Living the Promise: Chapter Six


Vincent could feel Diana leaning heavily against him. The walk had been too much for her, he knew. Her leg had been particularly trying the past few days, and she should have simply remained in bed.

Still, his concern for his wife's and child's state of health did not completely eclipse the sense of wonder and gratitude he carried in his heart for the quicksilver enigma that was his beloved Diana. He knew nothing would have kept her from coming here tonight, along with Jacob, not even him, as he read it in her heart -- She was quietly determined to make her own final peace with Catherine's memory this night, something he realized she had yet to consider complete.

The final peace she sought, what she needed to give bodily evidence to, was not on her own behalf, he knew. Vincent could feel it within her, how she poignantly, fervantly was in need of justifying, at last, their present reality as a loving family, to a long-murdered woman. She wanted to be certain a final remnant of guilt would not come back to haunt those she loved.

That it was still there within her fiery spirit, that quiet, tiny seed of uncertainty, did not surprise him, nor did the fact that she'd need to deal with it on this particular night of all nights, for the anniversary of Catherine's death had been as painful for her, over the past three years, as it had been searing for him, if for very different reasons.

The first year had found him in desolate grief, her own ability to ease him from anguish heartbreakingly questionable.

The second year's circumstances had found her plunged deeply within her own torments, as she'd buried herself in her spirit-sapping investigations that were tearing more and more of her own essence and hope away from her. He'd nearly lost her to her pain.

Tonight, the third year's reality, at last, could find them both at peace, united in the powerful tenderness of their love that could finally enable them to set it all to the past. He and Diana, Jacob and their unborn child, could be simply, now, a family, cherishing a lost loved one, and able to move on to the next day's promise with sure and untroubled hope.

Sweeping the folds of his cloak about her shoulders as they slowly followed in Jacob's path, Vincent could not help but bless heaven for the courageous generosity the red-haired angel carried as her love for him.

He'd understood instantly how far she'd be willing to give of herself, to sustain him, the moment he'd set eyes on her ethereal face, sleeping in a chair in her bedroom when she'd been nursing him back to health, those three long years ago. She'd brought a shattered, beyond human stranger to her home, near death, that could have easily murdered her in his fever- and grief-driven deliriums.

Yet, despite her justifiable fear and disbelief, she never left his side, knowing, somehow, that his rage was pain and loss only, overshadowing a heart she could trust. During the ensuing months, she'd held herself open to turmoil and danger time and again, even risking herself to Gabriel, the very satanic spawn that had shattered his world. All to help a desperate and driven father find a stolen child.

In the end, it was her courage, too, that sent Gabriel to his just condemnation, though Vincent accepted with anguish that she'd had to sacrifice her own conscience to protect his:

She'd held him back from exacting a just vengeance by acting out the sentence herself. What pain, what spirit-emperiling grief had she forced herself to embrace simply to help him live fully and freely again?

As he felt how fragile and vulnerable Diana seemed now, as he steadied her steps and felt her heart begin to pound within his, Vincent relived his own burden of guilt, where she was concerned: She had set herself among his own terrors and demons as well, his own anguish of heart -- to bring him back to his hope, offer him the promise of peace.

The tender awareness that his body always held for hers when she was near, only accentuated Vincent's chosen introspection of the moment. Even on their wedding night, he recalled with awe now, she'd been prepared to diminish herself for him.

She'd been willing to let him believe it was Catherine in his arms that night. . . she'd been willing to have him touch to all the lost moments between himself and Catherine . . .

if that had proven to be the only remedy to heal his shattered heart. She would have become for him whomever he needed that night.

But, he had needed her, only her, not Catherine's ghost resurrected in his embrace. He still needed her, would forever need her, till his dying breath, in ways that he and Catherine never even dared imagine. Yet, Vincent had been stunned to believe it: She'd been shocked at the truth that touched her in those breathlessly beautiful moments between them. She could believe it at last . . . that he could want her . . . love her, for herself . . . and not as Catherine's surrogate, in Catherine's place within his heart.

Diana had been astounded to realize the blessedly heated passion and desire in his eyes was truly hers, the tender shelter of a touch she could no longer live without, that he could no longer live without offering her. It was hers by right, by gifted acknowledgement, by shared wonder in the truth of hearts and souls entwined as they should be.

Still, knowing the truth at last, and coming to terms with it, were two very different things for her, Vincent comprehended with quiet compassion. Despite her strength of conviction, her relieved and grateful promise, her willingness to hold to the rightness of their love, he knew she still carried that grain of guilt within her soul: The guilt of the survivor, of the one who comes after.

