To Hope Anew

Chapter Six


Diana stretched out her legs from the cramped position she had read herself into. Her right leg throbbed with familiarity. There wasn't exactly one spot that was particularly tender. It was more like the whole leg became filled with tiny prickles of pain on odd occasions -- after she'd been on her feet for a long while, when the weather was changing, if she'd slept in one position too long. Even after a year and a half she could reach down and unerringly find the scars crossing her leg, despite the semi-darkness of the room.

But those scars were very much a beloved part of her being now. What she had suffered through, those interminable hours and days, had somehow brought about some of her most precious memories to date, the very source of hope and promise she could touch to for the coming day.

She wondered if Catherine had felt the same way. It had taken an act of violence, an assault that nearly cost her her life, to bring her and Vincent together, she knew. Diana wondered if Catherine ever found herself fingering her scars, not with distress, but with loving memory, as she herself did.

What she was able to carry in her heart, from those terrifying moments that nearly cost her her life, were the very beginnings of her renewed hope. Amid the pain and fear and desperate confusion of spirit, there had been planted the tiniest seeds of tenderness and promise. And somehow she had been able to shelter the fragile seedlings of new life that emerged. Despite everything.

 

Vincent's heart was shattering, into a million jagged shards of agony.

The lively bright eyes he loved to hold with his own in tender communion were quickly dulling, slipping further and further away into the misting fog of her spirit. Her cherished body pulled heavily away from his, as if burdened by the unfulfilled promises of a dozen lifetimes. Words fought in desperation to be spoken, willed to be understood . . . "We loved . . . "

The last shred of her spirit poured out of her mortality, then, caressing his heart reluctantly, aching to remain. He could not hold it back.

Even as he gathered her to himself, he felt her leaving him behind. He closed his eyes then, battling against the reality before them. He had lost her . . . forever . . . In blackest anguish his soul called out to join her. But she was beyond reach, his pain beyond endurance. One last look, one final attempt to accept as truth that the limp body in his arms was really Catherine, his Catherine . . . dead.

It was not.

Deep auburn hair and skin once porcelain and fair made him start in aching disbelief. The agony was just as profound as it had been a moment ago, the loss just as overwhelming. But it was not Catherine he was cradling, with agonizing tenderness never to be shared.

It was Diana.

Vincent sat up on the hospital cot in confused terror. An interminable moment passed before he was able to place where he was. Jacob, in a crib, was asleep beside his bed. Samantha lay in equally welcomed repose in another cot up against the wall. There was no one else in the large chamber that served as hospital ward. Yet, beyond the curtained door he heard soft voices in the operating room.

Swinging his legs over the side of the small bed, Vincent attempted to orient himself.

Olivia had handed him little Jacob the moment they had entered the hospital. Jamie had been keeping watch over the child, who, though finally clean and fed, still refused to rest. Instead, he sat up in the hospital crib with a strangely withdrawn look on his angelic face, his attention claimed by some unseen force within himself. The force channeled distress, pain, both physical and spiritual into his young being. From his father's heart. The little boy wanted to cry.

At last his father's welcome arms encompassed him again; he let his little head rest against the powerful chest. He could hear the confused rhythms of his parent's heart echoing beneath his ear. There was something causing pain, still, wrenching his father's spirit still. Jacob clung to the warm welcome body that held him, and his little heart ached to touch the one that loved him above all others, to bring the familiar strength and direction back to the beloved soul that sheltered his.

His own little body weary, it was difficult for Jacob to keep his eyes open, focus on the powerful emotion still a part of his experience of the moment. The little boy gave himself over to the feelings of his father's gentle touch, always there for him despite any turmoil, and the warm, dry, brightness of his surroundings. In a few moments he was soundly asleep.

Jamie came over to the chair Vincent was sitting on and softly eased the sleeping child out of his arms. She had become quite adept at helping care for the little boy, despite her earlier protests that she was unlearned and incapable of such skills. Setting the child back into the crib she then announced her need for a change of clothing and a cup of soup.

