FATHER'S DILEMMA

BY
LORRAINE BEASLEY

‘Vincent ....’ Father regarded his young companion thoughtfully. He was sitting there, a faraway expression on his noble, leonine features, which, Father knew, usually meant that he was thinking about Catherine .... And in the meantime, their game of chess had come to a grinding halt, whilst he awaited his opponent’s next move. Father had been waiting patiently now for his opponent, usually so attentive and eager to beat him .... again .... to make his move, for close to five minutes now. If Vincent didn't hurry up, Father knew that he would be asleep amongst his pawns! This was getting to be a habit .... Father thought with a deep sigh .... A bad one too .... The young man was off in a world of his own .... probably walking hand in hand with his lady love, Catherine, through a meadow full of wild flowers .... Ah to be young again .... And in love ....

Father regarded Vincent now, with a father’s loving eye, taking in his appearance - clothes, homespun, the usual mismatch, patched and mended, but newly laundered, his hair, also freshly washed, all fluffy and gleaming with vitality. He was a fine figure of a man, and since his involvement with the beautiful and worldly Catherine Chandler, Vincent’s pride in his appearance knew no bounds. Father smothered a smile in his whiskers, lest Vincent suddenly pull himself together and look his way. ‘Vincent ....’ Father spoke again softly, shifting impatiently in his chair. Give it another few minutes, and he would return his attention to the book that he had been reading before lunch. Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men In A Boat. It had suited his light hearted mood. Then Vincent had offered to play chess, in a bid, no doubt, to take his mind off the fair Miss Chandler, whom he knew had plans for this afternoon, with her friends from the world ‘above.’ He was also aware that Catherine had accepted an invitation to dine with them here ‘below’, this evening, after which, she and Vincent would go on to listen to the open air concert in the park. The summer season was in full swing, and Father knew that the pair had a particularly good vantage point, just below the first row of seats .... Father let out a long, deep sigh of impatience now, and was just about to try a scathing remark, to illicit a rise from his companion, when he suddenly noticed a slight wince of pain on the younger man’s face, and a small, jerky movement which jolted him out of his day dream.

‘Vincent?’ Father was all concerned doctor and anxious parent now.

‘Sorry Father .... I was miles away ....’

‘So I noticed .... at the theatre with Catherine?’ She was attending a matinee performance of a play, with Jenny Aronson, which had several of their friends in the cast, this fine, mid summer Saturday afternoon.

‘Mm ....’ The wince was still there as Vincent forced his intense sky blue eyes to study the chessboard before him.

‘Vincent .... are you all right’? Father reached out and laid a warm, glove less hand atop his son’s furry one.

‘Yes Father ....’ Vincent placated, his gaze still on the chessboard before him. ‘Do not worry ....’ He suddenly reached out and moved a pawn.

‘How can I not .... I know .... we have had this conversation before....’ Father sighed softly, noting the move on the board and frowning at the unusual opening Vincent had left for him, with silent glee. ‘But .... or a moment there .... I thought that you were in pain ....’

‘Just a touch of indigestion, Father ....’ Vincent passed if off lightly.

‘Ah .... a little too much of William’s marvellous apple pie at lunch’?

‘Mm ....’ Vincent mumbled. ‘Your move, Father ....’

‘Is Catherine well’?

‘Yes.’ Vincent lifted his gaze from the chess game and regarded Father curiously. ‘You will see her this evening.’ He reminded gently.

‘Yes .... I remember. My memory is serving me better today than your concentration, my boy ....’ Father absently glanced up at Vincent before returning his attention to the chessboard, then, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Vincent jerk in his seat once more, another wince of pain skittering across his face before he could hide it.

‘Vincent’?

‘It is nothing Father ....’ The younger man placated. ‘Your move....’

‘That’s rich!’ Father mumbled, distracted, just as Vincent had hoped that he would be. ‘I’ve been sitting here waiting for you to make your move for five minutes!’

‘My apologies.’ Vincent sighed deeply.

‘Tell me ....’ Father invited softly, his deep sapphire blue eyes gentle as they regarded Vincent’s unique countenance.

‘Catherine .... she seems to be on an emotional roller coaster ride....’

‘Ah .... that would account for it ....’ Father grinned. ‘Is she enjoying the show’?

‘Yes ....’

‘What it is’? Father enquired casually.

‘Some friends of hers are putting on a charity performance of Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit.’ Vincent explained.

‘Ah yes ....’ He recalled now.

‘I just wish that Catherine wasn’t quite so ....’

‘Caught up in it?’

‘Yes.’ Vincent sighed deeply.

‘That is one of the disadvantages of this empathic Bond that the you have with her ....’

‘I know ....’ Vincent regarded the older man with sorrowful deep azure eyes. 'I'm sorry Father .... I’m not really much company right now, and, as you so eloquently pointed out, I can't concentrate worth a dime .... so... if you will excuse me, I think I will go for a walk .... work off William’s apple pie ....’

‘All right .... but, I just wish that one of these days, we could actually finish a game in one sitting ....’ Father grumbled.

‘I didn't realise that you were so fond of losing ....’ Vincent chuckled as he ambled up the four small metal steps that led out of Father’s chamber, Father’s snort of indignation following him out in to the tunnel beyond.

Vincent walked around for a little while, visiting the Chamber of the Winds, Echo Bridge and the Whispering Gallery, and then the falls, feeling restless and uneasy, and yet, not knowing why. Even a trip down to the deepest chamber to visit his young friend Mouse did nothing to relieve his discomfiture, and so, he politely took his leave, returning to his own chamber, where he lay down on the bed, staring up at the rocky ceiling, thinking about Catherine.

He reached out with his mind to the woman that he loved. She was feeling pretty relaxed and happy now, but earlier, she had been melancholy, sad, and downright depressed .... and he knew that she had been thinking about him .... Their situation .. Emotionally, she was still very fragile after her father’s recent, sudden death .... And so was he .... After the sweet days of having her here, in his world .... so close.... And then she had returned to her world .... ‘Above....’ It had been hard for her to come to terms with her loss .... but she was getting stronger every day .... With his love and support .... But at what cost to himself? Dealing with her worries, fears, doubts, sorrows .... as well as his own turbulent emotions, was taking it’s toll on him too .... But, he hadn’t said anything to Catherine .... or to Father either for that matter .... He had to be strong .... For them .... At least Catherine seemed happier now. He could sense her anticipation of their evening together, the thrill that she felt at the thought of seeing him .... of being with him .... no matter how briefly .... He sighed softly. Then winced .... The stitch was back in his side.

