Joe Maxwell still wasn't certain that he hadn't gone completely insane. He moved in a haze, like a dream overlapping reality. Cautiously, he stepped out of the opening elevator doors as he tried to compose himself. Before him stretched an empty hallway that he had never expected to see again. How long had it been since he had last stood there, he wondered. How long since all the painful memories of this place had retreated to the recesses of his mind. He had continued his life, and much had happened since then. But in a lot of ways this place was always present just behind his thoughts. Thankfully, he was alone in the hallway, a small comfort. Joe instinctively felt that he should face this ridiculous folly alone.
It had started out as an ordinary morning, filled with the familiar workaday bustle and hardships of every other day at the District Attorney's office. The usual crisises, petty and pertinent, had just started to pile up on his desk when one man had stepped into his office. In a perfectly sane voice, the man had introduced himself and offered Joe an astonishing invitation. In that one moment, the press of work seemed suddenly less important while Joe struggled to grasp the unexpected prospect the man had offered. Even now he couldn't quite believe it. What he had been told didn't seem possible.
But, regardless, there he was. In that hallway and walking towards an apartment door he hadn't seen in years. A door he had never expected to see again. In a few moments that door would reveal whether or not he had finally lost his mind. Heaven knows I'm due, he thought to himself. Still, it wouldn't have surprised him much to wake up in his bed at any second, left alone to laugh at his own foolishness. As that thought crossed his mind, he reached up and knocked on her door without hesitation. How could he have been caught up in the absurd fantasy that she was still-
Joe stood stunned for a moment after his outburst. He gazed at the women who had opened the door, his eyes wide in disbelief as a flood of sensation flooded through him in that instant. Without quite realizing it, he rushed forward and wrapped his arms around her.
"My god," he cried, "it's really you!"
The world seemed to spin. Joe heard himself speaking, his voice almost incoherent as he called her name.
"Cathy! Cathy. Cathy, Cathy!"
As he held her there on her doorstep, with her alive and warm in his arms, Joe finally accepted that it was real.
Catherine, somewhat surprised by his unexpected display, simply patted his shoulder affectionately as he kept hugging her. Caught up in his excitement, she laughed along with him.
"I really hope you're the Joe Maxwell I was expecting to come by," she said.
Joe was still flustered as he held her.
"I can't believe this, Cathy! How can you be alive? I saw you dead, years ago. I mean, how...?"
Realizing that he still held her tightly, he awkwardly let go. However, an ecstatic grin still lay plastered across his face as he looked at her, marvelling in the sight he saw.
"Look, I'm sorry for getting carried away," he said, "but this is something of a shock. It's not every day that dear friends return from the grave. I'm going to need a minute to compose myself here."
Catherine smiled knowingly at him, her eyes filled with understanding. She had seen that very same reaction played out several times since her return to New York. She placed a comforting hand on his shoulder.
"Please, Joe," she said. "Why don't you come in?" Catherine led Joe into her apartment as the door shut behind them, leaving the hallway quiet once more.
A crisp morning breeze blew softly past the thin curtains hung over the balcony doors. It flowed softly over Catherine Chandler and Joe Maxwell as they sat in her newly furnished high rise apartment. The weather was unusually warm for winter in New York. As the sun shined brightly in a flawless blue sky, it swallowed the chill touch of December with a new hope of the coming of the distant spring. Somehow that singular promise of life amongst the dreary days of winter seemed appropriate to Joe as he sat there with Catherine, enjoying the morning.
Joe still couldn't take his eyes from her. He was afraid that if he looked away she would blink out of existence. considering the unexpected turns the morning had taken, it wouldn't have really surprised him at all if she did.
"I have to admit," he said more calmly now, "that when Dr. Hayes came to me this morning to ask me to meet with you, I almost threw him out of my office. I mean, it seemed like some kind of sick joke. I had been to your funeral, for god's sake. I'd put it all behind me long ago and gone on with my life. But now," he said, looking at her, "anything seems possible."
