Flung Roses

by Becky Bain


I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind,

Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng.

- Ernest Dowson

 

His head ached abominably, and there was a dull pounding in his ears. His eyelids fluttered and he squinted against painfully bright light.

"Vincent, thank God. How do you feel?"

A flesh-colored blur swam into his field of vision; he strained to focus. A man with lined face and grizzled hair hovered above him, frowning. The face was familiar, and he struggled to place it.

"I'm... what happened?"

"There was an accident. A cave-in. You were hurt."

He raised a hand to his throbbing temple. "I don't remember..."

"I'm not surprised," the man said briskly. "From what the children said, it happened very quickly."

"Children...?"

"The children are all fine." That was a woman's voice. A kind, careworn face intruded. "You were able to get them to safety. That's how you were hurt."

Her face, too, was familiar, but the effort of concentrating on their words, trying to understand, exhausted him. He closed his eyes and slept.

 

When he woke again, the chamber was dimmed; the light of a few fat candles, glowing on a nearby shelf, dissipated before it could outline the far reaches of the chamber.

He blinked against even that pale glow, fighting the persistent ache in his head.

"Vincent?" The voice didn't belong to either the man or the woman he'd seen earlier.

He turned his head, wincing at a sharp thrust of pain.

A young woman, pale brown hair spilling over her shoulders, bent over him. "You're awake." She smiled and stroked a wisp of hair back from his forehead. "Father said you were conscious for a moment this afternoon, before I got here."

Father. The face of the man he'd seen earlier floated into his mind. Father. Of course.

"Yes," he agreed. His voice rasped in his throat and she reached for something out of his line of sight.

"Here." She offered him a cup with a bent straw. "Some water."

He sipped gratefully, and studied her in the flickering light of the candles. She looked wan; faint lines were etched around her eyes and mouth. "Thank you," he murmured when she took the cup away.

She pushed a limp strand of hair behind her ear and smiled. "You're welcome."

Lassitude pulled at him. "So tired," he murmured.

"Of course you are," she said softly, and leaned forward.

As his eyes closed, he felt the soft, warm pressure of her lips on his forehead; the sensation gave great comfort, and he drifted back to sleep.

 

It must be day, he thought when his eyes opened again. The chamber was brighter, with more candles and even an oil lamp or two.

Only the older man was in attendance this time.

"Vincent," the man said, bending over him. "Good. You're waking more often now."

"Father," he remembered, and was rewarded with a distracted frown.

"I want to examine you while you're awake," Father said, and pulled a small penlight from somewhere inside a patched, fringed vest. He flipped the light on and shined it into Vincent's eyes.

Vincent blinked violently and tried to turn away from the glare.

"Vincent, I'm sorry. I know how sensitive your eyes are, but you've suffered a head injury. Peter and I agree it doesn't seem severe, but I need to examine your pupils."

Thus admonished, Vincent lay stoically while Father examined his eyes, tested his reflexes and palpated a tender spot above his right ear.

"You have a nasty headache, I'm sure," Father said.

Vincent nodded. "And I'm very tired."

"That's to be expected after an injury of this sort," Father reassured him. "Have you noticed anything else?"

Vincent frowned. "People."

"People? What about them?"

"I don't... remember them." He turned his gaze to Father's concerned one. "I didn't remember you until I heard your name. Then I knew who you were. You said something about Peter. I think I should know him, but I don't."

"Peter's one of our helpers," Father said kindly. "And a fine physician. He came, when you were first hurt, to help me make a diagnosis and to treat you." He patted Vincent's shoulder. "Some temporary memory loss is common in injuries like yours. There's no reason to worry at this point."

His expression was open and sincere, and Vincent let out his breath. "Thank you."

"Now you should get some more rest."

Vincent started to close his eyes, then remembered something. "Father."

"Yes?" The old man paused in the act of folding up his stethoscope.

"When I woke in the night... there was a woman here."

Father smiled. "Catherine. Yes. She would be here still if I hadn't sent her off to get some sleep."

Catherine. He repeated the name in his mind. Catherine.

Father gazed at him patiently.

"She is very beautiful," he ventured, after a moment.

"Yes," Father agreed, tucking his stethoscope into the open bag on a nearby chair. "She is." He snapped the bag closed. "I'll have Mary in to sit with you," he said, and turned toward the door.

"Father."

Father swung back, expectant.

"What I said earlier, about people. About not being able to remember people..."

"Yes?"

Vincent swallowed. "Who is she, Father? Who is Catherine?"

Father blinked, then set his bag back on the chair. "You don't remember her?" His voice was very gentle.

Apprehensive, Vincent gave a small shake of the head. "No. Not at all."

Father sighed heavily. "I'm very sorry to hear that, Vincent. Of all people..."

"But who is she, Father?"

Father looked away for a moment; when he looked back, his eyes were full of sorrow. "Catherine is your wife."

 

Vincent's dreams were troubled as he pursued something that seemed always out of reach. He woke with a start, jarring his head and the IV line that fed into his arm. Someone caught his wrist, steadying him.

"Are you all right?"

It was her again. Catherine. She kept his wrist, her fingers warm and strong.

"Yes," he managed. "A dream..."

"You're awake now," she soothed him. "It's okay."

"Yes."

She studied him a moment, then nodded and placed his arm back on the bed. Her fingers lingered a moment, smoothing the hair that grew there, before she took her hand away.

"Catherine," he said. Her name tasted strange on his tongue, and he repeated it, seeking familiarity. "Catherine."

She looked momentarily hopeful.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I can't..."

"I know," she said softly. "Father told me."

"I'm sorry," he said again, acutely aware of the inadequacy of the words.

"Don't be sorry, Vincent. It isn't your fault." Her smile looked forced. "Father says it's probably only temporary."

Vincent glanced around. The chamber was still illuminated with what he thought of as daytime brightness. "Where is Father?" he asked.

"He's gone to get something to eat," Catherine explained. "Why? Do you have pain? I can send for him..."

"No," he said quickly. "Just the same headache. Although it seems less, this time. I just wondered."

She put her hand out as if to touch his face, then paused and drew it back. "Now it's my turn to be sorry," she said, with a laugh that sounded both rueful and false. "I don't want to make you uncomfortable."

Part of him was relieved that he would not have to conjure a response to a gesture that seemed wholly unfamiliar. Part of him regretted the loss of her touch.

She settled into a chair pulled close to the bed. "Can I get you anything? Do anything?"

"No. But if I might..."

She gazed at him, her expression open and questioning.

"I don't want to make you uncomfortable, either," he faltered. "I don't wish to hurt you."

"I know that," she said softly, and it gave him courage. "What do you want, Vincent? Whatever it is, you may have it."

"May I look at you? Watch you?"

She looked faintly puzzled.

"I didn't recognize Father right away," he hastened to explain. "When I first woke up. I hoped..."

Understanding cleared her face; she smiled what might be the first genuine smile he had seen. "Of course." She reached for a book on a nearby chair. "Would you like me to read to you?"

