My special thanks to Carole, who helped me slaughter my adverbs; and to Vicky and Nancy and everyone else who thought that Catherine wouldn't have left Vincent alone at the end of "The Outsiders." As it happens, I agree with you :-) SandyX created a beautiful video for this story; it can be seen here. (Thanks, Sandy! :-)
When the night falls on you
You don't know what to do
Nothing you confess
Could make me love you less
I'll stand by you.
“I'll Stand by You,” by the Pretenders
“I love you,” Catherine said, looking at the wounded figure in the chair with equal parts alarm and concern. Vincent didn't look at her. Too lost in his own shame and grief over what he'd had to do, she doubted he'd even heard her words. Your family did it to you again, didn't they? Sent you out alone to defend this place. And it's you who's paying the price.
“Leave me,” he'd asked, pleading as she'd never heard from him, and because it was the one thing he would accept from her, Catherine would do what he asked. “All right,” she murmured. “If you're sure.”
She was nearly out of the main hub when she ran into Father, who looked quite as dreadful as she felt. “Catherine, how is he?”
“How do you think he is, Father?” Catherine asked, knowing her words were harsh and not caring. “Why didn't anyone else help him defend this place?”
To her surprise, Father nodded. “I know. I'm ashamed of our lack of preparedness. After the Tong, we should have known there would be more incursions, but we've let Vincent carry the burden of defending us.”
Catherine thought of all the times Vincent had come to her rescue and something twisted painfully inside her. “It's tearing him apart,” she said.
“Yes,” Father agreed. “He asked you to leave, I take it?”
“He did,” Catherine replied, suddenly tired of the conversation and sick with worry.
Father's grey eyes, falcon-sharp, gazed at her. “And are you going to go?”
Every instinct, every bit of sense she possessed was calling her back to that chamber, back to where Vincent sat, pain his only companion. Was she to leave him alone with that? “It's what he wanted,” Catherine said.
“He needs you to stay,” Father replied, every word sounding like it was forced over some deeper grief. “I can't help him, Catherine. He's isolated himself many times, but not like this. Never like this.”
Catherine nodded. Vincent's pain was usually deeply hidden, something he spoke of only with great difficulty or hid altogether. But this was an open, hemorrhaging wound. “I'll stay,” she said.
Father nodded. “Thank you, Catherine. I'll be in my chamber if you need anything.”
Vincent tilted his head back and looked at the ceiling. Catherine was gone. Father, too---after another inspection of his bullet wound.
Now there is only me....
The tapping on the pipes was faint now, telling him it was very late, and yet, he couldn't think of sleeping. Some inner howling fought to break free deep inside him, and he doubled over in the chair to keep the grief inside. Who here would understand his anger at what he'd had to do? They wanted to see their safe, gentle Vincent...except when they didn't, when they needed him to kill for them.
A touch on his right shoulder brought him up short, so lost in his thoughts that he hadn't heard or sensed her approach. “Catherine.” His voice was jagged and cold. “Why are you here?”
“You don't look well at all,” she said, evading the question.
“I asked you to leave,” Vincent said, wondering why she just wouldn't go and stay gone. She'd seen what he was, after all. Beneath all the layers of civilization, he was a killer. Just another killer.
Catherine looked down at him, hands on her hips. “So you did. But I don't think I should go.”
His arm was throbbing. “Catherine, please. I will be all right.”
“Vincent, don't lie to me. You're not all right.”
The beast was too near...
A snarl rumbled up and he clamped his mouth shut to keep the sound from emerging.
“You could be angry at me,” Catherine said, fiddling with an empty teacup as though nothing at all were amiss. “I came down here, after you'd told me not to.”
“It was at Father's request,” Vincent ground out. “He told me.”
“Yes, but you didn't know that then. So, let's see. You could be angry with me---”
“I'm not,” Vincent replied, but she proceeded as if she hadn't heard his protest.
