Catherine's senses were reeling and her emotions were in overdrive. So much had happened in her life during the past week and the last twelve hours had catapulted her into another dimension entirely. She felt as though her old life was a lie and that all she'd found so recently was the truth, was real. Her old pursuits seemed trivial and meaningless by comparison.
These people, this world felt like coming home, and the way she felt drawn to Vincent was certainly not platonic. Every glance melted her heart, every touch clenched her core. A number of men had been in her life over the years but none had affected her in this manner. What did it mean? What could it mean?
Mary took her to a bathing area, where a warm pool naturally occurred in the rocks. There were candles set around it that suffused the room with a welcoming glow. Catherine would have loved to linger there and ease her many aches but not wishing to keep Vincent and Mary from Winterfest, she hastened her bath. Wrapped in towels she made her way to the guest chamber which was nearby and Mary helped her into a soft, warm, cream colored dress and followed it with an intricate lace overdress. The ensemble was drawn in with a long purple sash which wound around her waist a number of times before being tied. Her hair was swept up with a pin on each side and Mary had found some soft suede boots that fit.
"Thank you Mary," said Catherine once she was ready. "You've made me feel so welcome."
"My dear, you are welcome," replied Mary with tears in her eyes. "You brought Vincent home to us and we can never repay you."
Mary put an arm around Catherine's shoulders and continued. "Now let's go along to Vincent's chamber and see if he's ready."
And so they walked in a companionable silence through the dim tunnels until they arrived at Vincent's chamber.
The vision that greeted Catherine took her breath away. Vincent, resplendent in a white dress shirt drawn tight with a leather belt, frilled ruffles draped around his neck and down his lapel. He also wore knee-length boots over camel colored pants. His freshly washed hair framed his face, a face that had already lost much of the strain she had witnessed there since meeting him. He was far too thin, but wore his clothes with such dignity and presence that he seemed larger than life.
Their eyes met and held as they each saw the other afresh. A look full of appreciation and something else …
"Catherine," rasped Vincent, as if he didn't trust his voice. "You look … beautiful."
"So do you," she responded, as she ravished him with her eyes.
"We should go," he said as he turned to reach for a fresh cloak and tried to hide the flush on his cheeks.
Vincent escorted Catherine and Mary, one on each arm to the Great Hall and applause erupted upon their entry.
The children came forward, took them each by the hand and ushered them to the head of the main table where two places had been set.
Catherine felt like she was in a fairytale. This magical place full of candles and love was a million miles from the offices and boardrooms she normally inhabited.
Father stood up to the right of Vincent. "Please, raise your glasses; I think a toast is in order." Everybody stood, leaving only Vincent and Catherine seated. "To Vincent, we have missed you sorely and are relieved beyond measure to have you back, and to Catherine for bringing him home."
The assemblage erupted, "To Vincent, to Catherine." Glasses clinked together, were held aloft then sipped. Gradually, everybody was seated once more.
"Let the meal begin," called Father.
On cue, platters full of food arrived at the tables. Meats and baked vegetables, pots of stew, a glorious abundance was placed before them.
"Eat up, Vincent," called William from the side of the table.
"William, you've outdone yourself this year," said Vincent. "You would not believe the nights I've spent dreaming about your cooking."
"Well, dig in, you look like you need some more meat on your bones," chuckled William.
"Thank you all for waiting," continued Vincent. "I have no words to express how wonderful it is to be home."
And so the merriment began. Catherine was amazed by the joy and fellowship being enjoyed by all, from the youngest toddler to the most senior of citizens. Music and dance followed the meal, groups formed around the room and friends chatted amiably, games of chess and checkers were underway and a magician entertained the children.
Catherine and Vincent were in conversation with Father and Peter. Father was insistent that Vincent must have a full check-up in the morning and Vincent was determined that the only medicine he needed was good food and his family around him.
"So, Peter," asked Vincent in an attempt to distract Father. "How is it you know Catherine?"
"Ah!" A look of glee entered Peter's eyes. "The first time I met Cathy she was stark naked."
"Yeah, in a hospital delivery room," Catherine finished his story. "Peter was my mother's doctor and has been a family friend ever since."
"Now you've taken all the fun out of my story." Peter pretended to look hurt but couldn't keep it going; he smiled indulgently at the woman he thought of as his "other daughter."
"How is Susan?" asked Catherine, referring to Peter's daughter.
"She's fine," he replied. "Busy with the new pharmaceutical business she and Richard have set up in Santa Fe and they're expecting their first child in a few months.
"Congratulations, Peter," said Father. "A grandchild, how wonderful for you."
Father gave Catherine and Vincent a thoughtful look at that point, frowning slightly. It made Catherine feel a little uncomfortable.
They excused themselves and Vincent introduced Catherine to so many people that she knew she wouldn't remember all their names. One she wouldn't forget, however, was "Mouse," an unusual name, and an unusual young man.
"Vincent's my best friend." Mouse informed her proudly. "We hang out."
"That sounds like fun," said Catherine, amused.
"Where you live?" asked Mouse as he bobbed about awaiting her reply.
"In the Langham Building on Central Park West," she supplied.
"Know that one." Mouse shifted from foot to foot like an excited rabbit and said to Vincent in a gleeful tone. "There's an entrance Below."
"Perhaps you can show me later," replied Vincent, looking thoughtful.
"Okay good, okay fine," replied Mouse, looking satisfied with himself.
Catherine turned to Vincent. "What did he mean, "there's an entrance Below"?"
"A number of older buildings around the city have access into the upper tunnels. They were used for maintenance in years gone by. Mostly they are sealed, but some are not and give us and our Helpers entry points into the world Above."