Catherine appreciated his warmth towards her. "I'm glad you came, Joe. I wanted to call last night, to give you a little more warning, but Dr. Hayes sensed that you wouldn't have been able to wait till morning, so we decided it was best to not deprive you of a night's sleep. I understand that we were co-workers in the D.A.'s office. And close once. So, I wanted to see you. To see as much of my old life as possible."
"So, it's just like Dr. Hayes said," Joe replied. "You really remember nothing of your old life? Of being Catherine Chandler?"
Catherine nodded. "Next to nothing. A small bit here and there." She reached across from where she sat to touch the roses she had found days earlier and placed in a vase. Her fingers caressed their soft petals, one rose red, one rose white.
"Dr. Hayes has been quite helpful through all this,' she continued. "He helped me decide to move back. Back to New York. Back to my old life. He had hoped that I would start to remember. That I could learn to be happy here again. And though I haven't recovered any memories yet, on that other point... he's been right."
"How did all this happen?" Joe asked emphatically. He needed this bizarre string of events to make sense. Needed to be able to grasp how life could take such an unexpected turn.
Cathy sighed as she began. "Well, as you know I was held captive by the crime lord Gabriel, in his secret offices downtown. When my captors decided to relocate, they planned to simply kill me and leave me behind, leaving the job to Gabriel's personal physician. He was ordered to give me a lethal dose of morphine, which for all practical purposes, he appeared to do. In reality he only tried to induce a deep coma from the overdose."
Joe was confused. "But why? A sudden burst of conscience? That man had worked under Gabriel for years and had been a party to numerous crimes, including, reportedly, murder. All under Gabriel's orders. Why help you after that?"
Catherine answered with a detached tone.
"Because, several months prior, he had been forced into becoming a government informant. And as such, he felt required to save my life, if possible."
Joe replied with surprise. "I was never told that. I should have been. I was the assistant district attorney at the time."
Catherine smiled at him. "They had their reasons. While the FBI was trying to build their case against Gabriel, they ended up cornering and arresting the doctor. since they had already had several agents killed trying to infiltrate Gabriel's organization, using someone already on the inside seemed the perfect opportunity. Remember, at the time they knew next to nothing about Gabriel himself. They didn't even know his name. So they turned the doctor into a mole, even if a reluctant one. He tried to tell as little as possible at first, afraid he would be discovered. Tried to protect himself from both sides. When Gabriel ordered him to kill me, he felt trapped. Caught by the FBI on one side and Gabriel on the other. He couldn't save me overtly and he couldn't risk his immunity deal by killing someone in the D.A.'s office. So he tried to walk the middle by enducing a deep coma. It was still a risky move. I was told I almost died regardless. But form his point of view, it must have seemed a defensible position to either side. He could argue he misjudged the dosage."
Joe nodded. "So, to save himself he saved you."
"When I finally came out of it, they continued with the reports of my death to protect their mole. And me. Faked autopsies, faked funeral. And as a potential witness, I was whisked into seclusion. They had seen Gabriel's ruthlessness with witnesses before, since several had died. None had survived to implicate any of his lieutenants, let alone the unnamed leader himself. So they kept me a well guarded secret."
Joe's voice resonated with buried annoyance. "Why wasn't my office told any of this?" He asked. "After our raid on his mansion, after Gabriel's subsequent death, the treat was over. Why weren't we informed about you?" Joe asked the most important question in his mind. "Why didn't you come back?"
In the far distance outside Catherine's balcony, above the bare, intertwined tree limbs bathing in the sunshine of Central Park, skyscrapers loomed into the morning sky. In one tiny, darkened window a man listened to their conversation. Joe's voice came trough on the headphones the man wore as he watched through a powerful video camera. Sitting alone in the otherwise empty room, he continued to listen intently.
Back inside her apartment, Catherine felt the hurt in Joe's voice, hurt that she hadn't tried to contact him or her friends for almost eight years.