"Can I bring you anything, Vincent?" she asked.

"No, thank you, Jamie. I'll wait."

Casting a worried look in Olivia's direction, the young woman then left for her own chamber.

 

Olivia hated to suture wounds, inflect pain on anyone, even in the name of healing medicine. Thankfully, Father had always been available for the task before, saving her from using her nursing training to its full capacity. But the physician was already occupied in the next room. Mary and Terese were already assisting him in the procedures necessary to give Diana back her shattered leg with some promise of its future rehabilitation..

And Vincent was still bleeding.

She knew a pressure bandage would probably not be enough, as every movement of his shoulder would pull on the wound and threaten to open it completely again. It wasn't by any means a large cut, but it was deep enough to cause her alarm, and help her overcome her reluctance to proceed at the moment with the necessary first aid measures.

Vincent's complete attention was focused on his baby son, falling asleep in his arms at last. But despite the fact that the child was safe, Samantha was safe, there were still deeply etched lines of care playing across his face. His gaze may have been locked onto his child's blessedly peaceful features, but Olivia guessed his mind was traveling past the curtained passage into the operating room beyond.

He hadn't even flinched as she had poured disinfectant over his wound. She had taken three stitches into his shoulder already and still there was no sign he was even in the room with her. Jamie came over then and collected Jacob to settle him safely in his crib again. Only then did Vincent seem to focus on the room around him and the women tending to his and Jacob's needs.

Olivia caught Jamie's worried look, just as she left the room, and she realized the girl would hardly have actually left for clean clothes and sustenance at that moment. She simply needed to remove herself from the suffering, physical as well as spiritual, that was quickly filling the room.

"I'm certain Father will be able to help her, Vincent." Olivia could keep silent no longer. She knew, profoundly, the ache of loss, the fear of loss, herself. Kanin had been gone over 18 months. It would be close to another two years before her husband would have finished his sentence Above to return to her and Luke. A day did not pass that she did not pray to have him close beside her once again. A night never ended without tears, and the ache to feel his strong, tender arms round about her.

The powerful figure seated before her seemed to stoop lower with an invisible burden of pain. The words were soft, tinged with desperate confusion. "I felt her dying in my arms, Olivia, watched her almost allow herself to slip away."

Without hesitation, Olivia reached her free hand out to his cheek, and let it rest there in nurturing reassurance. She could feel him battle the awful truths that threatened to engulf him, watched him attempt to sort them out, even as they insisted on melding into one reality -- that of a loved one, a beloved soul, nearly lost, enduring pain. And his utter inability to prevent it.

Olivia came around to kneel before him, taking both his deadly, tender hands in hers, reading the turmoil in his heart so evident in his uniquely beautiful face. There was not only the fear of loss playing across his features. There was also another very tangible fear working its way through his heart: the fear of what Diana's ultimate survival meant -- the fear of acknowledging that a heart so torn by grief for so long could still allow itself to cherish another soul reaching out to it.

"Vincent, she did not die. She is alive, and with God's help will be well again. The thought of that should not bring you fear or pain. You can still reach your hands out to her and help her in her need. And you can let her reach out to you and bring you her own particular tenderness of heart."

Bringing the full intensity of his profound blue eyes to her, Vincent read the gentle support in her heart for him. But even knowing that, he could not banish the turmoil threatening to engulf him. He breathed the words, barely above a whisper:

"She deserves to be loved, Livy."

 

Vincent came to his feet and stepped over to Jacob's crib. The little boy was restless, near to waking. Gathering him up into his arms, Vincent returned to the cot and eased down upon it in a semi-upright position. His shoulder throbbed and he attempted to shift his weight off it a bit more, then let Jacob nestle across his chest in comfort.

However grateful Vincent was for the spiritual bond that linked him to his child, he berated himself for allowing his anguish to find its way into the little boy's own essence, causing him distress.

It seemed as though everyone he loved these days was becoming a victim of his pain, no matter how hard he tried to protect them from it.

