Something New by Melinda Madison Vincent sat in thought with his elbows resting on his desk and his hands clasped before him. It had been one year since her death. It had also been one year since he had received the best gift of all, his son. Suddenly the small child waddled over to his father, slapped Vincent's lap and requested "Up!" Vincent bent down and lifted the boy onto his lap, kissed him lightly on the forehead, gathered him into his massive arms and wept. Jacob sat closely against his father's chest, oblivious to his tears. ******************** In the main living chamber, Mary, Rebecca, Samantha and Jamie were bustling about, hanging crepe paper streamers and colored balloons, preparing for Jacob's first birthday party. "Do you think Jacob will even know he's having a birthday?" Samantha quipped. "Samantha," Mary responded, "he may not, but this party is as much for Vincent as it is for Jacob. Vincent has been through a rough time. It's been a year since he lost Catherine, and he needs to be reminded that the day should be celebrated for Jacob's sake, not forever set aside for mourning." "Will Diana be here?" Jamie asked. "After what happened last night?" "I hope so," Mary sighed. "I think Vincent really wants her to be here, even though he won't admit it." ******************** Father entered Vincent's chamber in time to observe the tender scene between the man and his son. "Vincent? Am I disturbing you?" Vincent wiped the tears from his cheek. "Of course not, father, come in." Father walked over to where Vincent sat, holding Jacob in his lap. The old man scooped the boy up into his arms. "How's my favorite grandson?" "Father, he's your only grandson," Vincent commented with a half-hearted grin. "How are the party preparations going?" Father scowled. "The decorations are up, the guests will be arriving soon, and you and the guest of honor are running late. You have been moping for hours." Father gestured at Jacob, "It's time to celebrate this miracle, and discover joy in this day. Catherine would want this to be a happy occasion, not a depressing one. " "I'm sorry father," Vincent whispered. "You're right. I have now been so informed by nearly everyone. They are all right. I only wish I hadn't been so stubborn with Diana. Have you seen her yet?" "I haven't seen her, but I find it hard to believe she'd miss this day." Vincent rose and gently touched the old man's shoulder. "I hope you're right about that too." ******************** Diana sat sideways on her couch. Before her sat a stuffed giraffe. She had seen it this morning in the window of FAO Schwartz, and remembering how Jacob had loved the picture of the giraffes in his favorite story book, she simply had to buy it. Now she was almost sorry she had. "How in the hell do I wrap this thing?" she wondered aloud. She settled her dilemma by placing it in a white trash bag and tying it with a red bow. Diana had been contemplating all day whether or not she should go below tonight. She had thought about sending the gift with Joe. When she asked him to deliver it for her, he had replied, "No way Bennett, take it yourself. You can't avoid Vincent. This is something you have to deal with." Diana went over the events of the previous evening in her head. "Oh, Vincent," she muttered, "What have I done?" Vincent had come to her roof the previous evening. "He was obviously upset. . . he needed your understanding. . . and what did you do?" Diana realized she was talking to herself. "I'm going insane," she said. "I must be going insane." ************** "Vincent. Catherine is gone. I know how you loved her, and I know how you miss her. I don't expect you to forget about her, but Jacob needs you too. He needs all of you! And. . . so do I." Her tone was sharp and direct. Diana had always been there for Vincent, had comforted him through his grief, but tonight was different. Diana no longer had the strength to be his counsel. She loved him, but was giving up hope of his ever loving her. This unfulfilled love was physically painful, and she had to discuss it with Vincent. Now may not be the proper time for him, but it was the proper time for her. Vincent backed away from Diana. He had never seen her like this. Yes, Diana was blunt. She always told him exactly what she thought. It was an honest quality in her that Vincent admired, but she never expressed to him such an attitude of animosity toward Catherine, toward him. 'How dare she?', he thought. 'Catherine was my life. . . is my life. And this woman is telling me to let that go.' "Diana," there was distrust and anger in Vincent's eyes as he spoke. "Catherine and I, what we shared, meant everything to me. A year ago that was taken away. How can I put that behind, when I have a constant reminder of her existence?" "That's a helluva way to refer to your son, Vincent. 'A constant reminder of her existence.' He's a child, not catherine's ghost. You have been wallowing in misery for a year now. Tomorrow is Jacob's birthday, and you should celebrate for him, with him. It is supposed to be a birthday party, not a pity party. Don't you think that's what Catherine would want? Don't you think that's what Jacob deserves?" "Are you suggesting that I would neglect the needs of my son? That I haven't been there for him?" "No Vincent. But you have been spending less and less time with him as this day got nearer." Vincent turned away. He knew deep down that what Diana said was true. Being with Jacob as his birthday approached sent memories of Catherine's death shivering through his mind. But those below were sympathetic. They seemed to understand. Diana used to understand, so why all of a sudden had she grown so cold? "Diana, I must go," Vincent entered the fire escape. She had hit a nerve, and he did not care to discuss it with her any further. They had never had an argument, but he felt one boiling inside him now. He had no intention of allowing these emotions to take hold. "Fine, run from this," Diana responded with a look that froze Vincent in his tracks. "Run from me." She was not finished with this conversation and had no intention of letting him run away from it. "What would you have me do, Diana?" Vincent's response was equally as cold as hers had been. As he stepped back onto the roof-top, his tone of voice was sarcastic. Vincent noticed tears welling up in Diana's eyes. She tried to hide them and tried to retain her tough exterior. Vincent saw a weakness in her he had not seen before. His tone softened. "Diana, tell me what brought this on. I don't want to upset you. I have always been able to discuss Catherine with you, and tonight of all nights I feel her presence within me. My life was changed forever at this same time last year. . . ," he paused and looked down at the woman before him, who now seemed so vulnerable and frail. Stepping closer to her, he said, "Tell me, Diana, what's wrong?" Diana did not know just how to tell Vincent what she felt needed to be said. "I just wonder what you're like when you're happy. Will you ever allow yourself to be happy again? You and me, Vincent, we talk, we discuss literature, music, and philosophy. We walk through the park and the tunnels. We spend hours together playing with Jacob. But somehow, our conversations always end up on Catherine." Diana took a deep breath that seemed to say 'here I go', and continued, "I just wonder if that will ever change, that's all. You look at me, Vincent, and I know you care. Yet you never physically reach out to me, you never so much as touch my hand. I'm not sure what you want from me. I'm your friend, but is there more to us than friendship?" Diana waited, but Vincent did not respond. He just looked at her, blankly. "Vincent, I love you. And, I don't know what to do about it." She reached out and touched his cheek, but Vincent pulled away. Vincent was speechless. He had been so focused on his own feelings. . .feelings of grief for Catherine, feelings of loneliness for her, that he hadn't realized what had been developing between him and Diana. Did he love her? Did he want to give himself to her, as he had given himself to Catherine? Would he lose her friendship if he didn't. Would he lose her friendship if he did? Confused and somewhat frightened, all he could say was "I can't, Diana. I'm sorry. I just cant." He lowered himself to the fire escape and was gone. Diana wept. ******************** Everyone was gathered in the main living chamber. All attention was on Jacob, who sat in his highchair. A gigantic piece of chocolate iced cake sat before him. "Happy Birthday dear Jacob. . .Happy Birthday to you!" the singers finished. "Cake!" exclaimed the toddler as he smashed it between his fingers and stuffed it into his mouth. Within seconds he was covered with crumbs and icing. Vincent didn't notice Diana enter through the side doorway. He was preoccupied washing a little pair of sticky hands. Diana laid her gift on the table and greeted the other tunnel dwellers. She felt a hand on her shoulder and jumped, startled. "I'm sorry, Diana, I didn't mean to sneak up on you," Father laughed. "I'm glad you could join us." "I wouldn't miss it!" Diana stated matter-of-factly. Father could sense her discomfort. Father looked in his son's direction. "He's been asking after you," Father informed her. "Does everyone know about last night?" Diana asked. "No," Father answered, "just a few. Mary, Jamie, Rebecca, and Samantha walked in on my conversation with Vincent last night. We have all cornered him about his mood as of late." Father continued, "Diana, my son is one of the most stubborn people I