His gaze went to the worn volume. "What is it?"

She turned it so he could see the spine. "Great Expectations."

"Shakespeare."

She frowned. "No. It's Dickens. Charles Dickens."

That didn't sound right. "Are you sure? Shakespeare... and Great Expectations. They seem to go together in my mind."

"I'm sure." She moved the book closer, so he could read the author's name. Charles Dickens.

"You're right," he admitted. "I don't know why I was so certain..."

"Father said there might be some confusion," she soothed. "It's understandable." She opened the book. "I've been reading to myself while I've been sitting here, but I can start at the beginning again, if you'd like."

He considered that. "Do I know the story?" he asked finally.

He heard the soft catch of her breath before she replied. "Yes," she said, very gently. "You do."

"I don't remember."

She touched his hand and smiled that small, sorrowful smile. "Then I'll start at the beginning."

He studied her as she read, noting how the candlelight made highlights in her hair and hollows under her jaw. She read well, imbuing the words with life and feeling, and he soon lost himself as much in the story as in the sound of her voice. Not the faintest memory flickered.

 

When he woke the next time, he was alone, and his headache was gone. Upon reflection, he decided he felt quite well, and pushed himself up to sit on the side of his narrow cot.

Footsteps sounded at the chamber entry and Father came in. His expression turned quickly to one of horror. "Vincent!" he began, hurrying forward.

Vincent plucked at the IV needle in his arm. "I want this out," he announced. "And I'm hungry."

Father produced his little penlight. Vincent was used to this by now, and endured the brief examination that followed. "You seem much better," Father conceded. "It always amazes me."

"What does?"

Father glanced at him. "The speed with which you recover from injury," he said. "Let me see this needle."

A small patch on Vincent's arm had been shaved for the needle and the tape that held it in place, but the fur was growing back underneath and when Father yanked off the tape, it hurt. "Ouch," he said mildly.

"Yes, I'm sorry," Father acknowledged absently, and removed the needle, covering the spot with a square of gauze. "Let's tape this in place..."

"Let's not." Vincent put his fingers over the gauze. "I'll hold it until it stops bleeding."

Father hesitated, then nodded. "Very well."

Vincent glanced around the utilitarian chamber. "Father?"

"Hmm?" Father scarcely glanced up from his bag.

"This surely isn't where I live?"

That got his full attention. "What? No, Vincent, of course not. This is the hospital chamber. But as you're so much better, I'll have someone come and help you to your own chamber."

"After I've eaten," Vincent prompted.

"Eaten? Yes, of course." Father smiled. "If your appetite's back, a return to full health can't be far behind."

He reached up and tapped a rhythmic pattern on an overhead pipe; Vincent recognized it as a message, and struggled to decipher it. A summons...

A moment later, a freckle-faced boy appeared in the doorway. "Yes, Father?"

Vincent stared at the boy, waiting for the least tickle of familiarity. It didn't come.

"Hello, Geoffrey," Father greeted. "Please tell William that Vincent is ready to resume regular meals and have him prepare a tray. And then find one or two of the men and see if they can help Vincent to his chamber in an hour or so."

"Sure," the boy agreed, flashing a smile. "Hi, Vincent," he tossed over his shoulder as he dashed out.

"Who was that?" Vincent asked.

Father frowned. "Still having trouble with your memory?"

Vincent nodded. "The boy clearly knew me, but I have no memory of him."

"That was Geoffrey," Father explained. "He's been with us for nearly three years now."

"So I know him well," Vincent reflected. "I wonder why some things seem familiar, while others do not."

"Head injuries are curious things," Father explained. "No two injuries are exactly alike, and different people are affected in different ways. And of course your injury is quite recent, so it's likely you have not fully recovered, no matter how well you feel."

Vincent nodded, and wished for more complete answers.

The needle mark on his arm had stopped seeping and he was discarding the gauze when someone came in carrying a laden tray.

Ravenously intent on the food, it was a moment before Vincent recognized the tray bearer.

Catherine.

She set the tray on the table beside his bed and smiled. "William's chicken and dumplings," she said. "One of your favorites."

Vincent didn't recall it as a favorite, but the aroma was enticing, and he reached for the provided fork. One mouthful was all he needed to provoke the memory. "Yes," he said. "I remember."

"Well," Father said with forced joviality, "it's encouraging that you do remember some things."

Vincent was not so absorbed in eating that he didn't catch Catherine's small, hopeful look and Father's answering shake of the head. Catherine's smile barely faltered, but Vincent knew her disappointment. Despite his lingering hunger, he set down his fork. "I wish," he said softly, for her ears alone, "I could choose the things I remember. I would gladly trade the memory of William's fine cooking for a single one of you."

She blushed and he noted, quite impartially, how the warm color suited her, as did the shy glance up through feathered lashes. "I know," she whispered in reply. "Thank you."

When he had finished his meal, two men entered the chamber. He knew them instantly. "Kanin!" he cried. "And Cullen."

Catherine's flinch was almost imperceptible; no one else had noticed. He wanted to speak to her, but there were no words of comfort he could give, and he didn't want to embarrass her.

Kanin approached and offered a strong arm. "Come on," he said. "Let's take you home."

Vincent wanted to refuse the help, but the truth was, his legs were maddeningly unsteady. With Kanin on one side and Cullen supporting the other, he managed the distance to his own chamber with only one pause to rest.

Once there, though, he resisted their attempts to guide him toward the bed. "All I've done recently is sleep," he said stolidly.

Kanin glanced back for Father's approval, then altered course to to a massive carved wooden chair. He and Cullen lowered Vincent gently and, with murmured goodbyes, withdrew. Father spent a few moments fussing, offering cushions and making sure he was comfortable, then sighed. "Don't overdo, Vincent," he warned. He glanced across the chamber, to where Catherine waited. "You'll keep an eye on him, of course."

She nodded, and with a sound that was suspiciously like an exasperated snort, Father went out.

"He's not very happy with you," she observed wryly, once Father was safely out of earshot.

"No," he agreed, amused. "He seldom is, when I'm recuperating."

"You remember that?" she asked wistfully, then offered a wan smile. "I'm sorry. Can I get anything for you? Do anything?"

"No, thank you."

"Would you like me to read?"

He remembered the pleasure he'd found in her voice, but after a moment's consideration, shook his head. "I believe I'd rather just sit here."

She studied him a moment. "All right. I do have some work I need to finish." She opened a tan leather and tweed briefcase and brought out a thick file of papers.

Vincent watched as she settled herself at the round table in the center of the room and began to either take notes or transcribe something from a fat blue folder. "Excuse me," he said after a moment.

She looked up.

"What is it you're doing?"

"I'm working." At his blank look, she elaborated. "I'm going over a deposition from a witness to a bank robbery. Establishing a line of questioning for when the case goes to trial next week."

"Oh." Try as he might, the reply made no sense.

She continued to look at him, her expression unreadable.

"May I ask... what is it that you do?"

