FORSAKEN

by Becky Bain

(This story appeared in the 1997 Reflections conzine.)


Diana was busy with the baby when Kurt, age nine, burst into thechamber.

"Shouldn't you wait for permission before you come in?" she askedmildly as the boy came to a teetering stop only inches from Vincent'swriting table.

"Oh. Sorry." He flushed. Kurt hadn't lived in the tunnels even aslong as Diana had and sometimes he forgot. "I brought a message.Pascal said it was important."

From above, Diana noted, since it was sealed in a clean, newenvelope. "For me?"

Kurt shook his head. "For Vincent. You'll make sure he gets it,won't you?"

"I promise," Diana answered. "Just put it there, on thetable."

Kurt obliged, and dashed out before she could thank him. Shesmiled in his wake and turned back to finish changing a very wetdiaper.

 

"Hi, Diana!" Jacob burst into the chamber with all the energy ofan active four-year-old.

"Hi, Jacob," she greeted from the rocking chair, then looked pasthim to where Vincent stood, filling the doorway with his bulk just ashis presence filled the little chamber.

He poised there for a moment, watching her, then crossed to herand bent to press a kiss to the baby's head. "How is my favoritedaughter this evening?"

"Just fine," Diana answered, and lifted her face for a kiss of herown. "She slept most of the afternoon, though, which doesn't bodewell for tonight."

Vincent chuckled and ran a hand over the baby's rosy curls. "I'llget up with her," he promised.

"I'd like that a whole lot more if you could feed her, too," Dianapretended to grumble. "Oh, there's a message for you. On thetable."

"Thank you."

"Diana, can I have a banana?" Jacob tugged at her arm.

"I don't know, Jacob, can you?" Diana's grandmother had been asmuch a stickler for grammar as Vincent was, and it surprised her howoften her grandmother's phrases popped out of her mouth. This one waseffective, though.

Jacob grinned. "May I have a banana?" he asked, exaggerating thefirst word.

Diana glanced at the clock on the mantel and calculated the timeuntil dinner. "You may," she decided.

Jacob gave a squeal and bounded over to the shallow dish of fruiton a side table. Diana watched him take the only banana and sit downon the floor to eat it.

She shifted the baby from breast to shoulder and looked around forVincent. He was better at coaxing burps than she was. Better at mosteverything when it came to child care, in fact. She reminded herselfthat he'd had a lot more practice.

He stood over the writing table, hands braced on its surface. Asheet of paper - the message Kurt had brought - lay open before him.He was too still, his face too empty.

"Vincent?"

He appeared not to hear. Alarmed, she pushed to her feet andcrossed to where he stood. "Vincent?" His arm under her hand wasrigid; she moved the baby to her other shoulder and touched his face."What is it?"

Only slowly did his gaze shift and focus. "Diana." He lookedstunned, lost.

"What is it?" she repeated, more softly.

"It's Catherine," he said. "She's alive."

Time stopped and the air in the room vanished. "No," she heardherself saying. "No. It's not possible." The baby whimpered and shepatted the small back automatically, although without muchsuccess.

Vincent pushed the paper across the table. "Peter says it is."

"I was there, at the autopsy..." She broke off, realizing suddenlyhow that would sound to him, how it would hurt him. "I mean," shetried again, raising her voice to be heard over the baby's fussing."I saw her body..."

"So did I," he said, his voice quiet and toneless. "Here," he saidabruptly. "I'll take her."

As usual, the baby quieted the moment Vincent tucked her into thecrook of his arm.

Diana stopped trying to make sense and bent over the letter. Itwas terse and to the point: Catherine was not dead. In a death-likecoma, she'd been spirited away to an Army hospital in New Jersey,where she'd lingered, near death, until long after Gabriel's owndeath made keeping her safe a moot point. She had no official next ofkin, so the Army just kept her; when she'd finally emerged from thecoma more than a year later, they'd feared brain damage, but over aperiod of months her mental faculties had returned and she'd beentransferred to a rehabilitation facility to restore her physicalones. Only recently had she been able to contact Peter to let himknow she was still alive.

"The rehabilitation must have taken a long time," Diana saidslowly. Her mind was still filled with the image of a naked body laidout on a stainless steel table, cut shoulders to sternum to pubis inthe Y-incision of autopsy. But whose body?

Because Catherine was alive.

"Yes," Vincent agreed, just as slowly. She wondered what horrificvision filled his thoughts, but when she looked at him, she knew histhoughts weren't horrific at all. Four years of loss and grief hadbeen washed away by those simple words.

Catherine was alive.

And everything in Diana's life was changed.

