Third Season Round Robin ~ Chapter 6

by Rusty RedNightBird

 

The disturbance rising within Vincent took him by surprise. It had been months since his heart thrust into his throat in apprehension for another person. Diana stared, shaken at seeing his past sensitivities reawakened.

In a low, dry voice Vincent gasped, “I need to get above – don’t follow me, Diana.”

He clasped his cloak around his neck and disappeared in a flash of black wool.

Diana’s refusal caught on her lips. Was this his classic response to Catherine’s emergencies?

Reaching for the gun under her jacket, she attempted to shadow Vincent’s loping strides although the distance between them grew rapidly. She followed the echo of his steps, the sounds of his worried breathing.

As Diana made a vow to return to jogging, she heard his angry grunt and the rusty resistance of a metal door. The sound of oxidized metal separating gave way to street sounds. Diana emerged to street level to hear barking dogs, honking taxis, and distant sirens. She spent nervous seconds listening for clues to Vincent’s direction moments after he had scented the air and run in Devin’s direction.

Vincent’s perceptions prickled for the trail of violence he’d anticipated, the scents of blood and gunpowder and the glint of spent brass casings. Seeing the drag marks and the corresponding boot prints, Vincent read the tension and listened for labored breathing. There, down the alley under the dim wash of a dirty doorway light he saw Devin subduing his attacker. Crouched behind a junked car Vincent listened to Devin.

“I wouldn’t do this if I were you. Not too smart at all!” His brother was confident, if not a bit boldly brittle.

Rising in the shadows Vincent watched Devin tie the woman’s hands and feet, essentially hogtying the lanky brunette. As he rolled her on her side she spat at him, eyes burning with anger. Fighting the urge to rush to Devin’s aid, Vincent hung in silence until he felt Diana skid on the sidewalk a few yards away.

“Go, Vincent!” Diana managed to squeak out with short breath, her gun drawn as she crossed the alley to join Devin. “See if Father’s made it home. I’ve called the squad.”

Vincent’s eyes darted from Devin to Diana and then the surly brunette. He was accustomed to being the avenging angel, and this was an unsettling end to his race to the rescue. In his heart he knew Diana was right. Pulling his hood further forward he tucked his graceful form into the swallowing darkness.

 Diana stood over the struggling woman, gun drawn as Devin shook off the attack. “What’s a gal doing following men down alleys?”

He hurriedly finger combed his wavy hair then folded his arms across his chest. Before Diana could answer they were illuminated by the cruiser’s headlights. Diana holstered her gun and held up her PI shield to identify herself to her old cronies.

* * * * *

The chamber known as ‘the library’ was still. No smoldering fire, no steaming kettle, no scent of Earl Grey Tea.

Vincent slipped past Mary to see Jacob sleeping peacefully in the Tunnel’s nursery, something he had to do for their collective peace.

If anything in this life is certain, Vincent spoke in his heart, Jacob, know that you are my heart, my soul.

The sleeping child barely stirred as a sweet grin graced the child’s peaceful face as if to return the silent sentiment. With a lighter heart Vincent made silent steps to his chamber.

Within the hour Vincent heard the pipes announce Devin and Diana’s passing the first checkpoint. Vincent had already splashed his face with cool water and heartily consumed a half a pot of tea along with a chunk of cheese and salami while he was mired in anxious thought over Devin. When had Devin become well versed in street fighting? More important, where had he previously needed that skill?

Devin and Diana’s voices were animated, interrupting each other and finishing each other’s sentences. Considering their recent situation, their tête-à-tête danced near gallows humor. They found Vincent silent, at his table, elbows on either side of his open journal with no words written there.

“Bro, thanks for making an appearance tonight.” Devin circled the table to give his brother a loving smack on the back.

“I’m glad Diana called the authorities,” Vincent replied quietly, unnaturally subdued.

Diana carefully watched the brothers relate as Vincent leaned into Devin’s embrace.

“Who was she, Devin?”

“I didn’t find out, she was hustled off in cuffs and booked on assault charges. You saw the gun; you have my word that was a custom piece.” Devin hooked a thumb in Diana’s direction. “She wrangled that they took our statements and we were done.” Devin administered a softer pat on Vincent’s shoulder. Again Devin sought Diana’s attention, another chance to schmooze. “She’s a good one to know.” Then his manner changed as he turned to her. “Did you enjoy lunch the other day?”

The question seemed to pull the two topsiders into a private conversation. It left Vincent on the periphery as the two chattered about the meal and the fruity notes of that bottle of wine.

Once again, Vincent envied Devin. There he watched the man and the woman engaged in easy conversation akin to a casual table tennis game. Devin hung on her words, his face alive and his eyes flashing brightly with laughter.

Diana’s words were softer, her replies tempered with girlish laughter. Were her cheeks flushed because of Devin’s attention? Vincent observed from outside their circle. In all his encounters with Devin he’d never seen Devin this at ease. Vincent realized he’d never heard Devin play a cosmopolitan gentleman or rarely seen Diana off the clock.

The light conversation’s spell was broken by the pipe’s report ‘Welcome, Father.’ The three of them skidded to the hall only to greet the Tunnel’s patriarch hobbling slowly toward them.

