United in Grief
by Jackie Newman
"Vincent, I think you should talk to Joe." Diana got straight to the point when Vincent appeared on her roof shortly after sunset one Friday. She watched him as he strode across the rooftop. One arm surrounded Jacob protectively although the carrier held him securely to his father's body and kept him warm. She glanced quickly at Jacob's sleeping form, then into Vincent's troubled eyes.
Diana sighed and looked away, hugging herself. The air was cold tonight, and the wind drove the cold into her bones. But the chill she felt went beyond what she could attribute to the weather. How many times had he said those words to Cathy after coming to her balcony, sensing her pain? 'Stop it!' she ordered herself. This wasn't the time for that sort of thinking.
She looked back at Vincent, who waited patiently. "He's tearing himself up. He's convinced that Cathy's baby is in the hands of Gabriel's men and it's destroying him. He's asking questions I can't answer and he isn't going to stop. Cathy was his friend and he is determined to find her baby or die trying."
She leaned on the railing and looked out over the city. "He needs to know, Vincent. He needs to see for himself that Cathy's child is safe and will grow up loved." She straightened and took one of Jacob's tiny hands in her own. "He's a good man. After all the help he gave me finding Gabriel, he deserves to know the truth about little Jacob here. I understand why Cathy didn't tell anyone about you, but things have changed."
She knew those last words stung from the way his shoulders flinched. Unfortunate, but necessary. She pressed the issue, in a tone that ordered rather than asked. "Meet us in the cemetery in one hour."
Vincent nodded slightly and disappeared into the night.
Diana banged on the door to Joe's apartment, then stuffed her hands back into her coat pockets. She should have worn gloves. "Joe? It's Diana. We need to talk."
No answer. She pressed her ear to the door, trying to detect sounds of movement from inside, but only heard the television. She knocked again and heard a thump which was followed by a curse. She shifted her weight to the balls of her feet when she heard him unlocking the door. This was going to be difficult. She knew that Joe was tired of her evasions and things had been very strained between them lately.
"Yeah?" Joe said gruffly, running a hand absently through his already disheveled hair.
She noted that he was dressed and shoved her hands deeper into her pockets. He must have fallen asleep on the couch while watching TV. "Get your coat."
"Where are we going?" Joe demanded warily. He still had one hand on the door, ready to slam it shut if this conversation went the way so many others had of late.
"I'll tell you on the way. First, I want you to promise to come as Catherine Chandler's friend, not as a D.A."
"Hey, it's a package deal," he countered, standing firmly. The door closed by a few inches, as a warning.
"Joe, I don't have time for this," Diana snapped, stepping inside. He'd have to knock her down to close the door on her now. "Do you want to meet Vincent or not?"
That got a reaction. His whole demeanor became more animated and the grief in his eyes was tempered with hope. "You found him?"
"Promise, Joe, or I'm leaving."
"I promise not to act rashly. That's the best I can do."
Knowing it was as much as he could give, she nodded, relenting. "Taxi's out front."
She waited anxiously while he grabbed his coat from the back of the couch and checked the pocket for his keys. "Do you have a flashlight?" she asked, wishing she had thought to bring an extra one for him.
He gave her a quizzical look, but produced one from an end table.
"Check the batteries," she suggested quietly. Given the state of his apartment, she wasn't sure it even had a bulb.
He shone the light directly into her eyes as answer, then locked the dead-bolt on his door. "After you," he said gallantly, gesturing for her to go ahead of him to the elevator. His bitter tone chilled her as much as the night air.
In the taxi, she refused to answer any of Joe's questions and he finally quit asking. He even hid his surprise when the driver let them out at the cemetery where Catherine was buried. He waited impatiently, shifting from one foot to another while Diana paid the driver.
After the taxi pulled away, she took a flashlight out of her coat and turned it on. It did little to push back the moonless night, but would be sufficient to keep them from tripping. When she set out in the direction of Cathy's grave, Joe obediently fell in beside her and added his light to hers. Even with both lights shining together, the darkness nearly engulfed the beams.
