JULIAN

Joan Stephens


Standing in the doorway Christian gazed intently at the golden haired young man seated in a fine leather upholstered chair. His head was bent over the book he was reading, completely lost in its pages. My son, he thought in satisfaction. There was precious little love in that thought, more of ownership. He is what I have always wanted him to be and he will have the opportunity to prove it when I send him on his first mission tonight.

"Julian."

"Yes, Father?" he raised his blue green eyes from the book and fixed them on the dark, intense man standing in the doorway. The sun glinted in his bright golden hair as he lithely rose from the chair, marked his place, closed the book gently and placed it on the antique table beside the chair. He strode over to the man he knew as father, towering over him.

"Come with me. It's time for you to join the Group."

Julian's heart constricted with fear. The time had finally arrived, the time he had dreaded all his life. Everything he had been taught pointed to this day. As he grew tall and strong the lessons had become more intense, physically challenging, and brutal. They had progressed from simply besting an opponent to domination and finally to killing. On his sixteenth birthday, he had been set down in the middle of a dense forest with nothing but a Bowie knife and was expected to make it back in four days. To make it more interesting, four men had been given permission to hunt and kill him if possible. He had made it back in three and all four men were never seen again. His father was elated.

Yes, he had killed, but not with the pleasure his father had in killing. Was there something wrong with him? His interests were not those of his father. He felt he was loved for what he could do, not for who he was. Pushing those thoughts to the back of his mind, he had striven to do his best and please his father. All these thoughts flowed through his mind as he followed his father from the library to the conference room.

Christian looked up at the tall young man striding beside him. "I have taught you well and you have been an excellent student. I know you won't disgrace me."

"Yes, Father." Julian's mouth was dry and he could say no more.

Through a set of heavy oak double doors they entered a boardroom. Thirteen expensively and fashionably dressed men and women, of various ages, were seated around a highly polished black walnut oblong table. There was a feral quality about each and every one of them. They smiled at him with tight lips and veiled eyes and he knew that several of the younger men resented him and hoped that he would fail. Christian stopped behind the impressive throne-like chair at the head of the table and, placing his hands on it, motioned for Julian to stand beside him. He glanced at each person seated around the table and said, "As you know my son is old enough to join the Group. Today is the day of his initiation. There is a party tonight and I expect each of you to be here

when he embarks on his mission. Now, leave us, please."

"What time tonight?" a small, dark man with intense eyes asked.

"Nine p.m., Jose. Please be prompt." Christian answered in his deceptively soft, deadly voice.

The only sound that broke the silence was the scraping of chairs as they were pulled back from the table and the rustle of clothing as the thirteen walked out of the room.

As she pulled the door closed, an older grey haired woman called out, "Good night, Christian."

"Good night, Iris."

 

Julian watched his father open the cabinet that held a TV and a VCR. He pushed the play button and a tape began to play. It showed a monster of a man attacking some of the guards and pulling a heavy metal door off its hinges then throwing it at them. All the time he was roaring in what seemed to Julian to be pain and anguish. He was frightening and at the same time . . . magnificent.

They watched the tape until his father froze it on one close up of the terrible face; mouth open exposing the long fangs, roaring out his pain. Julian turned to his father. "Who or what is that thing?" he asked, intrigued.

"Your assignment. That thing is the thing that killed your mother, the thing I have told you of all these years. I said I would show it to you someday and now I have." Christian stated unemotionally.

"Why would he kill her?"

"She was protecting you. He had come to take you away from us."

"But why would he do something like that?"

"Who can explain the reasoning of a beast? Just know that it is the truth and it is your duty to avenge your mother's death." He clapped Julian on the shoulder. "Come let's see to your preparations for tonight."

Deeply disturbed and troubled, Julian followed his father out of the room. There was something that he was not being told, but that was nothing new. Often, he would find out later that he had not been told the whole truth. He would bide his time and eventually all would be revealed to him.

**************************

 

As always on the anniversary of her death Vincent knelt beside the headstone of Catherine's grave. "When, my love? When can I come to you? It's been twenty years. I'm old and I'm tired and I'm ready to come to you."

He rested his head on the stone and thought of the past years and his constant search for their son. He had arrived just as Gabriel was leaving in a helicopter with his son. He thought it was Catherine but when he heard her speak his name he spun around to find her wavering on the top step of the rooftop stairs. He had rushed to her and taken her in his arms only to lose her in a few minutes. She told him of their son and, gazing lovingly into his eyes, had closed hers and breathed her last. Somehow, he returned her to her apartment and suffered through her funeral, alone in his chamber, unable to be there. After she had come to him in a vision and reminded him about their child, he set out to find him. With the help of Diana Bennett, the detective assigned to her case, he had found him only to arrive too late as Gabriel disappeared into the night with him. That was the last he had known of his son. Now twenty years later, he had given up hope of ever finding him.

Wearily, he climbed to his feet after he had kissed her headstone wishing with all his heart that it was her soft and full lips that he kissed. "I miss you, my love. Wait for me, please." He returned to his home Below to pick up his life of duty.

 

Chapter Two

 

That night, the estate of Christian Kocyk rang with laughter and frivolity. Everyone of wealth and power from the city, the state and the nation were in attendance. Even several foreign dignitaties roamed among the crowd that spilled from the huge ballroom onto the well manicured lawn. Christian was well connected to persons in high places and he circulated among his guests as if he was king of his own empire, as in truth he was. He had more money and power than any elected official or person of wealth in the room, and he used that power to buy and sell whole countries and officials. He had people working for him in every stratum of business and government. Nothing happened that he did not know of the moment it occured. Julian followed in his wake, being introduced to those he didn't know and being wished Happy Birthday by his own friends and acquaintances. He wasn't drinking this night, as he knew that before the party was over, he would start out on his assignment. The afternoon had been spent in gathering all the paraphernalia he would need: maps, guns, a flashlight, and the ever useful jumpsuit that would hold all that he needed. All was stored in the basement by an entrance to the tunnels waiting for him.

"It's midnight, Julian, time to go," Christian said as he came up behind him. Julian was laughing and talking with a very pretty brunette who was hoping that she could get a date with him as he was rumored to be a most generous and superb date.

"Excuse me, Naomi, my father needs me."

"Oh darn, will I get to see you soon," she pouted prettily.

"I don't know. I will call you when I can," he said, turning to follow Christian out of the room.

A few choice expletives rolled through her mind as she walked away to try her wiles on another of the young men who were Julian's friends.

************************

Below in the basement Julian donned the black jumpsuit, checked all the equipment, and stowed it away in the pockets of the suit.

"Good hunting, Julian. Make me proud," Christian said, his eyes glittering in the dim light of the lone glowing light bulb.

"I will." He waited for his father to say more, but Christian had never been sentimental so he pulled open the grate and disappeared into the darkness of the tunnel.

Pensively, his hands clasped behind his back, Christian stalked up the stairs. If Julian kills the beast, I will have the joy of telling him that he had killed his own father, as I did mine. If the beast kills him, all the better, for I will get word to him that he has killed his own son. I will prove to him that I am the better man -- as if he is a true man. Christian returned to his guests as if nothing of importance was happening.

In the tunnels, Julian followed the route that Snow had once taken many years ago. All the maps that Snow had made were confiscated by Christian and saved for this one purpose. Having spelunked in several large caverns and backpacked through large and dense forests, Julian had no trouble reading and following a map. The deeper he went into the tunnels, the more they changed. They became old brick and then natural stone. With his superb hearing he began to hear the faint sound of taps that sounded like coded messages. He could not know that he had passed an outlying sentry of the Tunnel Community and the messages were detailing his rapid descent into their territory.

**************************

"Vincent! Vincent!" Mouse shouted as he came skidding into the Common Room. "Intruder. By old well."

"Yes, I heard, Mouse. There is only one?" he asked, preparing to meet the intruder.

"Steven says one. Mouse go with Vincent."

"No, my friend, you stay here. Get all the men together, armed and prepared. Bring Joanna and the children to the Common Room. Keep them safe."

"Ok good. Ok fine." Mouse dashed off on his mission.

Were they never to be safe? Must someone always come to do who knows what? They had lived in peace for so long that they had begun to think they were safe, at last . . . safe and forgotten. The intruder smashed all of that. Racing through the tunnels Vincent ran toward the old well in an effort to intercept the intruder before he found the home tunnels. Vincent planned to lead him as he had led Snow so long ago, away from the home tunnels and down to the maze.

****************

Having seen no one and heard nothing but the taps on the pipes Julian froze in his tracks when he heard a velvet and gravel voice ask out of the shadows, "Who are you?"

"Julian." Searching the dark shadows, he was unable to see anything even with his catlike eyes. He decided to play for time to give him a chance to pinpoint where the man was and answered, "Who are you?"

Ignoring the question, Vincent asked, "Why are you here?"

"To find someone." Julian edged forward in an attempt to find the voice.