know. But, he is beginning to realize that he has Jacob to think of as well as himself. . .and he knows Catherine would have wanted him to go on living." Father tapped Diana's cheek lightly, ". . . he cares for you a great deal, Diana. Please don't give up on him." Vincent finally spotted Diana f rom across the room. He avoided eye contact, not knowing what he would say to her. As he turned to hand Jacob over to Jamie, he felt a hand on his. "Vincent." The voice was soft, shy, but he knew it was her. Vincent took a deep breath, sending a shudder up his spine. Finding his courage, he turned to look at her. "Diana." He still couldn't look her in the eye. "I didn't think you'd be here." His voice was flat, not exactly welcoming. "I didn't know if I should come. I wanted to be here for Jacob's birthday. I had to give him his gift. And," she paused, "I wanted to see you too." Vincent lowered his head. Diana felt uncertain. She began to walk passed him toward the nearest exit. "I'm sorry, Vincent. I'll go." "Diana. . ." Vincent grasped her wrist as she passed. More tenderly he said, "come here." He pulled her around to face him, still holding onto her with a somewhat painful grasp. As he loosened his hold, he reached down and allowed his large hand to envelop her small one. They stood staring at each other, neither saying a word. Diana felt herself tremble as she folded her fingers around his. For a few moments, which seemed more like hours, they remained still and quiet. Diana wasn't sure why Vincent was holding her hand, but she was not about to ask questions. As sensitive as they had both been last night, she was afraid to utter a sound. Finally Vincent broke the silence. "Diana, I am glad you're here." He released her hand. "And Jacob will be glad to see you as well." Together, they walked over to where Jacob was playing with Jamie. "He wants to open the packages," Jamie informed them. "Then he shall," Vincent responded. Jamie and Vincent placed all the packages on the big rug in the center of the chamber floor. Diana joined the crowd as they all sat and stood in a circle to watch Jacob tear into the brightly colored wrappings. Jacob seemed to have as much fun with the papers, ribbons and bows as he did with the contents of the boxes. Cullen had carved him a pull toy in the shape of a dog. It's tail bobbled on a spring as Jacob pulled it around the room. Mary had knitted him a sweater, and Rebecca had made him a pair of leather shoes. Jacob could've cared less about the clothes. He reached for the large bag Diana had wrapped earlier that day. "And this one is from Diana," Vincent informed the tot. Vincent assisted him with removing the ribbon, and Jacob pulled the brightly colored giraffe from the bag. "Raffer!" exclaimed the delighted little boy. He hugged his glorious new friend and planted a slobbery kiss on the giraffe's nose. "Tell Diana thank you, Jacob," came his father's instruction. Jacob reached over to Diana, seated beside Vincent. "T'ank you, mama," he said. Diana was shocked. Had she heard correctly? Sure, she had spent a great deal of time this past year below, with Vincent and the others, caring for and playing with Jacob. But she had never expected him to see her as his mother. She certainly never encouraged him to call her 'mama.' She and Vincent had shown him pictures of Catherine, which were referred to as 'mommy.' Could he have mistaken her for Catherine? Diana did not know how to respond. She knew everyone had heard the child's remark, and she was somewhat embarrassed. "You're welcome, Jacob," was all she could muster, as she reached out and ruffled his hair. Then she looked at Vincent and saw a disturbed look on his face. ******************** With the party ended, and Jacob tucked neatly in bed, giraffe by his side, Vincent walked Diana back to her usual tunnel entrance. It was the most awkward walk they had ever shared. "Diana," Vincent's voice was deep and shaky. "We need to talk. . .about the other night . . .about tonight. . .about you and me. This tension between us is unbearable." "I know." Her response was soft. All of her emotions welled up in her throat and she could hardly speak. "I'm sorry, Vincent. I never expected Jacob to come out with that. I know I'm not his mother. I love him. He's a terrific kid, but I don't want to replace Catherine. I haven't been trying to replace her." It was Diana this time who turned their conversation to Catherine. Vincent stopped her. "Diana, Jacob will understand about Catherine in time. . .but it is you who plays with him. . .babysits. . .changes diapers and nurses his hurts. It is easy to see how he would associate you with his mother. You are with him as often as I am. And lately you've been there more. Lately, I have been in another world rather than focusing on this reality." "Vincent, it's ok. I understand your pain. Catherine left a void in your heart that I know I can never fill. I should've just been the friend you needed last night. Instead, I was selfish." The words came more easily now to both of them. The discomfort and space between them began to disappear. "Diana," Vincent's voice called her name, interrupting her train of thought, "you were right. I have been absorbed by self pity. I need to allow myself to start a new chapter in my life. But, I don't know how. I need your help, Diana. . .I need you. I want to include you in that chapter. I guess I've known that all along, but have never been willing to face the possibilities, until now." Diana felt her heart climb to her throat. She was suddenly anxious, tired, happy, scared, excited, and sick to her stomach all at the same time. She had waited for this man to face these feelings for at least the past five months, and now that he seemed ready to begin, she was caught by surprise. 'Get it together Bennett,' she coached herself. 'Don't screw up this time.' "I. . .," she began then sighed. 'Ok good, I can form a syllable,' she thought. "I think you have actually rendered me speechless, Vincent. Wild, huh? Me, a red-head, a cop, the queen of come-backs, speechless." Vincent smiled and seemed to enjoy her discomfort. Their eyes met in a gaze that eliminated all need for words. Soothed by the comfort of his sea-blue eyes, Diana was finally able to think clearly. "Vincent, I want to be a part of that chapter," was all she needed to say. Vincent opened his arms and drew her in. Diana allowed herself to melt into his embrace. She rested her head on his chest and let the sound of his breath encompass her. She felt his massive chest rise and fall. She felt the strength of his arms around her shoulders, and she didn't even shudder when his hand stroked her hair, then gently caressed her neck and back before finally settling around her waist pulling her closer. 'How could I have been so blind,' Vincent asked himself. 'To not have opened my mind and my heart sooner to accept this gift.' Vincent was well aware of his senses. He could feel his heart beat faster and harder. He looked down at the delicate flower in his arms. 'She's not so tough,' he thought. Diana was warm and soft against him. He let both hands clasp behind her waist as she pulled back a little to look up at him. Her wide eyes met his and he felt a magnetic pull toward her. He desperately wanted to kiss her, but he was unsure how she would react. He had never initiated a kiss with a woman before. Vincent knew that if he did kiss Diana, there would be no turning back. Vincent lowered his mouth to meet hers. His lips touched hers lightly, softly, gently, and Diana responded automatically. The kiss was short, but deliberate, and in that one brief moment, their relationship was changed. As their lips parted, Vincent loosened his grip on Diana. He lowered his head allowing his mane to hide the expression on his face. He was somewhat ashamed of his actions, unsure that he had not overstepped some boundary of friendship that he ought not to have crossed. Noticing Vincent's change in demeanor, Diana reached up to this gentle giant and stroked his hair back out of his face. "That was nice," she said. Vincent looked at the woman before him. She was smiling. At him. Because of him. "Yes," was the only word he could say. Suddenly Vincent realized he was afraid. Afraid of love? Afraid of loss? Afraid of forgetting Catherine? Or of losing Diana? "What's wrong, Vincent?" Vincent thought carefully about his response. "I'm afraid, Diana. Afraid of loving you too much. Afraid of hurting you, and afraid of losing you. I'm also afraid of losing Catherine, afraid my heart will forget her." Diana was now thoroughly confused. 