(formerly Once a Rose Endures)

A story about the tv show, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
by Steve 0yervidez


            Winterfest was coming to the unknown chambers deep beneath the streets of New York. Forgotten figures, unseen and unimagined by most of those who lived above, filled the secret passages with light and motion, their anticipation slowly growing as final preparations were made. Carefully, candles were passed from hand to hand with reverence. Excited whispers echoed throughout every part of the labyrinth network of dusty tunnels, piercing an engulfing quiet far beneath the harsh sounds and colors of the city sprawled above. A delicate piece of music started and stopped in the distance as some unseen musician labored over a difficult passage in last minute rehearsal. The still air buzzed with life as people hurried eagerly back and forth through the deep caverns, familiar with every twist and turn. Tables and chairs slowly made their way throughout the rough passages, carried with care by arms working in unison. Following behind were food and decorations, festive and plentiful, accompanied by candles. Always more candles. Candles everywhere.
            Deep down however, one chamber remained dark. Massive doors of ancient wood stood silent and closed at the entrance, holding back the continual gusts of subterranean winds which whispered just outside. The room within was large and empty as it waited in quiet night far beneath the candle lit environs above. Its cradled air slept undisturbed. Nothing moved in its spaces, covered in a blanket of shadow, peaceful and content.
            Finally, the door to the great hall swung open, dimly filling the darkness as tunnel denizens from above flowed in without a sound. The fragmented wisps from the appropriately named Chamber of the Winds behind them danced across their backs. Lit dimly by the glow of the flickering torches outside, they moved with practiced ease, guided by a single elderly man dressed in the warm, simple garments of those who lived in the tunnels. He was the leader of their isolated community, and although most knew his name, everyone simply called him Father. To many of those below, that was what he meant to them in mind if not in body, coming as they did from various bad situations from the world above. Father directed the work to be done, the confidence in his whispered assurances and various gestures built upon long years of Winterfests past.
            And it would be a large Winterfest this year. Even Father's wizened face held an air of anticipation. He watched happily as tables were moved and positioned in the shadows. Armfuls of tapestries were hung on the empty stone walls climbing along the staircase which lead to the balcony above. Mouse, the young man who years ago had lived alone in the tunnels by stealing food from the others and thus earning his name, scurried over the two large chandeliers sprawled on the floor. As mechanically inclined as usual, he inspected every rope and pulley, checking and double checking their condition. Machinery fascinated Mouse, things that moved or glowed, and fixing and building things was his singular passion. His normal, fragmented speech whispered to the others around him as his excitement got the best of him. Together they bent down to place unlit candles within empty holders, candles which would blaze overhead after the lighting ceremony when the iron fixtures were raised.
            Slowly everyone moved back to the windswept doorway where Father waited. Smiles danced across their faces as if they were children again. When the old man saw that all of the hall's settings had been placed, he ushered everyone back out into the chamber of the winds to rejoin the others in the tunnels above. Then, with a last satisfied glance into the shadowed hall, he pulled closed the massive doors, leaving the darkness which slept once more, patiently waiting for their impending return.

            Far above, nightfall was coming to the dizzying heights over the city streets of New York. On an empty rooftop, an unnoticed figure watched the setting sun as it began its descent behind the shadowed skyline looming over Central Park. The sun's dimming rays turned an overhead cloud bank a beautiful orange-red, bathing the shadows with dim color wherever the sunset's light did not touch. The watching shadow stood alone on the high roof, the building beneath it long familiar to him. His features remained hidden within the deep shelter of the warm, patchwork cloak he wore. No one watched his movements. No one had seen his arduous climb up the building's elevator shaft when he had pulled hand over hand up the thick cables until he made his way at the top to a service opening onto the roof. Having done it a thousand times before, he had lost, long ago, any fear of that dangerous ascent. Lately, however, all those memories had seemed increasingly distant. Faded pictures drawn on air, that had happened a lifetime ago.
            With practiced ease he glided over to the edge of the building's rooftop, silent and unseen as his black cloak flapped in the soft breeze which blew past. All across the city around him, his eyes caught the flicker of lights turning on in distant windows, as the vast metropolis prepared for the coming dusk. Even after so many years the beauty of New York at night never ceased to surprise him. The fact that he would never dare to see it in the light of day was irrelevant to that appreciation.
            There it was below, the empty penthouse balcony that he had come to see. The one fragment of memory that still burned in his heart and his thoughts when the others were dispelled by the breeze. In the vast expanse of air around him, sunlight flowed past the silhouetted buildings in an orange stream, flowing towards him as if in recognition of a stranger it rarely encountered. He felt it play across his face in the chill air, a rare thing indeed. Then, with one last glance at the glittering vista, he dropped smoothly onto the empty balcony below.

            Far, far beneath him candles glittered in every corner in a display of their own, bathing the tunnels with a warm, soft light. People bustled about actively as final preparations continued above the great hall. A beautiful woman moved among them, her clothes the new, elegant fashions of the city above amidst the hand sewn wardrobe the others wore. Smiling, she helped a small boy gather food into a large tray intended for the great hall, her smooth, elegant face framed by long tresses of deep red hair that seemed almost to glow in the candlelight. The boy thanked her and moved away, happily carrying his burden and reveling in his assigned responsibility.
            The woman rested for a moment as she affectionately watched the activity around her. Even though she had known this community for only a handful of years, treasured years though they were, she was still surprised to be swept up in the hope and reverence felt by those who had lived in the tunnels all their lives. To them Winterfest was a statement. A statement against the cold of winter and the evils in the city above. Against the darkness in the empty corners of their underground world, where one could feel alone and abandoned by the world above unless one sought the comfort of friends and the warmth of family.
            At no other time were the residents below and their helper's above more joyous and united than when they shared in the singular celebration of Winterfest. But even then, this year was going to be unique. For many reasons. Helper's who hadn't been seen in years were expected to attend, the largest gathering that any one could remember. Most were already there, doing their part for the festivities. She hadn't seen such a collection of people in the tunnels since baby Jacob's naming ceremony, and he was almost nine now. Old and young, rich and poor, from above or from below, they all worked together. She was still amazed at the patchwork of people who knew of this place and kept its secret. who helped it survive and grow. A patchwork as varied as the clothes the tunnel dwellers wore, sewn together with caring and love. One thing linked them on this day. Everyone, including herself, held a home-made candle, distributed to all that attended to be lit at Winterfest from a single flame.
            She held more than one candle, however. Cradled in her elegant hands were two. One for herself and one for the person she waited for, as she searched the crowd for the one face that would never be lost in it. The one face that never left her mind or her heart.
            Father rushed past checking on everyone's progress. Until he stopped in a corner with Pascal to discuss whether everyone had been contacted or sent a candle in invitation. As Father spoke with the self proclaimed "master of the pipes" that the underground community used to tap out messages to each other, a cluster of children pushed their way between them and scrambled by.
            "Diana!" They called as they ran up to the beautiful woman in the breathless excitement of youth. "Where's Vincent? Is he coming? We haven't seen him today and if he doesn't come soon he's going to miss Winterfest!"
            Father watched the exchange even as he listened to Pascal tell him of the tapped communiqués he had sent and relayed to the far flung parts of the tunnels and the world above.
            Diana knelt and placed a comforting hand on the smallest girl's shoulder, a knowing smile on her face as she spoke to all of them. "Don't worry. He'll come. Vincent would never miss Winterfest," she touched the little girl's chin, "or miss a chance to dance with you , Molly."
           Molly broke into a youthful smile, and just as suddenly as they all had come, they all darted off again, laughing and giggling as they took in all the preparations in the tunnels around them. Diana watched with amusement, her body filled with contentment amidst the controlled bustle of activity around her. As she soaked it in with the same glee the children had, she knew she belonged here.
            Slowly a smile spread over Father's face as he watched Diana. Once she had been nothing more than a stranger, an unknown element who had found Vincent wounded and in despair above. Back then, Father had not been sure she could be trusted with their secret. Now, he couldn't imagine the tunnels without her. When she spoke of Vincent with such assuredness, he wondered if she knew anything of Vincent's plans for the evening. If she had been able to intuit his intentions. It was amazing how close the two of them had become. Even the children seemed to realize it, coming to her to ask for him. It was as if Diana were a part of Vincent now.
            Suddenly Father realized that Pascal was watching him and waiting for an answer to an unheard question. The balding little man grinned as he watched Father gaze affectionately at Diana. With an embarrassed smile, Father turned towards him.
            "I'm sorry, Pascal. Please, could you start again?"

