The trek down into the lower catacombs was a long river of night, seemingly without beginning or end. Catherine would have been terrified, back in the days when she needed a candle or a night light to chase back the shadows, but now, other fears held her captive. There was Father, whose tight-lipped grimness told her all she needed to know about what might be waiting for them, and Pascal, uncharacteristically somber, whose eyes met hers then flickered away. Their silences said more than words: Vincent had gone beneath the catacombs to die.
She hardly needed someone to tell her that in any case. Their bond was wide open and Vincent's terror and self-loathing were tearing at her with a savage force, louder than any storm. What have we done to you? Catherine wondered. How could someone who loved, who was loved, by so many, hate himself so? And why hadn't she seen this coming? Surely, as bound as they were, she must have sensed something...but she had not. Only his sadness and a mild sort of aching despair had seeped through their bond and Catherine knew he had hid himself from her, even in this.
They had to stop at least once or twice; the path was rocky and uneven and not one that someone with Father's injury should have attempted, but no one would have asked him to stay behind either. He took her arm when he stood, ostensibly to steady himself against his limp but, Catherine thought, he needed the contact too. Pascal was a ways in front of them, his torchlight casting flickering shadows on the rocks when she finally looked over at Father. “You'll bring him home,” Father said. “You must believe that.”
Catherine looked down the distant rocky corridors where, very faintly, she thought she could hear roaring. She had brought him out of madness once before, but that was a child's tantrum compared to the tempest raging inside Vincent now. He was in such pain and if he truly had lost himself, what could she do that would save him? All she had was her love for him and it might not be enough this time. But a life without Vincent? Impossible. Unthinkable. She squared her shoulders. “I will,” she replied. “I have to.”
It was another hour's deep, descending climb before the roaring grew more distinct. Unlike the perpetual chill of the inhabited tunnels, this section was far below the earth and much warmer. The heat was almost oppressive and she wondered again how Vincent had made it this far, as sick as he was. “He always did like the dark places,” Father said, glancing around him and looking every bit as uneasy as she felt. “The last time...”
“'The last time,' what? What happened?” Catherine asked, feeling impatient---as she knew Vincent himself did at times---at the older man's reticence.
“When this came on him the last time...the dark was what comforted him,” Father replied. “It was as if some part of him feared the light.”
It was only a turn of phrase, but Catherine thought that it wasn't helping Vincent at all to be constantly described as being two separate beings. He was just Vincent, one being, one man...and she loved him, all of him. Another wave of grief and rage tore through her and she shivered in spite of the heat. Father guided her to a rocky outcropping and Pascal halted. “Catherine, you don't look at all well. Sit down for a moment.” He peered at her, grey eyes sharp and assessing. “Is it the bond?” he asked, sitting down next to her and resting his hip against the rocky ledge.
She nodded. “There's such rage in him, such fear and grief. This...whatever this is, it's destroying him.”
Catherine was startled when she felt Father clasp her hand. “It's always been his battle, the war he always had to fight alone. The last time, he...died, but came back to us. This time, he has you.”
She blinked back tears, knowing she couldn't give into her own grief and fear if she was to be of any use to Vincent. “Thank you, Father,” she said. She stood, a bit unsteadily. “We need to keep going.”
At length, they reached the long narrow corridor where the gathering storm of sound was the loudest. Mouse crouched a few feet outside the cave entrance, plainly terrified. Father bent down and touched his shoulder and offered a shaky smile. Mouse looked up and his eyes lightened when he saw Catherine. “Make Vincent okay?”
She forced a smile she did not feel. “If I can, Mouse.”
The storm of feeling raged through the bond---fear, hate, despair, self-loathing. Catherine took one step towards the cave entrance and Father grabbed her arm. “Catherine, please!”
She met his eyes levelly. “Father, he is my life. Without him…there is nothing.” The words were out, leaden in the air, but she had never meant them more. Better to ask the sun to stop rising than to imagine a life without Vincent in it.
Father blinked rapidly and released her. Catherine began the long walk to the entrance to the cave. Slowly, Catherine recovered some of her night vision, enough to see faint details in the path…Vincent’s halting footprints, as if he’d swayed nearly to collapse before entering. A dark heap of cloth right at the entrance was Vincent’s cloak.
