A Noble Heart and Melancholy

by valjean

Diana lay awake in bed, awake after the same dream, watching sunbeams slant through the window blinds and across the floor. She always startled wide awake after this dream. Her mind recreated it now as she recovered in the aftermath.

She rushes into Tunnels, into Vincentís waiting arms. As she reaches up to push the hood back from his beautiful face, he vanishes. She desperately clutches the empty cloak in her arms. The weight of the garment causes her to fall to the tunnel floor. . .

Here, the dream always ended, leaving her feeling frustrated, unhappy, and guilty.

Diana kicked off the covers, snatched her bathrobe from the bedside chair, and stomped into the kitchen. Shaking hands spilled coffee beans across the counter as she tried to fill the grinder. "Bennett!" she scolded herself aloud, "Youíve got to tell them . . ."

She leaned against the counterís edge, facing the open loft, as bright lasers of sunlight struck out from behind shades and blinds that were pulled down tight.

"It canít be a general announcement," she thought, walking slowly from window to window adjusting the shades. The police work was not complete; there were still random accomplices and loose ends to tie up in the case. Six months had gone by.

Catherine wouldnít be able to return for several more months.

* * *

During the time Vincent and Diana had collaborated to find baby Jacob, Vincent had seemed to run on anger alone. The loss of Catherine had left him with a rage that nearly consumed him. Just after he and Diana got safely away with the baby, Vincent wanted only to get the child Below. Then, it seemed as if Vincentís life was over. The Tunnel community had come together to create a home for baby Jacob. Routines, feedings, and duty schedules were deftly put in place. Once the baby was ensconced, Vincent began to sink into a state of despair so deep and overwhelming, there seemed no return.

How he grieved for her! Only the first few days did he muffle his cries. The next weeks, it became commonplace to hear Vincentís anguished roar throughout the tunnel passageways. Everyone, even the children, held silent for a moment when these plaintive calls rang out. Everyone respected the pain.

Though Vincent expressed his rage at the loss of his beloved, he seemed far away from sadness. In truth, he was afraid of it. Afraid of drowning in it, being crushed by it . . . its overpowering . . . peace.

As time went by, however, the tortured cries gave way to an even more tormented silence Ė and a social withdrawal that was far beyond Vincentís usual desire for privacy. His intense sorrow was conquering; he became a vanquished ghost whose lingering misery haunted every tunnel and chamber.

Such was his suffering that he could no longer participate in any activity he once enjoyed.

"Vincent! Where are you!?" cried Father one night when a reading group was discussing the military strategy of Julius Caesar. "You used to strike your fist against the table, pace about, and roar back at me in our debates!" Vincent had simply left the chamber and did not come again.

Maryís face was sternly set when she said, "Iím grandmother to this baby and I wonít have him denied his father!" It was Mary who set a visitation schedule for Jacob with Vincent; and it was only then that Vincent began to take some nourishment Ė and then, only immediately before his infant son was brought to him. Otherwise, he took no food or drink, and lay upon his bed all hours.

One evening, as Father made his way to Vincentís chamber for a visit, he heard Vincentís bass tones chanting something . . .

"My name is Death . . . my arms will hold you . . . when all other arms are tired . . ."

Lying on his bed, Vincent fantasized about the absence of pain he would experience after his death. Father paused in the passageway as Vincent recited the mournful quote over and over.

Father turned from the chamber, hurrying back to the pipes near the Hub where he could send the strongest message. His fears prompted a call to Peter, who visited the next day.

"Itís about Vincent, isnít it?" said Peter, when he observed Fatherís anxious expression.

"Yes! Come with me!" Father urged, tugging at Peterís sleeve and stepping into the dark corridors.

William, keeping watch, nodded to Peter and Father as the two doctors approached Vincentís chamber. They observed Vincent lying on his bed, curled on his side, eyes closed. Peter was shocked at the way Vincent looked. Vincent had taken on a skeletal appearance. He was gaunt and frail; his previously glorious mane now draped flat over his brow; deep hollows showed on his cheeks and under his eyes. His large, strong hands were now shrunken and drawn into loose fists. His massive shoulders bowed; his entire demeanor beaten, without hope, without power.