"Who?" Vincent, aware of Julian's position, knew he still had time to escape.

"Not a who but a what." The answer was flat and deadly, almost emotionless, but Vincent could sense fear and determination behind it.

"I think that might be me," he stepped out of the side tunnel exposing himself to the assassin.

As Julian recognized the creature from the video tape, he snapped off a series of shots that barely missed Vincent, hitting his cape as he whirled away and sprinted down a nearby tunnel. Julian followed Vincent's trail through the tunnels that led him away and down to the maze by picking up the faint noise of his footsteps.

Vincent shed his cape as he neared his destination. The maze was quite warm from the hot springs that flowed through it making it slippery and dangerous. This was where he would make his stand and he hid behind a large stalagmite waiting tensely for Julian to come. Who was this Julian and why did he want to kill him? He could think of no one by that name that he had wronged. Barely breathing, his heart thudding in his chest, he caught the soft sound of carefully placed footsteps as Julian inched into the maze. Holding his breath, Vincent waited, motionless. Then, catching him by surprise, lashed out at him, knocking the gun away. Thrown off balance, Julian slipped on the slick floor thereby saving his life. As he fell to the side, Vincent's well-aimed strike was slightly off center and ripped through his chest not his throat. Lying on the floor, Julian stared into the face of certain death until Vincent froze with an upraised arm and unsheathed claws. Looking into Julian's terrified wide green eyes, Vincent saw something that stopped him. He had no way of knowing that deep inside him he knew those eyes to be Catherine's. Julian scrambled to his feet and attempted to flee, but his legs would not hold him up; Vincent caught him as he began to crumple and lowered him gently to the floor. He was badly injured and if not cared for soon, would surely bleed to death. The last thing Julian remembered was Vincent wrapping him in his cloak. Gathering the unconscious young man in his arms, Vincent set out at a run for the nearest pipe chamber where he tapped a message to Eric, asking him to meet them in the hospital chamber.

 

Chapter Three

 

Eric and Ho were waiting in the hospital chamber when Vincent entered breathing heavily. "Help me, Eric," he gasped. After depositing the bloodied body of the young man on the exam table, Vincent leaned heavily against the nearest wall. "He's badly hurt. I don't know if he's still alive."

"Well, he's barely alive," Eric stated. He began to issue orders to Ho and bent over his patient. Vincent moved to a chair near the wall and gratefully sat down, watching Eric and Ho toil over the young man.

"How is he doing?" For some unknown reason it was important to him that Julian survive. Maybe it was because he was about the age his own son would be if he was alive or that he simply did not want the death of this young man on his conscience.

"He's responding. It's a good thing you got him here when you did. Ten minutes or so delay . . . well . . . ," Eric said.

A tense two hours later Eric stated, "I've done what I can, the rest is up to him." Wearily, he removed his blood splattered surgical gown and handed it to Ho. "I'll send Janey to sit with him," Eric said, wiping his face with a towel and he followed Ho out of the chamber.

Vincent rose and hesitantly approached the exam table where Julian lay, white and still. Oh god, he looks so young, so vulnerable. Please let him live. Why? Why was he here to kill me? I have never seen him before. Slowly, he shook his head, perplexed.

Suddenly, Julian began to thrash around and proved remarkably strong when Vincent tried to hold him down. After he had carefully transferred him to a bed n the hospital ward, Vincent was straightening the blankets around him when he looked up to find his daughter, Joanna, standing beside him.

"I thought Janey was supposed to come."

"No, Dad, she's busy with Raoul fixing breakfast." He smiled at her. She was so lovely and made his life a little less lonely. He had found her wandering the dark streets of the city covered with welts and bruises, cradling a broken arm. She was four, she lisped, when he asked her how old she was. He had brought her Below to Father who promptly fell in love with her. She had grown to be a beautiful young woman in the fourteen years she had been Below and everyone, including Vincent and Joanna, considered her to be his daughter. The candlelight glistened in her raven black hair as she bent over Julian to get a better look at him. Her ebony colored eyes became sympathetic as she noted his extensive injuries.

"You did this?"she asked, gazing compassionately into Vincent's tortured eyes.

Painfully, he nodded his head, looking away from her.

"I know you only did it to protect us. Get some rest, Daddy, I'll watch him. He can't do much harm right now." She went to him and hugged him fiercely, then pushed him through the curtain that enclosed the hospital ward.

At noon she was relieved by Rebecca and checked on her father--he was sound asleep--before going to the dining room for lunch. After she taught her math class, she returned to the hospital chamber and relieved Rebecca. "Any change?" she asked, entering the silent chamber.

Rebecca smiled and rose from the chair beside the bed. "No, he hasn't moved a muscle. Wonder what he was doing down here?" She stopped just inside the curtained exit.

Joanna shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know. Daddy hasn't said a word about it but he took it very hard, wounding him so terribly."

"Vincent has always suffered deep remorse after defending us and especially with Catherine. She was the only one that could bring him out of the depression that would follow. I think it was . . . because she could see into his heart and knew his dark side better than anyone. Ah well, she's not here to help so it's up to you, my girl," she said, patting Joanna's arm.

"Thanks, Becky," Joanna called after her as she let the curtain fall. Throwing his blankets off, Julian began to toss and turn. "No, no, lie still. You'll open the wounds again and start to bleed," Joanna said, concern for this young man etched on her face.

He stilled at the sound of her voice and cautiously opened his startling green eyes. They were pain-filled and unfocused. "Who are you?" he croaked.

"Your nurse. Here, take a small sip. Not too much," she cautioned, lifting his head slightly and holding a chipped cup of water to his lips.

He swallowed painfully and asked, "Where am I? In a hospital?"

"No, you're in my home. You've been tended to and now you need to lay still and go back to sleep."

"But I don't . . ."

"No back talk. Do as I say. You're safe here."

Her gentle, concerned voice soothed him and he trusted her. Obediently, he closed his eyes and fell into a deep, inky pool of darkness.

Chapter Four

Dozing beside the bed, Joanna felt that someone was close by. When she opened her eyes, she found her father peering intently at the young man. "Has he awakened, yet?" he asked her as she tried to stifle a yawn with no success.

"Yes, a few minutes ago."

"Did he say anything?"

"Not really. He's too confused. Just wanted to know where he was. I made him go back to sleep. Do you know his name?"

"Julian, I believe."

"That's a name you don't hear often," she commented.

Vincent mumbled something. "What did you say?" she asked.

"There's something about him that I can't put my finger on." Puzzled, he shook his head.

"Daddy, what happened down there?"

"He had come for me," he stated in astonishment. "He had come to kill me."

"Why, for heaven's sake?"

"I don't know." He held his hands out palms up. "I've never seen him before that I can recall."

"It's very strange."

"Yes," he said pacing back and forth. "Unless . . . he is an assassin."

"No, he can't be." Vincent shrugged. "Who do you know that hates you that much?"

Throwing his hands into the air, he replied, "No one that I can think of. I guess we will have to wait until he wakes up and we can question him."

"He's not going to be in any shape to answer questions for quite awhile."

"I know," his shoulders slumped in resignation. "We must wait until he is stronger."

Eric popped in to examine the dressings and to see how his patient was doing. "These wounds are beginning to heal already. He must have an extraordinary constitution." He pulled the blankets back over Julian then he washed his hands. "He should be awake and alert by tomorrow evening."

Vincent perked up at this. Maybe he could talk to this young man then. For his own peace of mind he certainly hoped so.

"I will stay with him tonight, Joanna. I'm a lighter sleeper than you and will hear anything that happens."

"Ok good, ok fine," she said laughing, borrowing from Mouse. She stood on tiptoe, kissed him good night on the cheek, and left with Eric.

Vincent settled down in the chair next to the bed and opened the book he had brought--The Hero with a Thousand Faces--prepared to read far into the night. He didn't know that he was being observed through slitted eyes. What Julian saw did not jibe with the creature on the video tape. This was a man, although a strange looking man, who loved and was loved, who obviously commanded respect, and was highly intelligent. Could the creature and this man be one and the same? They certainly looked alike. His curiosity aroused, he decided to solve the mystery. But tomorrow would be soon enough. Yes, tomorrow. He was so tired and he heaved a deep sigh. Instantly, the man was at his side checking him over, making certain that he was all right. Julian felt safe and unworried for the first time he could remember. What was it about this strange place and this even stranger man that caused him to feel so safe? Another mystery to solve. Unafraid, he went back to a deep and healing sleep.

Assured that the young man was all right, Vincent settled once again into the chair and started anew to read. Soon, he was nodding over the book and shortly drifted into a light sleep. The book fell unnoticed to the floor and both occupants of the chamber slept in peace.

****************

Coughing? Someone--who--was coughing? Vincent came awake abruptly to find Julian doubled over in pain. Grabbing a pitcher and pouring a cup of water, he held it to the quivering lips. Gasping, the stranger swallowed a few sips and fell back on the bed breathing heavily.