'He kissed me, and now he's telling me no?' She walked toward him. "Of losing me, Vincent? Where am I going?" she said lightly, trying to lift his spirits. "Catherine died because she loved me. Gabriel killed her, because he wanted her child, my child, Diana. A relationship with me can only bring you harm. I don't want to relive that." Diana looked at him in dismay. She shook her head with a frustrated grin. She did not feel the anger she felt last night on her roof. All Diana could feel now was a sense of disbelief. It almost made her laugh. This man loved her, she knew it. The old Diana, tough exterior, fighting spirit was back. She was going to make him listen to her, for once and for all. Her mood was scolding, but her voice was not loud. She spoke not angrily, but with determination. As she spoke she paced before him, gesturing somewhat dramatically. "For crying out loud, Vincent. How many times have we been through this? Gabriel killed Catherine, you didn't. You are not responsible. Had you never found her, loved her, she would surely have died long before. You saved her, Vincent. You gave her strength, a reason to continue." Diana paused to see that Vincent was watching her every move. "And as for forgetting Catherine, that will never happen. She is in your heart forever. Keep her there, remember her, love her, and know that she is with you, always. But, Vincent, don't let your love and loss of Catherine end your life too. You know the truth, Vincent. You don't need me to constantly remind you of it. So, I am not going to have this conversation with you again. This is the last time." The lecture ended. Vincent stood like a punished child against the tunnel wall. "Are you finished?" he asked. She nodded, knowing her message had been delivered and received. "Good." Vincent said. "Then this lesson is over, teacher?" Diana nodded again, realizing she may have been a little too tough on him. "Perhaps you would like to ground me, or send me to my room?" Vincent said sarcastically, as if to say 'Don't treat me like a child.' His tone was beginning to piss Diana off and she thought, 'then don't act like one.' "Why did you kiss me?" Diana finally asked. This question dug at the very depths of Vincent's soul. 'Because I am in love with you' are the words he wanted to say, but he couldn't bring himself to utter them. He was not yet ready to admit his feelings for this woman, and he was uncomfortable with how she had acted just now. Her question burned in his mind. He couldn't believe she asked such a thing. He was hurt, and a little angry. It was his turn to teach her a lesson. Vincent just stared at Diana, and crept toward her. As Vincent neared Diana, she saw a look on his face she had not seen before. For a moment she was actually frightened. She backed herself into the tunnel wall, and she clung there for dear life. Vincent looked angry. No, not angry, tense? No, not tense either. What was going on? Diana didn't know. All she knew was that she was unable to move and unable to speak. Vincent stopped directly in front of her, and braced his hands on the tunnel wall, one on each side of Diana. She pressed her back hard against the wall as if trying to escape, but there was no way out. She was trapped. She knew he would not hurt her, but she was, nevertheless, uncomfortable now. Vincent continued to stare at her, then he allowed the entire weight of his body to lean against her, pressing her even harder against the tunnel wall. And then, he kissed her again. Not slowly this time. Not softly, but passionately. Diana felt his teeth clash against hers, felt his tongue slide into her mouth., searching for and then caressing hers. She felt his body respond to the intimacy shared. This kiss seemed to last forever. Diana was startled that Vincent was capable of such aggression, but she let herself succumb to it. He finally pulled away, still leaning his hands on the wall beside her and looking her directly in the eye. "That's why, Diana," was all he said. After a slight pause, he added, "Does that frighten you?" Diana looked back into the eyes of this man before her. She was the shy one now. "No." Vincent knew she was lying. "Well, it frightens me," he said. His voice was strong and gruff. He almost growled at her. "That is why I was reluctant to touch you, to get too close. You ignite a flame within me, Diana, that I do not know how to extinguish." There was a long pause. Vincent backed to the other side of the narrow tunnel. His voice calmed. "Diana, I have no idea what happened in that passageway with Catherine. I have no idea, no memory of how my son was conceived. If I hurt her. . .if I was as forceful with her as I was just now with you. . .I don't want to hurt you, Diana." Diana wasn't sure if he meant emotional hurt or physical hurt. She gathered he was talking of physically hurting her. "I don't believe you ever hurt Catherine, Vincent. And I don't believe you could ever hurt me. Alright, I'll admit that you did frighten me a little just now, but only because I never expected you were capable of such passion. You caught me off guard. You weren't forceful. Such passion and desire are not physical abuse, Vincent. That kiss wasn't unpleasant, you know. I felt you respond to it." Vincent was insecure due to her acknowledgment of him, but he did not let it show. He rescinded his dominant attitude and kissed Diana lightly on the cheek. "It's late, and you have work tomorrow. You should get yourself to bed." For a moment, Diana thought of inviting herself back to his chamber and allowed herself to consider the possibility, but she knew that neither she nor Vincent were ready to fully act on their physical attraction. "So should you," she said, as she climbed the ladder to her loft. "Good night, Vincent." And with that, she was gone. ******************** Vincent stood alone. He felt alone. He began to walk back to his chamber. His stride fell more quickly upon the tunnel floor, and then he was running. He ran with the strength of a hurricane, until he reached the sanctity of his bed. Once there, he slept. He dreamt. He tossed and turned. He awoke several times and went to check on his son. He remembered how Jacob had called Diana 'mama.' He smiled. He thought of Catherine. He cried. Was he betraying her. He thought about Diana. If only Catherine could give him a sign that it was alright. That she approved of what he was feeling. As Vincent stood looking down over his son's crib, he heard the words. 'Though we go mad we shall be sane.' Those words pulled at his heart, stabbed at his very being. His mind continued, 'Though we sink through the sea we shall rise again.' Vincent knew what he had to do. ******************** Diana awoke, for about the tenth time, and looked at the clock. It was now three a.m. She gave up the idea of sleep, fixed herself a pot of coffee, got dressed and prepared for the day ahead. 'Oh, Cathy,' she thought, 'Don't hate me. But, please let him go.' Diana gathered her keys and her purse and flew out the door. Her mission was clear in her mind. ******************** The night air was cool. There was scarcely a star in the sky. The moon was full. Vincent kneeled down beside Catherine's grave. He placed a single red rose beside the headstone as he had done many times this past year. He looked around to see that he was not being watched, and began to speak lowly. "Catherine. . .I come to you tonight, because I need to ask for your guidance. Or rather, I need to ask for your approval. Catherine, I have met someone. . .a woman. I have told you of her before. Her name is Diana. She is the one who helped me find our son." Vincent paused, not sure of how to continue. He lifted his fingers to the headstone and traced the letters in Catherine's name. "Catherine, my love," he continued, "know that I will always love you. I miss you and wish you were here. Catherine, I don't want to be alone anymore. I know you would never expect me to be. It's Diana, Catherine. I do love her. But. . .I feel as though I'm betraying your love. I need to know that it's alright to love her, and to continue to love you. You are always with me, always in my heart. Please, Catherine, tell me it is alright." As Vincent looked up he saw a shadowy figure emerge from behind the trees. He studied the figure longingly. Her hair flowed over her shoulders. Her eyes were intensely focused on him. She smiled. Vincent's heart began to race. He began to tremble. There she was standing before him and he was without words. "Diana," Vincent began, "how long have you been there?" "I just got here, Vincent. I suddenly felt compelled to come and talk with Catherine. I didn't expect to see you here tonight." "Diana," Vincent continued, puzzled, "I came here to talk with Catherine. . .about you and about me. . .about us." Vincent paused and stood to face her. Diana walked toward him and reached out to take his hands. He accepted her hands into his own, willingly, knowing her presence was a sign from Catherine. "What did she tell you, Vincent?" Diana asked. Vincent looked into her eyes, raised one hand to caress her long auburn hair, and smiled. "She sent you to me, Diana. She must have brought you here." Vincent looked around towards Catherine's grave and then back to Diana. "Give me a moment, and then I will walk you home." Vincent knelt down again to where Catherine lay. "Thank you, my love," he whispered. He placed a kiss on his hand and delivered it to the stone, then rose and returned to Diana's side. ******************** Vincent walked Diana back to her loft. Hand-in-hand they took the back alleys, enjoying the sights and sounds of the city. Their conversation was light. They discussed Jacob's birthday, and the music they could hear coming from the park. When they arrived at Diana's loft, the sun was beginning to break the horizon. They both knew that Vincent would have to get home soon. Diana remembered she was to meet Joe this morning to discuss a new case, anyway. So, it looked as if any chance of getting down to discussing that kiss or the evening's turn of events would have to wait. "Diana, I must go." Vincent looked at her regretfully. "Yes, Vincent. I know." "Will you come below this evening, Diana?" Vincent asked. "I would like to see you, to talk, to sort this all out." Vincent knew he could come to Diana's loft, but for some reason, unknown to him, he wanted her to come into his world. Perhaps being at home would make the pending discussion more comfortable for him. Diana nodded. "I can take off work at four and be there by