"My name is Death . . . my arms will hold you . . ." Vincentís strangled voice droned from the shadows.

Peter clutched Fatherís cloak, restraining him from entering. "Hold, Jacob," he said. "Donít disturb him."

The two old friends hesitated outside Vincentís chamber a few more moments, then, having heard enough, they retreated to the Library.

"Itís worse than I feared!" exclaimed Peter.

"Yes! Peter, is there someone Ė a physician Ė who can help Vincent?" Father waved distractedly toward the table. "Thereís tea . . . if you like . . ."

Peter poured cups of tea for both of them, considering.

"Do you mean . . . a psychiatrist, Jacob?"

"Yes, is there anyone you know? Anyone you could recommend?"

"You were always the one interested in psychology, Jacob!"

"There was Dr. Abrams, Jeffery Abrams, who graduated with us," said Father.

"Actually, Jeffery died some years ago . . . I was in London at the time. I assumed you knew. Iím sorry I didnít tell you . . . "

"Itís all right, Peter. He was a good man," Father responded, frowning . . . and thinking. After a beat, he asked, "Did he leave an apprentice?"

"Better!" answered Peter, remembering. "A daughter! Dr. Sharon Guisse. She was married to a New York City cop. He was killed two years ago Ė in the line of duty Ė tragic! She has a psychiatry practice here in the city."

"Do you think we could get in touch with her? To help Vincent?" Father asked, beginning to hope.

"Even if we could, Jacob, how would we manage it?"

"We have to find a way!"

After a warm embrace, the two doctors parted company, each determined to bring Vincent to some form of assistance. Father pulled out his maps of the city and the tunnels and began to pore over them.

"Thereís an old entry to the medical building where Peterís office is located on the first floor," Father said aloud, tracing the route with his hand. "Itís been sealed for years now . . . but we could reopen it," he continued, taking his glasses in his hand and folding them absentmindedly. "We could set up a screen across the office where the utility door is located and Sharon could meet with Vincent and still preserve his privacy!" Father was excited with his idea and rushed to the pipes to tap out a message to Pascal.

* * *

Sharon Abrams Guisse was a tall, slender woman with black hair cropped short over violet-colored eyes in a strongly featured face, flawless without make-up. Garnet and silver earrings dropped over a matching necklace; platinum and diamond wedding rings sparkled on the third finger of her right hand. She was dressed in a gray business suit with a soft mauve blouse and gray patent-leather heels.

"Peter!" she called when she spotted him sitting at a table in the bistro where they had arranged to meet. "Itís good to see you," she said, extending her hand. "I never thanked you for the donation you made after Richard was killed."

"I was glad to do it, Sharon," Peter replied, grasping her hand warmly and motioning for her sit across from him. "And I want you to know how much I admired your husband."

"Thank you," she said, taking her seat. "Now, how can I help you?"

Peter plunged right in: "I have a friend," he said. "Heís suffering a terrible loss Ė the mother of his child was brutally murdered. His father and I fear he may be suicidal."

"Has he made threats of suicide?" Sharon inquired.

"No, heís more passive and withdrawn. Heís lost the will to live. Weíre convinced if it werenít for little Jacob . . ."

"Jacob is his child?"

"Yes, grandson to Dr. Jacob Wells, Sharon. He and I and your dad went to medical school together."

Just then, a young waiter served two glasses of Chardonnay. "I took the liberty . . ." Peter explained with a smile.

Sharon nodded and took a sip of the wine. "Dr. Wells!" she said, "I remember him fondly. Do you want a referral for your friend?"

"I was hoping you could see him, Sharon."

"I havenít taken any new patients for some time now, Peter. And, I havenít done any grief counseling for several years."

"This man needs someone special. This loss is not his only issue. He will need a special arrangement to meet with you Ė if he will even agree to it at all. He is an extremely private person."

"First, tell me if you believe he is in a safe environment Ė that there is someone to supervise him and report any problems. Second, what do you mean by Ďprivateí . . .?"