Jacob Wells halted at the trio and leaned on his cane.

“Devin? Son, it’s good to see you!” Father extended his free arm to his son. Devin hesitated a second, unaccustomed to seeing his father dressed in topsider clothes.

When their greetings had ceased, Father eyed Vincent and Diana’s gaze.

“I suppose I have been missed.” Jacob shifted hands on his cane and sniffed. “You, Vincent, on the other hand can disappear for days and I’m not to worry.” Jacob turned on his good foot and headed for his chamber, and the three fell in line behind him.

Without attending to his guests, Jacob stood in the archway between the two rooms, his tone a bit impertinent.

“Have you all come to dress me for bed?”

Diana shuffled a retreat to the outer doorway.

“I’d enjoy a cup of tea, Devin, if you’d be kind enough to light the fire and fill the kettle.”

Jacob retreated behind the curtain to change into his regular wardrobe. His sons stared at each other until Vincent shook his golden head as if to clear his thoughts.

“I’m going to let the two of you catch up; I’ll prepare the trundle bed if you’d like to stay Below.”

Devin nodded and began his requested duties. Vincent left Devin there to be the prodigal son, the interrogator and whoever else they needed him to be.

The silent passageway held only the flickering torchlight. Diana was nowhere to be seen. With a shrug Vincent made his way to his chamber. As he stepped into the room he caught the semicircle of golden light illuminating the sole person in the room, Diana.

Here was the woman who’d cast her light in the darkness in his life to bring his son home. She’d skated on the thinnest ice to save Jacob from Gabriel’s insidious strategies. She stood, her back to him while her delicate fingers traced the spines of a few books. Titian hair, rarely loose, caped her shoulders and glistened in the golden light.

Tonight Vincent was seeing a transcendent Diana. In the moments while Devin and Diana chattered Vincent realized a green monster had begun to swell within him. At this moment Diana was not the Detective, in fact in the past few months they had fallen further and further from crime survivor and detective.

Their meetings had never taken the forbidden path that he taken with Catherine. There had been no romantic readings, no swelling classical music shared on cushions beneath the band shell. Vincent had found himself on Diana’s roof more frequently than Diana came Below. Was Devin ready to slide into town to wine and dine her in his new persona? Sure it had been in the guise of seeking her professional skills, yet the green monster inside Vincent thought the gesture just a bit puffed up. Words escaped Vincent, before he could think.

“My brother seems to enjoy your company.”

The low timber of his voice strummed a chord through Diana’s spine and she spun suddenly.

“It’s professional. Has he always been this non-traditional? Did I tell you he picked my lock . . .  twice?” Diana wore the oddest expression.

Vincent nodded at the question as a simple smile caused those fearful canines to appear. They began a back and forth ‘q & a’ about Devin and his lawyer persona as they strolled in slow circles around each other. Finally they found their way to sit at the table, and Diana sat nervously tracing the wood grain with her finger tip.

“Is he ever himself?” Her lips drew concerned and straight as her blue eyes narrowed.

“These days I truly don’t know.” Vincent shrugged and shook his head, his soulful eyes revealing his confusion. “We’ve had little time together since he was a teen.” Vincent motioned to his cheek in reference to Devin’s scars.

Diana nodded in silent understanding and they sat quiet for a beat.

Vincent pressed cautiously, his voice deeply serious. “It’s been a year since you’ve dated, does your new business obstruct your dating?”

“No, not really.” Diana should have had to think about that, but she found herself watching his graceful hands, folded over each other. She watched the play of light on the golden red hair along the backs and each of his fingers. “You could say I’m holding on.”

“Holding on?” one arched brow rose higher in curiosity.

“I wasted many night after tearful night over relationships. If you’re asking if I’m interested in Devin the answer is no.”

Vincent nodded knowingly then suddenly rose to pace the carpet before her.

Why would Vincent care? Diana shifted in the old chair. It squeaked as if it were her courage.

With the sound of moving corduroy Vincent turned and stood pensively with his thumbs hooked behind him. He opened his mouth to speak then bottled the thought.

Diana tilted her head as if to prod him and Vincent spoke.

“It’s said that no one is lonely till someone is gone.”

Her eyes grew wide then closed slowly as he continued his thoughts.

“We met under extraordinary circumstances, and it would seem that business is over.”

Diana blanched at what she saw coming, his dismissal; the very thing that Devin had blamed as the root cause for Catherine not being safely with Vincent when she was murdered.

“In these past months your friendship has come to mean so much. Then I see you with Devin, enjoying a man’s company . . . and . . . .”

Diana fisted her hands at his words, about to pound the sturdy table. Her eyes closed gently as she heard his voice approach her. Now she felt his proximity, his warmth enveloped her as he whispered, “I wish it were me.”

Her eyes opened wide to see his unfaltering blue gaze so close. Diana’s heart clutched a double beat.

“You, as in you and me?” Her lips spread in a generous grin.

Vincent leaned on the table, his furred hands spread wide. “Is it preposterous?” his head hung, his hair a golden curtain. How could he look at her?

Her hand spread over one of his. “Us, preposterous? Vincent, is it?”

 

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