"Are you all right?" Vincent asked, smoothing the pillow under his head.

"For now, I think." The young man spoke through parched lips and raw throat. God, he hurt.

"Your name is Julian?"

"Yes, Julian."

"Julian. When you feel better, we must talk." Vincent sank back into his chair.

"And your name?" the ragged voice asked.

"Vincent."

"Am I your prisoner?"

"Yes and no." Stretching his long legs out in front of him Vincent continued, "Until we know why you came to kill me, you will be guarded." He waved in the direction of the curtained entryway. "All your weapons have been thrown into the abyss by Mouse."

"Mouse?" Julian asked in amusement.

"Yes, one of our more eccentric members." Vincent laced his fingers behind his head and leaned back in the chair, smiling. "When the council determines it is safe and you pledge not to reveal our existence you will be allowed to return Above."

"Otherwise?"

"We have never had that problem."

Julian decided to keep his own counsel until he found out more about this creature--man?--and this place.

"Good morning, Daddy. Julian." Holding a tray filled with a light breakfast on it, a beaming Joanna came striding in and settled the tray on the table beside the bed. "I'll take over now, Daddy."

"Good morning, love," Vincent bent and kissed her on the cheek. The love between them was clearly evident by their easiness with each other. "I trust you slept well."

"Sure did." She returned the hesitant smile that Julian gave her. "And how are you this morning?"

"Better now," he answered.

Vincent noticed the obvious brightening of Julian's eyes as he gazed at Joanna. "Well, I'll leave you in my daughter's capable hands. I will sit with you tonight." The curtain dropped behind him as he returned to his chamber to begin his busy day.

 

Chapter Five

 

Eric arrived soon after Joanna had finished feeding Julian. Wiping his mouth with a napkin, she asked Eric how Pascal was doing.

"We're having trouble keeping him in bed. He still feels responsible for the pipes. Thinks Zach will need his help."

"Yeah," Joanna chuckled, "you can take the man out of the pipes but not the pipes out of the man."

"You can say that again." Changing the dressings, Eric noticed how fast Julian was healing. "You keep this up . . . uh?"

"Julian," Joanna supplied.

"You keep this up, Julian, and you'll be up and around in no time." The only person that he knew healed this fast was Vincent.

"Thank you, doctor."

"Eric. And don't thank me. If it hadn't been for Vincent, you wouldn't be alive."

"Yeah, Eric," he said sarcastically, "if it hadn't been for him I wouldn't be here at all."

"Seems to me he was only defending himself." Joanna jumped in to defend her father.

Quickly, his anger subsided. It was best not to antagonize anyone until he knew where he stood.

"Yeah, I guess you're right."

"Well. Don't get too excited or you'll rip the stitches out. Try to stay calm. I'll check on you before lights out." Resting a hand on her shoulder Eric gently squeezed it as he walked by.

"Go fight with Pascal, Eric. We'll see you later." Smiling she shooed him out through the entryway. "Hey, Eric, wait a minute."

He stuck his head around the curtain. "What?"

Handing him the tray of empty dishes she asked, "Would you mind taking these back to Raoul for me?"

"What do you think I am," he grumbled, "a bus boy?"

"Well, you're certainly dressed for it," she saucily replied, eyeing his white lab coat.

The only answer she got was an indignant, "Humph!" as he stalked out in feigned indignation.

Turning to her patient Joanna said, briskly, "It's time for your bath."

Julian pulled the blankets tightly under his chin even though it pained him to do so. "Oh, no you're not."

"Nothing is going to happen that will embarrass you. I've done this before, a lot of times."

In an effort to forestall the inevitable, Julian asked, "Who's Pascal?" Not only that, he was curious about this place and the people who lived here.

"Our pipemaster."

"Pipemaster?"

"Yeah, we send messages via the pipes."

"Oh. What's wrong with him?"

"He's got the flu."

"Oh."

"You've stalled long enough. Let's get this over and done with." She fetched a bowl, filled it with hot water from a steaming teakettle that sat over a small two-burner stove, and added cool water until it was the right temperature. Then she proceeded to bathe him, even shampooing his hair. A clean well patched white gown was next.

"You are a pro at this," he conceded.

"Told you so," she replied crisply. She combed his hair arranging it neatly. "There now. Don't you feel better?"

"Much better but I'm tired. I think I want to sleep now."

"Of course. I'll be near if you need anything." Tiptoeing through the raised curtain as he wearily closed his eyes, instantly asleep, she spent the next hour or so talking with Marc who was on guard duty just outside the hospital chamber.

****************

"Joanna," a weak cry from Julian brought her to her feet and to his bedside. "Could I have a drink, please?"

"Surely," she held the cup to his lips.

"It's amazing how good cold water tastes," he commented.

"We have the best water in the city." She liked bragging about her home to the Topsider. "Would you like me to read to you? It'll take your mind off the pain."

"Ok, what do you have?"

"When's the last time you read 'Treasure Island'?"

"Oh gosh, I must have been ten or so. A long time."

"You don't seem to be that old. What, about twenty?" She was teasing him and he knew it.

"How old are you, about eighteen?" He smiled into her dark brown eyes, about to drown in them when she shook her head and broke the eye contact. She settled back into the chair and began to read. Her voice was lovely and he decided that he would have her read to him as often as he could persuade her to.

****************

Snapping the book closed, she said "Well, I think three chapters are quite enough for now. You should probably rest for a while before dinner."

"No," he reached for her hand as she rose to go and was stopped when a sharp pain shot through his chest. "Stay. Talk with me?"

When she nodded and settled back into the chair, he asked her, "Do you ever go above?"

"Oh yes, to plays, concerts, museums, and such and then I'm so glad to come back Below."

"Don't you want to be able to walk in the sunshine, go swimming in the ocean, go to parties and all that you can do if you lived above?"

"Why? I can do all that when I want. There are no restrictions to what I can do. I am happy here."

"What about school?"

"The children here get an excellent education. I am going to Columbia this fall on a scholarship supplied by the woman my father loved." She gazed at him pensively. "Why do you want to kill my father?" she asked looking him in the eye, daring him to be truthful with him.

"He killed my mother," he stated flatly.

Aghast, she rounded on him. "My father would never do anything like that. He's the kindest, gentlest . . ."

"Kind, gentle!" He exploded, cutting her off. "Look what he did to me."

"You were trying to kill him," glaring, she shouted at him. "He was only protecting himself."

"Maybe, but he's still a killer. My father told me all about him," he replied sullenly.

Her anger subsided as she realized that he believed what he was saying and had acted on it. Quietly, she replied, "I know of all the times my father has defended our home and only once has he killed a woman and that was when she was trying to kill him, he thought she was a man. The remorse he felt almost drove him crazy. Besides, he has never lied to me." Staring at him she asked, "Can you say the same about your father?"

Remembering all the times his father had lied for profit or selfish reasons he was forced to reply, "No, I can't say the same about mine."

"There, you see," she said proudly.

 

Chapter Six

 

Vincent had heard the last of this heated discussion. Standing, pensively, outside the curtain he wondered who it was he had wronged so grievously that they would send their own son to kill him. Casting his mind back through his life, he found several who held malice toward him, but none that he thought would do that. It was time to talk with Julian and begin the process of defusing the situation.

"Are you two finished shouting at each other? I heard you all the way down the tunnel."

Startled, they turned from their confrontation at his soft words.

"Sorry, Father, but he has some very strange ideas about you." Joanna smiled at him apologetically. She turned to Julian, "I'm sorry, Julian, I should never have shouted at you." Sounding as if she was quoting something, she said, "You can disagree but not at the top of your lungs."

"I see that you remember still." Vincent walked over to the chair beside the bed and sat down.

"How could I forget?" she laughed. "I had to write it . . . what . . . five hundred times?"

"I seem to remember that that was the number." Chuckling, he took her hand in his and examined it closely. "There's no permanent damage, though."

"Oh, you," she said in delighted exasperation.

Julian was watching the bantering between them wishing it could be the same with his father but that would never happen. Suddenly, he wished things were different.

"Rebecca is waiting for you," Vincent reminded her.

"Oh, I forgot. If I hurry, I won't be late." She left with the promise that she would return with Julian's dinner and she buzzed her father on the cheek as she left.

Watching Vincent through half closed eyes, Julian waited patiently for him to begin. His father always said that if you waited long enough a man would reveal himself to you and then you would know how to defeat him. He felt sure he knew what Vincent would ask first; so he was caught off guard when asked, "Tell me of yourself."

"Uh . . . my father is very rich and powerful. I had the best education money could buy. I was taught all of the martial arts. All this in preparation to take over for my father."

"That tells me nothing about you," Vincent poked him in the heart. "What is in there?"

"I don't know. We are not in the heart business."

"All right, tell me what you like? You have hobbies, interest?"