"Yes, his family members take turns watching over him. They are in constant communication. The privacy issue . . . he . . . you would have to meet with him . . . without actually seeing him."

"Is he a fugitive, Peter?"

"No, no, nothing like that! Itís his appearance; he has a very unusual look. Heís self-conscious about it."

"Is he disfigured in some way?"

"Well, no, but it is a very different appearance Ė it would just be best for him if the two of you did not actually see each other."

"Peter, eye contact and observation of behaviors, posture, body language Ė itís all part of the therapy. Itís necessary. For both patient and therapist. It builds the relationship."

"I can believe that, Sharon. This man lives in a protected community. Youíll notice how educated he is. Itís just that heís never had to reveal himself to anyone . . . outside the community. I donít think it can work otherwise."

"Well, I must say, I am intrigued, Peter. And I would like to do a favor for you and Dr. Wells . . . " She opened her clutch and retrieved a business card. "Hereís my card," she said, handing it to him. "Call for an appointment. Iíll see him as a preliminary visit, assess his lethality, and let him know what I recommend."

"That would be a help! Thank you, Sharon, I truly appreciate it!"

The two lingered briefly, finishing their wine, then got up from their seats, shook hands, and parted ways.

* * *

Vincent stood in the passageway below the newly reopened cellar door to Marshall Medical Office Building. He was to meet with a Dr. Guisse at the urging of Father, Mary, Peter, and Pascal. The doctor had agreed to special accommodations for the meeting and his family had worked to provide access; therefore, Vincent felt some obligation to follow through. In truth, it was all Vincent could do that day to get off his bed and walk to this point. He looked up the metal stepladder, and, with a sigh, climbed to the entry door.

Once inside, Vincent walked to the storage closet as he had been directed. Opening the door, he saw another door that connected the storage area with an office. This was where he was to enter.

Opening this door, Vincent saw an armchair, a small side table bearing a water carafe, a drinking glass, and a box of tissues. A waste basket was on the floor beside a low sofa. An intricately carved wooden privacy screen was unfolded across the office, obscuring the view of the other half of the room. The lighting was subdued.

Dr. Sharon Guisse waited silently at Peterís desk, behind the screen, aware that her client was entering and taking a seat. From the location of the sounds, he was tall; though he did not seem to be particularly heavy. His step was light. There was a faint fragrance of candle smoke, leather, and something else like aromatic oils. An atmosphere heavy with sorrow accompanied him.

Out of the silence, Sharon said softly, "Mr. Wells? Please make yourself comfortable. I am Dr. Sharon Guisse."

Vincent sensed an empathic presence, overlaid with grief. He felt a connection. "Please call me Vincent, Dr. Guisse," he replied, taking a seat in the armchair.

"Yes, Vincent. Tell me . . . what brings you to therapy."

"Iím here because my father is worried about me."

"Your father is worried about you?"

"Yes, he thinks . . . heís worried . . . that I may be . . . dying . . ."

"That would worry a parent."

"Not all parents worry about their children, Dr. Guisse."

"Whose parents are we speaking of now, Vincent?"

"Mine . . . my . . . someone . . . left me to die the day I was born."

"Yet . . . you survived . . ."

There was no response, so Dr. Guisse went on, "Many children live with the question of abandonment, even as adults, and even if they have been nurtured in a loving adoptive family. The question remains Ė itís not uncommon."

With still no response from Vincent, she continued, "You say your father thinks you are dying. Are you dying, Vincent?"

"I hope I am . . . I have no will . . . to continue . . ."

"Have you a plan to bring about your death?"

Dr. Guisseís question was met only with the sound of quiet sobbing. She sat in silence, listening to the subjugated sounds from behind the screen.

Heís come here to cry, she thought, glancing at her white metal Rolex. They had been in session exactly eight minutes.

Forty minutes later, Dr. Guisse said, "Our time is coming to an end, Vincent. Iíd like to tell you what I think about your situation."

The sobbing subsided and an expectant silence emanated from behind the screen.