 

She had never felt such fear. She'd been in a shootout once, inher early days with the force, but even the terror of bulletswhizzing past her head paled next to this.

The fear of losing Vincent. Because of course he was going tochoose Catherine. She was his first love, the mother of his firstbornchild. What was Diana beside that?

Vincent would choose Catherine. And what would happen to Dianathen? Almost, she longed to be back on the job, embroiled in a stickycase, lost in the dark imaginings that were her work. Exhausting asit was, as much as it took from her, it would be easier than this.The waiting. The not knowing.

The stark fear.

Vincent realized, only seconds after she did, the implications ofCatherine's return. A look of great tragedy crossed his face.

"I'm sorry, Diana," he whispered. "I must think..."

He thrust the baby into her arms and plunged through the portal;though she waited up for him, he didn't come back.

When she finally went to bed, she tossed and turned and would havesaid she hadn't slept at all, except that Vincent came in the night.Came, and she didn't see him. Didn't even know he was there.

Only the baby's dry diaper and an apologetic note on the writingtable gave him away. How he'd soothed the baby back to sleep withoutfeeding her was a puzzle, but then doing the extraordinary wasVincent's specialty.

 

It was afternoon when voices sounded outside her chamber. Dianalifted her head, listening for Vincent, but the man's voice wasn'tright, and the other voice... the other voice was distinctlyfemale.

The back of her neck prickled. She was already on her feet whenPeter Alcott, his voice now clearly recognizable, called out.

Something inside her clenched, hard and anxious. She didn't expectthem yet; it was hours too early, and Vincent wasn't even here. Whywere they so early?

Her frantic gaze fell on Jacob, busy building towers out ofhand-shaped blocks, and she knew. Of course Catherine couldn't stayaway. Couldn't wait any longer.

With sinking heart, Diana thought of the talk she'd meant to havewith Jacob. She was sure Vincent hadn't had the time. Now there wasnone.

All she could do now was make the best of a bad situation. Shementally braced herself, then called out for the visitors toenter.

Catherine Chandler in the flesh was not quite as Diana hadpictured her; she was smaller, somehow. Frailer. She thought theexpression on Catherine's face must be a mirror of her own: wary,uncertain, a little scared. Peter came in with her; at sight of him,Jacob bounded to his feet.

"Peter!" he exclaimed. "Did you bring me something?"

Diana's eyes were on Catherine, seeing her face change as shewatched the child approach.

Peter ruffled Jacob's pale hair as he always did, and chuckled."Not this time," he said. "But I've brought someone for you to meet."He took Catherine's hand in his. "Do you know who this lady is?"

Jacob looked at her, frowning, and shook his head. "No."

"This is your mother."

Jacob's puzzled expression didn't change. "Diana's my mother."

Catherine's flinch was almost imperceptible; if Diana hadn't beenwatching her closely, she'd have missed it.

Peter didn't miss it, either. He put his free hand on Jacob'sshoulder. "Diana is the mother who takes care of you," he agreed."But you know you didn't grow inside her, like Katie did."

"I know," Jacob said. "I grew inside my other mother. There's apicture of her in the Great Hall. She's dead."

Peter shot a glance at Diana, who shrugged. "We thought she wasdead," he told the boy. "It was a mistake."

"Oh." Jacob studied Catherine gravely. "You don't look like thepicture."

"I suppose not," she agreed. Diana heard Catherine's voice clearlyfor the first time. It was thin and thready, not at all the sort ofsound she was expecting. "I've been sick for a long time."

"Are you better now?"

To Diana's discerning eye, she looked as if a strong wind wouldknock her over, but Catherine nodded. "Yes, much better, thank you.How are you, Jacob?"

"Fine," he said. "I never get sick."

"Like your father," she said softly.

"I guess," Jacob answered. He lapsed into silence.

Diana groped for something to say. "Vincent isn't here," she saidfinally, and then cursed herself for making such a pointless, inaneremark. Of course he wasn't. If he were, he certainly wouldn't beskulking in a corner, not with Catherine here.

Peter stepped into the breach. "Diana," he said, his expressionapologetic. "This is Cathy."

"I know," Diana answered, to Catherine, rather than Peter. "Weweren't expecting you until later."

"That's my fault." Catherine's smile was a ghost of what Diana hadseen in photographs. "I'm sorry."

Diana wondered if she'd have had as much poise, were theirpositions reversed. She suspected not. She felt gangly and awkwardnext to Catherine's serene fragility.

"I understand," she answered. "If he were my son, I couldn't wait,either."