"They felt it best that I keep a low profile," she began. "I had no memories to come back to anyway. District attorney Moreno had already been exposed as an informant on Gabriel's payroll. No one knew how many others there were like him in the D.A.' s office. It was believed there were others, especially after the government's newly aquired mole was killed by Gabriel. They told me there was some suspicion placed on Diana Bennett at one point. After the drug dealer she visited in custody was found dead in his hospital room."
Catherine looked straight at Joe. "There was some suspicion of you too, for that matter," she said.
"OK. Hold it there. Diana Bennett I've known for years now," Joe spoke emphatically, "and I'd trust her with my life. I have on many occasions. As far as I'm concerned she's beyond reproach. As for me..." He looked at her affectionately, "Well, you really must have lost your memories, kiddo. Because the old Cathy would know... that I would never betray her to anyone."
Catherine looked at him thoughtfully. Then her face lightened as she reached out and touched his arm. "The new Cathy does too," she said. "Because somehow, deep down, I believe you."
Joe was relieved. "Thank you," he said, smiling warmly at her.
Catherine returned his expression as she leaned back.
"But I do have a few questions..." Joe began.
Catherine laughed. "Of course. Everybody does."
"I was told," Joe said, "that you bore a child during your captivity. A child which Gabriel seemed to have some interest in for some reason. Do you know anything about what happened to him, about who the father was?"
A sad look crossed over Catherine's face as she faced some difficult answers. "They know nothing about it," she said. "And I have no personal recollection of it on my own. Sometimes I feel that's the worst, not even remembering the birth of my son. The worst of all the things that happened to me. It was assumed that someone in Gabriel's organization took him. When Gabriel died, all those beneath him scattered to the wind. The authorities started investigations to find him. I started a few myself, all hoping to pick the pieces and find some trail... But they've been trying for years and have found nothing. Gabriel's underlings have hidden their tracks too well." Catherine sat silently for several moments. "He could be dead for all I know."
Joe felt the sadness her talking about it brought up, and he began to regret that he had asked. But then, she continued. "I don't even remember what my child looked like. Not specifically. I know he had blue eyes. His father's eyes. If I hadn't been told that he had been born to me, I would have never even..." Catherine wavered and sat silent again.
Joe decided to change the subject. "Cathy, after you were abandoned, all the indications were that someone took you from Gabriel's office building and brought you here. To this very apartment. Did they ever tell you who? Do you have any ideas of who it might be yourself?"
"Was it someone who worked for Gabriel, Cathy? Was it someone else?"
"If anyone knew, they never told me."
"Was it Vincent?"
That name sent an unexpected spark of recognition through Catherine, a spark that Joe saw in her as well. Calmly he watched her. She looked out towards the balcony. She felt at ease, comfortable, with that name. But she still remembered nothing specific.
"Where have you heard that name?" She asked.
"Diana Bennett," Joe replied. "She felt he was connected to you in some way. But she never found him."
Catherine thought for a moment. She replied in a tired voice when nothing came to her. "I'm sorry, Joe. I don't remember. I feel that somehow I should, but I don't."
Joe backed off. "That's all right, Cathy. It's just enough to know that you are still alive. I didn't mean to push."
"No, its OK," Catherine said. "I'm just as curious about it as you. But I had hoped our first meeting wouldn't drift into such depressing questions with no clear answers."
Her face strengthened and changed as she let her momentary sadness pass. Joe suddenly realized that her smile could brighten the darkest night.
"There's a lot of my old life that I may never have back again," she said. "And sometimes it scares me to death. But that won't stop me from building a new life. With new memories and new joys. Hopefully, mixed with my old ones eventually."
She looked into his eyes. "You seem to know me pretty well, Joe. I can still feel some sort of connection to you. And if my experiences have taught me anything, it is how precious true friends are. And how short life can become. How we should live every moment. So Joe, I was wondering if you could help me. Help me to remember."
"Sure, Cathy. Anything you need."
"Have dinner with me."