He had had a niggling little pain in his right side since lunch time... nothing too painful, but it kept catching him out now and again. The walk had eased it a little, but if he was honest with himself, Vincent could not help thinking that it was a physical manifestation of the tension and mental fragility that he had been feeling these past few days. In a couple of hours time, he would go Above, to meet Catherine at the Central Park threshold, and bring her Below for a light supper, with Father, Mary and William, and then they would go on to their favourite spot under the front row, at the concert in the park. Tonight’s programme was Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 21 and he knew how much Catherine was looking forward to it. Perhaps a little nap now would be beneficial, he decided, It couldn’t hurt. Perhaps he would be in a better frame of mind then too .... For he would see Catherine again ....

* * * * * * * *

The evening was sultry, no wind moving the hot air in the city, her clothes clinging alluringly to her body, as Catherine Chandler pressed a soft kiss of gratitude against her friend Jenny’s soft cheek and bid her farewell, before rushing inside her apartment building. She had had a lovely time, and the play had gone really well, much to her surprise .... but now her thoughts were on Vincent, on their dinner this evening .... and then the concert in the park .... As usual, she was running late .... and the elevator seemed to take forever to carry her up to the eighteenth floor.

She stood under a cool shower for ten minutes, then while she towel dried her hair, she switched on the t.v., mainly just for background noise, and caught the middle of a rerun of The King And I, with Deborah Kerr and Yul Bryner. Clad in a soft, pale blue terry robe, her hair pinned precariously up out of her neck, Catherine went to her wardrobe and selected a thin cotton dress in a soft, pale sunlight yellow colour, with matching sandals that were probably going to cripple her during the trek to the home tunnels, but what did she care .... And from the living room heard Deborah Kerr’s character, Anna, singing Hello Young Lovers .... as she opened her jewellery box and selected a thin, delicate gold chain to wear on her wrist. The song was beautiful, and made her think of Vincent .... a wistful little smile on her lips as she absently secured the bracelet on her wrist. There was another lovely song later in the movie, she recalled, where Anna and the King danced, a polka, she thought. Ah yes .... Shall We Dance .... The thought brought a smile to her lips, as she recalled how it had felt to be held by Vincent, as they had waltzed around the Great Hall, after everyone had left the Winterfest celebrations. It had been delightful. Vincent was so graceful, so light on his feet .... She had felt as though she were dancing on air ....

She dressed carefully in clean, white cotton underwear, but her attention was drawn to the living room as another song wafted in from the t.v. She stood in front of the television set, her expression sad, and wistful, as tears blurred the image of the lovers singing to each other on the screen .... and instead, she saw herself and Vincent .... She sank down on to the end of the couch and gave into the tears .... silent sobs wracking her body, her head in her hands .... until with a long, shuddering sigh, she pulled herself together, wiped away the tears, and forced her legs to carry her to the television, which she switched off with a decisive click.

Her emotions were in turmoil enough .... since her father’s death .... without the old movie disturbing them even more .... Back in the bedroom, she straightened her underwear, and pulled on the sun yellow dress carefully, then sat at her vanity unit and carefully applied a light dusting of powder, and blusher and soft gold eye shadow, to repair the damage caused by the tears, and finished off with a light coating of pale pink lipstick. Eventually she was pleased with the end result, The sun was getting low in the sky as she pulled her apartment door closed behind her, and rang for the elevator.

As she stood, waiting for the elevator to make it’s way slowly to her floor, Catherine suddenly felt a sharp, stabbing pain, low on her right side, which robbed her of her breath, and caused her to crease over, leaning heavily against the wall, perspiration beading on her brow, as a wave of nausea rolled over her. Panting heavily, Catherine straightened up very carefully, her face white, eyes wide with fear. She had had this nasty little stitch on and off all afternoon, but at least she had had the play to take her mind off her discomfort. She had also felt a little nauseous at lunch time, and had barely touched the salad that she had ordered. Jenny had even made some comment about it, but Catherine had just shrugged it off as not being hungry .... the heat .... At first, Catherine had thought that the show was a mistake, only adding to her general feeling of melancholy, with the highs and lows of emotion being generated by the characters on the stage, but no, she had enjoyed the show, had cried a little, and laughed too .... finding it very amusing in places, in fact .... if anything had been a mistake, it had been that damned movie on t.v. ....

The song had seemed to be meant for her personally .... some cryptic message that was meant to apply to her situation with Vincent .... She was also acutely aware that Vincent himself could feel what she was feeling, and had, therefore, made a conscious effort to keep her spirits light during the show .... but what would he make of this lapse?

The pain passed quickly, but it left her feeling totally wrung out, drained and sweaty. She stumbled back into her apartment, going straight to the bathroom to splash cold water on her pale cheeks, scrubbing off what was left of her makeup, and taking deep breaths to quell the roiling of her stomach. The deep breaths helped, and scrubbing her face dry with a soft towel put some colour back into her cheeks, so that she felt a little better when she again left the apartment, and carefully made her way to the cement drainage culvert, and the tunnel entrance beyond.

Vincent was waiting for her as she arrived at the iron gate. He pushed it open for her and held out his hand. She went to him willingly, leaning against his rock solid body, burying her face in his broad chest.

‘Catherine ....’

‘Vincent’ She swayed slightly against him, and his strong arm was about her, protectively, in an instant.

‘Catherine?’ His voice was rough with concern.

‘It's nothing, Vincent .... the heat ....’ She lied, smiling wanly at him. ‘No lunch ....’

‘Come. William has laid on a king’s feast for us.’ He steadied her as she stepped through the entrance and into the golden light of the tunnel dwellers world.

‘Sounds wonderful ....’ Catherine slid her arm through his then, as he reached up for the lever to close the door behind them. He walked slowly, concerned by the way that she was holding on to him, aware that she was deliberately keeping the conversation light.

