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from The Mirror Of Our Dreams

A Beauty and the Beast novel

Story by Rhonda Collins

Based on the series created by Ron Koslow


There is no one who is like another
We are all individual--unique
There is no love like unto another,
Yet love, unlike individuals, survives

LOOKING GLASS DREAMS

Looking Glass Dreams have set us free--
Too long alone to guard against the long,
unhurried awakening of desire.

We are as two vines curved 'round one tree--
too alike and near to glimpse our own becoming
both offering and sacrifice..

Each to the other in a silent plea--
too frightened to reach beyond...
the silver mirror of ourselves.


MIRRORS

Vincent prepared for bed after walking Diana home to her loft. For the first time in weeks they'd remained Below all afternoon, and he was amazed at how much he'd enjoyed it. Escaping--to her loft, or away, below the Home Tunnels--had been a way of life for so long, that for him not to feel the need to escape seemed very odd, indeed.

He felt a sense of peace, tonight.

Hanging his cloak, then pulling his vest off, Vincent sat on the edge of his bed and began unlacing his boots. He'd enjoyed himself tremendously today--watching Jacob as his son played in the shallows of the Mirror Pool--and watching Diana as she saw parts of his world she'd missed seeing for so long. He smiled a little as he remembered her delight in something as simple as the bathing pool. A routine part of his life became magical when he thought about how it must appear to her...though it would have been even nicer if he'd been able to sense her feelings. That was the only thing that bothered him about the day...about Diana. Things he didn't understand disturbed him.

Standing, he pulled his long-sleeved cotton shirt off and hung it carefully, then taking the pitcher standing next to the bed, he poured a basin of water and washed his face and hands and brushed his teeth. The entire time he performed his nightly routine, he thought of Diana...and wondered, conversely, what she really thought about him. There was no way he could know. He sighed as he was drying his hands. It was so easy, with Catherine. Diana is such an enigma.

He drew his nightshirt over his head, then unbuckled, unsnapped, and removed his jeans...folding them and placing them within reach for in the morning. He laid out his robe as well. Since becoming a father, Vincent had found that preparedness generally served him well. He never knew when Jacob might need him. He stood watching his sleeping son for a long moment. He and Diana had kept Jacob so busy all day that the toddler was exhausted. He should sleep well, tonight.

Blowing out the one remaining candle, he slipped between the sheets and tried to relax. More and more often, both day and night, he found his thoughts returning again and again to the enigmatic red-haired detective. He knew that tonight would be no different.

*****

Diana had enjoyed spending the entire afternoon and evening with Vincent and Jacob. He'd taken time off from his schedule to spend Below with her, rather than coming Above to her loft. She so seldom had time to explore his world, and she treasured times like today.

Diana knew Vincent was improving daily now that he'd remembered making love to Catherine--as though a weight of guilt had been somehow removed--and the improvement was obvious to everyone, not only her. Father had commented on it as well. But there were times when Diana also sensed a disturbance seething below the surface, and she wondered if it had to do with the dreams.

For months Diana's bond with Vincent had been growing steadily stronger, although he was still unaware of the connection. Diana purposely blocked him except for brief times when she experienced an overwhelming need to know how he felt. And when they both slept, the dreams would come--unavoidable and intense--and Diana knew that eventually Vincent would figure out that there was a connection. She couldn't hide it forever.

For all the long months of his grieving for Catherine, Diana had been terrified that if he knew another bond was forming that he'd run like a scared rabbit. But now she wasn't so sure. Now, she didn't know what to expect, and it was making her nervous. To expect nothing and get nothing is easy, but to expect something and be disappointed can be devastating. She didn't dare hope too hard. And even if she did allow herself to hope and wasn't disappointed, she didn't have any earthly idea what to do next. Now that he was less self-involved, she worried how he was going to see her.

Walking to the bathroom, Diana unbraided and brushed her hair and stared for a long while at her reflection--really looking at herself for the first time in a very long while, trying to see what Vincent saw when he looked at her. She thought her eyes too large, and her nose a little Roman, and she absolutely hated her hair. But her smile was okay. Should be. Dad's life insurance paid for those stupid braces...and he wasn't even around to see the results.

As she brushed her teeth, Diana continued her critical evaluation. Usually, Diana avoided mirrors. For a lot of reasons...none of which would ever make any sense to anyone except maybe Vincent...and herself.

Diana felt that she had to begin examining a few things about herself. The recent shift in Vincent's focus from self-absorption and grief to interest in life in general...and in her--was both exciting and a little unnerving. She hadn't had to think about it before. All she'd been able to concentrate on was keeping him going and helping him remember what happened with him and Catherine in that dark cave when Jacob was conceived. Just trying to make it through day to day had been a priority. Now she had to worry about her relationship with him, and that was a different kettle of fish entirely.

Before going to bed, she wandered back into the living room and booted up the computer and brought up her journal. She sat hesitantly with her fingers poised for several long moments before beginning to type.

It's beginning. He's coming out of it. So now, where do we go from here? Where do we want to go? Where can we go? It's really strange to be thinking in terms of possibilities. For so long, my only hope was to survive each night and make it through his dreams...and to help him remember what happened that night with Catherine. I couldn't worry about myself, then; it was too important simply to help him. At one time, I thought that once he'd remembered, the dreams would cease, and he'd stop reaching out to me. I thought I'd have to forget about him, and that my life would eventually get back to the way it was. I was wrong. Instead of going away, the dreams are only changing...metamorphosing into something new...and thoughts of him have taken over my life. I'm glad he's more content, and that his dreams reflect his memories instead of his nightmares. Or maybe they aren't his dreams at all, anymore. Maybe they're mine...or mine and his combined.

Diana paused, and brought a hand up to chew on a thumbnail. She almost hated to put into words what she was feeling, as though to write down what she was wishing for would somehow jinx it.

Occasionally, when our dreams become mixed, I feel it's me he's seeing, not Catherine--but I'm not sure. Maybe it's just what I want to see...nothing more. Does he ever realize what's happening? No. I don't think so. Not yet. But he will. When he does, how will it affect our relationship? What if, when he knows that I'm empathic too--that I can sense him--he won't see me any more? He's still so fragile. I think he's still afraid of another bond. All those scars are still so tender. And me...God, I'm worse than he is. Look at my track record. I don't know much about how to keep a relationship going. I've never had any luck with men...or even with people in general.

Diana got up and paced a few minutes, thinking hard. Then she sat back down and typed furiously.

The way he talks about Catherine--about their bond--scares me. It seems he knew her soul, and loved her from the first. I don't know if he could ever love me--or anybody--that way again. Especially me. I'm tougher--and touchier--than Catherine. Than most people, in fact. And besides, I don't care how perfect Vincent is, Catherine is always going to be his model of what love should be like. I don't know if I can measure up to the pedestal he has her on. And the rarified atmosphere would make me dizzy, anyway.

She stopped typing a moment and took a deep breath. This was worse than going to therapy and trying to tell someone about yourself. Her Mom made her do that when she was a kid. Everyone thought she was so withdrawn, and they'd wanted to "bring her out." Obviously it hadn't worked.

I'm different, and I've never had anyone who could love me for those differences. From what I know of Catherine Chandler, and what I've felt of her from her things, she was basically an innocent. She had to work at being tough. But I've had to fight all my life just to remain me, and not get lost in everyone else. I've had to learn to block all the emotions out. With Vincent, I'd have to learn to open up, and I don't know if I can...and that could be disastrous for both of us. And there's another thing: with the people I hunt, I feel as though I crawl through garbage every day. Sometimes I worry that it has made me a part of it. Will that make a difference to him?