Joe looked uncomfortable. "Cathy, I don't want to mislead you. That wasn't quite the relationship we had together."
Catherine smiled at him. "I know."
Joe suddenly felt a long repressed hope rise within him once more. He felt almost as alive and vibrant in that moment as the sparkling morning outside, as if he himself had slipped out of a long winter.
"Well, OK. Sure," he said. Silently he thought to himself, anything is possible indeed.
"But first, Cathy, I've got to take you downtown. There's a lot of people who will be dying to see you, if you're willing. Like the investigator who worked on your case, Diana Bennett. Most of her cases never have such happy endings. She'll be thrilled to see you."
Diana Bennett had never felt so complete in her entire life. The width and breadth of her world was encompassed within the two, powerful arms that held her with care and tenderness. Totally contented, she leaned her head against Vincent's chest, taking in the subtle fragrance of his well-worn leather clothing as it mixed with the earthy smells of the tunnels and the elegant scents of melted candlewax. They both stood there together, holding each other all alone at the intersection which led to Diana's building and her life above. After her continued trips into the tunnels for so many years, a passageway had eventually been found which led beneath Diana's loft.
It was still mid-day in the world above, and Vincent didn't chance continuing any further, So, as they had several times in the past few days, they had stopped here where they were forced to part, in the end unwilling to do so. That yearning, to be constantly together, was a new sensation. They had never had nearly as much trouble saying good-bye before they had acknowledged their feelings for one another. But now, all the world seemed different, measured against the hopes and dreams they held in their hearts.
Diana reflected on her own life as she held Vincent. All of her life she had been metaphorically clautrophobic, not so much with spaces but with people. Aloof and distant as a child, she had, without realizing it, carried those attitudes with her into her adult life. No one doubted her compassion, or her kind heart. But getting close to her was a different matter. Even her high, airy loft atop an abandoned warehouse had served to seperate her from the rest of the city. She had dated throughout her life, but lover after lover had come and gone while trying futiley to break into the inner recesses of her soul. In the end she had always pushed them away when she felt them getting too close. Even her work with the D.A.'s office had been on her terms. Those terms being that she only worked alone. Her ability to discern the inner workings of the minds of others had often been her only company. Sometimes she felt she shared more of her life with the killers and rapists she tried to catch than with her closest friends or family. That had all changed the night she had found Vincent. The things she used to push away, she now embraced. All inspired by Vincent's unwavering and generous spirit, when most others in his position would have fallen into despair and bitterness. She had slowly lost her own fear of closeness. Be it underground in the cramped tunnels with tons of rock hanging above, or in the confines of her own heart after finally having let someone in. Realizing what it meant to be with that particular someone, Diana relished every second.
Vincent held her in silence, also enjoying the moments he shared with Diana. His own feelings went rushing forward, and he had no idea where they would lead him. For so long he had felt this way only in memory, when reliving the times he had spent with Catherine as they shared a life together. But without realizing it, he had slowly grown closeer to Diana. He had been drawn to her grace, her beauty, to the quiet way she helped others, and to her own empathy for those around her. She had continued to help the tunnel community below, even when she had no longer needed to. She had been at his side several times through the years when the despair of Catherine's loss had threatened to overwhelm him again. But she had always brought him back, with her insight and compassion. By reminding him of his life below, and the child he and Catherine shared. She had redeemed his soul. And through it all she had never asked anything for herself. Diana had shown herself to be a remarkable, giving woman, as Vincent realized he had known all along.
Diana sighed as she held him tighter.
"I really have to go, Vincent."
His voice rumbled, soft and warm. "Our time together is so short, Diana. Must it always be so?" Vincent already felt the pang of seperation, an all too familiar feeling from his times with Catherine as well.
"I'd really love to stay," Diana said softly. "But I'm supposed to meet Joe Maxwell today. he hasn't heard from me since I finished my last case a week ago. I suspect he'll have something new for me."