            Even though the balcony was empty, in many ways it hadn't changed. Slowly Vincent moved over to the windowed doors and silently looked into the empty rooms within. Some of the interior walls still caught the fading orange glow of the setting sun, and he saw himself outlined in shadow against them. In his mind's eye, images formed in those empty spaces. Images of the elegant furniture of her apartment, music wafting out onto her balcony as long curtains billowed on the night air. Candles. Laughter. Flowers. Faces. Now all that was replaced by bare walls and the distant clamor of the traffic below.
            How many times had he been on this balcony with her, taking in the lights of New York, each second a joy, and a tragedy for being by necessity so short, so limited. How many times had she rushed into his arms as he stood on that very spot, both of them relieved to find each other again? Then there were other times, spent just being there together, talking about everything and anything, as he watched the city lights cast a glow along the curve of her face. Other, less happy, images surfaced as well. Of him laying her dead, pale form on her bed within, then kissing her cool lips as he said good-bye. In that corner of the balcony, by the low wall, was where she had read Great Expectations to him. It was almost as if he could hear her voice, asking him to sit beside her, calling him to-
            He turned suddenly towards the imagined whisper. But there was nothing there but an empty balcony.
            Vincent still remembered. But deep inside he knew that those memories would change tonight, in some subtle way. He felt the loss of her still. The fragrance of her perfume seemed to dance at him on the evening air. But she was gone. Years gone. Since their son, Jacob, was born over eight years ago. He could still see her face as she had looked up at him and died in his arms on a distant rooftop far from there. However, he didn't regret what he had come here to do, to admit to himself. He knew it was right.
            For years he had lived on memories of Catherine. So much so that for a time he had feared the he had grown empty and bitter, holding on to the shards of a life that could never be again. Catherine had been his world, but instinctively he knew how devastated she would be if the grief and loss of her had destroyed his life as well. Catherine's life meant more than that. So Vincent faced the rest of his feelings, and found that he had grown to love Diana. Catherine had never wanted Vincent to lie to himself, and in life they had always been truthful with each other. Vincent would give her, and himself, no less in death.
            Reaching underneath his cloak, he pulled out two roses, one red and one white. Bathed in the setting sun, a winter breeze flowed over their delicate petals. The conversation he had with Father that morning echoed in his mind as reverently placed the roses on her balcony floor.

                        Tonight at Winterfest, Father, I mean to tell Diana that I love her.

                      Vincent, I've long felt you ready to love again after all these years,
                     and it warms me to see you embracing it... embracing love, once
                      more. But does Diana share your feelings?

            The two flowers, new and alive, lay on the cold stone of Catherine's balcony as Vincent thought, the words still echoing as he reached under his cloak again and pulled out a small white card, his elegant cursive written across it in expressive strokes. Vincent's clawed hand placed the card lovingly atop the two flowers. The card read, THO LOVERS BE LOST, LOVE SHALL NOT...

                        If she does share my feelings, she hasn't expressed them to me.
                        When I lost Catherine, she felt my loss deeply, and she would not
                        wish to trample those memories. Diana needs to hear it from me first,
                        or such is my hope.

                        Vincent, if she truly shares your feelings, then I'm positive,
                        in every way, that Catherine would approve.

            AND DEATH SHALL HAVE NO DOMINION. Vincent turned and spoke to the empty balcony, his voice filled with emotion as the sun finally dropped behind a distant building, leaving the balcony bathed in the orange-red glow from the clouds above. His memories began to whisper and recede to the edge of his consciousness once more and his words evaporated on the chill winter air.
            "Whatever happens, Catherine, whatever comes... know that I love you... forever."
            With that he turned and in one quick and easy motion pulled himself onto the roof once more. Vincent moved away quietly, making no more noise than a shadow would make as it became lost in twilight. The two roses were left behind on the balcony floor when suddenly the front door of the apartment opened, filling the darkened space inside with light as a silhouetted woman walked slowly in from the hallway, not seeing his departing form.

            Later, the great hall was filled with light as the now lit iron chandeliers blazed overhead with row after row of candles glowing from their raised position near the ceiling. Throughout the hall, people blew out the candles they had carried at the end of the ceremony as a rousing burst of music poured forth from the musicians in the corner. The crowded room buzzed with motion and conversation as the happy throng migrated towards the food tables, or searched for a dance partner, or just moved to greet old friends long missed.
            Vincent bent down to give his son, Jacob, a warm hug as several other festival guests converged on him to say hello, their ardent voices overlapping each other in a press of well wishing. Diana quietly watched as she stood near Vincent, smiling as she took in the pleasant feeling from the assembled gathering around her, even as they began to pepper her with polite words as well. Everyone expressed relief that Vincent had arrived in time, and as they came up to him, not a single person even blinked at his appearance. His face was as accepted as any other, and looking at him, Diana saw no reason for it to be otherwise.
            "Glad you could come, Vincent."
            "Nice to see you, Vincent. MY, how Jacob is growing..."
            "Vincent, it has been too long. I wish you could see my new shop above..."
            "Have you heard from Devin, Vincent? I heard he's managed to get himself elected to the city council above..."
            "Vincent, I understand that Mouse is trying to build some sort of rail system again, right in the tunnels, to help transport supplies from the helpers. I hope he's not getting any parts by 'just taking' from above again..."
            Vincent took it all in stride, exchanging handshakes and warmly greeting friends he hadn't seen in some time. Diana stayed near Vincent as she was approached from all sides, answering some of the same questions that had been asked of him and giving her polite take on the evening's festivities. Somehow everyone knew that she would be found near Vincent, as she always was.
            Young Jacob, lost in the shuffle, fidgeted as he eyed another group of boys already racing through the crowd in play. He looked up towards Vincent, a question in his eyes.
            Vincent looked down at his son. "Go. Be careful, but have fun."
            "Bye Father, bye Diana, " Jacob said in a rush. Then, with a grin he ran off, his voice mixing into the crowd as he called out. "Hey, Timothy, wait up...!"
            Slowly Vincent and Diana made their way through the tide of friends and new acquaintances, until finally they were at the foot of the staircase that led to the empty walkway above the hall. Without a word they moved up the stairs, quietly passing the hung tapestries that depicted old stories long forgotten. Images passed through Vincent' s mind of another Winterfest long ago when he had ascended those steps with a different face across from his, her's a different smile, a different glow. He wrapped those images carefully away, never to be forgotten, and turned to look at the woman across from him now. They moved out onto the walkway, and stood silently facing each other, with their faces turned to gaze at the crowd below. Music flowed up to them, mingled with conversation and laughter, which made their small walkway seem like a quiet oasis in a festive storm. The smell of food and candles floated on the air, and a familiar contented silence passed between them. Warm, but still slightly awkward with things left unsaid.
            "Diana," Vincent began, "there is something I have needed to tell you... for a long time."
            Diana looked straight into Vincent's eyes and spoke in one quick, anxious rush. "Vincent, I think I've loved you since the first time I saw you."
            Vincent stood speechless. His rehearsed conception of how the conversation would go lay shattered before him. But then, slowly, a joyous smile spread across his face, which for him wasn't an easy thing to pull off physically. Stunned at what Diana had said, he was suddenly filled with an unexpected bliss. The worries and concerns of the past weeks melted away in an that instant, as he watched a smile play across Diana's face as well.
            Diana reached out to take his clawed hand into her own as she looked up at him. "Maybe I wanted to be the one to say it first," she said as she smiled tenderly at him.

            Far above, under the darkened night sky of New York, light still flowed out onto the empty balcony, pouring from the apartment through the windowed doors stretching across its expanse. Inside three figures moved, their voices muffled behind the glass as they walked through the empty rooms. The two men and single woman inspected the empty spaces within, searching every corner and closet as they evaluated what the apartment would look like furnished and occupied. One of the men, the building's supervisor, gave his polished pitch to the other two. The woman looked around, keenly observed by the second man who had come with her, a man who carefully watched her reactions. She slowly walked past the wide windows, silhouetted by the glow from inside as she gazed out upon the dark gulf of Central Park below.
           Far across that gulf of shadowed trees another window looked out over the park from a nearly empty high rise apartment. Behind its darkened glass, high tech equipment was silently being set up in the shadows that cloaked the apartment's interior. A man's black gloved hands quickly turned a knob on a tripod that held a surveillance camera, raising it into position. Wires were connected between it and a monitor, which blinked to life. A high resolution image appeared on its screen of the distant woman across Central Park, shadowed against the lights behind her as she looked out into the night. The camera's zoom lens whined softly as it auto focused on her form while the man's hand centered the image. As the camera watched her shadow , the two men in the apartment with her continued their unheard conversation as she turned away from view. Dark hands clicked another small device onto the camera barrel, next to an inactive parabolic microphone. A separate screen brightened, displaying a flat line and the words NO AUDIO. ZERO VIBRATIONS RECEIVED. The hand flipped a switch and suddenly a thin red laser beam flashed invisibly across the park, hitting the distant window and bouncing back in less than a hundredth of a second. Suddenly the flat line on the display came to life, moving up and down in complex waves as the text changed to AUDIO RECEIVED. LINK ESTABLISHED. Headphones were placed over a head in shadow and the distant voices of the three figures became abruptly clear. As the man listened, his eyes patiently watched, as beneath his chair another device quietly recorded everything.

