Catherine leaned forward and rested her head in her hands. Four days, and Vincent still hadn't awakened. He'd had barely enough strength to leave that dark cavern, even with Father’s and her help, and once back in his chamber, wounds stitched and bandaged and cleaned, he'd fallen into what Father termed a “deep, healing sleep.” Catherine wasn't so sure. To her, it looked a lot like coma and their bond, which normally sang between the two of them, was stretched and faint, like mist dissolving in sunlight. He was alive, but that was all she knew. Whether he would stay alive was something that no one, not even Father, could predict.
The rasp of ceramic on the wood table startled her and she looked up to see Father's worn features. He held out a steaming bowl of stew. “Catherine, you must eat.”
She couldn't remember the last time she'd had an appetite. She'd eaten something right after Vincent had left her apartment, but that had been days ago. Food since then had tasted like ashes and smelled worse. And the little she had been able to eat hadn't stayed down, so she'd just about given up the attempt. “How is he?” Catherine asked.
Father sat down next to her. It was late at night and normally, the Commons would be filled with people eating, nursing mugs of tea or coffee, or just relaxing before heading off to their chambers to sleep, but it was quiet now. It was just the two of them in this chamber, trying to find some respite in their worry. “Mary's with him now. No change,” he said before she could ask, and Catherine noticed how drawn he looked.
“When was the last time you slept?” Catherine said, looking at him closely.
He smiled, a faint wry smile that reminded her suddenly of Vincent's own dry humor. “About the same time you last ate.” Father touched her arm, about as close to a hug as his own reserve would allow. “Eat,” he said.
“Sleep,” she returned, and was astonished to find herself smiling. 'That's better,” Father said inexplicably and she knew he as at least as worried about her as he was about Vincent.
Catherine was startled again when he took her hand and clasped it tightly. “Catherine, dear Catherine,” and her eyes welled. It was the same tone he'd used when he'd talked of the dream she'd given Vincent. “You must take care of yourself.” He sat back a little, tilting his head and once again she was strongly reminded of Vincent. “The best thing you can do for Vincent is to keep his child safe.”
“How...” she spluttered. “How...when I didn't know myself?” The world tilted on its axis.
Father smiled across the table at her. “Catherine, I've been a doctor longer than you've been alive. I know the signs.” His eyes were calm, reassuring, none of the scorn she once would have expected from him. “You're...glowing,” he said gently.
“I see,” Catherine said faintly. Their one encounter had been after they'd rescued Elliot from the gorronistas. Vincent's terrified awareness of how close she had come to dying had sparked a final change in their perpetual dance of euphemism and guarded touches. It had been fierce, that first loving, but life-affirming too.
A few days after it, she'd begun to feel unwell...but that had been too easy to push off as just another office bug. Later, there had been too much going on, between the stress of the nightmares of Spirko and Paracelsus and Vincent's own encroaching illness, to verify her suspicions. And now....Vincent hadn't known and it might well be too late. Catherine tasted the harsh salt of tears rising in the back of her throat. Oh, Vincent, come back to me.
“He's going to live,” Father said, sensing her despair, and she wondered at his absolute bedrock certainty. Then Catherine remembered: Father had been through this once before when Vincent had been an adolescent. “You must keep telling yourself that. He's going to live.” Looking at the worry in Father's eyes, she saw his certainty for what it was: he needed her to believe as much as he needed to believe. Any other possibility---that Vincent might never wake up, that he might die even now---was simply unacceptable.
She dipped her spoon into a bowl filled to the brim with what Vincent had once described as “William’s Mystery Stew.” It was thick and dark, concocted from whatever was available and edible at the end of the month when provisions would sometimes run low.
“And William won't tell us what he makes it from, either,” Vincent had said. “Devin and I used to follow him around, making up the most outlandish ingredients just so he'd get mad at us and tell us what was really in it.” Catherine smiled now at the antics of those two young boys, and hesitantly tried the stew. It was good, tasting of vegetables and some sort of peppered broth. Before she knew it, it was gone. And Father held out his hand so they could return to Vincent.