That is why he accepted how important it had been for her to accompany him and Jacob tonight. She needed to tell Catherine, to speak it aloud to herself and to him, in as close to Catherine's presence as was now mortally possible -- that they were a family, she, the children, and himself; that they cherished Catherine's place in their hearts, would always cherish it, but that they had the right to their own dreams as well.

She had a right to stand beside him, now. She had the right to love him, bear his child.

A poignantly trembling anxiety lifted itself from Diana's heart to his own as they neared Catherine's grave. Vincent set a gentle kiss to her hair, willing her back to her convictions. So strong . . . yet so fragile . . . God, how he loved her!

Then Jacob smiled up to her, those beloved azure eyes of his caressing with unbounded love as well. "You aren't too tired, Mama, are you?" he asked with sweet concern. Her heart flooded with peace at the words.

Vincent thanked heaven anew for the blessing that was Jacob, his child. Catherine's child, surely, always. But, so very much their child, his and Diana's. She had the right to feel it. He had the right to let her. Reaching down to the little boy, Vincent gathered him gratefully into his arms.

 

"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!" They were the first words Joe found breath to form, and when he did, he was suddenly apprehensive that he'd said them loud enough to be heard by the figures before him. Thankfully, his request for heavenly protection, whether he believed in it or not, was carried by the wind away from the scene he was witnessing being played out with such mesmerizing, heart-stopping fascination, in his sight.

He'd called instinctively upon heaven's intervention because the sudden appearance of a specter from the nether world itself threatened to cost him control of all his own faculties: As if from the very fabric of the night, a figure had materialized before Catherine's grave that Joe couldn't believe he was actually seeing.

Vincent.

It could have been no one else.

Joe's investigative mindset was overwhelmed by the arresting sight of that so long mysterious figure that had haunted the majority of his consciousness for too many years. He struggled to keep his hold on the moment, forcing himself to take in as much detail of the phantom embodied before him as his brain could handle. It wasn't much, which was exactly the scope of his own tenous grip on what he considered his sanity.

The only word that managed to form itself around what he was seeing was, "power," a forceful reality, forbiddingly forceful, that almost stopped his heart.

The figure was that, powerful, and then some, towering easily over six feet tall, with an apparently compelling build: broad shoulders that were hung by a long, draping black cloak. The hood of that cloak was pulled up over the form's head, shielding anything Joe might have been able to see of his face. It gave him an even more unearthly silhouette in the pale evening moonlight. Errant tresses of long, unexpectedly golden, hair were pulled from under the hood by the breeze that had suddenly picked up into a wind. They seemed, somehow, to totally contradict the -- blackness -- of the figure.

Unbelievably, Jacob rested his own head easily against the shrouded form with unmistakable trust.

Regaining some control over his senses at last, Joe could be certain of at least one detail he'd been able to note -- He had seen that cloak before, the dark garment that shrouded the compelling figure before him. He would swear to it.

Cathy had been wrapped within it that terrifying night when the stalker that had menaced her for days had actually snatched her from her own apartment and nearly drowned her in the trunk of his car, which he'd left to flood in a park lagoon.

She'd been so reluctant to ask for help all through the ordeal, something that threw on the alarms within Joe's head that all was not as it appeared in the situation he was being asked to simply accept as one other nut case forcing himself onto a vulnerable woman. It had frightened him, thinking of Cathy as a madman's obsessive target. It had angered him, that she refused his urgings for help and caution. Now he understood why. The stalker had been unwittingly targeting Vincent as much as Catherine herself.

Joe'd almost lost her, that night. It had been a miracle that he and Greg Hughes had been able to trace the suspect's vehicle down, a miracle that Cathy had somehow emerged found, frightened, drenched, but alive. In the rescue unit, a paramedic had offered her coffee to try and warm her up. Joe had seen her wrapped in a strange garment of wool and leather, thrown about her shoulders, hardly a regular-issue blanket on an ambulance.

He'd thought for an instant that the cloak, for that was what the garment proved to be when he'd walked Catherine back to his car, was some sort of theatrical prop, a costume some passerby with drama connections had offered her for protection from the wet and cold, medieval almost in its fashioning.

"What's this?" he'd asked her, the relief in his heart that she was safe holding onto to the fact that he would yet be able to exist with her own gentle, generous heart within reach of his life.

"Something someone gave me to keep me warm," had been her simple reply, and he'd thought nothing else of it whatever. But, the way Cathy had kept that garment -- possessively -- about her, he suddenly realized now, spoke volumes on her own state of heart at that time.