"I thought..." she clamped her lips shut before she could finishsaying what she thought, but Diana knew. "I thought he was your son,"she had been going to say, with bitterness.

Although, to be fair, she had a perfect right to be bitter, underthe circumstances. She'd missed so much of her own life. Quiteinvoluntarily, Diana's heart went out to her.

"Will you come in?" she asked, without defensiveness this time. "Ihave some coffee..."

Catherine's smile, while tremulous, was genuine. "I'd likethat."

Peter held one of the heavy chairs that flanked the writing tablefor Catherine. He looked, Diana thought uncomfortably, like aprotective father.

But when he started to sit, Catherine stopped him. "Thank you,Peter," she said, and for the first time, Diana heard evidence of thevelvet-edged steel she'd always known Catherine had in her. "But youdon't need to stay. Diana and I will be fine on our own."

Peter's startled glance asked for help, and, in a burst of panic,Diana almost provided it. What would she and Catherine have to say toone another? Diana was no good at small talk, and how could theypossibly approach the deeper issues that stood between them?

The answer was, they couldn't. At least, Diana couldn't. She lovedVincent with all her heart, all her soul, all her mind. So how couldshe sit down and calmly talk about giving him up?

But Peter was excusing himself with a polite smile, going to thedoor. And was gone.

Thank goodness for Jacob, who came to the table with a sheet ofprecious paper in his hands. Diana recognized it as something he'ddone in school days earlier. "I made this," he said, proffering thecrayoned drawing. "It's for you."

Even Vincent's vocabulary would have failed to find the words todescribe the expression on Catherine's face as she accepted the giftfrom her son. "Thank you, Jacob," she said, voice quivering. "It'sbeautiful."

"It's the park," Jacob explained. "Vincent took me there one time.See, there's the trees, and where the grass is, and the moon.Sometimes there's flowers," he confided, bracing his folded arms onthe table and leaning forward, "but there weren't any then because itwas too cold."

Catherine darted a quick glance Diana's way. "He calls himVincent?" she whispered.

Diana nodded. "Everyone else does," she explained. "And the name'father' is taken."

Catherine's smile was small. "I suppose so," she agreed, andturned back to her son.

"Vincent says I can go again in the summer to see the flowers,"Jacob continued, as if there had been no interruption in the flow ofhis words.

"You've seen flowers before, though, haven't you, Jacob?"Catherine asked. "Real ones?" She looked worried. Maybe she hadn'tever thought about how the kids grew up down here.

Jacob nodded vigorously. "Sure, real ones. In the park one timewhen Diana took me. And I went with Jamie."

"He goes whenever someone organizes an outing," Diana explained."But the trip with Vincent was special."

"Yeah," Jacob agreed. "Because it was dark, and it was onlyme.

I have a flower," he went on. "It used to be a real one, but nowit isn't. I'll show you." He ran to the corner where his bed stoodand came back a moment later cradling the fragile husk of a driedrosebud. "Mouse gave it to me. It was my real mother's favoritekind." He looked up guiltily. "I mean yours. Did you like itbest?"

"Yes, I did," Catherine confirmed. Her voice quiveredsuspiciously. "I still do. I wonder how Mouse knew?"

Diana wondered how anyone down here could not know... in the fourshort years since her purported death, Catherine Chandler had becomelegend, and the stories were told and retold until the entirecommunity knew them by heart.

"You can have it," Jacob offered, obviously confused.

Diana's heart clenched. Jacob treasured that rose for reasonsshe'd never been able to fathom.

Catherine touched fingers to the dried petals, and then to thehand of the little boy who held it. Something in his face must havewarned of the sacrifice he was making. "Thank you, Jacob," she saidsoftly, "but it's really your flower. You keep it for me, allright?"

Jacob's face cleared and he nodded. "You can look at it," heoffered generously, placing it on the table. "Until you have to go.It smells pretty, too."

Abruptly Diana remembered having offered coffee. She poured itinto mismatched mugs and set them on the table. "It's decaf," sheapologized. "I can't drink the real thing because I'm feeding thebaby..." She broke off, floundering.

"I know about the baby," Catherine said, rescuing her. "Peter toldme. Told me everything."

"Oh." Diana sat down, cradled her steaming cup between cold hands,and tried to think of what to say.

Catherine's next words surprised her. "May I see her?"

It was the last thing she'd expected to hear, and for a wildinstant she pictured a family made up of the four of them: Vincent,Catherine, Jacob and the baby. Roughly she shook it off. Even ifCatherine harbored such notions, Vincent would never expect Diana togive up her daughter. Never.

