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from Legacy of Love

Story by Rhonda Collins
Based on the series by Ron Koslow


WALLS OF SILENCE

   Vincent lay awake staring into the darkness. He could hear soft sounds from the cradle next to him, and could feel his tiny son's sleeping presence. But sleep eluded Vincent, as it had for so many haunted and sorrow-filled nights during his search for Catherine. Now, there was no terror. There was only the aching loss and a certain resignation. A small portion of the aching had been stilled the moment he'd held Catherine's son, but the rest was a devouring emptiness that called out to be filled.

   Soon Vincent knew he would be called upon to name this small life that he and Catherine had brought into the world. He knew what the name would be. The name would please Father, and honor him. That thought brought some small comfort to Vincent. At least Father can be proud of his grandson and have no fear of his being different.

    Finally deciding that sleep was not an option, Vincent rolled over and threw the covers back. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he slipped into his sandals and pulled on a long robe against the chill. He stood a moment in the darkness, gazing down at the sleeping infant, then reached down and tentatively touched the soft cheek, drawing back as the long hair on the back of his hand tickled the child, who stirred. When the baby settled once more, Vincent sighed. So small.

     Vincent flexed his hands. The skin of his palms was still tender from the burns he'd received escaping from the cage where the man, Gabriel, had kept him. Father had removed the dressings only last night. Vincent blessed the fact that his body healed so quickly, but even so, he'd resented the fact that someone else had cared for his son the first few days home. This was his first night alone with him, and even at that, he'd had to practically beg Father to allow it.

     Restless, Vincent walked over, sat at his desk and opened his journal. He carefully lit the stub of the candle on the desk and in the flickering candlelight stared at the latest entry. He flipped back a page or two and read those entries as well. He shook his head ruefully. They make no sense. They are only cries into the darkness. He picked up his pen and began to write.

  A few days ago I brought Catherine's son home. I can feel him near me, and he is well. I should be able to rest now, but I cannot. The emptiness draws me in. I can sense Father's relief that it is over. But it will never be over. Not for me. Father wishes for me to stay here, in the Home Tunnels. I cannot, not permanently. At least not now. Not yet. I must go back into exile after tomorrow. Gabriel is dead, and not by my hand. Diana spared me that. Diana sent a messenger to us with the news: she tells us Gabriel is dead, but no more. But even knowing that, I cannot sleep. Even with our child beside me, even with the tentative bond that the child and I share, it is not the same: I cannot feel Catherine. My sense of her has been gone for a very long time, but now there is no hope it will ever return. There is no hope that she will ever return. I feel Catherine would despise me for my lack of desire to live, to love our son. But it is so large, this emptiness. Catherine gave me this gift, our son, and I cannot even remember the giving.

     Tears blurred his eyes, and a large drop smeared the last line of text. He rubbed at the wet blotch futilely with his thumb, only succeeding in smearing it worse. He sighed and closed the book. Vincent went through the motions of putting his pen away and tidying the desk, then wrapped his arms around himself as he walked slowly to the bed and climbed back in, pulling the quilts over his shoulders. The baby would wake soon and need feeding.

     Trying to relax and empty his mind, Vincent let the soft sounds of the Home Tunnels at night seep into his consciousness: the rumble of a subway car, the soft, gentle all's well tapped by one of the sentries, and the ever-present muted emotions of those he loved around him. Finally, he fell into an exhausted sleep, only to be awakened immediately, or so it seemed, by the insistence of his son's cries and the pull of the child's need.

     Moving more clumsily than usual, Vincent picked the baby up and cradled him against his chest...and each drew comfort from the other. Peace, little one, he thought quietly. He hummed Catherine's lullaby as he lit the kerosine stove, took the bottle from the ice chest, and placed it in the pot of water to warm. As the water heated, Vincent laid the child on his bed to change him. Taking care not to re-injure his hands, the new father cleaned the tiny bottom and struggled with the diaper. It looked so simple when others did it. The infant watched his father with wide blue eyes and reached out to grasp the long chestnut hair that hung in front of him. He smiled and kicked as Vincent struggled to get him re-dressed.

     Once both tiny feet were safely encased in the sleeper and all the tiny snaps done back up, Vincent held up his hands and stared at the nails balefully, then back at the infant. Then he chuckled a little at the thought of how ridiculous he must appear trying to dress his child and fasten such tiny snaps with his long nails. Thus far he had never cared for the very small infants. Now, he had an idea why. He murmured, "Well, my son, at least I didn't put holes in your sleeper...though it took a while. Perhaps it will be easier with practice." Resting the child in the crook of his left arm, the new father struggled with his right hand to check the bottle's temperature and turn off the burner on the small stove. Eventually, Vincent curled up back in bed with the baby cuddled next to him as he fed him the bottle. Once the baby burped, Vincent tucked the child in next to him in his bed, and both father and son fell asleep.

__________

     It was late, and Diana Bennett rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands. Feels like I've got sand in there. Joe Maxwell wanted her report on his desk tomorrow, and there would, of course, be an inquiry as to the specific details of Gabriel's death. Diana sat back in her chair and stared at the computer screen, watching the cursor flash. Her head throbbed in time with it. Okay, Bennett. What do you tell him? Oh, yeah, Joe...I killed the bastard. Plugged him right through the heart. Some people just need killing. I did the world a favor. Somehow, she didn't think she was going to say much of anything. They could take it or leave it. There were so many questions in this case already, what were a few more? She'd tossed Catherine Chandler's gun down next to the body, turned her back, and left. In her report she merely wrote, "I thought he was going for his gun." Let them figure it out. "If I lose my badge, so be it."