           Far below, Vincent was silently able to speak again, as Diana waited patiently. "I didn't expect this," he said with a soft laugh.
           Diana stood there beaming, beautiful and happy. Her red hair seemed to glow in the candlelight, surrounding her adoring gaze at him, a gaze that he returned. With a small enigmatic smile she reached out and touched his cheek.
           "Maybe I know you better than you think."
           Vincent chuckled. "Perhaps not. Perhaps I was only going to ask you to return that book of sonnets you borrowed."
           Now it was Diana who laughed. "No, you weren't."
           Vincent smiled.
           As he looked at her, he marveled at the wonders that life had blessed him with, wonders more than any one person deserved. In that instant his doubts were banished. He was certain that this was the right thing, as he stood there with Diana, bathed in the feelings they felt for each other. He had all that he needed, all that he wanted, within the festive confines of that deep cavern, as the crowds talked and danced below. He looked into her eyes, his voice warm with emotion as he whispered to her.
           "I love you, Diana."

           In the city above, the apartment manager unlocked the glass doors and stepped aside. The balcony doors smoothly swung open under her hands to either side, and the woman walked out into the night air. She turned and thanked him.
           "This particular residence is available immediately if you find it to your liking." the man continued.
           The second man moved to the supervisor. "That's something I needed to discuss with you, perhaps I should explain..."
           As their conversation took them back into the apartment, the woman walked over to the wall along the balcony's edge, placing her hands on it as she soaked in the grand expanse of the city around her. She looked down to the street far below. Without turning she spoke to the two men behind her. "The view is astounding."
           "Oh, I agree." the supervisor replied. "This is a very special place. I know you will enjoy your time here. Well, I wish you the best and I'll contact you tomorrow with the final details. Feel free to look around further, please lock the door as you leave."
           The second man moved to thank him as he headed for the door, leaving the woman alone on the balcony. She tried to imagine waking up with a view like this every morning, of living her life here, and building new memories. She closed her eyes and tilted her head to the sky in contentment as a feeling of warmth and hope came to her unexplained. Softly, she whispered to herself.
           "I feel peaceful here. Like I'm home."
           "I'm glad you like it." The second man stood near the balcony doors where he had been watching her for several seconds. "I think moving back to the city will be good for you. Perhaps it will hasten your progress. And in my sometimes not so humble professional opinion," he said amused, "I think you will be happy here."
           "Believe me, I'm well versed in your humility." She smiled. "But you're right. My doubts are gone. Somehow, this seems right, and I can't quite explain why." She turned back towards the view of the city. The distant lights glittered around her like candles. It was strange. She almost imagined that she heard music, and the smell of wax. A small chill breeze brushed its fingers across her cheek, but she still felt full of warmth. She turned back to the man watching her, smiling.
           "It feels familiar already."

           Jacob was running though the crowd, watching as they seemed to twist and turn in his vision as he frantically changed direction to avoid being tagged by Timothy, who chased just behind. Suddenly he stopped short when he caught a glimpse of Father, as the old man watched the walkway above the hall with great interest. Curious, Jacob turned to see what Father was looking at. Above the crowd, Vincent and Diana were talking alone as her hand held his between them. Both had eyes only for each other and were oblivious to the others in the room. Timothy came crashing up behind Jacob and slapped him on the back in triumph. "You're it." he said, winded from the chase. Jacob didn't react, but instead turned and whispered into Timothy's ear, who then turned his head and looked up at Vincent and Diana along with Jacob. Scattered in the busy crowd around them, several others had noticed the couple as well.
           "You have been incredibly patient with me, Diana." Vincent was saying up above, "and I know you have waited a long time. Perhaps in some way that may cause you to doubt my sincerity or my truthfulness. But you must believe that my feelings, what we have between us, is genuine, that-"
           "Vincent, I do believe you, I-"
           Vincent pressed on. "You have given me so much over the years, so much warmth and love, perhaps I've treated your love unfairly, denied my emotions and-"
           "No, I understand, really I do, Vincent. You don't have to-"
           "Your generosity, your breadth of spirit. My feelings for you, Diana, are deep and real, they enrich me far beyond what words can expre-"
           Exasperated, Diana moved quickly forward without warning and kissed him, her lips finding his instantly. Then realizing that there was no more need for words, Vincent slowly kissed her back, deeply, as they embraced each other, flowing smoothly into each other's arms.
           A cheer of approval rose unexpectedly from throughout the watching crowd below. For several seconds, Diana and Vincent didn't notice, until the sound broke through their long kiss. Shyly, their lips parted and they looked at everyone below while still in each other's arms, happiness blossomed on their faces.
           Father nodded to himself, sincerely pleased for both of them. Jacob, standing next to him, smiled and waved up at Vincent and Diana before he ran off, chasing after Timothy in continuation of their game. Mouse, his face full of wonder, walked through the crowd smiling with his head tilted up towards them. "Okay, good. Okay, fine." he said to those around him happily. Pascal came up behind Father, placing his hand on the old man's shoulder as he yelled up at the couple good-naturedly. "Well, its about time!" He turned towards Father. "You would have thought it would take less than eight years for them to figure it out." he said.
           Diana remained easily in Vincent's arms, leaning her head against him as she watched everyone smiling up at her and Vincent. The candles seemed to flicker with a new light, and the air was alive with possibilities. The cavern felt warm and safe, like Vincent's arms, and she had never felt better in her life.
           Vincent held her tightly, soaking in the smell and feel of her. His senses seemed to dance around him, and he felt elevated and content. The candles throughout the chamber stretched before him like a city, as his friends, no, his family watched below. He could almost feel their affection passing over both of them like a breeze. He whispered into her ear.
           "I really didn't expect this." he breathed.
           Diana held him tighter, never wanting to lose this moment as they stood there, feeling lifted by the approval of all those below who cared for them. She smiled up at him, unable to express the wave of emotions that flowed though her. It had often seemed that she would never reach that feeling, but it had happened at last. Vincent's arms encircled hers.
           "Life's full of surprises, Vincent."

           Alone again on the balcony, shrouded in the night far above the city, the woman encircled her arms around herself. She could have sworn she had felt her lips tingle, unexplainably, moments ago. Suddenly, she noticed something out of the corner of her eye and she moved quietly towards it, with the distant street noises rising from below the only sound. Reaching down, she picked up two roses, one red and one white, that had been laying on the floor, with a card beside them that she now held in her hands.
           Curious, she looked around the balcony, but found no one there. Carrying her new discoveries, she walked back towards light falling in from the doorway, unaware of the small red dot of light that passed across her clothes as she moved through its beam. She lifted the two roses into the light to get a better look at what she had found. The light flowed onto her face, revealing a tiny scar that ran just beneath her left ear. She turned full into the light to reveal the face of a mystified Catherine Chandler.
           Catherine held the roses in her hands, cradling them gently as she touched the fresh petals. Turning the card, she began to read the inscription written upon it in a firm, flowing, elegant cursive. "Tho lovers be lost..." she began, but became lost in thought as she wondered about her find. She looked out over Central Park once more as half formed images passed though her mind, of earth walls and flowers. And for some reason she couldn't explain, she could still smell candle wax.
           She wrapped her arms around herself tighter at the sensations. "Very familiar somehow."



           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 crisis's, 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, marveling 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 he was 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 inducing a deep coma. It was still a risky move. I was told I almost died, regardless. But from 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 acquired 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 yourself have any idea who did that?"
           "No, none."
           "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 claustrophobic, 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 separate her from the rest of the city. She had dated throughout her life, but lover after lover had come and gone while trying futilely 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 closer 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 separation, 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 photographs 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, even though she knew she couldn't hide them from her thoughts. Along with the photos were documents and scribbled clues she left for herself in an effort to coalesce the jumbled pieces 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 yourself, 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, still waiting for spring. It seemed... poetic. It touched me. A memory of roses, warmer times. After a few weeks, the rosebush succumbed 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 that 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 every day with apathy and violence. I have to believe they do so out the faith that there'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 redefining 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 tomorrow 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 scattered 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 tomorrow 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 piercing 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.