The baby was sleeping soundly in her cradle, and did no more thanstir and stretch a little when Diana lifted her. She carried heracross the chamber and bent down so Catherine could see.

Catherine held out her arms. "May I hold her? Please?"

Vincent insisted Catherine had held Jacob before she died, butDiana harbored private doubts. The information had likely come fromGabriel, who hardly counted as a reliable source. She suspected thatdeep down, Vincent didn't believe it either, but at least on thesurface he needed to think it was true. And Diana wasn't going to bethe one to burst that particular bubble.

So probably Catherine was just aching to hold Vincent's child,just once... the child that should have been hers.

Keeping her face carefully neutral, Diana placed her daughter intothe waiting arms. Catherine cuddled the baby close in a way thatseemed utterly natural.

Envy twinged. Motherhood hadn't come easily to Diana. Her skillsat holding Jacob, changing him, soothing scraped knees and bumpedforeheads, had all come with time and much practice. None of it hadever been instinctive. She'd consoled herself that it was becauseJacob wasn't hers, because she hadn't met him until he was threemonths old, and then didn't spend much time with him until he wasinto his second year.

But this... Catherine was meant to be a mother. It was plain tosee in the easy way she shifted the baby from one arm to the other,the way she caught the little fist and turned it, examining thedelicate fingers, the tiny thumb, the minute dimples over eachknuckle.

She looked up and smiled. "She's beautiful."

Diana thought so, too. "Thank you."

Catherine shot a glance at Jacob, who had gone back to buildingwith his blocks. "She looks like him, doesn't she?"

"I think she does," Diana admitted, knowing full well Catherinewasn't talking about Jacob. "His eyes. His chin. Even his ears."

Again the glance at Jacob. *And he doesn't*. Catherine's silentthought was so clear, it might have been spoken aloud.

"Jacob resembles his father on the inside," Diana said.Catherine's answering glance was startled, but she pressed on. "Eventhough he's only four, he has a kind of gentleness, and a wisdomchildren his age don't usually have."

Catherine's eyes starred with unshed tears. "I noticed," shewhispered. "He's beautiful, too." She glanced at Diana as if afraidof offending.

"Yeah," Diana agreed, plopping herself into her chair. "I thinkso."

"You've taken good care of him," Catherine ventured.

"That's not me," Diana answered. "It's Vincent. He thinks the sunrises and sets in that boy."

Catherine's mouth tightened in a way that might have beenjealousy, but somehow Diana didn't think it was. Something else washappening here. Something she didn't understand.

She hated not understanding.

"Jacob!" she said, too brightly. "Aren't you going to talk to yourmother?"

"I'm busy," he answered, cheekily, then looked up anxiously."She's isn't leaving now, is she?"

"You can ask her yourself, you know," Diana pointed out.

He turned his blue-eyed gaze on Catherine. "You aren't, areyou?"

She smiled, and shook her head. "Not yet, anyway."

"Okay." Satisfied, he returned to the intricate structure he wascreating.

Catherine watched him for long minutes. Diana sipped her coffeeand watched Catherine. The wistfulness on her face was heartbreaking,but Jacob couldn't be coerced. He was only four, after all, andmeeting a new mother couldn't be nearly as large an event for him asit was for everyone else. She half-suspected that for Jacob, hismother was still the pretty lady in Kristopher's painting, and notthis flesh-and-blood person sitting in his father's chamber, holdinghis new little sister in her lap.

Catherine sighed and shifted the baby. "What's her name?" sheasked, looking at Diana for the first time in a long while.

"We call her Kate," Diana hedged.

"But her real name is Catherine," Jacob piped, from the floor."Because of my mother."

"Oh." Catherine looked startled, touched, and a little hurt, allat the same time.

Jacob pushed to his feet and came to the table. "It was Diana'sidea," he volunteered.

If there hadn't been a witness, Diana could cheerfully havethrottled him.

"But Vincent liked it, too," Jacob went on. "Diana, may I have acookie?"

Throttling him might be out, but starvation was an attractivealternative right now. Judging from the way her face tingled, she wascrimson to the roots of her hair. "Yes," she managed. "You may haveone cookie."

He gave a triumphant yelp and scampered over to the cookie tin. Hepried the lid off in record time and selected one of William's peanutbutter specialties. He turned to Catherine. "Want a cookie?" heoffered.

"No, thank you," she answered, and Diana was surprised to hear hervoice tremble and to see her eyes shimmer with tears.

Jacob clapped the lid back on the cookie tin and returned to hisblocks.

Abruptly Catherine lurched to her feet. Diana rose reflexively.Something wasn't right.