She'd supposedly had no recollection of getting out of the car where she'd nearly drowned. The trunk hood was torn off the vehicle, she'd been found safe on the shore of the lagoon by rescuers. The stalker was dead. Case closed.

Hardly.

The body was found slashed, just as so many other examples of the refuse of the world had been, who'd come into threatening proximity of Catherine Chandler during the previous two years.

Looking up at the figure before him now, so gently holding a child in his arms, Joe could finally understand, with all its unspeakable implications, what Diana had meant when she'd described Cathy's mysterious connection to the shadowy, terrifying phantom that was Vincent. "He brought her home because he loved her. He was her protector, Joe."

As he now was Diana's?

The question placed itself within his mind at that instant because, beyond the dark-cloaked presence standing in front of Catherine's grave, in reality all but obscured from sight in an enveloping embrace, stood Diana, apparently sheltered, supported by the arresting, forbidding figure that had taken such stunned hold on Joe's attention.

He hadn't seen his former colleague until she'd evidently shifted her position somewhat -- closer to Vincent, leaning against him actually, resting against him. She'd raised a gentle hand to Jacob in his father's arms, then set her own head down onto her husband's chest, her amber hair lifting gently in the breeze.

Joe couldn't remember ever seeing Diana's hair loose across her shoulders like that. The thought formed itself in his awareness, for some unexpected reason. Her fiery tresses had always been braided or tied somehow, relinquished to a businesslike order that did nothing whatever to diminish the truly romantic, old-fashioned beauty of her face. Even in his office, pouring over blood-curdling police photos with steel-tempered control of her every emotion, she'd still seemed so truly . . . lovely . . . so fragile and . . . otherworldly . . . that he'd often thought of her as some primeval embodiment of personified nature, lost in a mad world that could devour her in an instant.

And now, that indescribable, ethereal soul, was resting her amber-crowned head gratefully, with total trust, onto the spectoral vision beside her, gracing him with her incredibly exquisite presence. Joe couldn't believe his eyes, couldn't bring himself to justify the sight that came to him: She was letting herself be willingly sheltered by a dark and avenging angel.

Who was her husband . . . her lover . . . her protector now, too.

The words suddenly bombarded Joe's thoughts, colliding with his own past conjured images of the forbidding mystery that had been Vincent within his mind during the last six years of his life, still remained a heart-numbing mystery. There was too much in his mind that swept with alarming confusion straight to his heart -- slashed bodies, trails of blood, broken chains and a steel cage -- Catherine's voice -- "There's someone I care about, someone I love . . . You have a heart like his."

Diana's own words -- "I love him, Joe . . . And he loves me . . . Everything else in my life pales in comparison."

This was the shadowy protector then, standing mere yards away from him, Joe thought.

Cathy's savior. John Moreno's executioner. Diana's husband, the father of her child.

That last image was the one that remained long enough to push all the other terrors out of Joe's mind, because he had fully caught sight of the former police officer in the pale moonlight, and her presence held him now as nothing else could, the reality that she was, that she and Jacob . . . and Vincent . . . now were . . . together, their presence together.

And that of the child she carried within her.

Joe could see her now -- Diana was obviously pregnant -- heavily so, her dark trench coat doing nothing at all to hide her swollen figure beneath a long gown. A sudden realization of the . . . tenderness? . . . that had to have passed between his former co-worker and the embodied shadow beside her clutched at Joe's heart. How could it possibly have been so?

She was a beautiful, fragile, astonishingly gifted young woman even he could have easily fallen in love with himself, had he not been so devastated by Catherine's loss all during their experiences of one another. Vincent was, was . . .

. . . The words wouldn't form in his mind, at least not the ones he thought he'd need to use at the moment: inhuman, bestial, murderous, cursed.

No, the words that leapt into Joe's thoughts, at the sight of the two of them, were far removed from that vein of description. He couldn't believe it, questioned his grip on reality because of it, but the words that came to him were . . . beloved . . . sheltering . . . sustaining . . . devoted.

Loving.

Diana not only rested against the improbable figure of her husband, she leaned into him easily, letting him support her. His left arm held Jacob surely up to his shoulder, but his right was drawn around her waist, under her own arm, holding her close, the hand settling on her womb, and the child.

Their child. Their children. Each other. Held in a protective embrace within sight of Catherine's grave. Should he have been outraged, consumed by white hot anger at the sheer -- audacity -- of that sight? Would Catherine have been?

No.