Julian's eyes began to sparkle for the first time since he had been brought to this strange place. "Oh yes, I love to read, go to the opera and concerts, I paint, very well if I do say so myself. I have traveled the world over and it is a marvelous place."

"I have never left the city and when I walk the streets I do that only at night."

"Have you never seen a sunrise?"

"Oh yes, from someone's terrace I have seen many sunrises." Vincent's voice softened and his eyes looked off at someone only he could see. Bringing himself back to the present Vincent asked, "But what is your favorite book?"

"I read any and everything but I think one of my favorites is 'Joshua's Story'. I can relate to a young man raised in a loveless home." He played with the blankets that covered him, uncomfortable with what he had just revealed to Vincent.

Ignoring Julian's inadvertent confession, Vincent said, "A particular favorite of mine is '300 Days' by Bridget O'Donnell. It is an old book written twenty years ago. I met her one time. She was a remarkably insightful woman and she was murdered for her efforts for peace. She left behind a legacy of knowledge about the loss of humanity that hatred brings in its wake."

"How did you meet her?" Getting Vincent to talk about himself might give him a way to defeat him.

Vincent told him of the Halloween night that he met Bridget and of the night he spent with Catherine. "Someone gave me her book as a present."

"This someone is pretty special, isn't she? Will I ever get to meet her?"

"No, she is dead." Vincent stared into space once again.

"Tell me about her."

After he had told Julian about her and of their love for each other he said, "I wake and fall sleep with her name on my lips and her face before me. Catherine."

Julian looked strangely at him. "That's a coincidence. My mother's name is Catherine."

Vincent flung himself from his chair and stalked to the other side of the chamber. Could it be true? "What was her full name?" He was afraid of the answer but eagerly awaited Julian's reply.

"Catherine Chandler."

Standing stock still, Vincent threw his head back, sighing deeply. With closed eyes, he whispered, "Catherine, I have found him."

Vincent turned to his uncomprehending son, "I loved Catherine Chandler with all that I was or could ever hope to be."

Julian shrank back into his pillows, "Is that why you killed her because she turned to my father?"

"No, I could never harm her. She was my life." Appalled, Vincent stared at him. That anyone could think that he would do something like that shocked him to his bones.

"My father said you killed her," he shouted at Vincent.

"Who is your father?" he asked, trembling.

"Christian Kocyk."

"I know no Christian Kocyk."

"Well, he knows you. He has a video tape of you rampaging through a metal door and killing three guards."

"The only man who would have that tape was a man called Gabriel." A horrible thought was beginning to surface. "What does this man look like?"

After Julian described his father Vincent carefully asked, "Do you know if he has ever used another name?"

"Sure. Depending on what he's doing and where he's at, he uses a lot of names," Julian innocently answered.

"Such as . . . Gabriel?"

"Yeah, that's one of them."

No wonder they had been unable to find any trace of him. Gabriel was living under a different name. Vincent staggered under the revelation that Catherine's son had been raised by Gabriel. "Gabriel! You were raised by that monster."

"He's not a monster. He's just . . ."

"He's the one that had your mother murdered when he had no further use of her. When she had given birth to you. Threw her away like a piece of trash when she was a million times his better. Stole her from me. And you . . ." Vincent was past all reasoning as he paced around the chamber.

No, no, this can't be. Julian shook his head. His father was hard but he couldn't have done this, could he? Deep inside the doubt was beginning. He was capable of this. "My f . . . father couldn't have done that," he protested, feebly.

Vincent whirled and hissed, "Yet, you think I could have killed the one that was my life, my heart. You can't be my son." The words were flung at him in disgust.

"Your son! Are you telling me that I'm your son?" Julian stared at him in alarm.

"Yes, and because of that I am responsible for her death. If she had never loved me, had never known me, she would be alive this day but the honor of killing her goes to your father," he answered bitterly.

"My father is capable of much but not that, surely?" he pleaded.

"Only you can answer that question," Vincent growled. "You know him better that I." Taking a deep angry breath he stated, "I have to leave now. I can't stay. It is all more than I can comprehend right now. Remember this, your mother and I were one soul, one heart. She died protecting me; she never told him anything about me. She was my love, my life and if you can think that I killed her after you hear what happened, I will return with you to Gabriel and he can do with me as he pleases," he offered rashly, beyond sensible thought.

"No, Dad, you can't," Joanna cried as she ran into the chamber.

Still, in a daze, he turned to her. "You heard?"

"Yes."

"Everything?"

"Yes. Please, Daddy?"

"I've got to be alone. We'll talk tomorrow." And he ran from the chamber.

"How could you?" she flared at Julian.

"All my life I've been told that he killed my mother. What else do you expect of me?" he explained.

"I'm sorry, forgive me," Joanna tried to pull herself together. "My father always said not to rush to judgement until you know the whole story."

"I still don't know the whole story." Julian was growing frustrated with each passing moment. "He says I'm his son. Who am I to believe?"

Joanna paced back to him and staring at him, asked, "Is your father's name Gabriel?"

"Yes, one of them." Why did he feel so defensive with her?

"Would you care to hear what I know of my father and your father?"

"Please," he pleaded.

She pulled up a chair by his bed and settled into it. She's so graceful, he thought.

She began her tale, "The love of my father's life was, and is, Catherine Chandler. I'll leave it to him to tell you of their life together. He doesn't speak of it much. I know Catherine was pregnant when she was kidnaped . . ."

An hour later she was finishing the story. "He searched and searched for the baby but never saw him again after that one time in Gabriel's fortress. He told me that many times he wanted to join her, but her voice always stopped him and when he finally gave up hope of ever finding the baby, it was too late as too many depended on him. I know he is only marking time until he can go to her. Still, he does the best he can for us and our world. And now you have brought it all crashing down around him again. I wish you had never come here," she added, bitterly.

"My god, if all this is true, I have been living with a monster."

"Well, it's all true. You can believe it or not." She swiped at a tear trickling down her cheeks. "There is a portrait of them in the Great Hall that you should see. It would change your mind about a lot of things."

Julian's ideas about his father were undergoing a fundamental change. "Tell me about Vincent and your world," he pleaded.

She told him everything she knew and how Vincent had saved her as a little child.

Wistfully, he sighed, "I wish I had that kind of relationship with my father but he's cold and distant. He only cares about power and manipulating people. I think that's what he's been doing with me."

Laying a comforting hand on his arm she said, "I'm truly sorry, Julian. Maybe now you'll listen to my father and really hear him."

"Yeah, I think so."

At this time Eric entered and began his usual checkup. "You seem a little agitated. Would you like something to calm you down?"

Julian shook his head. "No, I'll be all right." He didn't want anything to cloud his mind. He had much to think over.

"Well, try to stay calm. I'll see you tomorrow."

"I'll see that he stays quiet, Eric." Joanna stated as she followed him to the exit. "Good night."

"Night." And he ducked through the curtain.

Joanna turned back to her patient. Straightening covers and plumping his pillow she closely assessed his physical condition. "You've had enough excitement for this day. Try to sleep. I'll be close by if you need me."

He nodded and closed his eyes, but not to sleep. His thoughts went round and round. He heard his father's voice, Vincent's, Joanna's. He was getting nowhere; he had to hear Vincent's side of the story. Strangely, he did not feel as if he was betraying Christian. Forcefully, he pushed the thought aside and tried to sleep. "Will Vincent be back?" he asked just before he drifted off to sleep.

"No, not tonight," Joanna answered from a darkened corner.

"Ok," he mumbled sleepily.

Chapter Seven

As he slept, he dreamed. He was the judge in a courtroom, Vincent, the defendant, Christian, the prosecutor. In his dream Christian accused Vincent of all that he had told Julian through the years. Vincent denied it all. Christian turned to the jury, a jury composed of his followers. "Guilty," they all thundered. As Vincent was led a way to be executed, a veiled woman approached the bench. Her green eyes pleaded with him. "No, no, save him. You can't let them do this. He is innocent. He is your father." His mother stood before him, weeping for Vincent. She pointed an accusing finger at Christian. "He did it, he killed me." Julian pounded the gavel screaming, "No, no, it can't be. It can't be." Christian wore a cold, deadly smile. Julian started awake shouting, "No, no, no, no."

Joanna was instantly by his side. "What is it? A bad dream?" She took his hand in hers trying to soothe him. "You're safe here. Nothing and no one can harm you."

He took a deep breath. "I know I'm safe. It was just a bad dream. I'm ok now." Quickly, he disengaged his hand and put it under the blanket.

"Do you want to tell me about it?" she asked as she got him a cup of water.

"No, I need to think about it. Do you think Vincent will see me tomorrow?" He took a sip from the cup Joanna held to his lips.

"I don't know. He is very upset. I've never seen him like this. He knows you are too. He'll probably be here tomorrow." She tilted her head slightly. A mannerism she had learned from Vincent. Then she shook her head, "He cares too deeply about people."