Father was right. She had to stay strong, for all of them.
***Vincent opened his eyes to the candle-lit darkness of the tunnels at night and for a bare second, the shadows mimicked the flickering of torches outside the cave. And he feared he was down there again, chained by his rage and pain and roaring his suffering to the uncaring rock. But he wasn't there, not now; the tapping on the pipes told him that.
He turned his head slightly to see Catherine sitting awkwardly in the chair by his bed, one arm crossed over her abdomen, a leg braced crookedly on his bed, mouth open in sleep. She was lovely beyond his ability to describe, even as disheveled and tired as she was, and his second thought was a dawning hope that he hadn't hurt her in his madness.
Catherine stirred then and opened her eyes. “Vincent?” she asked softly.
“Yes,” Vincent said. His throat hurt as if he'd been screaming, which wasn't far from the truth, he thought ruefully.
Catherine stood up and poured him a glass of water. “Drink it slowly,” she said. “You've been unconscious for five days.” Her hand touched the side of his face and he felt her concern and love and worry arcing through him like live wire. There was something else too, something he couldn't quite make out....
Then Catherine kissed him and he smiled, feeling life rushing back. She tasted like springtime and sunlight and all the other things he'd nearly lost in his time of madness. “Welcome back,” she whispered.
He smiled and reached up to touch the honey gilt of her hair. Vincent remembered the cave, snarling at her in his rage and fear, one part of him warning her away, another part wanting nothing more than for her to come closer. “Is this paradise?” he rasped, the water only barely soothing his throat.
Her mouth quirked in a smile. “I don't think paradise comes with IV stands,” Catherine said, and Vincent saw the IV line snaking out of his left arm.
Vincent chuckled. “No, I suppose not.” He studied her carefully, his mood changing quickly as he remembered the incessant rage that had pounded within him. “Did I hurt you?”
“No, Vincent. You tried to harm yourself, but not me.” The grief ran in thick rivers in her voice and he was ashamed again that she'd had to see any of it. You saw me as I am...again. How can you love this? The memories of his illness, his time of darkness, were fragmented, distorted by the anger and rage he could still taste, even now: a faint bitter iron taste that coated his throat, the taste of regret and fury and guilt and shame.
“Hey,” Catherine said gently. “None of that. You're here. I'm here.” She leaned forward to kiss him again and this time, he was able to taste the changed scent of her as he breathed in. It was the scent, the taste, of new life, rich and complex and ancient. “How....?”
Catherine grinned. “The usual way, I suspect.” And he remembered, as she did, that fierce loving that had brought all the rest of their barriers down...and created a miracle.
With his free hand, he touched her hand, then moved it to the plane of her still-flat belly. “A child,” he said wonderingly. “Yours. Mine. Ours.”
“Ours,” Catherine said softly.
***It was six weeks after Vincent's illness and life, above and below, had pretty much returned to normal. Vincent had returned to teaching his classes and Catherine was making progress slogging through the files that had backed up during his illness. Peter Alcott had examined her and stated that things were well with the baby. Life was resuming its normal rhythms.
But the shape of her life below had changed, in ways Catherine would never have expected. Her relationship with Father had changed during the long nights of Vincent's illness. Father might never come to trust her world, but he did finally trust her and her relationship with Vincent. Although, as Vincent had remarked wryly, that might be because he had finally found someone he could beat at chess.
There were other changes too, changes that were much less visible but no less important. The bond between herself and Vincent, that once had seemed so strong only on his end, had deepened, becoming more two-way. Sometimes, she would be working on a case and some deep emotion would surge through the connection, startling her briefly out of her train of thought. Or she would be preparing to come below at night and realize the very instant when Vincent arrived at the threshold. It should have been unnerving to know this much about another person, but it wasn't. I know you, Vincent she could think now, and know it to be true on a soul-deep level, beyond any words.