She ducked her head and entered the cave and was just able to see his outline, a darker shade among all the other shades of grey, crouched in a corner. The roaring was powerful, terrifying, a wall of sound and fury signifying only a man pushed beyond all mortal limits. “Vincent,” she said softly, and walked towards him.
The darker streaks in his matted mane she knew instantly to be blood. The same streaks coated his hands and the defined muscles of his chest and ribcage. He wore no clothes and she realized why with a heartbreaking suddenness. Animals wore no clothing.
“Vincent,” Catherine said again, but the harsh roaring continued, as if it was torn from his throat. Vincent rose to his full height and stared down at her. There was no recognition in that cold blue gaze.
The emotions flooding their bond were inchoate, fractured. Overriding everything was his terror and rage and it grabbed and tore at all rational thought. Catherine tried to project all of her love back to him through the bond, but it was lost in the deluge of his feelings. She forced herself to meet his eyes, knowing if she showed even a hint of fear, he might strike out. He wouldn't know he had done it, but it would hardly matter: she'd be dead or injured just the same.
As if in slow-motion, she saw his right hand rise, the killing hand, and time stopped.
He had no words. Words were for men and he wasn't. Everything was reduced to sensation only, to the fearsome Other he chased in the shadows of the cave, to the grief and terror that rose and drowned him in black, tarry waves. He was a creature of feelings only and though he knew that there were lighted caverns where he had a name and a family and a woman who loved him beyond thought or reason, they seemed so far away and not for him in any case.
He was not a man.
The last shuddering bits of awareness flared and died at the sight of the small creature who entered his lair. He was dangerous, a threat...foolish that she should come so close. He roared at her in warning, but she came still closer. She had a name too, much as he also had a name, but he could remember neither of them. He growled again and abruptly became aware of her mind trying to brush against his own....knowing him...loving him.
This could not be. He could not be loved. But her presence insisted it.
He raised his hand---to draw her close or scare her away, he would never know or remember---but on the downfall of his hand, the shards of his consciousness that remembered this woman and their love, managed to pull the blow. He heard her scream a word, then all was darkness and silence.
“Vincent!” Catherine screamed as his hand fell just inches from her body, as he slumped like a marionette with severed strings, as he fell gracelessly to the ground. She ran to him, feeling for a pulse and was shocked again at how hot he was, his temperature higher than it was even in those days in her apartment. It wasn't until she felt for the slow pulse at his neck that she realized there was no pulse at all.
He was gone.
Catherine placed an ear against his chest. Nothing. “Vincent,” she muttered, “you can't do this, you can't let us end like this, you can't.”
But it was only in fairy tales that pleas resurrected the dead, and there was no response. “Father!” she yelled, beginning CPR and blessing Joe, who'd insisted they all take the class when it was offered at the office.
Breaths, compressions, breaths, compressions....it seemed to go on and on but Catherine didn't know the passage of time as the ribs of that large chest creaked under her efforts, as she felt the blood from his lacerations coating her hands. Father came just as her own strength was beginning to fail and on his count, she stopped and he picked up the rhythm. Catherine held Vincent's hand, that large warm hand...the warm hand...the warm hand....
“Father?” Catherine gasped, wanting to hope but suddenly afraid to.
There was a rattling breath, frighteningly harsh, but it was a breath. Father sat back on his heels, breathing heavily. “He's alive,” Father said, “but we must get him out of this place.” Calling to Pascal, he dispatched both Mouse and Pascal with orders that sounded as complex as some military code, then Father turned to her. “I think we should both stay here until they come back.” His eyes scanned her face. “Did he hurt you?”
Catherine smiled, brushing her own tears away. “No, Father. He couldn't.”
Incredibly, Father smiled. “Of course not. You're his heart.”
She did cry then, just a little, barely holding back the torrent of emotion until the circumstances were better. “Thank you, Father,” she managed, pulling Vincent's head into her lap to stroke his hair, feeling the tangled, fever-damp mats in his mane. Only then did she remember that he was quite naked.
Father picked up the lantern Mouse had left behind and turned it up higher. The dark shades of the cave evaporated into a dim orange light and Catherine gasped at the blood on the walls. His clothes were shredded in heaps along the cave floor. “Vincent...wouldn't want to be seen like this when we bring him home,” Father said, picking up the abandoned mound of Vincent's cloak---still intact, somehow—and placing it over him.