four-thirty. I'd like to spend some time with Jacob too," she added, "if it's ok." "Diana, you don't need to ask my permission to spend time with Jacob. Four-thirty is fine. I'll have William set an extra place for supper." As Vincent turned to leave, he heard Diana whisper, "I'll see you then." Vincent turned around and walked back to where Diana stood. He placed a gentle kiss on her cheek. "I'll see you then," he said. ******************** Diana was half an hour late to meet with Joe. "Glad you could make it, Bennett." Joe's voice was half sarcastic and half humoring her. "Rough night?" "Don't even start with me Joe. Yes, it's been a very rough night, but I think the story may have a happy ending." "Made up with Vincent, huh?" Joe's eyes sought more information than Diana intended to share. "Yeah," Diana smiled. "We went to see Cathy. I think she likes me." Joe was a little puzzled to hear Diana speak of Cathy as if the two actually conversed. He never asked questions about her apparent psychic ability, though it seemed to play a large part in her success on the job. "Diana," he said, "Cathy would like you. . . very much." Diana had a hard time concentrating on the day's work. Her mind kept traveling back to Vincent. What more could he plan to discuss with her that hadn't already been said. She felt anxious. She wanted to see him. She was hopeful about their relationship, but fearful that this meeting would turn out like those of the past two evenings. She had an afternoon meeting with detective Gregg Hughes, which seemed to last forever. Finally the clock struck four. Diana didn't even hear Gregg say "have a great weekend Bennett," as she flew out the door. ******************** Anxiously Diana entered the Central Park drainage pipe, careful not to be noticed, and headed below. Diana had made her own way below many times and was most familiar with this particular entrance. However, she always took her chalk, just in case she took a wrong turn. If she were to get lost down here, it could be awhile before she was found. Nathan was on watch at the first post, closest to the park. He heard footsteps and popped open the grate to have a look. "I thought it was a lady's steps," he spouted off. "Hello, Diana." Diana bent down to see the person she was addressing. "Oh, hi, Nathan." She visited with him for a few minutes then continued down the tunnel. When Diana reached the spiral staircase, the stone circle as it was sometimes called, she was reminded of Gregory. She had held on to him as tightly as she could to keep him from falling. 'He didn't really slip,' she said to herself. 'He had to "make it right".' The vision of him falling into the abyss unnerved her. She remembered how Vincent had arrived too late and sat behind her on the staircase. It was the first time she could recall him touching her. He had placed his hands on her shoulders to reassure her that Gregory did what he thought he had to do. She still felt that she had failed him somehow. Diana proceeded down the stairs. She paused a moment at the spot where Gregory had jumped and looked down. 'Wow!' Looking down made her dizzy. She backed up against the wall to center herself before continuing. 'One step at a time, Bennett.' She hugged the wall as she walked on, wishing she hadn't peered out over the edge. "One step at a time," she said aloud. And then. . .she slipped. ******************** It was four-thirty, and Diana had not arrived. Vincent waited patiently at first. 'She must have had to work late.' He waited until five o'clock. Now he was getting a little worried. 'She could have sent word that she was running late.' Vincent realized that she would have done exactly that. Something had to be wrong. Vincent grabbed his son and headed for Father's chamber. "Ah, Vincent. Come in." Father reached out instinctively for his grandson. "Father, Diana was supposed to be here a half hour ago. I think something may be wrong. Will you watch Jacob?" "Of course. But, Vincent, I'm sure she's fine. . ." Father may be right. Diana could've gotten tied up at work, but he had to be sure. Before the old man could finish, Vincent was gone. He'd check her loft first. Perhaps he would find her there, sleeping, after a long day. Vincent took the tunnel exit closest to her building. He climbed to her rooftop and rapped at the window. When she did not answer, he tripped the lock and entered. Diana was no where to be found. Vincent looked around for a clue that she had been there. There was no obvious evidence that she had been home from work. Just as he turned to leave, the phone rang. God how he wanted to answer it, but he let it ring. After six rings, her machine picked it up. Vincent heard Diana's voice coming from the small, black machine. "If you let it ring six times, it must be important, so leave a message and I'll call you back." The next voice he heard was Joe Maxwell. "Hey, Bennett. I know you just left here a little over an hour ago, but I thought I could catch you before you left. Guess not, so call me when you get back." An hour ago? Vincent looked at the clock. It was twenty after five. She must have left work as planned around four. She must have headed below. Knowing Diana would take the park entrance, being more familiar with that section of tunnels, he headed to the street to retrace her path. When he reached Nathan's post, the young man popped out from his hiding place and faced Vincent. "Geez, Vincent, you're late! Diana's probably in your chamber waiting for you by now." "Nathan, you've seen her? How long ago?" "'Bout an hour ago." With that, Vincent was gone, running down the tunnels at full speed. He slowed his pace only slightly when he reached the stone circle. He had traveled about halfway down the stairs when he saw her crumpled form at his feet. In an instant he was at her side. "Diana!" he called out, but she did not answer. Quickly he checked her pulse and her breathing. She was alive, but unconscious. She had a gash on her forehead which definitely needed stitches, and Vincent examined her eyes, noticing the signs of a concussion. He had to get her to Father. He lifted her fragile form into his arms and headed rapidly for home, stopping only briefly to tap out a message on the pipes. ******************** Father and Mary were waiting in Vincent's chamber. Vincent lay Diana in his bed and carefully propped the pillows under her head. Father immediately went to work, with Vincent pacing nervously behind him. Once Diana had been stitched and treated, Vincent stopped pacing and asked, "Will she be alright, Father?" "She's got a few bruises, Vincent, but no broken bones. She's taken a nasty bump on the head and is not yet awake. You were right, she does have a concussion, Vincent, and she needs to be closely watched for at least the next 24 hours. But, I think she will be alright." Father turned to leave. "Call me immediately if there is any change, or if she wakes up." Vincent nodded. "Thank you, Father." "Do you need me to stay, Vincent?" Mary asked. "I'll sit with her." "No, Mary. I'll watch over her." "Alright. Then at least let me keep Jacob for the night. Sarah has him now. I'll go and get him." Mary started to leave the chamber, when Vincent stopped her. "Mary," he embraced her. "Thank you." Mary noticed the tears in Vincent's eyes. She looked up at him and innocently asked, "Do you love her, Vincent?" Stunned by Mary's question, Vincent stood silently for awhile before responding. "Yes, Mary, I do." Mary gave Vincent a motherly pat on the cheek. "Have faith, Vincent. She'll be alright." ******************** Vincent sat at his table reading for hours. He had read the words on the pages of the book before him, but for the life of him couldn't remember what they said. He placed the book down and studied Diana. She was here, in his bed, hurt and asleep. She looked so peaceful as she slept. He reflected on how Catherine had lay there, in the same spot, healing. 'Please be alright, Diana.' Vincent sat back in his chair, trying to relax. He could set up the cot and try to sleep, but he didn't want to. He wanted to watch her until she was awake. He picked up his book and tried again to read. He had barely read a page when he dozed off. A few hours later, he was aroused by the ruffling of sheets. It was Diana. Was she waking up? She began to stir but continued to sleep. Vincent walked over and sat on the bed next to her. He reached down and tucked the quilt up over her shoulder. She was lying on her side with one hand tucked under the pillow and the other resting softly on top of it. Vincent noticed how small her hand was, and he wanted to hold it. He wanted to feel her fingers intertwined with his. Lightly, he reached down and brushed a stray strand of her hair out of her face. As he did so, Diana shifted. His lap became her pillow, and she gripped his thigh to pull herself to him. Still, however, she did not wake up. Vincent did not know what to do. He had never had a woman this close to him, in such an intimate position. His heart pounded deep within his chest, and he took a deep breath to relax. He did not try to get up, and he did not move her. Rather, he reached down and began to stroke her hair. Gently, he ran his fingers through each auburn wave. He parted her hair using his nails, allowing them to lightly scrape against her scalp. This sensory stimulation worked, because Diana opened her eyes. It took her a minute to orient herself to her surroundings. She remembered falling and realized she was in Vincent's chamber now. She did not sit up, but scrutinized her somewhat odd