A/N: The muse decided she needed some lightness after The Sticking Place. As always, I bow to her wishes. Fluff, but hopefully fluff with a wee bit of substance. Schmoop alert ...
by Lydia Bower
I hope this letter finds you well. Please forgive my silence these past weeks. Despite Father and Mary's warnings of just such a thing, I have found that caring for my infant son has occupied all my waking hours – and many of those that should ideally be spent sleeping. The truth of it is that Jacob's father does not sleep unless Jacob allows him to. And yet I would have it no other way. My son is a great joy to me, and to his grandfather, and to anyone who is lucky enough to be pulled into the galaxy of his tiny universe. Brooke, in particular, has fallen under his spell and is quick to volunteer to watch over him as I take the steps necessary to begin reconstructing my life as it was before, and as much as it can be.
I would enjoy seeing you again. Any evening of your choosing would be fine, should you wish to come below. You are always welcome; I hope you know that. I believe you're familiar with the Central Park egress and where the first of our sentry posts is located within. You need only make your presence known and someone will come to guide you safely down. Until then …
Standing in Vincent's chamber, face to face with him again after more than a month since she'd seen him last (just long enough to start believing she'd dreamt the whole thing up), Diana couldn't have been more flabbergasted if he'd declared the world was flat and the sky was green. His confession had come completely out of nowhere and she couldn't think of an appropriate response to save her soul.
She was a blessing? To him? Had he actually said that, complete with a darting glance of those upslanted warrior eyes of his, making incongruously shy contact with hers?
It was too much to wrap her head around, already feeling out-of-sorts and very awkward. Though she wouldn't have given up spending time with Vincent for anything, somehow it'd been easier when he'd been flat on his back and unconscious in her loft. Or when she'd been trying to keep him from losing his mind and destroying everything in his path in order to get to Jacob; talking him off very high and dangerous ledges. Or even when they'd been swapping information, facts, and speculations as Gregory Coyle had been busy killing off a select few of the tunnel community's helpers. Having a normal, everyday kind of conversation with him was much harder. She had to weigh every word, think about every response instead of just letting it fly, the way she would with anyone else. But then Vincent wasn't anyone else, was he? Oh, no, sir. And she had to say something; she couldn't just stand here like she'd been struck dumb – even if that was how she felt.
"Sometimes I wonder …how all this can be happening," she managed to stammer. "And whether I even belong here or not." She dared another glance at him. He was watching her with that eerie stillness she was learning was the norm for him. "Your … your world is …" Knocked further off-kilter by the way he was studying her with such intensity, she couldn't help but wish he'd stop it. Or not. Diana wasn't sure what she wanted. Finally giving up any hope of not sounding like a damn fool, she admitted what she'd been feeling ever since the night she'd found him in the cemetery behind St. Cleo's. "I don't know where I'm going anymore; I don't know where I'll be tomorrow."
I'm inside out and upside down, she thought. And I have no clue what any of this means.
And the wonder of it was (or maybe it wasn't a wonder at all), Vincent found the perfect words to say to her. "Tomorrow will come, Diana. We can only live each day as it comes to us – with its pains and joys … and all of its gifts."
How remarkable he was, that a minute ago he'd been talking about the hell he'd been through bringing his son home and in the next, able to set aside those painful memories to remind her of the promise life held. She was scared to death she was going to start bawling right there and then. He was so incredibly amazing, so different from anyone she'd ever known. She wanted to hug him right now. Wanted it more than anything. But she had no idea how Vincent might respond. And she wasn't willing to risk it. So Diana settled for the next best thing.
"Could … could I hold him?"
He leaned over the massive, ornately carved crib with no hesitation and scooped up baby Jacob. The transfer of the precious bundle went off without a hitch: she didn't do anything horrifying like drop him, though there was a moment when the contact of Vincent's heavily furred hand, underneath and sliding along hers, made her heart stutter.
She smiled down at the baby, warm and solid in her arms, aware of the larger and even more solid man standing so close to her. She glanced his way and found him peering at the baby, his expression unreadable but for the pride in his eyes that you really had to look past the solemnity to see. And then his gaze shifted to meet hers.