Because Joe was only witnessing what he instinctively knew as a compelling portrait of . . . love. Tested, pained, agonized, but surviving. To thrive in certain hope.

A scene that had been meant for his eyes, too: Joe knew it now, understood it. But, could he accept it for its gifting guidance to his own hope? He didn't dare believe it.

 

Diana held her eyes closed for several moments, letting her mind carry her into the familiar, comforting prayers of childhood, praying for the courage she'd need. How was she going to be able to say what she knew her heart willed her to? With Vincent standing beside her? Were there even words for her to use that made any sense, that were capable of defining what she carried at this moment within her heart?

Catherine -- Could she possibly sort out the feelings swirling through her spirit where Catherine was concerned, on this night of all night? She'd believed she'd be capable of doing this -- setting her soul at peace with that of the woman buried there at last. But Diana found that her own needs, her own hopes, would not be kept from melding with those she believed Catherine herself must have carried within her heart.

Diana had intended to issue a declaration of her standing in the matter at hand, defending herself and her present reality of life with challenging conviction. Instead, she found that she could only voice reassurances -- to both the dead woman and her own suddenly beleaguered heart.

She'd survived every emotional experience connected with Catherine Chandler in the past three years: sympathy, kinship, loss, anger, envy, guilt, and even fear. Tonight she would settle simply on grateful friendship, for it held out to both of them the opportunities to touch each other's hearts with the truth and with trusting hope. Even if Catherine was dead.

Without preamble, Diana let her heart speak.

"Cathy, I just wanted to tell you here tonight that we are all right, we're doing all right."

A gentle pressure of the powerful arm about her told Diana she was not alone in her decision. She gave herself permission to turn and hold Vincent's features with guiltless, loving possession before continuing on.

"I'm doing my best to watch over Jacob, help him grow. I'm doing all I can for him."

The tender, touching humility in those words caught even the little boy's heart, instantly. "Mama's teaching me to read my bedtime stories. I like Dr. Seuss. His words are so funny to say!"

Jacob's excited example to his angel mother of his earthly mother's wondrous care did more to strengthen Diana's spirit than anything she could have ever sought to hold on to. It put a gentle, earth-bound reality to the moment, too, that totally disarmed the potentially painful consequences of having to defend one's love against an angel's. Vincent felt a lump come into his throat.

Diana smiled -- at last, suddenly unafraid to justify herself, actually not needing to. She simply was stating fact, unequivocal truth, her eternal gift to the world, the truth of her love, for her husband, and her child. Her children.

Gently she took Jacob's hand in hers and kissed it softly, grateful for the generosity acknowledging her and what she was bringing to his small, beloved existence. "Yes, we've shared Dr. Seuss and monsters under the bed, skinned knees, bedtimes that are always too early, and questions that have no logical answers."

Taking heart from her husband's silent approval of her words, of the concrete realities that were now her gifts to offer, Diana let her thoughts continue aloud. "Sometimes those questions only remain questions until we find the courage to accept the answers in front of us.

"I believe that I've found my answers: I'm doing my best to love Jacob as he deserves. I'm doing my best to love Vincent as he deserves . . . with all the hope and shelter and promise I can give them both. And I'm not afraid to say it tonight here in front of you --

The love, the care, the hope that has come back to me from them is a gift I deserve, one I can accept and know it is mine to hold.

"Thank you, Cathy, for making that possible. For giving us the freedom to move on."

 

Joe hadn't even been able to hold the sight before him as Diana's soft-spoken defense reached him on the breeze. He'd leaned back against the tree, rested his head against it and closed his eyes, listening to a friend he cared deeply about having to confess her love for her newly-formed family to another woman. A woman he himself had held dear but never sought to claim.

Somehow it didn't come as a surprise that Diana would seem to need to speak to Cathy thus tonight. The DA fully believed it was possible for his former colleague to place herslf into Catherine's very soul and read the need for reassurance there, find the strength and conviction of spirit to reassure a woman who'd been dead three years about those she'd left behind. To accept the challenge of living . . . and loving . . . beyond loss.

Diana had sought to do just that for him tonight, with her providential letter, too. God! had she known he would need to come here to face Cathy as well? Had she made certain she would be standing before him as the example of promise once again taken up that he could follow to his own peace this night?

But, if he accepted that path to completion, he'd have to settle his own heart to the realities and truths she was offering him . . . that they'd all been tested, agonized, pained beyond endurance . . . all of them. Whether their survival would be a blessing or an everlasting curse, Diana seemed to imply, would be up to his own decision of heart.

