43

1000 Days and Forever

By Southofoz

Summary -This is a post season 3 scenario occurring some thirty years after the last episode and is rated PG.

My question at the end of many fairytales and stories has always been What then?

To this end I have explored the incredible connection between Jacob and Vincent and what the future held for them and the Tunnel Folk after Catherine's death and how, for Vincent, Catherine is still – "living in his heart always."

This is merely my interpretation of "What then?"

PROLOGUE

"What did you find out about that charity group?" The man lying in a huge bed asked in a rasping voice, his skeletal body a faint outline beneath the rich golden fabric of his bedclothes. Leathery hands rested beside him, while dark eyes looked out of sunken sockets and although the outer shell of this man was merely a shrinking husk, barely alive, the personality behind his eyes was far from dead or dying, far from surrendering to fate. No, this man would not go quietly into the night. He was driven by demons and memories that would not let him rest, twisting his soul and shining through the eyes that bore into those of another man standing at the end of the bed.

"The Catherine Chandler Charities Corporation, yeah. People call 'em the 4Cs. Its one o those goody, goody foundations, full of schemes 'to make the world a better place'." He snorted sarcastically. "Now it's another drug rehab in the slums and the mayor is giving some big shindig for 'em."

"What about that kid, their CEO - What's his name…?"

"Wells Jacob Wells. Some kind o wiz-kid. Everyone's callen him 'The Golden Boy' coz o what he's already got done."

"Is he who I thought he was?" There was a faint wheeze behind the words, but it did little to disguise the bitterness in the old man's voice.

"Yeah, so my source said. You were right on the money there, Boss. How'd you know? Some weird story the source told us too. Hard to believe, but it's all in the file." The man nodded to a folder on the bedside table beside the hissing respirator.

"Can you do the job?" Eager anticipation brightened the gravely voice.

"Sure, I can do the job. No problem. Start right away. You just give the word." He pulled a cigarette out of his pocket and reached for his matches.

"Not in here, you fool!"

With a guilty glance at the oxygen tank, the man slid the matches back into the pocket of his coat.

"Consider the word given." the old man said. "And make it good and loud. I don't want anyone to hush it up I need a lot of noise." He began to cough, a wracking, tearing sound that made his visitor take a nervous step back. Then he grabbed for a mask beside his bed and began to take deep breaths, sending his visitor away with an imperious wave of his hand. When he was alone, he lay back and closed his eyes, a smile of satisfaction on his sunken face.

"I'll make you pay, Vincent." He groaned and took another rasping breath from the mask before he pulled it away and continued, speaking softly to himself. "You're gonna wish you'd killed me when you had the chance."

CHAPTER ONE

On the top floor of what had once been known as the Burch Building, in a large and finely furnished office suite, the CEO of 4Cs sat at a huge desk. The newspaper lay open on the desk. The headlines read - 4Cs PURCHASES ENTIRE BLOCK FOR LOW INCOME HOUSING – Mayor to Honor Company President for His Contribution to the Community.

Behind the desk through the large windows was the skyline of New York City, the bright morning sun shining on the tall skyscrapers, and clear in the distance the tall needle of the Empire State Building.

It was only 9am, but the man at the desk had already been at work for four hours, his attention divided between the three laptops arranged before him on his cluttered desk, while his hands sifted through the contracts awaiting his signature.

He was in his early thirties, with broad, well-muscled shoulders that strained the seams of his white shirt. He'd long since unbuttoned the collar and loosened the pale blue silk tie that always felt too restricting.

He frowned, and unruly honey-blond hair fell over his high forehead and curled around his ears. He thrust long fingers through it as he mulled over a perplexing problem on one of the laptops, and its thick strands fell back into place, not neatly, yet as though with a mind all its own. His features were chiseled, with high cheekbones and a broad chin– a handsome face. But it was his eyes that struck at the heart of the people who met him. Those piercing blue eyes had depths that affected women and men alike with their open sincerity.

There was a primal beauty to this man, an unnamed – something – that caused everyone he had ever met to instantly trust him. Even those who disliked him believed that he was capable of accomplishing whatever he said he would, however difficult – a quality every politician should have had but didn't. It was palpable, powerful, but he never used it to his own advantage. He was well-educated; even though it was well known that he was an orphan who'd grown up alone on the city streets. He loved music, poetry and the arts, and was equally at home watching a symphony in the park or at the Met, as he was at a game of baseball or the premier of the latest blockbuster movie. He was also as comfortable in the company of the leaders of governments all over the world – kings and presidents among them – as he was a starving villager, orphaned child or a drug addict on the streets.

He'd traveled extensively, and was dubbed the most eligible bachelor in the world by the newspapers. This and more was written of him. He was clearly a man for the people, but he had a secret; a secret that no one had yet discovered and if they ever did, it would destroy not only him but everything he held dear. For he was not an orphan at all; he had a family, a special extended family, and a father who loved him, but a father unlike any other.

He worked through the day with a superhuman determination that had amazed his teachers as a child. It was a quality which had brought him to this position – a single-minded concentration that drew on reserves and instincts inbred in him from his unique and special parentage.

When his assistant came many hours later to say goodnight, he was surprised that yet another day had gone so quickly; though he remembered drinking cold coffee and taking a bite from a dried cheese sandwich.

"Good night, Mr. Wells. Are you working all night again?" He lifted his head and smiled as she added, "I'll see you on Monday then."

When he answered her, his voice was deep, sultry and soft. "Thank you, Alice. Tell the janitor not to disturb me I'll most likely be here till late. And Alice?" When the woman turned at the door he added, "Have a good weekend."

She smiled fondly. "You too, Mr. Wells."

Some hours later, when the sky outside his windows reflected the city lights and the offices were quiet, he looked up, and a light came into his eyes.

He quickly backed up the hard drives and deleted the files from the computers before closing them down. Then he slipped the discs into dust sleeves and put them in his briefcase. He lifted a brown leather jacket from the back of his chair, and with briefcase in hand went into his private bathroom.

He walked into the shower cubicle and moved the shower head to one side. The tiled wall slid away, and he stepped through into a hidden elevator. He pressed a button on the wall, and the tiled door closed. Silently, the carriage began its descent.

The door opened a few minutes later to a dimly lit and empty sub-basement, where a rough doorway had been chipped out of the bricks. He looked through the portal and saw, standing in the shadows, a large, cloaked figure. In two quick strides he was through the doorway. He dropped his briefcase on the floor and embraced him.

They held each other for some moments; two shadows melding into one, both the same height and build. Then, taking a step back but still resting his hands on the patched leather mantle, he said softly, "You didn't have to come all this way to meet me, Father."

In a perfect replica of his son's deep soft voice, yet with a slight speech impediment, the hooded figure said "I fear Jacob, that you would have worked all night, and the Winterfest celebration would long be over, if I had not come for you. And I would not wish you to miss it as you did last year. Your mind was so full of so many things… Besides, it means that we have more time together, and that is something I will not forgo for any reason." Then, with a gentle shake of his son, he added, "And am I not permitted to see my own son alone after so long apart?"

He lifted his large fur-covered hands to his son's face. "You look tired, Jacob. You work too many long hours without rest."

"There is much to be done if we are to be ready on time, Father." He pointed at the briefcase. "It's all in there everything we need," Then with a wry grin he added, "And it has not been that long since I saw you, only a few months."

Pushing the hood back from his head, Jacob's father revealed a mass of hair, and although it was the same color as his son's, the resemblance ended there. For the hair reaching down his back, more like a mane, had a hint of silver here and there, and the face which this golden cloud surrounded was also peppered with silver along the muzzle and on his broad chin. But the deep set, intelligent blue eyes had not changed; they were just as gentle and brilliant as ever.

Vincent's appearance had changed little in the last thirty years, and the secret of his existence had been lovingly kept from the world Above. He was still willing to sacrifice even his own towering humanity to take a life in seconds when his loved ones were threatened. However it had been many years since this had been necessary. Now, his was the voice of wisdom in times of trouble for the tunnel folk.

It had been over thirty years since Vincent had lost Catherine, but for Vincent it was as close to him as yesterday.

Unlike his father, Jacob looked completely human, but he was his father's son in a myriad of more subtle ways. Their eyes were the same, the sable hair and towering personality, mirror images. But unlike his father, Jacob Wells was able to live in the world Above – unafraid of bigotry and small-mindedness.

"A few months is a very long time," Vincent said softly.

Jacob shook his head as he answered the gentle rebuke. "Father, even though we see each other so rarely these days, I knew the moment you arrived Below."

"I know," Vincent said sadly.

Jacob felt his father's pain as his own, the touch of sadness and emptiness echoing through their bond. His grip tightened on his father's powerful arms. He knew that Vincent would always feel the crushing guilt that he'd been unable to save Catherine when her need was greatest. Even though at times Jacob felt a whisper of feelings from his father that made him suspect she was still a part of them both.

Jacob had memories of his mother that he had no explanation for. Moments, flashes of a beautiful woman with expressive eyes and shoulder-length light brown hair. He knew who she was, and yet he also knew that these memories were not his own, but the result of the incredible bond he and his father shared. They were Vincent's memories, and surrounding those memories was a love so deep that Jacob knew his father's pain almost as his own.

Sometimes Jacob felt her loving presence between them, as though in some mysterious way she was there whenever they were together. There were also shadowed memories of his own, both before and after his birth, and he knew that as long as they both lived Catherine would always be with them.

Vincent looked at his son and saw Catherine looking back at him, and his heart ached. He was proud of Catherine's son. He had always seen Jacob as a part of her left behind an incredible gift to him and a testament to their love, so much so that his heart fairly burst with it at times, and it was this and only this that cooled the fires of loneliness and grief. His son – a miracle never even dreamed of, the result of a love that had never been, and a journey that none had ever taken.

Vincent still regretted never knowing that Catherine was carrying a child, his child, for if he had, he would never have let her leave him that day.

She had come, he now knew, to tell him of this amazing gift, but she had seen his distress at the loss of their bond and had answered another time at his enquiry, but there had not been another chance.

"Oh, but it is so very good to see you, Father." Jacob hugged his father bringing Vincent out of his reverie, his joy at seeing his father overcoming Vincent's sadness as it often did. Jacob's optimism and light heartedness were precious aspects he'd inherited from his mother, character traits that Vincent had always been touched by, causing his perennial solemnity to often be lifted and even washed away altogether as had often been the case with Catherine.

Vincent murmured, "It is good to see you as well. Now come or we shall be late for Winterfest."

Jacob bent and lifted the briefcase. Then they began to take the long journey to where the man the world Above knew as Jacob Wells grew up.

CHAPTER TWO

Jacob, missed this shadowed world terribly in his life Above; this magical world that he loved but which he came to only rarely. His life Above took up most of his time these days. But it was here that Jacob, and his father before him, and hundreds of children in the last sixty years, had grown up; a place of sanctuary for the unwanted and undesirables of the world Above.

In the last thirty-three years, many of those children had left the tunnels to live all over the world, for many different reasons, many never to return. And that was a good thing, since it was the mandate of the Tunnel World to save and improve lives, soften hardships, and give hope where none had been before. The trust had been established in accordance with Catherine's will, that any child or adult coming to its many offices throughout the city would be given a chance to begin anew without question. But little had Catherine known that she was making provision for her own son.