Uncertain as to how long he had been asleep, Vincent listened to the sounds of voices in the chamber beyond. He could still hear Father's and Mary's quiet conversation and the medical terminology passing between them. They were still working on Diana's injuries. How long had it been? God, how long?

He remembered what her shattered limb had looked like when they had finally freed her. She hadn't even been wearing trousers, her usual attire when she came Below. She and Samantha had merely thrown sweaters over their thin cotton dresses before coming down. Of course they would have: It was sweltering Above, one of the hottest, wettest, most tropically uncomfortable summers on record for the city.

She hadn't even had a layer of fabric to shield her fragile limbs from some of the onslaught of the flood, pelting stone and debris battering her slender form mercilessly. There had been nothing but bruises and blood and shattered bone. How could she possibly survive?

Yet, Father was a still brilliant physician and surgeon, even with his limited and dated medical resources. He would be doing all he could for Diana.

As Vincent knew he had to.

Holding the blessedly resting features of his baby in his gaze, he felt his eyes swell with tears at the thought of almost losing him again. He could not begin to comprehend life without the child.

And life without Diana? . . . Wasn't the thought of that reality as painful, as shattering?

Over the past year he had managed to fight his way through his grief, begin to place it as separate from his love for Catherine, thanks to a great part because of Diana. Where he had been able to see only dark despair, she had pointed out to him the tiniest points of light still shining in his life: those around him who loved him, a special world that needed him, a precious new life that looked to him for direction and shelter.

She had helped him begin to feel again, be grateful for the fact that he could still have a purpose in life, still find a meaning to his existence beyond that of mourning Catherine all his days. She had helped him move beyond the pain to cherished remembrance.

But at what cost to herself?

Vincent knew she sheltered powerful feelings of her own towards him, since even before that fateful night when she had found him on Catherine's grave.

He had wanted to die, then, just lie beside his love, close his eyes, and give up the fight. There was no purpose to his cursed existence after all. Catherine was gone. His child was lost.

Yet, Diana had forced him to live.

With her help he had found Jacob, brought him safely home. She had helped him touch his most profound memories of Catherine, allowed him to hold them once again close to his heart, and find solace in the fact that they had indeed loved.

Diana had managed to help him cherish his life with Catherine even as her own heart ached with unfulfilled dreams. Every moment that pulled him closer to Catherine's memory pushed him farther and farther away from the tender reaches of her own heart.

And she had been able to keep it all inside her. Except for that instant in the flooded chamber.

Close to giving up her own fight for life and fulfillment, she had left her heart unguarded, allowed him to realize the one truth that could keep her alive despite all the pain and disillusionment: her heart was as filled with tenderness for him as his had been for Catherine. She would suffer any catastrophe, bear any pain, so long as it would ultimately lead to the barest traces of acknowledgment from him.

Could he possibly allow her to reach out to him in her own need? Could he touch her heart and not betray his love for Catherine? Was she really asking him to, or were the unfamiliar tides of emotion alive within him only coloring his own uncertainties, his own never accepted needs?

Moving his attention to the chamber beyond the draped passageway, Vincent admitted to himself the overwhelming yearning to walk into that next room himself, to see her himself, make certain that she was, indeed, safe.

Still, that was not the total reality of his need. He ached, acutely, to comfort her, hold her, bring her some relief in body and spirit. She had given him so much, risked so much, with no promise of anything in return. She had offered him her heart, knowing full well he was nowhere near able to accept it.

Vincent forced his attention away from the operating room beyond, and to the awful truth that quickly encompassed him: Diana was indeed worthy to be loved. Her rare soul, sensitive, intuitive, fiercely honest in its tenderness, was worthy to be cherished. She deserved to be loved.

By someone other than himself.

By someone who could accept her love completely, without fear or guilt or limits. By someone who could look at her and see love in all its wondrous possibilities, not burdened by unfulfilled promises.

By someone who could hold her tenderly in the night and not mistake her for someone else, not long for her to be someone else. By someone who could offer her a future of bright promise and not shadowy regret.