Catherine's face was stark with misery. "This is wrong," shewhispered, and thrust baby Kate into her mother's arms. Diana tookher daughter automatically, but her attention was on Catherine.

"This is wrong," Catherine whispered again. "I shouldn't..."

She spun toward the entrance, and froze.

Vincent stood in the opening, tall and golden and very still.Diana thought she should look away, should give them some privacy forthis very personal moment, but somehow she couldn't tear her eyesfrom the sight.

It was Vincent who moved first, but Catherine reacted swiftly andso they came together halfway, meeting in an embrace that was sointimate that suddenly Diana couldn't bear to watch. She bent,instead, over the baby, who was a warm and comforting weight in herarms.

"Diana." Jacob tugged at her sleeve.

Surreptitiously she wiped her eyes on Kate's blanket, then lookeddown at him. "What is it?" she whispered.

"Why is Vincent hugging that lady?"

Diana couldn't help wondering that herself. *He loves me*! shethough rebelliously. He'd told her so, so many times. But there hewas, crushing Catherine to his chest as if she alone could save himfrom drowning.

Diana felt as if she was drowning, herself. And there was no oneto cling to.

Jacob tugged again. "Why?" he repeated, his whisper louder andmore insistent.

Desperately she looked to Vincent for help; Jacob was his son,after all, but Vincent was oblivious to anything except the woman heheld in his arms, into whose eyes he was now gazing.

And anyway, Jacob was asking her. Not Vincent. Not evenCatherine.

"Because she's your mother," she reminded him. He was too young tonotice her whisper was hoarse with barely-suppressed tears.

"That's not a because," he retorted, indignant.

*He's only four*, Diana realized. *He doesn't understand thebiology of it. He only knows Vincent's hugging someone he only mettoday, and it confuses him. Frightens him.

It frightens me.*

"She's your mother, Jacob," she repeated. "And Vincent loves hervery much."

"Oh," Jacob said, looking at them. "I thought that was a long timeago."

*It was*, she thought, and then, like revelation, a truth came toher. A truth that freed her from fear, even if it couldn't erase thespectre of loss.

Suddenly stronger, she gripped Jacob's shoulder. "When your fatherloves someone, he loves them for always."

He looked up at her. "Oh," he said, with the satisfaction ofunderstanding. "Like he loves us."

*Yes*, Diana thought. *Like he loves us. Like he'll always loveus. No matter what*.

Resolute, she lifted her chin. Nothing could be wrong so long asVincent loved her.

Vincent was turning toward her now, toward them. His arm wasaround Catherine's shoulders, but Catherine seemed awkward in theembrace, her arms folded tight across her chest.

"Jacob," Vincent said, his voice soft with wonder. "Do you knowwho this is?"

"Yeah. My mother." Jacob's matter-of-fact answer gave Vincent onlytemporary pause.

His gaze flicked to Diana... and faltered. His arm aroundCatherine's shoulders loosened then, and fell away. "Diana," he saidsoftly, painfully. "You've met...?"

"Yes." Diana and Catherine answered together.

Diana couldn't remember ever seeing Vincent so discomfited. Shealmost grinned. "We were just having some coffee," she blurted, tofill the silence. "Do you want to join us?" Only after she'd spokendid she remember Catherine's odd actions of a few moments ago. Andwhat had she meant when she said, "This is wrong"?

Vincent nodded. "Yes, please. Is there any tea?"

Diana glanced at the iron shelf above the hot brazier, but thekettle wasn't there. "No, sorry," she said. "I must have forgotten toput the kettle back after I bathed the baby." She brought the kettlefrom the sideboard where she'd left it. "Jacob, will you take this toMary and see if she has any water to spare?"

Jacob took the empty kettle in both hands and started for thedoor.

"Jacob." Vincent's voice, quiet and calm, stopped the boy in histracks. "Go straight there and come straight back. All right?"

"Okay!" Jacob sounded exasperated; he knew the rules as well asanyone.

"Good boy," Vincent told him. "Go."

Jacob went. Catherine watched him. "He'll be all right, won't he?"she asked, her voice small and uncertain. "He's so little..."

Vincent swung her way, looking stricken.

"It isn't far," Diana hastened to say. "And he knows the way. Marywill send a message on the pipes to say he got there safely, andanother when he leaves. He'll be fine."

Catherine looked equally relieved and embarrassed and Dianawondered what it must be like for her, to watch the son she'd knownfor less than an hour venture out into the tunnels alone. How mustshe feel, standing here in the chamber Vincent shared with Diana,seeing the daughter they'd brought into the world?