   She stood and stretched, then picked up her coffee cup and walked to the window. Flipping off the loft lights, she stared out at the lights of the city.

     Immediately after killing Gabriel and after talking to Joe, Diana had sent word to Jacob Wells about Gabriel's death with...What was the guy's name? Oh, yeah. Bennie... She'd wanted to make sure Vincent knew Gabriel was gone. She knew he'd heard the shot, but she just wanted to be sure. Diana shuddered a little. It hadn't felt good to kill Gabriel, like she'd thought it might. She'd killed before on cases...in self defense...even in anger. The fury of the hunt made it easier. Defending yourself or someone else from immediate death also made it easier. Killing in cold blood was something she'd never done before, but when she'd felt Gabriel's evil and listened to his threats against Vincent and the baby, she'd known it was the only way. I'll live with it. At least he doesn't have to.

    Draining her coffee cup, Diana walked back to the computer. She sat and finished off her meager report, knowing full well Joe Maxwell would be angry with her. As Acting District Attorney, he deserved answers. She wished she could give them to him. Hell. I wish I could give a few to myself! Starting the printout, Diana took the cup to the sink, rinsed it, then popped a few aspirin for her headache. God, I'm tired. I need some downtime badly. She'd had a few days off. Not much. Maxwell had granted her that much time before the report. Once the report's in, maybe a few more days...some time so I can crash. When the printout finished, she tore it off, folded it, exited the program, shut down the computer, and stumbled off to bed. Maybe tonight. Maybe tonight he'll let me sleep. Maybe it'll all go away and things can get back to normal. She crawled into bed, not bothering to undress, and pulled the covers up to her chin. Her exhaustion put her out like a light.

    Peace. At first all she sensed was peace. She was so relieved. Maybe it was over. She was dreaming she was asleep. Weird. Then she felt the ache begin. It hurt. God, does it hurt. She wandered in the darkness and she could feel the ache, the loneliness, the desire, and the rage pressing around her...almost a palpable presence: heavy and oppressive. She saw a bright image ahead in the dark. It seemed to be wandering aimlessly, without direction or hope. As she got closer, she could see Vincent, though she hadn't needed to see him to know who it was. This version of the dream was always similar. Vincent turned to her, face ravaged by grief and wet with tears, but when she reached out to embrace him, to comfort him, he passed right through her as though she didn't exist. She turned and followed him. He moved toward another bright spot, which turned out to be a cradle with his son lying in it. She watched as he picked the child up, and the oppression lightened a little. Vincent sat and cradled the child, crooning a lullaby, his golden head bent carefully over the small form. Diana's sense of him faded a little, and she woke.

    Diana sat with her arms wrapped around her knees, staring into the darkness. Thinking about her dreams. No. His dreams. And the bond that seemed to be forming between them. Vincent seemed totally unaware of any connection, and she was afraid to ask, afraid she'd scare him off. The connection wasn't constant or all-pervasive. Sometimes it would catch her by surprise while awake...a surge of emotion that was very disturbing. But mostly it was the dreams.

    While awake, Diana routinely kept her mental barriers up to protect her from overload, but at night--when she was alone--her sense of him would creep its way in, almost as though she were reaching out...or he was, unknowing. Hell. Maybe it's both of us. At any rate, there was little she could do, except keep track of the dreams, try to figure out what they meant, and try to keep him from knowing how she felt. Yeah. That's just what he needs right now, more pressure...another woman. Hardly the cure.

   Losing the woman he loved had been devastating to Vincent. Diana knew that. She'd been assigned Catherine Chandler's case only after months of searching for her had failed and her body was discovered in her own apartment. Seventeen floors up with no witnesses to explain how it got there. Autopsy had established cause of death as lethal injection of morphine. She'd just delivered a child. Through bits and pieces of evidence and her usual hunching and prying, Diana had tracked Vincent, the man who'd loved Catherine. Then, together, they'd found Gabriel and rescued Catherine and Vincent's son. At least I didn't lose the baby. For Diana knew that right now, the child was all that kept Vincent alive at all.

     Diana sighed, rubbed her eyes and curled back up under the comforter to try to sleep. She had to take Joe and the Commissioner her report in the morning, and field I.A.'s questions. She was becoming accustomed to having her nights broken up by Vincent's dreams. Both good and bad. __________

   Diana's head still hurt, and there was a ringing sound echoing inside it, making it hurt even worse. She wished it would stop. Eventually the sound penetrated her subconscious, and she realized it was the telephone. Dragging herself across the bed, she reached for the receiver. "Hello," she croaked.

    "Bennett." The tone of the voice on the other end of the line indicated that the owner really didn't give a damn whether she'd slept or not. "Bennett, you were due here ten minutes ago. Where the hell are you?"

     Diana rubbed the sleep out of her eyes and cleared her throat. "Um. Sorry. Overslept."