"What do you mean 'cares too deeply'?" Julian asked. This man was a contradiction. Julian was beginning to admire him and he desperately wanted to hear his complete story. The idea that he might be Vincent's son was overwhelming.

"My father is always bringing lost children and people who have 'fallen through the cracks' here to care for them until they are ready to go back Above or stay here with us. Do you really think a man who does that could kill the woman he loved more than his own life?"

"No, he couldn't. Oh god . . . I'm so confused. Could 'my father'," he stressed the words bitterly, "have sent me to kill my real father?" He looked at Joanna with tears in his eyes.

She felt so sorry for him. He was hurting so much. Torn between what he thought was the truth all his life and what he had heard here. "I can't answer that question. It is for you to decide."

"I know but I'm so tired yet I can't seem to sleep."

"Would you like me to read to you? We can continue 'Treasure Island'?"

"Please. Maybe it will relax me."

Joanna read to him for a while and when she heard his soft even breathing she continued to read in silence. She was dozing off and on when Janey came to reliever her. "He's sleeping quietly now but he had a nightmare a little while ago so if he gets restless try to wake him."

"Ok, anything else?" Janey asked as she settled into the chair that Joanna had vacated.

"Not that I can think . . . I'm going to go and fall into my bed, I'm that tired. Good night."

"Night, Joanna." Janey's soft brown eyes fell on Julian's face. He sure was handsome. She pulled a lock of mahogany brown hair behind her ear and settled down to read the book, 'Pirate's Heart', that she had brought.

***************************

When Julian awoke, he found Vincent asleep in the chair, his legs stretched out in front of him, with his arms folded, and his chin resting on his chest. Julian scrutinized Vincent's face. Relaxed in sleep, he looked strikingly vulnerable and in terribly beautiful. The sharp canines were hidden by a mouth that was edged by lines of sorrow. The vivid blue eyes were closed and surrounded by worry lines. Frankly, he wanted to hear Vincent's story. He was burning with curiosity and he needed to know why Vincent thought he was his son.

Vincent's eyes snapped open and Julian's eyes were caught and held for several seconds. In an attempt to lighten the situation Julian chuckled and said, "Bet you're sore from sleeping in that chair."

Vincent smiled faintly, "Goes with the job. How do you feel today?" He seemed to have forgotten what had happened yesterday. He rose and checked Julian's forehead for fever.

"Much better. I seem to heal faster than other people."

Vincent turned away abruptly. "You have no fever. You will be able to go home soon and should be able to walk a little today."

"Not until I hear your story. Please, Vincent, I need to know. Please." He had never begged for anything in his life but this was of utmost importance to him.

Vincent turned back to see the pleading in Julian's eyes. "All right." he answered slowly. "I have things that must be done this morning. I will see you this afternoon."

Julian laid back on his bed. The emotions he felt had exhausted him.

As Vincent left, Joanna walked through the opened curtain that he held for her, carefully balancing a tray loaded with steaming, aromatic dishes. They exchanged morning kisses and she approached Julian's bedside. "Well, don't we look better this morning. Hungry?"

Julian smiled at her, "I'm remarkably hungry. What do you have?"

"Real food today. Eric says you've healed enough for solid food. Eggs, bacon, toast, jelly, coffee, and tea," she answered grinning at him.

"That sounds delicious." He dug in. "It is delicious."

"Raoul will be pleased," she laughed as she began to get his bath ready.

"Raoul's the cook, I gather?" He asked between mouthfuls.

"Yes, and he loves compliments."

Eric stuck his head in. "Is the patient awake?"

"Yes, the patient is awake," Julian answered, finishing the last bite of his breakfast.

"Hey, man, you're healing a lot faster than us mere mortals. I only know one other person that's like that." He checked Julian over thoroughly. "The wounds are almost completely healed."

"Is Vincent the other one?" Julian asked quietly.

"Yeah." Eric nodded rebandaging the wounds.

Julian nodded slightly, as if a question had been answered.

"You need to start walking today. Anyone that is around will be glad to walk with you. See you tomorrow." Eric called over his shoulder as he left around the curtain.

"Ok, now it's time for your bath," Joanna stated. She took the tray of empty dishes on it and set it outside the hospital chamber.

"Nope, I can wash myself today," Julian replied firmly and waited until a smiling Joanna had ducked around the curtain

.

Chapter Eight

 

After Julian's bath Joanna returned, took his bathing supplies, dumped the water, and put everything away. She settled into the chair beside his bed. "Shall I read to you again?"

"No, tell me more about this tunnel world. How did it get started?"

"Two men, Jacob Wells and John Pater founded the community. I don't know all the details, you'll have to ask my father, he knows the whole story." She continued her tale answering his questions to the best of her knowledge.

"When Father died, my Dad became head of the community. He's been the leader for five years now. He really misses Father. They were very close, especially after Catherine died. He loved her so much that he almost died himself. I hope I can find a love like that." Softly, she sighed, her eyes taking on a wistful expression. "Why don't you lay back and rest now? I have a class to teach."

"You're a teacher?"

"Yes, I teach math and I'm very good at it," she answered in reply to his raised eyebrow.

At this moment Vincent strode into the chamber. "Ready for our talk, Julian?" He approached the bed. "I finished my tasks early and I knew you were impatient to talk."

Julian was in an agony of anticipation waiting for Vincent to tell him about his mother.

"I'll be back later," Joanna said ducking around the curtain.

Julian nodded, his eyes on Vincent waiting for him to speak. Vincent settled his large frame carefully into the chair. He gazed at Julian over steepled fingers. The silence was getting to Julian. "Well?" he questioned.

"No one knows the whole story of Catherine and me. It is very painful for me to talk about it." Vincent hesitated for so long that Julian began to fear that he would not continue. Taking a deep, shuddering breath Vincent picked up where he left off, "But you deserve the whole truth." He settled more squarely into the chair. "I found your mother lying on the ground in the Park more dead than alive. She had been mistaken for someone else and her face had been slashed and she had been severely beaten. I took her Below to my father who was a physician."

"Jacob Wells."

Vincent looked at him sharply. "Yes, we called him Father. We tended to her wounds, sewed them up, and wrapped her ribs. She stayed with us for ten days and during that time a bond was formed between us that let us know what the other was feeling. It was stronger in me than in Catherine. I came to love her deeply, she was warm, generous, and courageous and she came to love me as well." Vincent continued to relate their adventures and their struggles to find some way to be together. He told their story rather straight forward until he came to the part about Spirko and Paracelsus and his descent into the darkness, then the narration came slowly and hesitantly.

"The darkness? What was that?"

"You saw it when you watched the tape. It is a part of me that I struggled to control every moment of my life that I used to protect Catherine and this world." He leaned forward, elbows on his knees with hands clasped in front of him. His head dropped as he sighed deeply.

"Did you use it on me?" Jacob asked.

"No, if I had, you would be dead."

"You make it sound as if he's a separate entity."

"For many years I struggled to rid myself of him but through Catherine's love and acceptance I learned that he was an integral part of me. When I accepted him we became one. Have you ever . . .?"

"Only once when I was 16. It was a test my fa . . . Christian set up." The shocking realization leapt into his eyes. "Is that why he wanted me because I was your son. He wanted the darkness."

"Yes. He wanted me to join him. I wouldn't so he took you."

Julian looked away. This was almost more than he could handle. He had to get back to a safer subject. "What happened next?"

"I was lost to myself and to Catherine. I had retreated to a cavern far away from the community. Father, Pascal, Mouse, Jamie and Catherine followed me down there. Catherine braved the darkness to save me, to bring me back from the edge of madness, and taught me how to accept the darkness in me. While we were alone in the cavern we . . . loved and you were conceived."

"You're sure that I'm your son?" Julian asked.

"Yes, I know you are. You are Catherine's son, therefore, you are my son."

"Ok, how did Christ . . . Gabriel," he couldn't call him his father anymore, "get his hands on me?"

Vincent told him of Joe Maxwell and the little black book, the loss of the bond between Catherine and him, her kidnaping, and his abortive rescue attempt. He told how he had searched the city for her and how he had finally found her only to have her die in his arms after she had told him of their son. He told of how he had searched, and finally with the aid of a woman, Diana Bennett, found him at Gabriel's fortress, only to lose him once again. He told of fruitless days and nights, months and years of searching and the final agonizing realization that he would never find his son.

His voice fell silent as he waited for Julian's comments. They weren't long in coming. "My god, what a story and you claim it is all true."

"All true." Vincent nodded, his eyes bright with tears. "Your mother died because of me. Died protecting me. I carry the responsibility of her death with me every day. If she had never loved me, she would be alive today." The tears began to roll down his cheek as he hung his head in pain.

"Vincent," Julian said sharply, "stop feeling sorry for yourself. I have a feeling she would have had it no other way. You made her a better person and she saved you from the darkness. An even exchange and you were fortunate to love each other deeply."