"Vincent, depression is anger turned inward. Itís classic melancholia, described by Freud as a response to loss, guilt, shame, and blame.

"Depression may be exogenous or endogenous Ė coming from outside or inside. We have only the patientís report to know which one exists. If parents or other family members lived with depression or other mood disorders . . ."

"I never knew my blood kin. I have lived with my adoptive family since the day I was born," was Vincentís reply.

"Iíd like to start you on medication," Dr. Guisse said.

"My father is a doctor. He has prescribed for me several times in the past. Medications have never been compatible with my body chemistry."

"Well, the substances lemon balm, rhodiola root, and St. Johnís Wort are natural remedies to reduce stress response and depression. I will leave the information here on the desk for you. And I want you to contract with me Ė that if you feel you may hurt yourself, you will call me before you take any action. Do you agree?"

"I agree. Thank you."

Something about Vincentís voice ran through Dr. Guisse and she felt great empathy for this tortured soul.

"Iíll be here next week at this same time, if you want to talk again . . ." Sharon said. She gathered her things and left through the front door. As she stepped to the curb for a taxi, she thought to herself, "And I was only going to meet with him this one time . . ."

* * *

At the next appointed time, Vincent entered Peterís office and reclined on the sofa. When Dr. Guisse greeted him from behind the screen, he opened with this comment:

"I cannot contribute to my communityís well-being. I want to . . . but I have no ability . . . no power . . ."

Dr. Guisse responded, "Avolition is a psychological state characterized by a general lack of desire, drive, or motivation to pursue meaningful goals. A person may show little participation in work, have little interest in socializing and self-care, or sleep or sit still, for long periods of time. There is poverty of movement, a restriction in initiation and production of goal-directed behavior. It is a symptom of your depression."

"William, our cook, has been making the teas you recommended," he said.

"It may take several weeks before you notice an effect," she replied. "Your energy level may increase in the near future. It may sound cold to say, but there is a recipe for suicide, Vincent:

"The will to die, the means to kill, and the energy to carry out the plan.

"This could be a vulnerable time for you. As your energy lifts, if the benefits of therapy and medication donít coincide with that lift in energy, you could experience the energy to carry out a plan of self-harm."

"I no longer feel that way. I . . . I . . . never really had a clear idea of how I would bring about my death. I imagined falling into the Abyss Ė a dangerous place near my home Ė but I could not make the walk there. I simply wanted to be removed from this life . . ."

Sharon indulged the silence that followed, and then remarked, "Tell me about your wife."

There was a long pause before Vincent answered. "We never formally celebrated our joining," he replied, "but she was the woman I loved and the mother of my son. She was the wife of my heart . . ."

Then the sobs began again, and Dr. Guisse settled in as silent witness to this sorrow.

At the end of the session, Dr. Guisse said, "Vincent, I want you to come next time prepared to tell me about this woman, about your relationship, your expectations for each other. And . . . Iíd like to know her name."

"Her name . . . is Catherine," he responded heavily. "She expected me to love her completely Ė and I never did."

* * *

Over the weeks, Vincentís sessions with Dr. Guisse retained the pattern of conversation at the beginning and at the end, with Vincent weeping throughout the remainder of the hour. Sharon allowed this catharsis, focusing on the emerging story of Vincent and Catherine. Most likely, Vincent had no other safe place to let these feelings out. And every week that you come here, is another week youíre alive, she thought.

Dr. Guisse slowly learned that Catherine had come into Vincentís life after a vicious attack in the city when he rescued her and brought her to his protected community to be cared for. Sharon could not miss the coincidence that Catherine had begun her relationship with Vincent while unable to actually see him. This parallel to the current situation was striking. She decided to open the topic in the next session.

"Vincent, the way you look is something you keep hidden. What do you think the effect of your appearance is on people?"

"It frightens them," he answered immediately.

"The others in your community, do they feel this way?"

"They accept me. Sometimes, we receive new members, and they must always be introduced . . . to me . . . carefully . . ."

"When did you first think of your appearance as frightening?"