    Joe Maxwell was livid: Diana could almost feel his anger over the phone. His voice vibrated with it. "I want you down here now. No. Yesterday! I've got a corpse in the morgue killed with a gunshot to the heart from Catherine Chandler's gun--which bears your fingerprints--and slash wounds on his face. And don't tell me that's not Vincent's signature! Damn slasher might as well be Zorro, leaving his mark. I need that report and you've had plenty of time. NOW!"

     Diana flinched as Joe slammed the phone down on the other end. She rubbed her ear and grimaced a little. "Good morning to you, too, Mr. Maxwell. Guess I don't have time for a cup of coffee."

     Forcing herself up and into the bathroom, Diana showered quickly, then dressed in slacks and green silk shirt. She dug under the bed to find her boots, then hurriedly combed and braided her hair. After spitting toothpaste into the sink, she heard the phone ring again, but didn't answer. The machine pick up and she heard Joe Maxwell's steely voice saying, "You'd better be gone, Bennett."

   As she swung through the loft, grabbing her carryall, the report, and a stale donut from a box on the counter, she muttered, "Okay, okay...I'm gone."

__________

     Vincent had reluctantly left his son with Mary and gone to Father's chamber to check with him on details regarding security. The Central Park entrance needed final repairs done, but Vincent had asked Jamie and Mouse if they would see to it. Visiting that particular threshold was almost as painful as visiting the place where the threshold under Catherine's apartment had been. It held too many memories. He wished he could have asked them to seal that one as well. He would if it weren't impossible. To seal it would only cause suspicion on the part of the city above them. Vincent had requested more sentries be posted until they were sure there would be no retaliation from Gabriel's organization.

   Vincent yawned, canines flashing in the candlelight. His exhaustion and the relief of finally finding the child were beginning to catch up with him. He'd run on adrenaline and desperation for so long he couldn't remember the last time he'd truly slept. And he wasn't doing much better now. He nodded at Brooke and Livvy as they passed, noting that their conversation stopped when they saw him. He sighed after they passed. He felt himself becoming irritated with them. Don't they know by now that I don't need to hear what they say to know their topic of conversation? Nor do they need to feign cheerfulness for my sake.

     Vincent longed for someplace he could retreat to for some peace...at least from everyone else's feelings. His own sorrow and loss were enough to deal with right now, along with the other emotions that surged against his restraints. Keeping control was becoming ever more difficult. He thought desperately of the darkness below them, the solitude of the catacombs and the nameless river running far below. After the Naming Ceremony, he would go back into exile until he knew it was safe. He had to make sure his presence in no way endangered those he loved, but he knew he couldn't stay away forever.

     He had told Father he wished to be sure that their world was safe from more intruders like the assassin from Gabriel who'd come hunting him--and that was true. He had been the assassin's target, but in his hunt the killer had taken the lives of two of Vincent's friends. Vincent felt his presence to be a danger to those he loved. But also, at this time he simply couldn't face everyone else's feelings of sorrow, grief, and sympathy. Vincent felt pulled apart, and that division could be dangerous. The darkness below drew him: it was so much easier to cope down there. But he had the child to think of, and though he knew there was an endless supply of willing babysitters, even the thought of separation from that tiny being for more than a short time brought him a sharp stab of pain and anxiety. The child's presence was all that was keeping him here in this life at all. Otherwise, he would truly have been tempted to simply walk with Catherine's body over the edge of the roof. Catherine would have hated that--would have despised me for doing it.

   Vincent leaned in the doorway to Father's chamber briefly, waiting for Father to look up...watching him. He thought how tired the older man looked. This has been devastating for all of us. "Father."

    Jacob Wells looked up, then motioned Vincent inside. Vincent came slowly down the stairs and sat in the chair across from his father.

     "Vincent. Pascal checked in a moment ago, and the sentries still report nothing unusual. There are now sentries at all the additional entrances, no matter how deep or inaccessible those may be. Mouse and Jamie have scavenged supplies to repair the park entrance."

    Vincent nodded briefly. His mind felt as if it were padded in cotton. "Perhaps I can meet them later to help work on the repair." He had no intention of going anywhere near that site, but he'd felt Father was awaiting some kind of response. After all, he hadn't promised that he would go.

      Removing his glasses and rubbing his nose reflexively, Father said quietly, "Actually, Vincent, I told them to wait on the repairs. You do have other things to take care of."

     "I'm sorry...." Vincent looked up, a little startled. "What is it?"

     Clearing his throat, Father continued. "Tonight is the Naming Ceremony for your son. I'm sure you have special invitations to make."

    Vincent sighed heavily and looked away. "If you are reminding me of Diana Bennett, I know. I have not forgotten the ceremony, nor have I forgotten simple courtesy. I intend to surprise her tonight. Bennie has already informed me that she is almost always home on weeknights...and most other times as well, it seems. He also tells me that she is between cases, so she should not be involved with work. Somehow, I do not think Diana will care if she is not issued a formal invitation, and I thought perhaps a surprise would break her routine."

     "Vincent...." Father began quietly.

     "Enough, Father, please." Vincent said wearily. "I know my responsibilities. All will be well. For now, I need to do my maintenance rounds. It has been wet lately, and the water tunnels need to be checked for erosion, as do the Ripley branches." Any excuse to leave. Before Father began reminding him of duty, honor and responsibility. He didn't think he could bear a lecture, however well-meant. Not today. Not yet.