            Diana was still aglow when she stepped off the elevator and walked towards the District Attorney's offices. Before, she had always dreaded these walks, since she knew inside that she was about to be assigned yet another gruesome murder case, or tragic, wrenching child abduction. Today though, she seemed to glide with an airy step, entering through the double doors into the bustle within the office proper. Serenely she slipped past swarming workers darting amongst the desks spread throughout the room. The buzz of ringing phones and frantic voices filled the air as usual, but Diana moved as if in absolute quiet, her elegant form a calm center to the whirling hurricane around her. She watched her surroundings but was unaffected by them, still riding the last remaining sensations of her time with Vincent. Around her were furrowed brows, voices filled with anxiety. But amid such worry and concentration, Diana's face held a far-off smile that silently spoke volumes.
            One of the workers looked up from her crowded desk and saw Diana gliding by. She placed a hand to muffle the phone held against her ear and called out to her. "Diana! Joe's looking for you. He's got someone waiting to meet you in his office." The woman spared Diana an enigmatic smile. "You'll never guess who," she said with amusement.
            Diana looked over at Joe's office, nestled at the back of the room, but his office door was shut. Curious, she moved towards it after a distracted "thanks" to the woman. She didn't noticed the many surprised conversations slipped in among the normal business around her; conversations about Joe's visitor.
            "Diana!" Exiting his office Joe Maxwell hustled over to her, his face enigmatic and excited as he crossed the room. He gratefully took hold of her shoulders.
            "You'll never believe what's happened," he said. "Something amazing, something extraordinary." Joe suddenly noticed her expression, the happiness radiating from her. "Hey... what's up with you? Got a new man in your life or something?" he asked grinning.
            "Something like that," she said introspectively, her mind envisioning candle-lit tunnels.
            "Hmm... He looks good on you. Whoever he is, he's a lucky guy. Anyway, I've got someone who will make your day even better. Someone you got to see." And with all the excitement of a child at Christmas, he propelled her towards his office, moving around to open the door for her.
            With a laugh back at Joe for his enthusiasm, as she entered she turned her head....

            ...and in that one second, Diana's world was shattered beyond all recognition.
            There, sitting calmly in a chair before Joe's desk, was Catherine Chandler. Afternoon sunlight poured in past Joe's windows, flowing down over her with a golden light.
            "My god..." Diana whispered in despair.
            Joe, oblivious to Diana's mood, closed the door behind him and stood between the two women. With a smile he enjoyed the shock on Diana's face.
            Catherine smoothly rose to her feet and extended her hand.
            "You must be Diana Bennett," she said. "Joe's told me so much about you."
            Without realizing it, Diana was shaking Catherine'S hand. The world seemed to stretch and she felt herself falling into the abyss which opened before her. Slowly, she looked over at Joe.
            "What's going on here..." Diana asked in a weak monotone.
            "Diana, I'd like you to meet Catherine Chandler, at last."
            Everything seemed to rush into a booming silence for Diana. She felt paralyzed, a hint of coming tears, starting to glitter in her eyes. Her face remained empty, like a mask.
            "Catherine..." she whispered.
            Catherine smiled at Diana. "The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated," she joked.
            "How..." Diana stuttered.
            "She's been in protective custody for years after her death was faked. Our doctor on the inside misjudged the dose before he was killed. Put her in a coma. She lost most of her memories because of it, but she's alive and well. Pretty amazing, huh?" Joe said, smiling.
            "I understand you were assigned to investigate my murder, Diana." Catherine spoke with genuine gratitude. "I appreciate all your efforts on my behalf."
            Diana stood silent, her gaze despondently fixed on Catherine.
            Joe and Catherine began to sense her strange reaction, and they both shared a glance at each other, confused.
            Joe moved over to her with concern. "Diana... what's wrong?"
            Diana looked over at him, her eyes flooded with tears. She hardly moved as she replied.
            "Everything." she whispered.
            Without another word, she turned in a daze and slowly left Joe's office.
            Catherine blinked at Joe.
            "Did I do something wrong?"

            Diana watched herself walking forward as if she were only a spectator. Slowly, her dazed footsteps built momentum like a wave breaking. She moved faster and faster through the outer office space, until she found herself running, the workers and desks speeding past in a blur all around. Some looked at her curious about her distress. Then Diana was through the double doors and out into the quiet of the hall, leaving the noise and bustle behind her. But the chaos within her however, still danced inside her head.
            Approaching down the hallway, a stranger in a suit slowed, seeing the tears covering her face. Diana quickly looked around and darted into a nearby woman's restroom.
            The restroom was empty. Its clean white surfaces echoed with the sounds of her entering, with her despairing sobbing. Diana closed her eyes, leaning her back against a wall, trying to make sense of what it all meant. Catherine Chandler... the love of Vincent's life, was still alive. She had to tell him. She couldn't not tell him, even both of them had moved on with their lives, the two of them together finally, after all the pain and sorrow had faded. Vincent needed to know. Without a doubt, Diana knew he loved her. She was certain of that. But she was not so certain that couldn't change. Through her tears, the world was a maze, and she felt caught, alone in the bathroom. Diana couldn't bring herself to leave, to rush down below to tell Vincent. She felt her back slide down the wall until she crouched on the floor, weeping as she dropped her head onto her raised knees. Her arms wrapped around them as if trying to block out the world. Her soft sobbing echoed gently through the quiet bathroom.

            Vincent was filled with wonder. As he helped the children move supplies from the helpers above, walking through the tunnels, his blue eyes took in every rock and corner, every flickering candle or torch. He couldn't explain it. It was as if he were viewing the world through fresh eyes. Every expanse and vista that opened up before him as he walked seemed alive and new, as if he had never seen them before. He even felt a little fear at being in new surroundings, which mystified him since he had lived in the tunnels all his life. he couldn't explain where those sensations came from, as if he were up somewhere high, but he felt them, deeply. Vincent had suspected his new life with Diana to give him fresh perspective, but he hadn't expected such a dramatic change.
            Father waited up ahead, a torch in one hand and his cane in the other. The children said hello to him as they filed past, each carrying armfuls of food and clothing. Vincent felt content as he walked up to him.
            "The helpers seem to have done well, Vincent." Father said. "It is a most generous bounty they have provided us."
            "The helpers have always been there when we needed them." Vincent still gazed around himself, taking in every detail. "They are all very good friends, with giving hearts who wouldn't abandon us."
            "Yes, but sometimes friends grow apart, Vincent. It can be difficult, sometimes, to be concerned with us down here when they have concerns of their own above. We should always be grateful for whatever help they provide."
            "They're inspired by your own generosity, Father. You've never faltered in your faith in others, and neither will they. You're too good a teacher." Vincent reached out and held the old man's shoulder.
            Father smiled, and noticed Vincent still looking everywhere.
            "Have you lost something, Vincent?"
            "No. But perhaps, I've found something."
            "You seem changed somehow. Diana seems to have done you some good."
            Vincent looked at Father. "Of that, I have no doubt. Everything seems new to me, Father. As if I'm experiencing it for the first time. Even the most familiar sights are bright and alive. It is a strange sensation."
            "Love's eyes can do that sometimes, Vincent. I still remember being with Margaret years ago. I'd never seen a sky so blue."
            "But there are other feelings as well. Awkwardness. Excitement. Contentment. They come at me at any time, even when I'm not with Diana. Seemingly out of nowhere."
            "Every relationship is different, Vincent. The interplay of hope, fear, love, longing. Unique to those involved. If your love for Diana provides you with fresh perspective, accept it as the gift it is."
            "Of course, Father. I cherish any gift Diana gives."
            "Come now, Vincent. The children are getting a lead on us."
            Vincent placed his hand on father's back as they followed the children. Together they walked down the tunnel when suddenly Vincent was filled with a sense of concern, confusion, as if he had hurt someone unknowingly. Strange, he thought to himself, where did that come from?

            Diana's loft was dark, -just as Vincent had expected. Diana had told him last week that tonight was the night of her niece's middle school concert. Vincent hadn't planned on finding her home. But still, he hadn't heard from her in days. It was strange. Diana never seemed to return home since their last time together either. He looked through the large panes of glass that looked down onto her living room. he stood on a small roof balcony outside, the outer edge lined by waist high brick walls. Skyscrapers loomed all around, most of their windows dark as well. The misty night sky was soft and gray from the myriad lights of New York. Vincent regretted the light pollution blocking out the stars, especially here surrounded on Diana's loft by urban buildings and streetlights. He listened to the sound of unseen cars below as slim breeze wafted over the roof. A siren wailed plaintively in the far distance. He pulled in the patchwork leather coat he wore tighter against the chill, waiting.
            Nearby were the iron metal chairs that he and Diana had occasionally used. A small table stood between them, where the two of them would come up to share the night air, and each other's company. Vincent didn't often go down into her loft. He felt somehow vulnerable in places where he couldn't make a quick escape if he were discovered. Until recently, anyway. It had taken some time to become comfortable inside. And since Diana's loft was only accessible by an old freight elevator, he had felt safe that no one would casually walk in.
            But tonight, he had simply come just to be near something of hers. Everything about that loft reminded him of Diana. Her style, her voice seemed to echo off the walls even though she was not there. Vincent hoped he would finally see her again soon, perhaps tomorrow night. Then he realized, that he had hoped that she would have been there tonight after all. As he stood there, he remembered the solace he had drawn from the roses in the park. She could use some of those roses in her loft in the coming days. Vincent could just make out the drawn back curtain in the loft below, exposing an empty brick wall, waiting for the gruesome new case file pictures they would surely have again. In that moment, he decided to go into the park, to see if perhaps the roses were blooming again. Moving like a shadow, he left Diana's darkened loft.

