Epilogue

Victoria lay spread eagle in the middle of her bed, drenched in sweat. She stared up at the ceiling, at the fans that spun around and around and around, watching with her eyes. It wasn't enough, she was hot and dripping and felt like she could have fried an egg on her stomach at that moment.

Vincent came back into the room - he'd only been half-out it, and she was too exhausted to watch as he returned, naked as the day he was born.

"I think you killed me."

He slipped back under the sheet beside her, which just barely covered her waist. He pulled it up higher, sliding it over her breasts, nipples still erect. She had turned her head to one side, exposing the curve of her neck, and he returned to it, picking up the path of gentle kisses he'd been leaving before he'd gone to turn the air conditioner up.

She could feel him smiling. "If I'd killed you, you'd know it, not just think it."

"Okay, I know you killed me," she sighed with a laugh. Her legs shifted, the ache deep between them intensifying for a second, then passing. "My God...what got into you?"

"I think the correct question is, what got into you?"

She shuffled her shoulder, temporarily knocking him off his path. He chuckled, deep and dark in the back of his throat. "You're wicked," she said, trying hard now not to smile. "Absolutely wicked."

"Would you love me any other way?"

She brought her arm down, encircling it around his head, the soft tufts of his gray hair ticking the soft underside. She ran her fingertips against his scalp in a scratching motion. "We'll never know, will we?"

"Thank God." His hand slipped under the sheets, roaming across the plain of her stomach.

"So what was the occasion?" she sighed, looking at him.

"What, there has to be an occasion?"

Her eye caught the slight red mark around her wrist, matched by the one on her other wrist, she was sure. She gave him a mock-stern raise of her eyebrow. "If you did that to me all the time, I'd never be able to walk again. And neither would you."

"I probably would. I have amazing stamina."

"Tell me about it." She smiled at him. "But seriously...you've been...unusually...frisky this weekend. And don't tell me it's because we're alone. It never stops you when Charles is here."

"That's because I lock him up in the basement."

She let out a squawk and punched him in the chest, nearly rolling away. He laughed, heartily, and caught her, pulling her closer, slick limbs sliding against each other.

"Seriously, you don't know?" he asked when she'd stopped struggling, too tired to even pretend.

"Well, it can't be out anniversary, because it's still two months away. And it's only nine, the big ten in next year."

"Today is the tenth anniversary of the first time we made love," he said softly, into her ear.

She perked up. "Really?"

"Yes."

"How do you know that?"

"I keep track."

"Wow. You're good. And I must say I mean that in more than one way."

"Hmm...how many ways, exactly?"

"Don't push it, Mr. Whitman."

"Ah, but it's so fun, Mrs. Whitman."

"That's Dr. Whitman," she corrected. Then she sighed. "I have to be there early tonight, though."

He let out a soft groan. "I hate it when you have to cover the evening shift."

"I know, but it doesn't happen often. Few times a year at the most."

"This is the third time this year."

"You have a head like a digital calendar."

"Hmm." He resumed kissing her neck. She lost herself in it for a few minutes, relishing the smell of him, the feel of him, wanting for a moment to rub him all over her, but exhaustion prevented it.

"Ten years," she whispered. "That's amazing."

"It'll be even more amazing when it's twenty."

"You plan on sticking around that long?"

He stopped kissing her, gently turned her face so their eyes met. "Absolutely."

"I must really be something, to make you change your ways."

"You are." He kissed her on the mouth, gave her another wicked look. "Up for one more round?"

"Oh hell, Vincent, I won't be able to walk." But she was laughing as she collapsed back onto the bed.

"I was actually kidding," he said.

"You and your bizarre sense of humor." She rolled over, reaching for the clock, which was temporarily covered by a thrown piece of clothing. She noticed with some embarrassment that it was her underwear. A pair of soft, pink lacy things Vincent had bought her a few years ago for Christmas.

The clock blazed "4:00 P.M."

"I have to shower," she sighed, slowly pulling herself upright.

"Sounds fun. I'll join you."