More people came and offered Vincent their good wishes and by evening's end he'd spoken to everyone in the room. Catherine thought he looked exhausted.
The closing ceremony commenced. A huge circle formed around the room and Catherine was momentarily alone in its center.
"Catherine," called Father as he reached out his hand. "You're a part of us now, a Helper—come, complete the circle."
Catherine moved gratefully to stand between Father and Vincent and took each by the hand. She smiled up through shimmering tears at Vincent and wondered where their journey would take them. She felt him give her hand a comforting squeeze.
The circle complete, Father began. "The darkness almost engulfed us this year when Vincent disappeared … but our unity gave us courage and strength to go on. Vincent's return to us—tonight—is a blessing beyond comparison. As we part for another year, let us remember that darkness is only the absence of light … and all winters end."
Together as one, all arms were raised heavenward and Catherine felt totally accepted into this wonderful community. One to the next they looked, all faces shone with happiness and from the far side of the group the man she'd been introduced to as Winslow cried out. "Three cheers for Vincent."
"Hip Hip—Hooray, hip hip—hooray, hip hip—hooray."
Catherine spent the night in the guest chamber and awoke comfortable but lonely in her bed. She missed waking to find herself in Vincent's arms, safe and warm and … wanted? She certainly "wanted" him, but suspected there were obstacles to be overcome before they could even begin to contemplate a happy life. She had yet to learn the ways of this wonderful, but isolated community. How did they view Vincent's differences? He obviously had no girlfriend, but was it by choice or by design? They were grateful to her for his return, but would they accept a deepening of their friendship?
There were so many questions to be answered on so many levels. What did she want to do? She knew she needed to leave her father's law firm and find her own direction. She knew there would be difficult times ahead regarding the whole "Tom" affair. She chuckled to herself over her choice of words. Tom wouldn't back off easily; he was a bulldog in more ways than one.
As much as it pained her to contemplate, she needed to return home and sort herself out before she was truly free to be with Vincent.
"Catherine, may I come in?" Vincent's called quietly from outside her chamber.
"Of course, come in," she replied, excited to see him again.
"I sensed that you were awake."
"That is a remarkable gift."
"I also felt that you are—despondent."
"I missed you this morning," admitted Catherine as she looked at him, her eyes full of longing.
"I missed you too, Catherine," he answered from his heart, then realized he shouldn't say such intimate things to her. Standing by the bed, he suddenly looked uncomfortable and attempted to hide his hands from view.
"Please—don't do that, Vincent," Catherine said, as she sadly shook her head. "Never hide yourself from me."
He lowered his head and closed his eyes. "This is my life, I am always—hiding."
"But not from your family, your friends," she stated.
"No, not from them."
"Then what am I, Vincent?"
"You are everything! Everything I want and everything that is impossible for me."
"Why is it impossible?" She felt angry at the unfairness of the situation.
"Because of who I am—what I am—and our worlds are too different."
"Vincent, we don't know what is possible. Will you promise me one thing?"
"Ask me, Catherine."
"Will you promise—that you will dream that it is possible?"
"Yes, I will dream."
Catherine reached out and pulled Vincent down to sit on the edge of the bed beside her.
"I must return Above today, before my father starts to worry," she said.
"I know." A fist gripped his heart.
"I need time to sort my life out. I've decided to find another job, more meaningful work. You've helped me find the strength, Vincent, to make the changes I must."
"You were always strong, Catherine," he replied, his belief in her unshakeable.
Vincent guided Catherine through the maze of tunnels. After a late breakfast she'd said farewell to Father and Mary. Dressed once more in jeans, shirt and jacket she took her leave. Vincent walked slowly. He did not wish the journey to end and his heart was heavy at the thought of their imminent parting.
Eventually he led Catherine through a gap in a brick wall that led to an apparent dead end.
"Where are we?" She looked around, confused.
"The basement of your apartment building." He turned away, suddenly overwhelmed.
Vincent's emotions were raw. The thought of her leaving was breaking him and he had little personal experience involving matters of the heart.
Catherine turned to find Vincent had leaned back against the wall. She didn't have his empathic powers, nor did she need them to know what he was feeling right now.
This man was her future, of that she had no doubts. She leaned into him and wrapped her arms around his waist. He had thrown back his head as if in distress and she stood on her toes and pressed a soft kiss to the warm, vulnerable skin of his neck. Vincent ever so gently placed his palm on her back and pressed her to him—he had never felt so blessed, or so wretched.
"What can I say to you?" she implored, as she shared his agony at parting.
"Don't trouble yourself, Catherine." His voice sounded strained as he tried to give her a way out. "You must return to your world and you will—forget me."
"No, Vincent, I'll never forget you, you're part of me now. I'm coming back." She was suddenly filled with the agony of doubt. "If—you want me. Do you—want me, Vincent?"
"Yes—but it is not that simple." He pulled her nearer.
"I know, but remember your promise." She looked up earnestly into his eyes.
"I will remember, Catherine—to dream."
"It will be our dream, Vincent," she declared, as she reached her arms around his neck and pulled him down.
Their lips met in a kiss filled with sweet promise for the future and bound their hearts for eternity. Catherine reluctantly separated from Vincent and walked toward the ladder. She turned back to wave once and then disappeared into the light that streamed down from Above.
Episode references: No Way Down, the Pilot Episode & Dead of Winter.
"… the true food of the gods."- Dr. Bachot, 1662
Robert Frost references: Acquainted with the Night & Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.
Virgil reference:"Come what may, all bad fortune is to be conquered by endurance."