     As Vincent turned to go, Father put a hand on his shoulder, causing Vincent to flinch from the sudden outpouring of sympathy he felt. That was even worse for Vincent than the knowledge he wasn't living up to Father's expectations.

       "Vincent. Please. Promise me you will rest this afternoon, before you leave to invite Diana. I will keep my grandson if you need someone."

     Forcing a smile, Vincent replied quietly, "Perhaps. We shall see, Father."

__________

       Upon leaving Father's chamber, Vincent leaned heavily against the tunnel wall. Weary. I 'm so am weary of it all. I am tired of fighting myself, tired of despair and heartache. Tired of trying to be what I am not. Catherine...where are you now? I have such need of you. Why can I not simply join you? He reached out and tried to feel his son. The bond was so tentative it seemed to elude him at times, but touching it, he could feel innocence and a sense of startlement with the world. Vincent had ceased to feel that so long ago. He closed his eyes and absorbed the feeling. The child slept. So peaceful. Vincent came to himself abruptly when he heard William coming down the tunnel. Shoving away from the wall, Vincent greeted the rotund cook and forced a smile. Then, passing William, he continued on to the lower tunnels to begin his maintenance rounds. Perhaps if he kept himself busy he could make it through the day. One day at a time.

__________

   Diana sat on a chair in the Commissioner's office, trying to look totally unconcerned. Inwardly she was seething, but outwardly there was no sign of the turmoil beneath. She listened as the Commissioner read the report and commented to Joe Maxwell. Her boss, Greg Hughes, simply sat quietly in the background, shaking his head, though he winked at her a few times. Greg was accustomed to her unorthodox behavior and odd leaps to conclusions in cases. As long as she got results and had enough evidence to make a case, he was happy. The Internal Affairs officers simply stood and took notes.

    Joe's voice was hard as he questioned her once more over her shooting Gabriel. "Was he armed, Ms. Bennett?"

    "No."

    "Did you know that when you shot?"

    "Not for certain...no."

  "Then why did you shoot? We needed him for questioning. Maybe he could have cleared up some of the mysteries in this case...or is that why you shot him?"

     Diana stared tiredly up at Joe. "For the fourth time, I shot because I thought he was going for his gun. I felt threatened. I can't explain any further than that. If it's not good enough, you can have my badge." She tossed her badge onto the Commissioner's desk without dropping her eyes from Joe's. Without blinking an eye, she said quietly, as though Joe Maxwell were the only one in the room...the only one who was important, "It was Cathy Chandler's gun, Joe."

      Joe dropped his eyes first. "Yeah. Well, I don't like anything about this case. There are too many unanswered questions. Like, where'd you get Catherine Chandler's gun? What did Gabriel keep in that cage in the basement and where did whatever it was go after it pulled the cage apart? Where is the baby that the coroner says Cathy delivered? Who is Vincent? Damn it, Bennett, I need those answers. I need to find that baby. I owe it to Cathy, and now we may never do that, with Gabriel dead."

  Diana sighed and ran her fingers through the loose hair on her shoulders and thought abstractly, Damn braid won't ever stay up. "Yeah, I know. We'd all like some answers, Mr. Maxwell. You're not the only one." Diana felt sorry for Joe. He'd loved Cathy, too. She wished she could tell him that Cathy's baby was safe, but Diana knew she couldn't. Some secrets just had to be kept...no exceptions.

     Obviously tired of the whole thing, the Commissioner interrupted. "All right. Enough of this. Bennett, you did some good work in finding Catherine Chandler's murderer. I'm unhappy about a great many things in this case, but unless there are any further objections, I'm closing the file." He stared at the I.A. officers and got a nod. "Mr. Maxwell has requested you be made available for him for future investigations, and I've agreed."

     Diana looked at Joe, startled. "The 210 is always available to the D.A.'s office. What's the deal?"

   Joe's eyes just glinted with a combination of amusement and malice. "Not the 210, in general. Just you, Bennett. Maybe I've grown attached."

    Diana stared into the hard eyes, then over at Greg Hughes, who just shrugged again. "Yeah.... Maybe." And maybe he just feels if he keeps me close he can learn something. She nodded resignedly. "What about my downtime?"

     Joe shrugged and glanced at Greg, who commented: "Until something comes up, you're officially listed as on vacation. Can't say for how long."

     Diana stood and slung her carryall over her shoulder. She reached down and picked up her badge. "If that's all, gentlemen...."

     The Commissioner waved her out, and Diana walked slowly to the door. As she opened it, she glanced back at Joe Maxwell, to find his eyes still on her. Yeah. It's gonna be a real close relationship. I can tell.

__________

   Vincent took his time dressing for the ceremony. He dressed carefully, formally, though he still had no heart for this without Catherine here to share it. Mary and Brooke had his son, so all he needed to do was go get Diana Bennett. Despite his comments to Father earlier, he was not at all sure Diana would appreciate such a sudden invitation. He barely knew her. Earlier, he'd felt quite comfortable with the idea, but now, he wasn't sure. He spent an inordinate amount of time brushing his hair, not necessarily because it needed it, but to put off the inevitable. Finally, because he could wait no longer, Vincent laid the brush gently on the desk, picked up his cloak, and headed out the door. As he walked, he rehearsed what he planned to say.