"He feels comfortable with you … and safe," Vincent told her.
She broke out in another smile. "Yeah? You can tell things like that, with him?"
He made a yes noise in his throat. "Our bond is a strong one."
"I guess it is." She still wasn't quite sure what it was that Vincent could do; the spooky way he could sometimes tell what others were feeling and, every so often, even thinking. All she knew for certain was that it made her that much more nervous around him, especially this close, scared to death he'd be able to sense something in her she couldn't even begin to understand herself. Like how looking into his eyes for more than a few seconds at a time made her feel drifty and weightless. Very much like the way she felt now.
Ducking her head, she concentrated on trying to get a smile out of the baby, clucking her tongue at him and tickling him under one perfect, tiny, shell-like ear.
Softly, barely above a whisper, Vincent said, "Or perhaps … it is a reflection of what he senses … in me."
She felt her cheeks flushing with heat, and Jacob chose that very moment to reward her with an angelic, gummy smile.
Oh, I am in way over my head, here, she thought with perfect clarity. So what else is new?
Forgive the lateness of this invitation, but it couldn't be helped. Some of our younger children, budding musicians all, have insisted upon giving a recital for several members of our community this Friday evening. It would be a pleasure to have you join us, if it wouldn't interfere with any plans you may already have, or with whatever work might be occupying your time and attention.
We will be gathering in Father's study shortly after the evening meal. I would come to your home myself and guide you down, but I'm needed to help prepare the study. If you should decide you'd like to attend, one of the older children will be waiting at the park threshold shortly after 7 o'clock. I hope to see you there. If not then, soon.
"… in the meantime I've decided to leave Ted and Alexandra and run away to join the circus. I hear they're looking for an elephant trainer and, you know, that's right up my alley."
"That's great, Susan," Diana murmured. She was bent at the waist, torso stretched over the island in her kitchen. The phone was tucked between her ear and shoulder and she held Vincent's invitation in her left hand, ring finger of her right idly tracing over the broad, fluid pen strokes.
"You haven't heard a damn word I've said, have you? Hello? Di?"
"I'm right here," she told her sister, "and I heard every word."
A familiar sigh of exasperation came through the phone line. "Sure you have. That's why you're all for me running off to join the circus."
Diana stood straight. "Huh? What are you talking about?"
"C'mon, we've been on the phone for fifteen minutes and the most I've gotten out of you is an occasional grunt."
"I do not grunt."
"Yeah, okay, cavewoman. So what's up with you? I know it's not work: you told me you're between cases. Actually now that I think about it, that's about the only thing you've contributed to the conversation. What's got you so distracted, if it's not the work?"
"It's nothing, Suze, really."
Trying to pay better attention, Diana waited through a medium silence. And then: "Oh, my God, it's that guy, isn't it?"
"The one you wouldn't talk about last time Alex and I were in the city and came by to see you. The one you said you'd maybe be able to tell me about someday. It's him, isn't it?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about."
"You are such a lousy liar. You've got it bad, don't you? Has my baby sister really and truly fallen for somebody this time? Are you in love with this guy?"
"You are! Okay, you have to tell me everything. What's his name? What does he do? Is he good-looking? Have you slept with him yet? Is he any good in bed? That's important, you know."
"I'm hanging up now, Suze."
"Wait! C'mon, you've gotta give me something! This is like front page news. Diana Bennett finally finds the love of her life. I need details, damn it!"
"Really hanging up. Give the kid a kiss for me. Bye."
She probably jammed the phone onto its cradle with more force than was necessary, but she'd never liked being shoved in a corner and her sister had been trying to do just that. Besides, it was nonsense anyway, what Susan had suggested. Diana might be many things, but in love was not one of them. That was just crazy.
