JoAnn Baca

The hush of early morning permeated the park on this midsummer's day. Dew sparkled in crystalline facets upon countless shades of green, a light breeze twitching droplets from the leaves which spattered softly on the bridle paths and grassy slopes. The first joggers had not yet appeared, the human presence in the park consisting only of the well-hidden, sleeping homeless...and the lone cloaked figure prowling the edges of a path. For the moment - this last, precious moment - Central Park still belonged to him.

He paused by the mosaic in Strawberry Fields, the gentle reminder to "Imagine" never necessary to him - for so much in his life, imagining took the place of experiences he could never know. He smiled ruefully as he regarded the word for the merest moment, then, forgetting it almost as soon as he turned away, he sought that for which he had come: there, the one bench out of the many near the confluence of the paths. He didn't need to approach it, for his sharp eyes had already pierced the semi-gloom of this shaded place to pick out the words on the plaque affixed to it:

Though lovers be lost, love shall not,

And death shall have no dominion.

He shuddered as he read, the same reaction evoked, undiminished, no matter how many times he saw the words. The hairs on the back of his neck rose, pricking against the rough wool of his cloak. That particular phrase, so often repeated during his delirium, still gripped his soul with a ferocity which dismayed him. He had nearly died during that dark time, and so much else had nearly died with him - the fragile dream he shared with Catherine, the possibilities still unknown.... Perhaps even Catherine herself would not have survived for long had he given in to the malevolent shadows which had tried to claim him then. And those words...clanging, skittering, throbbing within his brain, like a clarion, like a sentence of doom, punctuated every remembered moment.

He had...almost...been lost - to himself, to his world, to Catherine. Love might have survived, but at what cost? For those he would have left behind, the love would have been bittersweet at best, a deadly curse at worst - for Catherine had told him often since of her firm resolve to follow him if her own heart did not first break with grief. Death would then have surely had dominion, except in the memories of those he had loved. No flowery words on a page - or a plaque - could have quelled that dismal verdict of "death," no promise of eternity could have had any meaning for those who would have been left bereft by his passing.

That time - long ago now, a year in the past - was for him a turning point. When Catherine had pulled him back from the brink of oblivion by the sheer force of her love for him, he had finally faced the truths which he had hidden from for so long. He was loved - completely, truly, utterly - and not just for his mind or his abilities, but for every element of his nature, his soul and his heart. The realization that he was as necessary as breath to the woman he loved beyond thought, beyond scope, nearly beyond life itself, had shaken him to his depths. He could no longer deny her the fulfillment of the dream they had shared, had nurtured...had ached for in silent yearning. He had owed her that much, at least, for calling him back to life, for reaching through their Bond to grasp his life force, to will him again to consciousness - to return to her and all that life offered to them both

He read the words once more, defiantly this time. Death had not had dominion, for his Catherine had decreed it would not. She had ensured that those words, uttered once in such despair, would not prevail. Love held dominion now - and would for a long time to come. There was so much in his life now, so much he had never thought possible before. Catherine had been the alchemist who had turned his desperation and hopelessness into a wondrous existence filled with happiness, serenity, delight - the golden light of her love had banished every dark place within him, as surely as if she had erased those insidious words from every page upon which they had ever been printed. That they existed still, here, Above, was a testament only to the sad lack of her light within its confines - for she dwelt Below now, and her love and light expanded to fill every cavern and chamber until within the tunnels was contained a universe of joy.

It had been some time since he'd come here, but the anniversary of his deathly illness had drawn him for some reason. Now he understood why. At this moment, contemplating all his life now held, the miracles of love and peace and hope, with a shining future stretching out before him which dazzled his eyes, he knew: no longer would these words haunt him. No longer would they hold the strange power over him which had for so long lingered as the only shadow within his heart. They were banished - perhaps not obliterated, but relegated to the trashbin of his memory, to hold sway over him no more.

The soft tread upon the path behind him shook him from his reverie. Startled, he turned, already lifting the hood of his cloak to hide his face. But he stopped almost at once, for in the next instant he recognized the step as that of the woman he loved...and the soft cooing of the babe in her arms as their child...his child. Possibilities...miracles...light...happiness - all these did the sweet presence before him presage.

"I thought I might find you here," she murmured.

He could see the apprehension in her eyes, the worry that the words on the plaque would bring back painful memories, dredge up old insecurities, provoke a return of dormant doubts. Was she right?

He looked back at the words once more, noting without surprise that they were suddenly...merely words. Their power had fled before his life's joy. He was not lost anymore - hadn't been lost for a long, long time - and his mind had finally acknowledged that fact.

Dismissing the bench, the mosaic, the world he once longed to be a part of, he turned once and for all toward the world which was all he would ever need. Taking two steps forward, he engulfed his Beloved within a fierce but gentle embrace. Then he looked down into the solemn blue eyes of their child, caressing him with his glance, taking in the downy fluff on his cheeks and chin, the delicate flat nose and the tiny arched brows. The beauty he saw there astonished him - that a child with his features could be so...perfect...still stunned him.

A slight yet firm hand caught him by the chin and turned his face, and he found himself drowning in eyes of intense liquid green, the forehead above them still creased in concern. He realized he hadn't spoken yet, and that his lack of a reply had caused her anxieties to increase despite the tranquility of his mind. The Bond was strong within her now, but sometimes she needed the reassurance of words - old fears occasionally afflicted her as well.

"I'm finished with this," he said, his face calm, his eyes reflecting the peace he felt brimming within him. Her brow cleared and she nodded. A soft smile lit her face, his beacon in the swiftly departing gloom. Together, they disappeared down the path, through the hedges, into the trees - toward home.