She sighed, watching the cursor blink at her, then began again, her fingers shaking.

Vincent and I are both hunters. And he hates and fears that part of himself. If he really knows me--as the bond will allow--will it be too much like looking in one of the mirrors that he avoids? Mirrors aren't windows: they would block the light. They reflect who we are. They're private. And neither of us are used to anyone seeing and knowing that part of us--as much as we want it and need it--we fear it. But the mirror of the soul, reflecting love's light, is the truest mirror of all. We both need to have someone love us for ourselves.

Diana stared at the screen, trying to digest the words she'd just typed. It was hard to put her hopes and fears into words. The trouble was, she was beginning to get lonely. She may never have had a relationship that really worked, but she'd had relationships. And now, with Vincent so near...in ways she'd never had before, she longed for more... even though she was afraid. And the intense sexual quality of some of the dreams they'd shared certainly didn't help the situation. It had been a long time.

Sighing heavily, Diana saved the file and exited. Wearily, she turned off the computer and headed to bed. She wished she hadn't started thinking about all the things that could happen. It depressed the hell out of her. Oh, well. Tomorrow is another day. Assuming I can get through the night.

As Diana slept, she shared a jumble of dreams with Vincent. At one point they were wandering in a mirror maze, like the ones in a carnival. At first it was fun, but then Diana noticed that as they looked in the mirrors, the reflections were reversed: Diana's mirror reflected Vincent, and Vincent's reflected Diana. It became confusing--disorienting--even frightening because of the compelling quality of the dream.

******

Diana woke early to finish the report for her last case. It was finally over and she could hand Greg Hughes and Joe Maxwell each their copies of the report and have a few days to herself before disaster struck once more. She took time to write a message to Vincent and seal it in an envelope.

She thought of the way her life was going, and she was frustrated. Before she'd met Vincent, her world had been her loft and her cases. It had been, if not a varied world, at least a relatively safe and controlled one. Now, she felt her world had tilted, somehow. It was as if she was trying to reach something in a corner, and her arm wasn't quite long enough...and just when she felt like she was about to reach it, whatever it was would slide away from her. Even her dreams were no longer her own, and she was powerless to stop it.

And about the dreams. The dream last night had been a strange one...disturbing, but not truly frightening. Still, it made her uneasy. It nagged at her in some deep way, and worried her. She never even knew for sure if it was her dream, Vincent's...or if they'd shared it. She felt as though she hadn't slept at all.

She sighed tiredly as she finished braiding her long red hair. The green eyes that stared back at her seemed haunted, even to her, and the porcelain-fair complexion seemed too pale, with delicate blue circles under the eyes. She shook herself and snapped at her reflection, "You worry too much, Bennett!"

Spinning around and stalking to the other room, Diana grabbed her carryall and the printed reports and slapped the down button on the elevator. On her way out, she dropped a message into the grate over the sentry point near her apartment, knowing whoever had duty would relay it.

*****

Vincent woke and lay quietly with his eyes still closed. Catherine's rose felt cool and smooth under his fingertips as he touched each porcelain petal, seeing it in his mind's eye. He didn't carry the rose with him any longer, but instead kept it next to his bed, where he could reach out and touch it like this at night. He remembered what Catherine had told him of how it had comforted her in the dark, and now he, too, allowed it to comfort him after his dreams. It was, in truth, a piece of her to hold close. His eyes opened to the darkness of his chamber.

His dreams had been odd, as they often were, lately. At least the ones involving Diana. He was accustomed to his waking dreams--the prophetic visions. And he had shared dreams with Catherine, quite often. Those dreams had been disturbing at times, but for very normal reasons. These dreams, however, he couldn't quite understand. Sometimes it seemed they were only fantasies, and he would try to stop them--turn the woman into Catherine. Sometimes it even worked. But much of the time the dreams were simply very odd. The nightmares were gone, but his life was still uneasy.

Levering himself up in bed, he ran his fingers through his tousled mane and reluctantly put the rose aside.

He felt better now, it was true. But sometimes, as he went through his days, he felt as though he were delicately balanced in the middle of some strange scale of life with grief on one side and joy on the other. He was almost afraid to move--lest he topple into the abyss--yet he felt he must move. He was tired of living in limbo. He'd been more settled the last week or so. Remembering had helped tremendously. But still, occasionally something would remind him of Catherine with such force that the emotion--joy or grief--would break over him in a flood. But now, even the grief was different: it cleansed him, somehow, allowing him to go on.

Sighing, Vincent swung out of bed and reached for his robe. Feeling under the bed, he slipped on his sandals and stood silently in the darkness, watching Jacob as he tied the belt. His son was still deeply asleep and should continue sleeping for awhile. I have time for a quick shower before breakfast.

Hurrying down the quiet tunnels toward the showers, Vincent found himself actually looking forward to the day. He anticipated hearing from Diana at some point today. Last night during supper she'd told him that her case was over, and all she needed to do was file her report. The visit had been pleasant, although not as long as he would have liked, nor as private. Mouse and Jamie--and Jacob--had been with them most of the day. Vincent hoped they'd have some time to visit now, just the two of them.

Reaching the showers, Vincent shivered slightly as he stripped off his robe. There was no one about at this hour, and usually there was a little warm water since it'd had the night to sit over the steam pipes. The warmth wouldn't last long, but while it did, he would savor it.

As he stepped into the stream of water, he let it run through his thick mane and wash over his face. He lathered quickly and rinsed before the water turned cold, then stepped out and shook--tiny droplets flying from the soft down that covered his body. He dried the rest of the way with the heavy towel, then began pulling on his jeans.

Vincent's mind noted almost subconsciously that his world was beginning to wake. He could sense the buzz of awakening minds around him and heard the increase in the tapping on the pipes as messages began to flow in their customary rhythm. He reflected silently on how much easier it was getting to handle all the emotions around him. He was beginning to relearn the art of fine-tuning them, and they were becoming merely a part of the tapestry of love that his world wove around him. The process had been so gradual that he'd barely taken note of it in his struggle to remember loving Catherine.

Pulling on his shirt and vest, then thick socks, he slid his feet into knee-high fur boots. Once dressed, he started back to his chamber to get Jacob ready for breakfast and himself prepared for his classes. He could sense that the child was waking, so he hurried.

*****

The daily struggle to get Jacob dressed for his time in the nursery with the rest of the children always had Vincent's nerves frayed almost to the breaking point. He never could understand how, after all his experience with children and his innate love for them, his patience level with his own son could get so low.

Jacob, however, seemed to delight in tormenting his father. Since learning to crawl he had become an absolute terror, and his climbing ability, while scarcely matching his father's at the same age, was still far above that of most other children. While Vincent had been showering, Jacob woke and climbed out of the crib. By the time Vincent made it back to the chamber--a matter of minutes--the child had already torn pages out of three books.

After rescuing the books and admonishing the totally unrepentant child, Vincent spent another half-hour trying to dress the kicking, wriggling toddler. He was so relieved when Mary came by that he felt almost guilty watching his son wave bye-bye over the good woman's shoulder on the way out. He was equally relieved that Mary had offered to feed Jacob breakfast; that meant that for once he could join Father for breakfast and eat in peace.

*****

Vincent joined Father in his study. They routinely used this time to go over plans for the day and discuss problems. Today, Father was immersed in reading a report from Robert, who had just finished an inspection of the tunnels on the lower east side below the Serpentine and just above the Catacombs. Apparently there was a leak that had been undiscovered on the previous maintenance rounds of that area...possibly even before that. Which meant it had been going on for almost a year. The rock was chalky and soft there, and the leak had made the area even more unstable than usual.