Vincent was quiet, thinking back to his earliest memories, his childhood in Tunnels. He could only remember love and acceptance . . . except . . .

Dr. Guisse could tell his head was bowed as he answered, and she could hear the anguish in his voice.

"There was a family . . . they had a little girl . . . a beautiful child. They sought temporary sanctuary in our community . . . they were on their way to somewhere . . ."

Vincent continued: "I think I was about eight years old. I went to invite this little girl to our art fair . . . we all had pieces on display. Mine was a ceramic vase; it had a moon-and-stars design."

Dr. Guisse heard a sad little laugh from behind the screen. Then Vincent went on: "As I caught sight of her, I called out . . . she screamed when she saw me . . . she began to cry and run in the other direction. I Ė I did not understand. I thought something else had frightened her. I ran after her. Her parents came running, her mother began screaming, too. Her father threw a chair at me . . ."

Sharon waited through the painful silence. "They left that day. Later, I went back to the art room and smashed my vase," Vincent finished in a whisper.

After a moment, Dr. Guisse posed another question. "That familyís reaction Ė and your anger afterward Ė what did you do with those feelings?"

Vincent felt slightly opened by Sharonís inquiry, the way he remembered feeling when he discovered a new word or when he came to understand how something worked. He sat up on the sofa, giving serious consideration to the doctorís question.

"I see now that I put those feelings into academics and into physical activity. I swam more, ran more, climbed more. I read every book I could get. I would stay up at night to work on math problems or study languages."

"Those are the ego defense mechanisms of sublimation and compensation Ė engaging in socially acceptable behaviors to offset perceived deficits," Dr. Guisse responded. "A healthy mind strives for balance, Vincent. Strength and intellect may have been your contributions to your society."

After a pause, Sharon continued, "Vincent, you and Catherine . . . was your appearance a barrier?"

Vincent flashed back to that dreadful moment when Catherine first visualized him. How cursed he felt! And, yet, how blessed at the same time, to have gained her trust before he was actually revealed to her. He had never had a chance like that with anyone before. The first fragile, silken strand of their Bond was already in place.

"For the briefest moment . . ." Vincent answered softly. "After that, it was my own regret that lingered." And then the tears came.

At the sessionís end, Sharon asked Vincent if he was familiar with journaling.

"I kept a journal quite avidly for many years," he replied, at if remembering it suddenly now.

"But not since Catherineís death?"

Vincentís heart seized at the words. He saw clearly the book in the gift box. He recalled Catherine presenting him with a new journal after his terrible illness, when he still felt crushed into nothingness. She knew the healing power his writing could bring to him. "It seemed appropriate," she had said.

Behind the screen, Dr. Guisse stood up to collect her coat and bag. "Why donít you consider taking it up again?" she suggested.

* * *

Later that night, Vincent, not sleeping anyway, got up from the bed to sit at his desk. He took up the pen and opened the journal Catherine had given him. The inscription took his breath away for a moment.

With love all things are possible Ė Forever, Catherine

The words pierced his heart. Hesitantly, he turned to the first page. It was blank, fresh, inviting, daunting.

With great effort, his left hand began to push the pen into letters on the paper.

If my life could begin again, it would start with your death Ė

The great golden head collapsed onto the desk and the weeping began.

* * *

Painfully, Dr. Guisse was able to assist Vincent to describe his relationship and connection with Catherine. He described their time together as one with no overt or expressed expectations, though he acknowledged that every day had been a gift.

"Gifts I never deserved," he said.

Over the sessions, Dr. Guisse gently directed the conversation toward Vincentís sexuality. Upon hearing the stories of Lisa and Lena, she helped Vincent see that these experiences were two sides of the same coin. In one, he had been the suitor; in the other, he had been the object of anotherís affection. He acknowledged that his feelings for Catherine were colored by this history which most likely had ripple effects on his relationship with her.

Despite these insights, the pallor of pathos remained over him.

* * *

"What are some of your strengths, Vincent?" Dr. Guisse asked him toward the end of the next session.