"Then you accept what I've told you as the truth?"

"I don't know. I don't think anyone could make up a story like that but I need time to think about all you've told me." Julian laid back with a heavy sigh.

"I know what I've told you is diametrically opposed to all you've believed all your life. I'll understand if you can't accept it and if you promise not to tell anyone about our world here you are free to go as soon as you are well." Vincent stared at his hands, then raised haunted eyes to gaze at Julian. He rose and quickly left the chamber.

Passing a shaking hand over his eyes and then closing them, Julian wondered what other secrets this remarkable man had and he was at a loss as to what to think. He had heard a wondrous tale and if it was true he had a set of remarkable parents. Over and over the tale he had heard went around in his brain until he fell into an uneasy sleep and as he slept he once again dreamed of the courtroom. Once again Vincent was the defendant and Gabriel/Christian the prosecutor. Once again Gabriel accused him of killing Catherine and again Vincent denied it all. Again, Gabriel turned to the jury, a jury composed of tunned dwellers. "Innocent," they chanted. Once again the veiled woman approached the bench only this time she smiled at him, took his hand and Vincent's hand, and joined them together. "The two most important men to me and that I love the most are at last together. Love each other as I love each of you," she said as she slowly faded from sight. Gabriel looked on in rage as Vincent took Julian into his arms.

Julian slowly came awake smiling with a warm feeling flowing around his heart and he knew without the shadow of a doubt that it was his mother's love surrounding him. It would take a while but he and Vincent would come to know each other and from that knowledge would come the love. His smile grew broader at the thought.

 

Chapter Nine

 

The delicious smell of good food preceded Joanna as she entered the hospital room. "Good news. I just saw Eric and he said that you can walk to the guest chamber. It has a much more comfortable bed than this one. We'll go after you eat dinner."

"Can we see the portrait on the way?" he asked settling down to eat.

"No, it's too far to go this first time, you can see it later when you are stronger," she replied beginning to straighten up the chamber.

Hurriedly, Julian ate his dinner, wanting out of the sterile atmosphere of the hospital chamber. When he finished, Joanna and Marc helped him take his first careful steps on his way to his own chamber. By the time they arrived his legs were very wobbly and he sank gratefully into the big double sized bed.

"Thanks, Marc. I can handle things from now on," Joanna said as she pulled the blankets over Julian's shaking body. Marc nodded and left. "Not quite as strong as you thought, huh?" she asked.

"No. Is Marc going to be on guard outside?"

"No, my Dad says there's no need to guard you anymore."

"How does he know that?"

"My father is exquisitely attuned to other people. His empathic powers." She extinguished all but two candles telling him to rest and that she would return to check on him before going to bed.

He grabbed her hand as she turned to go. "You have been so kind to one who came to kill your father, why?"

There was something hidden in her eyes as she answered, "That is one of our laws. To give aid and, also, to accept it. It is how we live." She pulled her hand from his, and with a backward look at him, left the camber.

He laced his fingers behind his head, contemplating what she had just said. He knew Christian would never help anyone unless it benefited him in some way.

***************************

Julian improved markedly over the next few days and Eric released him as a patient. He was even taking his meals in the community dining room, always accompanied by either Joanna or Vincent or both. The community had not been particularly friendly at first, but had soon thawed and he was apt to find a member of the community at his door anytime of the day. Mouse especially intrigued him. He was further intrigued to find out that it was Vincent that had saved Mouse and taught him. That explained Mouse's original open hostility to him; he had threatened his idol.

On the day that he finally felt completely fit, he hunted for Joanna and found her with Rebecca, making the communities monthly supply of candles. "May I borrow Joanna for a little while?" he asked a disheveled and flustered Rebecca.

Blowing damp, stringy hair out of her eyes she answered, "Sure, just don't keep her all afternoon, Ok?"

A very damp and wax-splattered Joanna smiled her thanks at Rebecca and followed Julian into the tunnel. "Oh, thank you, thank you," she whispered making sure Rebecca couldn't hear her. "I thought I was going to melt." She followed Julian to his chamber. "What can I do for you?" she asked as they paused outside the portal.

"Will you take me to see the portrait? I think it will be the final piece to the puzzle."

"Sure, follow me." She led him through the back tunnels and through a small door into a huge, dark chamber. The cavern was so huge that lantern light couldn't penetrate to the distant walls. He followed her through the large echoing chamber to a flight of steps that led to a long platform surrounded by a waist high railing. On the wall behind the railing were several faded antique tapestries. At the foot of the stairs hung a life-sized painting of a woman held in Vincent's possessive arms. Joanna held the lantern closer and Julian gasped as he saw his mother's face for the first time. Somehow, he had always known she would be beautiful. Christian had many excuses for the lack of pictures of his mother and now he knew why, she had never been his. She was leaning back into Vincent's embrace, her face aglow with love and trust. Vincent's arms held her possessively and lovingly. The artist had captured the love and devotion of the two lovers completely.

"Good god. Is that what real love looks like?" he asked, amazed.

"Yes. Father comes here every day to talk with her and he goes to her grave every year on the anniversary of their meeting. He can't bear to go on the anniversary of her death."

"It's rare to find devotion like his. Was there ever another woman?"

"The only other woman was Diana Bennett. She helped Father find you and loved him but he couldn't love anyone but Catherine and Diana eventually gave up and went on with her life."

They heard a noise outside the door. "He's coming now."

"Put out the lantern. I don't want him to know I'm here. Please," he whispered. Quickly, Joanna doused the lantern and led him to a far corner.

Vincent entered and paced to the painting. Tenderly, he traced Catherine's full mouth. "I fear, my love, that our son may be lost to us. I guess I expected too much, that a few weeks knowing us could counteract twenty years of false information. I had so hoped." He stared at her face for a few more minutes, then left the chamber.

Joanna relit the lantern. Julian was staring after Vincent as if he had seen a ghost. "What is it, Julian?"

"He didn't use a lantern," he stated as he turned to her.

"No, he sees quite well in the dark."

"I can do that. My god, he is my father. What kind of monster is Christian to send me to kill my own father?"

"Maybe in his twisted mind he thought he would win either way. If my father killed you, Gabriel would find someway to let him know that he had killed his own son, knowing it would destroy him. And if you had killed my dad he would have the secret knowledge and enjoyment that Vincent had been killed by his own son and that you were embarking on a life of crime. Not the life my dad had envisioned for you."

Grabbing her hand Julian pulled her out of the cavern and ran down the tunnel. "I need to find my father and talk with him."

Joanna pulled him to a stop, "Did you hear what you just called him?"

"Who, Vincent?"

"Yes, you called him . . . Father."

"Well, . . . he is, isn't he?" and he pulled her through the tunnel.

"Yes, I guess so," Joanna answered breathlessly. Julian could barely make out Vincent's retreating form and cried out, "Vincent! Father, wait for me." For some reason he didn't understand he had to talk with him right now.

Vincent came to an abrupt halt and turned waiting for them to catch up with him. "What did you call me?" he asked, unsure of what he heard.

"I called you Vincent," he answered, out of breath.

"You called him something else," Joanna stated going to stand beside her father.

Julian thought for a few seconds and then smiled, "I called you father."

Vincent almost jerked Julian's arm off pulling him into a crushing embrace. Raising his face, tears streaming down his cheeks, Vincent whispered, "What was lost has been found. We have our son back, Catherine. Be at peace, my love."

Joanna threw her arms around both of them crying happy tears for father and son.

 

Chapter Ten

 

Later sitting in Vincent's chamber, he asked Julian what was the deciding factor that had caused him to accept him as his father.

"The painting and the fact that you can see in the dark. Besides, Mother told me so in a dream I had. But the how is not important. What do we do about Christian? He knows that you live here but not about the community. He has spies everywhere and if he really wanted to know he'd find out"

"None of the community or helpers would sink that low," Joanna stated.

Vincent was silent. He knew betrayal could come from any corner. "Let's not give anyone any idea that you know your true heritage," he said to Julian.

He nodded and said, "I must go back, you know?"

"No, Julian, you can't." Joanna said as she grabbed his arm. "He could kill you."

"I must, I've got to bring him down and end his reign of terror. Do you know Joe Maxwell, F . . . Vincent?" Gently, he patted her tense hand.

"Yes. He's been a helper for many years."

"He's about to retire. Do you suppose he'd like to go out in a blaze of glory?" Julian smiled widely.

Vincent chuckled. "Knowing Joe, I'm sure he would. When will you return Above?"

"Tomorrow. It's a good thing you didn't cut my hair. I need to look as bedraggled as possible."

"We still have the clothes you wore when you . . . first came to us." Vincent had trouble speaking about their first meeting.

Leaning forward, Julian laid a comforting hand on Vincent's arm. "Father," he whispered, "the blame lies with Christian, not with you." He leaned back in his chair. "I've been wondering. What stopped you? Why didn't you finish me off?"

