FORSAKEN

by Becky Bain

(This story appeared in the 1997 Reflections conzine.)


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

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

"Oh. Sorry." He flushed. Kurt hadn't lived in the tunnels even as long 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, new envelope. "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 the table."

Kurt obliged, and dashed out before she could thank him. She smiled in his wake and turned back to finish changing a very wet diaper.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

"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 as much a stickler for grammar as Vincent was, and it surprised her how often her grandmother's phrases popped out of her mouth. This one was effective, though.

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

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

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

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

He stood over the writing table, hands braced on its surface. A sheet 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 and crossed to where he stood. "Vincent?" His arm under her hand was rigid; 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 looked stunned, 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 heard herself saying. "No. It's not possible." The baby whimpered and she patted the small back automatically, although without much success.

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

"I was there, at the autopsy..." She broke off, realizing suddenly how that would sound to him, how it would hurt him. "I mean," she tried 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 said abruptly. "I'll take her."

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

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

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

Because Catherine was alive.

"Yes," Vincent agreed, just as slowly. She wondered what horrific vision filled his thoughts, but when she looked at him, she knew his thoughts weren't horrific at all. Four years of loss and grief had been 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, in her early days with the force, but even the terror of bullets whizzing past her head paled next to this.

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

Vincent would choose Catherine. And what would happen to Diana then? Almost, she longed to be back on the job, embroiled in a sticky case, lost in the dark imaginings that were her work. Exhausting as it 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 of Catherine'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 have said 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 writing table gave him away. How he'd soothed the baby back to sleep without feeding her was a puzzle, but then doing the extraordinary was Vincent's specialty.

 

It was afternoon when voices sounded outside her chamber. Diana lifted her head, listening for Vincent, but the man's voice wasn't right, and the other voice... the other voice was distinctly female.

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

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

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

With sinking heart, Diana thought of the talk she'd meant to have with Jacob. She was sure Vincent hadn't had the time. Now there was none.

All she could do now was make the best of a bad situation. She mentally braced herself, then called out for the visitors to enter.

Catherine Chandler in the flesh was not quite as Diana had pictured her; she was smaller, somehow. Frailer. She thought the expression 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 she watched 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 been watching her closely, she'd have missed it.

Peter didn't miss it, either. He put his free hand on Jacob's shoulder. "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 a picture of her in the Great Hall. She's dead."

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

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

"I suppose not," she agreed. Diana heard Catherine's voice clearly for the first time. It was thin and thready, not at all the sort of sound 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 would knock 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 said finally, and then cursed herself for making such a pointless, inane remark. Of course he wasn't. If he were, he certainly wouldn't be skulking in a corner, not with Catherine here.

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

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

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

Diana wondered if she'd have had as much poise, were their positions reversed. She suspected not. She felt gangly and awkward next 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 finish saying 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, under the circumstances. She'd missed so much of her own life. Quite involuntarily, Diana's heart went out to her.

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

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

Peter held one of the heavy chairs that flanked the writing table for Catherine. He looked, Diana thought uncomfortably, like a protective father.

But when he started to sit, Catherine stopped him. "Thank you, Peter," she said, and for the first time, Diana heard evidence of the velvet-edged steel she'd always known Catherine had in her. "But you don'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 to one another? Diana was no good at small talk, and how could they possibly approach the deeper issues that stood between them?

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

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

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

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

"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 on the table and leaning forward, "but there weren't any then because it was too cold."

Catherine darted a quick glance Diana's way. "He calls him Vincent?" 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, and turned 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 of his words.

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

Jacob nodded vigorously. "Sure, real ones. In the park one time when 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 only me.

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

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

Diana wondered how anyone down here could not know... in the four short years since her purported death, Catherine Chandler had become legend, and the stories were told and retold until the entire community knew them by heart.

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

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

Catherine touched fingers to the dried petals, and then to the hand of the little boy who held it. Something in his face must have warned of the sacrifice he was making. "Thank you, Jacob," she said softly, "but it's really your flower. You keep it for me, all right?"