The pipes rattled a minute later with Mary's message confirmingJacob's arrival. The baby woke and Diana turned gratefully to tendher.

She felt like an intruder; surely they'd have preferred privacyfor their reunion? But neither suggested Diana should leave, and shewas determined not to offer. This was her chamber, too.

Jacob came back lugging the filled kettle; Vincent rose from wherehe'd been silently sitting and took it to place on the brazier."Thank you, Jacob," he said quietly.

Jacob nodded a sketchy acknowledgement. "Mary says can I come backfor milk and cookies," he said, all in a breath. The comment wasdirected at Diana, probably because Jacob knew her to be an easiermark. She looked to Vincent for guidance.

He hesitated long enough for her to follow his thoughts. Jacobshould stay here; his mother was here, after all, seeing him for thefirst time since his birth. Mary would know that, though, and hadissued the invitation anyway. Diana darted a glance at Catherine, whosat, stiff and silent, on the far side of the table.

Of course. Mary knew there were things to be talked out, decided,and that it would be better if Jacob was not there to overhear.

Vincent must have reached the same conclusion, because he nodded."You may go," he said. "I will send for you when it's time to comehome."

"Okay!" Jacob spun toward the door, then back as quickly. Helooked at Catherine. "Will you still be here when I get back?"

"I don't think so, Jacob," she told him gently.

He frowned and bit his lip. "Oh. Will you come back?"

"I don't know yet, Jacob. But I'll see you again, I promise." Itwas her turn to glance at Vincent for confirmation; he gave a shortnod, which surprised Diana not in the least. No matter what happenedin the next span of time, he would never keep his child from itsmother. No matter which child, no matter which mother.

Jacob lapsed into sudden, unaccustomed shyness. "Goodbye," hewhispered.

Catherine put out her arms, and he came to her hesitantly and lether fold him in a desperate embrace. "You're so big," she whispered,through tears. "I never thought you'd be so big."

"I'm four!" he said indignantly, into her ear. He didn't struggleto free himself, though, which Diana took as a sign that herecognized his mother's distress. In the ordinary course of things,energetic Jacob had little time or patience for embraces.

Catherine must have sensed something, though, because she let himgo. "You were brand new the last time I saw you," she told him."Littler than your sister, even."

Jacob's eyes got big. "Really?" He looked to his father. "Was Ithat little, Vincent?"

"If your mother says you were," he answered. "I didn't meet youuntil you were older."

"How old?"

His gaze sought Catherine's, and Diana couldn't help a jealoustwinge, wondering what he found there. "About three months," he said,finally.

"Oh." Jacob had no clear concept of how much time that was, or howbig a baby that age would be; thankfully, he dropped the subject."Goodbye, Mother," he said, instead. "Don't forget your picture."

"I won't," she promised him. She touched his cheek with onetrembling finger. "Be a good boy until I see you again."

"I will," he promised rashly, and dashed from the chamber.Catherine didn't tear her eyes from the entrance until the sound ofJacob's running feet had completely died away.

"It took you three months to find him?" was the first thing shesaid.

"It was Diana who found him," Vincent answered. "I searched... butthere was no trail, no clue to where he might be. I was indespair..."

But Catherine wasn't blaming anyone. She just wanted to know abouther son. "Where was he all that time? Who took care of him? Was hesafe?"

Diana could see Vincent casting about for a gentle way to tell thetruth. He was still trying to protect Catherine. But Diana didn'tthink she really needed protecting.

"He was with Gabriel," she said bluntly, and watched Catherine'sface go white. "He lived in a comfortable nursery, with a nurse toattend his every need."

"But who loved him?" Catherine asked, her eyes stark withhorror.

"I did," Vincent said harshly. "Every moment until I found him. Iloved him."

Catherine had the good grace to look ashamed; she put her handover his, and Diana looked away. "I know you did," Catherine saidsteadily. "That's not what I meant."

Diana clutched her own child a bit more tightly and turned back."Gabriel loved him, after a fashion," she said. "He spoke of him ashis son. He was going to make him heir to his empire..."

"An empire built of evil," Catherine interjected.

"Yes," Diana agreed. "Jacob knew that, too, knew there was no onethere who loved him unconditionally, who would continue to love himno matter what he did, what he thought, what he said. Little as hewas, he knew it. It made him ill."

"Ill?"

"Dying," Vincent said, still harshly. "I could feel it, feel hislife draining away. It was then that I went to him..."

"Let Gabriel take you," Diana corrected.

"My God." Catherine dropped her face into her hands. "Peter didn'ttell me any of this."