As they walked, Vincent and Jacob spoke of many things – the life in the tunnels, people Jacob had grown up with who still lived Below, Mouse's newest outrageous schemes, up and coming plans for new tunnels or repairs on old ones. They also discussed those who had gone to live Above in the city, so that by the time they were passing the outskirts of Ground Zero, which even for the tunnel dwellers was a place of memorial and great sorrow, they had all but caught up with each other's lives, and Vincent, like his father before him, became the voice of wisdom to his son.

"You work too hard, Jacob. There are others who can take some of the burden from you now." Vincent spoke softly as they walked. "I felt your weariness even in my chamber, and the feeling grew stronger as I came to collect you. Your mind was so intertwined with what you were doing I was almost confounded by it. You should relax more. Find a life for yourself away from the weight you bear daily, and perhaps find someone to share it with."

Jacob frowned. "And risk our world? How can I Father?" He sighed against the often repeated concern.

Vincent stopped and turned to his son. "I have felt your loneliness, Jacob. More so in recent years."

"As I have felt yours all my life, Father. And why should my life be any different? There was only one Catherine, and I believe the woman who could live in my world and be happy does not exist."

"She might," Vincent said softly, wishing with all his heart it might be true. "You give womankind too little credit, Jacob."

Jacob laughed. "I have met many women, Father. And as we both know, I cannot be deceived. Many of them have ulterior motives, and I find it refreshing when I find a woman I can trust. But I have found very few of them. Diana tried to be a companion and friend to you, and a surrogate mother to me. But we both know that Diana, although very dear to you, holds only a very small place in your heart compared to Catherine." He turned away from his father's penetrating gaze. "I do not have your luck, Father."

There was a moment of stillness in Vincent at his son's words. Yes, Diana Bennett had wanted to be more in his life. This he had known from the beginning, but when one finds a rare and precious jewel like Catherine, and then loses it, nothing can ever replace it. So although there had been a connection between them from the beginning, he'd always remained aloof and distant from Diana, true to Catherine's memory. Diana had accepted this, and even now still helped those in the tunnels as much as possible. But now in her position as head of the Special Crimes Unit, it was less easy than it had once been.

As he thought this, Vincent was silent, looking down at his feet and swaying gently from foot to foot, a thing he did often when he was thinking, and when he wished to say something that might not be what the other wished to hear. Then he said quietly. "I … have felt your interest at times."

Jacob was not embarrassed by his father's reference, even though Vincent was reluctant to speak of such things. When two beings share what they shared, there were neither secrets nor privacy; as had been the case from birth, and Jacob smiled a ruefully, as he answered. "Interest is not love, Father. And desire is one thing, but a bond like you had with Catherine is something I do not even dream of. I have a part to play in the world Above and I have accepted that role since you and Grandfather first told me of his hopes for me. But here Below is the only place I can be myself. I am happy with things the way they are." He lifted a hand to his father's shoulder and spoke gently to take any disrespect out of his words. "Please do not worry about me, Father."

Vincent looked into his son's eyes. "It is my right to worry about you, whether you like it or not. And I will keep hoping and continue to do so." With a soft laugh, he added, "Besides, a habit of over thirty years is hard to break."

Then Vincent suddenly stiffened, as though in pain.

"What is it, Father?" Jacob, felt the alarm lancing through his father.

"I don't know …I cannot grasp it. I have felt a growing sense of dread for some days now."

"Yes, I felt it too, but not as strongly as you are now." Jacob wanted to ease his father's mind. He had learned over the years that he could feel Vincent's emotions, and Vincent his, but he did not have the amazing gift of premonition that was unique to Vincent. Only its echo would reach him after his father had had a dream or flash, as he called them, of some unknown calamity or disturbance that was coming – much like with the World Trade Center many years before.

These kinds of prophetic dreams had happened many times, and only tragedy followed. Jacob had often wondered if the illness Vincent had suffered just before Catherine's disappearance had been a more severe form of it, warning of her loss. In some incredible way, his uncontrollable instinct for survival had actually caused the illness, as some part of him fought against what his mind would not accept. The primal part of him had caused a severing of the connection he had with Catherine. Only the words from Dylan Thomas gave him comfort, then and in the years since – and death shall have no dominion – had proven to be true.

Jacob knew not to discount his father's intuitions, but even he could glean that this new threat was as yet still incomplete. "What do you think it is, Father?"

Vincent shook his head. "I…I don't know …but the thought of you brings it strongly to my mind, and it has been growing since we met tonight." He looked into Jacob's eyes and said, "It is a threat of some kind against you, Jacob. But I cannot discern more than that." And he couldn't continue…

Vincent had long ago come to terms with the fact that, like Catherine, he must allow his son to take up the baton laid down by her, and live Above, while he stayed Below. And with a grant from his mother's own trust, Jacob had been schooled in the best way possible to follow a plan laid down by Father, in which the world of the tunnels would be made forever safe from discovery. Jacob's work was continuing on that path, and Vincent couldn't be more proud. Yet tinged with this pride was a fear that Vincent had lived with for many years now – the fear that the world Above would take Jacob as it had taken Catherine.

Wishing to calm him, Jacob said "Come, Father. You know yourself that until you are certain of what it is, there is nothing you can do. And worrying will not help. You have told me that often enough." He slapped his father affectionately on the shoulder. "Come, Winterfest awaits. Let us not let anything spoil it for us." And although Vincent smiled, Jacob knew that these insights troubled his father greatly and would lie just beneath the surface every moment until their meaning was revealed to him. Vincent allowed his son to divert him, and they continued to walk through the shadowed world of Below.

When they finally arrived at the central hub some time later and entered the chamber where Vincent had brought Catherine all those years ago, it had changed little. But it was now Jacob's chamber, and had been since Father'spassing – when Vincent had reluctantly moved into the Father's chambers.

The small chamber had changed little in that time. It still held a bed covered with patchwork quilts and large pillows, above which the fan-shaped, stained glass window let the muted light of many candles into the room. The room was filled with all manner of keepsakes that first Vincent and his brother Devin, and then Jacob had collected since they were boys. It was the same bed that Catherine had lain in for ten days recovering from the brutal attack which had changed her forever.

On the dresser beside the bed, Vincent had placed a photo of her. He'd told Jacob that he had taken it from Catherine's desk in her apartment on one of the many visits he'd made there after her disappearance.

Jacob had kissed her goodnight and bid her good morning every day as a child, until he left for life Above, when he'd left the photo behind. To the world Above he was an orphan, with no family connections – one of many who'd turned to the Chandler Corporation for help.

"The Winterfest ceremony will begin soon. Come to Father's chamber when you are ready." Vincent embraced his son and kissed his cheek as his own father had often done, then left the room.

CHAPTER THREE

When he reached his own chambers, Vincent moved gracefully down the short flight of iron steps to his study, the hem of his cloak brushing behind him. He removed the cloak and laid it neatly over the arm of a chair, revealing a frame swathed in his customary multi-layered garments of leather and wool, and a body that had broadened over the years, but it was a body still as powerful as ever.

His study was filled with time-worn upholstered chairs, a large hexagonal desk and row upon row of neatly filled bookshelves. These shelves were the only thing that had changed since he took Father's chamber as his own. In Father's time the books had cluttered the room in a veritable mountain range, one that had grown since Vincent was a boy. But the book mountains were becoming a danger, so he'd asked Cullen to build the shelves. Yet more were needed as the originalcollection had grown in Vincent's time, and another chamber had been chiseled out of the rock to house them. Now, Vincent kept only his favorites near at hand, in a manner that reflected his more ordered personality.

Vincent went into his bedchamber. It was furnished with a bed, a dresser, a trunk and a simple yet serviceable desk where he wrote in his journal each evening just before he retired, documenting the thoughts and events of the day.

He walked to the bed and stood for a time staring at a portrait on the wall. It was a surreal and haunting painting of him and Catherine painted the year before she'd been lost to him. Out of this portrait two faces, one his own and the other of a beautiful angel, watched the world around them, unchanged in over thirty years. The portrait brought back cherished memories of those blissful times when they would snatch moments to be together, of the conversations they had and of how painful it had been to live apart, not knowing that they had a time limit of only one thousand days.

His treasured copy of Shakespeare's sonnets lay on the table beside the bed. Inside was a rose and an envelope, now discolored and worn, sheltered between the leaves of the 29th Sonnet, a favorite page that he would often read, remembering the events that had led from the rose to the envelope…

The rose had been placed there by him early in their time together.

The envelope had been given to him some time after Catherine's death, and it had become his most treasured possession. He took it out, and on the front in a hand he well knew was written - Vincent – and gently he opened the yellowed pages.

It had been given to him on the day Father had learned that Catherine had made him her beneficiary – giving him and the world Below enough capital to begin a plan that was now coming to its final phase.

Vincent felt even now the familiar tingle of … something, as his fingers touched the paper, and he reverently opened the envelope and read Catherine's last letter to him.

Vincent.

If you are reading this letter then the worst has happened and we are separated, but for only a short time. And no doubt you know about my will. But remember love, you can never truly lose me and you never will.

Forgive me, Vincent. I had to do the things I did, and live Above and help as many people as I could. I learned that from you. I had to think ahead, just in case something did happen to me, to plan… for you, for Father and for your world.

I know that if I am not there, you are in great torment and pain, but if you are reading this, then a miracle has happened and you still live.

Live our dream, Vincent, and keep Father's dream alive as well. Build a new life with all that is in you. Fulfill my dream, and live 'A Happy Life' for me. Don't let my loss destroy you.

You who are everything to me and to your world – take what I have given you and make it into something untouchable and pure. Make that which is part of you and your world a beacon to others.

Make our world real. Make our dream a reality. Live my love for us both.

Always Catherine

He replaced the letter in the envelope with reverent care, remembering the following months.

Father and the council began to make plans to set up a committee Above to decide how to use this gift. Part of that plan was Joe Maxwell, and when his tenure as the District Attorney was coming to an end Father asked him to head the legal division of what was to be known as "The Catherine Chandler Charities Corporation" the 4Cs.

In the years since, Joe Maxwell had become a good friend. He did his job well Catherine's charity was a credit to her and those Below were better off for it.

When Jacob was twenty-five, Father had died of pneumonia. His last words to Vincent echoed those he had spoken many years before when they were trapped in the maze…

"Keep the dream alive, Vincent. Don't let our world die."

After Father's death, Vincent had grieved his loss deeply. He'd never known a moment without Father's steady guidance, and he clung tightly to his bond with Jacob until the grief eased. Jacob would often speak of Father, and tell Vincent stories of his childhood and the times when he would plague the old man with his antics.

Vincent was soon able to look forward to a life without the man who had meant so much to him.

Now, as Vincent stared at the painting, he closed his eyes and sighed, sensing that those lost to him weren't so very far away. "Catherine..."

And as though Kristopher had shared his ghostly essence with Catherine and shown her the mystical door through which he'd traveled all those years ago, Vincent heard a distant answering echo.

"Vincent ..."