Catherine was stunned, though, at how busy things were below. She had suspected the tremendous amount of work necessary to keep the tunnel world going, but she had only seen glimpses before---the children's recitals, the impromptu gatherings after dinner in the Commons, the dizzy holiday glory of Winterfest. What she had not seen, because Vincent had never brought her into that part of his world, was the day to day work of keeping the tunnels going. And it seemed endless---candle-making, cooking, laundry, preserving, repairing, recycling or simply making do. And this was on top of the classes for the children, the perpetual ongoing work of making sure no pipe sprung a leak large enough to flood the tunnels or alert City Water of their existence, the routine security that changed the ways down every few days or weeks. It was hard work and a lot of the work of the larger or more complex projects fell on Vincent.
“It's always you,” she had said to him one night when he'd stumbled into his—their chamber, now---nearly grey with fatigue, the bond fairly vibrating with his frustration. He'd been down with Kanin and Mouse and Cullen, trying to resolder an old copper drainage pipe that quite clearly had had other ideas.
He had glanced at her sideways from under his soaked bangs. It was such a rueful look that she might have laughed, except that he was obviously beyond humor at this point. “Who else would it be?” Vincent said, yawning and exposing his fangs.
Who else, indeed. Catherine had done some thinking, in the endless nights of his illness, about what forces had driven him to the sharp edge of madness. Some of it, she thought, was simply an overdose of stress—between Spirko and Paracelsus and his own unfulfilled, long-denied yearnings and needs, it was no wonder he'd simply broken under the strain. People took what they could take until they broke.
Catherine had also seen how everyone pulled on him...and how she herself had done it to him as well. Despite illness or injury, he'd always forced himself to be what she or the community needed. And damn us all for not seeing what it was doing to you, she thought, but that wasn't completely fair either. Vincent was the absolute last to admit weariness or attend to his own needs. Whatever she---or anyone---needed would always come first with him. It was who he was, and Catherine could no more change that than she could (or would) change the way he looked.
She was also becoming concerned about the nightmares Vincent was still experiencing, nightmares that left him shaken and staring blindly on most nights. He would come to himself and cling to her with a desperateness that told her more than words of how terrible the dreams had been. But he wouldn't tell her what was wrong, what he had seen. And Catherine had accepted it. She'd learned long ago that she couldn't push Vincent and she couldn't out-stubborn him. He'd speak about whatever it was when he could find the words, but not before.
Catherine considered that what Vincent needed most, now, was time to process all that had changed. She was not surprised, then, to find that Father's mind was on the same path; his chamber was very near theirs and surely, he had heard the nightmares too. Though they had not always seen eye to eye, when it came to Vincent, they had always been allies. “Vincent,” he said as he set the chessboard up, “have you taken Catherine to a concert yet?”
Catherine felt his surprise through the bond. The concert season above had been something they had regularly attended in their underground chamber before Vincent's illness had closed in on them. After his recovery, there simply hadn't been time.“No, Father, I haven't.”
“I think we're seeing the last of the good weather before the spring rains set in,” Father continued.
Catherine had been involved with the tunnels long enough to know what he meant. Spring rains, and the resulting changes in the water table, inevitably meant flooding and repairs to the pipes...which would also mean long days of repair and patchwork for Vincent and the other tunnel-dwellers. If there was a serious rupture, it might mean days or weeks apart.
Father impaled him with one sharp look.“Vincent, you can certainly be spared from your normal duties for a few hours.” His features softened somewhat. “I think you should take some time and just...relax. Get away from here for a while.”
Vincent made as if to protest, but Father took his hand. “Vincent, listen to me. You've been through a terrible struggle for your life. And we have all, all of us, asked so much of you. Take the time.”