Yet, as he let sleep overcome him once more, Vincent did not battle the tender image that was conjured up in his confused heart -- Diana's eyes overflowing with love -- for him. Far from being a sight drawing pain, to be avoided at all costs, that look of total, encompassing love brought him nothing but an undeniable feeling of peace he longed to cling to.

 

Father leaned heavily on his walking stick. His hip was painfully stiff, the hours standing in one place having taken their toll. Mary's gentle, concerned face was a relief. "We'll call you if there is any change. Go and get some rest now yourself."

Terese was sterilizing the instruments that had been used in the surgery, readying them for storage. Mary had just pulled a clean quilt up over Diana's slim form and had come over to check the IV drip running into her uninjured arm. Father forced himself to take her advice. There was nothing left to do but wait until Diana regained consciousness. If there were any complications, he was going to need his rest to deal with them properly. Mary, as always, was right.

He squeezed her arm in acknowledgment, thanked Terese for her help, and then headed through the passageway into the ward.

It had been as difficult a surgery as he had yet performed, and Father was, indeed, drained. He prayed that the young woman would have the strength to eventually make it past the long recovery period necessary before she could regain the full use of her leg. She would probably be left with some pain, even after healing, he knew. But he also was aware of the nature of his patient and her formidable spirit. With some luck and the grace of God she should come out of all this well enough physically.

Father pushed back the curtain separating the operating room from the ward and stepped into the second chamber. Samantha was sleeping peacefully on a cot. The poor child had been so brave throughout her own ordeal. Gazing on her in her sleep, Father noted how young she still was, despite her adolescent need to race out of childhood and directly into adult life. She was still so much a little girl. She needed to remain so for a while longer. But watching her grow beyond childhood would be difficult at best for him. She was such a cherished soul in the community just the way she was, her breathless enthusiasm for life infectious.

Then the older man's gaze fell upon another sight that warmed him, deeply, despite his fatigue and distress -- his grandson asleep across his son's chest, sheltered in a protective embrace.

Jacob Wells would never have dreamed such a beautiful sight would be possible a short year ago: his son sheltering, nurturing his own little child, born of his own flesh and blood. Vincent had become surrogate father to most of the younger children in the community over the years. He had delighted in sharing in their lives, giving them encouragement and direction, and always being willing to listen to them and their needs. Fulfilling as it all had been, Father still carried the anguish within him for his son: No man could have made a better father, but he knew that there could never be a child of his own for Vincent to love, a child born of love.

That was before Catherine had come into all their lives.

At first, he had considered her love for Vincent and his for her as only a hopeless complication destined to bring his son nothing but undeserved pain. It had done just that -- brought Vincent pain, almost beyond endurance. But it had also brought him hope, dreams, the tender nurturing of his spirit that he deeply deserved.

And it had brought him Jacob . . . a miracle.

The word was the only one Father could use to possibly describe the child. Hardly scientific. Not nearly rational. But then love never was scientific or rational. It defied description, overcame insurmountable odds, one of those odds having indeed been himself. Father had come to love Catherine deeply as well, for the joy she had brought into his son's life, for her wondrous generosity and courage.

Now she was gone.

Her loss had been as if all the candlelight Below had been blown out in one instant, plunging everyone in confused darkness. The only light that had helped Vincent find his way safely out of the desperate blackness had been the brightness of a single little soul -- Jacob's. Without the child to care for, Father knew Vincent would have been lost as well.

Coming closer to their bedside, the physician stood quietly a moment to take in the sight of his two most cherished hearts: Jacob was peacefully asleep on his stomach, sprawled innocently across his father's powerful chest, Vincent's arms clasped protectively around the child. One little hand was sheltered in one large one, each soul clasping the other even in sleep, their bond complete -- body to body, spirit to spirit.

A miracle indeed.

Then Father's gaze lifted itself to his son's features, so unique and beloved. They had become increasingly careworn these days, he noted. Catherine had set a ray of her own vivacious sparkle into his eyes. It had long since disappeared. Only Jacob was graced with the barest traces of a smile now.