‘Catherine ....’ He stopped suddenly, and looked down into her beautiful face. A frown pulled at his heavy brow, as he realised that even in this golden twilight, she looked very pale and exhausted. She smiled, a little too brightly, up into his beloved leonine face, and the question that he really wanted to ask, died on his lips. ‘Tell me about your afternoon.’ He invited softly.

‘It was wonderful ....’

‘Really?’

‘Well ....? She smiled weakly. ‘We made a lot of money for some very special kids .... and I cried a little .... laughed a lot ....’ She confessed, knowing that she could not keep the truth from him.

‘I know ....’

‘You felt it?’

‘Yes ....’

‘Oh .... I?m sorry ....’

‘It's all right, Catherine .... it is part of my being a part of you .... I just think that sometimes .... it is an imposition on your privacy ....’ He sighed deeply.

‘No Vincent .... I don’t mind .... I’ve gotten used to you being there .... I just wish that I had better control over my emotions ....’ She confessed hoarsely. ‘This afternoon must have been awful for you, Vincent ....’

‘No .... I was a little .... distracted .... that’s all .... then, later .... there was something more .... something else .... something that made you very sad .... made you weep ....’

‘An old movie .... on t.v. ....’

‘Tell me ....’ He invited again.

‘The King And I ....’

‘Rogers and Hammerstein. I know of it .... the stage version any way...’

‘There was a song, Vincent .... it seemed to be speaking to me on a very personal level ....’

‘About us ....’ He sighed deeply.

‘Yes .... when I switched on the t.v. and saw what the movie was .... I remembered that later in the movie there is a song called Shall We Dance .... and it made me think about Winterfest .... when everyone was gone, and we waltzed .... and I felt so happy .... but then .... the song that really made me think about us, was between two young lovers ....’

‘Go on ....’

‘Well, it goes like this:

‘We kiss in a shadow, we hide from the moon,
Our meetings are few, and over too soon.’

She spoke the words, rather than sang them, because she was ashamed of her singing voice, and she knew that it wouldn’t make any difference to Vincent .... he probably had never heard the song anyway.

‘We speak in a whisper, afraid to be heard,
When people are near, we speak not a word.’

She paused for a breath before continuing.

‘Alone in our secret, together we sigh,
for one shining day to be free.

To kiss in the sunlight, and say to the sky ....
Behold and believe what you see ....
Behold how my lover loves me ....’

Catherine let out a deep sigh, tears suddenly brimming in her big, grey eyes. ‘Oh Vincent ....’ She closed her eyes, squeezing the tears away, capturing her bottom lip between her teeth as a stab of pain shot through her abdomen again. ‘It just seemed to speak to me so deeply .... about .... us.’

‘Yes .... ‘ Vincent sighed. ‘I felt it too, Catherine ....’

‘I don’t want to hurt you, Vincent .... I’m happy with the time that we have together .... it’s not enough .... never enough .... but it’s better than nothing, Vincent ....’

‘I know ....’ He gathered her to him briefly, then gently set her away, gazing down into her tear filled grey eyes. ‘Some day, Catherine .... we will find a way to be together .... but until that time ....’

‘We have to make the best of what we have.’ She brushed her tears away, and pasted a forced smile on to her lips. ‘Now, lead me to this king’s feast that William has laid on!’

Vincent again, graciously held out his arm to her, and they walked on in silence, Catherine grateful for the time to pull herself together and get a grip on her emotions.

* * * * * * * *

Father was in fine form throughout the meal, joking with Vincent and Mary, and keeping up a witty repartee over the cold spicy tomato soup, roast chicken and salad and a sharp, tart, raspberry Pavlova, not everyday tunnel fare but William had obviously gone to a great deal of trouble, and was extremely pleased with the end result. Father could not help noticing that Catherine ate very little, and seemed unusually distracted and pale. However, he did not wish to draw unnecessary attention to her, so he kept his own counsel, although every now and then, he thought that he saw a hint of pain in her eyes .... She covered it well, with a bright smile and a quirky remark, but as he watched Vincent and Catherine leave, arm in arm, at the end of the meal, he could not help wondering who was feeling whose .... pain .... the deepest .... Poor Catherine. These past few weeks since her father’s death had been hard on her .... But harder still on Vincent .... She was healing now .... apart from the odd set back, which was only natural in the grieving process .... But Vincent ....That was a different matter ....

He wasn't sleeping well .... Father had often heard him prowling up and down in his chamber .... restless .... too tired to sleep .... unable to find peace, except when he was with Catherine .... It couldn’t go on .... Father knew it .... But Vincent would not be reasoned with. For the time being, he could cope .... But Father feared for the future .... Remembering a darker time in his son’s youth, when physical weakness had led to something even more dangerous and terrifying. No. He wouldn’t think about that. Neither of them could live through that dark time again .... He would rather die than have to watch his son’s suffering and torment..... All he could hope was that so long as Catherine was close, Vincent would be able to maintain control .... Because the other alternative did not bare thinking about.

* * * * * * * *

The music was wonderful, the strings swirling and weaving their magic, building up to the piano section. They sat close together, Catherine half leaning, half sitting, with her head resting against his massive shoulder, fitting just nicely under his chin .... The evening had developed a chill wind, so he had drawn his cloak about her, and now they were snug and cosy, eyes closed, lost in the music....Or at least Vincent was ....

Catherine sat very still, very tense, hardly daring to breathe. Every muscle in her body was protesting at the way that she was very carefully holding herself, because if she relaxed, he just knew that she was going to disgrace herself by being violently sick all over herself and Vincent.... The stitch was back in her side, only now it was much worse, a searing pain that she had to concentrate very hard on blotting out, because she knew that Vincent would feel it too, and worry. She had put him through enough worry lately .... Her doubts a while ago .... Her dissatisfaction .... her need for more, that had almost driven a wedge between them .... Then her Dad dying .... He had been her strength during that dark time .... And she knew that it had been harder on him, than on herself. He had had to be the strong one .... Letting her go back to her life Above .... If she could only get through the end of this concert .... his seeing her safely home .... She would take an aspirin and stay in bed for a week! And if she was sensible, she would call Peter, her doctor, and get herself checked out! It was probably just a physical reaction to all her emotional turmoil of late .... But, at that moment, the pain was very real .... And it was getting worse .... She shifted her position, gingerly, moving slightly away from Vincent’s warm body.