__________

   Diana puttered around the loft nervously. Something was going to happen. She wasn't sure what, but when she heard the faint tapping on the window above, she dashed over to look up, certain of what she'd find. "Vincent?"

   Seeing the figure with the voluminous cloak perching like a giant bat above her, she headed for the roof. When she came through the door, Vincent turned toward her, and her heart seemed to be doing its best to make its way into her throat. Steadying herself, she noted how formal he seemed in the military-appearing vest with buttons and chains. Even the cloak added elegance. It struck her anew each time she saw him how majestic he was. What a mythic figure he presented. Gathering courage, she walked slowly across the roof to him. Crossing her arms, as though putting up a barrier between them, she spoke quietly, feeling a little shy suddenly. "I was hoping you'd come."

   His voice when he spoke was soft, with the rasp of sandpaper over silk. It sent shivers down her spine and her stomach turned flip-flops. "I wanted to see you...to thank you...for everything."

    Diana's breathing was a little uneven, and she tried consciously to steady it. She was picking up mixed emotions from Vincent, and her own were none too understandable. She was glad he seemed so preoccupied, because she was having trouble holding her barrier against his empathy at the moment...she wanted to feel him, so she'd make no stupid blunders. She was never any good in social situations when her block was up...she always put her foot in it. This was new territory for her. In a lot of ways. "It's over now," she tried to reassure him. Let him know she'd done what needed to be done. "He's dead." She sighed. "Gabriel's dead."

     Vincent looked down briefly, and Diana sensed he was uneasy around her. When his eyes met hers again, he commented, "For so long, he was a shadow between us."

       As she hugged herself tighter, Diana's thoughts turned inward, and she raised her barrier between them...not wanting to risk him sensing her at all. When she spoke, it was more to herself than to him. "When I was alone in that room with him, everything seemed so...simple. Um. So..."

      Vincent met her eyes, a hunter's understanding flashing between them. "Clear?"

     Diana's nod was almost imperceptible. "I knew exactly what I was thinking." She sighed shakily again, confused by the look she'd seen in Vincent's eyes. She shivered a little...not liking the feeling it gave her. "But when I try remembering, it's almost as if..." She looked away briefly... "it never even happened."

     Vincent shifted a little, and he too, seemed very introspective and uneasy. "Memory can be a forgiving thing."

Shaking her head gently, Diana firmed her resolve. "I don't want to forget."

       Eyes met once more, then slipped away, as he answered her. "Sometimes it's best to forget."

       Vincent seemed uncertain, but Diana responded firmly, "I don't believe that."

     Raising his eyes briefly to the heavens, Vincent sighed, then looked down, and back at her before continuing softly. It seemed to Diana that the subject had just been closed.

      "Diana. There is something I have kept from you. A secret that I couldn't share with you before. About where I live...those I live among."

      Suddenly eager, but not wishing to appear so, Diana forced her voice to a steady calm. "I know about Jacob...."

       In her anxiety, she opened her senses to him again and could feel his flash of irritation at her interruption...but he continued. "Yes.... There are many others. Good people, whose lives depend upon the secret of how...and where we live."

       Again, Diana couldn't restrain her eagerness. "I've tried imagining, but...."

       This time, however, her interruption only brought a slight smile to her companion, almost unseen except for the glint in his eye as he continued. "It is more wonderful than you could imagine...because it is real." Vincent paused and looked past her, and she sensed his attention on her was very tentative. "Ours is a world woven of the most delicate threads. Our only protection against those who would threaten us is trust."

     Softly, hardly daring to breathe, to interrupt, Diana said softly: "Tell me more about this world."

     Vincent shook his head a fraction, but she knew that now his focus was momentarily back on her. His attention was so scattered. He lifted his arm, almost as if to put it around her, to guide her...but never touching. "No. Let me show you."

__________

   Diana met Vincent in the alley behind her building. After following his dark form for a short distance, she stopped, waiting as he lifted a manhole cover. He disappeared, descending the ladder, then handed her down, his touch brief and impersonal. Diana knew there was no need to block him. She sensed his total self-absorption. He doesn't want to feel anything from anyone and what he does pick up is disorienting to him. To her, however, the touch was searing. The impressions of grief, despair, love, and loss she received from him were devastating. He was trying so hard to appear normal, but his control was brittle. She shook herself briefly and followed as he led her through the tunnels. She looked around, listening to sounds of what appeared to be someone tapping on the pipes. The sound was too rhythmic to be accidental. She could pick up repetitions. She began subconsciously filing things away for future reference.

       They walked a while in silence, then Vincent noted her absorption and interest in the pipes and explained. "It is people...talking with one another. It is our method of communication: a code, and a beautiful language in itself."

       Speaking very quietly, Vincent began explaining to her about Pascal and his pipes, and Diana tried to sort out the strange barrage of feelings she continued receiving from him. She stayed alert for any sudden shift in his interest to her so she could put up her barrier, but at the moment it was almost as though she wasn't there. He could have been talking to himself for the amount of interest he had in her. Suddenly, they walked together into a huge cavern where the wind whipped Vincent's long mane and cloak and pulled tendrils of her hair from the braid. She called out over the wind, "Where are we?"

       With a slight smile--Diana even caught the momentary flash of his canines--Vincent told her, "The Chamber of the Winds."