She wheeled around and headed for the bedroom, shoving the conversation, if not out of her mind, at least to a dark corner in the back of it. She had other things to worry about right now. Namely, just what the hell did a person wear to a recital when said occasion was taking place in some cave below the subways and sewers of the city, and did she have such an outfit in her closet? She hoped so. If there was one thing Diana hated more than being shoved into corners, it was being shoved into dressing rooms. Not that it would make a damn bit of difference anyway: no matter what she wore she'd still stick out like a sore thumb, surrounded by tunnel folks in all their oddly regal patchwork and fringed finery. Sighing dramatically and deeply annoyed with herself for caring so much, she eyeballed her closet and started digging.
"Did you enjoy the evening?"
They'd just left the study and Vincent was walking her to what she assumed would be a threshold close to her building. She hadn't been Below enough to be sure, but it seemed he always took different routes to get her there. Though some of the tunnels looked vaguely familiar, Diana was certain she'd be lost like a rat in a maze if he wasn't there to guide her.
"Yeah, you know what, I had a good time." She didn't even have to fib. It had been entertaining, and not nearly as awful as she'd first supposed it might be. Despite figuring she'd never quite fit in down here, she'd found herself more comfortable than she'd expected, considering she hated crowds.
There had been more people crammed into Father's study than she'd figured on, and the first several minutes pretty iffy - even after Vincent had spotted her and come to her side - feeling like everyone's eyes were on her, sizing her up, making the inevitable comparisons to his lost love; generally feeling pretty overwhelmed. But Vincent had been in a good mood, less somber than usual as he'd steered her to an empty chair under the balcony at the back of the room and then brought her a cup of punch and a small plate of cookies. And he'd remained by her side, occasionally leaning down to quietly ask if she needed anything or make some casual comment, his presence so reassuring that she'd been able to relax, too.
She'd even managed to have a few less than awkward conversations with some of Vincent's family after the recital, and forgotten her dislike of being crowded long enough that she'd lost track of him a time or two as he'd wandered from this person to that, chatting quietly, all his attention on whoever he was talking to. But when she'd find herself more aware of his absence and start feeling out of sorts again, it seemed like that's all she'd have to do, was feel it, and he'd suddenly be right there at her side again. And after a while even that uncanny ability of his didn't seem so strange anymore – it was almost natural. And she supposed that for him, it was.
"The kids sure were excited to be playing for everybody," she added. Now it was just the two of them, she was annoyed to find herself nervous again. It didn't make any sense: Vincent was the same person he'd been in Father's study; the one she'd automatically looked to in order to reiterate her right to be there. The only difference was that now they were alone. And Diana wasn't quite sure what to do with herself - or with him, for that matter.
When in doubt, she thought, fall back on the wisecracking detective mode. I've got that down pat.
"Yes, they were," Vincent agreed, "Though I'm afraid their enthusiasm far outweighs their ability to interpret Mr. Haydn's work in a consistent manner."
"Is that who they were playing?" Diana shot him a teasing wink and a quick grin. "Yeah, so they hit a few clunkers, here and there."
"A few?" There was dry humor in his voice; a thing heard so rarely she couldn't ever be sure she wasn't just imagining it. "You're very kind."
"You have to learn to walk before you can run, right? Besides, I barely noticed. What: don't tell me you're some kind of music snob."
Vincent gave a measured tilt of his head. "Guilty. Or perhaps I'm merely missing the summer concerts in the park … the long months between, when I most keenly feel the absence of a full orchestra. I miss it: being engulfed by the music that way … in its largeness."
They'd silently agreed on a leisurely pace, two sets of long legs taking equal strides. She was struck again by how large he was, so much so she felt like a child walking next to him. Diana decided it wasn't his height, really, that made him loom so large beside her. Vincent only had four or five inches on her and she topped out at 5'9". It wasn't that. He was just big: massive at the shoulders and back, with a barrel chest and a wide torso tapering to narrow hips set on thighs so muscular she doubted she could wrap both hands around one of them and have them meet.
Oh, no you don't. Don't even go there, sweet pea!
Ducking her head to hide the flush she felt rising in her cheeks, Diana said, "I'm almost afraid to ask, but how do you manage to attend those concerts?"
They were doing okay, so far. She was doing okay, and would probably continue to, so long as she could keep her thoughts to herself - at least the ones concerning his thighs. She decided maybe being able to have a normal conversation with him was just something that required practice.