‘Catherine?’ His soft voice cut into the swirl of the music, the piano section coming to it's crescendo now.

'Mm?' She could not speak for the pain now. Vincent suddenly felt a sharp, stabbing pain on his lower right side, and winced, drawing up his knee to try to relieve the discomfort, whilst trying to hide his pain from Catherine. The stitch in his side had been getting worse since dinner, although he had the strangest feeling that it wasn’t really him who was in pain .... Although, at that moment, he could not deny that the physical discomfort was real enough .... taking his breath away, in fact.

As soon as the music ended, Catherine scrambled to her feet, and was heading out into the connecting tunnels. Vincent followed her with a frown, almost barrelling into her back, as she suddenly stopped, bending forward, breathing hard.

‘Catherine ....’ Vincent’s tone of voice was edged with concern.

‘I’m all right ....’ She protested, but swayed alarmingly as she straightened up, her face ashen, eyes wide with fear ... and pain .... and Vincent suddenly realised that it was Catherine’s pain that he had been experiencing all this time. ‘It’s just a stitch ....’

‘No Catherine .... it is more than that. You cannot hide it from me.’ He stood before her now, hands on her shoulders, steadying her as she swayed alarmingly once more. ‘The pain is here ....’ He took his right hand from her shoulder, and placed it low on his right side, close to his hip. ‘.... it is sharp .... intermittent .... you have had it since lunch time .... and it is getting worse ....’

‘Yes ....’ She replied in a small voice, perspiration beading on her forehead again as she stared at him in disbelief. ‘But it will pass ....’ She mumbled, trying to reassure him, when in reality she was terrified, panting as she placed a warm hand against the corresponding point on her body, to try to ease the pain.

‘No Catherine .... I feel it .... I have felt it all afternoon, but I didn’t know it was you ....’ What was happening to her’ Another pain gripped her and she felt her stomach roil. Catherine pulled away from him suddenly, and staggered down the tunnel, one hand reaching out, fingers trailing against the cement wall for support, as she suddenly bent double, heaving and retching violently.

‘Catherine ....’

Vincent was beside her in an instant, his face full of fear, mirroring her own expression, his deep lapis lazuli eyes filled with pain and concern for her.

‘I’m sorry, Vincent ....’ Her voice was tight with shame and unshed tears and embarrassment.

‘It’s all right, Catherine .... let me help you .... let me take you to Father ....’

‘Yes ....’ She said in a very small, sad little voice. ‘Oh yes Vincent .... take me to Father ....’

Vincent scooped her up easily into his arms, and with the greatest care, hurried back towards the golden candle and kerosene lantern glow of the home tunnels. Catherine clung to him desperately, and he could feel her pain increasing in strength, and her fear too .... her arms fastened tightly around his neck, breathing hard, tiny sobs of pain and anguish coming from her lips, her beautiful hair matted and clinging to her forehead and cheeks. Breathing hard himself, from exertion and driven on by her pain and anguish, Vincent hurried through the home tunnels, towards the hospital chamber, shouting out anxiously for Father in his loudest voice.

Jacob Wells was just about to retire for the evening when he heard a message over the pipes, containing Vincent and Catherine’s names, and then he heard the rumpus in a nearby tunnel and his son’s anxious voice calling for him. Pulling on a robe as he went, he followed the sound of Vincent’s anguished voice down the familiar route to the hospital chamber, and arrived just in time to see Vincent lay Catherine Chandler down on a small, narrow cot, and turn around quickly, almost knocking Jacob off his feet.

‘Father ....’

‘Calm down, Vincent ....’ Father placated. ‘And tell me what happened ....’ He instructed.

‘Catherine is unwell ....’ Vincent panted.

‘I can see that, Vincent .... and you don’t look one hundred percent yourself ....?’Father observed.

‘I am all right ....’ Vincent dismissed his concern roughly, his worries all for the woman that he loved. ‘.... but Catherine is in pain .... here ....’ Vincent indicated with his large hand to his own lower right side.

‘I see ....’

‘The pain is acute, and getting worse .... a burning sensation .... and she is nauseous ....’ Vincent explained, still breathless.

‘Catherine .... did you vomit?’ Father asked the almost insensate young woman on the narrow cot, taking her wrist very gently in his right hand and counting out her rapid, thready pulse, noting the fine beads of perspiration on her brow, and her drawn up knees as she lay curled up on her side on the cot.

‘Yes ....’ Vincent answered for her.

‘Thank you, Vincent .... will you hurry along and get Mary for me.’ Father asked his son, knowing that in this agitated condition, he was going to be more of a hindrance than a help, if he stayed. Mary wouldn’t be able to do much either ....  but at least it would get Vincent out from under his feet while he examined Catherine more closely.

‘Don’t just stand there .... She’ll be all right with me, Vincent ‘The older man assured. ‘ Go!’ Vincent reluctantly strode out of the hospital chamber, seeking the Community’s midwife and nurse, Mary.

After Vincent had departed, Jacob& leaned close over Catherine and smiled reassuringly.

‘Catherine .... tell me .... could you be .... pregnant?’

‘No ....’ Came the firm reply. ‘We haven’t .... not yet ....’ She mumbled, blinking rapidly.

‘No dear, I don’t mean .... you and Vincent ....’ He hid his surprise well, not sure whether to rejoice for his son that this woman could even be contemplating a union in the physical sense, with Vincent .... or to be terrified of the consequences, both physical and mental, to both of them, of such a union .... Jacob had merely asked the question because he needed to know .... and knew that she had had other relationships .... he had to be sure that she wasn’t still involved with a man from the world Above, and had become pregnant ....

‘No.’

‘I’m sorry my dear .... but I had to know .... you do understand, don’t you?’ He had been trying to eliminate the possibility of an ectopic pregnancy, or even a miscarriage. That at least narrowed down the possibilities for his diagnosis. ‘I will try not to hurt you ....’ He warned, reaching down to her lower right abdomen, and applying a gently pressure.