“And you could be angry with Father and the community. Who else did they send to protect the tunnels?”
“I was the only reasonable choice,” Vincent said. “Why should they risk anyone else when---”
“When this is their home too? That's an excellent question. Try, because they're lazy. Or afraid. Or they've simply gotten too used to having you do their dirty work for them.”
The words scalded, and yet, hadn't the taste of that foulness been in his mouth ever since William had spoken? He'd tried, he'd tried so hard not to be that, but they didn't seem to understand; it was impossible for him to disown the Other and yet require his presence. Every time the Other was shackled, then released, the Other emerged stronger and the battle for control over him became that much harder.
They don't understand.
They never understand.
This is not who I want to be.
Catherine sat down in a chair just opposite his. “You're angry with me, furious at Father and the community, and disgusted with yourself that you had to kill again.” She knelt in front of him and her tone softened. “And you're hurt and in pain.”
He was in pain. The emergence of the Other always left his bones and muscles aching; it was a dull counterpoint to the throb in his arm. His left hand clenched in the sling and the pain shot up his shoulder, merging with the roar of wrenched muscles in his back and neck. “Catherine, you don't have to be here. Go home, please. I don't want you to see me like this.”
“Like what? Angry? I've seen that. Disgusted? I've seen that too.” Her eyes, green and fierce, met his own. “Don't force me away, Vincent. We've been through too much for you to do that now.” She leaned her forehead against his. “You're in pain. Let me help.”
Vincent breathed in her scent. It was soft and reassuring; there was no hint of fear. Some part of him wanted to take the aid she offered but as he looked down at his hands, he remembered killing the woman Lizzie, braining her against the rocks with no more thought than breathing. “Go away, Catherine,” he said. “I can only bring you pain.”
She leaned back a bit and looked at him. He rarely saw that expression directed at him. It was what he thought of as her “courtroom expression”: tough, strong, and unwilling to give on a single point. “Too bad,” Catherine said. “So you'll bring me pain. I'm still not going.”
The snarl did emerge then, and the shame of that rose, nearly gagging him with its force. “Now do you see? I'm an animal, Catherine. I killed them like---”
“Like a man whose home was threatened, who had watched his father abused, and been unable to stop it. Like a man who knew three of his friends died in a horrible way.” Catherine folded her arms. “I wanted to hurt them, Vincent, and this isn't even my home.” She placed her hands on his shoulders. “Look at me.”
Unwillingly, he did so and was astonished at the compassion in her clear green eyes. “Did the outsiders give you any choice?”
Vincent shook his head. He had known, from the moment of their first encounter with the strangers, what the end must be. It had been a matter more of instinct than thought, a recognition of feral behavior on a deep and sickening level. “I tried to warn them,” he muttered.
Catherine took his hand. “Who, Vincent? Who did you try to warn?”
His left hand clenched into a fist and the pain shot up his arm again. “I tried to warn Father and Mary, before I came to see you on your balcony. I told them both that I thought we should monitor the outsiders more closely before approaching. Father wouldn't hear of it. He said they'd just stolen our food because they were hungry and scared.”
They didn't trust my instincts.
They didn't trust me.
But they wanted me to take care of the problem, just the same.
“Father made a mistake,” Catherine said. “And you're hurt that he didn't trust you. And angry, because you did your best to warn them and he and Mary didn't listen.” She released his hand, touched his hair. Without meaning to, he turned into her touch, feeling her warmth beginning to chill the ice in his soul. “Don't you see? You have a right to those feelings, Vincent. It doesn't make you a beast because of them.”
The light glinted off his claws, claws that he'd cleaned and cleaned again but like Lady Macbeth, Vincent thought he could still see the blood and gore that had matted his fur and caked under his claws. “Perhaps,” he said. “But when the Other comes out...Catherine, you don't understand.”
The anger fired through their contact. “Don't you ever tell me what I don't understand. I saw all of what you are and I don't care. If there's something I don't know, then make me understand! Don't just close yourself off.”