8888888888

They had talked, on various occasions, about the change. It wasn't that Vincent had become a different person - his name was different, his occupation was different, sure, all of that was different, but inside, he was still Vincent. Even though, in mixed company, Victoria called him "Richard" and he called her "Sarah," it was only a name. Eventually, it would be explained to Charles, but that could wait.

Max hadn't been the first person to hear Vincent's speech about "ten years from now, ten minutes from now." Playing it safe wasn't in his vocabulary, and it still wasn't. Sure, he was extremely careful for Victoria and Charles' sake, but knowing that at any time, something could come around the corner...that he always had to keep one eye out... maybe that would have driven other people nuts. It kept Vincent sane.

Wrapped in his robe, he kissed her goodbye and watched her get into her car. It was a little bit of a drive to the hospital and she had to leave before the sun went too far down. Of course, it was going to be a full moon that night, and there would be plenty of light. With the wide open stretches of desert, there wasn't much to see, but it could get very, very dark on moonless nights.

It made looking at the stars easier.

Vincent hadn't realized what an affinity he had for gazing at the stars. He'd bought a telescope and installed it on the balcony of their bedroom a few years ago, after finally doing all the research and discovering what was the best quality for the best price, as well as easy enough for someone like him to use.

That's us. Lost in space.

A car pulled up in the driveway just as the horizon had turned golden and pink from the last rays of the sun. Vincent had showered and dressed in a simple white T-shirt and jeans, and came to the front door to welcome his son home.

Charles was looking more and more like his father every day, with dark hair instead of gray, and a considerably smaller nose. He also had Victoria's chin, which offset his smile, with was all his father. Vincent made a mental note to get the boy braces before his teeth could become off-center like his dad's. He'd thank him later, Vincent was sure.

"Dad!" the nine year old called as Vincent opened the door. He was waving a giant hand with one finger extended. The overnight trip had been to go see a baseball game, Vincent had a terrible head for the names of teams anymore, except when it came to hockey. He had yet to take Charles to a hockey game. It was a difficult concept for a desert-grown boy to grasp, but that would probably only make it all the more fascinating. "They won!" Charles was saying, his cheeks glowing. "They won!"

"That's great!" Vincent politely waved to the family that was pulling away. Jamie, that was the name of the boy Charles hung out with quite a bit. The family was big into sports, and the father, Roy, had all kinds of connections to get tickets. Charles was going to turn into a sports nut soon. Vincent made another mental note to start reading the sports section of the newspaper.

The boy hugged him. Being a father had taken some getting used to. Victoria had patiently taken care of the messier duties, like diapers, but a boy needed a role model. While Vincent hesitated, he found that letting his polite nature take front seat and not pulling it back was not entirely effective. He had to get personal, like he got personal with Victoria.

Not an easy thing.

But he was lucky with Charles. He was precocious and sensitive, incredibly bright, the kind of child every parent dreams of having. Vincent credited it all to Victoria and her brilliance, as well as her patient nature, but discovered his own little quirks showing up in the boy's mannerisms. The twitch when he was uncomfortable. The precision with which he could throw a ball, as if shooting at a target. His respect for people who could play music, even his interest in listening to his father's jazz CD's, and remembering the names. He was even starting to develop an ear, and every now and again Vincent would offer him a five or ten spot to correctly name the artist. Victoria disapproved, but Charles was careful to put his money away.

"What are we going to do for dinner?" Vincent asked as he took Charles' bag and starting throwing the laundry into the hamper. One responsibility of domestic life he didn't quite appreciate was laundry, but with Victoria's schedule, which was a little more erratic than his, it was his job, nine weeks out of ten. There were a few books a the bottom, and a sheet of math problems, none of them done. "What's this?"

"Oh, crap," Charles muttered. He grabbed the sheet and climbed up onto one of the kitchen stools by the lunch counter. He grabbed a pencil and got to work. "Sorry, Dad. I think I forgot."

"No, you did forget." Vincent hung up the bag on a hook - he hated the smell of backpacks, there was such a mustiness to them, like old moldy crayons. He grabbed a can of Lysol and sprayed the inside.