  "It's amazing!" She was absolutely delighted. The wind sang all around them as it whistled through unseen crevices.

     Her guide led her through the chamber, down stairs carved in the living rock. He stooped to lead her into a vaulted cavern where gorgeous waterfalls roared their way over cliffs, and the mist rose at their feet. Vincent gestured toward the falls, and there was a touch of pride in his voice as he explained. "Its source remains a mystery, but the water is pure."

      With his right hand Vincent pointed farther downstream and tilted his head, his voice taking on a softer tone. "Past that point there is an inlet where we used to swim as children." Diana watched him as he spoke, and reached out to sense the emotions behind the words. For a brief moment, Vincent's grief was muted as he took her back with him into childhood to a time when grief did not exist. "We would shed our clothes and dive in, but we couldn't stay for long."

I'd have liked to have known him then. A golden child. All innocence. Her musings were interrupted as he turned toward her--and the moment was over. The innocent child gone, replaced by the grieving adult. But he smiled gently, saying: "Come. Today is the Naming Ceremony for my son. It is the reason why I wanted you to be here."

__________

  Following Vincent through the tunnels, Diana was astounded at the number of people she met and the absolute warren of chambers. It truly was a separate world. She was led to a chamber stacked with piles upon piles of books and a lavish clutter that amazed her. Lit by candles everywhere and glowing with a warm radiance, the chamber was slowly filling with people, most of them dressed in the same type of piecework and ragtag clothing that Vincent and Jacob Wells wore, but a few wore newer, matching... even stylish and expensive clothing. Many of the faces Diana had seen before as they had passed her and Vincent on their leisurely way here. She tried to file away names, but they were being lost in the confusion. She knew that when they were needed, the trusty data retrieval file in her head would supply them. Keeping track of names, faces and facts was what she did.

  Vincent left her with a pleasant older woman whom he introduced as Mary, trusting she would be fine in the woman's care. Truthfully, Diana was comfortable in the woman's presence, and that was surprising to her. She felt that way with few people.

     Mary spoke quietly to her, pointing out people and putting names to faces for her. However, despite Mary's steadying presence, being around so many people was becoming difficult for Diana, and she put up her barrier to shut out the clamoring of the unwanted emotions and desires she felt around her. It was an almost automatic thing with her, something she had to do simply to exist, but once the barrier was up, she felt alone. Either way it was painful for her. Mary quieted and Diana watched Vincent solemnly as his father began the ceremony.

     Vincent had told her that everyone called Jacob Wells, Father, but indicated that he was, in truth, Jacob's son...perhaps not biologically, but in every other way that mattered. She was beginning to understand how and why the older man had earned the title. It didn't take any special empathy to feel the sense of family here, and Jacob Wells was definitely the patriarch.

  With his son cradled in his arms, Vincent stood beside Father as the older man began the ceremony. "Together we have weathered a storm. A great storm, which at times I feared would never pass, but finally it did pass."

    Watching Vincent, Diana saw a momentary shadow pass over his face, but otherwise his facade held. She wished she could reach out to him and comfort him. No one else seemed to notice the strain he was under, or how desperately he clung to his control.

     Father continued. "After much sorrow and loss, the time of darkness is ended, bringing us to this day...allowing us a time of peace and rejoicing."

  Vincent spoke carefully as Father paused. He gazed down at his son, then over the crowd. Though his voice was steady and gentle as always, Diana knew he was thinking of Catherine. How could he not be thinking of her, at a time like this? His voice broke over the crowd, a gentle wave that touched everyone equally. "Holding my son in my arms, I feel as though two lives have been given to me. There are no words to express my gratitude to each of you...to all of you. My family." Diana startled just a little as Mary placed her arm gently around her shoulders, drawing her in, indicating that she, too, was part of that family. She felt tears start and blinked them away. It had been a very long time since she'd felt a part of anything.

    Father continued quietly with the ceremony. "It has been said that the child is the meaning of life. The truth of that has never been more apparent to me than on this day, when we celebrate the child...this new life that has been brought into our world. We welcome the child with love, so that he may learn to love. We welcome the child with gifts so that he may learn generosity, and finally, we welcome the child with a name...."

  Still looking down at his small son, Vincent's voice broke the expectant silence that followed Father's statement. "I have named my son Jacob."

  A hushed murmur of approval followed, then people began talking softly. Diana could tell the name had been well-received. Immediately, friends began wishing Vincent well and taking small gifts up to him for the child. Diana hung back, noticing how graciously he spoke to each person individually. Treating each one as friend or family member. The man's inborn graciousness delighted her. And his control amazed her. Her attention was diverted by several people approaching her and making introductions almost all at once. Everyone seemed to want to know all about her and to thank her for helping to find and rescue young Jacob.

   Diana spoke in halting sign to a young deaf girl who introduced herself as Laura, and met another woman who introduced herself as Livvy...and her young son, Luke. In the confusion afterwards, so many names and faces passed she could scarcely remember any of them, much less all of them, and she was swiftly developing another of her headaches from trying to hold her block for so long against so many people...a fairly common occurrence for her.