position. Vincent continued to stroke her hair. Diana could feel his nails scratching her lightly. She could feel the firm muscles of his legs beneath her. She was comfortable. "That feels nice," she said. Vincent sighed in relief. "How do you feel?" he asked, knowing he should go and summon Father. "Achy. Tired. My head hurts, but I'm alright." "You've got stitches," Vincent advised, "and a concussion. You've been out for hours. That's hardly alright." "I slipped on the stairs, and I couldn't get up. That's the last thing I remember." "You're very lucky you weren't near the edge. I'm very lucky you weren't near the edge." Vincent did not want to think about what could've happened. He could not imagine losing Diana too. He could not go through that pain again. Diana turned a little, still lying in Vincent's lap, so that she could see his face. She smiled up at him, and tried to focus her hazy eyes. "You look tired too. You want your bed back?" She asked him, knowing he would not make her move. "No. You're fine. I'll sit here with you. Rest now." Within minutes Diana was asleep again. Vincent placed a pillow behind his head and leaned back against the wall. Soon he was sleeping too. ******************** That is how Father found them: Vincent and Diana together in Vincent's bed. Diana still slept in his lap. "Vincent?" Father entered the chamber with an inquisitive look on his face. "Come in, Father. I'm awake." Vincent lifted Diana lightly from his lap and repositioned her on the pillows beside him. He rose and moved to sit in the chair behind his writing table. "I'm sorry, Vincent. I didn't mean to disturb you. I just came to see how she was doing." Father looked at his son. Vincent appeared embarrassed by the scene Father had just walked in on, innocent though it was. "Has she awakened yet?" Father asked. "Yes, briefly last night." "And you didn't call for me?" "I'm sorry, Father. She spoke a few words then went back to sleep. I saw no point in disturbing her further, or you for that matter." Vincent could tell Father was displeased. He continued, "She was well oriented and remembered her fall. She said she was tired and sore, but alright. She did not appear to be in any danger or distress, or else I would have called for you." Father chuckled softly. "Vincent, you would have made a fine physician. Call me when she wakes up. I want to examine her." "I'm awake." Diana stirred and opened her eyes. Slowly she sat up and leaned against the wall in the spot Vincent had vacated. The expression on her face told them she was still in pain. Father went immediately over to her. "You took a nasty fall, young lady! I can give you something for the pain, if you'd like." "I've got a horrible headache, Father. Other than that I'm just a little stiff and sore." Diana cooperated with Father's examination. First he checked her eyes and then led her through a series of range of motion and coordination exercises. He gave her a shot for the pain and explicit orders to rest. "I'll have Mary bring you some breakfast, and Kipper will deliver word to Joe that you are ill today and won't be to work. Is there anything else you need, dear?" "No, Father. "Thank you." Diana tried to smile, but even that hurt. She really wanted a hot bath to ease her sore muscles, but wasn't sure if they had such a thing below. 'Oh, well,' she thought. 'I'll live.' Diana reclined again to lay on her side, facing Vincent. He was writing in his journal and looked up to smile at her. "What do you write about, Vincent?" Diana asked slyly, not really expecting an answer. Vincent was surprised by her query. "That's a very personal question, Diana." Diana looked away, but before she could speak, Vincent amended, "Life. I write about life, about events that happen, and about how they make me feel." He got up, journal in hand and crossed to sit beside her on the bed again. "Here," he said, handing her the book. "You can read it." "No, Vincent. I'm sorry. It's none of my business, really." She pushed the book away. "Diana," Vincent placed it in her hands. "I want you to read it. I was going to say these things to you, but I lost my nerve. Please. . ." Reluctantly, Diana sat up and took the journal from Vincent. Vincent averted his eyes from her as she read his latest entry. 'Last night I almost lost her. I almost lost Diana. The thought of such loss is unbearable to me. Yet I have allowed myself to love her, knowing that such risks exist. The sight of her, the sound of her voice, the touch of her hand, are all a part of me now. As she slept, I allowed myself to dream; to dream of being a part of her, a part of someone. . .again. I have found the courage to love her, but will never get over the fear of losing her. 'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.' The truth in those words cries out to me, for I have loved and lost, but now I have been given the chance to love once more. I cannot let such an opportunity pass me by. Sleep, my love, and please don't be afraid. Tears ran down Diana's face as she closed the book and put it down. "Oh, Vincent. I'm not afraid, and I plan on being around for long, long time. We can't let the fear of loss prevent us from taking the risk. Life is a risk, Vincent. Know that I want your love, and I want to be a part of you." Diana paused for a moment, then pressed her lips to his for a short, soft kiss. "I love you, Vincent." Vincent was finally able to look into her eyes. The green eyes staring back at him were teary and sincere. A lone tear escaped him to run down his cheek. Diana reached up and wiped it away, and Vincent grasped her hand securely. "I love you, Diana." ******************** Mary delivered breakfast to Diana, as promised. Knowing that Vincent would not leave her side, she brought extra for him as well. Diana sat at the table with Vincent as they ate. Mary had thought of everything. She included in her delivery a small bag for Diana containing a hair brush, a tooth brush, tooth paste, and some soap. "Vincent," Diana asked him timidly, "where can I go to get cleaned up a bit?" Vincent laughed. Diana's hair was a mess, but she was still beautiful. "Come, Diana," he held out his hand. "I'll take you there." Diana took his hand willingly. She was weak on her feet at first, so she leaned in to him and let him lead the way down the tunnel. They entered a small chamber, sealed by a wooden door. Steam surrounded a small pool in the center of the room. There was a rock bench against the chamber wall, and a dividing wall protruded out about four feet to provide a private area for changing. Vincent led Diana to the bench. "Do you need help, Diana? I can send for Mary." "No. I think I can manage, Vincent." "I'll wait for you outside," he informed her. "Just in case." Diana nodded, and he backed out of the room and closed the door. Diana undressed and stepped into the water. There was a ledge under the water much like that in the hot tubs above, and Diana sat down. The water was warm against her skin. It covered her up to her shoulders and soothed her aching muscles. 'Heaven!' She allowed herself to sink under the water, wetting her hair and face. There was a knock at the door. "Diana, it's Mary." "Come in," Diana hollered back. Mary entered with an assortment of tunnel-style clothes. "Vincent asked me to bring you something to put on. And, he wanted me to check on you to see that you were alright in here alone." "Thank you, Mary. And, I'm fine." Diana grinned. She actually liked it that Vincent was concerned, but didn't want him to worry unnecessarily. "He can come in, Mary, if he'd like to keep an eye on me." Mary was a little shocked by Diana's proposition, but agreed to give Vincent the message. Diana was, after all, under water. It had been ten minutes since Mary had gone. Mary had told him he could go in, but he was uncomfortable with the thought of actually doing so. Still, he worried about her in the water alone. Vincent hesitated before knocking. "Diana," he popped his head into the room. "Are you still alright in here?" He could see that she was. She was reclining against the edge of the pool, head drawn back and eyes closed. She glanced over at him. "Yes." Vincent nodded and began to retreat back into the safety of the hallway, but before he could close the door Diana added, "You can come in, Vincent. It's ok." Vincent took a deep breath and entered. He tried not to look at her, but his eyes kept moving back in her direction. Diana recognized his discomfort and tried to break the ice. "I like it here. It's so peaceful, and comforting. I may not get out until I look like a prune." "Stay as long as you like, Diana. I'm just not sure you should be in here alone, in your condition. I probably should have asked Mary to stay with you." "You may go and get her, Vincent, if it would make you feel better." Diana watched him. He made no move to get up, but seemed to be pondering the idea. "Or," she continued, "you could relax and stay yourself." Finally, he looked at her. Her hair was wet and swept back from her face. Her shoulders were barely above the water level, but Vincent could see enough to remind him of his incredible attraction to this woman. 'What am I doing?' he thought. 'I should not be here like this.' His mind told him to leave, but he couldn't move. 