Something flickered across her face and vanished just as quickly. "I'm an attorney," she said quietly. "I work for the District Attorney's office."

He hesitated. Clearly, this conversation pained her, but he needed to know. He needed to establish a background from which memories might grow. "In the city?" he persisted. "Up there?"

"Yes." Her voice was stronger now, and that steadied him.

"I thought you lived down here," he ventured.

"I do. Most of the time." Her smile was wry again. "I commute. Much to Father's dismay."

Even with his fractured memories, he had no difficulty understanding that. "I'm surprised he allows it."

She looked down, and for a long moment he thought she wasn't going to answer. Finally she did, her voice once again low and restrained. "He allows it because of you... because you insisted. Because you knew how important my work is to me..." Her voice trailed away.

Vincent guessed that in an earlier time he might have gone to her, comforted her. Now he sat, feeling awkward. "Perhaps," he suggested after a moment, "you should finish your work."

She nodded without looking up; he wondered unhappily if she were crying. Soon, though, her pencil began moving again and he turned away.

The chamber was filled with a myriad of fascinating objects begging for his attention. His gaze wandered slowly from one to the next, awash in the memories they provoked.

A glance at Catherine showed her absorbed in her work, so he pushed himself to his feet and began a slow circuit of the room. He'd found the little jukebox in a dumpster behind a renovated diner when he was just a boy. It had been one of his first forays up top; his fear, the dank smell of the alley, and his glee at finding the jukebox intact all returned in a rush as he ran a hand over the curved glass front.

Beside it lay a brass letter opener, its wooden handle intricately carved. A Winterfest gift from Cullen. As an apology, he thought, but he couldn't quite recall what Cullen had to apologize for.

A shelf full of polished stone and glass paperweights made him pause. It seemed they should be significant, but he had no recollection of them. Beside the shelf of paperweights was a dressing table; a framed mirror hung on the wall above it. The mirror seemed out of place, as well.

His legs were trembling with fatigue, so he lowered himself gingerly to the delicate bench in front of the table. His own reflection gazed back from the silvered glass.

Nothing he saw there surprised him, even though he'd had no clear memory of his own appearance. He studied himself for a moment, relearning the high, prominent cheekbones, the flattened, furred nose and the padded cleft lip. Not human, but then, he hadn't expected himself to be.

This was Catherine's dressing table, he realized suddenly. Her mirror. The hairbrush under his fingers was hers, as well. Uneasily, he glanced toward the table. She had put down her pencil and was watching him.

"Forgive me," he faltered. "I didn't mean to pry into your things..."

She brushed his apology aside with a small wave of her hand. "Did you know, before you sat down..." she began, and broke off. Even from here he could see hot color flooding her cheeks. "I'm sorry, I..."

"No," he said, and pushed to his feet. He crossed to the table and put his hand over hers. "Please. What did you wish to ask me?"

She looked away, biting her lip. He waited and after a moment she looked up. "I wondered if you remembered... the way you look. The way you are."

"The way I look... not exactly. But I knew it would be strange." He smiled and released her hand to spread his fingers for her to see. "There were these, you see."

She lifted her hand, then aborted the movement and put it down again. "Your hands," she said, and there was an odd note of strain in her voice. But her smile, when it came, was genuine, if a bit sad. "I'm glad," she said simply. "I was afraid you'd forgotten, and would be shocked."

"No," he said slowly. "I am comfortable with who I am." He glanced once more at his hands. "What I am."

"Good." This time she did touch his hand briefly.

"Catherine!"

The voice calling was young, and probably male, Vincent decided.

"Come in, Kipper!" Catherine called back.

A boy in his early teens entered, carrying a laden tray. "Father didn't think you should try to come to supper," he said, setting the tray on the table, in a space Catherine hastily cleared. "He said he'd be in to examine the patient later on." The boy's dark eyes twinkled with mirth as he reported this.

Catherine smiled. "Thank you, Kipper."

"I remember that boy," Vincent said, after he left. "I know him."

"Well, of course you do," Catherine said. She offered him a covered dish. "Hungry?"

"Ravenous," he acknowledged, even though he'd eaten such a short time earlier. He took a seat across from her.

The meal was more of the chicken and dumplings he'd had earlier, but he didn't mind the repetition. Somewhere in the back of his mind was an image of a rotund, florid-faced man presiding over a large cauldron; it wouldn't be practical to prepare special meals when there were so many to feed.

After supper, Catherine took the tray and dishes back to the kitchen. While she was gone, Father came for the promised examination. As Vincent expected, Father grumbled, but pronounced him healing. "Have Catherine call me if you develop any symptoms in the night," he said.

Vincent promised and accepted the kiss Father placed on his forehead before he left.

The unaccustomed activity of the afternoon had tired him. With a sigh, he lay back on the pillows and closed his eyes.

He woke with the instinctive knowledge that several hours had passed. The lighting in the chamber was different - the tall candelabra on the table had been extinguished, and fewer candles burned in other places.

A soft sound made him turn his head. Catherine was seated at the dressing table, her back to him, drawing the silver-backed brush through her hair.

As he watched, she put the brush down and rose, reaching to extinguish a nearby candle. She was clad in a long pale gown that moved when she did, outlining the curve of her hip. She turned to another of the candles, and he could clearly make out the soft swell of her breast beneath the folds of the gown.

He swallowed and looked away, uncomfortably aware of how narrow the chamber's only bed really was. Already his body was stirring, responding to the sight of her.

She was his wife, he reminded himself. Surely she would expect to sleep here, beside him. The room seemed suddenly close and he wondered if he could lie beside her all night, feeling her warm body pressed against him, and not respond.

"Vincent?"

He turned instinctively, reacting to her calling of his name. She stood a few feet away, looking soft and sleepy and altogether too desirable.

"You're awake," she said softly.

"Yes." His voice rasped unpleasantly, his throat dry from sleep and from the sight of her.

"Can I get you something?" she asked.

"Water," he requested. He propped himself on an elbow and sipped at the cup she brought, gathering his thoughts. "Catherine," he said, as she took the drained cup and set it aside. "I must speak with you."

She turned back, surprised. "What is it?"

He was hard pressed not to let his gaze sweep down the length of her. "I don't wish to hurt you more than I already have," he began, feeling clumsy and insensitive.

"I know that," she said softly, and came closer, obviously intending to sit on the edge of the bed. She stopped when he flinched. "What? What's wrong?"

"I am sorry I do not remember you," he said, rushing now to get it said. "I do not remember... loving you."

"I know," she said again, and this time he knew the effort it cost her to keep her voice steady.

"I cannot... Catherine, the bed is narrow. With you beside me, I cannot..."

"Vincent," she said softly, horrified. "I'm your wife."

"I know," he said miserably. "It is what I have been told. But my heart... my heart does not know. It wouldn't be fair. Not to you. Not if I don't love you."

She stood beside the bed, wide-eyed.

"Catherine, please," he said. "Don't..."