    The feast was pleasant, however, despite the oncoming headache. She was introduced to a delightful young girl named Jamie, whom she had seen before...and had liked immediately, and a strange young man with a shock of unruly blond hair and startling blue eyes: Mouse, he was called. His antics enlivened the table and kept Diana's attention from being too pointedly directed at Vincent. Mouse spent a good twenty minutes explaining some new invention of his to her, the details of which went right over her head. Trying to follow his peculiar speech pattern as well as his interesting choice of words would have been fascinating if Diana were not a great deal more interested in where Vincent was. She kept craning her neck to look around Mouse's blond head and was only successful in catching brief glimpses of golden mane, and sometimes hearing a snatch of conversation in that voice. Eventually, when weariness was about to overtake her, she saw Vincent weaving his way through the crowd toward her without the baby.

     He bent his head briefly in greeting and apologized. "Diana. I am sorry to have left you to Mouse's tender mercy for so long. It seems everyone wishes to know everything there is to know about Jacob, and many of these people are helpers who have not seen him before."

Diana could see the lines of strain around Vincent's eyes, and one hardly needed to be empathic to tell he was desperate to leave. She decided to give him his excuse. "I'm on my last legs, Vincent. It's been a long day. Do you mind if we go?"

     The relief in Vincent's face would have been comical, had Diana not understood all too well. She knew he must have the same problem she had with large gatherings, and also understood that his underlying grief wasn't helping. How does he handle all this, I wonder? All the adoration, the constant expectation to be the knight in shining armor. To be perfect...especially when he doesn't want to be anything at all? Diana had felt some of it, before she'd blocked...some of the mass adoration. They all expected so much of him. And the constant feelings of sympathy from everyone.... How does he stand it?

    Vincent nodded toward the doorway. "Come. Mary has Jacob, showing him off to everyone. Let us escape together."

      They walked toward her loft leisurely speaking of several subjects...whatever happened to come up. Vincent mentioned the upcoming repair of the Central Park tunnel entrance, which Gabriel's assassin had blown apart when he'd come hunting Vincent. Diana asked him if he would like the piece of concrete with his name carved on it, so he could re-set it. Vincent nodded briefly and thanked her for her kindness. She wondered about the story behind the names, but she was letting Vincent take the lead in the conversation, not wanting to push him. They spoke of the woman, Jessica, whom Diana had met briefly at the ceremony. The woman had seemed out of place in some way, and the difference had disturbed Diana. Apparently Jessica and Jacob Wells had once been involved years before, and Vincent commented on how pleased he was at his father's opportunity to renew their acquaintance. Eventually, though, the quiet camaraderie ended, and Vincent became quieter and quieter. Diana dropped her mental block and allowed herself to feel his emotions. The ever-present sorrow. Relief at the blessed emotional quiet around him. Walking slower and slower, they finally found themselves at the same place he'd brought her down.

       Vincent had grown very distant and seemed hesitant. His voice sounded flat. "This is where we began."

      Trying to inject a little levity, Diana commented shakily: "Now I know how Alice felt."

       A hint of a smile was her reward. "I'm sorry the Mad Hatter couldn't be at the feast."

      Diana graced him with a small laugh, more of a chuckle. She hoped she didn't sound too foolish. "Well, I think that Mouse was about all I could've handled." She paused and shifted restlessly, not sure how to continue. She didn't want to say too much. "I want to thank you for making me feel so welcome."

     His eyes rested upon her briefly, and his voice grew a little warmer. "You felt welcome because you are welcome. If ever you need a home or a place to rest, these tunnels and chambers will be kept warm for you by friends."

    Diana scanned his face, felt his emotions. Back to the script again. His voice was warm, but his expression was distant, his emotions tightly under control. He's already going away--plans on going away. She desperately wanted something to hold onto, something that would give her a hint that there was anything at all to look forward to. "When will I see you again?"

     His voice was flat, expressionless, but she could feel the turmoil beneath his facade. "I don't know."

__________

  Vincent watched Diana as she climbed out of his world and back into her own. He felt stifled. One more duty done. Though, to be totally honest, his trips back and forth with Diana had been almost enjoyable. Heaving a sigh, he turned and headed back toward the Hub. Tonight, after putting Jacob to bed, he would head back into exile.

  His steps grew slower and slower as he neared the nursery. He knew that by now Mary would have young Jacob ready to go to bed, as he had asked her. The leave-taking ahead was what slowed his stride. He could not stay, and he hated to go. Finally, as he entered the long, low chamber of the nursery, Mary raised her head and smiled sweetly at him.

    "Vincent. It went well, don't you think?"

  All Vincent could see was his son. He nodded abstractedly at Mary's comment. The child kicked gleefully on the large bed where Mary usually changed the infants. He raised his small fists and smiled as he saw his father. The instant recognition...the pull of the bond was all that mattered.

   Mary left the chamber quietly...unnoticed.

    Lying next to the child on the bed, Vincent placed his hand over the squirming bundle, and the child quieted. In his softest voice, Vincent murmured, "I will not be far, Jacob." The child wrapped one hand around one of Vincent's fingers, and pulled on the long golden mane with the other. He watched Vincent solemnly, then seeming to feel his father's sorrow, his small face wrinkled and he began to cry. Trying to distance himself and put his own emotions aside, Vincent calmed the child and tried instead to absorb the baby's innocent feelings of the world around him. When they were both calm, he picked Jacob up and held him, stroking the tiny back as he hummed Catherine's lullaby to him once more. When the child slept, Vincent put him in the cradle, covering him gently with his small quilt. He stood over his son a moment, hesitant still. Eventually, he turned and forced himself to leave, to head back down to the catacombs. He stopped only long enough to speak with Mary about keeping Jacob, and to pick up a few things from his chamber.

