The faint rustle of cotton, leather, and the quick efficient tread of Catherine's steps told Vincent everything he needed to know. It was over. He would soon be home.
“I was never giving up,” Catherine said, taking Vincent's one uninjured arm and hoisting it over her shoulder. “You're safe now.” He could hear the love and fear mingled in her voice, thick with her worry and guilt.
Vincent also heard the blown-out sigh that told him as clearly as sight that Father was near. And angry. “Can you walk to the hospital chamber or should we send for a gurney?” Father asked sharply. Even as blurred as his vision was, Vincent could see that Father was very carefully not looking at Catherine. He drew in a quick breath, meaning to say that Father should not be angry with her, but the pain that crashed through his chest made him think the better of it. Vincent settled for what he hoped was a quick warning scowl, but which was probably, in his utter weakness, nothing of the sort.
“You might have punctured a lung,” Father said, more gently this time, casting a quick, experienced eye at the way Vincent braced his ribs. “I'll call ahead for a gurney.” He turned around a corner, searching for one of the thick-barreled pipes that sounded the loudest in Pascal's pipe chamber. The tone would ring over and above any other tunnel traffic and Pascal would recognize it as an emergency. Help would come soon.
Catherine's face was distorted, blurred by exhaustion and his head injury. “Here, lean against me,” she said quietly. Her small hand touched his face, gentle on his burns and bruises, and he heard her indrawn breath as though she were breathing in his pain. The quick river of her thoughts flitted through his mind, made clearer by their physical connection. If I hadn't gone alone/oh god Vincent, you're hurt and it's my fault/how can anyone be so cruel/I love you/I've caused you to be hurt/Father will never forgive me for your pain. The bond fairly howled with the sorrow she was trying not to let emerge. “Don't, Catherine,” Vincent said, holding her hand where it rested against his cheek. “I will recover. It's over.”
Father's voice cut through the conversation, cold and cutting as the winds of the Abyss. “The stretcher will be here soon, Catherine. There's no need for you to stay.” It was said in Father's best “surely, you don't mean to be unreasonable” voice, but with an undercurrent of anger that drew Vincent up short.
“Father,” he said as evenly as he could, though his own emotions were tattered and torn and entirely too close to the surface. “I would like Catherine to stay.”
It was as clear as if Father had said the words, though he hadn't spoken. Hasn't she done enough already?
Catherine's hand tightened around his own, the one visible sign of her distress. She, too, clearly heard the underpinnings of Father's tone. “I will stay, Vincent,” she said, reassuringly. There was a steely undertone to that as well; Vincent heard it clearly through their bond. I'm here. I will not leave.
The stretcher arrived then, and they began the long journey back to the home tunnels.
Vincent heard the click of the penlight as Father turned it off, and closed his eyes against the pain the light had caused. “You have four cracked ribs, a concussion, a bruised collarbone, several burns, a bruised kneecap and a hairline fracture of the fibula,” Father said. “I'm surprised you were able to move at all.”
Vincent coughed, feeling the bracing on his ribs constricting his chest. “Not easily,” he said. It was an understatement. He'd been sick before and injured, but never so many injuries all at once. His nose wrinkled involuntarily at the smell of stale beer on his clothes and wondered if he could possibly get to the bathing chambers to rid himself of the smell. Perhaps tomorrow....
With a decisive snap, Father closed his doctor's bag. “Jamie got a message to one of the helpers; we need some drugs that we don't have here. Right now, I need you to rest.”
“What about my vision?” Vincent asked. He knew enough about concussions to know the blurred, distorted vision was not an uncommon symptom, but there were gaps in time during the hours he'd spent as the Silks' captive and if they had done something more permanent...
“Your eyes responded normally to the light,” Father said reassuringly. “I'm sure your vision will come back quickly.” Left unsaid was the larger catalog of bruises and burns that, while not permanent, spoke of the abuse Vincent had endured. “It's time for you to rest,” Father said again. Vincent nodded, though he didn't miss the tension that sparked between Catherine and Father. They'd argued, he suddenly realized, while he was missing and by the looks of it, the argument was far from over. He meant to speak, to tell them that there was no need, but the darkness pressed upon him and his exhaustion carried him far out to sea.
***The first thing Father did was pour tea. Catherine took the cup from him, bemused by the body language of a man who was clearly furious, yet who had the courtesy to pour her a cup of tea. She sipped it carefully, trying to pick her words but somehow feeling that nothing she said would be right. She couldn't very well say that Vincent's injuries hadn't been her fault, when he'd followed her there on her account. And there was no defense possible when the object of his concern, of hers, was battered and bruised and, Catherine knew, lucky to be alive. He'd followed her when she'd gone, stupidly, alone, and now he was paying the price for his concern.
She'd rarely felt more like a criminal.
At length, Father sat down in the battered wood chair next to her---like so many things in the tunnels, it was salvaged and remade and repaired, ungainly, but sturdy enough. “I am sorry for my harsh words earlier,” he began.
Catherine's jaw opened minutely, then closed. Of all the things she'd expected him to say, that hadn't been one of them. “I still believe your relationship with my son is a mistake, but it's a mistake that saved his life tonight,” he continued. Father shifted in his chair uncomfortably. “I wouldn't have known where to find him or where to look if it hadn't been for you.”