He paused a long time before answering. "I love my family, my community," he said. "I can be trusted to keep a confidence. I have knowledge of literature. I have strength, endurance . . ."

"Do you think that Catherine was also strong . . . so long as she had you?"

Vincent felt an immediate, surprising sense of defensiveness. "She was always strong! She had her own strength . . ."

He slumped against the headrest of the sofa, exhaling in frustration. Sharon waited patiently while he considered the concept and the meaning.

"Itís just . . . just that I Ė I wanted to be the one who kept her safe . . ." Vincent continued.

"Then you have been carrying an enormous amount of responsibility," Dr. Guisse replied.

* * *

Tapping on the pipes announced Diana was Below. Father went to the Hub to meet her. They embraced warmly. "Diana, how good to see you. Come and sit down, Iíll get you some tea."

"No, no thanks, you go ahead and sit, Jacob. Howís the baby?"

"Heís well," Father answered with a sad smile. "Heís cared for in the nursery. We have several nursing mothers in our community just now, and they have set up a milk bank for young Jacob. Lena, Rebecca, Jamie, Mary, and Laura, who has returned to us, take turns bringing Jacob to visit Vincent twice a day."

"And how is Vincent faring?"

"Not as well, I fear. Heís withdrawn, he suffers so. The community has developed a routine of serving Vincent a meager meal, then, within the hour, bringing baby Jacob for a visit, before Vincentís strength . . . fails again. They keep fresh water at the bedside but he only drinks when he eats. He takes only a cup of stew, or bread and cheese, or a dish of fruit, never more than a few mouthfuls."

"You must be very worried . . ."

Father considered telling Diana about Dr. Guisse Ė Diana was a trusted helper. But he thought better of it, keeping the information to himself. "Yes, I am deeply concerned," he replied.

"I have something to tell you."

"Yes?"

"I know Vincent respects me and feels indebted to me . . ."

"Yes, we all do . . ."

"I also know that he will never love me Ė the way I love him . . ."

"Diana . . ."

"Let me finish . . . please. Iíve kept something from you, from him, from all of you. Something about Catherine. Iím trusting you with the truth, Jacob! There are still risks . . . you canít reveal what Iím about to tell you!"

Dianaís intensity was frightening.

"My dear, what are you saying?"

"Catherineís . . . not dead. She was revived in her apartment that morning and taken away to high security medical care. Sheís been kept in protective custody . . . all this time."

"Diana, itís been six months! I Ė many of us Ė we were at her funeral!"

"I know, Jacob, but Catherineís funeral and burial were a hoax. Maxwell needed the news headlines to keep Gabriel where we wanted him Ė and it paid off. The case is still not closed, however. Thereís more to do. It will be a few more months before she will be ready to come . . . home." Diana felt like a dice player whose bid is called and raised and then loses all.

Father sat speechless. How could this be? Catherine alive! Gabriel had not triumphed! Catherine could return to her life Ė to Vincent Ė to Jacob.

"You canít speak of this or ask any questions." Diana intoned. "The safe future of the entire Tunnel community is at stake. Do you understand? Do I have your word?"

"Yes, of course." Visibly shaken, Father saw Diana out then returned to his chamber, emotions warring within him.

"The worst and the best of times . . ." he thought bitterly, struggling with the irony of the situation.

Vincent may be . . . dying. Dying by his own hand Ė or by his own neglect. What a tenuous position! Unable to tell Vincent that his Catherine lives. And held captive witness to the tremendous grief Vincent was suffering.

Father went to the washstand beside his bed and poured water from the pitcher into the bowl. He splashed his face, and then pressed a towel to his eyes, trying to focus his memories and his thoughts.

* * *

Meanwhile, Diana walked the distance back to her loft. Riding up in the freight elevator, she contemplated her next move. She popped a frozen burrito into the microwave and cracked open a Mexican beer. She took one sip, then two, and then drained the bottle. Getting up to fetch another beer, she paused first to check the answering machine.

