hard beneath the layers of his clothes; his long legs that stood braced apart to support himself, or the both of them, if needed.

At that moment, their desire for each other was nearly overwhelming. Neither felt shame, for the sight of their coupling had made such feelings no longer necessary. Yet, despite what they felt for each other, despite how much Vincent longed that very minute to make love to Catherine, now was not the time. This they both knew and accepted. Thus, unable to trust the strength of his will to contain his desire, Vincent silently held Catherine, not daring to move a muscle lest his control collapse completely. Catherine could feel the rapid rise and fall of his chest, the ragged sound of his uneven breathing, and the small tremors that coursed through him. The length of his arousal, strained against her stomach, revealing that he had not yet regained control over his passion. And even as Catherine ached for him to do more than hold her in his arms, she knew his control now was tenuous, at best, and so she turned her thoughts away from Vincent and concentrated on willing her own aroused state to ease. When she could hear and feel that his breathing had returned to normal, she finally whispered, "It isn't finished, is it?"

"No," he answered her solemnly. A barely audible sigh was all that betrayed her weariness. Leaning down, he gently kissed her cheek, whispering into her ear, "Have courage, my dearest Catherine. The end is very near."

She found the sadness in his voice oddly disquieting, but she was long past questioning anything that happened. In any event, they'd come too far to stop now. Linking her fingers into his, she turned back to face the mist beyond them and once again opened herself to the memories of their past.

                                                                       

> > > > > * < < < < <

The scene had totally changed. She saw herself standing alone in a barren room, facing a single window and absently stroking her protruding abdomen with one hand while she supported the center of her lower back with the other. Startled, Catherine realized then that she was pregnant....carrying his child...their child. And as the mist rolled past the six months of her pregnancy, the scene changed to an austere white room where she was in labor. Catherine remembered the terror of her delivery - not fear for herself, but fear for her unborn child. The people around her desired her death, as soon as she delivered her baby. They wanted him, too. She had prayed for the labor to stop, knowing that the only safety for her child was in not being born. Yet, nature had taken the choice out of her hands, and she inhaled sharply as a particularly gripping pain lanced through her lower back. From somewhere beyond she heard the order for a Caesarean, and her eyes went wide with comprehension and terror; and now instead of praying for the labor to stop, she strained with all her strength to deliver her child before they could butcher her to take it.

A piercing cry of anguish completed the delivery, and once more she was aware of the mortal danger surrounding her. In horror she watched as her son was grabbed up by the doctor she had come to hate. Without hesitation, he handed her baby over to another. As this man's hands closed around the tiny body, the child let out a desperate wail that pierced her straight to her heart. Torn from his mother's arms, the baby's weak wail became more frantic. It was sheer agony, and Catherine wondered if she had any reserve of energy to fight back. But that slim hope was lost as the doctor rammed a needle into her arm. Catherine felt the burning fluid enter her system, and feared her death was imminent. The doctor's assurance that it would act fast did nothing to soothe the pain of knowing that with her death, there would be no one to protect her child.

Despair overwhelmed her. She could feel the drug coursing through her body, strangling her strength. She tried to resist it, but in the end, her body betrayed her. It simply would not obey, and she no longer had the will to fight. In one last effort, she pleaded with the man...still standing there with her child in his arms. The man, who was the very embodiment of evil, held the baby up for her to see, and smiled in triumph. He then turned his back on her and walked out of the room, taking her son with him.

By now she was so tired, and the drug seemed to grow stronger even as she grew weaker. If she could just rest enough to regain her strength. Wearily, she closed her eyes and thought to never open them again, but her will proved stronger than even she had expected. With the last of her reserves, she got to her feet. Then, with a mother's love as her only guide, she listened for the whimpering cries of her child and began to follow those who had stolen him away. A short hallway led to stairs, and she began the arduous task of climbing to the roof of the building. It was then - bleeding, bruised, and struggling to pull herself ever upward - that she felt his presence. Vincent.

Pushing against the door that opened onto the roof, she called out his name. Vincent. She needed him...their child needed him. She wanted to tell him of how they had loved the night he had come back to life; she needed to tell him of the child they'd created. Remorse tugged at her remaining strength as she remembered a time before her abduction when she could have told him, but hadn't. Now she had so little time, and she was so tired. She felt the blackness calling out to her, waiting to claim her. And still she fought against the lethargy, aware only that her baby was lost to her and Vincent was near.