His heart soared at the sound of her voice, though it was a love mixed with pain. A sweet pain Brigit O'Donnell had called it all those years ago – a pain that, although heart rending and filled with sorrow, also brought memories of joys unimagined.

The voice sounded again, this time from behind him, soft and real.

"Vincent …"

He turned, and there stood the woman he'd loved it seemed, all his life – solid and alive.

As always at the first sight of Catherine, Vincent's heartbeat quickened, and each breath became painful as his entire being resonated with the all-encompassing love that flowed through him.

Catherine, wearing a soft flowing gown of white, was just as beautiful and just as young, her eyes alive with love. She was in his arms in seconds, her face buried in his chest. He rested his chin against the top of her head and placed a kiss against her shining hair.

"Catherine" he murmured, reveling in the feel of her solid form in his arms.

Vincent wasn't surprised by this moment, although they were painfully rare, but sometimes when Jacob was near, it was as though Catherine's spirit was given the means to come to Vincent, solid and alive – an undreamt of miracle.

After a long moment of pure joy, as he savored her presence in his arms, he lifted his head and murmured into her hair. "Our son is home again, Catherine. Home where he truly belongs. But as usual, it's only for a short time."

She looked up at him as she answered."He's a man now, Vincent, with many responsibilities. Were you any less when we first met?"

Catherine had told him once many years ago, that he could never lose her as long as he would Remember Love and for them this had become a reality.

It had begun just after Jacob's birth as he'd been grieving Catherine's loss and walking through the lower tunnels. He had heard her call, Vincent where are you? It had been fleeting then, and he had thought it only a symptom of his grief. But after he brought Jacob home, he began to hear her again, as if their love reached across the timeless void between life and death. And Vincent knew that even in death their bond had not been completely severed. And death shall have no dominion.

One night he had felt a soft kiss on his forehead as he lay in his chamber, and opening his eyes he'd been certain that he was dreaming. She was sitting on the edge of his bed, her fingers brushing through his hair while Jacob slept in the crib beside him. She had looked lovingly at their son, but had not touched him, only told Vincent how much she loved them both.

He had fallen asleep cradling her in his arms, only to awaken to Jacob's hungry cries and his own empty arms.

He had thought it merely a dreamat the time, but then she had appeared to him during the day – yet only when he was alone. He had asked her many times. "Catherine, how can this be?"

Catherine's answer had always been the same "I don't know how, but for us, Vincent, death has no dominion" The visits were unpredictable and fleeting, much like their early years together. And he had gratefully accepted what fate gave him without question. But if anyone approached, his sense of Catherine would extinguish, like a snuffed candle flame.

Now, with her in his arms, he answered. "Yes, but then I had you to bring joy to my life. He has no one, and I worry."

Catherine's answer came swiftly and with calm wisdom, her eyes searching his. "He is your son, Vincent. He can endure anything."

Vincent looked into her eyes as he thought on Jacob's lonely life. "Yes, but he has your heart for love, Catherine. And like a rose withers without the sun, I fear a part of him will die without knowing what we shared."

She lifted a hand to his cheek and murmured "Give him time, Vincent."

Vincent sighed as he answered. "Yes, there is still time."

He was distracted as he heard Jacob speaking to someone in the main chamber, and his arms were suddenly empty, his sense of Catherine gone.

With a last look at the beautiful face of the woman in the portrait he whispered. "I love you, Catherine. Always"

As he turned to leave the room, he heard the faint echo of her answer.

" – and forever."

CHAPTER FOUR

Jacob had stood in his room for a long time reacquainting himself with the place where he'd spent every night of his childhood. He remembered waking each morning filled with the anticipation of what the new day would bring. The prospect of new adventures with the other children and with his father always excited him. In the evenings, Vincent would read to him from one of his favorite books – Kipling, Dickens, Tolkien, Shakespeare, Yeats, Blake, Byron– until he fell asleep.

But one adventure denied Jacob was to go Above, and after having his request repeatedly refused, he'd gone anyway – without permission.

He smiled to himself at the memory. He'd learned ways to dampen the bond between him and his father, turning down his perception of his father's emotions like the flame in a lantern. But Vincent was not so easily fooled, and one day he was waiting for him when he re-entered the tunnels. Jacob had expected disapproval or a disappointed frown, but to his stunned surprise Vincent had apologized for being too protective and had told him that he was permitted to go Above with the collectors every day from then on. Even though he sensed his father's fear and concern, he was thrilled.

Jacob understood that there were many things to be wary of Above, even for a boy who could sense a person's intent. He would obey his father, because he knew it would ease his fears. "I will be careful, Father. Please don't worry."

Vincent took the boy's face in his hands. "You are my life, Jacob. If anything should happen to you, I would never forgive myself."

What Jacob knew, but had never mentioned then or since, was that his father would also die if he did. His heart could not take the loss. And when he left the Tunnels to begin the preparation for Father's plan, Jacob felt his father's anxiety like a physical pain.

At the Chandler Institute he'd been in a dormitory with the other children, and having never hidden his abilities before, it wasn't long before they noticed that he was different. He had heightened senses of hearing, sight and smell, and an uncanny knowledge of when trouble was near. They began making jokes about Jake's spider sense, and it wasn't long before he learned to pretend he didn't know that someone was hiding under a bed or in a locker. He realized that in the world Above, differences would make him conspicuous – unlike in the Tunnels, where they were eagerly accepted and encouraged. Above differences were a handicap that brought too much unwanted attention.

After many months in the Institute feeling, not only his own grief and loneliness, but his father's as well, Jacob could stand the separation no longer. And as his mother had done on many occasions, he'd run away one night to Central Park, his emotions in utter turmoil. He'd raced into the culvert to the repaired and reinforced iron gate that a man named Snow had once all but destroyed, and into his father's waiting arms. He'd sobbed, his head hidden in the folds of Vincent's cloak while he breathed in the comforting aroma of candle wax and leather and the unique scent that was Vincent.

He rested against his father's broad chest, listening to the strong slow heartbeat that always filled him with peace. It was one of the first things he remembered, the slow comforting rhythm that reverberated throughout his entire being.

When Vincent began to speak words of comfort and acceptance, Jacob listened, letting the deep soft tones, with their message of love, wash over him like the waters from the falls. He stood in the circle of his father's arms for some time, the realization that Vincent would not force him to continue if he chose not to giving him the strength and determination to continue.

Finally he looked up at his father's beloved face, smiled, and with a last embrace made his way back to the Institute.

In the years that followed there'd been many times when Jacob would find his way to the culvert where he would find Vincent waiting for him, ready to give comfort or counsel or just listen to what he had to say.

Then came the moment when all his hard work and his father's trust came to fruition, and Jacob gained an entry-level position in the Catherine Chandler Charity Corporation. He'd risen quickly through the rank and file until five years ago he'd taken over as CEO, and soon everything he'd been working for would be accomplished.

Jacob pulled off his shirt and tie. He threw them on the bed and went into the small adjacent chamber to wash. When he returned, he took a white woolen shirt and a brown jerkin much like his father's out of the wardrobe along with a pair of dark brown breeches and soft fur-lined boots.

When he'd finished dressing he went to his father's main chamber and found a short man with silver blond hair and intelligent blue eyes. Even though the man was in his forties, he wore an innocent, open expression on his face.

"Knew you were here. Heard it on the pipes. Wanted to be first to say. 'Happy to see you, Little Vincent." Mouse had always called Jacob Little Vincent, and Jacob didn't mind. In fact it seemed appropriate.

Jacob embraced the man saying "Hello, Mouse. How's the repair coming?"

"Ok good, ok fine. When parts come easy – giving instead of taking – not so much fun. But new gizmos last better. Longer too."

Jacob laughed. He remembered all the arguments his grandfather had had with this enigmatic man over the difference between stealingand taking. Mouse invariably saw no difference. Now all that was needed for something to be sent Below was a list from Mouse and it would be purchased and sent down. Obviously this did not please Mouse.

Pascal came into Father's study then. He moved as quickly as ever, though his hair was more grey than Jacob remembered. Pascal gave Jacob a friendly embrace. "Glad to see you, Jacob. Glad you could make it this year."

"I was sorry I couldn't make it last year, but the trip to Sydney was unavoidable with 4Cs going global …" Everyone knew that what Jacob was doing in the world Above sometimes took precedence over his duties Below.

Pascal lifted his head at the sound of a message on the pipes. Jacob laughed saying "Surely Zach has been in the Pipe Chamber long enough now for you to relax a little, Pascal?"

"Yes" Pascal said absently head still tilted listening. "but I just like to keep my ear tuned. The boy is good, maybe even better than me but a lifetime of listening is hard to let go of."

Pascal's hearing had been failing in the last few years, and he'd been giving more and more responsibility to Zach, who even now was training his own son Micah as his apprentice. It was a real blow to Pascal and those who loved him that he could not hear as well as he once had, but he'd accepted his limitations in true Pascalian manner 'For the good of the tunnels' was everyone's motto, and for Pascal the communication system was his entire life. He'd never married, but he'd always been eager to train any child who came to him. Even Jacob had been a frequent visitor to the central hub of pipes that crisscrossed the rock walls.

Vincent came into the room, greeted Mouse and Pascal, and then it was time to collect their candles and go to the windswept steps that led to the huge doors of the Great Hall, where Vincent would lift the wooden beam that barred the doors in the same way as he had done every year since long before Jacob was born. They all made their way into the dark room, and their candles were lit around the long table where Vincent presided now, his deep, mellow voice speaking the words that had been spoken every year on this night for over sixty years…

"The world Above is cold and grey. Summer a distant memory …"

CHAPTER FIVE

The Great Hall echoed with voices and music, the long tables laden with foods from William's kitchen. The sound of the Tunnel Repertory Company drifted throughout the room, and some of the tunes played called for dancing. Children and adults alike joined in, and the candlelit hall was alive with the joyful festivities.

This was Alex's first Winterfest, and she was both awed and amazed by what she saw. She'd been a helper for almost two years, and had only this year been invited to this celebration, a special event that had been going on for over sixty years.

A little unsure, she stood against a wooden staircase that led up to a balcony over-looking the hall, where huge tapestries hung against the wall. She knew only a few people here, but whenever anyone looked her way, there was an open and friendly smile.

Then Kat, one of the other helpers she knew, came up to her and turned to the room. "Hey, Alex. What do ya think?"

"It's amazing. I knew there were other helpers but I didn't realize there were so many."

"There are more and more of us every year, but my ma lived here for a while just after I was born. Then we went to live Above, but I've been in both worlds most of my life. Have you met anyone yet?"

"No, I've just been soaking up the atmosphere." As an undercover cop Alex had no trouble walking the dark city streets on surveillance or rushing into a dangerous situation on a bust, but in this room full of friendly people she felt out of her depth.

'Don't be shy. C'mon, I'll introduce you around, and then you won't be able to hide in a corner. You do too much for this place to hide."

Alex's hand was grasped and she was propelled along with great speed, meeting many new people and trying to remember their names, but failing miserably until Kat led her to two men talking quietly, one of whom she knew well and could never forget.

"Of course you know Vincent, Alex."