After a long moment of silence wherein every one of the souls present in the breeze-kissed night delved into their own memories and needs, Joe heard a deep, slightly hoarse toned voice urge a little child on with gentle support. "Why don't you recite your poem for Mother now, Jacob? You must be very anxious to."

The encouraging male voice, surprisingly velvet-timbored, made Joe's heart stop within his thoughts. He hadn't expected to hear such a voice . . . a father's voice. Then Jacob's confident, sweet words, expounding upon the wonder of the wind. "No one can tell me, nobody knows, where the wind comes from, where the wind goes . . . "

Oh Cathy, Joe whispered quietly within his heart, you must be so proud to hear him. The gentle tones of rhyme slipped around him on the breeze. And, you must be so grateful that they've kept you a part of his life. It couldn't have been an easy thing.

Recognition of every haunted look he'd ever seen in Diana's eyes lit in Joe's memory. She loved that little boy, with every fiber of a mother's heart. That had been more than evident to him, even when she was still living in the city, within the confines of her own world. And yet, more than once, he'd caught an unexpected chill in Diana's emerald eyes, as though she'd suddenly remembered how the little boy had come to be hers.

What had she been forced to endure, having that blessed child love her in return?

Indeed, what had she been forced to survive by loving that child's father as well, the guilty pain she must have despaired of ever moving past?

Knowing how vulnerable Diana truly was, behind her facade of steely, street-wise toughness, Joe had to marvel at her courage tonight, as she gently claimed her right to hope. As she quietly urged, challenged, Catherine to believe, that her shadowy companion had a right, too: The right to a life blessed within her own love.

It was something any human being would reach out for and embrace, to share an existence with someone in love. Even that dark, silent, protector? Even he, himself?

Joe looked at the two figures standing in quiet support of each other. Did they deserve to be seen simply as a tested husband and wife attempting to make peace with their past?

Did he deserve, himself, to begin his own search for peace, tonight, at last?

Vincent's voice pulled the concealed observer from his unsteady thoughts. "That was very good, Jacob." The sound of those quietly supportive words drew Joe from his shelter, in time to see that the towering figure had come down to the ground where the child stood, had stooped down to him on his level, with an embrace. Something any parent would have shared for a son's proud accomplishment.

"You know, Jacob, I'm rather tired. Do you think you could help me over to that bench down there?" It was Diana now, softly encouraging the child. "I'd better rest a bit before we head back home."

Vincent slowly straightened to his full height, apparently holding her in a long, quiet gaze, then kissed her gently on the forehead. "Thank you, my love." The tender gratitude, in both gesture and words only above a whisper, still reached Joe's awareness, and his heart raced with conflicting emotion at its revelation.

"Here, Mama, take my hand. I'll help you over there." Looking back over her shoulder at her husband with sweet care, Diana let the little boy lead her away from the granite marker.

Vincent, and Joe, watched for a minute or two until the woman and child were safely settled onto a concrete bench placed beneath a clump birch some 30 feet beyond Catherine's grave. The little boy sat in the grass and leaves at his mother's feet, peering with easy fascination up into the beautiful sky, obviously eager to take advantage of the night's excursion now for his own wonder. Joe wouldn't have been at all surprised if Diana was describing the star the little boy was pointing to as the gateway to his dead mother's heavenly home.

He would have continued thus, in peaceful contemplation of such an incongruous activity: star-gazing in a churchyard between a devoted mother and child, but Joe found his attention insistently re-drawn to Catherine's grave where Vincent had remained.

Shifting uneasily in his hiding place, Joe's impulses were torn between leaving a long-grieving man to his soul-unburdening in peace, and observing a beyond-human image in wrapt attention for signs the mortality that figure sought to embrace was only an aberration of the truth.

This was Vincent, after all, the DA told himself now, the mysterious avenger who could kill as easily as he could protect; the frightful being destined to an existence in the darkest reaches of the city; a creature of the night. Without Diana and Jacob beside him, the cloaked figure standing before a gravestone seemed, indeed, a threatening figment from a nightmare.

Yet, that nightmare reached out both his hands to the granite marker before him, and rested heavily on it for a long moment, before he slipped one hand slowly, gently, across the polished surface of the stone.

A caress.

A lover's hand, touching to a lost, cherished heart.

Joe wasn't certain he'd been prepared to see that -- a tenderness still carried within the soul, for a beloved, departed love. The suddenly confounded DA was held to the image before him with powerful, unexpected . . . sympathy . . . kinship . . . feelings astonishingly freeing themselves from within his colliding emotions. Then, the soft words in a quiet, throaty voice that was as arresting as it was heartbreaking in its . . . gentleness.