Diana led him to a park bench not far from the grave and she sat down quietly while he went over to pay his respects. It was a solemn, tired figure who finally sat down beside her. "So, where is he?"
"He'll be here." Diana scanned the shadows, knowing she wouldn't see Vincent until he wanted to be seen. Her gaze settled on Cathy's headstone several yards away.
"Why are you protecting him?" Joe asked, trying a different approach. The silence had gone on long enough and he wasn't leaving here tonight until he had some answers... or until he froze to death.
"He saved my life, just like he saved Cathy's." Diana was hunched down and the collar of her jacket was turned up around her neck. It muffled her voice, and Joe had to move closer to hear her.
"Go on," Joe coaxed, momentarily forgetting how cold he was.
"Once, when Gabriel's men came after me, Vincent saved me. Catherine died to protect him, protect his secret, and she knew him better than anyone. I owe it to both of them, and their child, to keep Vincent safe. Vincent never hurt anyone who didn't have it coming."
"If he was so important to her, why didn't she ever talk about him?"
"She wanted to, Joe. I'm sure she wanted to." Diana turned her head and looked at him. "She trusted you. But she didn't want to make you choose between friendship and your responsibility as a D.A. Given everything that's happened, I think Cathy would agree that it is time for you and Vincent to meet. You need to see for yourself that their son is safe."
Joe shifted sideways so he faced Diana. "Their son? Cathy had a boy?"
"His name is Jacob." Vincent's soft voice cut through the night.
Joe started and jumped up. Off to his right a cloaked figure emerged from the shadows. He took a step and the figure spoke again.
"Come no closer... please."
Joe froze, unsure of how to respond. Vincent's voice was not diminished by the wind, Joe mused. Strange, how he had to strain to hear Diana, who was sitting right next to him, and yet Vincent's soft voice presented no difficulty at all.
"Diana?" the voice asked gently.
Diana immediately went over to Vincent and held out her arms. When she had Jacob securely in her embrace, she moved back to Joe. "Sit down, and you can hold him."
"Cathy's baby?" Joe couldn't hold back tears. He sank back onto the bench and let Diana place the child in his arms. "He's been with you all this time?" His question was directed to Vincent, though his gaze never left the baby.
"No." The voice was pained. "From the night Catherine died until the night the police raided his estate, Gabriel had him."
"You were there?" Joe tore his gaze away from the baby to look at Vincent's dark form. Vincent had moved closer, and was now leaning against a tree. Still, Joe couldn't make out any of his features beneath the curve of the hood.
"She died in my arms. She fought the drugs long enough to tell me of the child they took from her, but the poison in her body was too much for...." Vincent let the sentence go unfinished.
Joe saw the slump of Vincent's shoulders, the bowed head... "Morphine." He took a deep breath. "Did she suffer?"
"She knew she was dying. She knew Gabriel had our son. She knew I was with her," he answered honestly.
"Oh, Cathy." Joe's voice broke. He held the child against him. "I tried to find your mommy. I tried."
Sobs wracked his shoulders and Diana gently eased Jacob from his lap. Joe leaned forward, burying his face in his hands. The grief he had held back so long could be held back no longer. It was finally over.
Vincent was unable to block his sense of Joe's pain. It was a pain he knew too well. Forgetting caution, he moved to the broken man and placed a gloved hand on Joe's heaving shoulders. Diana had been right. This man had been a loyal friend to Catherine at great cost to himself. "Come meet the people who loved her as you do. Perhaps there you will find solace."
"No more secrets?" Joe gained enough control over his voice to ask.
"No more secrets," Vincent agreed, taking Jacob back from Diana. Practiced hands settled the child into the carrier and wrapped the cloak protectively around him. "Come." He moved into the shadows and waited for Joe to collect himself and follow.
Diana took his elbow and guided him towards Vincent. He wiped absently at his eyes and let himself be led back the way Vincent had come.
When they were several blocks from the cemetery, Vincent knelt by a manhole cover and heaved the heavy metal out of their way. He and Diana were so matter-of-fact about it that Joe felt too awkward to comment and settled instead for peering at Vincent's face. The street lamps had no dominion here, and Joe still couldn't make out any of Vincent's features.