            Central Park stretched dark before Vincent, but it held no fear for him. He often wandered the dark streets of New York, and had become adept at avoiding contact with the many others who roamed the night, for reasons of their own. Sometimes he would see a couple, walking together through the crisp winter air, as he merely watched from the shadows. Other forms, more sinister, also walked through those dark places. thugs looking for easy targets. People who enjoyed hurting other people, like holes in the night. He always watched them intently, his eyes keenly adapted to viewing in the darkness. They would usually cross back into the city streets, having found no suitable victims. Vincent did his best to protect anyone in the park, but he had learned long ago that no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't be everywhere. It was a painful wound, that most people above learned to live with in their own way, carrying it like a scar. That sometimes, bad things just happened. It was a scar Vincent shared with them, one he hoped he would never grow to forget, because that would mean he no longer cared.
            Quietly, he moved among the trees, steering clear of the walkways and slinking behind every bush. His face was covered within the hood of his dark cloak. Here, when he looked up he could see the stars somewhat. Over the branches to either side, skyscrapers still poked their tops into the sky, distant and glittering in the night. Vincent loved that pocket of nature, a refuge of living things the park provided, especially for him. He had never dared travel outside of the city. In the tunnels far below, he had read of exotic places in poems and stories, strange lands full of beauty and wonder. It filled him with the yearning to see them, to breathe there. It was a yearning he knew he could never pursue, looking as he did. Still, walking under the trees he could feel himself in those distant places, far beyond the tunnels where he lived. And looking up at the stars, he could almost imagine himself in another time, a time where he could walk openly among the people around him.
            Vincent continued to search through the park for any hint of a rosebush. Then suddenly he was filled with a strange sensation, a feeling of himself ascending, in some closed space, that he couldn't explain. Then he saw it in the dark, a rosebush in a far corner. He moved towards the dormant plant, and was surprised to find many buds blooming a deep red. It was strange for roses to bloom in December, and it seemed a miracle that they did. The warm day must have fooled the plants into believing it was spring again. He reached down, to take a few blossoms for Diana. As he held two of the red buds, he thought of telling her that roses still bloomed in the park, in defiance of all logic, as a reminder of the beauty that could still be found in winter.
            And then again, Vincent got the sensation of himself above the park, and he looked up. There, looming just in sight, was Catherine's old building. It was an elegant, upscale apartment structure, a doorman waiting patiently up front. His eyes rose upward to where he could just see her darkened balcony. Vincent smiled to himself. Perhaps the roses were a gift from Catherine somehow. An effort to support him in his life with Diana. Vincent's mind filled with memories of being on that high balcony with Catherine, as they looked out over the park.
            Then as he watched, the lights in the apartment beyond turned on, a small, distant star that hung over the park. Vincent was curious, someone was living there again. Again, strange sensations washed over him of someone near, contentment, growing familiarity, sensations he couldn't place. His curiosity got the better of him, and he moved silently towards the building.

            Soft music floated through Catherine's apartment as she laughed. Joe smiled as he sat across from her, trying to keep from laughing himself as he told his tale.
            "So then, Ben comes over to me and tells me the deposition for some Rollins case or other had been moved up to three o'clock. And me, being so caught up and flustered by yet another last minute change in scheduling that I had no chance to prepare for, automatically believed him and--"
            They both held glasses of wine in their hands, relaxing into soft couches across form each other. Outside, past the open balcony doors, the dark night air seemed to stretch forever. Together, the two of them sat in a private haven. Catherine had lit candles all around the room, and they flickered in her eyes. Joe watched her with amazement as he spoke, not certain he could be as centered and content as she was after all she had been through.
            "So finally," Joe continued, "when I was about to totally lose it, you came up to me with another case file and in a completely off hand sort of remark, told me straight faced that there was no John Rollins, that he had never existed, and that the whole case was bogus. After which you quickly vacated my office of course."
            Catherine beamed. "I did that?" she asked.
            "Oh yeah. All the somersaults and hoops I tried to jump through to get this guy deposed, only to find that you and the rest of my staff had completely made him up. I didn't know whether to laugh or scream."
            "What did you do?"
            Joe looked at her. "I laughed. A lot. Too much even. Because I needed it. And somehow, you seemed to know I needed it too."
            Catherine tried to hold her giggles in check.
            "We all need laughter sometimes, Joe."
            "Absolutely. And you helped a lot of people with things like that. You were really great Cathy. With the job, with us, everything. Everyone in the office liked you. At first we were prepared not to. Some rich man's daughter who quit her cushy corporate job to come rushing in to our office. Probably out of whimsy, or boredom, or rebellion. Or naive idealism, trying to save the world. With no real intention of doing the actual work. Didn't take us long to realize you weren't like that at all. You were there because you cared. You carried your own. And more."
            "Those sound like good times. I wish I could remember them."
            "They weren't all good. Some of the cases got a little rough. Well... considering what you've been through, what happened to you, I'm sure you realize that. It's hard, taxing work. Full of thankless hours and unforgiving deadlines. Are you sure you want to come back?"
            "Without a doubt," she said. "I still feel that I belong there, where I can help people. Even without my memories, I'm still the same person inside. The experiences, the drives that led me to your office in the first place are still part of me, even if I'm not conscious of them. And whoever it was who inspired me to try and make the world above a better place, that's still important to me."
            "Above?" Joe asked. "Above what? Is that some sort of Ratcliff humor?"
            "I... I don't know," she said, a little confused. "I don't know why I said that. I do still remember Ratcliff though. All that tedious study is burned into my brain." Catherine spoke with a smile.
            "That's the way we like it." Joe laughed.
            "I remember more about case law than my own life. But I can still do the work, Joe. And I'd like to come back."
            "We'd love to have you, Cathy. As soon as you're ready."
            Joe checked his watch.
            "It's getting late. I have to go. I've got a deposition in the morning."
            "Who, John Rollins?"
            Joe laughed. "Sure. John Rollins..."
            They both rose and placed their wine glasses on the table. Catherine walked him to her door.
            "Thank you for dinner, Joe. I had a wonderful time. We should do this more."
            "Sure, Cathy. Anytime." Joe slipped his jacket on over his shoulders, preparing for the cold air outside.
            "Joe, I do have one question... Why haven't you tried to kiss me?" Catherine looked warmly into his eyes.
            He gazed at her for a moment, entranced by her beauty, her openness.
            "I... don't want to rush anything, Cathy."
            "Look, Joe," Catherine said in a level tone. "I'm not in need of some sort of protection. I'm a big girl, and I know what I'm doing. Just because I've lost some memories, doesn't me I can't decide things for myself..."
            Catherine smiled at him as she subtly moved closer. "I went out to dinner with you because I wanted to. Not out of some old sense of the past.. And anyway. It's not a crime to kiss me..."
            She moved closer still, her lips inches from his as she whispered. "Besides, it could lead to something new. Would that be so horrible?"
            "No," Joe said. "Not horrible at all."
            Their lips crossed that last thin space between them and finally touched, softly. Suddenly their arms held each other, and they stood there, melting deeply into the kiss.
            After several moments they separated, each caught in the new emotions flooding through them. Catherine smiled at him, as Joe clumsily adjusted his coat. "Well, I better go. I'll call you tomorrow."
            "Till tomorrow," she replied.
            Catherine quietly closed the door behind Joe as he left, turning to lean her back against it with a contented smile on her face. It had been a wonderful evening, and she felt alive, exploring the possibilities of a new life. Surely she had been attracted to Joe on some level before, she thought. Why wouldn't she? He was handsome in his own way, and she enjoyed his company. Had she been with someone else? Was that the reason? Regardless, if memories returned of a previous attraction to Joe, fine. If not, then just as well. It just meant she was starting over with a new life after all.
            Catherine effortlessly moved around her apartment, blowing out the glowing flame atop each lit candle, leaving fragile wisps of rising smoke behind. her finger pressed the lit power button on her stereo as she passed, suddenly filling the still air with silence. The warm flush of Joe's kiss still held her in the quiet of her apartment, so she moved towards her open, balcony doors, where the city of New York glittered beyond.
            Gracefully, she stepped onto the darkened balcony, light flowing outward behind her as she silently swung the doors further apart. Still smiling, she glided over to the balcony wall and looked down at the darkened park. It was a perfect night, with only a touch of winter in the night air. Catherine calmly soaked in all of New York, the sparkling buildings lighting up the night sky all around her. Far below was the soothing hum of traffic. She could make a new life here. She was certain of it. She felt safe, beyond measure.
            Then she saw the shadow, and a chill filled her.
            Someone was standing there, watching her, unseen on her balcony.