Immediately, Catherine tried to curl up tighter, drawing her knees up into her chest, a moan of pain and fear ripping forth from her lips. ‘I’m sorry Catherine .... so sorry ....’

‘What is it’ Catherine gasped, shocked and shaken by just how quickly her condition had deteriorated. ‘What is wrong with me?’ She demanded. ‘Please Father .... help me .... help .... me ....’ She implored.

‘Catherine .... I cannot ....’ Jacob told her firmly, just at the precise instant that Vincent and Mary rushed into the hospital chamber.

‘Father What is it?’ Vincent demanded, taking in the shocked, wide eyed expression on Catherine’s face, and Jacob’s own reticence.

‘Jacob .... why can’t you help me ....’ Catherine panted, clutching at her side as she tried in vain, to sit up.

‘Catherine .... please .... be still. Look, my dear .... I cannot help you .... not here .... not now .... you must understand .... Vincent will have to take you Above .... you have to get to a hospital .... right away .... Vincent ....’

‘Why can’t you help me!’ Catherine screamed.

‘Father .... please!’ Vincent beseeched.

‘Vincent ... I can’t.’

‘Why not!’ Vincent roared, unable to believe what Father was saying.

‘Vincent, she has appendicitis .... she needs immediate surgery .... we can’t waste any time ....’ Father tried to reason.

‘Then you do it.? Vincent grabbed two large handfuls of Father’s loose robes and pulled him roughly against him, so that they were face to face. ‘You’re a surgeon. You operate!’

‘It?’s not as simple as that, Vincent ....’ Jacob tried to be calm.

‘Yes it is. You operated on Mouse when Cullen stabbed him .... why can’t you operate on Catherine .... if you don’t .... she could die!’ Vincent’s anger was a terrible thing to behold, fire in his eyes, his breath coming in short, rasping gasps.

‘There is your answer, Vincent .... think about it ....’ Father again tried to reason. ‘How would Catherine explain to the world Above how and where she had her appendix removed’ It was all right for me to stitch up her face, Vincent but this is major surgery! It is too risky ....’

‘Oh God .... somebody help me!’ Catherine moaned in anguish, as she writhed in agony on the cot.

‘Father .... ‘ Mary, alarmed by the murderous expression on Vincent's face, came to stand beside Jacob Wells now. ‘She needs our help ....’

‘And the only help we can give her is to get her to the surface as quickly as we can, and from there, to a hospital ....’ Jacob explained. 'There is no other option ....’

‘Then you wont operate?’ Vincent seethed.

‘I can’t .... I’m sorry, Vincent .... I just can’t ....’

Vincent let go of Father’s dishevelled clothes and began to pace back and forth across the hospital chamber, his head in his hands as he tried to think.

‘Vincent .... there would be too many questions that Catherine would not be able to reasonably answer .... would you put her on the spot like that .... would you endanger all of us’ You know that there would be speculation .... questions .... they would not let it alone, Vincent .... you know that .... Catherine ....’ Father turned sad, sapphire blue eyes on the young woman in obvious distress, his own pain at his inability to help her obvious in his eyes, as they implored her to help him make Vincent see reason. ‘You know that I would help you, if I could my dear ....?

‘Yes Father .... it’s all right .... I understand .... and you are right, of course ....’ She gasped. ‘Vincent .... take me Above .... please ....’ She looked at him appealingly. ‘Take me to Peter .... he’ll know what to do .... he’ll call an ambulance .... Father is right .... too many questions .... no answers .... someone would be suspicious ....’

‘Vincent, they’re both right.’ Mary lent her voice to the proceedings now.

‘And we don’t have time for further debate ....’ Father put in.

With a look that was pure venom, Vincent scowled at Father and said: ‘I will never forgive you for this ....’

‘Fine. Kill me when you get back ....’ Jacob sighed deeply. ‘Now get going .... I’ll get word to Peter ....’ Vincent scooped Catherine carefully up into his secure arms, then, and hurried out of the hospital chamber. ‘I'll take care of everything, Vincent ....’ Father called after his son, not wanting to dwell on his previous scathing words. ‘Don?’t worry, Catherine, all will be well ....’

’No thanks to you!’ Vincent muttered darkly as he hurried down the tunnel way with Catherine in his arms.

‘Oh Mary .... what else was I to do?’ Father asked forlornly.

‘He’s very upset, Father ....’

‘I know ....’

‘He didn't mean it .... any of it ....’

’Yes .... he did ....’ Father sighed sadly. ‘And if it had been anyone else .... I probably would have operated .... but....’

‘Father, you have the whole community to consider. Right now, Vincent is just thinking about Catherine and himself. The woman that he loves is in pain .... and he is afraid ....’

‘He came to me for help, Mary .... and I .... turned him away ....’ Jacob muttered. ’What have I done?’

‘The only thing that you could do, Father’ Mary assured. ‘And keep us all safe ....’ She rested a warm hand on his arm, drawing his pained, sapphire gaze. ‘I am sure that when she is well again, Catherine will help Vincent to see your side of the dilemma ....’

‘I hope so Mary .... I hope so ....’

* * * * * * * *

As he hastened through the warren of tunnels beneath the city of New York, Catherine drifting in and out of consciousness in his arms, her pain, and her fear crashing through him like an unrelenting ocean current, a rip tide, breathing hard, his cheeks puffing in and out like bellows, Vincent could hear the pipes reverberating all around him .... his name .... directions and instructions being relayed by Pascal in the Pipe chamber, no doubt being passed on to him by Father and Mouse .... and updates on instructions from Dr Peter Alcott, a long time friend of Father’s and his back up on all matters medical Below.

Peter will meet you in basement parking lot of his office building .... Take the left tunnel when you reach the five ways .... most direct route to Peter’s office .... Blessings Vincent .... Be well Catherine .... Hurry .... Ambulance on it’s way .... Vincent hurried on, sure footed, his strong arms cradling Catherine’s insensate body close against him, his heart pounding in his ears, as he could feel her life essence ebbing away.

‘Don’t die, Catherine ....’ He rasped, his lungs burning from exertion ‘We’re almost there .....’ He assured her, taking an upward sloping tunnel now, almost at journey’s end. ‘Please don’t die ....’ He beseeched. ‘.... if you die, Catherine, you take me with you ....’ He gasped, his chest heaving& and burning with& the effort to draw in precious air, his throat tight with unshed tears.