'Relax,' Diana had said. Was she kidding? He was a nervous wreck. "Would you hand me that brush, Vincent?" Diana pointed to the hair brush laying on the bench. He delivered it to her as requested. As Diana began to brush her hair she sighed in discomfort. It hurt to raise her arms, but she finished the task anyway and handed the brush back to Vincent. "Where do you hurt, Diana?" Vincent asked taking the brush from her hand. "Everywhere. My neck and back and shoulders are really stiff from the fall. This water is helping." Vincent sat down cross-legged behind Diana and laid the brush on the ground. He tossed her hair over one shoulder and began to gently massage the back of her neck. Diana was astounded by his rather bold action. A moment ago he sat on the bench full of uncertainties, and now he was touching her, caressing her, easing her pain. "Mmm," Diana was in heaven. "That feels so good. Keep it up and I may be cured, or addicted," she added. Vincent savored the feel of his hands against her skin. He could feel the tension leave her as her muscles relaxed. He moved his hands to her shoulders and back, rubbing her pain away. His fears subsided as he realized that Diana was in no way rejecting his touch. She was enjoying it. "Let me know if I hurt you, Diana." Vincent struggled to keep his hands from massaging on down her arms. Finally, he gave in to temptation and began rubbing her upper arms. His hands reached under the water to her forearms and eventually roamed down to take her hands in his. Diana tilted her head back so that she could see Vincent behind her. As she did, Vincent was able to see her delicate form shadowed beneath the water's surface. He leaned down to her and kissed her. His desire for her was so great that he felt his hands squeezing hers tightly. Diana returned the pressure to his hands, wanting to pull him into the water with her. He was, after all, already soaked up to his elbows! Diana ended the kiss, reluctantly. "Vincent," her tone was serious. Diana longed for his touch, wanted desperately to make love to him. She chose her words carefully, being sensitive to Vincent's remaining insecurities. "Where do you want this to lead us?" Vincent withdrew his hands from hers as Diana knew he probably would. However, he slid them back up her arms to rest on her shoulders. He did not answer her immediately. He needed time to think. He knew what he wanted, but debated as to whether or not to tell her. Lightly, he stroked her hair, combing the wet tresses with his nails. When he finally spoke, his words were compassionate and his voice whispered. His hands trembled on her shoulders, but he did not move them from her. He continued to toy with her hair. "Diana, I am not sure I can contain my desire for you any longer. My heart. . .and my body. . . long to be close to you, yet my mind has kept me from pursuing such closeness. I. . .if I hurt you, Diana, I could never forgive myself. I'm not sure what would happen if we. . .if I. . . allowed myself to act on that desire. . .to initiate such a relationship with you, with anyone." "It happened once, Vincent." Diana turned to kneel in the pool, facing him. The tops of her breasts were almost visible, but still mostly submerged. Vincent could not avoid averting his eyes downward. Diana knew she was being seductive. She balanced herself by grabbing his knees, and forced eye contact with him. "Let me lead you. We'll go slow. We'll be careful. We can stop whenever you say." She paused, her eyes gently pleading with him to give in. She did not want to force him. She wanted him to make the decision. But she wanted him to know that she was ready, willing and able to see him through this. She extended her invitation, "Come into the water with me." Vincent inhaled sharply, obviously nervous. As he exhaled, he felt like his chest would explode. He wanted her so much. He now knew the extent to which Diana wanted him. He wasn't sure he should accept her invitation, but he did not want to reject her either. She was still not fully recovered from her fall. "Diana, you should rest. And don't you think you have been in the water long enough?" "I feel better, Vincent, really. And, with or without you, I'm staying in the water awhile longer." Diana leered like a disobedient child. Her green eyes loomed up at him, wide with anticipation. She waited for him to make a move and when he didn't, she made hers. To tempt him, she reached out of the water and caressed his arms. His sleeves were rolled up to his elbows and the light fur of his forearms was wet. She felt him tense up, and instinctively clasped his hands in hers. Lifting his right hand to her mouth, she kissed his palm. Vincent's pulse raced and his breathing grew noticeably heavier. He squeezed her right hand hard in his left and closed his eyes to avoid her gaze. He needed to focus. Part of him wanted to escape into the sanctity of the tunnels outside this small chamber. Most of him wanted to reach out to the woman before him. Diana resumed caressing his right arm, while Vincent maintained his grasp on her other hand. He did not pull away and did not ask her to stop. Suddenly and without warning Vincent reached beneath the water's surface and took hold of Diana's waist, pulling her up, out of the water and into his arms. She was shocked and surprised. He caught her totally off guard. This was a very bold maneuver as far as Vincent was concerned. She now sat before him, wearing nothing, while his eyes scrutinized her every curve. Their eyes met, and Diana lifted her hand to delicately touch his cheek. With her index finger, she traced the shape of his lips and leaned in to kiss him. This kiss was long and passionate. Both of Diana's arms wrapped securely around Vincent's neck. His hands rested at her waist. Holding on to the kiss, Diana moved her hands to his throat and chest. She played provocatively with the buttons of his shirt. She teased his mouth with her tongue, then took her mouth from his and nuzzled his neck. Diana unbuttoned his shirt slowly, and kissed her way down his chest, backing herself onto the under-water bench again. She eased the shirt down his shoulders and off of his arms, then sat back to admire what was now revealed to her. Kneeling on the bench before him as she had done before, Diana explored his bare chest and with both hands. His body was solid and strong, every muscle perfectly toned. Cautiously, her hands drifted downward, brushing the sensitive skin just beneath his belt. Vincent sighed and his hands went to Diana's back. Ever so lightly, his claws scraped her back with a tickling sensation that sent shivers up her spine. And during all of this neither spoke a word. Vincent cupped Diana's face in his hands. He stared down at her, knowing they had gone too far to turn back now. "Diana," he exclaimed, but Diana interrupted him, fearing he would protest. "Come into the water with me, Vincent." She repeated her previous invitation. "Are you absolutely certain that this is what you want, Diana?" Vincent needed that one additional reassurance. "Yes, Vincent. I want you. I want all of you." Her words were direct. Her voice was enough to finally entice him. Diana reached out for his belt and in one swift motion it was gone. Before she knew it, he had undressed and stood before her in the waist-high water at the center of the pool. She could see him trembling, still somewhat reticent and unconfident. She stepped toward him and hugged him close to her. Finding his ear, she whispered, "I love you." His trembling ceased. Vincent's arms went around Diana with certainty now. "I love you," he quoted back to her softly. She could feel his body respond to hers, and they kissed again. Vincent allowed his hands to survey Diana's body, following the curve of her hips and the softness of her inner thighs. She released the kiss and studied his expression. She arched back from him as his hands went to her breasts. His eyes followed his hands as he examined every inch of her. Then, Diana initiated her own discovery of his body. Similarly, her eyes followed her hands. Diana reached under the water, making her target well known to him. He pulled back only slightly before giving in to her investigation. Her touch was gentle and willing, and Vincent responded calmly in kind. He exhibited no force and no threat to her, as he had so feared. His touch was loving and erotic, sending sensations through Diana unlike any she had ever known. For a long while, the lovers explored each other with their hands. Diana aroused him further with her mouth, placing delicate kisses at his throat and shoulders, then nipping at his neck and his ear with her teeth. Her tongue went to his ear, and Vincent resisted the urge to release the growl building up in his throat. He cried out to her, "Diana," but could say no more. His mouth traveled to her neck, her shoulders, and her breasts, then worked back up to engulf her mouth once more. Diana sensed his need to take her. She pressed her body close to his, and wrapped her arms around him, holding him firmly to her. With precision they became one. Their bodies molded perfectly together, and they became lost in this newfound delectation. Afterwards, they collapsed, spent, into each other's arms to sit on the under-water bench. They allowed the warm water to surround them as each tried to assimilate what had just happened. There was a tension between them, as neither knew what to say or do. Thoughts were racing through Vincent's head, and Diana could see the gears shifting. She thought it best to intervene, before he had a chance to retreat. "Vincent, tell me what you're feeling now." Diana looked into his sea-blue eyes and saw an uncertainty there. She smiled at him to let him know she was not sorry they had made love. She kissed him and told him again that she loved him. Vincent reached his arm around the back of her neck and pulled her head in to rest against him. He was having trouble looking her in the eye and needed her close now. He placed a kiss to the top of her head and stated quietly, "Tell me truthfully, Diana. . .if I hurt you." Diana released herself from his embrace and lifted his chin in her hand so that he was forced to face her. She kissed him again and held his face in her hands. "No, Vincent. You didn't hurt me. You bring me only pleasure, not pain." Tears overcame him, and she kissed them away. The tension between them dissipated, and Vincent held Diana close once more. ******************** Once back in his chamber, Vincent made Diana lie down. "Rest! I am going to check on Jacob, to see if Mary needs a break. I won't be long." Diana was tired. She was still a little sore from her fall, and she had just probably gotten more exercise than she was supposed to. She could barely believe what had occurred between them. She was not entirely certain it had not been a dream. Diana lay back and drifted off to sleep. Vincent found Mary and Jacob playing with blocks. "Dada!" Jacob ran to Vincent and grabbed hold of his legs. Vincent lifted the boy and gave his nose a light pinch. "Have you been a good boy?" Mary answered that Jacob was never any bother and inquired as to how Diana was feeling. "She's feeling better, Mary. I have made her lie down for awhile." Mary observed that Vincent's hair was wet. 