Vincent gave her a steady look. "There is a chamber here Below, situated just in front and to the side of the orchestral shell, the ceiling of which is a large, open grate. The sound there is perfect. Almost like being …" He abruptly fell silent and she looked over as he glanced away, giving a small shake of his head and quietly finishing the thought. "Like being in the first row."
And she knew, without having to ask this time, that he was thinking about Catherine. And just like that, it wasn't quite as okay as it had been. Diana kept her mouth shut, afraid of saying the wrong thing.
"I'll take you there sometime, if you'd like," he offered a few awkward moments later.
"Sure, that'd be nice. But summer's a long way off."
"Yes. This winter has seemed … endless."
"All winters end, Vincent." That elicited another thoughtful study from him. "What?"
He shook his head again and then lightly grasped her arm, turning her toward a tunnel opening to their left. "You sounded like Father, just now." Off her look he explained, "There is a recitation he gives every year at Winterfest that includes those words: all winters end."
"An annual celebration. A gathering of the community and all our helpers Above. To thank them, show our gratitude for their generosity throughout the year."
"Kind of like a family Christmas party?"
"Of a sort," he agreed, "though it occurs in January. In fact the initial gathering was on the occasion of my first birthday; a coming out, if you will, when Father first introduced our helpers to his adopted son. Before that many of them knew of me only by word of mouth. It seems I was uncomfortable around strangers, especially in large groups. And Father was understandably reluctant to … show me off."
"I never have liked crowds, either," she quickly offered. "They tend to make me twitchy."
"According to Father, they tended to make me feral."
Startled, she slowed to look and, sure enough, though his expression gave nothing away, composed as it was, his eyes were glinting with humor when they met hers. She threw him a grin. "I bet you were a handful."
"And still am."
She smiled even wider, pleasantly surprised by his easy banter. Though she suspected he might have a sense of humor buried under all the grief he'd been carrying around since she'd known him, she'd never expected it to surface the way it had. And then she began to wonder why. Why now?
They'd come to the end of the tunnel and to a sort of doorway, wide and circular, that opened onto another passageway, the floor of which was several feet below where they'd come to a stop. It looked as though the two sections should've been connected by a ladder or a ramp or something and someone, at the last minute, had changed their mind and abandoned the idea.
As if he'd read her curious thoughts, Vincent turned and said, "Beginnings can be awkward, Diana, but I'm hopeful we've moved past the worst of it. You should know you needn't be as careful with me as you might suppose. I'm not so fragile as I was … when first we met."
Then Vincent took a step out into nothing and dropped down to the lower tunnel - just like that, in one easy motion, bending slightly at the knees to absorb the impact of the fall. One second at her side and the next below and gazing up at her, arms open and lifted in invitation. Without thought she took the step off the edge and he caught her at the waist and set her gently down beside him. She got her bearings, thinking hard about what he'd said about beginnings as they took off walking.
What kind of beginning are we having, here? she wondered. Different than the first one, when I yanked him out of that graveyard and brought him home? Which got her thinking about those three days he'd spent in her loft. And all the moments afterward, until he'd finally been able to bring Jacob home.
"Fragile," she admitted after a minute or so, "isn't exactly the word that comes to mind when I remember those first few times." And then wished she hadn't said anything at all. God knows, the last thing she wanted to do was embarrass him. It was one thing to make light of your own less than admirable moments, quite another when someone else did it for you.
There was a medium silence before he inquired, "Will you make me ask, then?"
Ducking her head, she replied, "I was thinking 'crazed' was more like it."
He thought about that for a few seconds, as she threw him a series of surreptitious looks. "I believe," he finally said, "that would be an accurate assessment, as well. Feral. Crazed. I suppose I can take comfort in the fact that some things never change."
"Look, I didn't mean it that way. I was just –" She stopped talking because he stopped walking and, turning to her, very matter-of-factly took her hand and leveled those crystal blue eyes at her.