His breath caught at her fury. “If I tell you, you'll never see me the same way again,” Vincent whispered.
He felt the gentle touch of her hand under his chin. “And if you don't tell me, then I'll never understand.”
Catherine lowered her head, and glanced at him from underneath her hair. It was his gesture, the hiding gesture he'd used so many times and something about that gesture coming from her, the last person on this earth who should have to hide, smote him. He gathered her as close as he could with his good arm. “Catherine,” he groaned. “You undo me.”
Lightly, so lightly she might not have done it at all, he felt her lips touch the top of his head.
“I have told no one,” Vincent began, “not even Father.”
“Why?” Catherine asked, rubbing the tense, knotted muscles of his back.
“Father sees what he wishes to see---the child he adopted as his own, the scholar he taught, the teacher. And I am all those things...but the Other plays no part in his perceptions.” He raised his eyes to meet hers. “After all these years, I don't know that I want him to see me fully.”
“I understand,” Catherine replied, thinking of her own need to be perfect for her father, of how the one thing she'd feared when she'd left her father's firm hadn't been the intensity of the work, nor the cases she would be prosecuting, but her father's disappointment. “But Vincent, I don't think you give him enough credit. He knows what the...Other is costing you. Promise me you'll at least consider talking to him.”
“I will,” Vincent said. “But first, I have to tell you, if you still wish to hear it.”
His eyes glittered and she brushed his high cheekbones reassuringly. “You know I do.”
He was silent for a time, the only sound the intermittent tapping of the pipes. It was very late; even the subway trains had ceased. “I learned to swim not far from here, near the Chamber of the Falls,” Vincent finally said. “Do you swim, Catherine?”
She nodded. “My mother taught me when I was a child.”
“Winslow's father Simon taught us when we were young,” Vincent said, and Catherine noticed again how tired and drawn he looked. “He would take us out and warn us of the dangers of strong currents. In some of the lakes, the undertow was strong enough to drag someone under and drown them.” His blue eyes fixed on hers. “When the rage comes, when the Other comes out, I feel I am drowning. The rage covers me and I am become death.”
Catherine recognized the quote: I am become death, the destroyer of worlds. It was from a Hindu text she'd read in a college humanities class, and the quote told her the depths of Vincent's despair. The darkness threatened to swallow him entirely unless she could bring him out of it. “Do you ever get angry with anyone here in the tunnels?”
Vincent nodded. “Of course. We are not a community of angels.”
The dry observation brought a brief smile to her face. “All right. And have you ever been angry with Father?”
I'll bet those battles were something to see, Catherine mused. “And have you ever been angry with me?”
“Catherine, no,” Vincent said, and Catherine just looked at him.
“Vincent, you were angry with me tonight, until Father explained what I was doing down here.” She took his face between her hands. “I love you. You love me. Nothing can ever change that, but you have to get over the idea that you can't let yourself be angry with me. I make mistakes. So do you. Okay?”
She folded her arms. “So, have you been angry with me?”
“Yes,” Vincent replied, shifting a bit in his seat.
“Now we're getting somewhere. So you've been angry with members of the community, you've been angry with Father and you've been angry with me.” Catherine leaned very close to look him square in the eye. “Vincent, we're all still alive and uninjured. What does that tell you?”
“You don't understand,” Vincent said. “Catherine, I hurt Devin, badly enough that he still carries the scars.”
“Ah,” she replied. “Let's do talk about Devin. How old were you when you fought that last time?”
“Eleven,” Vincent said. “Devin had just turned fifteen.”
“And had you fought before?” Catherine asked.
Vincent raised his eyebrows. “Catherine, we were brothers. Of course we fought.”
“And you never injured him until that last time? What was different?”
Vincent swallowed. “He punched me, hard.”
“And you struck him. Sounds like self-defense to me.”