Vincent turned and nodded in greeting. "Welcome to Winterfest, Alexandra."

"Thanks, Vincent I'm honored to be here."

Vincent lowered his head, the motion vaguely reminiscent of a courtly bow. "And we are very pleased to have you as a part of our celebration" He turned to the tall younger man, who looked about Alex's age, standing beside him and said with great affection and pride. "This is my son Jacob. Jacob this is Alexandra Murphy, Diana's niece and a relatively new helper, but a greatly valued one."

To Alex, Vincent had always been a powerful individual, and not only in stature. He had a presence that was unmistakably majestic, but the impact of this younger man was instant and compelling. He was the same height as his father, and easily the most handsome man Alex had ever seen. She dampened her reaction and took the hand he offered to her.

"Hi, Alex. Diana talks about you all the time."

Flushed and nervous, Alex laughed. "Aunts, like parents, have a tendency to exaggerate, so whatever you've heard, believe only half of it." Jacob laughed, looking pointedly at his father, who lowered his head in acknowledgement of her words. Eager for a reason to change the subject Alex added "Aunt Di was disappointed that she couldn't come this year."

Alex had always been close to her aunt even though she had lived out of the state as a child. Alex and Diana had a lot in common, and had become more like sisters as she grew older. It was because of Diana that she had joined the police, and since Alex also had the family 'gift' that was so strong in Diana, she was well suited for the demanding intricacies of the undercover work that she loved.

"Diana does what she can for us, but her work in the world Above is important to her, and takes up a great deal of her time" Vincent murmured.

"Yes, it does, but she really wanted to come since it's my first Winterfest."

"You are among family here, Alexandra, and among families there are no strangers." Vincent turned to his son. "Jacob I will leave you to keep Alexandra company. Alexandra, I hope to see you later." And with a nod he moved away, leaving them to converse alone.

"Diana has been like family to me too, so why haven't I met you before?" Jacob asked

"I only came back to New York two years ago, when I transferred to the NYPD. I'm in Undercover so I work weird hours. I'm sleeping when most people are having normal lives." Even her pragmatic mother had been concerned about the dangers of Alex's job, but her mother knew that her work, like Diana's, was very important to her.

Jacob asked her about her work, and before she knew it, her nervousness was gone, and she felt as though she had known Jacob for years. His easy manner disarmed her. For the rest of the night, unless attending to certain duties expected of him, Jacob stayed by Alex's side, and she could not have been happier. But all too soon it was time to return to her world.

"I'll guide you up." Without waiting for her answer, Jacob helped her collect her coat. They left the Great Hall after many reluctant farewells. On her way out the door Alex caught Kat's wink, but she ignored it, believing that Jacob was only being polite to a new helper.

As they negotiated the many passages and corridors lit by candles or torches, Jacob asked "So how did you become a helper? Through Diana?"

"In a round about way …"

"Oh, do tell" Jacob said with a grin.

"One night about two years ago, I got into trouble with a suspect, and this large 'caped crusader' came to my rescue. Afterward he just disappeared into the night."

Jacob chuckled. "I've heard my father called many things, but that's a new one."

"It was kind of like that for me. This dark shape bursting out of the darkness to save me from some creep, and then running off."

Alex remembered the night well. She had called to her shadowed rescuer as he began to hurry away into the darkness of the ally. "I called out to him to at least tell me his name." A soft disjointed answer had come from the darkness and that voice, and the word …Vincent … came back softly from the dark.

"I couldn't forget the incident and about a week later I was visiting my aunt and happened to notice a book on the coffee table. It was an old book with gilded lettering on the cover. I'd seen it many times before, and I knew it was one of my aunt's favorites. I opened it, and the flyleaf was inscribed with the words, With gratitude, Vincent."

"I must have seen that book hundreds of times. I'd even read some of the poems in it. But suddenly the inscription had a new meaning, and I remembered telling Aunt Di that I was going to be in that part of town that night. And suddenly a few things fell into place and I took a leap."

"Your aunt is renowned for her 'leaps'."

"Yeah, well, it's a family thing." She looked up at her companion, wondering if he had any of his father's unique gifts. "I asked her who Vincent was and why he'd been looking out for me that night. I told her I wasn't going to let up until she told me. She said that he'd told her I wouldn't let it go. A good judge of character, your father." He grinned, acknowledging her words. "I demanded to see him, but she refused, saying it was impossible. That he was – different. But I knew she'd change her mind and so would he."

"How did you know that?"

"I just knew."

"You just knew. That sounds like something Diana would say."

"Yeah. When I finally met him, it was on my aunt's roof in a blizzard. If I wasn't a realist, I'd believe there really was a Batman."

"A few times after that Aunt Diana and I helped find people or catch criminals that Vincent had observed and before long I became a part of Vincent's world, this world, learning about the tunnels. And then this year I was invited to Winterfest.

As they had walked, Alex noticed that they were going deeper into the tunnels and not to the surface "Where are we going?"

"I thought you might like to see a few of the sights of this city that the tourists don't get to visit."

"Oh?"

He turned to her, his head tilted to the side, so much like the gesture his father made when amused. "You trust me, don't you Alex?"

"If I didn't, I wouldn't have come this far."

"Then come and see." He gestured down the tunnel.

Alex preceded him. At the end of the tunnel she walked onto a bridge, and all around her was bright with golden light.

"Wow!"

"Listen." Jacob said, lifting his head.

Then Alex noticed it, a whispering, an intermingling of sounds. "What's that?"

"We call this the 'Whispering Gallery'. Those are sounds from all over the city. It's impossible to pinpoint exactly where."

The whispers drifted from all around her – snatches of conversations. And was that music?

Jacob leaned against one of the upright poles of the roped railing, his arms crossed over his chest. "I used to play here as a kid, and it was one of my father's favorite places when he was young. But he rarely comes here anymore. It has different memories for him now." And Alex wondered if it had something to do with Jacob's mother. Diana had told her the tragic story, and she felt an underlying sadness in Vincent sometimes.

"Want to see more?" Jacob asked, brightening.

"Sure, I didn't know anything like this was down here."

"The Chamber of the Winds is only one of the wonders of this world." Alex wondered what it would be like to grow up in such a world, but Jacob didn't give her time to dwell on the thought. He was already striding over the bridge and down another tunnel, and she had to hurry to keep up with him.

Within the hour Alex had seen the Pipe Chamber, the Mirror Pool and finally a place which she felt was the most beautiful that Jacob called The Chamber of the Falls.

She was disappointed when he said "It's getting late I'd better take you back now." She hadn't wanted the night to end but she knew that it must.

They talked quietly on the long walk back and found that they had a lot of interests in common, and by the time they were at the entrance nearest her apartment building they had become firm friends.

"Thank you, Jacob, I have had a wonderful time."

"Call me Jake. Father is rather old-fashioned, and likes full names."

"I noticed. Thanks Jake. It was a pleasure seeing your world."

Jacob took her hand and held on to it for longer than necessary, as if not willing to let it go just yet. "I know we've only just met, but would you like to go out to dinner some time? I know some really great restaurants."

Alex's heart thumped with excitement. "Sure, I work at the Manhattan precinct. Just ask for me and they'll put you through."

"I'll do that. Good night, Alex, and be well." He squeezed her hand before he let it go.

As she climbed the steps leading up to her parking garage, Alex knew he stood watching her. And there was a strange pleasure in that knowledge, as she climbed the steps she realized that he'd told her much about his childhood and his life in the tunnels but he'd not told her what he did in the world Above.

Jacob watched Alexandra Murphy disappear into her apartment building, his sense of her still strong, as though she were still standing before him, her small hand in his. The delicate scent of her perfume still lingered, but there was more, something about her that drew him, something he'd never experienced before in the presence of a woman he was attracted to. He sensed no subterfuge in her, no ulterior motive. She was what she appeared to be – honest, generous and completely captivating and he knew that there was a corresponding attraction in her.

The conversation he'd had with his father earlier that evening came back to him. With a self-mocking expression on his face, and a growing suspicion in his heart, he turned and made his way back to his chamber – an interesting plan forming in his mind.

CHAPTER SIX

Alex was on the night shift the next day. When she came in to the locker room and took out her gun to get ready for the shift, some of her colleagues gave her strange looks, and there were a few "Good one, Murphy!" or "You're a sly one, Murphy" from some of the men, and strange looks from the women. She wondered what they were talking about until she went to her desk and stopped dead at the sight that met her.

On her cluttered desk was a huge arrangement of red roses, the sweet aroma reaching her where she stood half way across the room.

Blushing to the roots of her hair, she crossed to them and reached for the tiny envelope nestled amid the just opening blooms. She opened it and read the words written in a strong beautiful hand.

Thank you for a wonderful evening

Jake

Alex had received flowers before, but she'd never been so touched by six simple words. She spent the evening, even when she was away from her desk, with the aroma of roses tickling her senses. At about 6am when she was just finishing her paperwork and getting ready to go home, her phone rang.

"Murphy." She expected it to be one of her colleagues, and her heart skipped a beat when she heard an unmistakable deep velvet voice.

"Alex?"

"Jake?'

"Did the little gift arrive intact?"

His deep voice made her heart leap and she laughed. "Some, 'little gift', with the price of roses."

"I hope they didn't embarrass you. I realized after I sent them that it probably wasn't such a good idea."

"It was a great idea, thank you, they're lovely, but I have no idea how I'm gonna get them home."

"No need. I realized that. There's another bunch waiting for you there. The super's holding them for you."

"What?" she asked with a mixture of shock and joy as he continued.

"Listen, I have a little problem that I hope you can help me with."

"Sure. How can I help?"

"I have this thing I have to go to and I don't really want to go alone. Would you like to accompany me?"

Her joy overrode her usual reticence, and something within her wouldn't allow her to refuse. "I'd love to. When?"

"Tomorrow night. I know its short notice, but I have to go and we seemed to get on so well last night..."

Alex thought about it for a moment. She was supposed to be working, but one of the guys owed her a shift change, and there were no pending cases that she needed to get finished. But most of all she really wanted to see Jake again.

"I'd love to come. Where is it and what do I wear?" She expected him to say something like 'oh just casual, it's only a work party', but this man was full of surprises.

"It's kind of high class, so if you have something special?"

Kind of high class? "Where is this thing anyway?" she asked, suddenly a little uneasy, since she didn't know what Jake did in the world Above. He'd been deliberately vague about that last night.

He was silent for a moment. "The mayor's mansion."

Alex almost choked. Tomorrow night at the mayor's mansion was where the social event of the year was to be held to honor … "Oh, my God!" she whispered Jake was Jacob Wells, head of the Chandler Corporation. The whole city, maybe even the whole world knew about him, and what tomorrow night was all about. There was an entire security squad of police assigned to that event.

She was silent for some time and when he spoke she heard the concern in Jacob's voice. "Alex? Is anything wrong?"

Alex took a deep breath. She'd never been to anything like the kind of event he was talking about, and she wasn't sure she had the right kind of outfit to wear.

"Alex? You still there?"

"Yeah, I'm here."

"I'll send a car for you at eight tomorrow night, then. Okay?"