Vincent stood behind Father, looking at the maps over Father's shoulder and pointing out the problems inherent in fixing the leak. After discussing the problem, Vincent sat and poured another cup of tea. "Mouse and I will repair the leak ourselves. We've had more experience with working in those unstable sections."

Father seemed pleased that the problem would be taken care of. "Sometimes it seems that all we do is fix leaks, Vincent. I wonder that the city doesn't become suspicious that they have so little maintenance to do, but perhaps they are merely grateful."

Vincent smiled at that. "Let us hope they continue being both grateful and a little obtuse."

Father re-rolled the map. Then, leaning back, he removed his glasses and looked down. When he'd moved the map, it exposed an envelope with Vincent's name on it. "Oh! I forgot, Vincent. Alain delivered this earlier from Diana. He knew you'd be coming here for breakfast, so he simply left it with me. I'm sorry, but I was so involved in what we were doing I forgot to give it to you."

Taking the envelope with a smile, Vincent rose. "Don't worry, Father. I know what it is about. She was to let me know if she'd be finished filing her report today so we could visit."

Father seemed amused. "I thought that was what you were doing most of yesterday and last night. If you weren't visiting, what were you doing?"

Vincent answered a little wryly. He found Father's attitude amusing, but also a little puzzling. Father's complete acceptance of Diana still confused him. "Not exactly visiting.... We haven't had much time to visit Above, lately, as she's been working on her case. Yesterday Mouse and Jamie were with us during our tour, and last night the entire meal was spent listening to Mouse explain his latest invention." He chuckled. "An interesting enough pastime, but not quite the same as truly visiting with Diana." Vincent sighed as he rose to leave. "For now, I must face the students for history class. Once I am through with that, the rest of the day should go fairly well."

*****

On the way to the classroom Vincent opened the envelope and read Diana's brief message:

Vincent,
Tonight, after dark


Diana

Smiling gently, Vincent tucked the message into the pocket of his jeans and continued on to his class. He was looking forward to a quiet evening with Diana. This last case had been extremely complex, and watching her work had been fascinating, when he'd been able to be there. She hadn't even been home much the last few nights she'd been working on it. The intensity she put into her work still amazed him. She always seemed so "focused" on whatever she was doing. She is very dedicated.

As Vincent entered the common room he was using as a classroom, he overheard Kipper explaining in great detail to the younger children about how the Indians had scalped everyone and carried the scalps as trophies. His enthusiasm for his subject had the youngsters gaping in horror, and Vincent reminded himself to remedy Kipper's incorrect information at the first opportunity. Vincent cleared his throat. "Kipper. Perhaps we should go on to other facets of the Amerindian culture. I think you have covered that particular subject in great enough detail for the time. Thank you."

Beaming, Kipper replied, "Glad to help, Vincent."

*****

Diana met Greg Hughes in the lobby of the Criminal Courts Building, and they rode the elevator up together to the D.A.'s office. Greg leaned back against the elevator wall and stared at Diana, and she shifted uneasily under his gaze. "What is it, Greg?"

"You just look worse and worse, Di. There's something bugging you, and has been for months. You're losing weight--and you can't afford to lose an ounce--and you're even more pale than usual."

Diana crossed her arms defensively. "I'm fine, Greg. Maybe I just need some down time."

The elevator opened, and Greg pushed off, taking Diana's elbow to guide her peremptorily out the door. "Down time doesn't solve everything, girl."

No more was said as they wove their way through the noisy outer office and knocked on Maxwell's door.

"Come!" Joe's voice called from inside.

Greg and Diana peered through the door, and Diana watched warily for thrown darts, but today Joe seemed in a fairly good mood: he didn't seem to have a need for relieving frustration by throwing darts at pictures of current antagonists. Greg asked quickly, "Is it safe?"

Joe grinned as Diana peered around Greg. "Sure. C'mon in."

Diana advanced to the desk and tossed the envelope with the report down in front of Joe. "It's all there."

Greg patted her on the back proprietorially. "I didn't think she'd make it through this one."

Diana tried to appear angry, but she was too fond of Greg to really be angry with him. He treated her more like a daughter than a subordinate. As her father's junior partner, he'd gotten very protective of her, though their ages weren't that far apart. "Sez you. The day I can't handle a little murder and mayhem is the day I retire."

Greg smiled gently. "Well, how 'bout retiring for a few days at least? Down time may not solve everything, but it's all I can offer you. Make use of it or I'll suspend you and make you take a vacation."

Diana noted Joe's questioning glance, and frowned at Greg. Anybody being "nice" to her always made her feel a little funny. "Yeah, well, I hear Florida's nice this time of year, but I think I'd miss you guys too much. Somebody's gotta keep this city in line. Might as well be me. But I'd appreciate a few days off. Thanks."

*****

Evening came, and Vincent prepared to go Above to visit Diana. He had decided to spend a good deal of the evening trying to pierce that shell she kept around herself. She knew so much about him, but there was still so little he really knew about her. It was his own fault, he knew. He'd been turned inward in his grief for far too long.

Vincent was a little worried about Diana. She wasn't looking well, lately. He knew she didn't get enough rest and almost never ate. If he didn't remind her to take a break, she'd often go on working for hours at a stretch and miss meals. Often, when visiting, he found himself fixing her supper and all but forcing her to stop and eat it.

Vincent bathed Jacob and dressed him for bed, then left the child with Mary. Afterwards Vincent dressed more carefully than usual, then swept up his cloak and left.

On his way out, he passed Father's chamber, and Father called him inside.

"Yes, Father?"

"Are you on your way to see Diana?"

"You know that I am." Vincent waited for Father's usual remonstrances.

"Good." Jacob Wells dropped his eyes to his book

Vincent simply stared. He started to speak, but closed his mouth tightly. Father simply reeked of satisfaction. It was puzzling. When he could get past the feeling that Father was making fun of him, he asked quietly, "Is there anything you wish me to tell her?"

Father smiled gently and shook his head, but as Vincent turned to leave, Father added a comment: "Yes. Tell her...happy hunting."

Father's eyes seemed to positively twinkle as he replaced his glasses and turned to his book. He waved Vincent out.

Vincent was becoming more and more puzzled by Father's behavior, but he really didn't wish to take time to worry about it. He hurried through the tunnels toward Diana's loft, anticipating a pleasant evening. She might explain to me just how she managed to make everything fit in that last case.

Vincent always enjoyed these discussions after her cases--enjoyed trying to follow her thought patterns--to see if he would have come to the same conclusions. So far, there were still times when he couldn't see just where and how she got the information for the giant leaps she took to reach the conclusion.

*****

Diana had just gotten home and was listening to her messages when she heard Vincent's tap on the skylight. She'd spent the entire day wandering. She'd been to the museum, book stores, even gone to a movie.

As she headed for the roof, she was busy thinking about the time she was supposed to be relaxing. She didn't like having a lot of time off. It gave her too much time to think about her solitary existence.

Diana opened the door to the roof and saw Vincent leaning against the wall. It always took her a moment to adjust to his presence. No matter how often she saw him, there was always a sense of stunned surprise mixed with grateful awe.

Once her mind began working again, she noticed he'd dressed for her tonight--she could tell. Gone were the tattered skin-tight corduroy jeans, and in their place were dark leather pants and knee-high boots topped by a shirt in what appeared to be pieced fawn-colored leather with fringes. She felt encouraged. God. I want to get him in the light so I can see him properly. He's gorgeous. "Hi. I just got home. You feel like pizza?"