'Odd,' she thought. "I don't mind keeping him," she said, pointing to Jacob, "if you want some time with her alone, Vincent." Vincent was shocked by Mary's recognition. He was caught with his hand in the cookie jar! "Mary," he began, then stopped speaking as abruptly as he had started. "What is it, child?" Mary said motherly. "I. . .should probably talk to Father. . .but. . .I know what he will say. I need your opinion, Mary. I need your help." Mary put Jacob in his playpen and motioned Vincent into a chair. "Sit down. You're upset about something?" Vincent said nothing. He only looked at the older woman. He had often talked with her about the trials and tribulations of his unusual life, but was doubtful of his ability to discuss with her what had just happened with Diana. Mary sensed his doubt immediately. "Vincent," she said with a smile, "I have helped raise you, have changed your diapers, scolded you, held your hand, and nursed your wounds. There is nothing you cannot discuss with me. Now what is it?" "Mary," Vincent still could not formulate the words. "Something has happened. Something has happened with Diana. I love her, Mary. . ." He could not continue. He was ashamed and shy now. His eyes glassed over and he fought back the tears. Mary reached out and took his hand in hers, squeezing lightly, telling him she understood. "And, you made love to her?" Her words surprised him. She knew. She knew everything. He nodded. "Yes." "You know, Vincent, your wet hair was a dead give-away!" Mary laughed softly and reached up to pat his cheek. "You have no reason to be alarmed, Vincent, or ashamed. You're only human, and Diana is very pretty!" He looked at her sharply, and Mary suddenly realized that that statement was not entirely true. "Vincent, you are just as capable of having these feelings as any normal adult male would be." She put her arm around his back, sensitive to his concern, wanting to comfort him. "Did you enjoy being with her, Vincent?" He nodded again. "Then, what is it about this turn of events that bothers you so?" Vincent found his voice. Mary appeared able to handle this conversation. He was glad he had not confided in Father yet. Father was less comfortable discussing women with Vincent, and the two had never discussed sex. It had been Mary who had discussed puberty with Vincent, and who had discussed with him in greater detail his feelings for Lisa. "Mary, I was careless. What if she is pregnant?" "You were spontaneous, Vincent, not careless. Diana may have considered that possibility herself and taken appropriate measures. Have you discussed this with her?" "No. I don't know how." "Just as you have done with me, Vincent. Talk to her. She loves you. You'll be fine!" Vincent wiped away his tears and embraced this woman, his mother. "Mary, I'm afraid." "I know. I will talk to her for you, if you'd like me to, but I think she'd prefer to hear this personally from you." "Thank you, Mary. Thank you for being here, for listening, for helping. Will you keep Jacob again this evening? I'll talk to her tonight." "Good." Mary was relieved that Vincent was confronting his fears. 'He is intelligent and sensitive,' she thought. 'He can handle this without my intervention.' "Jacob will be fine here with me. Don't worry. You can pick him up in the morning." ******************** Vincent returned to his chamber with Diana's lunch. Well, it was close to 3:30, so it was more like an early supper. William was famous below for his beef stew, and Diana had eaten only a little since her accident. As Vincent placed the tray on the table, the aroma reached Diana, reviving her from her slumber. "Hi!" She smiled shyly at him. Vincent glanced over at her and then returned his attention to setting the table. "Hello. Did you have a nice nap?" "Yeah, but I missed you!" Diana got up and joined him at the table. "That looks and smells wonderful!" Diana noticed that he had set only one place. She was flattered that he was taking care of her, but curious as to why he was not joining her. "Aren't you going to eat anything?" "Maybe later. Sit. You need nourishment!" Diana began to protest, but Vincent intervened. "None of that. You clean your plate, young lady, or no dessert!" Diana obeyed, enjoying his humor, but sensing that there was something he was hiding from her. "Vincent? Are you okay?" she asked, careful not to press him too much. "Yes, Diana. I need to do some work this evening. I'll be late. Father and Mary will check on you after while. Will you be alright?" Vincent needed some time alone, time to think. He very much wanted this relationship to continue its progression, but all of the insecurities he had faced with Catherine were returning now to haunt him. 'Diana can do better.' 'She deserves more than I can give her.' 'She should not be tied to a life with me.' 'She needs to walk hand-in-hand in the sunlight.' 'Her children should not be my children.' Diana nodded, responding that she would be ok, and Vincent left the chamber. As he often did when he needed space between him and the world, he headed towards his river. He got as far as the chamber of the winds, when he lost control. He cried out, not in anger, but in need. He needed her! He needed her physically. He needed her emotionally. He needed her intellectually. He needed her heart, her mind, and her soul. He acknowledged this need, and was at first discomforted by it. Sitting on the stairs, he allowed himself to reflect on his life. The chamber of the winds held so many memories, both happy and sad. It was here he fought with Devin. It was near here, in the great hall, that he fell in love with Lisa. It was down these very stairs that he led Catherine to her first Winterfest. Vincent's life had indeed been a struggle. There were so many things he couldn't do, could never do. However, he was now beginning to see what so many people had tried to prove to him. Reexamining his life, he realized that there was so much he could do! He could laugh and make friends. He could teach the children. He could cook and care for the ill. He was a good engineer. He had helped to build a home for many. He could love. He could have a relationship with a woman. He could have a family. He loved Diana. Jacob loved Diana. What, then was his problem? 'New things are always scary,' he thought. 'Stop running! Face your life as it is!' Vincent was excited now. He had spent too much time trying not to submit others to the difficulties he had to endure. Catherine had brought him out of it, but her death made him go back to his old ways. He had been running away from his potential for too long. Now he ran to it! It was after midnight, and Vincent knew that Diana would be sleeping. He would not wake her, but he would talk to her as soon as she woke up. Reaching his chamber, he was alarmed to see Father leaving. "Father," he stopped the old man in the hallway. "Is there something wrong?" "No, Vincent. Diana was having trouble sleeping. She needed to talk, and I gave her something to help her sleep. I sat with her until she drifted off." Father was irritated with his son for leaving her unattended. He was hurt that he had had to learn about the recent turn of events from Diana. "Why didn't you come to me, Vincent?" "Diana told you? Everything?" Vincent was not angry or upset. He was merely unsure of how to tell Father that he preferred to discuss such things with Mary. "I'm sorry I didn't come to you first, Father. It's just. . ." Father interrupted him. "Mary handles these things best, Vincent. She always has. Diana will be fine. She needs rest. She is still in some pain. Yes, she told me what happened between you. She said that she loves you and that the two of you have now consummated your relationship. She is worried about you. She says you have been acting odd. . .fine one minute then the next a 'wreck,' I believe she called you. You can talk to me Vincent. You can talk to Mary. But, you really need to talk to Diana. She's a good woman! Beautiful too! Don't let her slip away!" "Thank you, Father." Vincent embraced the man, his father. The older man reached up and placed a loving hand on his son's face. "You are very fortunate Vincent! Good night." "Good night, Father." Vincent entered the room quietly so as not to disturb Diana. Curled beneath his quilt, she looked so peaceful now. 