"Yeah, okay" Alex said absently, her mind racing through the contents of her closet. God, it was the social event of the century according to the papers and nothing in her closet measured up.

After she hung up the phone, she called the only person she knew who might be able to help.

"Hello? Aunt Di I need your help …"

Jacob was in his office, his finger still on the outgoing calls button of the phone. He could feel Alex's panic as she hung up and he wondered if she was calling Diana.

Then suddenly he realized that was not all he could feel. He could sense her joy and excitement as well as fear and anticipation and had felt it since meeting her the night before. And it had grown as they danced or talked. As he examined these feelings he came to the realization that although he'd been able to sense a woman's motives before, this was the first time in his life that he could actually perceive her emotions and almost know what she was thinking. Then an obvious conclusion began to grow within him …

*********

He was lost, searching, amid darkness and mist. He pushed aside thick foliage as the painful cries of a babe echoed all around him and a physical pain lanced through his entire being. In the distance he heard a howl, a menacing challenge, provoking an equal response from him ...

Vincent sat up in bed, his heart racing and his body covered in perspiration as the vision replayed in his mind. He placed a hand on his chest as he found it hard to breathe…

"Jacob …"

CHAPTER SEVEN

The huge room was alive with people, and Alex was awed by the sparkle of diamonds and gold and the beautiful gowns. She was glad she had badgered her aunt into going shopping with her and spending half of her meager savings on her outfit.

She'd gone for black, as it was the safest. The dress was mid-length chiffon, fitted around the hips and then falling in soft wisps of fabric around her calves. The bodice was tight fitting and off the shoulder. Her hair was loose down her back, and she had finished off the outfit with a pair of simple diamond earrings her mother had given her for her birthday.

The effect was worth it by the look of appreciation on Jacob's face when he picked her up.

As she stood by his side in the middle of the room she was surprised to see many familiar faces from the recent Winterfest celebration. But as was the way with helpers in public or in the world Above, they merely nodded in her direction without revealing that they knew her or each other. Jacob introduced her to them, acting as if they'd never met. She was surprised that so many were in prominent positions in the city's local government offices and she wondered why. But she didn't ask Jake. She'd wait and ask him later in private. .

As the time for the main event approached the mayor made his way to them and shook Jacob's hand. She suspected that there was a hidden meaning behind his words.

'I'm very glad to see you here, Jacob."

"Thank you, for honoring the work that's being done." Jacob said.

The mayor, a tall handsome man in his late forties, shook his head. "No thanks are needed, Jacob. The honor is mine." A look passed between them, clearly one of recognition, and Alex suspected that this man was more than he seemed. Yet she hadn't seen him at Winterfest.

Jacob leaned forward slightly. "You have been missed, Michael."

A reminiscent expression came over the mayor's face. "'All the world's a stage'"

Jacob nodded, his eyes sparkling with hidden meaning.

Mayor Michael Richmond turned then and walked away, his entourage close behind.

Unable to help herself Alex whispered. "The mayor too?"

Jacob watched the tall man glide through the room, like an ancient galleon cutting through the water, people parting before him.

"He spent seven years Below and was very close to Vincent. Catherine helped him find a place in college, but his life is so different and – public now. It's not as easy as it once was."

Alex realized then how many people in this room must have made sacrifices, some not only giving their time but their entire lives for the good of the tunnel world.

The dinner began then, and there were toasts and roasts a plenty. When the dinner was over the mayor made a speech about the things that Jacob Wells and his corporation had done for the city.

Later, as they were all saying their farewells, a group of men entered and made their way straight to Jake. The man in front pulled a badge out of his pocket, introducing himself as Robert Clarkson, an FBI investigator.

Jake, tall and handsome in his black and white tux, seemed unconcerned. "What can I do for you Mr. Clarkson?"

"I have to inform you, Mr. Wells, that you are under suspicion of fraud. Will you please come with me for questioning?"

Jake appeared unaffected, but Alex knew that he must be. He turned to her and said, "My driver will take you home, Alex. I'm sure this is a misunderstanding. I'll call you in the morning. Good night." He squeezed her hand as he walked away full of confidence.

When she got home, Alex ran down to her tunnel entrance and tapped on the pipe to call Vincent. It wasn't long before he arrived, his cloak billowing behind him, and she was almost speechless wishing she wasn't the one who had to tell Jacob's father what had happened.

"Is it Jacob?"

"How did you know?"

Vincent shook his head, then demanded gently "Tell me."

"He's been arrested for fraud. They said it was only for questioning, but I know that look. They have something on him, and it's big."

She could almost feel Vincent's pain as he looked up at the ceiling and whispered. "Jacob."

She didn't know Vincent well, but she wanted to comfort him. She laid her hand on his arm and said, "Vincent it's a mix-up of some kind. Don't worry. Diana and I will find out what's behind this. No matter what it takes, or who we have to badger!"

The pain in Vincent's eyes was hard for her to take. She knew that he couldn't even go to his son and support him in this terrible time. She shook the arm she held.

"He'll be all right, Vincent. Please don't worry."

Vincent shook his head. "You don't understand. Something evil is behind this." He put a hand to his chest and added breathlessly "I can feel it. A great threat against Jacob. It feels like when he was a baby, when I almost lost him –" He looked down at her with pleading in his eyes. "Alexandra …I can't lose him."

With tears in her eyes, Alex said with determination." You won't lose him. He'll have the best lawyers to look after him. He'll be out on bail in no time, and then they'll prove his innocence. You'll see."

Vincent shook his head, his own eyes moist, and looked down. Alex put her arms around him and hugged him as she would any good friend who was in pain, and she felt his arms come around her, accepting her comfort.

When he left a short time later, shoulders drooping and head bowed, Alex ran up to her apartment and called Diana.

******

Jacob had been released after hours of questioning. When he left the police station, a media circus followed him all the way back to his apartment, and he'd been closeted with his legal team until very late. They assured him that the evidence was circumstantial and would be easily dismissed.

Still wearing his rumpled tuxedo, he paced his apartment, still unconvinced, his father's premonition foremost in his mind.

He'd called Alex, and she'd told him that she'd spoken with Vincent, and he felt his father's distress as he waited Below. Jacob intended to go to him as soon as he could.

"Yes, but the media will be all over this in the morning, and 4Cs reputation will be in doubt." he said, running his fingers through his hair with frustration. He was talking to Joe Maxwell, who had come to lend him support.

"Not only 4Cs, Jake, but your reputation too."

"Damn my reputation, Joe. It's the company that means everything, not who's at its head. You should know that. Someone's out to discredit me, and I have to distance myself from 4Cs. I can find another job, but if 4Cs is destroyed, everything we've worked for will be gone, too." He gave Joe a meaningful look. They both knew what was really at stake. "So do what you can for me, but save 4Cs first. That's all that's important." Nothing could happen to the Catherine Chandler Charity Corporation. His mother's name was all he had left of her, and it must never fall into disrepute. Never.

When Joe left, Jacob went into the bathroom for a shower, intending to go Below and talk to his father. But when he came out with a towel wrapped around his waist he felt a sting on his shoulder. When he brushed at it a tiny plastic tube fell into his hand. He turned to the window, at a sound, and as he collapsed he saw a dark figure climb into the room and heard a voice speaking. "He's down. Bring the chopper in now …" But the drug in the dart was fast working, and Jacob was already blacking out.

******

Vincent roared when he felt Jacob's sudden alarm and began to climb the elevator shaft to Jacob's apartment. When he got there, Jacob was gone, and any sense of where, was gone as well. Even the scent trail was gone, and he realized that whoever had taken him had come and gone by helicopter. He roared again in frustration.

******

By morning every paper in the city had Jacob Wells on the front page, along with sensational claims of misappropriation of funds and fraud charges. There were headlines of "GoldenBoy Loses His Sparkle,'and 'CEO Jacob Wells Found with His Hand in the Till.'

Standing in front of the open door, Alex saw the usual mayhem of a police investigation underway – men with cameras, and others dusting for prints, and some on their cell phones. She got in with her badge and went to a man she knew.

"What happened here, Charlie?" she asked

"What does it look like, Murphy?" The man looked haggard. His coat was worn and stained, and he didn't look up as he answered, using an electric pen on a touchpad. "Mr. Wells slipped out of town last night with all the money he stole, probably setting up home in some villa in France or the South Seas. Maybe even on some beach sunning himself by now."

Alex knew that couldn't be true, and that something was very wrong. She was determined to find out what it was. As she left the apartment, she called Diana on her cell phone, and Diana told her to come over to her loft right away.

When the elevator door opened, she was very surprised to see Vincent sitting on the couch, his head lowered and his black cloak covering his drooping shoulders.

This was the first time Alex had seen Vincent in Diana's loft, although she knew he'd been inside once before. "Vincent, is Jacob Below?"

Vincent, his face pale with worry, turned toward her, but it was Diana who answered. "No, Alex he's not."

"Then where is he?"

This time Vincent did answer her. "He's still in the city somewhere, but I cannot sense where!" The last word was a frustrated moan.

"What happened?"

When he answered, Vincent's voice was filled with anguish. "Last night I felt Jacob's distress. Then suddenly…"

"What!"

Diana answered again as Vincent was too overcome to go on. "Jacob was just gone. Vincent can feel his emotions and even sense where he is at any given time. But now nothing."

"Is he …?" Alex couldn't breathe; the thought of anything happening to Jacob made her feel ill.

"No!" It was Vincent's voice, full of anger and determination. "He is alive, but out of my reach." He bent forward and put his face in his hands, his long golden hair falling forward, his breathing heavy.

Diana knelt before him. "We'll find him, Vincent."

Vincent lifted a tear-streaked face to her. "Diana, it is as before when Catherine … I could not bear it, not Jacob too …"

"No Vincent, it's not like before. Whatever reason there is for you not being able to sense him, it must be something else. Give me some time. I'll find him." She took one of his hands and squeezed it, and his other joined hers, grasping at any hope he could. Their eyes locked in memories of a painful past.

"We'll find him, Vincent" Alex said with determination. "We won't stop until we find him."

Two pairs of eyes, one deeply troubled and blue, the other wide and brown, turned to Alex. "He's my friend, too." She didn't admit, even to herself, that although they knew each other so little, she had felt there was something between them that was more than friendship, but this wasn't the time to be examining it.

Vincent left shortly afterwards, his dark cloaked figure vanishing into the night.

It was Alex who broke the silence. "You're in love with him, aren't you." She could see the shadows of worry on Diana's face and knew that it wasn't merely for the situation or for Jacob, but for this enigmatic man who lived in the shadowed world Below.

They'd always been close, and they shared the gift of seeing into things that were unclear to others. Diana turned to her, the affirmative clear in her eyes.

"Does he know?"

"Oh, he knows, but Jacob's mother was a very special person. I was in the right place at the wrong time."

"But that was over thirty years ago."

Diana shook her head. "It was complicated. And Vincent isn't the kind of man who can love two women so …" She shrugged, tears coming to her eyes

"Oh, Aunt Di." Alex was across the room, her arms around her beloved aunt, who laid her head on Alex's shoulder. And although Diana didn't cry, Alex knew that she was deeply affected by Vincent's pain.

"So you help him and his world whenever and however you can."