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

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

"I know about the baby," Catherine said, rescuing her. "Peter told me. 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 wild instant she pictured a family made up of the four of them: Vincent, Catherine, Jacob and the baby. Roughly she shook it off. Even if Catherine harbored such notions, Vincent would never expect Diana to give up her daughter. Never.

The baby was sleeping soundly in her cradle, and did no more than stir and stretch a little when Diana lifted her. She carried her across 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, but Diana harbored private doubts. The information had likely come from Gabriel, who hardly counted as a reliable source. She suspected that deep down, Vincent didn't believe it either, but at least on the surface he needed to think it was true. And Diana wasn't going to be the 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 into the waiting arms. Catherine cuddled the baby close in a way that seemed utterly natural.

Envy twinged. Motherhood hadn't come easily to Diana. Her skills at holding Jacob, changing him, soothing scraped knees and bumped foreheads, had all come with time and much practice. None of it had ever been instinctive. She'd consoled herself that it was because Jacob wasn't hers, because she hadn't met him until he was three months old, and then didn't spend much time with him until he was into his second year.

But this... Catherine was meant to be a mother. It was plain to see 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 the delicate fingers, the tiny thumb, the minute dimples over each knuckle.

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 building with his blocks. "She looks like him, doesn't she?"

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

Again the glance at Jacob. *And he doesn't*. Catherine's silent thought 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. "Even though he's only four, he has a kind of gentleness, and a wisdom children his age don't usually have."

Catherine's eyes starred with unshed tears. "I noticed," she whispered. "He's beautiful, too." She glanced at Diana as if afraid of offending.

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

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

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

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

She hated not understanding.

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

"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, are you?"

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

"Okay." Satisfied, he returned to the intricate structure he was creating.

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

Catherine sighed and shifted the baby. "What's her name?" she asked, 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, all at the same time.

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

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

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

Throttling him might be out, but starvation was an attractive alternative right now. Judging from the way her face tingled, she was crimson to the roots of her hair. "Yes," she managed. "You may have one cookie."

He gave a triumphant yelp and scampered over to the cookie tin. He pried the lid off in record time and selected one of William's peanut butter specialties. He turned to Catherine. "Want a cookie?" he offered.

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

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

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

Catherine's face was stark with misery. "This is wrong," she whispered, and thrust baby Kate into her mother's arms. Diana took her 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 for this very personal moment, but somehow she couldn't tear her eyes from the sight.

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

"Diana." Jacob tugged at her sleeve.

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

"Why is Vincent hugging that lady?"

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

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

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

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

And anyway, Jacob was asking her. Not Vincent. Not even Catherine.

"Because she's your mother," she reminded him. He was too young to notice 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 the biology of it. He only knows Vincent's hugging someone he only met today, and it confuses him. Frightens him.

It frightens me.*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes." Diana and Catherine answered together.

Diana couldn't remember ever seeing Vincent so discomfited. She almost grinned. "We were just having some coffee," she blurted, to fill the silence. "Do you want to join us?" Only after she'd spoken did she remember Catherine's odd actions of a few moments ago. And what 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 the kettle wasn't there. "No, sorry," she said. "I must have forgotten to put the kettle back after I bathed the baby." She brought the kettle from the sideboard where she'd left it. "Jacob, will you take this to Mary and see if she has any water to spare?"

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

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

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

"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. Mary will send a message on the pipes to say he got there safely, and another when he leaves. He'll be fine."

Catherine looked equally relieved and embarrassed and Diana wondered what it must be like for her, to watch the son she'd known for less than an hour venture out into the tunnels alone. How must she 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 confirming Jacob's arrival. The baby woke and Diana turned gratefully to tend her.

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

Jacob came back lugging the filled kettle; Vincent rose from where he'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 back for milk and cookies," he said, all in a breath. The comment was directed at Diana, probably because Jacob knew her to be an easier mark. She looked to Vincent for guidance.

He hesitated long enough for her to follow his thoughts. Jacob should stay here; his mother was here, after all, seeing him for the first time since his birth. Mary would know that, though, and had issued the invitation anyway. Diana darted a glance at Catherine, who sat, 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 come home."