Resigned to waiting, he followed Diana down the ladder and waited while Vincent climbed in and sealed the entrance. "You live underground? In the sewers?" Joe asked, stating the obvious.
"Beneath the subways, beneath the sewers. It is a forgotten place, where we live," Vincent answered, thinking back to when he had given Catherine a similar answer. The sense of safety, however, had been lost to him long ago. There were no safe places. Not anymore.
They walked for what seemed like forever to Joe, through a never-ending maze of tunnels. As they moved deeper into the Earth, torches, and then electric lights illuminated the passages. Pipes, running along the walls near his head, clanged incessantly.
"Vincent!" A young boy came running towards them. "You made it back for story hour! I hoped you would! We wanted to know if you would read The Velveteen Rabbit tonight."
"Eric." Vincent stopped and knelt. It seemed to Joe that there was both pleasure and pain in his voice. "Why that story?"
"For Catherine." Eric moved closer and put a hand on Vincent's shoulder in a very adult-like gesture. "We all miss her, Vincent. Remember how she read it to us after Ellie died?"
"She read it at her father's funeral," Joe supplied.
"Eric, this is Joe. He was a friend of Catherine's." Vincent introduced them, stalling in his answer. That Eric should request this now, tonight...
"Will you help Vincent read it?" Eric asked, turning to the new person. "When Cathy read it to us, she and I took turns with the different sections. Now Vincent helps me read the really long parts. You can read Cathy's part, if you want." He turned back to Vincent. "Is that okay?"
"Yes, Eric, if Joe is willing," Vincent conceded. If it would please the children...
"Sure." Joe shrugged.
"Cool! I'll go tell the others! Don't take too long, Vincent. It's getting late!" Eric gave Vincent a quick hug before running off to share the news.
"Cute kid," Joe commented, desperate for a sense of normalcy.
"Catherine brought him to us. He and his sister were stolen from an orphanage, separated from each other... the systems of your world can be cruel." Vincent stood up and took a deep breath, still keeping his back to Joe. "Forgive me. The pain of Ellie's death is deep, now that Catherine is gone as well."
"Ellie was his sister?" Joe asked quietly.
"Yes. Even in this forgotten place, Death finds us," Vincent answered and resumed his walk to the inner chambers.
Joe followed Vincent and Diana and into a large room filled with piles and shelves of books, inhabited by dozens of people. A hush settled over the chamber as they saw an unfamiliar face standing next to Diana.
Vincent moved to the bottom of some steps that led to the main floor and pushed back his hood. Joe looked over Vincent's shoulder, gaping at the number of faces that were looking back at him.
Vincent spoke, filling the chamber with his quiet, gentle voice. "This is Joe Maxwell. He was a friend of Catherine's, the truest kind of friend a person could have. He loved her as we did. He has been looking for Jacob, thinking he was being raised by the same people who killed Catherine."
Finished with his introduction, Vincent strode towards the chair in the center of the room and swung his cloak from his shoulders. Jacob was still strapped to his chest, sleeping and sucking his thumb.
Joe recovered his composure and went to the steps. His hand grasped the railing and he hesitated, unsure of where he was headed.
"Mr. Maxwell, please, come sit down." Father stood and leaned on his cane, gesturing for Joe to join him near Vincent. "Would you like some tea? Samantha, Eric, would you bring some more chairs over for our guests?"
"You!" Joe froze on the top step, staring in shock and disbelief. His gaze moved next to Vincent, who faced him for the first time. At that glance, his shock only deepened. To cover any lapse in manners, he directed his attention back to Father. "What are you doing here?" He glanced around the room. "I suppose a white rabbit will come running through any minute now, complaining he's late?"
"No, but watch out for Mouse!" someone called out.
"Vincent is my son, Mr. Maxwell," Father explained. "Perhaps now you understand why I couldn't tell you more, before. Hello, Diana. Please, join us."
Joe tore his eyes away from Jacob and looked back at Vincent, then scanned the room, as if looking for his lost sanity. He hoped desperately his face didn't show the dazed shock he was feeling.