"It's all right," she interrupted, though her eyes shimmered with unshed tears. "It's all right. I understand."

"Do you?" he asked, aching with the pain he was so clearly causing.

"Yes," she said, her voice breaking. "I do. You wouldn't be the man I love if you could behave any differently."

She picked up a long robe from the back of a nearby chair. "There's a guest chamber nearby," she faltered.

He pushed himself up from the pillows. "Catherine, no. This is your chamber, as well. I'll go."

She shook her head, smiling that small, sad smile he was coming to know so well. "It hasn't been my chamber for long," she said. "You grew up here. All your memories are here. I'll be fine. Really."

He studied her for a long moment, then nodded. "Very well."

She shrugged into the robe and paused. "Goodnight, Vincent."

He thought he could feel her heart breaking. He pushed to his feet and stepped close. "Goodnight, Catherine," he said softly, and bent to kiss her cheek. When he drew back, tears glistened on her face. "You'd better go," he whispered.

She nodded once, jerkily, and fled the chamber.

 

When he woke the next morning, it was to find Mary ensconced in a rocking chair, knitting placidly. She looked as if she'd been there all night.

"Good morning," he murmured, surprised.

"Good morning, Vincent," she answered cheerily. "How do you feel?"

"Fine," he answered, and sat up. "No headache at all."

"Good." She got up and tucked her knitting into a woven bag and put the bag on her arm. "Since you're up, I'll be going."

"Wait."

She paused expectantly.

"Why are you here? I mean..."

"I know what you mean," she assured him. "Catherine came by last night and asked me to look in on you. I knew Father wouldn't want you left alone so soon after the accident, so I just came along and brought my knitting."

Guilt assailed him. "All night?"

"Of course," she said, smiling. "I do it when the children are ill, and you were one of my first children down here, Vincent." She ran an affectionate hand over the top of his head. "I'll tell the kitchen to send you some breakfast."

After breakfast, Father came in for the inevitable examination. After peering at Vincent's eyes and checking his reflexes, he grunted and sat back. "Well, you're fit enough," he pronounced. "How's your memory?"

"Still scattered," Vincent confessed. "Some things I remember, some I don't."

Father patted his shoulder. "Well, we'll give it some more time. Meanwhile, do you remember where to find the bathing chambers?"

Vincent thought a moment. "Yes," he said, finally. "Beyond the kitchens."

"That's right," Father approved. "And I suggest you take yourself there, at once."

Vincent hadn't bathed since before his accident, so Father's suggestion was an excellent one. "I will," he promised.

"Good. Will you need help?"

Vincent shook his head. "I'm much stronger this morning," he said.

"Very well. Call on the pipes if you change your mind." Father tucked his stethoscope in a pocket of his vest and went out.

Vincent crossed to a tall armoire against the far wall of the chamber. A bath meant fresh clothing for afterwards. He pulled open the double doors and froze. A subtle, feminine scent assailed his nostrils.

He touched one of the garments hanging there. A skirt. Beside it hung a pale blue sweater, patched with leather and far too small for him. A quick examination confirmed his guess - everything here was women's clothing. Catherine's clothing. Guiltily he recalled the stricken look on her face last night. He pushed the doors of the armoire closed and stepped away. The last thing she needed was him pawing through her things.

A smaller armoire, previously unnoticed, stood in a corner. His own familiar clothes hung inside. He chose a shirt, sweater, vest, and sturdy corduroy trousers, then rummaged through a drawer for underwear and socks. Boots were lined up neatly in the bottom of the armoire and he plucked up a pair at random. Taking a towel from a shelf and tucking it under his arm, he left the chamber.

 

The bathing pools were deserted, and unexpectedly warm. He luxuriated for a while, letting the water soothe away the stiffness of inactivity. Eventually, though, he had to get out.

The wheeze of an unoiled hinge alerted him that his chamber was occupied before he was fully inside. He paused in the doorway.

Catherine stood by the larger armoire, going through the clothing that hung there. Several garments were draped over her arm.

He cleared his throat softly.

She jumped, and whirled to face him. "You startled me." She looked as awkward as he felt.

"I'm sorry. I didn't expect you here."

She looked away. "I came to get some of my things. I didn't think you'd mind..."

"Of course not. The things are yours. The chamber, as well."

"Thank you." She hesitated. "You're feeling better this morning?" she asked finally.

"Much better," he assured her. "Stronger."

Again that sad smile. "Good." She gazed at him a moment, then seemed to collect herself abruptly, turning back to the armoire. "Well, I'd better finish here so I can leave you..."

"Catherine."

At the sound of her name, she stopped, but didn't turn.

"Please. I would like it very much if you could sit with me. Talk with me."

He could see the pain in the set of her shoulders, feel it in her hesitation. He saw her take a long, shaky breath before she turned. Her face was impassive, but he could see the hurt in her eyes.

"Of course," she agreed softly. "Whenever you like."

He gestured toward a chair. "Now?"

She gave a small nod, pushed the armoire door closed, and draped the clothes in her arms over the bench at her dressing table before coming to sit where he'd indicated. "What would you like to talk about?"

He sat gingerly opposite her, keeping the bulk of the table between them. "You. Us. The things I don't remember."

She took another deep, steadying breath. "All right. Where shall I begin?"

"Tell me about you," he suggested. "Who you are. Your childhood, your family, your friends."

She did. It pained him to hear of her mother's death while she was still a child, and even more to hear of her father's more recent one.

"And you have no brothers or sisters?" he asked.

She shook her head. "No. Just me."

"It saddens me to think you have no family," he said gently, and was startled by her sharply drawn breath, the sudden tears in her eyes. He reached across the table to grasp her hand. "What is it, Catherine? What have I said?"

She shook her head, but he persisted.

"Oh, Vincent," she said at last. "Don't you know? You are my family. Were."

It was her change of verb tense that wounded most deeply. Already she was distancing herself from him. From her pain. And he could do nothing but hold her hand, to lend her this small comfort while she wept.

"I'm sorry," she apologized, when she had composed herself. "I didn't mean to do that."

"You must not apologize," he said. "I can only imagine your distress. I have no wish to hurt you, Catherine. You must know that."

"I do," she answered. "That hasn't changed about you, Vincent. You haven't changed." She bit her lip. "Father said, with head injuries, there's often a personality change. That we should be grateful that didn't happen to you. Just your memories..."

"Not all my memories," he tried to console her. "Only some."

"Only ones with me in them," she answered, and attempted a smile.

"Others, too," he reminded her. "But it's you I want to hear about. How did we meet? Were you a helper?"

She shook her head. "I was attacked - my face slashed, beaten. They left me in the park. You found me and brought me here. You saved my life, Vincent." She took a breath. "You and Father nursed me until I was well and then you took me home."

"Up there."

"Yes. And I didn't see you again for eight months."

"A very long time," he observed neutrally.

"Yes. But it gave me the time I needed to change myself... change the way I lived, the things I did. That's when I started working for the District Attorney's office. I started trying to help other people, instead of spending all my time - and Daddy's money - indulging myself."