Moving gracefully away from the wall toward her, Vincent smiled, and Diana caught a quick glimpse of white canines flashing. That sexy voice and rumbling chuckle coming to her out of the dark asked the most innocuous question. "What kind?"

Grinning, Diana felt a familiar heat building inside her. "Whatever you want."

*****

Vincent followed Diana down the stairs into the loft. He realized there was something unusual about her tonight, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. She moved differently. Her voice was a little softer. It made him uneasy. Not being able to sense her always made him feel off balance, but normally it was vaguely exciting and intriguing as well. Tonight it disturbed him.

As Diana hunted the number to call for the pizza, Vincent watched her...and noticed her watching him. That made him even more uneasy. Diana had been known to surprise him, and the surprises were not always pleasant; in fact, he couldn't remember a time when the surprise was less than catastrophic--at least from his point of view.

"Well, what did you want?" Covering the mouthpiece, Diana cocked her head and gazed at him quizzically.

"Mushroom?"

She grinned. "With onion?"

"If you wish," he answered, with a shrug.

"Naw. Cut the onion." She spoke quickly, giving the address, then moved past him to the refrigerator. "Tea, Pepsi, or beer?"

The tone of her voice was so strange; Vincent turned and observed her through strands of blond mane. She leaned against the refrigerator looking back at him, but her eyes gave up none of her secrets. She was still wearing her green silk blouse from work; the blaze of her red hair falling across it took his breath away momentarily. When did she take her hair down? He hadn't noticed her taking her braid down, but she'd obviously done so. It was strange, too, for her to offer him beer. He knew he'd mentioned to her that he didn't drink. "Tea, please."

Diana set a glass of iced tea down in front of him, then walked into the living room and put on some music. Brahms? With pizza? Vincent found himself watching her more closely as she walked toward him. His eyes followed her movement, which was more graceful than usual...full of promise. Promise of what? His throat was suddenly very dry, and he reached for his tea. At that moment the buzzer interrupted his thoughts, and Diana went to answer. She turned to him. "It's the delivery boy. I'll go down and get the pizza."

Diana chuckled as she rode the lift down. She felt reckless. And Vincent had looked positively weak-kneed himself. Definitely off balance. But I was right. He is absolutely fabulous in those clothes. And he did dress just for me. I'd better back off though, or he'll leave for sure. She paid the delivery boy and hurried back to the loft with the pizza.

*****

Vincent paced while he waited for Diana to return. The tension he was feeling made him very uneasy. He didn't like this. His desire for Diana disturbed him immensely. It was different, now, when he dreamed of Catherine. That desire was acceptable. This was not. And he was certain Diana was aware of what she was doing to him. The thought made him angry. And the anger itself worried him. He knew how tentative his control still was, and felt Diana did, as well. It had been desire and rage that had driven him to madness before, and he still didn't trust his control.

He leaned with his back against the counter, head hanging, and listened to the squeal of the ancient lift as it climbed its slow way up. He breathed deeply, flexing his hands, which had been clenched; forced himself to relax. Hearing the accordion door to the lift open, he turned to Diana. He could tell by her expression that she was well aware of his mood swing.

"I think perhaps I should not stay, Diana."

Diana tossed the pizza box on the table and it skidded across the surface, barely stopping before crashing to the floor. The pepper shaker, however, wasn't as lucky and hit the floor with a sharp thud. "Suit yourself."

She brushed past him to open the refrigerator and pull out a beer. She leaned her head back against the refrigerator door, a gesture combining defiance and defeat...but her voice held only a touch of sorrow. "You can't walk a tightrope forever without falling off, Vincent. That goes for me as well as for you."

Vincent saw a tear glisten at the corner of her eye, and his anger vanished as though it had never been. This was Diana. His friend. Surely something was disturbing her. How could he be angry...stay angry? Moving to her, he reached out to stroke her face with the back of his hand. "I will stay if you wish."

She leaned into him for a moment only, then sighed raggedly and pulled away, wiping her eye with the back of one hand. "No need for you to stay. I'll probably be lousy company."

Now that his anger and desire had returned to more manageable levels, Vincent felt foolish. He really did want to stay; he'd missed Diana a great deal--missed her wit and conversation...and truthfully, just simply missed her. He could see she was still upset with him, so he tried to put things right. "Diana, I'm sorry. You seem...disappointed, but I don't understand. What is it that you wish of me?"

Diana put the beer on the counter and stood, hands on hips, gazing up at him. Her emerald eyes blazed with fury. "What do I want? I want you to see me, Vincent. Just me. For once. Is that so very much?"

The sudden mercurial changes in Diana's outward mood from distress to momentary peace, to rage confused Vincent even further. The evening was not turning out at all as he'd planned, and Diana was more of a puzzle than ever. He wished desperately that he could sense her. Surely she knows how I feel by now--how I cherish our relationship. "But Diana...I do see you." He was confused, but determined to make things clear between them and find out what it was that was disturbing her. He took her face in his hands, though she tried to shrug him off. "You have not been well of late, Diana, and I fear our relationship has placed a strain on you...the secrecy, the lies...and...Gabriel." It was the first time since it happened that Vincent had ever dared mention Diana's role in Gabriel's death. They'd both avoided it after skirting the issue once.

Diana's rage seemed to evaporate once more, and she sighed. "I'm fine about all that. Doesn't bother me." Diana closed her hand around Vincent's and rubbed the soft fur across her face a moment, the tender gesture making Vincent's chest constrict, and once more causing that red tide to rise, the haze of desire obscuring his mind...straining his control.

He forced the words through clenched teeth. "Diana. Please. You are important to me."

Diana glanced up, seeming puzzled...and very childlike. "Am I?"

Vincent was relieved as the red tide faded, moving into the background of his consciousness. Taking a deep breath, he put his arms around her and drew her to him, meaning only to comfort her...to assure her that she was, truly, very dear to him. But as she moved fluidly into his embrace he felt the desire rise again, pendulum-like--sending him sliding out of control. His hands grasped Diana's forearms, and his body shook with his effort to get a grip on the desire and the accompanying anger. It angered him that Diana was so aware of his reaction. He wasn't sure if he was angry with her, or with himself. It didn't matter. It was taking all his control to put her from him now. "No!"

He spun away from her, lunging back up the stairs, and she scrambled after him, pausing only to snatch his cloak from the back of the chair, where he'd tossed it. He caught the heavy cloak as she threw it at him. "Don't forget this. Damn you, Vincent. If you leave now...."

The pain he felt at leaving her was searing. Vincent looked back over his shoulder as he swung one leg over the parapet and told her softly, his rough voice carrying across the roof, "I must leave, Diana. Please forgive me."

*****

Diana turned, kicked the wall viciously, then hobbled down the stairs nursing her sore toes. "Damned if I will forgive you, Vincent. I've had it." She threw herself onto the couch and sat staring miserably at the wall. She knew she'd misjudged and pushed him further than she should have, but her own strength was giving out. Greg and Joe were right...she looked awful and felt worse. She couldn't keep on like this. Something had to give.

And it's damn well gonna be him. It's time, damn it. He can't live the rest of his life on memories. It isn't healthy for him or for Jacob either...and it's hell on me!

At the same time, she couldn't help berating herself for pushing him. He was right. His tightrope was higher than hers...more dangerous to fall from. More dangerous for both of them.