"She is a remarkable woman, Catherine."

The DA's soul stumbled -- at the evidence in that voice of still cherished tenderness for a murdered woman, as well as awe-tinged wonder for an amber-haired firebrand that had claimed his heart.

Several breathless moments passed in silence, and Joe expected, prayed, actually, that any further words Vincent carried within his heart for Catherine this night would be meant for her ears alone, spoken to her only within that heart. The DA didn't believe himself capable of holding the reality of such words to himself, should they be actually spoken within his hearing, what a man could possibly find the . . . courage . . . to say to his murdered love about the new hopes that he was seeking to embrace at last.

But, the silence was finally broken again, the soft voice carrying within its arresting tones, that pang of gentle awe and thankful astonishment that was unmistakable. Vincent, it would appear, was not going to need to defend his heart tonight, either. Like Diana, he seemed to have decided to simply voice the truths he'd found the courage to hold and believe, beyond the pain.

"That I am capable of standing here tonight before you with my spirit and soul still my own is due totally to Diana's hand. She's done more than attempt to love us, Catherine, Jacob and myself. She's sheltered us in her love, wrapped us in it."

An undeniable sigh punctuated the words reaching Joe in the breeze-swept dark. He tried to steady his own pounding heart, unwilling, for an instant, to miss a breath of what the dark figure before him might be willing to share with him, knowing exactly what it was that Vincent sought to describe in seemingly inadequate terms -- the scope of Diana's love.

"She's brought a mother's tenderness into Jacob's everyday life, as she was able to let you understand: stories read, questions answered, shoelaces patiently tied, hurts kissed away. And dreams, Catherine, she's brought Jacob dreams, helped him begin to touch them and accept them as true possibilities.

"I see so much of you in him now. His openness, his confidence. His eagerness to embrace life. These are your legacy to him, a gift from your spirit to his that he will be able to carry all his days. And yet, at the same time, I find so much of Diana in Jacob as well, her own gifts born of love learned and shared: A willingness to believe and strive and challenge, a commitment to the compelling power of truth, loving truth, offered without fear or reservation. The magical sight of empowered hope."

Letting his gaze move from the silent stone before him, Vincent took in the beloved forms of his wife and child in the distance. His family. The reality of his own hope accepted and cherished. He settled his awareness from them back to the leaves that lifted about his feet, taking hold of what was in his heart a moment before finding himself able to actually describe it.

"I've felt as a child myself in her devoted care, my very soul bound up by her loving generosity as sweetly as any skinned knee or bruised expectation. She is a fragile ribbon of light that somehow made its way into the dim stone caverns of my heart, with the power to warm my spirit as easily as a bright summer's day. A day you and I could never share. Yet, that gentle radiance, that quiet nurturing, finds its wellspring from a fierce, certain determination of hope, selfless, utterly without fear. She's read my heart when I myself have been too uncertain of its truth."

You sound as if you know this guy. Joe heard his comment to Diana early into her investigations of Catherine's death, echoing within his awareness. She'd been spinning some barely coherent fairy tale of love, protection, connection and roses in her loft one evening, and Joe hadn't been sure her profoundly intuitive powers had not finally overtaken every shred of logic in her mind, to carry her past all reasonable observation. It was all beyond belief, crazy, what she'd been proposing as truth. They'd been trying to follow a sordid, ruthless 20th century murder, and she'd been describing some mystic legend out of a high school literature book.

Still, the gentle certainty, the tender awe and compelling. . . understanding . . . in Diana's words, in her eyes, as she responded to him, had made Joe's heart clamor. Sometimes I feel as though I do, she'd said.

She'd been drawn to the mystery that was Vincent even then, he realized. Diana had been in love with him even then, with a power of conviction that went beyond logic or sense, beyond even her own security. That was the love she'd been able to offer the once-devastated soul that stood before Catherine now, confessing his return to wholeness.

At this point in time, had there ever been any doubt in either of the men's minds that Diana would have been capable of setting into motion such a transforming, healing process, out of the depths of despair?

Joe watched in aching silence as the tall, dark figure he was observing in secret slowly came down to his knees on the ground, and let his attention drift to the bouquet of flowers in the stone vase.

Love's passion, and purity. Side by side. They'd remained individual facets of an astonishing, transcendent devotion throughout Vincent's entire relationship with Catherine, beautiful beyond words. Haunting beyond hope. Always, distinctly, separate. Slipping his fingers over the delicate petals of the flowers, he then came to rest back on his heels, setting his hands down onto his thighs. For a moment, he reared his head back, looking up into the stars and night sky, feeling a tenderly familiar, hesitant touch, in the breeze.