"You wouldn't..." he began, an instinctive protest.

"Oh, yes," she insisted. "I did. I was. You would have hated me then, Vincent. But knowing you - knowing you had faith in me - made me want to do better."

He wished he had memories of her then, although it sounded as if he hadn't really known her until later. Until after she'd changed. Though he didn't really think a person could change as much as she'd claimed to. "How long ago?" he murmured. "That I found you."

Her voice grew soft again. "It'll be four years in April. The twelfth."

He nodded. "And we've been married...?"

"Four months. A little more than four months."

That surprised him. "A long engagement?" he ventured. To his astonishment, she actually laughed. It was the first time he'd heard her do so.

"No. A long courtship, I suppose you could say." Her expression changed, sobered. "You were very concerned about your differences, Vincent. About how I would react, about what you might do to me. It took a long time for you to overcome that."

He considered that for a long moment. "I have no sense of that," he said finally. "No sense of reservation, of doubt."

"Good," she said. "You've kept that. I'm glad."

And she really was, despite the sadness etched on her face. He knew it. "You have a generous heart, Catherine," he said suddenly.

She went ashen. He reached for her hand, but she had already moved out of his reach. Her voice, when she finally spoke, quavered. "So I've been told," she said, with visible effort. "I have to go now, Vincent. I promised Mary..."

"Of course," he agreed softly, not believing the excuse. Mary, he was sure, had gone straight to sleep after sitting with him all night.

Catherine gathered up the clothing she'd taken from the armoire and exited the chamber without looking back.

 

Vincent's body healed quickly and within a few days, he'd completely recovered his strength. His memory remained fragmented, though, with some things rushing back at the slightest reminder, while others remained bewilderingly blank.

For Catherine's sake, he hurt. He didn't doubt she loved him; it showed on her face when she looked at him, was echoed in the sorrow he knew she carried with her all the time. He ached to remember loving her, but no matter how much time he spent with her, or how many events she recalled for him, the memories refused to come.

She showed astonishing strength in the face of this, rarely showing her loss. He watched her, sometimes, with the children, seeing how patient she was, how quick to praise an accomplishment or offer a hug and kiss in comfort.

As soon as Father pronounced him fit, she returned to her job, leaving the tunnels early in the morning and often not returning until long after supper. He wondered if these hours were usual, or because of the time she'd taken off when he was hurt, or if she was just burying herself in her work in an attempt to forget.

She was there, though, on a Saturday a few weeks after his accident, helping Father catalogue a half-dozen cartons of books sent down by a helper. Vincent's role was to heft the heavy boxes onto a table and empty them out for the sorting.

They were hard at it when a visitor entered the study and swung with studied nonchalance down the narrow wrought iron stairs.

Vincent stared a moment. The newcomer's hair straggled over his collar and he was dressed in topside clothing; a dark beard all but hid the three long scars on his cheek. "Devin," he breathed.

"The prodigal returns," Devin agreed, and grinned. "Again. Hiya, Vincent. I got a letter that made it sound like you were at death's door, but I see Peter exaggerates." He made an elaborate show of looking Vincent up and down. "Of course, the letter had to be forwarded twice, so I just got it."

"Devin," Vincent repeated, and stepped forward to take his brother in his arms. "It is good to see you."

"Good to see you, too," Devin answered, pounding him on the back. He stepped back and looked around. "Hello, Father."

"Devin," Father greeted, carefully. "We've wondered where you've been."

"Everywhere," Devin said expansively. "I guess I should have been better about keeping in touch though, huh?"

Father sighed. "At least you leave forwarding addresses now," he said. "That's improvement. It's good to see you, son." They embraced, and Devin turned to Catherine.

"Hey, Chandler."

It was an instant before Vincent realized Chandler must be her surname, and Devin was using it as an affectionate nickname. How little he knew of her, even now!

"Hi, Devin," she answered. They hugged carefully and Devin placed a circumspect kiss on her cheek.

"How's my baby brother treating you?" he asked. "If you have any complaints, I'll beat him up for you."

Catherine smiled. "No complaints," she said, and Vincent thought that perhaps he was the only one who could hear the wistfulness in her voice. Devin certainly didn't notice.

"Good," he said, and turned back toward Vincent. "So you're all better?"

"Physically, he has recovered," Father answered for him.

"Physically?" Devin repeated, concern washing over his face. "What does that mean?"

"He has trouble with his memory," Father said. "His childhood, for instance, has gaps in it. Perhaps you could share some of your memories..."

"Remind him of all the trouble we got into, you mean?" Devin asked with a grin. "I'd be glad to."

Father sent to the kitchen for tea and cake. By the time it arrived, Devin was deep into his role as memory prompter, and Vincent found scene after childhood scene flooding back.

"We used to have mudball fights in the Long Tunnel, remember, Vincent?" Devin asked, reaching for a slice of William's pound cake.

"Yes. And the midnight snowball fights in the park," Vincent countered eagerly.

"In the park?" Father broke in, horrified. "At midnight?"

"All the time," Devin assured him solemnly. "It was great fun, wasn't it, Vincent?"

"Great fun," Vincent agreed.

Father looked ill.

Catherine, her slice of cake untouched before her, sipped tea in silence.

"And who was it that taught us all how to roller skate?" Devin asked. "He was a helper - tall guy. Remember, Vincent?"

"Edwin," Vincent answered, after a moment's thought. "He worked at a skating rink and used to borrow the rental skates for us..."

"Excuse me," Catherine murmured. She pushed back her chair and hurried up the stairs.

Vincent stared after her. He didn't know how he knew, but he was certain she was upset. "Excuse me a moment," he said, and followed her.

"What's going on?" he heard Devin ask. He didn't linger to hear Father's reply.

He didn't have to think about which way to go. He turned left and hadn't gone more than a dozen paces before he found her.

She was pressed into a niche in the passageway, shoulders hunched and hands supporting her bowed head. She was weeping.

"Catherine?" he asked tentatively.

She drew back from him.

That she was rejecting him seemed clear; that she needed comfort was just as evident. He hesitated only a moment before he stepped forward and gathered her to his heart.

She offered slight resistance, then melted into his arms, clinging to him and crying, as he held her and stroked her hair. Even when there were no more tears she stayed there, resting against him.

"Better?" he asked softly.

"Yes," she answered, without moving. "Thank you. I didn't mean to do that."

"Of course not," he agreed. "Can you tell me?"

She shook her head in mute protest.

"Please. I want to know. I want to help you."

He could feel her girding herself. She drew a long breath; her hands tightened on the folds of his vest. "You and Devin. So happy, exchanging childhood memories. You remembered him, Vincent. You remembered the helper who used to bring you skates. And all of a sudden, it just hurt so much..."

Of course it had. How insensitive of him not to think of it. She'd sat there quietly for over half an hour, listening to them reminisce. "You know," he said quietly, "that if I could remember by simply willing it, I would."

She nodded against his chest. "I know. It's not your fault."