“But he carries the scars---”
“---scars he would never have gotten if he hadn't hit you first.” Catherine sighed. “Vincent, don't you see? You're taking on all the responsibility. In your mind, Devin was injured because of the Other, not because he slugged you. Maybe you shouldn't have hit him, but Devin threw the first punch.” She grasped his right hand. “I want you to think about something. The people you killed, because you were protecting me or protecting the community...were they innocent?”
“That doesn't excuse---”
“You're not answering the question,” Catherine said. “And I'm not letting you dodge this one. Were those people innocent?”
“No,” Vincent replied.
“So you've attacked people, but only in self-defense, and when you've killed, it's been because those you love have been threatened. Why do you think Father wanted the gun?”
Vincent leaned his head back against the chair. “He told me he hoped that it would help us defend ourselves.”
Catherine nodded. “And I presume he didn't mean by inviting everyone to target practice with tea and crumpets afterwards. Vincent, if Father, of all people, was prepared to do violence to save this place, that must tell you how necessary your actions were.”
“But Catherine,” Vincent said, “some part of me enjoyed killing the outsiders. What am I, that I could feel joy in the killing?”
Catherine leaned back a bit. “Human.”
Vincent stared at her in shock. She couldn't have meant that. “No, Catherine, it is the Other who feels that dark and feral joy.”
She sighed. “Did I ever tell you about the training session I had with Isaac, after you saved me and I returned above?”
“No,” Vincent said, interested. There was much she'd never said about the eight months between her rescue and their reunion, things he'd only heard about in bits and pieces since.
“I'd started studying with Isaac because I knew I needed to learn how to defend myself. And he did teach me that; there were days when I could scarcely hobble into a cab to get home because I was so sore. One session, just as my formal training with him was about to end, Isaac came at me with everything he had---and I do mean, everything. I got him down on the floor eventually, and I was about ready to hit him with a baseball bat when he shouted, 'Is that you?' Vincent, I was ready to kill him and until he snapped me out of it, I was enjoying myself. I was enjoying the prospect of killing another human being. Does that make me a monster?”
His Catherine, a monster? “No, of course not, but you were enjoying your victory---”
She was suddenly nose-to-nose with him. “Vincent, I love you. But you are the most stubborn man I've ever met! What part of 'I was enjoying the thought of killing him' don't you get? I would have killed him---in my mind, he was attacking me and I was fighting to save my life. I would have done anything to survive.” She took his hand, then, his fur dark against the paleness of her skin. “Look at our hands. You are armed with claws; I had a baseball bat. The difference is one of technique, not motivation. Isaac taught me that you use what you have when defending yourself or someone else.”
Her tone softened. “I'm not saying you shouldn't regret the necessity of what you've had to do. I'm not saying that you haven't been asked to do it far too often. I'm not saying you shouldn't regret killing. But the fact that you have this wild, feral side of your personality doesn't make you a beast. It makes you human.”
“You saw what I did, and can still say that?” The anguish returned again ten-fold, over all that she had seen, too many times before. Yet Catherine loves me. How is that even possible?
“Yes, because they would have had bullets instead of slash wounds if Father---or I---had had our way.” She brushed the hair out of his eyes. “Let yourself grieve over it, but don't doubt that it was necessary.” Her lips brushed his forehead. “And never doubt that I love you. No matter what.”
Vincent mulled that one over, and thought that the gift of their love was one he should, perhaps, not doubt so much. He looked at her then, and felt her love and concern through their bond. “I need you.”
“What do you need?” Catherine asked. He could feel her surprise through the bond; he so rarely asked for anything for himself.
He wondered if his request was going to sound as odd to her ears as it did to his. “Would you stay with me tonight? If I sleep....”
She nodded, as if she already knew what he was going to say. “Yeah. I'm expecting some nasty nightmares myself.”
Catherine helped him into bed, being careful of his injured arm. The last thing he felt as sleep claimed them both was her arm over his chest, holding him, holding on.