He reached surface level, and found the threshold to the basement parking level of Peter Alcott’s office building, stealthily making his way up to the better illuminated parking area, careful of Catherine’s head as he ducked through the low, narrow opening, before pulling his hood up over his& tawny mane, his piercing blue eyes darting from side to side, wary, ready to flee at the slightest sign of danger.

‘Vincent?’ Peter’s familiar voice echoed softly off the dull grimey grey walls, as he stepped out of the elevator.

‘Here.’ Vincent’s gruff voice responded and he stepped out from behind a wide concrete support pillar, and hurried over to Peter. ‘She is unconscious ....’

’It’s all right, Vincent. I’ll take her from here ....’ Peter soothed, taking in the younger man's breathless, anxious condition.

‘Father .... Jacob .... refused to help her ....?’ Vincent ground out between gasps for breath.

‘I’m sure that’s not the case, Vincent ....’ Peter sighed, holding out his open arms to receive the unconscious young woman that he had known since her birth. ‘.... he had no choice, under the circumstances .... you should know that. He did the right thing ....’

‘You would defend him?’ Vincent pinned Peter with a cool blue glare of incredulity.

‘Of course. I would have done the same in his position, Vincent .... and so would you ....’ Peter reasoned, concerned by Vincent’s attitude, and his obvious distress. ‘It’s not that he didn’t want to help, Catherine .... he just .... couldn’t take the risk .... It couldn't have been an easy decision, Vincent ....’

‘I hate him!’ Vincent hissed. ‘’And I will see to it that he never forgets .... I will never forgive him if anything ....’ His voice trailed away then, and he lowered his sorrowful gaze to the unconscious woman still in his arms.

Peter grew even more concerned. He had never heard such words from Vincent, especially not about Jacob. The two men were as close as any Peter knew, drawing comfort from each other in times of stress and danger, and love, and warmth and companionship at other times. Over the years they had not been afraid to yell at each other, to fight, but that had been offset by the many kisses, bear hugs, and shared tears. Theirs was a healthy relationship, a strong one .... one that would endure anything .... except, it now seemed, if something happened to Catherine ....

‘Vincent .... you are being unreasonable, and irrational right now .... Fear and worry can do that ....’ Peter reasoned. ‘When you have calmed down a little, you will begin to appreciate Jacob?’s position .... see his dilemma .... understand why he did what he did .... Now .... please, let me take Catherine .... the ambulance will be here any minute...’

‘Live Catherine ....’ Vincent cradled her head gently against his broad chest and pressed a fevered kiss to her brow. ‘Live ....’

Peter carefully took the insensate young woman from Vincent’s reluctant arms, and laid her down gently on the cold cement floor, just as the siren of an approaching ambulance split the still night air.

‘Go, Vincent ....’ Peter advised, already focusing his mind on checking his patient's condition. Vincent did not move, He knew the danger, but he couldn’t get his legs to work.

‘I .... I love her ....’

’I know Vincent .... and so does Catherine .... but it wont do either of you any good if you get caught Above ....’ Peter reasoned calmly. ‘I will take very good care of her .... I promise you .... I love her too .... now, please .... go .... quickly....’ Peter insisted and Vincent could not mistake the urgency in his voice now. ‘Let me take care of her .... I’ll be in touch as soon as I can .... now go!’

Unwilling though his legs were to move, he forced them to carry him to the relatively safe distance of another wide concrete support pillar, from where he watched as two ambulance attendants gently placed Catherine on a gurney and secured her in the back of the vehicle, all the time checking on her condition, and listening to Peter reel of her vital signs and all that he could recall off the top of his head of her most recent medical history. The driver returned to the front of the vehicle, whilst Peter climbed in to the back to sit beside Catherine, gently taking her hand in his own whilst the other attendant secured the doors and returned up front to join his colleague.

That was the last that Vincent saw, as the ambulance doors closed, and there were tears brimming in his eyes as he watched the ambulance, it’s flashing red lights casting an eerie glow on the ghastly grey walls of the parking lot, pull away, it’s siren screaming in the night air as it reached street level. Vincent sagged against the concrete pillar, his breath coming in short, ragged& gasps, tears rolling unashamedly down his cheeks, his chest burning as it heaved up and down, his heart racing. ‘Live Catherine .... live ....’ He beseeched once more, reaching out across their unique empathic link, sensing her pain, her terror, her frailty, the sudden fogginess in her mind as a sedative and painkiller were administered .. .... and then she seemed to be floating .... incoherent ... her thoughts a hazy jumble ....

The sudden sound of the elevator returning to the basement reminded Vincent that there was still danger for himself in this place, and so, wearily, he forced his legs to carry him back to the relative safety of the threshold, and beyond to the cover and safety of the tunnels, where he could still hear the reverberation of the pipes.

Vincent .... What is happening? Is she safe? Vincent .... Vincent .... He lent heavily against a rough brick wall his head bowed, his hair falling across his face, panting for breath, trying to quell his anxiety, realising that he was experiencing a panic attack, as he fought not to give into the sobs of anger and despair .... his mind in turmoil. He did not even know where they were taking her .... he suddenly realised .... But he could still feel her .... knew that she was still holding on.... her drug induced dreams filled with her worry for him .... and sorrow .... Worry for him? Sorrow? Catherine was worried that she had frightened him .... and she was sorry that she had been the cause of dissent between himself and Father.... She was an incredible woman .... Even sick as she was, her mind was on someone else’s problems, not her own ....

Father .... Yes , Father .... Vincent had said some very cruel things this evening .... Had thought some very dark and sinister thoughts about Jacob Wells.... But .... Peter was right. What choice had Father had? Help Catherine, and run the risk of discovery? Vincent now realised that had Jacob given in to him, and done as he had demanded .... had operated on Catherine .... they would have had to keep her with them, Below for at least a week, and Catherine would have been missed by her friends and work colleagues Above. He recalled now, the furore in the press when Catherine had originally disappeared, for ten days, two years ago .... when he had found her, bleeding and battered .... and had taken her home .... to Father .... Father had stitched up her face, bound her broken ribs and given her precious medication .... despite his misgivings, and his anger at his son’s recklessness ....