"And it isn't fair that you should bear the consequences," he commented. "But it is so."

"Yes." She straightened, but didn't step back. Misery and hope warred in her eyes. "Vincent. Would you do something for me?"

"Of course. Anything."

"Would you kiss me?"

They were married. There must have been kisses between them, though he didn't remember any of them. Didn't remember kissing a woman, ever, in the way she wanted to be kissed. What if he didn't remember how?

Naked pleading was on her face; as he hesitated, it faltered. He saw hurt resignation come into her eyes in the instant before she looked away.

"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I shouldn't..."

He couldn't bear to disappoint her again. "No," he said softly, and cupped her face in his hands, turning it up to him.

Her lips were soft and warm; she tasted faintly of peppermint tea. And if his mind didn't remember how to kiss, it seemed his instincts did. For a long moment, he was simply lost in the sensation. When rational thought surfaced, it was to the realization that her arms were around his neck, that his were holding her hard against him, that his body was responding to the fervor of the kiss in a most basic way. It took real effort to tear his mouth from hers. "Catherine..." he managed, almost gasping. "We must not..."

"Why? Vincent, I love you..." She let her voice trail away. A deep breath, and the control he was accustomed to seeing in her returned. "Of course," she said blankly. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry," he began.

She pushed away from him and paused in the mouth of the little alcove. "I'm sorry," she said again, not looking at him. "I have to be by myself for a while. Make my apologies to Father and Devin."

Before he could formulate a reply, she was gone. This time, he let her go.

 

Devin and Father were deep in conversation, but looked up when he came in. Devin bounced to his feet. "Father told me," he said bluntly. "Is she okay?"

Vincent came down the stairs and dropped heavily into a chair. "I don't know," he said tiredly. "I think she is. For now."

Devin resumed his seat. "Was it me? Did I say something or do something...?"

Vincent shook his head. "It's not your fault, Devin. This has been building..."

He glanced at Father, who nodded agreement. "This has been very hard on Catherine," he said. "Difficult for all of us, of course, but hardest for her."

"Naturally," Devin agreed. "You don't remember anything about her?" he asked, his curiosity piqued.

"Nothing from before," Vincent said. "It worries me."

Father shifted in his chair. "Well, as a matter of fact, Peter and I have been discussing that, Vincent."

Vincent didn't like the sound of this. "Discussing what?"

"The pattern of your memory loss. We fear there is some permanent injury to your brain."

Vincent became very still; even his thoughts seemed to grind to a halt. Brain injury. The very words were chilling.

"Peter's arranged for the use of an MRI scanner; I was going to talk with you about it this evening."

"MRI?" Devin questioned. "I thought they did CAT scans on heads."

"They do," Father said. "But Peter informs me that an MRI actually gives better detail than a CAT scan. And in any case, it's the MRI machine he has access to."

"When would you do this?" Vincent asked quietly.

"Tomorrow night."

The procedure would require him to go above. To a hospital? A doctor's office? Father must think this test very important to allow him to take such a risk. "Does Catherine know?"

Father nodded. "We consulted her as soon as the machine became available," he said. "This sort of medical testing is not inexpensive, Vincent. It's certainly beyond our resources. Peter would have absorbed the cost, of course, but that would have upset Catherine needlessly."

"I will not object," Vincent said quietly. "It is good of her."

"She can afford it," Devin said prosaically. "Besides, you're her husband, even if you don't remember. What else do you expect her to do?"

 

Vincent didn't see Catherine again until almost time to go up top for the MRI. She slipped into the study as Father was wrapping up a long list of instructions to Mary. "And of course you know how to reach us if you need to."

"Yes, Father," she said patiently. "You'll only be gone a few hours."

"Yes, of course," he agreed. "Ah, Catherine. I was about to send someone after you."

She smiled slightly. "I'm here," she said. She had regained the poise and composure that had slipped so badly the day before. Vincent could only guess at the reserves on which she must be drawing to present such a facade; inside, he knew, she was terrified.

Devin had already asserted his intention of going along, and of course Father wasn't to be left behind, so the four of them set out. They travelled at Father's pace, which should have left them plenty of breath for conversation, but the trip was strangely silent.

Near the top, a pair of massive pipes ran parallel; their route required them to cross from the top of one to the other, a distance of about three feet. It looked like an easy leap; Vincent had the feeling he'd done it a hundred times.

He jumped easily, landing lightly and with perfect balance on the rounded top of the pipe. "Here, Father," he said, reaching back. "Let me help you."

Father took his hand, wobbled a couple of times, and then made an awkward leap. Vincent hauled on his arm, pulling him upright, and held on until he was sure Father had regained his balance. "I'm sorry," he apologized. "We shouldn't have come this way."

"Nonsense," Father retorted. "I'm not an invalid yet. Devin, hand me my stick..."

Devin passed the walking stick across the gap. Father took it testily. "Come on," he urged. "Let's make room."

Obediently Vincent moved along the pipe, leaving space for Catherine and Devin to cross. Devin sprang across with an ease born of practice; Vincent remembered seeing him cross it many times as a boy.

"Wait." Catherine's voice was thin and thready. Vincent looked back. He hadn't expected her to have trouble; he'd come to think of her as strong and capable. A glance at her feet identified the problem, though. She'd come straight from her work, and was still wearing the high-heeled shoes Vincent found so incomprehensible.

He shifted, intending to go back and help her, but it was too late. With a reproachful glance his way, Devin offered his hand. She accepted it, leaping across with far more grace than Father had managed. Devin shifted his grip to her arm and kept it there, steadying her as they sidled along the curved pipe. Vincent did the same for Father and wondered why it bothered him that it wasn't Catherine's arm he was holding.

 

At last they reached the upper level and stopped at a dull and dented steel door.

Father tapped a pattern on the door. A moment later it creaked open; Peter Alcott was on the other side. "Good, you made it," he said. "This way."

Vincent felt ill at ease in the panelled, carpeted hallways of the office building, and even more so in the close confines of the elevator, but he followed without comment until Peter pushed open one of the heavy doors lining the corridor.

Inside, a man waited for them. "Vincent, you remember Dennis?"

Vincent didn't, but he nodded politely to the slight, bearded man at Peter's side.

"Hi, Vincent," the man said cheerfully. "Hear you're having trouble with your head."

"Yes," Vincent acknowledged cautiously.

"Come on back and we'll take a look."

The test itself was painless and took surprisingly little time; Vincent had thought it would be a much more complex process. When it was over, Peter clapped him on the shoulder. "I have a friend who's agreed to interpret it for us," he said. "Without too many questions. I should have the results tomorrow."

"Your office, Peter?" Catherine asked quietly. She and Devin had waited together, Devin lounging against the wall, Catherine standing stiff and tense, for the duration of the test.

"My home office," Peter agreed. "About eight o'clock, if that's convenient for all of you."

They agreed it was, and retraced their steps. Vincent didn't breathe easily until they were safely in the tunnels once more.