"I couldn't. When you looked up at me waiting to die . . . there was something in your eyes that touched something deep inside of me." Vincent shook his head at the closeness of the deed. "It wasn't until I realized who you were that I knew what had stopped me. You have your mother's eyes."

"Thank god, you did, Daddy." Joanna said with a heartfelt sigh, her eyes locking with Julian's grateful ones. Something seemed to pass between them and she dropped her eyes, a flush rising slowly on her lovely face. Julian smiled slightly and turned back to his problem.

Well, well, Vincent noticed the byplay between the two young people. Joanna had never been so flustered around a young man before. This could become interesting. The idea of his adopted daughter and his son . . . well . . . that would be wonderful.

Vincent handed him the bundle of clothing and his boots. Julian shook out his coveralls. "This won't do and I can't use my boots. We must make my clothing look like I've been cared for by street people and I need a pair of worn-out shoes. My bandages need to be dirty and ragged." At Joanna's gasp he said, "Don't worry I won't get sick."

"How will you explain the neatness of the stitches?" Vincent asked.

"I won't. After all I was unconscious for a week."

"What are you going to tell him?" Joanna took the coveralls and boots and set them aside. Julian leaned back in his chair steepling his fingers, an unconscious imitation of Vincent's gesture. "As close to the truth as possible. I was found by a band of homeless people led by a woman named Maud. They lived in the steam tunnels and figured since I wore expensive clothes and boots I might be worth something. They sold my watch and that fed them and me for all the time I was with them. When I was well enough, I slipped out on them. How's that?"

"Keep it simple and truthful. Anyway as close as you can," Vincent answered. "Eleanor should be able to help you with the clothes and shoes. She's our resident seamstress and she should have lots of rags. You'll look the part when she is finished with you." Vincent chuckled as he followed Julian and Joanna out of the chamber.

************************

Two days later, Julian was sitting in Christian's library reading the book he had left when he started this mission. Christian entered and settled into a chair opposite Julian.

"I didn't ask you but what did you do with the people who cared for you?" He peered at Julian, a predatory expression on his face. Leaning back, he crossed his legs, waiting while Julian closed his book and placed it on the table.

"What do you think I did with them? I had an excellent teacher." He smiled disarmingly, but his eyes were as hard as the emeralds that were the same color.

"You're sure the beast is dead?" Christian smiled thinly but exulted inside; Vincent killed by his own son. What delicious irony. Someday he would tell Julian just to finish the revenge.

"Do you doubt me, Father? Shall I recount the tale of how I overcame the beast that killed my mother . . . again? You have a lock of his hair. Did I need to bring his head?" Julian nailed him with chillingly cold eyes. This experience had hardened him into the soulless assassin Christian wanted; he shook his head, stood, and motioned for Julian to follow him. They returned to the room where he had first seen the video of Vincent. Christian showed him which chair was his, the one to the right of Christian's chair and spoke of his position in the Organization. Julian ran his hands lovingly over the chair. "Thank you, Father."

"You've earned it, my boy. You destroyed my greatest enemy." Christian took the tape out of the VCR and threw it into the waste basket. "For twenty years the thought of him has invaded all my dreams. Now, at last, I can sleep in peace."

"I'm gratified that I was able to restore your uninterrupted sleep," Julian said modestly. He settled into his chair and asked, "When is the next meeting?"

"Day after tomorrow." Christian sat in his chair as if it was a throne. As he told him of the extent of his criminal empire Julian's heart sank. His tentacles reached even as high as the rulers of certain countries and into every level of government. Could he do it? Could he bring Christian down? It would have to be done soon. The longer it took the more dangerous his position. He needed to talk with Vincent. Soon.

"Julian! Stop wool gathering and listen to me," Christian's voice cut into his ruminations.

"Sorry, I was just amazed at the organization you have built." Julian brought his attention back to his so-called father. Christian nodded and continued. After as hour he said, "That is the organization that you will inherit if you continue to measure up to my standards."

"Oh, I'll measure up, Father, you can count on that."

"Good. It's time for lunch." Julian followed Christian out of the conference room.

************************

That evening, Julian sat watching a favorite movie that was playing at the local theater when he abruptly rose and left his seat. He went to the basement after making sure he was not being followed. There was an entrance to the Tunnels behind several boxes. He moved the boxes, opened the door, and entered the tunnel. He tapped a simple message on the available pipe and settled down to wait for Vincent. In a matter of minutes Vincent arrived. Julian marveled at him; he wasn't even breathing hard and Julian had heard him coming, running hard.

"What is it, Julian?"

Julian thought for a minute. "Vincent, if you had found me, what would you have named me?"

Taken aback by the unexpected question, he said, "Jacob. I would have named you Jacob after your grandfather."

"Jacob. I like that. When I come back, I want to be called Jacob. I want no ties with this man," he said hotly. He shook his head and returned to the matter at hand. "I need to get this done as soon as possible. God, Vincent, he's so powerful. I'm afraid the only way to end this is to kill him."

"Only as a last resort. We must do this as legally as possible." Vincent leaned against the wall. "I have contacted Joe Maxwell. He stressed that you must be exceedingly careful and he agrees that it must be done as soon as possible."

"Ok. I have all the codes and combination to the safes and other locked boxes. This Saturday Christian is having a "coming out party" for me. Where can we meet if I can get away?"

"In one of Gabriel's own warehouses is an entrance to the tunnels. The one on the corner of Water and Dixon. I will be there, along with Joe. You can give everything to him and then come home with me."

"Fine." Julian turned to leave. "Around 9:00 p.m.."

"Jacob." He stopped and turned back to his father smiling. "Be very careful. I don't want to lose you again, now that I have found you." Fearful that he might lose this newly restored son, Vincent pulled him into a fierce embrace.

"Thank you, Father, for calling me that at least once in my life. I will be careful, believe me. I know what we are dealing with." He ducked through the entrance and was gone.

Julian returned to his seat just as the movie was ending. He watched the closing credits then left the theater and immediately noticed the tail he picked up. Christian trusted no one, not even his son. He lost the tail as he entered Christian's estate.

Chapter Eleven

 

Everyone who was anyone in New York society, with a liberal sprinkling of Washington and Albany dignitaries, attended the party Christian held for his son. Julian was dancing with a pretty, flighty young debutante keeping a wary eye on Christian, who was making the rounds greeting his guests. When he became involved in a deep discussion with several men, Julian made his move. He hurried into the conference room, gathered all the material there and went to Christian's office where he quickly emptied the safe and desk. Then he ducked out the glass double doors that led to the garden and ran to his car. He sped away into the darkness.

Nervously, Vincent waited in the tunnel behind the warehouse. He felt Julian's uneasiness through the bond that was developing between them. Hearing soft noises, he looked into the warehouse to find Joe Maxwell looking around. He looked as nervous as Vincent felt. "Joe," he hissed, "Over here."

Joe jumped then relaxed when he realized who it was. "God, Vincent, you scared the hell out of me." He climbed into the tunnel with Vincent. "You sure you can trust him. After all, he's been with Gabriel for 20 years. As the twig is bent, you know."

"He'll be here. I know him. He is on his way. We are developing a bond between us."

"You mean like the one you and Catherine had?"

"Yes," Vincent said sadly and turned away from Joe.

Joe shook his head, this amazing man still mourned for her.

Abruptly, Vincent said, "He's almost here."

Joe climbed back out into the warehouse as Julian pulled up with screeching tires, hurried into the warehouse, and up to Joe. He had a box and a briefcase crammed with papers. "This is all I could get, Mr. Maxwell. I couldn't stay in that house a moment longer."

Julian set the box and briefcase on the floor and Joe bent to look at the contents. "This is great, kid, just what I need. Bank records, contact names, corporate files, dummy corporations, you name it, it's all here. We should be able to put him out of business. Thanks, Julian." He straightened with difficulty and wrung Julian's hand.

"Is my father here?" Julian asked looking around for Vincent.

Before Joe could answer a voice rang out of the darkness, Christian's voice, "I'm here, Julian," and he stepped into the circle of light. "You disappoint me." He stared at Julian. "People always disappoint me, but you, I expected more than this from you."

"You expect me to stay with the man who murdered my mother. I'll kill you the first chance I get." Joe held him back as he lunged at Christian.

"I see that I'll have to keep you from getting that chance." He made a motion and three of his guards stepped forward. "I'll have the return of my property. You didn't really think you could outwit me, did you?" he asked, smiling spitefully.

Joe and Julian were edging around until Christian and his men were standing with their backs to the darkened tunnel entrance. Vincent had quietly entered the warehouse. Creeping stealthily until he was right behind them, he uttered a mighty roar that froze the blood in the three guards. When they spun around to see what was behind them, they bolted for the warehouse door as fast as they could. Only Christian remained. Smirking, there was a sudden jerk of his right shoulder and a small two barrel derringer appeared in this hand. Instead of firing at Julian he swung the pistol in Vincent's direction and fired. "At last, I've won, I've killed the beast," he shouted, gleefully.