Father raised his hand to his son's long, golden hair and smoothed it back from his face, as he had done a thousand times for the little boy Vincent had been, a uniquely gifted child forced to hide behind a fall of bright hair. Father would have taken any burden from that child's shoulders, spared him any pain. But his son was a man now, and destined to live a man's stormy, painful life.

His hand stopped at Vincent's left arm. Beneath the chambray work shirt open at the collar he caught sight of bandages reaching up over the shoulder. Olivia had told him about the injury. One more wound to have to heal. Father, as he always did, prayed that it would be the last Vincent would have to endure. There had been too many wounds in the past, so many a result of his son's need to protect the woman he loved at all costs.

The physical wounds the older man had been able to help heal. He'd stopped bloodflow, removed bullets, bandaged flesh. The wounds to his son's spirit and soul were the ones he could only stand by and watch as Vincent struggled to heal himself, alone.

Those were the wounds Catherine had never managed to catch sight of, the ones that tore at his son's very sense of self, ravaged his belief in his humanity more and more until there was very little left except terror and pain. Those wounds did not disappear with Catherine's loss.

Blessedly, unexpectedly, though, the past few months had somehow brought the most tenuous source of hope into his son's desperately anguished life. The young woman he had just worked so many hours to aid had surprisingly become that promise in Vincent's existence.

Father knew his son could never admit it to himself as yet; but he felt, more than actually saw in real terms, that Vincent was taking the first hesitant, frightening steps towards completion in his grieving for Catherine.

The catalyst for that acceptance had been Diana.

Father shook his head unconsciously as his thoughts turned to the patient he had just left in Mary's care. She was so completely different from Catherine, with a powerful strength of character born from within. Catherine had been open and self-confident, showering her warmth of spirit on those around her with perfect ease. Diana was so much more of an enigma, drawing those few she favored with closeness deep into the sheltered corners of her own soul unafraid.

Something else about the two women had become apparent to Father, too. Catherine had managed to find peace within the limits of her relationship with his son, accepting Vincent's parameters to their love with quiet nobility. Something told Father that Diana would be capable of nothing of the sort herself. She seemed able to place herself beyond the limits of the physical world, with powerful intuitive abilities that drew her within insights others would never see. The elder physician guessed she would tolerate limits only as a last resort. That reasoning alone should have sent shivers down Father's back in his contemplation of the young woman, conjuring up devastating scenarios that would only wreck havoc with his son's fragile state of mind and heart.

Instead, Father instinctively felt that Diana's courage to believe beyond limits was just the balm Vincent needed for his searing pain of heart. She did not seem to give herself freely, at times seeming so vulnerably in need herself that it broke Father's heart to see her struggle, but when she did open herself in trust he believed it was with total and complete conviction.

She loved his son with no less abandon, he knew.

Diana was a formidable soul, very much his son's equal. But was she capable of leading Vincent's heart out from the shroud of loss into the possibility of new beginnings? Could her own heart suffer the pain of distance and denial for as long as would be necessary? Vincent's commitment to Catherine had been profound and total, was still so. His grief was equally encompassing. Was Diana's love capable of existing side by side with the cherished memory of a love seemingly without parallel?

Father prayed it could be so. For his son's sake. He knew what power a love remembered could have, how sweet the agony could become. It had been his own burden for more years than he wished to remember.

And as deeply as he cared for Catherine, as sorely as he missed her welcome presence in their community, Father prayed that God in his mercy would give Vincent the power to continue living in a world devoid of her beloved existence, a world that could again hold tenderness and mercy for him, in the person of an ethereal angel with a spirit of pure steel.

His aching hip still assaulting him, the physician turned to leave the room and find his own momentary comforts. The soft sound of his son's voice made him stop, however: "How is she, Father?"