***The concert was, Vincent discovered, a celebration of Pachebel's compositions. As the lilting strains of the Canon in D Minor drifted through their concert chamber, Vincent thought again about the gift of time, time they had so nearly lost. Sometimes the awareness of just how close it had been would sweep over him, leaving him tasting the foul bitterness of despair.
He wondered how he would tell her of his dreams. Catherine had accepted, much to his continual surprise, the nature of his dreams, that they could be prophetic or simply an allegory for things which he already knew but refused to accept in his conscious mind. The dreams he'd had since his illness, though, had left him shaken and gasping.
Catherine was concerned; it surged through their bond each and every time he awoke in the middle of the night. But he could not bring himself to speak the words that would tell her all that he had seen. It seemed to him that it would taint their world, the life they were making together now if he so much as uttered the words. And Catherine had not asked; though he'd felt in her how much she wanted to, she respected his silences.
She was there waiting, in a tunnel dress that seemed somehow dressier for all of its patchwork finery. Catherine smiled at him. “Come,” she said, holding out her hand. “It's been a while.”
The last concert they had attended was when his illness had begun to peak, when half-feverish and ill, he had gone to the concert and fled from her when the images, the passions in the music had throbbed too close to the beast he kept caged. Life now is different, Vincent reminded himself, and stepped forward into the light with her. She truly was lovely, a miracle containing another miracle and he sat down next to her and wrapped his arm around her, drawing her close, breathing in the taste of sunlight through the scent of her hair. The cavernous sense of loss nearly crushed him again and he drew a breath inward, trying to contain the emotion before it surged through their bond.
“Will you tell me?” Catherine asked softly as the music surged around them. One small hand reached under his chin as her eyes met his. “You know you can.”
He pulled her tighter against himself, needing the reassurance that the dream had been, after all, just a dream. “I lost you, Catherine,” Vincent began, almost too quietly to be heard above the thrum of violins. “You were betrayed, and kidnapped and...murdered. And I couldn't find you in time to save you.” His vision blurred then and the nails of grief rose high in his throat, choking the words off.
“You could never lose me,” Catherine said, wiping his tears.
Vincent felt again the grief that had nearly sent him into the Abyss when he awoke in the dream without Catherine's living presence, the shattering grief that had awoken him night after night even though she was right there beside him. “There's more,” Catherine asked. “Isn't there?”
“I cannot keep it from you,” Vincent sighed. “Yes. Our child was taken and you were killed because of him.”
Catherine smiled then, a mysterious woman's smile that wouldn't have looked out of place on the Mona Lisa. “Well,” she said, “I firmly believe we're having a daughter.” She sobered then. “Vincent...who betrayed me in your dream?”
In some ways, that had been one of the worst parts of the dream, that someone Catherine had spoken of trusting could have been involved in her murder. “John Moreno.”
He felt rather than saw her go pale and the shock of it crashed through their bond. “Catherine, what is it?”
“Vincent, remember when I went Above last night?” Vincent nodded; he'd been working on carving out a new chamber and it had taken all of his concentration not to worry about her and focus on the task at hand.
“John Moreno was arrested,” Catherine continued slowly. “Joe told me. The FBI had been doing a corruption investigation on him; he was arrested while you were sick. He'd been on the take for three or four years at least, and the corruption runs pretty deep. Joe's been appointed acting DA.”
“So you see, “ Catherine said softly, “the dream is not our reality.” Vincent felt the chill racing up her spine, though, and he knew she wondered, as he did, how close that dream might have come to being reality.
Vincent felt as though something had torn loose inside him. They were safe now and he was alive and Catherine was alive and their child grew inside her. Whatever else might be happening, this was a certainty he could hold onto. It was the taste of freedom and love and it was sweeter than anything he'd ever known. “I love you,” he murmured against the warmth of her hair as the violins thrummed around them. “Have I told you today?”
Catherine smiled at him, feeling how they were at last set free. “You have. But you can keep saying it. I love you too.”
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