"No," Julian screamed launching himself at his erstwhile father. Christian fell backwards from the force of the impact, his head striking the concrete floor with a sickening thud. Julian raised a clenched fist for the final death blow, his face contorted into a mask of hatred.

Refusing to give into the darkness closing in around him, Christian smirked, maliciously. "Finally, you are what I raised you to be."

Julian froze then lowered his fist. "Never," he said through clenched teeth, rising and turning to Vincent, the father he had always longed for.

He had taken only two steps when a single shot reverberated through the warehouse. Spinning around, he found Christian laying in a pool of blood with that bonelessness indicative of death. His arm was drawn back and a knife lay beside his lifeless hand. Julian's eyes tracked from the still body to Joe Maxwell's grim visage.

"That's for Cathy," he said, gravely. "He was going to knife you in the back," he explained at Julian's shocked expression.

"Father? Where's Father?" Julian found him lying in front of the tunnel entrance. "Father, my god." He fell to his knees when he saw two bleeding holes in Vincent's chest. Carefully, he snaked his arms under Vincent's neck and cradled the heavy maned head in his lap. "Stay with me, Father. I can't lose you now."

"I'm fine, Jacob, I'm fine." He smiled, encouragingly.

"Yes," Jacob said glancing at Christian's body, "that life is as dead as he is, Julian is no more."

Joe had stepped aside and pulled out his cellphone. He called the policemen who had been staked out not far from the warehouse. "Vincent," he knelt at his side, "can you walk? The police are on the way. You need to get out of here."

"Yes, I can walk. I'll send a message and someone will come to help us." He took the hand Jacob offered him and stood up on trembling legs. With an arm around him, Joe and Jacob helped him to the tunnel. He quickly tapped out a message and collapsed into a sitting position. Jacob felt so helpless, he was not trained to save lives, only to take them.

After telling Vincent he would see him soon, Joe closed the entrance and piled several old crates and boxes in front of it then waited for the police. He had to come up with a plausible story.

In the tunnel, Jacob waited in a frenzy of fear for his father as he tried to staunch the flow of blood. He heard the police questioning Joe, then the arrival of the ambulance, and finally silence as everyone left. At last, he heard the sound of running feet and Eric bolted around the corner, followed by Mathias and Joshua carrying the stretcher.

"Get him on the stretcher and start an IV," Eric ordered. "Are you all right?" he asked Jacob.

"Yes, I'm fine. Just take care of him, ok?"

After checking his BP and pulse they quickly bandaged his chest and with each one taking a corner of the stretcher they set off for the Community at a trot.

Joanna met them at the hospital chamber, her eyes wet with tears and wide with fear. "How is he, Eric?" she asked her voice quivering.

"He's still alive. I'll do my best, you know that. I love him, too."

Jacob took her into his arms, letting her cry until there were more tears. "What happened, Julian?"

"Jacob, Joanna. Julian is no more. I'm Jacob from now on." He smiled sadly at her and told her all that had happened at the warehouse. "Christian meant to kill him. I thought he would go for me since I disappointed him," he said bitterly, "but he knew the way to really hurt me."

"I couldn't bear it if I lost either of you, " she cried as she threw herself into his arms. "I love you, Jacob."

"I love you, too. I have since I first saw you." Jacob raised her mouth to his, kissing her tenderly, pledging himself to her forever. His kiss proved to Joanna that she had at last found the love she was waiting for and that this was the man she would stay with forever.

Eric stuck his head around the curtain. "Ok, you two, he's awake and wants to see you. He's very weak and I have no more of his blood to give him so don't stay to long."

Together, hand in hand, they neared his bed and could hear his ragged breathing. He laid so still and looked so pale that they hesitated to speak. He sighed deeply then opened his eyes, smiling when he saw them together, holding hands. "So, that is the way things are," he whispered. "I'm glad. May your love be as wondrous as Catherine's and mine."

Tears were streaming down Joanna's cheeks. "Please don't leave us, Daddy. I need you. Jacob needs you. Stay with us." She took one of his hands and held it to her wet cheek.

"Yes, Father, I need you. I need you to teach me how to live a good life," Jacob added. He stroked Vincent's hair back from his forehead. Oh god, he felt so hot.

"Everything depends on when your mother comes for me." They could barely hear him as he drifted into a deep sleep.

Sitting with him, they noticed that he seemed to strengthen as the night went by and when the day began he opened his eyes. Sadly, he said, "She came to me but told me it was not my time yet. That I was still needed here."

"Oh, Daddy, I know you miss her, but we need you, Jacob and me. There is so much yet to learn. Just a little while longer," Joanna pleaded.

"I'll do my best," he said, softly.

"Rest now, Father, we'll be close by." Jacob bent and kissed his forehead.

*************************

Vincent improved steadily. His amazing recuperative powers had him up and walking within a week and back at his desk in two. Joe finally found the time to come down for a visit. He had received daily reports on Vincent's recovery and he had good news. With Christian/Gabriel's death and the material that Jacob had given him, he had brought Gabriel's empire crashing down. There were arrests in all levels of society and government. Some foreign governments actually collapsed. "We can congratulate ourselves, but it will start all over again," Joe stated with a sigh. "It's a never-ending battle."

"At least Catherine's murderer is dead. If I had lost . . ." Vincent shook his head at the closeness of losing his son the final time.

"I still miss her, Vincent," Joe said, sipping his tea.

"I do too," Vincent agreed, staring into space. Shaking himself, he returned to the present. "I think there will be a wedding soon."

"Oh yeah, who?" Joe was curious to see if it was who he thought it was.

"Jacob and Joanna." Vincent smiled fondly. "Can you imagine a better pair, my son and my adopted daughter? She won't even have to change her name."

"Too bad Catherine won't be here to see it," Joe commented.

"Don't be too sure about that, Joe. As you have said many times, she is a remarkable woman. I put nothing past her."

Joe eyed Vincent skeptically and took another sip of his tea. "Do you have anything besides tea, Vincent?"

 

Epilogue

 

Vincent's Journal

It is five years since Jacob was returned to me. I am gratified that even though he was raised by that monster, his basic good sense and character kept him from becoming what that man, I cannot even write his name, planned for him. I know Catherine is as proud of him as I am. To watch his interactions with the other residents reminds me so much of her; he has her same people-skills, as she so blithely put it. Easily, he won their hearts and now he sits on the council. I feel he will be elected leader when I am gone. The past five years have allowed us to come to know and love each other deeply. He has a lively mind and a loving disposition. As a son, he is incomparable and as a husband and father he is unexcelled. I could never have asked for a happier union for my cherished daughter and beloved son. I see between them what exists between Catherine and me. They complement each other and have made me a grandfather twice over. Tonight Joanna gave birth to a child remarkably like me. They have even named him Vincent Chandler. He will have a more difficult life than that green-eyed, black-haired imp of a granddaughter of mine. Catherine is the apple of her father's eye and I see so much of my Catherine in her. She will be a force to be reckoned with. But Chandler has the benefit of both a loving mother and a loving father. He may be the only one, but he will never be alone.

For twenty-five years I have waited to go to my dear sweet love. The past few months I have felt her near and I know my time is at hand. I pray it is soon. How I miss her and long to go to her loving embrace. I hear her call me in the Chamber of the Winds, in the voices in the Whispering Gallery, and in the roar of the waterfalls.

I see her face in the Mirror Pool and in the Great Hall I hear her sing to the music we danced to that last Winterfest that only she and I have ever heard. Come soon, my love, co . . .

****************

Jacob stopped dead in his tracks when he entered Vincent's chamber. His father was sitting at his writing table slumped over, his great head lying on his journal, a joyful smile on his face. Jacob rested a heavy-hearted hand on his father's head, gently teasing the golden and silver strands of hair that swept over the writing table. He took the pen from the still fingers and lifted the heavy head to remove the journal. He couldn't help it, he had to read the last entry. Swallowing the lump that suddenly arose in his throat, he bent and kissed his father's hair, then spoke to him as if he could hear him and he wasn't so sure that he couldn't. "She finally came for you. You're where you have wanted to be for a long time. I shall miss you, Father. I shall miss your gentleness and your strength. I wish I had had the joy of growing up with you." Tears began to roll down his cheeks and he whispered, "Kiss Mother for me. My love goes with you both." A breeze sprung up from nowhere and ruffled his hair, and as it swept past his cheek it felt like a kiss. Then a warm and happy glow filled his heart, telling him that all was well. Wonderfully happy and content, he left this chamber that he would never enter again to tell Joanna -- ah, Joanna, how does one tell another that a beloved father and friend has died -- and the rest of the tunnel dwellers that his father was at last reunited with the woman he loved more than life.