"That man," he said, as they began their downward journey. "Dennis. Do I know him?"

Father stopped. "He's been a helper for years, Vincent," he said slowly. "Last winter, when his wife Rosemary was ill, you looked in on her, took her books and some of William's lemon cake. Don't you remember?"

Vincent shook his head. "Rosemary... that sounds familiar, somehow. But I don't remember Dennis at all."

Catherine was staring at him. He had the uneasy feeling her composure had been undermined once more. He stood back to let Devin go ahead and assist Father, and fell into step beside her.

"Are you all right?" he asked quietly.

She nodded with too much vigor. "Fine."

"Father says you helped arrange for this testing." He swallowed. "Are meeting the financial obligations created. I wish to thank you for that."

Her eyes flashed. "What did you think I'd do, Vincent?"

Her vehemence startled him. "I don't know. I just wish you to know that I am grateful."

She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I know you are, Vincent. But in truth, I didn't do it so much for you as I did for me." Her voice quavered and she fought for control. "Because I have to know."

 

The next evening, Vincent, Devin, and Father entered Peter's house through its own tunnel entrance. Peter greeted them there and led them up two flights of stairs to his home office, where chairs were lined up for them. Catherine, who had come directly from work, was waiting.

To Vincent, she seemed unnaturally pale. He was glad when Father and Devin took the two chairs on the left, leaving him to sit beside Catherine on the right. She looked terrified.

After a moment of covertly watching her, he reached across the small space between them and took her hand. It was cold and unresponsive, but after a moment she curled her fingers around his, her grip so tight it almost hurt.

Peter pulled out a wide folder and produced what looked like enlarged photographs. He propped the first one up and pointed with his pen. Father and Devin both leaned forward for a closer look.

"See this area?" Peter asked.

To Vincent, it looked like a formless mass of shadows and light, but Father and Devin both nodded. Catherine, beside him, hadn't moved.

"Right here..." Peter's pen tapped the paper. "You can see it. There's a tiny area of damage. My friend is certain of it."

Father let his breath out in a long sigh. "Yes, I see it, too," he said. "I was afraid of that."

Devin cast an unhappy look in Vincent's direction.

"What does it mean, Peter?" Vincent asked.

"It means there's definitely some brain damage, Vincent," Peter said gently. "You are very fortunate in that only a small portion of the brain was permanently affected and that your cognitive and motor skills were not involved. There's only this partial retrograde amnesia."

"Will I ever remember?" he asked.

Peter glanced at Father, who gave a small nod. "Given the evidence here," he tapped the photograph, "and the consistency of the way your memories have returned - you either remember at the first reminder or you don't remember at all - I have to say no. The things that are lost are lost forever."

"Forever?" That was Catherine, her voice small.

"I'm sorry, Cathy," Peter said gently.

She closed her eyes briefly, then took a deep breath and straightened. She extricated her hand from Vincent's and stood up. He came to his feet, as well.

"Thank you, Peter," she said softly. "That's what I needed to know."

The look she turned on Father was full of regret. "I won't be going back with you, Father. I can't. I hope you understand..."

"Dear Catherine," Father began. "I know how painful..."

"No," she interrupted gently. "I don't think anyone can imagine how painful this is. And I can't do it anymore. I have to try to put my life back together now, and I can't do it down there."

"Yes, of course," Father agreed, after a moment's reflection. "I do understand."

"I know you do," she said, and bent to kiss his cheek. "If you need anything, you know where to find me."

He returned the kiss and patted her shoulder as she straightened.

She gave a crooked smile. "Devin."

He smiled back. "Guess I'll be seeing you around, huh, Chandler?"

"Maybe so," she said. "Vincent."

He hadn't moved - was afraid to move. "Yes?"

She gazed at him for what seemed an inordinately long time, although it couldn't really have been more than a few seconds. Her eyes filled with tears. "I will always love you," she said softly, her voice breaking. "Know that. Always."

Before he could formulate a reply, she was gone.

Her absence pressed on him; he had to struggle not to bolt after her.

Father turned to Peter. "You were expecting that," he accused.

Peter nodded. "She discussed it with me," he said. "It wasn't what she wanted to do, Jacob. You know that. But being down there, under the circumstances, was just too much."

"It's my fault," Vincent said roughly. "I've driven her from her home..."

"No, Vincent," Devin said at once. "Brain injuries don't work like that. They're not anyone's fault."

"But if I could have remembered..."

"You can't remember. You will never remember," Father said. "That part of your brain has been destroyed, and the memories along with it."

"It's not fair," Vincent protested. "That Catherine should be hurt by all this..."

"No, it's not fair," Peter agreed, his voice sad. "But that's the way it is."

 

Knowing the boundaries of his memories should have brought him peace, but instead he was stalked by a steadily growing restlessness. Hard physical labor didn't quell it; neither did the long walks he took through the tunnels, or all-night forays into the park.

"For heaven's sake, sit down, Vincent!" Father chided a few days later. "You haven't been this restless since..." He broke off abruptly.

"Since when, Father?"

Father looked away and didn't answer.

"Tell me, Father! Since when?"

Father sighed. "Since before."

"Before what?"

"Before... Catherine. Before you knew her."

Vincent cast back through his scattered memories and came up with an image of himself, filled with the same aimless energy he harbored now. "I remember. As if I was looking for something, but didn't know what."

Father nodded grimly. "And then you found it."

"I found her. In the park."

Father looked up sharply. "Vincent?"

He shook his head. "I don't remember it. She told me. She told me many things, but I don't remember any of them."

"No," Father agreed, and removed his glasses to rub the bridge of his nose. "And you won't. Vincent, I'm so sorry."

"I am not in need of your sorrow, Father," he answered. "One cannot miss what one has never known."

"But you have known it," Father reminded softly. "That is what makes this such a tragedy."

"It's as if I'd never known it," Vincent countered. "Your sorrow should be for Catherine, who knows what she has lost, and who is alone now with her grief."

"Perhaps you should visit her," Father suggested. "It might be good for both of you."

Vincent shook his head. "No."

Father snorted. "For years, you courted danger and deprived me of sleep by visiting her balcony at all hours. And now..."

"Now she needs freedom to reshape her life," Vincent said sharply. "My presence there can only interfere with that."

"Your presence would comfort her," Father suggested.

"My presence would prolong her grief by reminding her of what she has lost," Vincent answered. "I have hurt her too much already. I cannot... I will not... add to that."

"You know," Father mused, "for all that I was so hard on her when your relationship first began, I came to love Catherine like a daughter. I miss having her here."

"I know," Vincent answered softly. "So do I."

 

He found a shelf full of old journals and pored over the passages dealing with Catherine, but they might have been written by a stranger. The words stirred no whisper of memory, but filled him with a nebulous longing that only served to increase his restlessness.

Days passed, but instead of subsiding, his restiveness increased. To Father's dismay, he chose to vent this restiveness above; more often than not, he found himself high above the city, claiming some enviable and dangerous vantage point as his own.