"It's cool, Dad, I know all the multiplications. I'll be done in a sec." He scribbled across the page, his numbers not quite neat, but correct.

"Guess I'll have to make the mac and cheese alone then," Vincent said, reaching up into the counter.

"We had mac and cheese last night," Charles said. "Didn't Mom buy one of those dinners in a box thing?"

Vincent dug a little deeper into the cabinet. Victoria was good with the shopping, that was sure - there was a Betty Crocker Cheesy Ham and Potato Bake, everything inside the box. "Here we go."

"Let's go with that."

"It's still cheese," Vincent pointed out.

"Yeah, but it's potatoes and ham," Charles said. He finished a row of problems, then chewed on the pencil. "Where's Mom?"

"She had to work this evening."

"I thought she was the Chief or something."

"She's the Chief Resident," Vincent corrected, suppressing a chuckle. "That doesn't mean she doesn't get the crap shift every now and again."

Vincent put the dinner together quickly, not too thrilled with the oozy consistency of the cheese sauce in which the ham resided, and put it into the oven. It would take a half hour to bake. "So what do we do in the meantime?" he said.

"Could we shoot some baskets?" Charles asked, finishing with the math sheet.

"Baskets?" Vincent vaguely remembered Charles talking them into installing that thing above the garage. He hadn't played basketball himself since he was Charles' age. "I don't know, it's been a while for me."

"That's okay, Dad, it'll be fair. You're taller than me."

"I don't know, your jump is pretty scary when you're reaching for the chips on the top of the fridge."

Vincent set the kitchen timer and turned on the outside lights, while Charles went to his room to get his basketball.

8888888888

Victoria pulled into her assigned space, grabbed her dinner, which was a sandwich she'd picked up on the way there, and headed inside the hospital. She was greeted by various nurses, most of whom gave her respectful nods as they passed her in the halls. She took the elevator and arrived at her office in time to field a few questions from the interns, then went down to talk to the newly arriving medical students, who were getting ready to finish their last years in school. She would have her pick of the crop - she was rather excited, as it was her first time.

The shift passed without event. Life was nice and quiet out in the desert. The most she ever really had to deal with was car accidents, which could be quite ugly, and during fire season, it was a circus. There were times, however, that they would be shipped patients for various reasons. Victoria took a certain amount of pride in the fact that Dr. Sarah Lancing Whitman's hospital was rather well known for its keen surgeons.

She finished at about three in the morning, managing to escape a half-hour early because the graveyard shift doctor had come in early and repaid her earlier kindness of covering for him a few weeks back. She considered getting a burger on her way back home, but knew that she wasn't getting any younger. Sure, she was forty-five, but she had to take better care of herself if she wanted her future years to be of high quality.

It was a shame that whatever it was in life that made you want to keep living it, you had to give up in order to do that living right.

Then she remembered the afternoon with Vincent and she smiled. She was pretty lucky.

He was dozing lightly when she came in. He slept longer and longer over the years. Whenever she worried that she was taming him, he was quick to show her that she was wrong. He was already talking about taking Charles down to a shooting range and starting to show him how to take care of a gun. She was sure she was going to be as gray as him by the time she turned fifty.

Then again, his job in security was a bit more than he let on, sometimes. There were occasions when even the local police requested their help in certain matters. Vincent had related to her that he wasn't the only ex-military, special-ops, retired assassin that was working in his office. In a wide open place like New Mexico, where government secrets were buried everywhere you stepped, security was not a job for rent-a-cops.

But all in all, it was nine to five. Which gave him a chance to practice his fathering skills.

Victoria knew he'd been abused. She had worried, for a long time, that the cycle would continue. To her amazement and relief, Vincent seemed to put effort into going into the opposite direction. In fact, he deferred most matters of discipline to her. He rarely had to step in, and if he did, Charles was very quick to discover the error of his ways. The mere fact that he had never faced his father's wrath seemed to be enough to scare him away from ever wanting to see it.

Victoria had seen it. Charles was a smart kid.