Diana nodded into her niece's shoulder. "It's enough." she murmured, and Alex realized that for her the little that Vincent and Diana shared would never be enough.

CHAPTER EIGHT

Jacob groaned and tried to put his hand to his head to ease its throbbing, but his arms wouldn't move. He pulled against the weight that held him down, but even with his considerable strength he couldn't dislodge it.

He was groggy and nauseous, and his head ached. When he opened his eyes, it was to darkness, and even that small exertion tired him.

What had happened?

Then in a rush it all came back.

He'd ignored all the suggestions to get more security, and now he wished he'd listened. He'd left himself open, and now he was paying the price of his arrogance. His emotions were dulled in some way; he couldn't gather his wits. He remembered the sting of a dart, and the rest was blackness. Until he woke up here.

He lifted his head and looked around him. All was black, even to his keen eyes. As the effects of the drug began to wear off, his senses became more acute, and he began to see shapes in shades of grey and black. He was in a bare room, strapped to a table by very strong chains. And he could feel motion, like the gentle sway of a boat on water. Or was that just his drug-induced delirium?

But why would someone do such a thing?

No answer came, and he lay back, conserving his strength. He closed his eyes and drifted on the tide of semi-consciousness, until he heard the sound of a door opening.

He kept his eyes closed and his breathing shallow, hoping to gauge anything he could of his captors and their intentions.

He heard a rasping cough, and then a man's gravely voice said, "I know you're awake kid. You may as well stop pretendin'. I didn't drag myself from my deathbed for you to play possum."

Jacob opened his eyes, squinting at a light coming through an open door to his right – a light that revealed the shadowed figure of a painfully thin man.

The man coughed again, a tearing rasping sound, before he spoke. "You're more like him than I expected, with the obvious differences o course." The man laughed and coughed again.

Jacob stared. "Him who?"

"Don't play dumb with me, kid. I was playin those games when your daddy was a kid. The real one, not the one you told those socials about. The animal that must've forced himself on your mother to get you."

Jacob ignored the man's taunts. He knew very well the circumstances of his conception and birth. He knew it with a certainty that no other child could ever know. He knew it from his father's own memories, even though it had taken many years for Vincent to regain them. Jacob had never delved too deeply, but he knew that his mother and father had loved each other with a purity and passion that very few lovers ever knew.

When he failed to get the effect he'd expected. Jacob's tormentor said, "You don't care, huh? What if I make it public knowledge what your father is? Where he lives and how they can catch him and put him in a cage where he belongs? What if I do that, huh?"

Jacob knew if that was this man's intention he would've already done it, so he stayed silent as the man continued.

"But I got better plans for Vincent. See I know all about the weird connection between you, and that he feels what you feel. Well, he'll be feelin real bad soon. Then for the finale he'll watch you die." His breathing had become labored, and he began to cough uncontrollably. He slid down the door frame. A burly man in a nurse's uniform came through the opening and picked him up, carrying him out of the room and closing the door behind him, leaving Jacob in darkness again.

Jacob knew what his captor intended now, but he still didn't know who his tormentor was. He looked around, searching his surroundings, and discovered a surveillance camera in one corner of the room. So that was how the man knew he was regaining consciousness. There was a strange smell in the room and a lapping of water, which told him that he must be on a boat, in the harbor.

He realized then how diabolical this mad man was. If he was on a boat in the middle of the harbor, Vincent would not be able to gauge where he was, let alone try to save him, and Jacob's fear for his father rose. This man knew a great deal about them and their connection, and he seemed to have a terrible plan in place and the power to carry it out.

He began using the calming techniques, he'd learned as a child so that Vincent wouldn't feel his fear. His father had told him about the time when Catherine had not allowed herself to feel fear when Paracelsus had captured her, because she didn't want to draw him. This was what Jacob wanted to do. But just then a very large man entered the room and turned on a light above Jacob's head.

The rasping voice, echoed through speakers in the room, chilling Jacob's blood.

"This is Edward. Say hi, Eddy."

The large man bent into the light, and Jacob saw a huge Asian man with a bald head, and a scar that ran across his forehead, through his left eye and onto his cheek. The man showed gold-capped teeth in a wicked grin as the voice echoed around them.

"Eddy used to be the handy man in a Bangkok brothel – until even the locals got sick of what he did. He likes to blow up things too don't you Eddy? So I took him off the streets, and now he works for me. You're gonna appreciate his skills when he shows you how much pain he can cause.

Jacob understood now. This monster was going to torture him, causing his father pain by proxy. Even as he had the thought, the one eyed man bent over him with what looked like an old-fashioned metal curling iron that was so hot it glowed.

CHAPTER NINE

Vincent walked through the tunnels trying to calm his restless spirit. It had been three days since Jacob's disappearance. Diana and Alex had heard reports of a helicopter leaving the scene at the time of his disappearance, but there had been nothing else.

The newspapers reported that the Jacob Wells case had badly damaged the credibility of 4Cs, and now that he had disappeared many of its most staunch supporters were distancing themselves, and others were threatening to withdraw their support all together.

Vincent was worried about 4Cs reputation, but he was more fearful for his son's safety, and his entire being was on edge. He wanted to run to Jacob and bring him home, never to let him leave, but he knew that even if he did find him that wouldn't happen. Jacob was committed to the plan, and he would continue in that direction.

Suddenly, Vincent was struck with a lancing pain. He doubled over with its severity, gasping as it went on and on. It was a searing pain in his chest that spread out in waves. He put a hand against the wall for balance.

Gasping for breath, he felt the pain ease, leaving a dull ache in its wake. But before he could get his breathing under control, another pain hit him, this time on his stomach.

"Jacob!" He struggled to his feet and began to run back to his chamber.

It took quite some time to get there, as the assaults continued, touching almost every part of his body, until he was wracked with pain all over. He stumbled to his desk, penned a note, and tapped on the master pipe in his chamber, calling for a messenger to come to him. When the child came, he found Vincent doubled over in a chair.

"Vincent! What's wrong?" asked the young boy as he entered.

"I am all right, Cody. Please take this message to Diana, and ask Samantha to come to my chamber."

"Yeah, sure, Vincent." Cody ran off.

Samantha had taken over from Father as the tunnel physician, just as Brook had taken over from Mary as midwife. When the attractive, dark-haired woman of about forty came into the room carrying Father's battered black leather bag, Vincent was again doubled over with the phantom pains.

"Vincent! Cody said you were sick. What is it?" She knelt beside him.

When the spasm eased, Vincent turned pain filled eyes to the young woman he'd known all her life. "It's Jacob. He is in great pain."

Samantha took a stethoscope from the bag and put it to Vincent's chest. "Your heart is racing, Vincent. Try to stay calm."

"Samantha!" More pain struck him. "Something terrible is happening to my son! How can I stay calm in the face of such a thing?"

Suddenly he straightened and took a shaking breath, confused.

"What is it, Vincent? Your heart rate just dropped back to normal."

Taking slow even breaths, Vincent said, "I don't know, the pain just … ceased suddenly."

"Let me check you out anyway." Samantha had been Vincent's physician since before Father died, and she knew his unique physiology as well as Father had. But this was something that had never happened before, and she was concerned that it might do him harm.

******

"Why did you stop?" the voice asked.

"He's unconscious." Eddy bent over Jacob's body, checking his eyes to make sure he wasn't faking.

"Let him sleep and we'll start again in a couple of hours. I got a feeling that the message has been delivered."

Eddy put down the instrument he'd used and left the room, leaving the light shining over Jacob's body – a body that still looked strong, but was now covered with long red welts on chest, arms, legs and face.

******

When Diana and Alex came into Vincent's study he was sitting in the high-backed chair, and by his expression, they knew that something was terribly wrong.

Diana hurried down the steps, and knelt on the floor before him. "What is it, Vincent? What's happened? Your note didn't say much."

He looked down at her, his eyes full of pain. "Diana, someone is torturing Jacob."

"What!" Alex cried, coming down the steps into the room.

Vincent told them what had happened. "I've been trying to piece together the meaning and reason for such an experience. The only thing it can be is that someone is torturing him, and even with all the pain I cannot grasp a sense of where!" He looked at Diana with tears in his eyes and whispered painfully, "But why, Diana? Why would someone do such a thing?"

Diana sat back on her heels at Vincent's feet, sending her mind inward, trying to connect to the inner perceptions and insight that had aided her all her life.

Alex sat heavily in one of the other chairs unnoticed by the other two in the room.

Diana was silent for a very long time, and Vincent waited patiently. Then she said, thinking out loud, "Why would someone torture him? He doesn't have any hidden information. All his dealings are open to the public, and that stupid misappropriation thing has to be a hoax. So why?" And she looked up at Vincent, her eyes bright. "Vincent, is there anyone you know of who might wish to cause you pain? Through Jacob?"

Vincent shook his head. "The only ones who know about us and our connection are those who live here, and some of the helpers, but none who would wish either of us harm."

"Think back, Vincent. Is there anyone, any names you can give me of people who might have a grudge against you, or wish you pain? Like Gregory Coyle did all those years ago in retribution for his father's death. Someone, who you might have caused pain or been stopped by you from hurting someone else – even Catherine's old enemies or maybe even the both of you, since this person is using your son as a tool."

She continued to speculate out loud. "Someone with the means to kidnap Jacob and get away with little evidence left behind. Someone, who could pay people off and get information that's not readily available. Someone who has a grudge against you and Catherine."

"There have been many who have come and gone over the years, Diana. But few have left with hatred so strong as to want to do this."

Then his head came up and a sudden realization came into his eyes. "There was one man. He spent some time here as a child. His father was ill and a helper. He sent the boy down here to give him a chance at a better life. We grew up together, although he was older that me, but he was unhappy and left us. He became enmeshed in criminal activities, and when he was finally found out, he asked to come down here to hide. Father refused, but it was I who had to stand against him and force him to return Above. For that he never forgave me. He spent five years in jail, and when he was released, he began again his evil dealings. Catherine tried to stop him … he shot her."

There was pain in his eyes as he remembered. "I almost killed him then. But I let him live. He was a sad and pathetic creature, whimpering at my feet. I saw nothing of the boy he'd once been and deemed him unworthy of even that release. So I left him and went to Catherine."

"What was his name, Vincent?" Alex asked.

"Denton, Mitch Denton." Vincent said, looking over at her.

"Mitchell Denton?" Alex said with surprise. "Mitchell Denton is one of the top guns in organized crime these days. He's said to be the Godfather of New York. He's ruthless, manipulative and dangerous, and he's on the NYPD's hit list. But he's smart. He doesn't leave any evidence or witnesses. We've been trying to catch him for years, but he'll be dead before they can pin anything on him. He's only got a few months to live – maybe weeks."

"As a child he was one of my best friends," Vincent said sadly.

"He's not that child anymore, Vincent. He's bad news. And if he's got Jacob … Wait a minute let me make a few calls. I think we've had him under surveillance, so it shouldn't be too difficult to find out where he is."

Without another word, Alex ran out of the chamber.

CHAPTER TEN

Jacob could feel his life slipping away. He was drifting in and out of consciousness, only to be brought back again by more pain.