"I thought you were asleep, Vincent. I'm sorry if I awakened you." Father came back to the bedside and eased down to sit on the cot himself. He slipped a paternal hand over the sleeping child a moment before he spoke again. "She will be unconscious for some time yet."

"How seriously is she hurt?" The blue eyes battled to remain serene in the inquiry.

Father held his son's questioning gaze for another moment. "Her right arm is broken below the elbow, her left knee is sprained badly." He stopped, hesitant to continue.

"And her other leg?"

"Fractured in three places. I managed to pin the two worst breaks." Father watched Vincent close his eyes momentarily, struggling to remain objective. But he noted that the color was draining rapidly from his son's features. "Her blood pressure has stabilized and her heart rate is strong. It will be a difficult recovery, but I believe she is up to it."

"How long will she need to remain with us? She is obviously in no condition to be moved easily."

That reality, Father knew, would bring its own complications, which had nothing whatever to do with Diana's physical state. "Yes, I know," came the physician's reply. "I've placed her in a complete limb cast to keep the leg as immobile as possible. She'll need to remain in bed. Hopefully, in about three weeks or so we can get her into a walking cast and then up to Peter's care Above."

Vincent suddenly became intent with the small blanket he had pulled up over Jacob's sleeping form. Father had caught sight of it in the clear blue depths of his son's eyes before Vincent had averted them to his own child: a sudden, heartbreaking fear he'd allowed to surface only an instant. But a fear of what?

"Will she recover fully, do you think?" The worry in Vincent's face gave Father pause, as he struggled with the reality of the situation facing him. Father addressed the question his son had just asked, attempting to ignore his own anxious uncertainties.

"If all goes well, the bones should heal. She is young and healthy. She may need additional intervention down the road, though. Peter can refer her to a good orthopedic surgeon if the situation warrants. There may be chronic pain, for quite a while. It won't be easy." Suddenly Father felt that his prognosis for Diana's physical recovery had unexpectedly also covered the possibilities facing her emotional health in the coming days. As well as Vincent's. They were all going to be in for some serious upheavals, he guessed, and prayed silently that they would all be up to it.

Vincent tried not to notice all the qualifiers Father had placed in his diagnosis of Diana's recovery. There were too many variables for even the cautious physician to contend with. Still, having come to know Diana the way that he now did, Vincent was certain that the young woman was fully capable of willing herself to a complete recovery.

Overcoming the cold feeling of impending turmoil knotting within his stomach was another story. He knew he was going to have to deal with more than Diana's physical injuries in coming days. He would be compelled to face the need to acknowledge the state of some of his own wounds, if he could trust his sense of self at the moment. That sense was being powerfully drawn to the open, aching need he'd witnessed in honest green eyes earlier that night.

"I'm certain Diana is up to it, Father," Vincent found himself reassuring the older man, though he suddenly questioned his own spiritual reserves.

"Oh, I'm sure of that. I just can't seem to picture her putting up with three weeks of bed rest too easily." Father managed a smile at his own words, suddenly envisioning what a tested Diana could be capable of. Perhaps it was long past time to merely hope for his son's emotional redemption. Providence may have used a near catastrophe as the foundation for a renewed spirit of promise.

Vincent was more than a little surprised at the older man's reply. It was obvious that the physician was quite aware of Diana's sometimes volatile nature. And not in the least intimidated by it. Father was always willing to take up a risky challenge. Caring for Diana, and having her accepting the limitations her recovery were likely to impose on her mercurial personality, would indeed be challenges for the physician. He didn't even want to think of what it would do to his own precarious state of heart.

"You look tired, Father. You should get some rest."

"Yes, I know," came the response. "I will be grateful when Terese completes her residency with Peter. Then I can retire quietly to assist Mary in delivering babies and limiting my practice to skinned knees and chicken pox."

Vincent reached a hand down to clasp his father's arm. "Thank you for helping her." The words were spoken quietly, with an intensity that did not go unnoticed by the older man.

He suddenly wondered if his son would be up to coping with the next three weeks. Not even Catherine had remained Below with him for that long.


Continued in Chapter 7