Lying back on the throw pillows on the couch, Diana gave herself over to her thoughts of him. She pictured him as he'd looked tonight: the cascade of his thick blond mane flowing over that wonderful shirt--which had felt as soft as butter against her cheek. Those azure eyes alive with desire...even if it had been only for a few moments. The mingling of scents he always carried--candlewax, smoke, leather...and him. Definitely, him. But right now, if she opened up, all she could sense from him was that black anger and his usual suppressed desire. She sighed. It was a mistake. A stupid mistake. What the hell did you think you were doing, anyway? All you succeeded in doing is making both of you miserable. You told Father he wasn't ready... yet here you are, pushing him. Back off, Bennett. You don't even know what you want, so why rock the boat?

She rolled over and buried her face in the throw pillow and pulled the tattered afghan over her shoulders. Maybe this is all a big mistake. This can't be good for him. Maybe you're not good for him.

*****

Vincent stalked like an angry tiger through the tunnels toward home. How could Diana do that to me? She is ruining everything.

His anger simmered, boiled over, then simmered again. Rational thought was far behind him. Reaching the Chamber of the Falls, Vincent sat on one of the boulders and brooded. He heard a familiar voice next to him...one he'd hoped never to hear again.

You're a fool. The Other sat perched on a nearby boulder, elbows on knees, chin in hand, his expression almost ingenuous beneath the tangled mane. Vincent didn't find it amusing at all

"Go away."

The Other sighed and stretched his legs out, crossing his arms. Why do you think she bothered with you all this time...just because she's altruistic?

"She's a good person, and a friend."

Hmpf. Never said she wasn't. But what you don't seem to realize is that she's also a woman...maybe that's what makes her so angry. The image disappeared, then suddenly reappeared inches before Vincent's face, startling him into a snarl. The Other smiled with a savage satisfaction evident on his dark features. Guess if you can't stand the heat, you get out of the kitchen, huh?

Vincent roared and reached for his antagonist's throat, but of course there was nothing there.

*****

Father found Vincent at the falls a short time later. His roar had been heard and the message passed on to Father. Father lingered in the entrance watching his son. He had hoped the evening with Diana would go better than it obviously had.

Father had watched the distance slowly close between his son and Diana, and determined to support Diana in this as much as possible. He'd impeded the relationship between Vincent and Catherine, and regretted that, realizing too late what harm his intervention had done. He'd watched Diana bring his son out of the darkness and back into the light, but he'd feared that eventually she would encounter opposition from the roadblocks Vincent had placed in her path.

It appeared that she'd just run headlong into one of them.

"Vincent?"

Vincent's voice carried back to him, firm and clear. "I'm fine, Father. Can I never have any privacy? With Pascal's constant vigilance on the pipes I cannot even sneeze in peace."

Father sat next to Vincent and positioned his cane within easy reach. "I believe it was a roar that got their attention this time...not a sneeze. Everyone loves you, Vincent, and we tend to be a bit overprotective. Is there anything I can help with?"

"No."

Father turned his eyes out across the pool and listened to the roar of the falls. "I know you come here to relax...as do I."

"Yes."

"Things did not go well with Diana tonight?"

Vincent shifted uneasily. "Please. Don't start. I appreciate your concern for me, but there is nothing you can do. It is something I need to work through on my own." Vincent looked across the water to the falls and Father noted he blinked back tears. When he spoke, his words were measured and deliberate. "Has it never occurred to you, Father, that I have no private personal life? I allow everyone else their privacy...difficult as it is, for me...yet I have none of my own. Even with Catherine, I could scarcely breathe without everyone knowing...." He sighed, then answered Father's question without allowing Father to answer his own. "No. Things did not go well. Goodnight, Father."

As Vincent rose to head back to his chamber, Father spoke softly to him, hoping his son would not only hear, but listen. "We all love you, Vincent."

*****

Vincent retrieved Jacob and carried the youngster back to their chamber. After waking briefly, Jacob snuggled down in Vincent's arms with his face buried in his father's neck. As was often true, Vincent found comfort in the child's peace, and it helped him to put other thoughts into perspective. He forced himself to calm his emotions so he wouldn't disturb the child, then tucked Jacob into the crib. He moved to his desk and tried to record his thoughts in his journal.

My evening with Diana did not turn out as planned. Once more she surprised me by turning my thoughts in directions I wish to avoid. She has been my rock, an island of peace. And now I discover that she, too, wishes something from me that I cannot give. Will there never be anyone other than my son who has no expectations I cannot fulfill? Obviously Diana wishes for our relationship to be more than friendship, and I cannot give her what she wants. I can only hurt her. I cannot let go of Catherine. In addition, the desire she stirs in me is so powerful that I fear losing control. The sheer need I feel around her is frightening. The hunger. How blurred the images are when I try looking inside myself...the image of the man and the image of the beast. I still try to see myself as others see me, but Diana would tell me to see myself as I am. I want to see myself as she sees me...to know what I am to her. I need to understand, and there is no understanding for me. Love is a burden if you cannot give it.

Vincent re-read the words he'd written and put away his pen. In truth, there were no words for what he needed to say. Undressing for bed, he thought wistfully of the park Above and how he would have loved to take a walk to clear his head, but it was late, and Jacob could not be left alone. Perhaps I should have left him with Mary a little longer. Gone were the days when he could disappear for days at a time, or even simply for a few hours...at least not without preparation. It seemed it had been a long while since he'd even taken a walk in the park.

It occurred to Vincent that he and Catherine had favored her balcony, the park, and his chamber for their trysts, but only the balcony had been truly theirs--neither his world nor hers--and in that one space they had created a world of their own.

Most of the time when he saw Diana it was in her loft, and when she came Below there was no distinction between his chamber, Father's, or anywhere else in his world. She tended to pop up just about anywhere. He'd never crossed that imaginary line into Catherine's world...almost never set foot in her apartment at all. But with Diana that self-imposed prohibition had never existed. In one very real sense, her world was his world, just as his was hers. Each was comfortable in the other's space and there was no strangeness in that. That, too, had often puzzled him, though it pleased him as well. Their friendship was one of the most important things in his life, now. He couldn't imagine being without her.

Vincent went to bed and slept restlessly. Once more his dreams were disturbed.

Diana moved towards him, her sensual smile lighting her face. Moving into his arms, her body molded against his, the soft curves against his solidity frighteningly exciting. Struggling to stop his treacherous thoughts, Vincent replayed visions of Catherine and the love they'd shared. He tried desperately, even in his dream, to hold to his memories. As always, when the dreams turned to Diana, he would try to pull away, but the siren song that was pulling him was becoming too strong for him to resist. And the guilt he felt was overpowering.

*****

Diana nibbled her way through a slice of pizza and put the rest in the refrigerator. She turned on the computer and was preparing to bring up her journal when the telephone rang. She answered rather dispiritedly. She'd finally blocked Vincent because his mixed feelings of anger and frustrated desire were further depressing her

"Hello."

It was Joe. Checking up on her. Ever since the Ashman case, he'd been easier to be around. He didn't push, and hadn't mentioned the Chandler case, though she knew he still wondered. They'd settled into a kind of uneasy truce that couldn't truly be called "friendship" quite yet.

"Hiya, Bennett. You doin' okay?"

She had to grin a little. "Yeah. I'm okay. You and Greg can quit being mother hens. So I'll take a few days, but don't hesitate to call if you need me."

There was a hesitation on the other end, then Joe said quietly, "You've had a rough year. Some of the cases you've handled have been real killers. Things like that can get to anybody, Bennett."

"I'm okay, really. I thrive on that stuff. You should know that by now...and Greg does know. Damn. He's known me since I was a kid. I need the action."

"Right now, you need the rest. So rest. That's an order...passed on from Greg through me."

"I'll try."

"Good. G'night, Bennett."

"G'night, Maxwell."