'An angel,' Vincent thought. 'An angel.' ******************** "Good morning," was the first thing he heard as he opened his eyes. Vincent lay in his bed, and Diana sat at his writing table. He did not remember joining her in bed, and did not feel her rise. "Good morning," he replied, as he noticed she had his journal open and his pen in her hand. She was writing? "How are you feeling?" he asked her as he arose to investigate exactly what was going on. "I'm better. You hog the covers though!" Diana's mood was unusual. She frequently exhibited a sense of humor, but now she was deliberately tormenting him. "Diana," Vincent looked over her shoulder. As he did, she closed the book. "May I ask you two questions?" "Sure. Ask away." "Exactly what medication did Father give you? And, exactly what are you doing with this?" he tapped the closed journal with his claw upon presenting his second query. "He gave me one Halcion to help me sleep. I was worried you wouldn't come back, and my head hurt. It's worn off now, and this is the real me." She paused for a minute. She wanted to slap the hell out of him for scaring her. She wanted to yell. She wanted an explanation for his weird behavior. Humor was her way of controlling her temper. "And the answer to my second question?" Damn! He didn't forget! "Ok, ok. I'm busted! I only added one page, and I promise you, I didn't read anything. Here," she handed him the book. "Read it!" Vincent took the book from her. "Diana, I don't care if you read it. I would prefer you to ask first." "You don't trust me, do you?" It was now time to talk. Diana knew she should not have had his journal, but she really didn't read it. "You don't trust me with your journal, and you don't trust me with your heart. Do you? That's why you left me last night." Diana had turned on him. Her humor was gone and she was now confrontational. "I deserved that. It was wrong of me to lie to you about where I was going last night. I'm sorry, Diana." Diana did not look at him. She sat in the chair, fidgeting with his fountain pen, dipping it repeatedly in the ink well. Vincent took the pen from her hand and placed it on the table out of her reach. He pulled up a chair and sat to face her, holding her hand. "Diana, I know I have been acting strangely. My behavior has confused and upset you. I have repeatedly used my differences as a crutch. I know that. It was easier to say 'I am different,' than it was to face the uncertainties." Diana cut him off. "I'm getting tired of all the damned uncertainties, Vincent! I need certainty, and I need it from you!" "I know. And, I am ready to give that to you. I love you, Diana. I need you, and I want you! No more uncertainty. No more hesitation. No more hiding behind all of the could-have-beens or what-ifs. Whatever happens now, we face together. I promise, Diana. I am sorry for all I have put you through, and I wouldn't blame you if you got up and walked away." Diana sat quietly now. Her face was expressionless. This was an entirely new Vincent sitting before her now. And this conversation was only about them. All of a sudden she got up. She did not walk away. She did not speak. She just curled up into Vincent's lap. Her manner was almost child-like, until she kissed him. He gave into the kiss, willingly, but all too soon Diana pulled away. She reached again for his journal and placed it in his hand with the page turned to her entry. "Read it," she whispered, "and please believe me when I tell you I only wrote, I didn't read." "I do trust you, Diana. With my life, my heart, and this book. And, I wouldn't have cared if you read it." Vincent focused upon the entry she had written on the page. Her hand writing was much neater than he had imagined it would be. He could hear her voice as he read, and the words filled him with a joy, greater than any he had ever known. 'From the moment I first met him, I knew we would be much more than just friends. I knew exactly what I was getting myself into. I had finally met the man I would spend my life with. And I was scared, scared because I have never allowed myself to love any one so deeply, so honestly. I hide nothing from him, and that feeling is new. We have that in common, he and I, both fearful and unsure, facing this newness as our destinies intertwine. Destiny!' (Bennett's a poet, who knew?) 'So, read this, my love. Read what I have written in your most personal of places. This is only one of the many personal places I will be invading. As we invade each other, know that I love you. Know that that love is meant to last forever. I give my life to you, freely. There is no other man who can give me what you can. Yes, I love the sun! And, I have it in the light of your eyes. So, stop worrying that I give up too much to be with you. I give up little and get oh so such more! I have found the true meaning of happiness! Share it with me!' Vincent put the journal down. He had no idea Diana was a writer! "Diana," his eyes found hers. "You wrote beautifully! You wrote from the heart! I don't know what to say." "There's nothing more to say, Vincent. You said it well before. No more hesitation. We are in this relationship and there is no turning back. I am ready for anything, as long as it involves you!" "Anything?" He asked her, revealing to her that he had something on his mind. "Yes, Vincent. Anything! Do you have a suggestion?" Vincent confessed, "I was speaking to Mary yesterday. Telling her I had been careless. . ." Diana laughed, taking his hand in hers as she returned to her chair. He was still being serious, and she was laughing! Diana knew the conversation he was referring to. She had a confession of her own. "Mary came to see me last night. She didn't say she spoke to you, but she asked me if I was taking 'precautions.'" Diana kissed Vincent on the cheek. "Then Father came to see me. He asked a similar question." Diana giggled wickedly. "I changed the subject and avoided answering them. They didn't force the issue. It may have been mean of me, but I figured, 'let them wonder.' Before he left, Father did say that if you gave him any more grandchildren, he hoped they were mine." Vincent smiled, laughing with her at her evasiveness. She could tell, however, that he wanted to know what her answer would have been. So, Diana continued. "To you, Vincent, I give the much sought after information. Yes, I have been taking birth control pills for several years now. Until you tell me to stop, I will continue to take them religiously." Vincent felt almost normal now. Diana talked to him so openly, as if he were an average man. That felt good to him. It felt right. "Diana, are you saying you would be willing to have children, with me? To create our own family?" "I wrote 'forever,' didn't I?" Vincent nodded. "Yes, Vincent. That is exactly what I'm saying. But that decision we must make together when we agree the time is right. Let's take our time and do this properly." Diana admitted to him, "I've made a mess out of past relationships, Vincent. I don't want to make the same mistakes in this one." "So far, Diana, you are doing very well in this one. I am the one who has faltered the most. We are only beginning to face the possibilities of what we can be. A lot has happened in just a few short days. And, we have survived it! There will be problems awaiting us. We will be tested. But, I want to share it all with you, one step at a time." "Yes," she agreed as she kissed him again. They had come through their first test. She held Vincent close to her. She was aware of what the future held in store and was ready to tackle it head on. "There's just one more thing, Diana." Vincent pulled away a little so that he could look at her. "What's that, Vincent?" she asked. "Get your own journal!" Vincent laughed, totally uninhibited, revealing to her his teeth and a sense of humor she had rarely seen. Diana laughed with him and playfully slapped his knee. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ About the Author Melinda Madison is a third year law student, who writes to maintain her sanity! She has been a 'Beauty and the Beast' fan since the beginning and takes the show as written, equally enjoying all seasons. While she started watching due to the legal plot involved, the romance is what kept her tuning in for more. This is the first BATB story she attempted, and it has been stored in her computer for over a year awaiting release. Some days she likes it and other days she thinks it's unfit for human eyes (or non-human eyes for that matter.) Melinda has recently completed a series of four Vincent/Diana stories, one of which can be seen in the Reflections Conzine. Eager to please all fans and make no enemies, she has Catherine stories in progress too, although she finds working with the more unknown aspects of what could've been with V/D more intriguing. Melinda has just opened her first website where she is planning on posting all kinds of stories and would like other writers to contact her about contributing. Other writing experience includes humorous children's stories, yet unpublished. She also writes for the Journal of Legal Medicine and will have an article published in September. She is currently the Assistant Student Editor of this legal journal. Questions and comments are welcome and appreciated! Please E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit her website at: www.geocities.com/Hollywood/Academy/6149.