            Catherine tried hard not to scream at the apparition in the shadow of her balcony, her bewildered eyes trying to pierce the darkness of the strange outline watching her. She knew she should be calling for help and running out of her front door. Or perhaps fighting for her life. But something unknown, something undefined held her there, alone, as the distant sounds and lights of New York wafted up onto her quiet balcony. She felt it, something inside her. Almost like a distant memory or forgotten dream. Steeling herself, Catherine stood her ground, realizing she was not a woman who ran away, not anymore.
            A soft whisper, full of warmth, flowed over her.
            "I mean you no harm... Catherine."
            She tilted her head, curious. His voice sounded almost as scared as she was.
            "How do you know my name," she asked.
            The hooded figure bowed his head, and it seemed a wave of sadness washed over her like a winter breeze. But then it passed, and he looked at her, his eyes still hidden in his cloak. She could hear longing, and a tint of new joy, rediscovered in his voice as he continued softly.
            "That is a long story. One you used to know. Do you not remember it?"
            "No," she said, feeling less afraid. "I don't even know who you are."
            The shadow turned his head, looking out over the city.
            "Then I will remember for the both of us. I could tell you, if you wish."
            Her curiosity held. "What is your name?"
            She blinked when she heard that name. "Vincent..." whispered delicately past her lips.
            His voice sounded like it was amazed, rumbling with quiet wonder. "I have trouble accepting... that this can be real. That I'm not dreaming again, after so long. To find you here... is miraculous, Catherine."
            "You knew me from before," she said, almost completely past her previous fear. It felt insane inside her, but she trusted him, felt comfortable, home. Slowly, she seated herself in an outdoor chair, still making certain she didn't move any closer.
            "Yes," he said. His voice was mesmerizing to her, a low, whispery sound, full of warmth and compassion. Catherine had never heard anything like it. She watched him, watched the way he moved. There was a tenderness in his bearing as he spoke to her, such that she could almost see what he was feeling, and almost feel it herself. She felt his moments of pain at her questions, at her lack of recognition.
            "Do you have no memory of me at all?" he asked.
            "No..." she said. "But Joe has told me of you."
            Vincent seemed surprised. "Joe Maxwell? What has he said?"
            "He said there was a Vincent I knew from before, whom they never found. He thinks you brought me here, after I was left for dead. Was that you?"
            "Yes... You did know me... Once. We spent much time together, here, on this balcony."
            "Only here? Why did no one else know you. Was there nowhere else we went?"
            She sensed he was holding something back. "Nowhere else..."
            "How did you know I had come back?"
            "I saw your light... I was curious. But now I realize, I felt you near... We have a connection, Catherine. A connection I thought I had lost forever."
            Catherine sensed he knew much about her previous life. "Tell me," she said.
            Vincent looked at her, the wonder still evident in him even in the shadows. His soft, elegant voice continued.
            "We spent time together here. You were injured, many years ago, and left in the park. Cut. Bleeding. I took you to my father, to heal your wounds. He is a doctor. Then I brought you back. We were together her. We read stories to each other. On this very balcony. Do you remember Great Expectations?"
            Catherine suddenly smiled, one particular memory surfacing. She felt Vincent rejoice beside her, as if he knew what she was feeling.
            "I saw no shadow of another, parted from her," Catherine recited.
            They looked at each other and together Vincent and Catherine shared a moment of warmth in remembrance.
            Then there was a knock at the door.
            Catherine turned her head and looked into her apartment. She heard the sound of quiet movements and looked back towards Vincent, catching the swirl of the trailing edge of his cloak as it disappeared onto the roof. Neither of them saw the small red laser light that darted across Vincent's back.
            "Vincent!" she cried, moving forward to call him back, but he was gone. She stared in wonder at the edge of her roof, amazed he had moved so fats and unexpectedly. There was another soft knock on her door. With another look upward, she re entered her apartment.

            Joe Maxwell stood behind her front door when she opened it.
            "I'm sorry, Cathy. Did I wake you? I made it all the way to my car before I realized that I forgot my keys. Guess I was distracted," Joe smiled, until he noticed Catherine's expression. "Are you alright? What's wrong?"
            "Vincent was here," she said.
            "Here? Where?" Joe became immediately concerned, and rushing in, started searching through her apartment for intruders.
            "No, Joe. He's gone now. He was on my balcony."
            The two of them stepped quickly outside into the shadows of the night air. Then Joe looked at her.
            "Where did he go? I didn't see anyone in the hall."
            "He left," Catherine explained. "Via the roof."
            "The roof?" Joe looked up, amazed. "Guy must be an acrobat to try that."
            "He was standing right here, Joe. In the dark when I came out. We spoke to each other for a minute before you came. Then he ran away."
            "More like flew away. Did you see him? What did he look like?" Joe asked.
            "I don't know... It was dark. I don't think he meant me any harm."
            "Well, at any rate my office has a lot of questions for Vincent if we ever get a hold of him."

            Far across the park, a man watched Catherine's balcony through a high zoom video camera and night vision. He watched the shadow of Vincent dart across the roof and into an access hatch.
            "Subject is on the move. Capture teams, are you in your positions? He's on his way down."
            "Affirm. He can't leave the building without being seen."

            Vincent quickly descended through the dark innards of the building's elevator shaft, his mind still swimming with the shock of his conversation with Catherine. She was still alive, he had sensed her feelings for days and not known it. And then, Vincent felt his heart empty. He was a stranger to her. The fear she had felt upon seeing him, as nothing more than a shadowy intruder, had ripped through his emotions beyond measure, bringing up memories of a mirror thrown at his face, all over again.
            Suddenly, he felt someone below. Without knowing how, he paused with the knowledge that there was a man, a stranger, watching, waiting in the shadows. If he listened, he could almost hear him breathing. Vincent's body tensed, at last realizing that he was being hunted.
            Far below, on the shadowed roof of the motionless elevator, a man waited, his eyes covered by low light goggles. Carefully, he scanned the elevator shaft above, but found nothing. Gloved fingers gripped the dart gun he held, squeezing ever tighter. A strap with a compact automatic weapon hung against his hip. The black metal of a silencer protruded from the small rifle's muzzle. If things got ugly, it paid to be prepared. And in the man's mind, he knew that if he had to kill the subject, it was all the same to him. It was only a matter of time.
            Vincent hid as best as he could, glancing down the dark shaft. Then he looked all around him, searching for an escape. Closed elevator doors lead to another floor of the apartment building. Not knowing what lay beyond them, Vincent hesitated. he would be seen, cornered in those bright hallways. And he could feel seconds ticking away, knowing the man must have seen him by now, and not acted yet. As he hung there, Vincent thought quickly, a dozen floors from the elevator shaft's bottom. The man still waited below. They must want him alive. At this height, a fall down the shaft could kill him. They were waiting for him to get lower. He knew it was a they, felt it now. And he knew they were about to be disappointed. Quickly, Vincent began climbing back up the way he came.
            The man below saw his target pause, as if sensing something. With a silent curse, he pulled the dart rifle sight to his cheek and aimed upward, just as they shadowy figure began climbing upward along the cables. Without hesitation, he pulled the trigger. A whispery puff bounced his muzzle back as the dart sped away.
            Vincent felt something unseen brush his cheek as a loud metal clang sounded over his head. Looking up, he saw a metal dart imbedded in a junction box. He climbed even faster.
            Below him the man reloaded his gun, pausing only long enough to hit the top of the elevator cab twice with his fist. At that signal, his partner in the elevator compartment itself pushed a button for the top floor, and it began to rise, following Vincent.
            The cable Vincent clung to began to descend, as others moved upward past him. he was moving downward as the elevator came up. He knew that any second now another dart would lance out, trying to pierce him. Holding his breath, Vincent pushed off of the descending cable, flinging himself into mid air, across the gap and onto the rising cable. His balance faltered on impact and he almost lost his grip, holding on with one hand before stabilizing himself. A puff of concrete erupted from the hard elevator shaft wall where he had just been, and he heard another errant dart bounce its way back down to his attacker. He began climbing again, moving even faster on the rising cable. With a final, desperate lunge he was in the machinery at the top of the shaft, darting towards the opening to the roof.
            "This is Sentry 7, target has evaded. Target has evaded. He's back on the roof. All units move in."