__________

   Diana opened the accordion door on the elevator, stepped out and slapped the button to close the door. Wearily, she dropped her block and sighed heavily. The loft felt so empty. Guess I should be grateful. Damn, my head hurts. Rubbing at her forehead with one hand, she pulled at her braid with the other, sending her red hair tumbling over her shoulders. She fell onto the battered couch and laid her head back, closing her eyes and wishing the pain away. It didn't work. She curled up and pulled over her shoulders the old afghan her mother had made. She fell asleep almost immediately. She quite dreamlessly for several hours, then she was once again in that dark place where the darkness around her was a sense of pain and oppression more than the dark of night. She had become quite familiar with that darkness of late, as in one form or another many of Vincent's dreams became hers.

   Diana was wandering in what appeared to be rough caverns, or caves. A maze of sorts. All alike, dark, damp, oppressive. She knew Vincent was ahead, somewhere. She kept wandering. It was almost black, and she couldn't see, but for some reason she moved sure-footedly, unafraid of falling or stumbling. She could hear Vincent before she saw him: the roars shook the walls. When she came upon him, he was crouched in the cave. He appeared more animal than man...and another figure was walking toward him ahead of her. Catherine. Vincent roared...hand raised to strike. "Vincent!" Diana heard Catherine's voice...watched Vincent struggle within himself...felt him retreat into himself. He fell, dragging Catherine with him. The figures began dissipating, drifting away like fog, and Diana opened her eyes to the darkness of her loft.

   Finding herself suddenly sweating and clammy, and weighted by a sense of fear and dread that wasn't her own, Diana threw off the afghan and shoved her hair back. She got up and went to the window. Staring off into the dark, she thought, What now? What was that supposed to mean? She struggled for a while, trying to make some sense out of what had obviously been Vincent's dream. Padding quietly in her stocking feet over to her computer, she booted it up and pulled up her journal. She sat and typed furiously, before the images left her.

Dreamed again. Cave. Wandering in the dark. Vincent wild, savage. Catherine there. Must be the time he spoke of, before Catherine was kidnapped, when he "lost himself." Wish I could truly understand what he meant. Nothing comes together, means anything. He seemed almost to have lost his humanity.... Maybe that's what he meant. Said Catherine brought him back, but they had lost their bond, their connection. How did she bring him back? All this is too much for me. Too close to it. Can't pull back. Can't sleep, and I have to sleep.

Deciding she'd had enough, Diana saved the file, exited the program and switched the computer off. She stalked to the bathroom and pulled open the cabinet. She dug through the various bottles and standard junk on the shelves, and found her prescription sleeping pills. She tried not to use them too often, but sometimes during cases it became necessary. Right now, it felt necessary. She took two, then took three aspirin, and staggered into the bedroom, climbed into bed and pulled the sheet over her shoulders. Normally, the sleeping pills kept her from the dreams, but this time as she drifted off another dream involving Vincent began.

    In Diana's dream, she was once again with Vincent, but this dream was one of passion and love. Not memories, not fears...just pure and simple desire: hers or his, it made little difference. Vincent's fingertips caressed the nape of her neck as his lips trailed softly along her jaw, the firm cleft of the upper lip creating strange, exhilarating sensations, and the soft scratch of the fur on his face sending shivers through her. When she raised her face to his, his mouth closed over hers hungrily, and his tongue teased her lips open. She clung to his vest, clutching him desperately as his arms moved lower, lifting her. She felt the soft, short fur on his face brush against her cheek, and his breath, soft and hot in her neck. The dream shifted suddenly, and he was lying full length on her, their clothing miraculously gone...no impediment to their lovemaking. The silky sensation of his hair as his arm brushed across her was delicious. Her arms snaked around him, pulling him closer. Diana moaned softly as his kisses trailed over her, pausing briefly to nuzzle or nip softly. He shifted his body, pressing with his knee to separate her thighs. Arching toward him, she tangled her fingers in his mane. "Vincent... God, yes..." Azure eyes, smoky with passion, met hers. "Catherine."

    Diana woke abruptly, the dream vanished. She was shaking. The intensity of the shared dreams worried her. She didn't know how long her sanity could hold if Vincent continued his spiral downward. For that matter, she didn't know how long she could handle going constantly on as little sleep as she'd had. She turned over and tried to relax. Soon her exhaustion took hold and she slept.

      In the catacombs, Vincent wept. As usual, the dream hadn't lasted long enough to give him any relief from his desire. In addition, he felt shame...to have these dreams, yet not be able to remember his true experience with Catherine. He wished he could go back to the days of innocence, when he and Catherine had been so happy. He'd known desire then, but not like now. Before, there had been the bond for intimacy. Now there was only the longing. He ached to hold her...or even just to feel the bond once more. He was almost afraid that if by some miracle Catherine should suddenly appear to him in truth, that he would ravish her...become once more that uncontrolled beast. Perhaps that is what happened in any case. Perhaps that is why I dare not remember.

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To find out how it all comes out....

Information on Zines by Rhonda Collins