So Vincent, for the most part, got to be the fun parent. That was ironic, if thought about long enough. Oh well...Victoria was all right with that. It seemed to work. Charles loved her, doted on her all the more because he was keenly aware of how much his father did the same.

She shrugged off her clothes in the walk-in closet, taking care not to wake Vincent, even though it was practically inevitable. Her nightgown, a pale blue thing that Vincent had bought during their first years out here, a personal favorite of hers that showed its ten years of wear, hung on its hook. Sometimes she wondered if Vincent had enough to do...he seemed to be rather meticulous about keeping the house neat.

She glided through the dark, the bright moon casing shadows of the cactus plants on the lawn outside the window, and made her way over to her side of the bed. She didn't bother with the cover - she was too tired. As soon as her head hit the pillow, she was asleep.

She was awoken by the soft shaking of her arm, and looked up to see Charles gazing down at her. "Mommy, I'm leaving for school. Jamie's dad is here to pick me up."

Victoria lazily stretched out her arms to encircle her son. Maybe she should have been a little more insistent about having another baby...but why push her luck? "Did you have a good time this weekend, sweetie?"

"Yeah, lots." He smiled at her. "You gonna be home tonight?"

"Yeah, baby, I don't go back to work until tomorrow morning."

"Good." He kissed her, the dutiful son's kiss on the lips, and she ruffled his hair. "Mo-om!" Charles said, "Dad just gelled it!"

Victoria pulled her hand away, slightly sticky. "Sorry, baby," she said, rolling over onto her back. "Get your comb and I'll fix it before you go."

He raced to get the comb, and Victoria pulled herself upright. He returned, attempting to right the damage himself, but she quickly put the spiky locks back into their upright positions. She kissed his cheek and slapped the comb down on her beside table. "Okay, see you after school."

As Charles ran out, she heard him exchange his goodbye with Vincent, and the front door closed a few minutes later. Vincent came into the bedroom, in a white button down shirt and a pair of black slacks.

"Going to work?" she asked, rolling the covers over her legs.

"In a bit." He sat down on the foot of the bed, facing her. He handed her a warm mug, filled with coffee. She sipped it, nodding her head appreciatively.

"It's that Illo stuff from California, isn't it?" she said.

"Something like that."

"Only coffee I can drink with only one sugar and a spoonful of cream."

"Last night go okay?"

"Yeah, it was quiet. Makes me dread the heavy times, though."

"Please, you live for that stuff."

"I don't live for people getting hurt," she correct him. "I live to help people."

He smiled at her. "Well, you helped me."

She gazed at him. "I'm wondering, Mr. Whitman," she said, "if you know how lucky you really are."

He chuckled, starting his wide smile. "Luckier than I deserve," he admitted.

"So you repent of your former life?"

"How can I?" he said. "Without it, I would never have met you."

She leaned back, setting her coffee aside. "I'm still tired," she muttered, wiping her eyes.

He moved up closer to her, one arm around her shoulders. She rested her head against his chest, and her wedding ring caught the light.

She was lucky, too, she knew. Few people in the world ever truly found solace. And from there, they could go wherever they wanted. As any man, woman and child, they had their own choices to make, their own paths to follow. But the important part is, they were given the chance to choose those paths.

Which was really more than either of them had ever expected from their lives, in the end.


A/N: So, here I was, all set to end this duology and let Vincent and Victoria go on their merry little ways...and then last night I had a very intense dream about Collateral, and had to go see the movie today. Which is now playing at the cheap theaters, so I only paid three bucks to get in, ching! LOL...anyway, so I'm sitting there, and thoughts start going through my head. Thoughts like....

What if Vincent had jumped on the wrong train? Remember, he had two trains to choose from. What if he'd jumped on the wrong one? And what if Victoria was a passenger on the wrong train?

Or...what if, in this story-theme, Max and Annie went on a vacation to New Mexico and broke down in the middle of the desert, and it was Vincent and Victoria who wound up coming to the rescue?

Don't worry, I don't plan to go on forever with this. You just may be seeing a few one-shots from me in the future. :)

Take care, everyone! It was fun while all this lasted! :)--SJ