            Vincent ran back into the night air, his heart pounding. He was trapped on the darkened rooftop, pursuers only seconds away. He moved forward to the edge, but heard voices. Joe and Catherine talking on her balcony. Fighting the urge to return to her, he darted in another direction, seeing a different darkened balcony below, unused. He dropped down just as he heard the rooftop door slam open behind, as several dark figures swarmed through.
            They quickly fanned out in an increasing semicircle across the rooftop, all outfitted with dart guns and automatic weapons on their hips. Searching behind every vent or machine, they saw nothing.
            "ALL units, this is Watcher. South side! South side!! Descending."
            Without any need for acknowledgment on their radios, the figures as a coordinated whole moved silently in the direction the distant watcher described. The point man of the group looked down over the edge, seeing Vincent below, a shadow clinging to a small outcropping as he slowly made his way down the building's exterior. The passing headlights of cars were visible on the street far below him.
            "CONTROL, we don't have a clear dart shot. Request we upgrade force parameters."
            "Affirm. Take him. By any means.
            As one, the figures on the roof shouldered their dart guns as they pulled their automatics forward. The man on point motioned with his fingers, and two men darted back, going through the rooftop door. The point man keyed his radio.
            "Ground units, be advised. He's coming down to you."
            The man leaned out over the edge for only a split second, quickly scanning the empty balcony before pulling back. Seeing it clear, without hesitation he dropped down onto it.
            Vincent was scared almost beyond reason. His powerful hands gripped the buildings outcropping as he clung to the side a dozen floors above the street. The wind was cold. His breath came faster and faster, and his senses seemed to rev into hyper sensitivity. Above him he could hear soft scrapes, someone moving on the balcony he just left. And then the brick wall erupted around him as a sharp searing pain tore into his shoulder. Debris clattered downward against the building's side. Vincent's already dazed mind suddenly saw the bullet holes in a line across the wall. He then realized he had been hit, one of those holes was in his shoulder. Blood poured down his side.

            Joe and Catherine still stood on her balcony as they talked. Suddenly they heard a staccato series of pulses, and the sound of pebbles falling. A man cried out in pain.
            "What was that?" Catherine asked.
            "I don't know... It almost sounded like weapons fire." Joe walked to the far corner of the balcony and leaned out, looking in the direction the sound had come. He saw a shadowy figure on the next balcony turn and point something at him.
            Joe barely had time to drop prone to the ground as bullets suddenly sparked and exploded across Catherine's balcony. He pushed himself to sit against Catherine's balcony wall for cover, as Catherine darted into her apartment, glass shattering behind her.
            "Christ!" Joe cursed out loud as another volley erupted over his head. Then there was silence.
            Catherine called out from inside. "Joe! Are you alright?"
            "Yeah, I'm fine. Get on the phone, call the police!"
            He sat there, unwilling to move. Then he crawled across the broken glass and into Catherine's apartment, muttering to himself.
            "What the hell's going on here!?"

            Vincent ignored the pain in his shoulder as he tried to climb sideways, shifting to get under the balcony the shooter was firing from. He heard two more soft bursts of gunfire, but they weren't directed at him. Hidden, blocked underneath the balcony now, he looked around as he clung to the side of the building. A dark window faced him, an apparently empty apartment within. With a low growl, he punched his clawed hand through the window, letting out a beast like roar in pain from his wounds. Knocking away the glass, it fell far below him as he cleared a larger opening for himself before crawling into the shadows inside.
            Catherine paused as she spoke on the phone, rushing over to Joe to help him off the floor. Together they leaned on an interior wall as far from the balcony as possible. A tiny cut bled on Joe's forehead, where some stone shrapnel had clipped him. Catherine held the phone receiver to her neck as she spoke.
            "The police are on their way, Joe."
            "Okay," he breathed. "Stay on the line."

            Vincent leaned on a plush chair in the darkened apartment a few floors down. He moved away, not realizing that he left a stain of blood behind. There were more people hunting him than he expected, and they seemed to be following his movements very well. He blended into the shadows by the front door, waiting for the someone he knew would follow.
            Steps thumped outside, then several seconds of silence. Scrapes were heard as something opened the lock. The doorknob slowly turned and the door swung open, silent, filling the dark with a shaft of light. Looking down, Vincent searched for a shadow on the carpeted where the light was falling, but he found none. He held his breath. A small red dot appeared on the far wall, then another. The two lights swept the room in opposite directions .Vincent remained motionless behind the door, still watching the floor for motion.
            Then he saw it there, the dark outline of a figure entering the apartment, a small, lethal gun shadowed in his hands. Vincent tensed, waiting for the right moment. The figure was almost inside.
            Without warning Vincent ripped through the door he hid behind and tore open the man's throat with a blurred swipe, ducking down behind the door as a stream of bluets from the second man in the hallway rippled through the wood. Finally, the first man dropped like a stone. There was silence again as the second man waited outside. Without a sound Vincent moved to the opposite wall of the doorway, giving him partial cover from the gunman's line of sight. He glared out into the brightly lit hallway, and saw nearby a corner, opposite the still concealed shooter. He waited for the second gunman to make his move.
            He heard a step, and saw the forward end of the gun muzzle begin to enter the apartment. Vincent slammed down on the gun with all his might, roaring loudly as he suddenly leapt outwards, sprinting for the corner he had seen as the gunman tripped to the hallway floor. Vincent was followed along the wall by weapons fire from a third gunman he hadn't seen.
            In desperate flight, Vincent ran down the brightly lit halls. Footsteps pounded behind him. he turned another corner and found the hallway dead ended after a short distance. A window looked down on a sub roof one level below. Behind him the footsteps grew louder. Vincent started towards the window at a full run, not stopping. He crashed through, and found himself in mid-air, glass shards and his cloak billowing around him. Then he hit the rooftop below, sliding to a stop in a rain of debris. Two gunman appeared in the wrecked window above and immediately opened fire.
            Bullets sparked all around him as Vincent ran for the edge of the roof. His jumbled sight saw a metal emergency staircase on the building across a harrowing gap, just slightly below. realizing he no longer had a choice, he jumped at a full run, his heart in his throat as he felt the chasm beneath him. Then he slammed into the hard iron of the emergency staircase, pain cutting through his body. He began to slide off, his feet dangling above the alley below, but he pulled himself up onto the stairs .Quickly, he darted downwards, moving lower, flight after flight, as distant police sirens grew closer.
            They were waiting down below, he knew. It was all too well planned. So he climbed onto another small sub roof on the new building and clambered down an access shaft, hoping they weren't in all the surrounding buildings as well. Vincent had grown up moving in the night, traveling unseen from alleyway to alleyway, rooftop to rooftop. He knew of a hidden passage in this building that led to the tunnels below.
            A hatch was kicked open and Vincent fell out. He was in a basement. Pausing for a second, breathing heavily, he saw red and blue lights flashing from police cars through the hazy street level windows near the ceiling. More sirens screamed in the distance. Quickly, Vincent darted into a hidden corner, opening a concealed hatch and disappearing into the tunnels beyond.
            After a few minutes of running, Vincent paused in the tunnels to catch his breath. The wounds in his shoulder began to burn. Cuts and bruises peppered his body with pain. Vincent swooned, sweat and dirt caked with the blood on his shoulder. Slowly, he stumbled in a daze towards home. He didn't notice the small red rose he had picked for Diana fall from where he had saved it in a pocket within his cloak, It fell onto the dust, a few petals crushed loose from all Vincent had done to escape. It lay ignored on the floor, as Vincent walked away, disappearing  into the shadows.