The hood of the dark cloak fell back from his head with that motion, and Joe barely stifled a gasp at what was revealed, testing his own tentative hope for the moment.

Even though darkness and several dozen feet separated the two men, the DA made out enough of his subject's facial features, now, to realize why that mysterious figure had been cursed to an existence of shadows on the fringes of the city's life: Chisled, prominent cheekbones, upswept brows, a muzzle more than a mouth, a dense flow of long, golden hair. They were all far from . . . far beyond . . . typical . . . human . . . characteristics.

Still, Joe was astounded to feel that he'd found himself not so much in the presence of something, someone . . . inhuman . . . as actually . . . beyond human, a spell-binding presence of powerful fascination. And that power and arresting essence went far past merely the physical details of the man before him. The DA suddenly knew himself to be within the compelling presence of a soul that would be capable of love beyond boundaries, beyond limits, beyond even life and death.

The love that Catherine had secretly cherished.

The love that Diana had found the courage to embrace.

"For so long, Catherine, I battled my loss alone, found myself buried, drowned within it. You were my life, my world, my dream -- still you'd been stolen from my arms by the madness of a world I could no longer protect you from. I lost you, Catherine, to that madness, and I came close to losing myself to it as well.

"By some miracle I'll never comprehend, Diana made her way to my heart, though, fought her way to it, past unendurable turmoil, so much of it that I, myself, thrust in her path. She offered me, with such astonishing courage, a truth I found unbearable to accept. That truth was this -- That what you and I had shared, our love, our bonded hearts, might have been as complete a fate as we could have ever hoped to existence between us.

"I raged against heaven at the thought of that, Catherine, for the dreams, the destiny that I believed you and I had been robbed of. In reality, because of my pain, my grief in losing you, I had completely rejected the possibility that what we were given by God as our shared existence might have been the only complete blessing we were meant to have.

"We could have hoped for no more."

The words had become almost a whisper. That Joe could even hear them was a miracle of itself, convincing him that there were more forces at work in this night than he could dream of with acceptance. One of those forces was now an undeniable understanding of what Vincent was attempting to set to words, taken from Joe's own pain.

He, himself, had only now come to realize it too: That perhaps his experience of Cathy, her place in his life, had been all it was meant to be, complete and perfect in its own right. Not, simply, a series of lost moments and missed opportunities at romantic love, but a totally right and completely caring experience governed by heaven itself, even amidst all its imponderables and unpredictabilities.

"Catherine, you came into my life, one of darkness, and aloneness, and you helped me look to light and dreams and the sweet possibility of love. How could I ever begin to thank you for that? Ours was an existence of . . . acceptance . . . perfect in its every moment. How could I ever believe it less than the complete miracle it was? Yet, I can understand it now, without the rage of loss and grief: Heaven had not intended for our miracle to reach past that acceptance, that first, fragile expectation we dared to touch."

The true scope of the saving grace that had been a stubborn, daring, amber-haired angel in his life came to rest once again in Vincent's heart. He knew it as a simple truth now: Even if he'd never lost Catherine's sweet presence in his heart, they'd never have found their way to the tender wonder that was his life now. Neither of them had ever really believed it was theirs to grasp. It had remained only a beautiful dream.

It had taken another soul, acting in total and selfless trust, to give him the gift of his long-shackled, long-feared humanity, and all that it had blessed him with.

"Diana took hold of my destiny, though, for me, when I no longer had the strength to believe. She accepted a love that could fearlessly move beyond mere possibility and dreams and hopes, to actual, living reality. She held to that total, loving reality with a fierce, remarkable courage, and reached it out to me, daring me to touch my hand to it, wrap my heart within it, believe without wavering that it could be mine, be ours."

The sound of Vincent's voice had become full of anticipated wonder. Joe could understand why. He'd been held by Diana's powerful convictions of truth himself.

"I have touched that fate, Catherine, held it close, and now I find myself enriched with the very truth of love. It nourishes every fiber of my being, steadies each of my steps in the day, shelters me in the dark night with a tenderness shared I would have been mad to even contemplate within my reach before she offered it, fearlessly, to me, with total trust.

"That love now blesses Jacob, helps him thrive. And it has embodied itself as a new life for us to cherish as its sweetest fruit, its ultimate gift."