"He wanted to protect you," Diana guessed. "And who's to say hewasn't right? It's over now, and Jacob's safe."

Catherine's head came up. "But you told me anyway."

Diana's gaze dropped to her daughter. "He's your child," she saidsoftly. "You have a right to know. All of it, the bad as well as thegood."

Catherine wanted to know the rest of it, Diana could tell. It wasVincent for whom the memories were too much, coming as they did ontop of all the more recent turmoil. Catherine saw it too, and bitback the bevy of questions that must be eating at her. "He's allright now," she repeated. "He's fine, healthy and strong."

"Bright and curious and incredibly talkative," Diana agreed, andwatched the tightness around Vincent's eyes ease.

Still a tension remained, though, and would remain until the threeof them somehow faced the monumental thing before them. She glancedacross the table at Catherine and almost smiled. Here they were, thetwo women in Vincent's life, the mothers of his children. He lovedboth of them, Diana knew, and yet only one could be with him, couldstay with him. The other would have to go.

The other would have to be her. Because Vincent loved Catherinewith a depth and breadth that rivaled oceans, or the vastness ofspace. No one knew that better than she did. She was already bracedfor the inevitable.

Even now they were lost in each other's eyes. It was Catherine whobroke the spell by looking down. Her words were unexpected. "You'vebeen happy, haven't you, Vincent?"

Vincent was surprised, too. He blinked a moment before answering."I never stopped missing you."

"That's not what I asked."

"Yes," he said finally. "I have been happy."

She nodded once, regretfully. "I thought so. I could see it...even before you came. There was happiness here, in this chamber.There was love..."

Abruptly Diana remembered Catherine's earlier words: "This iswrong."

Slowly and quite deliberately, Catherine pushed her chair back andstood up. "I wish the two of you every happiness," she said, hervoice low and slightly trembling. "You have a beautiful daughter...and a beautiful son. I hope you'll let me see him from time totime..."

Vincent was on his feet, too. "Catherine," he said, and his voiceshook. "Don't do this..."

Her eyes flashed fire as she looked at him. "What alternative do Ihave, Vincent? Should I stay here? Make you choose?"

"He'd choose you," Diana heard herself say. "You know hewould."

Catherine's gaze, sharp and strong, swung her way. "Would he?Would he really? After you've lived here with him? You have hischild..."

"So do you," Diana answered grimly, determined to be fair.

Hurt flashed in Catherine's eyes. "I did once, but he's not my sonanymore. Not really. He's yours, Diana, can't you see that?"

"Only because he doesn't know you..."

"I know that, but it doesn't make any difference. He's still goingto look to you to see whether he can have a cookie, whether he can goto Mary's. Not me." Her voice was quieter now, less strident, but noless hurting.

"Catherine..." Vincent tried again.

"And you, Vincent. You love her. I know you do. Oh, I know itdoesn't diminish the love you have for me, but that isn't the point.She wouldn't be here if you didn't love her. That beautiful baby girlwouldn't be here. I know you... I know you would have to love...deeply and completely... in order to live with a woman... in order tofather her child..."

Even though they had a child together, Vincent had never chosenthose things with Catherine. No wonder she hurt. No wonder shethought she was second choice.

"Catherine." Vincent said her name again, more forcefully, andthis time she stopped long enough to listen. "I can't bear it if youleave."

"I can't bear it if I stay," she answered. She was clearly inagony, and Diana wondered where she found the strength. "Don't ask meto. Please."

Vincent seemed not to see Catherine's struggle. Perhaps his ownpain blinded him. His fists flexed helplessly. "I love you," he said."I have done so since the moment I found you... you know that."

Catherine looked at him without speaking for what seemed a verylong time; finally, she nodded. "Yes," she said, very softly. "I doknow that.

"Nevertheless..." Catherine drew herself up very straight, but theeffort it cost her was visible; Diana wondered if she'd have beenable to stand at all if she hadn't been clutching the back of herchair with one white-knuckled hand. "Choosing... if you had tochoose, Vincent... it would destroy you. I know it, even if youdon't."

Diana's glance flicked to Vincent. *No*, she thought, *it's notchoosing you that would destroy him. Because he loves you so much,and he thinks what happened to you is all his fault...*

"So I'm choosing for you," Catherine's voice was low, dogged, rifewith pain. "I love you, Vincent. I will love you always...butsometimes, things that are supposed to last for always, don't."

The truth in her words was wounding; for this story, there couldbe no happy ending. Not truly, not for any of them.

Only heartache and unfairness, guilt and suffering. Diana knewthat better than any of them. She had won; Catherine was going away,and she was staying. She'd won, and took no joy at all in thevictory. Almost she envied Catherine, who could walk away with herhead high.