            Diana felt unexplainably cold. She crossed silently over the underground threshold beneath her building, entering the twisting maze of dusty tunnels beyond. Her face was bare and emotionless as she strode forward, the coldness inside her settling into the pit of her stomach. Dread filled her as she thought of what was coming.
            She had been alone for days, away from her loft, away from everyone, since meeting Catherine Chandler. She hadn't been home, knowing Vincent could find her there. All because she felt lost. But she also knew she couldn't run forever. She had to tell him, that was why she finally had come down to the tunnels. Fearfully, she imagined the consequences to her life, to Vincent's life, but resolutely, she continued, knowing it was what she had to do, pushing past the despair inside her that didn't seem to want to leave.
            Around her as she walked, the passages were silent. Empty. They held none of the feelings of warmth and family that she was accustomed to when she entered Vincent's world. Rock walls and dusty floors stretched before her, barren and accusing. Diana had never felt so alone in her life.
            As she made her way deeper in, each step began to seem like an eternity. Candles began to appear more abundantly as she entered the more populous areas. Some of those who lived below watched her pass with concerned looks on their faces when they saw her grim expression. All of Down Below seemed somber and muted, as if they already knew what was going to happen.
            Some small part of Diana still held onto hope. Vincent loved her. She was certain of it. He had moved on. Catherine Chandler being alive couldn't sever what they had together. Vincent would relish Catherine's return, would rejoice that perhaps now Jacob would finally be given a chance to know his mother. But in the end Vincent would come back to her, to the love he and Diana shared.
            If only she were certain that were true.
            She paused for only a moment, trying to compose herself as she closed her eyes. Then she walked straight into Father's library, but it was empty. Looking around, she called out.
            "Vincent! Are you here? Vincent, I need to talk to you!"
            Only her echoes answered her. It wa strange for the tunnels to be so empty. Diana stood there alone, wondering what to do. She decided to go to Vincent's bed chamber. Maybe he was there.
            Suddenly there was the sound of running feet approaching, thumping in the tunnel outside. As Diana turned towards the entrance, she saw a young woman sprint past it, her face lined with worry but not stopping. Diana sped out after her, calling out.
            "Jamie! Have you seen Vincent?"
            Jaime stopped and turned, surprised to see Diana in the tunnel behind her. "Diana! We've been looking for you. Haven't you heard? Vincent's been hurt. Shot. Father's with him now in the medical chamber. Come quickly!"
            Although she wouldn't have believed it a few seconds earlier, Diana suddenly realized that things still could get worse than she thought they were. A larger fear eclipsed her previous concerns, pushing them aside. She looked desperately into Jamie's eyes.
            "Please, lead me to him, Jamie!"
            "This way! Follow me." With that Jamie sped off, Diana running right behind her.

            Vincent sat upright in the medical chamber on what they used as an examination table as Father tended him. Dressed in surgeons garments at least forty years out of date, Father worked on the wounds in Vincent's back. The tools he used were as antiquated as his clothing, hold-overs of when he worked as a doctor in the world above. Holding a pair of surgical pincers, he delicately probed one of Vincent's wounds. The pincers bloodied points finally pulled back, grasping a crushed bullet that had been lodged in Vincent's shoulder. Vincent's face tightened in pain, his grimace revealing the tiniest bit of fang between his lips. With a thud, Father dropped the bloody bullet onto a metal plate beside him.
            Several of those who lived below watched from the doorway, clustered tightly around the chamber opening. They ahd all known Vincent for longer than most of them could remember, and the concern they felt showed plainly on their faces as they saw him in pain. Still, they ahd seen on several occasions that father was an expert physician, even with his limited supplies. They knew he would do everything he could.
            Softly picking up a bundle of sterile, white gauze with another pincers, Father dabbed at the wound to soak up some of the blood. Mary came to assist him as she always did, carrying long, clean bandages. Together, she and Father began to wrap the white strips tight over Vincent's injuries.
            "You should be alright now," Father said. "I've removed all the bullets and sutured the more... serious injuries. The rest will be left to your remarkable, recuperative powers."
            Vincent replied with a stifled gasp.
            "Thank you, Father."
            As he pushed his equipment aside, Father began to remove the surgical gown he wore, its surface marred with small smears of Vincent's blood. "Perhaps now you can tell me what happened to you, Vincent. If you he the strength."
            The crowd behind them parted, and Diana darted into the chamber, Jamie following behind. Diana immediately rushed to Vincent's side, her lovely face for wrinkled with worry as she looked over his bandages and wounds. Vincent reached out and held her with his uninjured arm, and she collapsed against him, trying her best not to re-aggravate his injuries. Hoping to keep most of the fear out of her voice, she whispered into his neck, relieved to see him alive.
            "Thank god you're okay, Vincent. What happened?"
            "Diana," Vincent said, his body seemingly drawing strength from saying her name. He leaned his head against hers.
            "I'm pleased that you are here, Diana." His voice was full of warmth.
            "Who did this to you?" she asked.
            "There are so many things to tell. I do not know where to start."
            "Vincent, please. Tell me."
            "I've seen Catherine. She's alive."
            A stricken look crossed Diana's face.
            Behind her, Father wasn't sure what he had heard. "What?" he asked incredulously.
            Vincent seemed distracted, voice full of wonder. "I don't know how, but Catherine is alive. At first I merely sensed her, not realizing... I was drawn to her balcony. And then... she was there. I would never have imagined it. Never have dreamed. It was her. I spoke with her."
            "Vincent..." Father began, as he checked Vincent's forehead for fever, "you have just gone through a severe physical trauma, you must have hallucinated--"
            "He's not hallucinating..."
            Diana's soft words seemed small, broken as she interrupted Father. Quietly, she pulled away from Vincent's arm. Vincent looked at her, grateful for her support of what he had said. But as he looked at the expression on her face... he saw it, saw the knowledge in her eyes. Surprise and shock blossomed across his features.
            "You... knew." he said in disbelief.
            "Yes." She replied simply, her spirit crashing.
            "How long have you known?"
           . "Three days..." Diana's heart seemed empty inside.
            Father felt the tension building between Vincent and Diana, and sensed what to do, turning to those watching behind. "Come, everyone. Vincent needs his rest. Let's leave him alone with Diana."
            With shocked looks, all the others filed out of the medical chamber, leaving Vincent and Diana to gaze at each other in awkward silence as a myriad of emotions tumbled through them, unspoken.
            "Diana..." Vincent began, but was unable to continue.
            She looked stricken, her face covered with regret. Gathering herself, she took a deep breath, loud in the tensed air. "I was called into a meeting in Joe Maxwell's office three days ago. Catherine was there. I hadn't expected it, I thought she was dead too. Vincent, I... I didn't know how to handle it. I didn't know what to do. So I ran. I left Joe's office and haven't been back there since."
            Vincent tried to make sense of what she was saying, and what it meant. "You knew it was truly her..."
            "Yes. They explained to me how she lost her memory from an overdose. How fearing for her life, she was kept secretly, a witness. One they never used, since her memory never came back. And yes, they assured me she was actually Catherine."
            "Why didn't you tell me?"
            "I don't know."
            "These past few days, you knew and didn't tell me..."
            "Vincent, I'm sorry, I--"
            "You didn't tell Jacob his mother was alive."
            "I was going to. I promise. It's just--"
            "You lied to me." Vincent's words were soft, brimming with hurt, anger.
            That statement shocked Diana into silence. her eyes glittered as she stared disbelieving at Vincent. "I can't believe you think that."
            "It's true, isn't it?"
            "Vincent, she's lost all her memories. She knows nothing of you, of this place. I... I didn't know how you would react."
            "Did you fear that seeing me would make her remember?"
            He looked at her. "Make me remember."
            "No, Vincent. That's not it."
            "Ask yourself truthfully, Diana. You tried to keep her from me. Afraid of what might happen if I saw her again."
            "I didn't want to see you hurt, Vincent. How do you think she would react to you as a complete stranger again? Having lost all those previous feelings she had for you? The first time she saw you, she threw a metal plate at you! I was trying to protect you."
            "I already know how she would react, Diana. I saw her tonight... and she accepted me, even as a stranger. She was not afraid."
            "Did she get a good look?" Diana regretted it the instant she said it.
            Vincent turned his face away from her.
            "Vincent, I'm sorry. I was coming to tell you--"
            "Your fear wasn't for me. It was for you. You feared what I would do. That I would still love her. And she me." His head hung down, speaking quietly. "And that's why you didn't tell me."
            "Vincent, I love you. I would never do that."
            "I know you would never do that, Diana. And yet.... you did."
            Diana felt helpless, frozen as her emotions churned and tore through her. A tear flowed down her cheek, followed by another. She stepped closer, where he sat with his back turned from her. She reached uncertainly out, unsure what to do.
            "Vincent..." she whispered in despair.
            Unseen by her, Vincent closed his eyes at the sound of hurt and longing in her voice, his cheek wetting with tears as well.
            "Leave me..." He said softly.
            Diana pulled her hand back, trembling as her outstretched fingers closed on empty air. She looked at him facing away from her, and for one moment feared it was the last image she would ever have of him. The sound of his words echoed in her, filling her with hurt.
            "Perhaps, Vincent, we reflected our own fears off each other."
            She stood silent for a moment, wiping the tears from her face as she watched him. When he didn't speak, she turned... and left the chamber without a word, disappearing into the tunnels beyond and leaving him alone.
            Vincent sat silent, confused, unsure of what to think, what to feel. The gunshot wounds that still burned in pain across his body felt trivial by comparison. He had never felt more alone in his life.