Eric and another young person placed chairs between Vincent and the man with the cane. Mr. Wells, Joe thought, finally remembering his name.
Father continued smoothly, "Eric tells us you are going to help us read one of Catherine's favorite stories."
Mutely, Joe nodded and moved towards the chair Jacob had vacated. Diana perched on the chair to his right.
Eric slid a stool over so he was able to sit between Joe and Vincent. He held the book so all three readers could see it. "Okay, Vincent, you start."
Joe watched Eric move the book towards Vincent and managed to suppress a gasp when clawed fingers reached around baby Jacob to steady the pages. His initial reaction was replaced immediately with sympathy when he saw Vincent's fingers trembling. He looked up and saw Vincent's blue eyes watching him over Eric's head. Joe smiled slightly, and nodded that Vincent should begin.
Vincent looked back at him with gratitude, feeling a deep bond with this man who had been a friend to Catherine. He wished she could be here to see it. He pressed his lips to his son's head in a gentle kiss and forced himself to move past the pain. Part of Catherine would always be with him, here, in the son he held in his lap.
He turned his attention to the text and began to read.
There was once a velveteen rabbit, and in the beginning he was really splendid. He was fat and bunchy, as a rabbit should be; his coat was spotted brown and white, he had real thread whiskers, and his ears were lined with pink sateen. On Christmas morning, when he sat wedged in the top of the Boy's stocking, with a sprig of holly between his paws, the effect was charming...."
Several nights later, Diana straightened up from her telescope to see Vincent standing on the roof. "I didn't hear you come," she said, not at all surprised to see him there. Somehow, he never startled her, though he came quietly.
"Thank you for bringing Joe to us."
"How is he?" Diana asked, studying him intently. Vincent was noticeably better. There was a new lightness in his step that helped to compensate for the grief in his eyes.
"Overwhelmed. But he seems to have found comfort with us. He has told us wonderful stories about Catherine that none of us knew, stories of her life Above. Joe is a very animated raconteur and paints a vivid image with his words. Even Pascal was persuaded to leave his pipes for a time, to listen to Joe talk of happier days."
"Joe does have a way with words sometimes," she said, smiling. She wished she could have been there to share the experience.
"He and Kanin are organizing a trip to a baseball game for the older children." Vincent's eyes twinkled at the memory of Joe selling the idea to Father.
"It sounds like you have made a new friend," Diana observed, folding her arms across her chest.
Vincent nodded, then went on. "Joe came Below last night with news I thought you would like to know."
"Go on," she urged.
"The details remain to be finalized, but in her will, Catherine bequeathed her entire estate to Joe."
"He's a good man. He'll use the money in a way that honors her memory, I'm sure," Diana assured him.
"There is more."
He didn't speak for several moments, and instead turned and paced away. She thought she heard him whisper Catherine's name, but wasn't certain. 'C'mon, Vincent,' she thought at him. 'Just say it!'
Vincent stroked Jacob's back and gazed up at the night sky. The stars seemed so far away tonight, yet Catherine seemed closer than ever. "Yesterday, Joe received a sealed letter from the lawyer handling her estate. It was a letter from Catherine. It explained about our world... and about me... and asked him to use some of her estate to help those Below."
He pulled his gaze back to Earth, back to Diana. "She included instructions on how to contact our helpers."
"So, in the end, Cathy did trust him to keep your secrets."
"Yes," he nodded. "It meant a great deal to him to learn that. But I am grateful to you for bringing him to us sooner. Spending time with Joe these past days has helped me feel that Catherine is closer somehow."
"Her letter to Joe was a gift to both of you," Diana remarked quietly. She walked over to stand beside him and held out her finger to Jacob. The child clenched it in his fist and looked back at her with his beautiful blue eyes. He was so like his father, the way he looked into your soul. 'Kid, you're going to be a real heartbreaker someday,' she thought.
"Yes." Vincent met her gaze, not trying to hide the tears that were streaming down his cheeks.
Diana put her free hand on his arm. "Catherine is watching over you, Vincent. Her address has changed, but her love is for always."
Vincent said nothing. He simply turned and looked out over the city, remembering.