"You'll be alone," Vincent said. His voice rang hollow, bereft offeeling.

Catherine flinched. "Not alone, Vincent. I have friends."

"It's not the same."

"No, but it will help. And it's easier than staying here. Easierthan destroying what you have. Destroying you."

It wasn't fair. None of it was fair. And who said life was goingto be fair, anyway? Diana didn't realize she'd voiced this last alouduntil Catherine and Vincent turned to look at her.

She flushed scarlet. "I'm sorry," she stammered, feeling stupidand clumsy and wishing the floor would just open and swallow her now.She clutched the baby more tightly, seeking comfort.

But Catherine was looking at her, not with disdain, or resentment,but with understanding. She nodded slowly. "No," she agreed softly."No one ever did."

She turned to Vincent. "I'm going now," she said. "But you'll letme see Jacob...?"

Vincent was clearly miserable over what was happening, but seemedpowerless to alter the course of events. "This is wrong..."

"It's necessary," Catherine answered him firmly. "AboutJacob...?"

"Whenever you like," he agreed.

Catherine swung her way. "Diana. I wish..."

"Different circumstances?" she guessed.

Catherine's gaze dropped and she smiled, just a little. "Yes. Takecare of my namesake."

Diana could only offer a mute nod.

Catherine gave Vincent a long, heartfelt look, and he came forwardto take her in his arms. This time, the sight of their embrace wasn'tfrightening; only terribly sad.

"Be well, Catherine," Vincent whispered as they parted.

She nodded sadly. "And you, Vincent."

She left the chamber slowly, but with grace and dignity. Shedidn't look back, and Vincent didn't try to follow.

 

It was Diana's first week back at work; she was leaving JoeMaxwell's office, file for a new case in hand, when she heard hername. She turned. "Cathy."

Catherine had put on some much-needed weight since Diana had seenher, and the drawn look was gone from her face. Diana could almostthink Catherine had fully recovered from her ordeal, that things werenormal for her now. Except for the ineffable sadness haunting hereyes.

Diana struggled for the right words. "I didn't know you were backhere," she said finally, for Catherine was clearly working.

Catherine shrugged. "I had to do something. This is what I know.This is what I'm good at."

Diana nodded. "I know."

"Joe talks about you all the time. He couldn't wait for you tocome back from your leave. I guess you're very good at what you do,too."

Diana nodded again. "Guess so."

Catherine pressed her lips together in a grim mockery of a smile."So. Guess we'll be seeing each other."

"Yeah."

Catherine started to turn away.

"Cathy."

"What?" She swung back, looking tired.

"I wanted to thank you..."

Catherine gave a short, bitter laugh. "For what?"

"For what you did that day. You could have had him, you know. I'venever seen anything so noble. I couldn't have done it."

Catherine looked at her for a long moment, assessing. Dianashifted uncomfortably. "Yes, you could have," Catherine said finally."You would have. You were ready to. I could see it."

Diana sighed. "Yeah," she conceded. "Maybe. But there's somethingelse."

Catherine waited, expectant and weary all at the same time.

"I wanted to thank you for what you did for him before I knew him.You taught him so much, Cathy. You freed him from so many fears, gavehim a mirror of love to see himself in." She shook her head. "If youhadn't done that... he never would have loved me. He's somebodydifferent now, and those changes never would have happened withoutyou."

"I could see he's changed," Catherine admitted. "That day - he'sat peace now, in a way he never was before. You did that forhim."

Diana shook her head emphatically. "Not me. Or at least, not allme. It was loving you, and knowing beyond question that you lovedhim. And it's Jacob. Every time he looks at him, he sees his ownhumanity.

"It's why I wanted to name the baby for you. Because without you,she wouldn't exist."

"You've helped him, too," Catherine answered. "I know youhave."

Diana considered that, and nodded. "Perhaps," she agreed, "but hewouldn't have been ready for the help I could give if he hadn't knownyou first. I believe that."

Catherine nodded. "I'm glad he has you, Diana," she said softly,and Diana knew she was. "He deserves all the happiness you can givehim."

And there was no arguing with that. Impulsively, Diana steppedforward and opened her arms. Catherine was slight in her embrace, butno longer frail. There was a strength in her now that belied hersize. "If you ever need anything," Diana said fiercely."Anything..."

"I know," Catherine answered, stepping back. "Take care of him.Keep him safe, make him happy."

Diana nodded in full understanding of the trust being placed inher. "Yes," she answered, very softly. "I always will."

 THE END