But this was different. That much was true. Vincent knew that his behaviour had been unreasonable and irrational. But that didn’t mean that his anger at Father was any the less now.... At least he was beginning to understand Father’s reasoning. If Catherine had been missing from her life Above, again, her boss, and close friend, Joe Maxwell would have kicked up a stink. Hadn’t he called the police to check on her apartment when she had been Below, recovering from the shock and grief at her father’s sudden death. He had been fearful that she had done something stupid .... like killing herself .... Joe cared about Catherine deeply too .... He wouldn't have let this go .... not until he got all the answers.... And this time, pleading memory loss and a chance encounter with itinerants crossing the country in search of work, would not account for major surgery and an absence from her life of over a week. It was just possible, that Joe Maxwell and Moreno would have torn the city apart looking for Catherine ....

Taking deep, calming breaths, Vincent closed his eyes and saw once again, the horror and genuine sadness on Father’s face, when he had told Vincent that he could not help Catherine. Peter had been right about that too. It hadn't been an easy decision to make .... But .... it had been the right one. Catherine was the last person who would have wanted to endanger their fragile existence .... And it had been unfair of him to put Father on the spot like that .... to expect him to perform the surgery .... Vincent, feeling calmer now, reached out across their empathic connection, across the city, to Catherine. She was very sleepy now, the pain dulled by drugs and anaesthesia .... she was no longer afraid .... in fact, she was quite .... euphoric. Vincent let out a deep, shuddering breath. All would be well now. He prayed .... And he had fences to mend .... with Father .... If the older man would ever forgive him his impetuosity and his anger.... Slowly and wearily, Vincent made his way home.

* * * * * * * *

When he eventually reached the familiar golden glow of the candle and kerosene lanterned home tunnels, Vincent wearily made his way directly to Father's chamber. He had seen no-one on the last leg of his journey home, but he knew that the sentries would have sent word of his return ahead to Father.

Father was sitting at his desk, an open book in front of him, his elbows resting on the desk, fingers steepled together against his bearded chin.

‘May I come in, Father?’ Vincent asked softly, his intense blue eyes gazing sorrowfully at the man who had raised him with love and integrity, and strong principles, who had educated him and taught him all the important things in life. The man whose arms had always been there for him, to offer love, comfort, warmth .... shelter, solace and safety .... His love for this man knew no bounds .... They had laughed together .... Cried together .... Shared some of the darkest moments in Vincent’s young life together.... They often agreed on many things. But they more often disagreed .... Father encouraging him to have his own principles, beliefs and opinions .... And tonight ......Vincent had been on the brink of tearing him limb from limb .... That thought rocked Vincent to his very core .... What was happening to him?

‘Of course, Vincent ....’ Father sighed softly, taking in Vincent’s shocked expression. ‘Catherine .... what is your sense of her now?’ He asked politely.

‘She is sleepy .... disorientated .... euphoric ....’

‘That will be the drugs ....’

‘Father ....’ Vincent's voice was low, almost a whisper, full of misery, agony, repentance .... as he came striding across the chamber and dropped to his knees beside the older man. ‘I am so sorry .... please, forgive me .... He choked out, dropping his head into Father’s lap.

‘Oh Vincent ....’ Father gently began to stroke Vincent’s fluffy red/gold tresses rhythmically. ‘I am sorry too .... it broke my heart ....’ He confessed raggedly. ‘Don’t you know that if there is one person in all the world that I want to help .... besides yourself ... it is Catherine .... Dear Catherine .... but I could not .... if there had been any way to help her, and keep our world safe .... I would have ....’

‘I know ....’ Vincent replied, thickly, raising his face to regard Father, azure eyes filled with tears, face wet with twin trails of salt water.

‘It is the hardest thing that I have ever had to do, .... to let you down, Vincent .... to disappoint you ....’

‘I was angry ....’

‘You were worried .... in pain .... frightened ....’

‘Unreasonable .... irrational ....’

‘Downright murderous ....’ Father smiled softly, taking some of the sting out of his words.

‘I didn’t think .... I couldn’t think about anything else ....’

‘And you lashed out ....’

‘I am so sorry, Father ....’ Vincent buried his head in Father’s lap once again, and began to weep softly.

‘It’s all right, Vincent .... I understand .... truly, I do .... You love Catherine .... and you want the best for her .... you naturally want to protect her from everything .... I know that feeling too, Vincent .... and I would have been the same in your position ....’ Father confessed softly. ‘Vincent .... Vincent .... come, stop this ....’ Father coaxed gently, placing shaking hands on either side of Vincent’s bowed head and lifting it up gently. ‘Catherine is going to be just fine .... you’ll see. I got word a little while ago, from Peter, that the surgery went well .... she will sleep& now .... and then .... she’ll soon be strong again ....’ Vincent’s face was awash with tears, his deep sky blue eyes pools of misery .... and relief. ‘There, that’s better ....’ Father soothed, producing a blue and white spotted handkerchief from his pocket, and gently stroking the hair out of Vincent’s eyes began to gently dab at his son’s tears.

‘Did I hurt you, Father?’ Vincent asked thickly.

‘No .... No ....’ Father assured. Vincent had been rough when he had man handled him, but he had not physically injured Jacob in any way.

‘I lost myself ....’ He confessed raggedly in a small voice filled with shame.

‘I know ....’ Father acknowledged. ‘Vincent .... I am very worried about you ....’

‘I too ....’ Vincent whispered.

‘You must take care .... be aware of your physical and mental state .... you must learn to recognise when you are experiencing Catherine’s pain .... fear .... anger .... worry ... and be more .... detached .... be aware that they are her feelings, her emotions, not your own ....’ Jacob advised in his best fatherly manner.

‘I try Father .... but it is so easy to get caught up .... I cannot just turn it off ....’