Then he heard the echo of voices.

"Its time for you to set the detonators, Eddy. You can have more fun with him later." That voice again, filled with malice and cold intent.

"Yes, boss." Eddy answered from above him.

Eddy was gone for some time, and when he returned there was a strange odor as he bent over Jacob again.

******

The little motor boat bounced over the water with as much speed as Alex could get out of it. "I see it up ahead!" she called down to Vincent and Diana in the compartment below decks.

It was night, and the harbor was quiet. The last four hours had been the worst in Alex's life. She'd been all the way back at her apartment before she got a decent cell phone signal and could call the precinct. She'd gotten the information she needed with little trouble. In fact with her undercover clearance, she'd found it easy.

Mitchell Denton was on his yacht in the middle of the harbor, and had been there for the last week. She had a printout of his comings and goings sent to her computer, and there it was. Three nights ago a launch had pulled up to the yacht, and two men had been seen carrying a third between them. Nothing was done about it, since it could have been one of Denton's own men, so they'd written it in their report. And that's where it would've stayed.

Alex had no doubt that the third man was Jacob.

When she'd reached Vincent's chamber with this information, he'd once again been wracked with pain.

When Vincent recovered enough to think clearly, she gave him and Diana the information, and they had formulated a plan. They would rent a boat and then go to the yacht. And that was the easy part.

Finding a boat was not so easy. But convincing Vincent to leave rescuing Jacob to them and the police was impossible.

They hurried to Diana's loft and began making phone calls. Finally they found an old motor boat owned by a Helper. It was barely sea worthy but they didn't have much choice. It would have to do. Then they had to get Vincent on board without anyone noticing.

Vincent and Diana came up the steps to the cockpit. He was pale and there were beads of perspiration on his face, and he was breathing heavily.

Alex knew that at any other time, Vincent would have taken more notice of what his first experience on board a boat might have been. He had an avid interest in all aspects of the world, and there were many books on naval history as well as novels in his collection. But now his mind and body were so tortured that he would have missed the entire experience.

He looked out the window toward the yacht and whispered, "Jacob …"

Alex cut the engine, and the craft slid toward the white bulk of the yacht.

"There's no one around. I don't like this. There's no one to stop us. He must know we're coming." Alex said, concerned.

"We have no choice," Vincent said as he left the control room and made his way to the rail with the two women close behind.

Diana grabbed him by the arm, stopping him for a moment. His face was filled with pain, his jaw tight. No doubt he was still tortured by Jacob's pain.

"Vincent, you can't do this. Mitch's planning something. You have to let us help you."

His voice was strained, but adamant. "No, Diana. I will retrieve Jacob. Then I will deal with Mitch." He grunted, his hands grabbing at the rail no doubt as a particularly severe pain hit him. Then his expression softened and he put a hand on her shoulder. "Diana, please. You must save my son and yourself. You have done enough."

Alex had come up to stand beside Diana, and she said. "No, Vincent. If you're caught here when the police arrive, you'll be …"

Vincent put a hand on Alex's cheek. "I would sacrifice everything for my son. Please, do as I ask, Alexandra. Wait here. I will free Jacob and bring him to you, and you must both get him away from here."

Unable to argue with that, Alex sighed and nodded then Vincent leapt onto the yacht, his cloak flying behind him.

Diana and Vincent had argued loudly about this. Diana had wanted to leave it up to the police to rescue Jacob and arrest Mitch, but Vincent would have none of it, insisting that Jacob was his son and he would save him.

Alex had to smile in spite of the grim situation. The thought of trying to stop Vincent once he made up his mind was something she just couldn't imagine. And of course it had done no good – only wasted time.

She and Diana shared a pained look and then watched as Vincent, now able to sense where Jacob was, whispered, "He's down below in a stern cabin." Then he disappeared inside.

Alex turned to Diana. "You're not going to wait here, are you?"

Diana watching the retreating back of the man she loved, set her jaw, declaring emphatically "Hell, no!" She turned to Alex and grinned, and then she was over the rail, jumping onto the yacht after Vincent.

"Good, 'cause I really didn't want to go alone." Alex said as Diana disappeared into the same entrance that Vincent had gone through.

*******

In his stateroom, Mitch watched a screen mounted on the wall. On it, he could see the small craft alongside the yacht, and the three people aboard. He watched as one by one they left the smaller vessel. He pressed a button on a small device in his hand and said. "Keep out of his way if you want to live. Let him find what he's lookin for." Then his face broke into an evil grin. "You never learn, Vincent."

*******

Jacob's mind and body were in torment, and he could feel blessed unconsciousness approaching. Then the pain receded and peace began to flow over him like the cool waters of the falls Below.

Jacob?

It was a woman's voice, a voice he'd never heard but that he somehow knew.

Jacob?

Mother?

"What's he sayin? Has he finally cracked?" The voice echoed from the speakers.

"No, boss. He strong, not even scream yet. He not go crazy till he start to scream."

Jacob heard Eddy's voice only faintly. He was listening to his mother's voice.

Listen, Jacob. Can you hear it? Can you hear the music? You can hear it if you try. Catherine's voice whispered soft and sweet in his ears.

"Yes," Jacob murmured. He was beginning to hear the sweet strains of music, a waltz, but he was unfamiliar with the melody.

Listen to the music, Jacob. Let it flow through you. It won't be long now. Can you feel him? Your father is on his way. He will not let you die, Jacob. Be strong. Don't give up."

Then she was gone, but the music remained, sweet and lilting. Soothing his pain.

"Is he smiling?" demanded the disembodied voice.

"Yes, boss." Eddy said. "He crazy I think."

"No. He knows that we have company. Go and have a look."

"Okay, boss." Eddy put down the knife he'd been using, wiped Jacob's blood from his hands, and went outside.

*******

Mitch watched what happened next. He knew it would, which is why he sent Eddy out there. He didn't need him anymore and it was a convenient way of getting rid of the sadistic creep. Mitch was many things but even he had begun to feel sick at Eddy's proclivity for causing pain.

*******

Vincent had the instinctive part of himself under tight control. He knew that all this was most likely a trap, but he needed to be ready to kill as quietly as possible in order to save Jacob. But as he reached a long corridor, a large bald man came out of a room at its end. Blood covered his sweater and pants, and Vincent could smell that it was Jacob's blood. It enraged him.

With a snarl of rage, he threw himself at the man, knocking him against the wall and digging his claws into the man's abdomen, ripping flesh and lifting the man's considerable bulk off the deck. The man died quickly, with a low gurgled moan. Vincent let him crumple to the floor without a look in his direction. Then he walked to the open doorway.

He was through the door and bending over Jacob in seconds.

Diana and Alex had followed in Vincent's wake and tried not to look at the body on the floor. Both guessed that this man was most likely responsible for torturing Jacob, and as such his death had been inevitable. When they reached the threshold, they watched Vincent break the chains that held Jacob to the table as though they were paper.

Jacob's naked body was covered with blood, and Vincent removed his cloak from around his shoulders and threw it over him. He bent over Jacob, long golden hair falling forward. "Jacob. Jacob, can you hear me?"

Vincent felt that Jacob's perception was elsewhere, and he thought for a moment he could hear music. Slowly he felt Jacob's awareness returned to the world around him and overlaying the pain was warmth and love, as he realized that his father had come.

He opened his eyes "Father?"

"Shh, I'm here. You're safe now." And Vincent was reminded of when Jacob was a child, after a nightmare when he would comfort him.

Then a new voice echoed through the room. "Touching. Very touching, but it's not over yet, old friend. We have a score to settle, you and me." A sound from behind made Vincent turn to see Diana and Alex being held at gunpoint by two of Mitch's men. "Do you think I'm that stupid?" Mitch Denton said.

Vincent growled at the camera in the corner of the room.

Mitch laughed. "Not this time, Vincent. Growl all you want. You have no power here. I'm dying anyway. This is my world, and I say what happens in it. The boy and the women can go free if you come without a fight."

Vincent's top lip lifted, baring his teeth, and a deep rumble came from his throat in answer. Diana cried out in pain, and he turned sharply in her direction. A trickle of blood was coming from the corner of her mouth, and there was a cruel smile on the face of the man who held her.

"They have very specific instructions, old friend. You, without a fight, or the women and the boy dead. What's it to be?"

Looking first at his son, then at Diana and Alex, Vincent knew that he had no choice.

"No, Father" Jacob said, trying to rise.

Vincent touched his son's face lovingly. "There is no other way to save you Jacob." He turned toward the door.

"No! Father, please! It's what he wants, don't give in to him!"

Ignoring Jacob's plea, Vincent walked to Diana. "Get him out of here, and don't look back." He stared at the two men, his meaning clear, and without a word, Diana and Alex were released. Both men stepped away from their prisoners.

Alex ran through the door and bent over Jacob's prone body, as Diana looked up at Vincent.

"Vincent." There was a world of meaning in her anguished voice.

Vincent lowered his head for a moment. There was nothing to say. He took a deep breath and walked past Diana. One man took a position in front of him and another behind, and they disappeared down the narrow corridor and out of sight.

Diana watched him disappear and then went into the room.

Alex was cradling Jacob's head against her arm, and Diana went to support him on the other side.

Slowly and painfully, Jacob sat up.

"We have to go, Jacob," Diana said.

Jacob answered through clenched teeth. "I am not leaving my father in the hands of that madman!"

"You heard him. If we don't go now we all die. Don't be a fool. That's why Vincent went quietly. So you could live."

"I don't care! I'm not leaving him! Besides that madman's not going to let us leave here alive."

Diana knew that was a possibility, but she wasn't sure if the camera was still recording.

She spoke loudly. "All the more reason for us to go."

She ignored Jacob's look of betrayal, and adjusted Vincent's cloak around him. Then, with their arms around his waist, they helped him out of the room.

When they were in the corridor, Jacob refused to go without Vincent, but Diana spoke close to his ear. "Jacob, calm down! We will do something, but that room was bugged. God, even this corridor could be, so if you want to complain go right ahead. I didn't come all this way to this damn boat for nothing. And there's no way I'm leaving your father to face that monster alone, no matter what he said. So if you have any ideas, tell us, or we'll come up with our own plan.

He brightened. "This boat's set to blow up, so whatever we do, we'd better do quickly."

"What!" The women echoed, keeping their voices low.

"How do you know?" Diana asked, as they helped him along the corridor.

"I spent enough time with Mouse as a kid to know the smell of C4. That creep who was working on me reeked of acetone, and I'm sure it wasn't because he'd been doing his nails. And I overheard that he liked to blow things up in his spare time as well as torturing people. I'd say he'd been 'playing with exploding stuff 'as Mouse would put it."

"Do you have any idea where the explosives might be?" Alex asked.

"My guess would be in the engine room, lots of oil to make a big show when it blows."

"We have to get you off this yacht, and quick." Diana moved in the direction of the upper deck.

"No way!" Jacob grunted with pain, pulling away from them and leaning heavily against the wall under one of the cameras, taking deep breaths.

"You're a mess, Jacob. Don't be a fool," Diana said.