Vincent had told Catherine that he'd walked the city streets above for years prior to meeting her and Catherine began to see the shape of Father's nightmares more clearly. He couldn't have ordered Vincent to stay below, not and take away what little freedom he had to walk as other men did, but neither could he keep from worrying that one day, Vincent would be caught above. As last night, he had been.
“Why did he come to you last night?” Father asked quietly.
She told him the story, of one gang turning on another, of her interview with an informant that had gone so unexpectedly awry. And finally, struggling to keep her tone even, she told Father of the bomb that had left Vincent injured and nearly dead and left to the mercy of the Silks. More than that, she could not say, not knowing fully what Vincent had endured from the Silks. “I'm so sorry, Father, I never meant for him to get hurt.” The words tumbled out of their own accord.
Father looked down into his tea then back across at her. His eyes, a bluish grey, were worn and tired as he looked at her. “Whether you mean it or not, Catherine, it has happened, now. It will continue to happen. All you can do is bring him pain.” There was a frayed edge of old bitterness lacing his tone.
She couldn't even say he was completely wrong. The mess with Elliot, the brief flirtation that had succeeded only in deeply wounding Vincent, and which continued to shame her now, had been just a few short weeks before. And now, this. “I didn't want him to come tonight,” Catherine said softly. “I thought I could handle things on my own.” Even as she said the words, though, she knew how completely stupid they were. Joe would have assigned her backup if she'd so much as asked, if she'd told him she was going alone to meet an informant in one of the most dangerous areas of the city...but she hadn't. Still trying to prove that she was as tough, as strong, as everyone else, she'd taken one risk too many...and Vincent had paid the price.
Catherine didn't realize she'd started to cry until Father handed her a handkerchief that looked like it had been a piece of a linen tablecloth in another life. “Shall we call a truce, then?” Father asked as she wiped her eyes. “Tonight, we have only one concern.”
She nodded. The tension between Father and herself was not over and Catherine knew they'd likely repeat all or most of this argument in the future but just now, she was grateful for his tolerance.
***Catherine heard the sound first as she sat, dozing in the large chair by Vincent's bedside. Father had left strict instructions to call him if Vincent's condition became worse, and had left her alone to catch a few hours of sleep in his own chamber.
“No...no, please...” It was Vincent's voice, but soft and hoarse like she'd never heard it, not even after one of his killing rages had swept through him.
The Silks, Catherine realized. She came to sit next to him, sitting carefully on the very edge of the bed so as not to jostle his healing ribs and other injuries too much. “Vincent,” Catherine said quietly. “I'm here. It's over.”
But was it really? Vincent was a proud man, and what the Silks had done to him, the bruising and the burns and the injuries all told a tale Catherine had no trouble interpreting. They had treated him like an animal, all because she had been foolish enough to go alone that night, because her nerves had called him to her side.
Vincent's head rolled back and forth on the pillow. “I will not,” he hissed, and Catherine caught his hand before he could injure himself further. “Vincent,” she said again. “I'm here.”
Slowly, his blue eyes opened, glazed and a little bit bewildered. “Catherine?”
She tilted the lone candle by his bedside in order to see his eyes more clearly. Father's instructions had been clear. Good, pupils contracting with the added light. Putting the candle back on his nightstand, Catherine smiled at him. “Yes, Vincent, I'm here.”
In the low light, the bruises and the burns did not stand out as clearly as they had in the full light of the tunnel entrance, but Catherine knew where they were just the same. “How do you feel?”
She nearly jumped at the Vincent's brief chuckle. “I think the standard response is 'Did you get the number of the truck that hit me?' I'm sorry to say I didn't.”
That he could retain any of his dry sense of humor now was reassuring to Catherine, if not something she necessarily expected. “I can imagine,” she said wryly. “Father said I'm to ask you if you're still seeing double.”
Vincent shook his head slightly. “No, there's just one of you now.”
Abruptly, Catherine began to cry, which frustrated her since she wasn't the crying sort—she'd learned she had to be stronger than that, in her job--- yet here she was crying twice in the space of hours. And this wasn't supposed to be about her pain anyway, but Vincent's and what she'd done to him by being so terribly incautious and naïve, even, about the dangers of her world and the criminals she hunted. “I'm so sorry, Vincent. I'm so very sorry.”
“Catherine,” he said, in that voice, the one that made her name sound like a caress, like something holy in a language she'd never learn, and it was balm to her shattering nerves.
Calmer, Catherine continued, “I was so worried I'd never find you, or I'd find you but it would be too late, or I'd find you and....” She could not finish; the tears were threatening to press in again.
“Come,” he said, shifting carefully in his bed, the humor in his eyes changing slightly to the warmth that made her always feel whole and complete, no matter what horrors she'd seen.
There was just enough room on his bed for her to have room to sit closer to him and hold him and yet....She smiled, feeling her nerves calming and---unbelievably--some of her own sense of humor returning. “Vincent, there's probably a foot of you that doesn't have a bruise on it and Father will have my hide if I injure you further. You should rest.”
“Come,” he said again, smiling. Catherine could hear in his voice that she was what he needed to feel whole, to heal, to be reminded that the horrors of the night before were over.
And so she did.
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