"You worry overmuch, Diana. There is nothing you could say that would offend me. You have seen me at my worst and yet here you stand, still willing to abide my company. Res ipsa loquitur."
"I'm sorry, what?"
"It's Latin: the thing speaks for itself."
She broke out in another unrestrained smile. "Yeah. Yeah, I guess it does."
They started off again. And neither one of them said anything about the fact that he was still holding her hand. It wasn't like she wasn't deeply aware of it, because she was; and wondering at the same time just what the hell it meant. It wasn't some kind of earth-shattering gesture or anything, like it would be if he'd kissed her or something. Yeah, dream on kiddo, she cracked at herself. It was just a simple clasping of hands: friendly, nice. But it surprised her nonetheless. And then Diana decided she was probably making way too much of it, in any case. For all she knew Vincent was a big fan of holding hands and did it with anyone he liked. Some people were that way. Nobody she'd ever met, but that was beside the point, because he wasn't like anybody she'd ever met. Just the fact of his existence, and her knowing it, had changed everything.
Diana shook loose of her mental meanderings and drowned out the thoughts in her head by talking over them: "So I guess I missed your birthday, huh?"
"What? Oh … yes, almost two months past – and Winterfest, too. You must attend next year; I'll see to it. All our helpers are welcome, and you are certainly that."
"Concert in the park this summer, Winterfest next January. My calendar is getting full. Better watch out: pretty soon I'll start thinking I actually have a life beyond my work."
"I think we can find things to fill the interim between the two occasions, as well. If you're not finding my company too tedious."
"I don't think you're in much danger of that word ever coming to mind, Vincent."
They made smiles at each other - his less prominent than hers, but just as sincere - and everything was back to good.
Scratch that, Diana thought, enjoying the strength and the warmth of his hand enveloping hers. It's better than good.
And then she told all those little voices in her head nattering about how she couldn't possibly let herself be this happy, that everything would eventually crash down around her like it always did, to shut the hell up.
They listened. For awhile, anyway.
Mouse has just delivered your note, though it seems he's had it in his possession for several hours. Though kind of heart and infinitely well-meaning, he does not always grasp the import of delivering messages in a timely manner.
I'm glad to hear that you are all right. I will admit I had begun to worry at your extended absence and would soon have come to see for myself that all was well with you. Knowing now that you are involved in a harrowing case eases my concern. Yet I cannot help but worry, for I know the toll the work can take on your well-being. Please remember to look after yourself.
I think of you often and hope to see you soon.
Another week has passed without word from you. I hope you will forgive me, but I had to know that you were all right. We have a helper who has reason to frequent the offices your police unit occupies, and I asked him to discreetly inquire as to your well-being. He assures me that you are still involved in an investigation and are in good health. Last night I went so far as to come to your rooftop. I needed to see for myself and had thought to signal to you that I was there. But I found I could not impose myself on you that way. If you have chosen to remain silent and apart from me, I must believe it is for good cause and have faith that you will respond to my letters when you can. It is said that patience is a virtue. I find myself lacking that of late. But that is no concern of yours. I must find the discipline necessary to give you the time and space you so clearly desire. Please know that you are always in my thoughts.
"I swear to God, if you laugh at me I will never speak to you again."
"No laughing. Cross my heart and hope to die."
"And don't ask me any questions, 'cause I can't give you the answers you want. Just listen. Okay?" Almost a week after the delivery of Vincent's last note, Diana found herself folded tight on her couch, the cradle of the phone balanced on her knobby knees, earpiece jammed against the side of her head.
"I promise to just listen. For now. But eventually you're gonna have to –"
"I'm scared, Suze. I don't know what I'm supposed to do, here."
Her sister's voice came through the phone line pitched low and more serious than it had been a few seconds ago. "What are you scared of, Di?"
"I think maybe you were right about what you said last time." She took a deep breath and sighed it out into the phone. "About the guy … the one who doesn't exist and I can't talk about."
"You're not going to make this easy, are you?"