Jacob looked at her out of the corner of his eyes. "I'm not eight-years-old anymore, Aunty Di, and I'm feeling better all the time. Besides, spending all that time with Mouse wasn't wasted. Just get me down there, and I'll disarm the charges. Then we can go and save my father."

Diana and Alex looked doubtful, but there wasn't a better plan, so they crab-walked down the corridor with their burden between them, taking note of the cameras as they passed.

.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Vincent walked quietly between the two men, wondering what Jacob was doing. He could still feel the echo of his son's pain, but Jacob's emotions didn't match his pain. In fact he was almost joyous, and Vincent knew that he hadn't obeyed his instruction to leave. He was annoyed, but he knew that like his mother, Jacob would do what he thought was best. He tried to discern what Jacob was planning, but Jacob had learned how to shield his thoughts when he wanted to, and Vincent knew it was to keep him unfettered for what he must face. Then his attention turned to what was before him – two large polished wooden doors with long golden handles.

One of his guards pushed the doors open, and Vincent stared coolly at the sight before him.

It was a huge stateroom, and every surface was covered with shades of gold – the furniture, the upholstery, the carpet and the walls. In the centre of all this was a huge bed in which a man lay. He was so thin that his shape was barely noticeable beneath the quilts.

It was like the bedroom of King Midas, which was also one of Mitch's favorite fables. Vincent remembered Mitch saying that he wanted to be like King Midas one day, and it seemed that he had gotten his wish in more ways than one. Gold had become his obsession and his curse.

One of the guards prodded Vincent with the butt of a gun, but Vincent merely turned his head and snarled a warning. The man backed away, looking to his companion for support.

A chuckle came from the bed, and Vincent turned his attention to the man lying there. "Still not afraid, are you old friend?"

"You are no friend of mine," Vincent murmured deep in his throat, almost a growl, filled with rage. "You abduct my son, make him a criminal in the eyes of the world, and torture him to cause me pain. That is the behavior of an insane, evil man, bent on revenge. Not a friend. And I fear only for those I love." Vincent had never hated anyone, but what he felt now for Mitch Denton came very close to it.

Mitch was unconcerned. He laughed again. "You're right, and you were never really a friend of mine either – just a little freak who kept following me around, a pest I tried to ditch whenever I could. The best thing I ever did was shoot your girlfriend, although if she'd died then that half-breed you call your son would never have been born, and I would never have had the means to get to you."

Vincent was becoming very tired of Mitch's hatred, but he could feel that Jacob was still on the boat, and this concerned him. They should have gotten away by now. He would allow this conversation to go on until he was sure his son was safe. He lifted his hands, palms up. "Well, here I am."

"Y'know, I remember you being more of a fraidy cat when you were a kid."

Vincent said nothing merely watched his enemy – a pathetic shell of a man filled with hatred that had poisoned his very soul.

Mitch was silent for a moment, then said "You look older, Vincent with that silver in your hair. I see time has finally caught up with you, too."

"Time changes us all, Mitch. I remember you once as a friend. Now you are only a monster."

Mitch's face fell. "Like you said, time changes us. I have you to thank for that and for where I am today." He lifted a hand to his surroundings. "There was this huge hole in this world when I got outa jail. A hole that you made. The man you knew as Gabriel was one of my competitors. He'd blocked a lot of things I wanted to get started. When you killed him, I was able to start building my own little empire. Thanks, Vincent. It was also through one of his men that I learned about that brat of yours and started making my plans to get my own back. I had help, of course. With a little money here and there, I got all the information I needed on you and your little family. I lost the kid for a few years though, then found him again just recently. You named him after the old man. That's what threw me. I never knew Father's name until then, but it's all out now and soon it'll all mean nothing. You see, I don't intend to just destroy you, but your little world as well."

Vincent didn't move. He could feel Jacob's concentration and determination in some task, but couldn't gauge what that might be. He could only try to keep Mitch talking until Jacob was safe. But he could also feel the dawn approaching, and it was then that Diana had said the police would be arriving. This was a concern, but for the first time in his life not a large one. He intended to give his life if necessary. Then he felt a stab of shock among the constant ache that his son was feeling.

******

"My God!" Jacob had found a small explosive charge and disarmed it, but when he saw a second device attached to the hull, he gasped. The red timer was set to thirty seconds but had not yet been triggered. and the plastic explosive attached to it was the size of his father's old copy of Great Expectations. "This much will take out half the shoreline. What is that madman thinking?"

"Maybe that's what Mitch wants. He's got nothing to lose, and he'll take Vincent and a whole lot of other people with him," Alex said.

'Insane, but not stupid." Jacob murmured, swaying a little, and Alex caught him before he fell.

"Can you disarm it?" she asked. Diana was watching the doorway into the corridor.

"All I can do is try to give us more time and maybe lessen the yield. It could still blow, but as it is now a lot of people will die if I don't do something." He wrapped his father's cloak more tightly around him and bent to the device attached to the inner hull.

******

Vincent was only half listening to Mitch boast about how he'd become one of the richest men in the country and how many people he'd killed to get to where he was. As he spoke his breathing became more labored, and he stopped occasionally to take a long breath from a mask beside him.

Vincent heard distant sirens, and he knew that the police were on their way, though neither Mitch nor the guards could hear them yet.

Mitch lifted his right hand in which he held a small sliver of metal, and pointed it to a TV screen on the wall. Then he laughed so hard that he began coughing at what he saw on the screen. "Come a little closer, Vincent. You gotta see this."

Vincent walked further into the room and stood by the bed, his attention drawn to the screen imbedded in the wall.

He saw a shadowed room. At one side, Jacob, shrouded in his cloak, was bent over something, his hands moving carefully over it. Vincent could feel his concentration, while the ache of his many injuries hovered in the back of his mind.

When Mitch spoke, Vincent didn't take his eyes from the picture unfolding before him. "He thinks he can disarm it. I told him you'd watch him die, but he didn't know how. See Vincent, the one he's working on is the secondary device. There's another one hidden in the wall, and when I press this button it blows." He held up the remote control.

Vincent turned from the screen to look at his tormentor with fury boiling up within him. No words could convey what he was feeling, so he let his more primal side answer for him, the low growl rumbling from deep in his throat.

Mitch wasn't affected. "You don't kill the weak or sick old friend. Besides, if you kill me the charge will blow, and you still lose. You might've survived being blown up before, but I made sure this one is so big the whole city will see the show. And those police coming will be caught up in it, too." He laughed again, then grabbed for the mask.

At that moment a dull thud rocked the boat, knocking the two guards off their feet. Vincent took the opportunity and killed them quickly before running from the room, Mitch's maniacal laughter following him. "You can't stop it. It's already too late. Run scaredy cat, run!" The laughter seemed to echo throughout the boat as Vincent ran.

When he got to the lower corridors, he met Diana and Alex, with Jacob leaning heavily between them.

Jacob's face was grey, full of pain and blood streaked.

"Vincent, hurry! We have to get off this thing, before it blows!" Diana commanded.

Vincent moved to Jacob. Picking him up with little effort, he turned and ran along the corridor and up the steps with Diana and Alex right behind him.

He helped Jacob aboard the waiting boat, then to the lower cabin, and was just easing him onto a small bunk when the police launch arrived. He heard Diana yell over the radio. "Get away. The yacht's about to blow!" as Alex started the engine.

Mitch's gaunt and shrunken figure could be seen at the rail as the small vessel began to move away.

"Nooooo!" he cried, his face a mask of frustration and fury as he crumpled to the deck.

Alex gunned the engines, and the small boat began to pull away from the yacht.

Then a loud explosion, accompanied by a plume of flame, shot up into the air in the middle of the yacht. And when they looked back they saw Mitch dragging himself up on the rail as another explosion rocketed through the entire vessel this time, surrounding him in flames.

Alex and Diana cried out as the small craft was showered with flaming debris, but they were far enough away to avoid most of the danger, and there was only minor damage to the upper section of the boat.

Vincent had covered Jacob with his own body as the explosion hit, and as they sped away he sat up and looked down at his son, who was laughing.

"What is so funny?" Vincent asked.

"Mitch Denton never knew what I learned from Mouse."

"What do you mean?" Vincent asked, grinning despite the seriousness of the situation.

Still laughing Jacob said, "About explosives."

"But Mitch said that there was another hidden device. How did you find it?"

"Oh, that was easy." Jacob grimaced in pain as he moved to a more comfortable position. "The first one was right out in the open and all too easy. It was a decoy, almost yelling 'Look at me!' So I disarmed it and then went looking for the real one. But it wasn't so easy. Eddy knew his stuff. It was a new sort of timer, one I'd never seen before. To even try to disarm it would have blown it, but I was able to reduce the size of the explosion by removing some of the C4. I knew we needed a diversion, so I just removed the smaller device and set the simple timer and sent Diana up to throw it over the side."

Diana's voice came from the doorway to finish the tale. "Yeah and I've never run so fast or been so scared in my life. I think I might have pitched a home run with that throw." She came into the cabin.

"Sorry, Di, but you had to do it. I don't think I'd have made it in time if I had tried." Jacob said.

They laughed with a mixture of relief and joy, but quieted when Alex called down from the cockpit. "We have company. The police launch is coming along side."

Vincent rose quickly, and Diana covered Jacob with a blanket and handed him his cloak. He slipped into the compartment at the back of the cabin where he'd hidden when they'd left the pier earlier that night. Jacob told the police of his abduction and torture at the hands of Mitchell Denton's henchmen, and Vincent knew that everything would be set to rights. Their long laid plans would go ahead, and the world that Father had worked so hard to build would at last and forever be safe.

EPILOGUE

It was quiet in the tunnels, as was often the case in the late evening. The sound of the pipes was only sporadic now, as the sentries sent their reports of 'All Quiet'. Vincent sat at his desk writing in his journal.

Winterfest has ended for another year, and this year there is more to celebrate and be grateful for than any year before. Our world is safe. Father's plan is finally in place, and all of those who have worked so hard to be in positions of power in the city have aided in the laws that have been passed in perpetuity to keep this world safe from discovery or harm.

My heart is so full that I can barely hold it in my chest. If Father were here he would feel as I do I am sure.

He lifted his head, not seeing the room around him. His senses reached out to the couple who still remained in the Great Hall. Their love for one another was so complete, that the darkened hall was alight with it as they danced to music only they could hear – just as he and Catherine had danced on the night of her first Winterfest.

Even Jacob, with his father's remarkable healing ability, had needed some time to recover, but very few scars remained. 4C's and Jacob had been exonerated and had regained their popularity.

Vincent drew back his perceptions, leaving his son and Alex the privacy they deserved, his heart so full of happiness now that all his dreams had come true. He closed his eyes and whispered. "Catherine." And suddenly he sensed her presence.

He turned his head and there she was, standing a short distance away, beautiful, ethereal and breathtaking.

He stood, and she was in his arms, her head against his shoulder. He reveled in this miraculous gift, these tortuous yet blissful moments when he could again believe in dreams, and live the moments he had once thought lost.

"Listen. Can you hear it?"she asked.

Looking down at her he smiled. "Yes."

Together they began to sway to an orchestra that played just for them, alone in a world that was forever safe and filled with love. A world filled with love that was forever theirs.

THE END