That their beautiful baby lived - that their love would still live in him - was all she could give Vincent now. She knew she was slipping away, perhaps even into delirium, for she thought she felt his arms enfold her in the protection of his love, as he had so many times before. God, how she wanted it to be so, but amidst the spinning images of her drug-induced hallucination, she couldn't be certain. If truly he was with her, she prayed she'd had the presence of mind to tell him about the baby so he would understand that it wasn't the end: not for her, not for their son, not for them. This time death would have no dominion. She knew it in her heart. She believed it, and she wasn't afraid, even as the darkness rose to obliterate all light. Somehow she would survive; she had to - for the sake of their child, for the sake of their love, for the sake of Vincent And as his image rose in her mind, she felt peace replace her earlier despair. There was nothing more she could do, and so she stopped fighting and slipped into an unconsciousness as still as death.

 

> > > > > > * < < < < < <

 

In her sleep, she heard a child crying, and the sound broke her heart into a thousand pieces. Savagely, she wrenched herself awake, and in freeing herself from the pain, she broke into the dawn of a new day. She was alone. In the early morning light of her room, she sat up and only then noticed that she was shivering. She pushed her dampened hair from her eyes and looked around. Her face glistened where real tears had streaked down. Her clothes were soaked in sweat, and her arms ached, as though she had strained the muscles. Reaching for my baby...she thought.

On impulse, she closed her eyes and slipped her hand under the thin nightshirt. Gingerly she touched her abdomen, trying to imagine - to force her mind to validate that a life had grown within her. It didn't take much persuasion, and the truth of it shocked her. She jammed her balled fist into her mouth to stop the scream that threatened to erupt. It was only when she tasted blood where her teeth had broken the skin of her knuckles that she pulled her hand away. Heaving great gulps of air, she tried to slow her hammering heart. The dream that was so much more than a dream and more real than any reality she'd ever faced...had it really happened?

She'd given birth...there had been a child...a baby...and there was Vincent...his father. And then it all came back to her. The dream had ended so abruptly, but it was enough to point her to what she needed to do...what she had to do. It was morning, he was gone, and it was all up to her now. She longed to feel his strong arms around her again, and her arms yearned to cradle their child. If ever she was to feel either in this world, she had to get better. It was already June, she recalled. She would have to move soon to avoid having to search for them in the dead of winter. August. By August she was going to be out of Pinewillow, she vowed to herself.

Unconsciously, she had drawn her legs up in the bed, and now wearily she rested her forehead on her knees. She felt herself outwardly calming in the early morning quiet of her room, but her inner self remained numb, caught still in the aftermath of the dream. Shaking herself from the memories, she eased out of the bed and shuffled over to the shower. The physical therapy was helping, but she still lacked complete control over her body. That, too, would have to change.

Stepping into the shower, she selected cold water, and as it shocked her system fully awake, she felt the emotional grip on her heart ease. For a long while she stood beneath the torrential downpour. Under the roar of the water, she began repeating her name, "Catherine," and as if in a trance, details continued to pour in of a time when her life was as a district attorney Above and a helper to Vincent and the hidden community Below. What was she now? Was there anyplace she could ever fit in after all that had happened? She thought of Vincent's words, and knew she could never go back to her old life. She needed him as her husband, and her child needed a mother. Whatever else there was to consider, she knew her life had to be with him and her family - and that would mean a life Below. Suddenly, she found herself smiling and then laughing so hard that her side began to ache. She finally had an answer to Nurse Carlisle's persistent questioning about her obsession with the darkness: it was her home! Winded, she hugged her sides. It felt good to laugh again.

When she finally stepped out, nothing appeared different, but everything had changed. To those around her she would remain Caitland, but in her heart she knew herself to be Catherine Chandler. And she finally remembered the danger that had caused her illness. Even more, she was no longer paralyzed by her fear of the past or content to sit at Pinewillow...not when she had a life to reclaim: a life, a love, and a family. Standing damp and naked, she shivered ever so slightly, but she was far from cold. She was trembling in outrage at all that she had lost, all that had been taken from her. She wasn't scared now - not even of death. With a hefty dose of pent-up resentment, she discovered she was mad as hell. And after so many months of passively accepting whatever happened to her, that felt good, too.

"I'm coming, Vincent, and heaven help anyone who gets in my way," she whispered to no one and everyone as she walked back into her room and began to dress. It was much too early for her physical therapy appointment, and she didn't have permission to change her treatment schedule - but the exercise room was open. She needed her body back, healed and ready for whatever awaited outside - that meant a morning workout. Wrapping a clean towel around her shoulders, she slipped out of the room.

She was ready to live again.

 



Continued in Chapter 5