‘I know .... I know it’s hard, Vincent .... but you must try harder ... or .... I fear for the future .... for you .... for Catherine .... for our world .... but most of all, for you, Vincent ....’ He caressed Vincent’s beautiful golden mane lovingly with his gnarled old fingers. ‘If anything ever happened to you, Vincent ....’ His voice cracked then, and he lowered his tear filled sapphire eyes, resting his chin on his chest as he wrestled to regain his composure. Vincent was so attuned to Catherine, to her very heart beat, that if anything should ever happen to her .... God forbid, Father feared that the shock of being torn away from her living body would kill Vincent too ....

‘I love you, Father ....’ Vincent reached up and gently pulled the older man in to his arms.

‘I love you too, Vincent .... and your Catherine .... please believe that ....’ Jacob sobbed softly as he leaned into Vincent’s broad shoulder, finding no embarrassment in the reversal of their usual roles.

‘I do ....’ Vincent breathed softly.

‘Good .... now ....’Father gently extricated himself from Vincent’s embrace, and tenderly pushed a stray tendril of rich red/gold hair from his rough, tear dampened cheek. ’Rest, Vincent ....’

‘Yes Father ....’ Vincent sighed heavily, slowly rising to his full impressive height. ‘I will try ....’

‘You will see your Catherine again, soon, Vincent and you wouldn’t want her to worry about you ....’

‘I look that bad, huh?’ Vincent made a visible effort to pull himself together.

‘It’s nothing that a splash of soap and water and a brush wont fix ...’ Father smiled affectionately. ‘.... now, be off with you .... and try to get some sleep.’

‘I will, Father .... Goodnight.’

‘Goodnight Vincent .... Be well ....’

* * * * * * * *

The  music was beautiful, Handel’s Water Music, so stately, so melodic ... accompanied by a magnificent fireworks display, that marked the end of the season of concerts in the park that summer. And the company wasn’t half bad either .... Catherine thought to herself with a lazy, contented smile. She was leaning lightly against Vincent, his arm draped lightly around her shoulders, still apt to treat her like a china doll, although she was well on the road to recovery now. It was six weeks since the surgery, and she was getting stronger every day. She was even itching to get back to the office, although Peter Alcott had told her firmly that she wouldn’t be up to her usual leg work just yet. Catherine didn’t care. Desk work looked good to her after six weeks out of the main stream. Vincent hadn’t been her only visitor during those weeks, but he had been her most welcome visitor, bringing her books and flowers, and candies and cookies that William had made especially to whet her appetite, and in the end, she had had to beg Vincent to make William stop, or else watch her turn into a blimp! Those evenings on her terrace balcony had been wonderful, and they had talked a lot .... about the night that she had been taken ill .... and about Father’s refusal to operate on her. Eventually, she had made Vincent believe that she understood perfectly well about Jacob’s reasons .... and agreed with them.

What they hadn’t talked about was the effect that all of this had had on Vincent himself. She could see a difference in him, despite his effort to appear relaxed. Catherine knew that Vincent was happy to see her .... to be with her.... But she also knew that he was afraid for her .... could see it in his eyes .... his desperation .... remembered the agony that she had heard in his voice that night, as he had told her that if she died, she would take him with her .... Her illness had frightened him more than he was prepared to admit. And that worried her too .... So much responsibility .... Still, she was well again now, and with the passing of every day, Vincent seemed to be recovering himself too. Tonight was the first time that she had been Below since that fateful night six weeks ago, and she was happy to be in his arms again, listening to the beautiful music that was coming from the park. Father had taken her into his arms earlier, in a warm embrace, and she had made a great show, for both his sake, and Vincent’s, of warm affection for the older man, showing them both that she bore him no ill will .... that she understood. Jacob’s smile had been warm, his eyes filled with gratitude, but she had seen something else in his deep sapphire eyes too .... Relief .... And it was only then that she had realised just how worried and frightened Jacob had been .... And not just about her ....

‘Happy?’ She looked up into Vincent’s relaxed face, smiling softly.

‘Yes.’ He sighed softly.

’Me too.’

‘I know ....’

‘Vincent ....’

‘Sh ....it’s all right.’ He assured.

‘I love you so much, Vincent .... but .... it worries me that I cause you so much pain .... our Connection .... that gift .... if anything should happen to you, Vincent .... because of me ....’

‘Nothing will happen ....’ He assured. ‘I love you too .... forever....’

‘Forever .... Oh Vincent .... I am so lucky to have you ....’

‘If anything every happened to you, Catherine ....’ His voice suddenly caught in his throat.

‘If it did, Vincent ....’ She took a deep breath and looked him squarely in the eye, having given a lot of thought to just that subject, both during her stay in hospital, and since she had recovered from the surgery. ‘I want you to promise me .... promise me, Vincent .... you will let me go ....’

‘No!’

‘You must .... you must, Vincent .... can’t you see’ I don't want to be responsible .... for that kind of burden .... for knowing that your life ends .... with mine .... I can’t bare to live with that knowledge .... Promise me, Vincent .... please .... promise me ....’

‘I can?’t.’

‘Vincent ....’

‘No Catherine .... what if it were me’ Will you promise me the same thing’ Could you let me go?’

‘I ....’She dropped her gaze.

‘Then do not ask it of me .... without you ....’ His voice trailed away, and she could clearly see the pain and fear in his eyes. ‘I do not even want to think about it ....’

‘Then let’s not ....’ She snuggled up closer to him, concerned by his anxious reaction to her words, and wanting to soothe him. ‘We will have a long, and happy life together, Vincent .... we have to believe that .... or else .... what is the point’ Let’s let tomorrow take care of itself ....’ She reached up carefully and pressed her lips to his cheek, felt him take a deep, shuddering breath, and buried her face in his beautiful mane.

‘Love seeketh not itself to please, nor for itself hath any care ....’ She quoted softly after a lengthy silence when all they could do was hold on tightly to each other.

‘But for another gives it’s ease, and builds a heaven in hell’s despair ....’ Vincent finished the lines in a soft voice, drawing his arm protectively about Catherine, thinking about those lines by William Blake. There were none truer that applied to them. He loved Catherine above all else .... even above his own life .... caring not about the toll that it took on him. His heart’s greatest desire was to make the world a happier, safer, more comfortable place for her, so that she never know pain, fear, danger.... Even if he had to descend into the very depths of hell and torment to do it .... He would do so .... Gladly .... For she was everything .... Everything ....