Joeís voice boomed out into the empty space. "Hey Bennett, just called to let you know your Colorado transfer came through. Still canít figure this out . . . I really thought New York was your home. Well, anyway, thought youíd want to know. Weíll just finish up this one last thing, and you can be on your way. Take care."

"Well, thatís the next move," said Diana with resignation, pulling the second beer from the fridge and retrieving the microwaved burrito.

She turned to look out the East window. "Goodbye, Vincent," she whispered, having learned long ago not to cry.

* * *

Over the next sessions, Sharon learned that Catherine had been employed in law enforcement; and that she had died as a result of criminal activities within her own department.

"Vincent, most men and women who go into law enforcement realize it can be a dangerous profession, from within or without," she told him.

"She stayed in it because of me. She wanted to help others, to help me." His voice was laden with regret.

"Iíll disclose something to you, Vincent. My husband was a police officer. He was killed by a 13-year-old in a convenience store robbery. He couldnít shoot the child . . . and the child shot him. It was my husbandís choice to do that work.

"Would you agree that it was Catherineís choice to do that work?"

Only muffled cries came from behind the screen.

That evening, home in her apartment, Sharon prepared for bed. She sat a moment and shed a few silent tears. It had been Richardís choice to do that kind of work, just as it had been Catherineís. It didnít make her feel much better, but there was some comfort in knowing that both Richard and Catherine had chosen to help people, even if it meant giving their lives. "Thank you, Vincent, for that insight," she murmured.

* * *

Father decided to tell Peter about Catherine. Secrets had been kept so long Below; and, now, there were fewer and fewer people who knew the original truths.

Jacob disclosed the astonishing story to Peter, who sat without speaking.

"We must tell him!" Father exclaimed, as he finished his report. "You know it too, Peter!"

"Jacob, how can we? How can we risk everything you and so many others have worked for?" Peter clutched his old friendís arms, imploring him. "If Vincent knows Catherine is alive, you know he will dash out of the Tunnels like heís done so many times before Ė to go to her! You canít expect him to do otherwise!"

Tears blurred Fatherís vision as he said, "We must go to him."

"Jacob, please reconsider! What kind of shock do you think this will be to Vincent? He questions his sanity already! Think of the consequences for all of us. What if there are still more details we donít know . . . ?

Father raked his hands through his hair, an anguished expression across his face. "We must go to him," he repeated with sad determination.

Peter sighed and rose from his seat. He gestured toward the outer passageway. "All right . . . proceed," he said.

The two men approached Vincentís chamber cautiously, nodding to Mouse, who was keeping watch. They stepped across the threshold. Father called out softly, "Vincent . . . we have something to tell you . . ."

Father continued, becoming eager now, "Something extraordinary. . ! We have news . . . news of Catherine . . . Vincent, sheís alive . . . She Ė she was rescued! She didnít die, Vincent! Your Catherine lives!"

To the doctorsí utter surprise, Vincent barely responded to Fatherís statement. He lay completely still on his bed, his breathing and his movement not changing.

After a moment, Vincent commented, "Truth is the daughter of Time." Then, softly, he said, "That is a blessing for Jacob. He must be returned to her as soon as possible." His voice was a croaking whisper.

"Vincent . . . this is not the reaction I would have predicted," said Father. "Do you mean you donít want to go to Catherine?"

Slowly, with great effort, Vincent turned a hollow expression upon them. His voice was full of pain when he said, "I cannot have her back in my life after all she has endured for my sake!

"I should be dead. That is the only way Catherine can be happy with our child.

"My love destroyed her life . . ." he moaned, shrinking into the bed pillows.

"It was Gabrielís evil that compromised everyoneís safety, not your love for Catherine!" argued Peter.

"It was Gabrielís fascination with my . . . difference that placed Catherine at risk!" Vincent countered bitterly, turning away from them to face the wall.

"Vincent! Iím at my witsí end with you!" Father shouted. "I only know that I love you!" he cried, turning abruptly to leave the chamber, followed by Peter.

* * *

Dr. Guisse was amazed to learn that Catherineís death had been a hoax.

"Vincent, I am frankly astonished at your cavalier attitude regarding Catherineís survival."