Coming slowly to his feet, Vincent once again let his gaze rest on Diana in the pale moonlight, sitting on the bench beneath the birch tree. Jacob had climbed up beside her and was carefully resting his head onto her lap, onto her enlarged figure. She was brushing the halo of curls circling his head with a loving hand.

"Catherine, I've been blessed."

With a measured step, Vincent rounded the granite marker, letting a hand linger a moment longer over the stone as he swept past it and onwards towards his wife and child. When he joined Diana and Jacob, he placed an unburdened caress on the bright-spirited woman's shoulder, no different than the one that he had left with Catherine, except, perhaps, that this time the tenderness was reciprocal. Diana held her own hand over his for an acknowledging heartbeat, without hesitation.

"Father, is that bright star a planet, do you think?" Jacob's thoughtful words drew his father down beside him on the bench as the child lifted his head from his mother's sweetly comforting body. Vincent gathered the little boy up into his arms, bringing him up even to his shoulder without effort, helping his son get closer to the wonder of the stars from a better vantage point.

"Which one do you mean, Jacob?"

"Over there, beyond the Little Dipper."

When Joe finally quelled the pounding of his heart, his own gaze locked onto the hope-lifting sight of a father and child star-gazing in the night. It suddenly didn't seem to matter that they were in the gloom of a churchyard. It didn't matter that the parent could have materialized from the dark fabric of nightmares. There was only tender, loving care encircling all three souls within his sight. Somehow, Joe couldn't even be surprised by it any longer.

After several moment of celestial observations, Vincent set his child down to the ground before him with a pat on the strong, straight little back. "We had better get home. It is a long way to go and Mama is tired." Then, turning to his wife with tender concern, he asked, "Will you let me carry you now, Diana?"

"Yes, my love," was the inevitable reply. "I'll welcome that."

Reaching back onto his cloak, Vincent lifted the hood up over his head again. The hidden DA felt a tightening around his heart at that defensive action. The fact that he lived in a world where such profound truth and hope was forced to the murky shadows of night was unexpectedly almost too much to bear, too sad a reality. Wherever it was that the dark figure now prepared to return to had to be an infinitely more blessed place.

Bending down to Diana, Vincent gathered her up to him in sheltering arms. She rested her head against his chest in familiar comfort as he kissed her burnished hair.

Joe knew that his colleague was safe in a treasured existence of love. She'd found her peace.

Before gaining the tree line behind them, Vincent turned and held Catherine's grave in his sight, for one more unexpected moment, Diana in his arms. Joe swallowed hard. Even though he was still completely sheltered by the large ash tree he immediately pulled himself behind, a reflexive action only, as he knew for certain that he couldn't have been seen, a sudden -- presence -- took hold of his heart, without warning.

It was strong, protective. Unafraid. Yet, somehow, also reaching . . . seeking. Joe couldn't even begin guessing what it was or how it could be possible that he could feel it so distinctly within him. He only knew it did not come from his own state of heart at the moment.

For a confusing instant he was almost afraid, but incapable of understanding what it was he should fear -- that his observing presence had been detected, or that it had not.

Then, seemingly of their own will, the words formed in his mind with powerful clarity: "Be at peace, Joe. Catherine would have wished it so. It is time, for all of us."

The DA couldn't help himself. He was so startled by the words there in his mind, almost as though they'd been spoken softly to him directly by that arresting voice, that he impulsively came fully out and around from his shelter into the windblown moonlight, expecting to actually find Vincent standing at mere arm's length beside him.

He was not.

What Joe did see, though, was the retreating figure of a black-shrouded presence, carefully, lovingly, carrying a young woman in his arms who was large with child. Beside him, holding onto the folds of his long, dark cloak, was a little boy, doing his best to match his stride to his father's, that had been deliberately slowed to an easy pace. Joe raised a shaking hand through his dark hair and closed his eyes, taking in a deep, steadying breath. When he looked up again, Vincent, Diana and Jacob were gone, vanished into the autumn night.

Five minutes elapsed before the DA trusted that his legs would not buckle beneath him should he move. It took him a few more moments before he actually believed he'd been witness to the empowering scene of love embraced that had played itself out before him in a moonlit churchyard. He cast a final look in the direction of the dark granite marker that had drawn him with such insistent power this night, now graced by red and white roses.

"Cathy, I'll do my best to take tonight to heart. Thanks for trying to set me straight."

As he turned to leave, the warm breeze that blew across his shoulders lingered a moment, in a familiar, supportive embrace.

He could almost feel Catherine's arms around him.


Continued in Chapter 7