Diana hung the phone up and shook her head a little wonderingly. Maxwell checking up. Will wonders never cease? "I really must look bad."

She went back to the computer and pulled up her journal.

Blew it tonight. He gives me mixed signals, even when I "read" him. Sometimes I think he's ready to move on, but later I realize it's just wishful thinking on my part. He was dressed fit to kill tonight...excuse the pun. Bad choice of words. I know he did it for me, and a man just doesn't do that unless he's interested. I know he's attracted to me--I haven't been celibate so long that I can't tell when a man wants me! Hell. I don't know if I'm ready, but I think it's time to find out if there can ever be anything for either of us in this relationship besides friendship. I can't walk that tightrope forever. Neither can he. Time to either climb up to a higher level, come down...or fall off.

Diana saved the file, exited the program and shut down the hard drive. Walking into the bedroom, she dug through her drawer and pulled out her sleep shirt. Shedding her work clothes and making a half-hearted toss at the laundry hamper, she pulled the old shirt on, savoring the comfort of the familiar softness against her skin. Then she pulled on a pair of heavy socks and slid into bed. There were times she really missed Mark. She had loved him as much as she'd been able to. He'd been easy to be around, a lot of fun, uncomplicated...and very sexy. So help me Vincent, if you invade my dreams tonight, I'll show you no mercy!

Fortunately for Vincent, he'd already done most of his dreaming before Diana fell asleep, and the remainder of his dreams were too formless for her to pick up more than bits and pieces, so for one night, at least, they both had a little peace

*****

Vincent woke with Jacob throwing his toys at him. The child stood in his crib and carefully tossed one toy after another with unerring aim directly at Vincent's head. This was his current favorite game, and it was most definitely no Vincent's. A sharp-edged block hit Vincent on the nose and he sat up with a muffled roar. Jacob bounced with glee, knowing that his antics had been the cause of the wonderful sound his father had made. It was dark in the chamber, but Jacob had his father's unusual night vision and the darkness didn't bother him...nor did it hinder his aim.

Vincent rubbed his sore nose, then lit a candle. He spoke softly to Jacob, then removed him from the crib to change him. By the time the child was dry and in clean clothes for the morning, Vincent was in a slightly better humor. Jacob was such a joy to him that any minor inconveniences were easily ignored.

Today Vincent and Mouse were scheduled to fix the leak under the east Serpentine. Vincent carried Jacob to the nursery to leave him for Mary to tend. He spent some time playing with the child to settle him with the other toddlers, then left when Jacob was well-occupied--though he always felt a little guilty sneaking off. He stopped in for a quick breakfast in the common dining hall and waited for Mouse, who wandered in as he was finishing. He visited with the younger man while Mouse ate. Their plans for the day were gone over and supplies discussed. When they were ready to leave, they disposed of their dishes and went their separate ways to collect the tools they needed.

*****

After gathering their tools, Vincent met Mouse at the "Mousehole," and they continued down toward the east Serpentine. Mouse chattered cheerfully about one of his newest inventions, but Vincent listened with only partial attention. His mind refused to settle into its accustomed pattern of duty and work. His dreams last night had further confused him, and his thoughts were whirling. Suddenly, his solid base of peace and solidarity with Diana seemed shattered, leaving a void. He missed her tremendously, but refused to think of the ramifications of the desire he felt around her. No.

"Vincent!"

Vincent startled. Mouse was looking at him with innocent blue eyes, obviously hurt that he'd not been paying attention. "I'm sorry, Mouse. What were you saying?"

Mouse shrugged. "Doesn't matter. Won't work anyway."

"What won't work, Mouse? You were just telling me about your plans for re-designing the old washing machines that Evan sent us...."

Mouse was miffed. "That was before. No problems there. Need help on Jamie's phonograph. Weren't listening."

"Sorry, Mouse. I was thinking."

Mouse scratched his head, then pointed ahead. "There's leak. Doesn't matter, Vincent. Won't work anyway. Can't find stuff to fix. Jamie'll be disappointed."

Vincent raised the lamp to survey the damage. It was obvious the water had been leaking for some time, and this chalky rock was unstable at the best of times. Vincent hoped they could manage to fix the leak without the tunnel floor collapsing; all the rock strata in this area were brittle. Fortunately, the leak was slow enough that at least there wasn't a river to work in. It also appeared the ceiling was intact, which meant that the living quarters in the level above would be secure. They had already turned the water off at the cutoff, so it was time to go to work. "Come, Mouse. Let's get this fixed, and you can tell me what parts you need. Perhaps I can help."

As they worked, Mouse continued to talk about the old phonograph he was trying to fix for Jamie, and the parts he'd still been unable to find or make. Vincent tried valiantly to pay attention, but his mind kept wandering back to Diana. Mouse held the tools while Vincent attempted to wrench the rusted pipe apart. The pipe was stubborn, and Vincent braced himself and tried again. A soft rumbling began and Vincent yelled, "Move! " and shoved Mouse hard just as the floor gave way beneath them. He felt himself falling and grasped futilely at outcroppings of rock which broke off in his hands.

*****

As soon as the dust settled, Mouse threw himself on his stomach and inched toward the hole. Directing the flashlights from his improvised miner's helmet downward, he scanned the area and located Vincent. "Vincent!" When his friend didn't answer immediately, Mouse panicked. "Vincent! Wake up!"

A groan answered him from below, then Vincent's voice drifted up to him. Vincent was obviously in pain, but his voice was calm. "Mouse. I suppose you had best get help. I appear to have...damaged myself."

Mouse started to go, then came back. "Tell Father what, Vincent? How hurt?"

"If I am correct, I may have broken my leg, so have them bring a stretcher. They'll have to carry me up the Serpentine, I fear, unless Father says it's safe for me to hobble. Go on...and Mouse...tell him not to worry. I'll live."

Mouse's teeth flashed in a wide smile. "Okay good. Okay fine. Back quick."

Mouse's footsteps receded in a flurry and Vincent leaned back against the rock. He tried to shift his leg, but decided against it. He could stand the pain, but if it was broken, it would be best not to move it prior to splinting. Gritting his teeth, he reached under his posterior and removed a sharp rock which was causing him additional discomfort. He noticed that every time he moved, rock dust drifted down into his eyes, and it occurred to him that his mane was full of it. He tried to shake some out, but the resulting stab of pain that action sent down his leg stopped him. "I think I'll just close my eyes and wait."

*****

Diana didn't know what to do with herself. Normally, with time on her hands, she'd go Below and visit. After last night, she figured that might not be a good idea. Whenever she dropped her block, she could feel Vincent's frustration and unrest, so rather than make herself miserable, she kept her block up.

She wandered restlessly. She'd already done everything she needed to in the city yesterday, and she wasn't very keen on going out into that barrage of emotions today. She tried calling her sister, but there was no answer. This is ridiculous. There must be something I want to do. I remember that at one time I did have a life...when there were other things I was interested in other than Vincent. There were things I did when I was off. Then she remembered how seldom she was really off. And when she had been off, at least for the eighteen months or so before she'd met Vincent, there had been Mark, and they would've gone out and done something. Together.

Diana sighed heavily. Looking around the loft, she realized she'd really let things go during that last case. That wasn't unusual. While working she didn't notice how filthy the loft got until she either ran out of clean clothes or food, or just couldn't find anything anymore.

Reluctantly heaving herself into action, she dug under furniture for dirty clothes, stuffing them into Mark's old duffel bag as she went. When she thought she had everything, she pulled the duffel bag into the elevator and took everything down to the laundromat next door. Leaving everything going in the washers, she took off back upstairs to finish cleaning. Hope nobody steals my clothes. Then I'd have to join a goddamned nudist colony. Oh well. Good excuse to move to Florida. Too cold in New York. Wouldn't that freak Greg? Might even get me away from the dreams.