"It's so stupid!" she declared, disgustedly batting her free hand in the air, like swatting at a fly just a hair too fast to catch. "One lousy night that anybody else probably wouldn't even consider a date, let alone some kind of commitment, and all of a sudden I'm second-guessing everything. And if that's not bad enough, I wake up thinking about him. I go to sleep thinking about him. He's even in my goddam dreams! I walk around here with an idiotic smile plastered on my face. Half the time, anyway. The other half I just want to shoot him for doing this to me. One little throw-away line about beginnings and I lose my mind. I can't get any work done. Took on a case nobody else wanted hoping I could shake loose of this, have a good excuse to stay away from him – for all the good it's done, 'cause even when he's not here, he's here." She knocked her head even though Suze couldn't see her do it. "Got a call from my watch commander this morning, wanting to know if I needed to partner up on this one, seeing it's been almost two weeks since I've had any kind of progress report to hand him. Can you picture that? Me, with a partner? I've always worked alone! That was the agreement! Last thing I need is somebody else to worry about; some guy dogging my heels, getting in my way, expecting compromises, asking for all sorts of things instead of just shutting up and letting me do what I need to do." Diana chuffed angrily. "Yeah, me with a partner. I'll quit first."
"Maybe that's your problem."
"What's that suppose to mean?" she barked.
"You're too used to being alone. And you're scared of what might happen if you let this guy in. So you're gonna push him away before he can try."
"Push who away, a partner? There's not gonna be a partner. I told you: I'll quit first."
"Quit life? Good luck with that. Because we both know this isn't about work, at all. That's not the kind of partner we're talking, is it?" Diana opened her mouth to protest, but her sister was quicker. "And don't try to deny it. What you just described fits your personal life as well as it does the professional. Don't deny that, either. What are you so scared of, Di? That you might actually be falling in love with this guy? That you might get your heart broken? That's not a good enough reason not to try - because maybe you won't. Maybe this is exactly the right man at the right time. How are you going to know if you don't give it a chance? Don't you ever get tired of being alone?"
"I like being alone."
"Okay, lonely, then. Doesn't it get old? Wouldn't it be nice to have somebody around who cares about you? He does care about you, doesn't he? I'm assuming you wouldn't be this freaked out if it wasn't mutual."
"Yes … no … I don't know. I guess. I don't get to see him much."
"Why? Does he live outside the city? Stressful job with long hours? Oh, God, don't tell me he's married!"
"No! Well, he's a widower, kind of - for all intents and purposes, I mean. And he's raising their kid, a baby boy. Cutest thing you ever saw. Name's Jacob. Jesus, will you listen to me? I tell you not to ask questions and here I am, blabbing away. I can't do this, Suze. I can't talk about it, I can't."
"I thought you wanted to talk. Isn't that why you called me?"
"Yeah, well, I changed my mind. Look, forget I said anything, okay?"
She didn't know if her sister ever got Bennett out because she just happened to look up. And standing there, bigger than life ohgod ohgod outside her skylights, was Vincent. Their eyes locked and she spat out a "Gotta go," into the phone before slamming it down and heading for the stairs in her sweatpants, t-shirt and stocking feet, heart pounding like a timpani.
She made herself walk up the stairs, not run like she wanted to, half-scared he'd be gone by the time she got there, just like she was every time he came tapping at her window. Only he hadn't tapped this time – or had he, and she hadn't heard him? God, how long had he been there and how much of her end of the conversation had he heard? Was his hearing that keen? And then she realized almost a month had passed since she'd seen him and for a few seconds it didn't matter if he had heard any of it.
She stepped out into the chilly late spring night and immediately wrapped her arms around as much of herself as she could. The rooftop was cold under her feet and littered with landmines of pea gravel that dug into their tender soles with every step. Didn't matter, though.
Vincent was at his usual spot at the roof wall, leaning with one arm across the top, turned at an angle so a glance would be enough to see out into the city – or as much of it as her dinky view afforded. He straightened and greeted her as she approached, the way he always did. Not with a hi or a hello but just her name, in a way that made it sound different, special, like no one else saying it ever had.
"I'm sorry if I disturbed you. I didn't mean to interrupt your -"
"S'okay, it wasn't important." And then she shut up and just looked at him.