Images of photographs taped to a wall in Diana's loft flooded Vincent's mind. The photos were crime scene photograps from Diana's last case. She always taped them up onto the wall, a wall which she hid behind a curtain when she was not working. As if she could hide them from her thoughts, even though she knew she couldn't. Along with the photos were documents and scribbled clues she left for herself in an effort to coalesce the jumbled peices until they fit together. Vincent had been in her loft several times, and he sometimes caught glimpses of the horrific images arrayed on that wall.
"Such death and brutality, Diana," Vincent said. "How do you endure it? To carry that weight upon youself, trying to penetrate the minds behind such evil. How do you bear such darkness alone Diana?"
"Somebody has to, Vincent," she said somberly. "And everyone bears their own darkness. Besides, I'm not alone. Even with all the evils in the world above, I draw the strength for my work from you... and from this place below."
Diana looked up at him as she continued. "And sometimes even the world above can produce unexpected beauty as well, Vincent. Almost a year ago, just before winter took its final hold on Central Park, I took a walk among the trees. Just to distance myself from the horror I worked with everyday, and to walk among open air and living things. But most of the leaves on the trees were gone. The grass was a dead pale yellow. A gray sky loomed over everything like a shroud, and I found no comfort for the dark mood which had taken me. The weight of the city seemed to overwhelm every bit of life in the park. And behind it all, winter still waited patiently for its reign. But then I noticed it, in some distant corner, a tiny flash of color in all that gray. So I walked towards it, and found one small rosebush still blooming full as if it wasn't the middle of winter at all. Just some stubborn plant that hadn't fallen to the cold just yet. There it was right before me, a small handful of unrepentant roses in a huge gray park, all alone, waiting for spring. It seemed... poetic. It touched me. After a few weeks, the rosebush succombed to the cold as well, but the image stayed with me. How that one dash of color had changed my entire perception of the park. And I knew somewhere deep in the soil those colors merely waited to bloom again. Somehow it made me feel better."
As she looked at him, Diana still saw the sadness of her work reflected in his deep blue eyes, eyes that seemed to look into her soul.
"Vincent, we've both seen the evils of the world above. We've both felt its terrors. Sometimes that evil has even wormed its way into the tunnels. But through all of that we've also seen the goodness above. Ordinary people unwilling to stop their kindness or generosity, even when surrounded evry day with apathy and violence. I have to believe they do so out the faith that ther's room for beauty anywhere Vincent. Whether in a harsh city where a kind act is rare, or with a stubborn rosebush facing winter bravely and redifining an entire park."
Vincent smiled at her. She looked at him with such honest concern that he was deeply moved. The ivory curve of her cheek drew an elegant line against the deep red of her hair, and he reached out to touch it and ease her fears. "There are all kinds of roses, Diana. Some offer solace with color, others with honest words from the heart."
He continued. "Thank you for never being less than who you are Diana. And always more than I could wish for." They embraced once more before Diana had to go. Vincent leaned in to kiss her, stopping with his lips a hair's breadth from her own. "Will I see you tommorrow night?"
She smiled. "At my loft." And then Diana kissed him, trying to save that one moment in her heart until they met again. Vincent held her closer, felt her warmth fill him. They were two small figures, holding each other among the dirt and scatterred brick walls of the upper tunnels. Then Diana broke their embrace and turned into the tunnel that led above. She glanced back once at Vincent, and was gone.
Vincent watched her leave, still filled with the flush of her with him. He yearned to do something special for Diana tommorrow night. More than likely Joe would assign her a new case, and Vincent had learned from experience that a cloud of darkness would envelope her mood. Soon she would once again be peircing the corners of a murder's mind with her intuitive abilities, and he would not stand by to let such gloom consume her. She would need a reminder of her love, and of the people who loved her. So he decided to search the park tonight, to see if the roses she had spoken of bloomed again this year. He'd take one up to her loft, a living counterbalance to her dark work. Smiling to himself, Vincent rushed back into the tunnels. He had other duties for the day, but plans full of roses and candles filled his thoughts.