After another hour and another trip downstairs to switch clothes to the dryer (so far the nudist colony was still an empty threat), the loft looked passable. Barely. She hurried downstairs and shoved the clothes into the duffel bag and dragged them back upstairs, dumping everything on the bed. She sorted through the mass and found what she wanted to wear, and headed for the bathroom for a shower. Great. I can have a wonderfully entertaining time sorting and folding clothes.

*****

The stretcher-bearers left after Vincent was safely in the hospital chamber, then Father had Mouse rig the emergency electricity so he could make use of the X-ray unit Peter had sent down. Fortunately, the technician that serviced Peter's unit was also a helper, so he kept theirs in good repair. Vincent had been correct in his diagnosis: the tibia was fractured, but it was only hairline.

Father casted the leg and cautioned Vincent against trying to do any of his work other than the teaching, at least for a week or so, then obviously reconsidered. "I don't even want you doing that. You never do take it easy. If I give you an inch, you take a mile. In a week or possibly less, at the rate you heal, the cast can come off."

Vincent was concerned that the leak had still to be repaired, but Father said that for once someone else could handle the emergency. "Mouse is already taking Marcus and Cullen with him to shore up the area and lay planking. They'll get it fixed, and they'll be careful, so don't worry about it."

Once the cast had set, Vincent hobbled back to his chamber and changed clothes. Father didn't even want him walking on the cast much, or he might crack it. He stared ruefully at his jeans. Father had cut the pant leg to the knee to allow for the cast. It appeared he was going to have to live in the same jeans for several days at least. He needed a bath, and every time he moved his head, dust drifted out. His hair needed washing. How am I going to manage this? Feeling silly, he leaned forward and shook his mane until he had most of the loose dirt out. Then he finished changing his shirt and vest. He raked his mane back with his hands, getting it tamed a little, then sat going through his class notes.

He hated being chamber-bound. Being restricted always made Vincent restless. He leafed through books, jotting down information for Father to use while continuing the classes. I don't know why he can't have the children come here. We've done it before. Actually, he did know why. Father was right. There was no practical way to keep him still. Once he got started on something there was no stopping him. He even paced at times while he was teaching. He looked around the room dismally. A week? I cannot do it. I will simply have to heal faster.

There was a slight sound at the door, and Vincent looked up, grateful for the company. "Jamie."

Jamie came in and stood hesitantly next to him. Her wide blue eyes were troubled, and he could sense her concern. "I'm fine, Jamie, just irritated with myself. I should have known to lay planking for a floor. It was carelessness."

She leaned forward and rapped on the cast with her knuckles. She grinned. "Seems funny, seeing you like this." She thought a minute. "Hey. Didn't Father have any crutches?"

Vincent shook his head miserably. "They were all too short. I think if he'd had any, he'd have hidden them, just to keep me prisoner." He knew he sounded petulant, but he couldn't help it. The thought of the next week or so was discouraging.

"Aw, that's not true." She brightened. "I know. We'll get Cullen to make you some. He could do it with no problem. Then at least you could move around."

Vincent cheered a little immediately. "That would be wonderful. And Jamie...could you do me a favor?"

"Sure."

"Bring Jacob to me? I know it is not going to be practical for me to keep him right now, and I know Mary will relish taking care of him...but I need to see him, too."

"I'll get him for you now, Vincent."

"Thank you, Jamie."

It seemed forever until Jamie appeared at his chamber door with Jacob. His son flung himself into Vincent's arms with his usual cheerful violence. "F'ar!" Murmuring endearments, Vincent clung to the child. Their reunions, even after a brief time, were always intense. Jacob quickly discovered the cast and sat between Vincent's legs patting it. Mary and Samantha had come with Jamie and brought their evening meal.

Vincent watched Jacob. He looks less like Catherine every day, and more like me...and like himself. He felt regret in that. He had hoped the boy would resemble his mother more and more, but he supposed that was selfishness of a sort. Jacob would look truly like himself. Vincent fingered the fine red-blond hair that was so like his own, and gazed into eyes that were also his. The child still carried much of his baby fat, but as he grew, Vincent could tell Jacob would have the same high cheekbones he himself had. Perhaps in Jacob it will be distinctive. His inspection of his son was disturbed by Mary's announcement that supper was served. He glanced up.

"Thank you, Mary." He nodded to Samantha. "And you, too, Samantha. You are all very kind."

Mary blushed and bustled around the chamber, lighting more candles. Vincent had been sitting almost in the dark when they'd come in. After everyone had left, Vincent found that feeding Jacob and himself was more than he'd bargained for. The child was far too active and Vincent was unable to keep him in one place. Before he knew it, he was sitting with a very filthy child and his cast had been decorated with the remnants of their supper. When Jamie stopped back by, he was embarrassed by her gentle laughter.

"Oh, Vincent, I think you're going to have to give up this pleasure until you're out of that cast. This room just isn't set up for feeding anybody as active as Jacob."

Jamie took Jacob from Vincent and wiped some of the food off the baby with a wash cloth and scrubbed delicately at the cast. She hung Jacob upside down under her arm with the child screaming delightedly. "I'll take him back to Mary for you, if you want, and I'll come back and get the dishes."

Vincent reached for Jacob and kissed him, then handed him back. "Thank you, Jamie. I'm sorry for the inconvenience." He sighed. "I suppose I will have to leave him with Mary for meals as well...but we must manage visits."

Jamie patted his arm. "Sure. We'll get him to you until you get the crutches. Don't worry."

Vincent thought a moment. "Did Mouse get the leak fixed?"

"Yeah. It was really a nasty one. They had to build a floor over the hole before even being able to reach the place, but it's done. At least your efforts loosened the joint. Don't worry about it." Jamie laughed softly at Vincent's sigh. "Cullen said that later, after he cleans up, he'll come by to measure you for crutches."

"Thank you." Vincent was relieved. If he could just be a little more...mobile... perhaps things would not appear quite so dismal.

"Does Diana know?"

Vincent startled. "Know?"

"Yeah. About your leg."

He shook his head. "No."

"I'll go tell her, if you want," Jamie offered eagerly

Vincent smiled gently. He knew Jamie idolized Diana. Any excuse was good for a visit. Diana had become almost like an older sister to the younger girl. He started to tell Jamie not to bother, but he couldn't quite get the words out. On one hand, he was angry with Diana, but he still felt this pull towards her. He wanted to see her, and there was no way he could go to her.

"If you wish." He glanced up to see Jacob hanging off Jamie's hip, reaching for him for a hug, and he took the child for a few moments and held him close. He murmured quietly to his son, reassuring both the child and himself that it would not be too long before he could care for him again. Jacob fussed a little when Jamie took him back, but settled quickly.

Vincent felt twice as lonely once Jacob was gone. He wished he could sense Diana as he had Catherine, and know her presence. Reaching over to the small table next to the bed, he took his rose and cradled it carefully, and losing himself in his memories, he felt a little less alone.

*****

The hot water felt wonderful after her hours of housework. It even relaxed some of the muscles in her neck and shoulders. She hadn't realized how tense she'd been. The afternoon of cleaning had also helped a little to ease some of that tension.