And he was as breathtaking as the first time she'd laid eyes on him. Just as miraculous. From the tips of his big, booted feet to the top of his shaggy, golden head. She double-checked just to be sure, and then caught the lifting of his eyes as they met hers and realized she'd gotten the same kind of quick once-over from him.
Vincent asked "Are you well?"
"Yeah, yeah, I'm good. You?"
His head dipped: a small nod. "It's been so long. I was concerned. I had to come."
"Yeah, I know, I'm sorry." She raised a hand in a vague gesture. "Work," she explained, capping it off with a quick shrug.
And hiding. Don't forget hiding she reminded herself. But Vincent didn't need to know that. Because then he'd want to know what, or who, she was hiding from – and why. And she wasn't about to try explaining that to him. Besides, now that he was here, standing so comfortably just a few feet away, Diana couldn't really remember why avoiding him had seemed like such a great idea to begin with.
"How's the baby?"
"And Father, he doing okay?"
"He is well, thank you." Vincent caught her eye and held it, saying, "As is Mouse. Jamie. Pascal. All the various children. Shall I go on?"
She was flustered for all of about three seconds, until she dragged her eyes away from the pull of his and found a teasing smile on his face that matched the one she thought she'd seen in his eyes. And she knew in an instant they both knew they were being perfectly ridiculous. "If you think I'm gonna ask you how the weather is down there, forget it."
He let out a surprised peal of laughter and stepped closer, ducking his head again as he reached and took her hands in his. She grinned at the top of his head, wanting nothing more than to drop a kiss there, and there was a short, expectant pause before they said at the same time, "I've missed you."
She laughed this time, and he kept his head down, but she peeked under his hair and caught the glint of an upper fang exposed by his smile. He shifted his weight and eventually looked up at her, features once again composed. And very serious now.
"I came here," he said, "because I was worried. And uncertain. I wanted to see you again. And I wanted … I wanted you to know that you needn't feel bound by any perceived obligation to … include me in your life. I have always welcomed the friendship of others, those to whom I feel a connection. But I wanted you to know you must've ever think that I expect anything of you. The choice must always be yours, Diana, and if ever I've done anything-"
"I thought you were empathic," she cut in, squeezing his hands to silence him. Because the whole time he'd been talking, only half her brain had been listening. The other half had been replaying a litany of Susan's words: how do you know if you don't give it a chance? so you're gonna push him away before he can try. what are you so scared of? And in the split second the two halves of her brain merged, she'd had one of those flashbulb moments that happened when she was eyeball-deep in a case, drowning in unanswered questions and desperately struggling to break free of the mind lock, that moment of sudden epiphany when all the pieces came together, so definitively she could almost hear them locking tight.
And she thought, I'm standing in front of the single greatest miracle I'm ever likely to know. Why the hell would I do anything to sabotage that? What's the risk of a broken heart compared to the promise of this?
"I am." Vincent answered her challenge in a slightly offended tone. "But what's that-"
"Must be on the fritz then," she declared, "or else you wouldn't be babbling all this garbage about obligation and expectations."
That got her a blink. Then: "Babbling?"
"Yeah, you know: 'the choice must always be yours,' and all that stuff. Like I have a choice, here. Like I ever did. Because I don't." She stuck out her chin defiantly, feeling suddenly defensive and a little scared.
What if she was wrong, after all? What if, when he talked about friendship, that was all he was talking about? Maybe as she was standing here wishing he'd wrap his arms around her, Vincent was just trying to be nice and it was dawning on him that he was dealing with a crazy woman beset with horribly grand illusions of love and romance. What if he was the one trying to push her away?
She dared a glance at him. And his face was impassive, save for the crease between his upswept brows that'd grown deeper from some emotion she couldn't quite peg. Puzzlement, maybe? Or maybe even alarm. It was too damn dark on her roof to really see his eyes, and so much of what he was thinking and feeling was there, instead of being evident in his decidedly alien features.
"What?" she asked.
"Are you finished, Diana? May I now babble without interruption?"