"Okay!" Jacob spun toward the door, then back as quickly. He looked 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." It was her turn to glance at Vincent for confirmation; he gave a short nod, which surprised Diana not in the least. No matter what happened in the next span of time, he would never keep his child from its mother. No matter which child, no matter which mother.

Jacob lapsed into sudden, unaccustomed shyness. "Goodbye," he whispered.

Catherine put out her arms, and he came to her hesitantly and let her 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 struggle to free himself, though, which Diana took as a sign that he recognized 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 him go. "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 I that little, Vincent?"

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

"How old?"

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

"Oh." Jacob had no clear concept of how much time that was, or how big 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 one trembling 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 of Jacob's running feet had completely died away.

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

"It was Diana who found him," Vincent answered. "I searched... but there was no trail, no clue to where he might be. I was in despair..."

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

Diana could see Vincent casting about for a gentle way to tell the truth. He was still trying to protect Catherine. But Diana didn't think she really needed protecting.

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

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

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

Catherine had the good grace to look ashamed; she put her hand over his, and Diana looked away. "I know you did," Catherine said steadily. "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 as his 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 one there who loved him unconditionally, who would continue to love him no matter what he did, what he thought, what he said. Little as he was, he knew it. It made him ill."

"Ill?"

"Dying," Vincent said, still harshly. "I could feel it, feel his life 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't tell me any of this."

"He wanted to protect you," Diana guessed. "And who's to say he wasn'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 said softly. "You have a right to know. All of it, the bad as well as the good."

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

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

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

The other would have to be her. Because Vincent loved Catherine with a depth and breadth that rivaled oceans, or the vastness of space. No one knew that better than she did. She was already braced for the inevitable.

Even now they were lost in each other's eyes. It was Catherine who broke the spell by looking down. Her words were unexpected. "You've been 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 is wrong."

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hurt flashed in Catherine's eyes. "I did once, but he's not my son anymore. 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 going to look to you to see whether he can have a cookie, whether he can go to Mary's. Not me." Her voice was quieter now, less strident, but no less hurting.

"Catherine..." Vincent tried again.

"And you, Vincent. You love her. I know you do. Oh, I know it doesn'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 girl wouldn'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 to father her child..."

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

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

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

Vincent seemed not to see Catherine's struggle. Perhaps his own pain 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 very long time; finally, she nodded. "Yes," she said, very softly. "I do know that.

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

Diana's glance flicked to Vincent. *No*, she thought, *it's not choosing 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, rife with pain. "I love you, Vincent. I will love you always...but sometimes, things that are supposed to last for always, don't."

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

Only heartache and unfairness, guilt and suffering. Diana knew that 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 the victory. Almost she envied Catherine, who could walk away with her head high.

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

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. Easier than destroying what you have. Destroying you."

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

She flushed scarlet. "I'm sorry," she stammered, feeling stupid and 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 let me see Jacob...?"

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

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

"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. Take care of my namesake."

Diana could only offer a mute nod.

Catherine gave Vincent a long, heartfelt look, and he came forward to take her in his arms. This time, the sight of their embrace wasn't frightening; 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. She didn't look back, and Vincent didn't try to follow.

 

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

Catherine had put on some much-needed weight since Diana had seen her, and the drawn look was gone from her face. Diana could almost think Catherine had fully recovered from her ordeal, that things were normal for her now. Except for the ineffable sadness haunting her eyes.

Diana struggled for the right words. "I didn't know you were back here," 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 to come 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've never seen anything so noble. I couldn't have done it."

Catherine looked at her for a long moment, assessing. Diana shifted 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 something else."

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, gave him a mirror of love to see himself in." She shook her head. "If you hadn't done that... he never would have loved me. He's somebody different now, and those changes never would have happened without you."

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

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

"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 you have."

Diana considered that, and nodded. "Perhaps," she agreed, "but he wouldn't have been ready for the help I could give if he hadn't known you 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 give him."

And there was no arguing with that. Impulsively, Diana stepped forward and opened her arms. Catherine was slight in her embrace, but no longer frail. There was a strength in her now that belied her size. "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 in her. "Yes," she answered, very softly. "I always will."

 THE END