She squeezed the excess water out of her long hair and dried off. While she dressed in her sweats, she thought of Vincent, and hesitantly opened herself up a little--trying to sense him. She was never sure when it was safe to try and touch. When his thoughts and emotions were on something other than her, it was usually safe to assume he wouldn't notice her. When she reached out and sensed him, the emotions she received were puzzling: a little anxiety and stress...the ever-present frustration...and something else she couldn't quite place. When she felt a sense of puzzlement growing, she knew he must be beginning to feel her intrusion, so she blocked again. She began drying her hair, and was just finishing braiding it when the intercom buzzed. She fastened the rubber band on the end of the braid, then hastened to the living area to answer.

"Yeah?"

A small, hesitant feminine voice answered, made a little tinny by the old intercom. "Diana? It's Jamie. May I come up?"

"Jamie? Sure. I'll send the elevator down."

While Diana waited for the ancient lift to groan its way up, she wondered what Jamie was doing here. This wasn't the girl's first visit to Diana's loft, but they were infrequent enough to make Diana curious. When the lift stopped moving, Diana pulled the accordion door back and motioned Jamie in.

"C'mon in. Did Vincent send a message? Is he coming up tonight?"

Jamie grinned. "Well, that'd be a little difficult. You see, he broke his leg."

"WHAT?" Diana knew she must've reacted just about how Jamie expected, because the girl laughed.

"Yeah. He and Mouse were fixing a pipe down near the Catacombs. It's been leaking for a long time and the chalky rock underneath gave way and spilled him down to the next level. He must've landed just right...or just wrong. Anyway, he's going to be pretty immobile for awhile, and he's not happy about it."

"I guess not. " Diana plopped down on the couch and shook her head, feeling a little bemused. She knew this man had been shot, knifed...God alone knew how many times, according to accounts she'd heard...survived an explosion...the results of which she'd seen personally. Now he had something as mundane as a broken leg keeping him chamberbound--simply because a lot of the terrain in the tunnels was impossible to maneuver for someone wearing a cast. It was kind of funny. At least she assumed Father had put him in a cast. She asked Jamie, "Is he in a cast?"

Jamie grinned. "Yeah. No crutches yet, either, so that makes it worse. Cullen's making him some."

"Good. He's gonna be grumpy enough as it is." She smiled a little, thinking of the odd impressions she'd received earlier, and the added frustration. Oh well. At least I know what he's frustrated with currently, and for a change it's not me.

Diana glanced at her watch. "Hey, Jamie. It's about suppertime. Want to stay for spaghetti?"

The girl's face lit up. "Sure."

They chattered cheerfully as they made supper, and Diana relaxed further. Jamie was good company...uncomplicated and undemanding. As they ate, Jamie spoke at length about Mouse, telling Diana stories about their growing up that delighted her. Diana watched the younger girl as she talked about Mouse...noticing how she blushed and her voice grew softer the longer she spoke. Young love. At least she and Mouse seem to understand each other pretty well.

Jamie began asking Diana more serious questions about men in general, and Diana began to realize how Susan must feel. Although Susan was slightly younger than Diana, it had always been Susan who took care of her. Diana's life had always been too complex and demanding for her to look after Susan. Fortunately, Susan was solid and very normal. She had provided the stability Diana had needed while growing up. Diana's empathic gift and her mother's lack of understanding of both it and her had been almost more than the teenage girl could handle. It was kind of nice to be able to be someone else's "big sister," though she felt a little inadequate to be advising Jamie on men. I can't even get my own love life in order.

Jamie stayed until well after dark, and Diana hated to see her go. Jamie offered to take a message to Vincent, but Diana shook her head. "No. You can tell him I miss him, if you want...but other than that, I think I'll just wait until tomorrow and go see him."

Diana sent Jamie down in the elevator, then walked to the window and dimmed the lights. She stood staring for a long while, watching the traffic.

Okay, Greg. I'm rested enough. I can't take too much quiet. She knew though, looking out at that beautiful city, that behind all those pretty lights were some very ugly happenings. It wouldn't be long before she was called back in. She'd helped Vincent begin to see the possibilities behind the lights again...as he had before Catherine was taken from him, but for herself...she still had problems seeing past the stark realities.

She really wanted to go Below and visit, and see how Vincent was doing. She needed him desperately, but it was getting too late for an impromptu visit, and she still felt that putting a little time between their last meeting and the next was a good idea.

She became more and more restless and began to pace nervously. She had to have something to occupy her mind, so she sat down at the computer and pulled up her games directory. This was her way of completely retreating from reality.

Studying the menu she'd set up, she selected Zork II. If she recalled correctly, she had been busy trying to capture a unicorn with a gold key around its neck. Restoring her saved game and dragging out her painstakingly drawn map, she thought for probably the hundredth time: Let's see. How do you catch a unicorn? "Okay. Virgins catch unicorns. That leaves me out." She became wrapped up in the game for an hour or so, and while trying to kill the dragon without being killed, it occurred to her that dragons often guarded things.... Like maybe princesses? And of course, a princess is going to be a virgin.... At least in Never-Never Land, anyway.

After another futile hour of trying to kill the dragon without getting burnt to a crisp, she wished again that Vincent were with her. I gotta teach him to play Zork. I wonder if he'd appreciate it. There is, of course, some irony about it being located in The Great Underground Empire.

She sighed and saved the game, exited and switched off the hard drive. She played her games so seldom that it was hard to remember where she left off last, at times, and what she'd tried and hadn't tried. She chuckled a little to herself and muttered, "It's gotten that way about sex. I've forgotten how that works, too. I wonder how long it takes to revert back to virgin status?"

Diana unbraided her hair and undressed for bed. The thought of night and sleep disturbed her and drew her at the same time. She didn't even know for sure if Vincent could feel her, other than brief flashes. She was still unsure if the dreams she'd shared with him had gone the other way as well. On one hand, she wanted desperately for it to work both ways...on the other, she wasn't so sure.

That had always been Diana's major hangup with sex, and relationships in general. There had never ever been anyone on the other side who could feel what she felt...what she needed to give. She knew that she and Vincent could share all that they were through the bond...but only if they both let their guards down, and she didn't know if either of them could do that. She wanted that bond--needed it more than breath. And she felt the calling from him--a pull, that surely he must be feeling from her as well. But they were both scared. They'd both spent their entire lives pulled inside themselves...hiding, in one way or another: both were very private individuals. He hid from others because of his exterior...and because of the inner part of him that he considered a beast. She hid because of differences no one could see...but those differences set her apart just as much from the people in her world as his differences did him. They were both used to giving of themselves...but still they kept themselves separate and alone...with a tight inner core that was unknown to anyone.

She slid into bed and pulled the covers up over her shoulders, but it was a long time before she slept.

The dream began much as all dreams do, formless; sensation more than sight, then firming slowly into images. In the dark before the images came, Diana felt the warmth of his body next to hers, the massive strength of his thighs as they lay against her. His arms encircled her, a gentle prison. His lips trailed down her neck, the upper lip with the firm cleft in sharp contrast to the silken softness of his full lower lip; the short fur on his muzzle tickled deliciously. She felt the soft sliding of his tongue as it dipped to the hollow at the base of her throat, tasting delicately. Everything was so real. His clothes smelled of candlewax, leather, and damp wool. His hair smelled the way it did when he'd just come in from the rain. And underneath it all, the musky scent that was him. So real. The images firmed along with the sensations, and she realized that Vincent's eyes were closed. She traced his face with her fingertips, and brushed his eyelids with a light kiss. Almost reflexively, he tightened his embrace. "Look at me, Vincent. Please. See me...see me. "


To learn more about the Zines of Rhonda Collins

i. "Looking Glass Dreams," by Rhonda Collins, 1993

ii. Reference to Infocom computer games, specifically Zork II. Interactive text adventure game