But he could never be long content taking in the view. A vague sense of urgency always intruded, driving him onward. He wished he understood it.

That, and the deep, pervasive sense of sorrow that haunted him.

 

"You still haven't seen her?" Father asked, two weeks after the MRI.

Vincent shook his head. He didn't want to argue this issue again.

"I must say, Vincent, I find your attitude appalling. Anyone can see you're miserable."

"How can I be miserable?" he retorted. "I've lost nothing."

Father peered at him over his glasses. "I'm not so sure."

Vincent frowned. Father was talking in riddles. He was drawing breath to question him when a sudden, unexpected wave of terror washed over him. He stiffened and clutched the edge of the table.

Father swept his glasses from his nose and leaned forward. "What's wrong?"

Vincent's claws scored ragged furrows in the wood. "I don't know," he gasped. "Fear. A terrible fear..."

Father paled. "Catherine."

Vincent looked up sharply. "What do you mean?"

"You did this. Before." Father explained in a rush. "You were connected to her. You felt everything she did. You would go when she needed help..."

"This is her fear?" he asked in alarm.

"What else could it be?"

Vincent couldn't think. "But how do I find her?"

Father was on his feet, agitated. "I don't know, Vincent. You always found her, but I don't know how you did it."

Vincent lurched toward the portal, pausing only long enough to sweep up his cloak from the back of a chair. Something indefinable tugged at him and he gave himself up to it. The next thing he knew, he was rushing headlong toward the surface, answering the pull. His heart pounded as much with terror for Catherine as with exertion.

He reached the park in what must have been record time, and, with the briefest of pauses to yank the lever that opened the door, charged through the opening.

He seemed to know instinctively which way to go. He raced across the park, leaping over shrubs and gullies, darting through stands of trees.

At last he topped a hill and could hear, over the rasp of his own breathing, harsh laughter and taunts from a copse of trees. Sudden purpose seized him, and he plunged down the slope.

There were two of them, armed with knives. Catherine, her blouse muddied and torn and her cheek bruised, was holding them at bay with a makeshift club. It looked as if she'd been at it for some time; as he ran, he saw her stumble with weariness. The youths took turns slashing playfully with their knives and tossing rocks and bottles.

None of them had noticed him yet. The fury building in his chest emerged as a snarling roar. At the same instant, he sprang.

The first boy's eyes widened in horror as Vincent struck his knife aside. A backhanded blow sent the youth reeling to sprawl senseless on the ground.

Vincent whirled to challenge the other assailant. The boy crouched, waiting, but as Vincent stepped toward him, his nerve broke. He dropped his knife and fled.

Vincent took a great, heaving breath and shook his head to clear it of the mind-numbing fury.

Rational thought came rushing back.

Catherine.

She had dropped her club and collapsed on the ground. He knelt beside her. She was weeping.

"You came," she gasped out, between sobs. "I didn't think you'd come."

"How could I not?" he asked gently, and took her into his arms.

She clung to him breathlessly. "I didn't mean to," she went on, as if he hadn't spoken. "I was so unhappy, Vincent."

He nodded soberly. He'd known that.

"I thought I didn't care what happened to me. I would never have been in the park so late, otherwise. But when I heard them following me, I realized I did care. Even if to go on living means living without you." She buried her face in his shirt. "But you came."

"I knew, Catherine," he explained softly. "I knew you were afraid. I had to come."

She heard him at last, and lifted her head to stare at him. "Our bond? It's still there?"

"Father says we were connected to one another... before."

"You've always known what I was feeling."

"Yes. I just didn't realize that's what it was."

She blinked at him slowly in the diffuse light that came through the trees. "All this time? You've been feeling..."

"Yes."

He could sense the effort it took for her to look away. "But you still don't remember."

"No. I never will, Catherine. We both know that."

She nodded, still looking down, and moved away from him. "I know. I suppose I can't help hoping..." She faltered, then drew herself up with the resolution he knew and admired, and pushed her tangled hair from her face. "I'd better go."

He couldn't bear it if she left, but how could he ask her to stay? What right did he have?

His mind flashed back to Father. What had he said? Vincent had claimed not to have lost anything. And Father had replied... had replied... "I'm not so sure." Father wasn't sure. And suddenly Vincent wasn't sure, either. Perhaps he had lost something when Catherine left the tunnels.

He turned the idea over in his mind, examining it. It made sense. It was the only thing that made sense. And it felt right.

Catherine pushed to her feet. He touched her arm before she could move away. "Wait."

She looked at him; the ache he felt in her heart was reflected in her eyes. "Vincent. The park isn't safe after dark. I have to go back."

"Wait," he said again. "There is something I must say first."

"What is it?"

For a moment he quailed; what if she rejected him? And then he knew it was a risk he must take. "I think," he answered slowly, "that even here, muddy and disheveled, with your cheek," he touched it lightly, "swelling and discolored and your hair in your eyes..." - she grimaced and pushed it back - "you are beautiful."

She blinked, and he could see her confusion. "Vincent..." Her voice was full of pain; it pleaded with him not to cause more.

"I didn't know it until now," he said hurriedly. "Perhaps I didn't want to know, didn't want to bind you, without the memories..."

"The ones that will never come back." He might have thought she was resigned, if not for the sudden sparkle of tears in her eyes.

"Yes." He bent his head. "But I understood, as I came to you." He looked into her eyes. "I love you, Catherine. I don't know if it's the way it was before, but I love you."

For a long moment she simply stared at him, incredulous. Then her breath caught on a fresh sob - a sob of joy. He wrapped his arms around her, holding her close to his chest. "I don't know if it will be the same between us..."

"It doesn't matter," she answered, her voice muffled in the folds of his cloak. "That you love me - that's all that matters. I don't care about anything else."

He knew she really didn't. That he loved her was enough for her. Had always been enough. But it wasn't enough for him. Not now that he'd opened his eyes, and seen the truth that had been there all along.

"I know," he said, his voice trembling, "that we are married. That I am your husband and you are my wife."

"Yes," she answered, and lifted her face to look at him. Tears starred her lashes and made dusty trails down her cheeks.

"But you know I have no memories of that. So I wondered..."

She gazed at him, waiting; the connection between them vibrated with something he couldn't quite identify.

"Will you marry me again? So that I will have it to remember... and perhaps, as a start to our new life?"

For a terrible instant, he thought she was going to refuse. Or perhaps she hadn't heard. Her hesitation seemed endless... and then, slowly and with great joy, she began to smile. "Nothing could make me happier," she whispered. Her voice quavered, but joy and conviction rang through his heart. "Yes."

 


Author's note: The idea for this story took root several years ago, when the daughter of some friends was hit by a car while riding her bike. Thankfully, she was not critically injured, but she did suffer some head trauma. She recovered from these injuries almost completely; the only lasting side effect, one that continues to this day, is that she does not remember knowing one of her brothers before the accident. She also does not remember knowing one set of her grandparents. And according to her doctors, she never will.