It was true, Catherine knew; Vincent's layers of clothing weren't merely protection against the perpetual chill of the tunnels. But her heart hurt some more at how much he felt he had to hide, even among family and friends. She pushed that thought aside for later consideration; the immediate concern was to get Vincent out of this cave and back to his home.
Father stood and headed for the cave entrance. “Mouse said he stashed some canteens of water nearby. I'll bring them back.”
Catherine nodded; it was stiflingly hot and now that the immediate danger had passed, she was uncomfortably aware of her sweater sticking to the thin fabric of her camisole and bra. She pulled her sweater off and folded it next to her trench-coat. There was a slight movement out of the corner of her eye: Vincent, shifting restlessly. She scrambled back to him and looked down at his face as she had done all those long days in her apartment. “I'm here,” she said, touching the fine soft fur on his cheekbones. “I won't leave.”
His eyes opened just a bit and his mouth worked, trying and failing to speak. “Don't, my love,” Catherine said. “Rest. You're safe now. It's over.”
Vincent's eyes slid shut just as Father returned with the canteens. “Was he conscious?” Father asked, coming to sit by them.
“I don't know if you'd call it that,” Catherine said, picking out one tangle in his mane and trying to unravel it. She laid one hand on Vincent's forehead, noting that his temperature seemed to be coming down a bit. “He awoke a bit and looked at me and tried to say something. But I'm not sure he was really aware.”
“Still,” Father replied, “that's a good sign. He didn't strike out at you, so perhaps this...illness is losing its hold on him.”
Catherine wasn't so sure about that. “Father. What was he like after...the last time?”
Father stared off into the distance. “He awoke briefly, to ask me if he was dead and when I told him he wasn't, he said he was hungry.” At Catherine's muffled chuckle, he laughed a bit too. “Well, he was, in that respect, a very normal teenage boy. Between he and Devin and Pascal and Winslow, it's a wonder they all didn't eat us out of house and home when they were teenagers.” He sobered then. “Physically, he recovered within a couple of weeks, regaining his strength quickly as he always does. His emotional recovery, though, took quite a long time. For several weeks, he was silent, withdrawn---embarrassed, I think, and haunted by what he'd been capable of doing, what he'd become in that madness. It was months before I heard him speak more than a few words to anyone.” Father looked over at her and the grey eyes softened. “I bear some of the blame for this latest illness. When he awakes, I hope he can forgive me.”
Catherine tilted her head, picking out another stubborn tangle. “What do you mean?”
“After his illness, when he finally spoke to me...Catherine, I was afraid.”
“Of him or for him?” she asked, blunt.
“Both,” Father confessed. “Lisa had been the source of such disaster for him and I didn't know...I didn't want him to ever hurt like that again. So I told him, as his friends began to pair off, that it was best if he not...get involved.”
Catherine bit her lip, feeling the hard words rumbling in her throat, but knowing they needed to be said. “And the message he received was that he was unworthy of love, of being loved.”
“I never meant him to think or feel that,” Father said. “Dear God, not that. Anyone who knows him knows there's no one who deserves love more.”
Mary nodded. “He hasn't been eating regularly...I'm surprised he didn't collapse long before this.” She rose then, and clasped Catherine's shoulder. “He'll be fine, Catherine. It's been a scary time for all of us, but things will turn around. You'll see.” She looked down at Catherine. “Should I make up the guest chamber for you?”
Catherine shook her head. “No. I'll stay here with him.”
Mary smiled, as if she'd expected as much. “Very well. I'll be in the nursery if you need anything.”
When she left, Father looked over at Catherine. “Are you sure you wish to stay? His sleep may be restless for some days, until he comes out of this...whatever this is.”
“I'm sure,” Catherine said. “You said it yourself: he needs me near. And I need to be there.”
“Yes, of course,” Father replied. “And I'm sure he'll heal faster knowing you're near. I only meant that it might be a rough few nights until he wakes up.” He stood then. “I'm going to go to sleep myself. If you need anything, please call.”
“I will, Father,” she said. Vincent had shifted in his sleep slightly; there was just enough room for her to curl next to him on the bed. She pulled off her shoes and crawled in next to him and pulled the covers up. Taking one of Vincent's bandaged hands in her own, and being careful of his IV line, Catherine murmured, “I'm here. I'm not leaving.” Overcome by weariness, she slept.
Click here for Chapter 2...