Sheepishly, she looked away and studied her roof door. "Yeah, I'm done. Go ahead. Sorry."
"It is difficult," he began, "because between us there is no bond, as there was with Catherine. Even when separated by miles, I knew what she was feeling. More an encumbrance for her than me, being long used to knowing what those around me feel... But that is not what I meant to say. It is only that with each day that passed that I did not see you, I began to … to question what I thought I knew, and felt. And so I came here to free you of any sense of responsibility you might have toward me. But then …"
He stopped and waited for her look at him squarely. Maybe making sure she was paying attention. And, of course, she was. When Vincent was anywhere in the vicinity, he was the only thing she paid attention to – the only thing she could. So Diana stepped closer in reassurance, their fingers still loosely twined, and met his solemn eyes.
"Then my resolve fell away the moment you stepped through the roof door," he said. "Because I knew there was no need for my words. Once you I saw you and … knew what you felt... It was foolish of me to believe otherwise. But it's been so long and I was worried… Forgive me, you're right: I'm babbling."
His head dropped and she didn't think about it, she just closed the distance between them and wrapped her arms around him. She couldn't stand to see him so unsure and tentative, a perfect outward reflection of her inner turmoil.
Nothing like two scared and damaged people trying to come together in a way that won't hurt any more than it absolutely has to, she thought to herself. Neither one of us knows that hell we're doing here, but here we are anyway. Because, otherwise, how will we ever find out? Please, oh please, don't let me screw this up.
She felt his arms come up to loosely circle around her back and Diana sighed as she laid her cheek against his chest. And in that uncanny, empathic way he had, Vincent said softly against her hair, "You feel much - and deeply. Love … much. But always for others, not for yourself. You are the embodiment of kindness and generosity and compassion. You give endlessly, but will not allow yourself to receive. You speak for those who no longer have a voice, but never ask anything for yourself. Perhaps it's time, Diana. Not for reasons, but simply … for yourself."
Instead of busting out crying, which she was on the brink of doing, she blinked away the hot tears and gripped him harder, quietly confessing, "I don't know how to do that. I don't even know where to start."
"I think … perhaps you already have – we have. I don't know what will happen in the days to come, or how this may be for us. But I want to find out, Diana. I want to try. But only if you-"
Coming up on her toes, she silenced him with a kiss. Nothing demanding or even all that heated. Just in answer to the question she hadn't quite let him finish asking. Then she pulled back and tried to get a good look at his face. His eyes were shadowed in darkness, but she thought she saw surprise there, and maybe even a little apprehension.
"I'm sorry," she stammered. "I shouldn't have done that. I didn't mean to… It just seemed quicker than saying yes."
"And as definitive," Vincent murmured after a few long seconds. She had the feeling he wasn't even saying it to her, particularly, just stating a fact. And then he added, "You needn't apologize, Diana. You did nothing wrong."
She felt the smile spread across her face and watched the corners of his cleft mouth lift in response. "Well, in that case …"
She toed up and kissed him again. Slower this time, and longer, until the strangeness was replaced by budding familiarity and she realized how perfectly marvelous this could be, this thing between them.
She broke the kiss and went to look at him again, but his hand lifted to cup the back of her head and she found her face pressed against his shoulder instead, as his other arm pulled more tightly around her. She let him hold her like that for awhile and then leaned away enough to focus on him, on that oddly regal face of his, like some mythical god of long ago. A great warrior prince, standing on her tiny little shoddy rooftop and declaring himself to be hers, if she would have him.
And there it was again: that weird floaty feeling, the one she felt every time she was near him or thought about him. Or happened to catch his eye and hold it. Or, like now, kiss him. It was like the laws of gravity had ceased to exist – at least at this very moment, and here on her rooftop. But it was okay, there was nothing to worry about. Diana was certain of that now. Because Vincent was holding her safely in his arms.
And he was floating too.
The first scene in this story contains dialogue from the 3S episode "Legacies." My thanks to Koslow, Gansa, Gordon and Simonds for giving me a jumping off point.
That's all, folks. Until the next time …