"Alive or dead . . . I robbed her of the last three years . . ." he replied, flatly.

Dr. Guisse allowed the usual lengthy silent period, and then said, "Vincent, from what you have told me, I believe Catherine always saw you as a gift and a complement to her life. Now that she is alive, the two of you Ė the three of you Ė have another chance.

"Maybe it was the possibility of your love that gave Catherine the courage and strength to carry on her pursuits for justice . . . her action was her own choice . . ."

Dr. Guisse was accustomed to no response from Vincent. After a moment, she offered, "Maybe, Vincent . . . you kept her alive the last three years."

Suddenly, slowly, with these words, Vincent felt as if a window had been opened into his heart. He was immobilized, yet he felt the advent of new energy.

Could it be true? Could Catherine have really leaned upon him to accomplish what she wanted to do? Was he, Vincent, her choice, after all?

He felt at once that he could breathe, really breathe deep into his lungs. For the first time in months he felt that he wanted to breathe. His body was warming with life, yet still frozen with doubt.

Sharon felt a shift of energy from behind the screen. "Vincent, letís talk about this again next week," she said, closing the session and realizing that this may be their last time together.

* * *

The next week, Dr. Guisse entered the office at the usual time and sat waiting for her client. Minutes passed with no sound of him, so she called out, "Vincent? Are you there?"

When only silence returned to her, she took a chance, got up, and looked behind the screen. On the sofa lay a small black velvet pouch with a satin drawstring. Picking up the object, she opened it to reveal a silver-framed pocket mirror; it appeared to be an antique. A cream-colored gift card was enclosed. In a flowing script, the message said, With gratitude, Vincent.

Sharon stared down at the mirror in her palm, and her own reflection within.

"We do have something in common, donít we?" she whispered. "We love them with all that we are, with all we could ever hope to be. Thank you, Vincent."

* * *

Catherine had never felt more full of life or positive energy! Everything she had hoped for Ė a return to Vincent and their son, defeat of Gabriel Ė it was all coming true! She had only to wait a few more weeks, and then she would be reunited with her family!

When the Witness Protection personnel came to transport her, Catherine contained her excitement and cooperated fully. She arrived in New York and was provided with funds to hire a taxi to her apartment, with the caution that she must touch base with the office upon her arrival.

Catherine paused only a moment to drop her bags and place the mandatory call to Joe. Then, she prepared to go Below, trusting Peter had delivered her message.

Vincent met her at the entrance to her apartment building; where they had first parted company after their initial time together, three years ago.

He gathered her in his arms and, to her surprise and delight, pressed his mouth to hers in a tender kiss. They parted, breathed, then kissed again. The heat spread between them, within them. It was not their first kiss, but it was the first one that was mutual, inclusive, and spoke of so much more to come.

Her arms encircled his neck. His arms supported her shoulders, and she nuzzled his throat, taking him in. "Mmmmmmmm," she murmured, "I never lost this sense of you!"

She felt his thin frame and reflected on all Peter had told her about the time she was away.

She pulled back a little, lightly grasping his cloak, her fingertips touching the ends of his long hair and looked up into his face.

"What is it?" he asked, adoring her.

"Vincent," she implored gently, "Tell me something you believe Ė really believe Ė about me Ė about us."

"I believe . . . I believe, Catherine . . ." he answered with all honesty, "I believe that you love me."

"I do, indeed! Vincent, I do love you! And I always will!"

"Always!" was Vincentís response.

Commitment forged with acceptance and there was no fear in between.

~ ~ ~

Epilogue

Diana opened the door to her new apartment. Tossing the keys on the kitchen counter, she turned to answer the telephone.

A womanís voice came on the line: "Diana, itís Catherine Chandler. I found your location. Donít worry, this is the only time I will use this number. I just want to thank you for your collaboration to get Jacob back. And for all of your help!"

"Chandler, I hope the three of you are really happy. . . I mean it," was Dianaís reply.

"I believe you, Diana," answered Catherine.

"And, besides," she continued. "How could anyone not love him?"

 

The End