Chapter 1: A Vision Softly Creeping (PG)

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.”

Love. Yes, Vincent deserved all that and more---hadn’t she said so, tried to show him many times? All the words, lost down some unknowable abyss of the soul. Had he ever really believed her? She stared down at Vincent, at the blood drying on his forehead, thinking of all the rage, all the pain those wounds represented. He clearly had been banging his head against the rock, trying to…what? Destroy something? Block it out? Catherine thought then of other times blood had coated his hands---when he’d killed to protect her. Killed for her, perhaps, because he feared to express his love in any other way except through his protection.

And I didn’t see. Dear God, I didn’t see. “I should have known what the killings were doing to him,” she said.

“How?” Father asked reasonably. “If there's one thing I've learned about my son, it's that he can be infernally stubborn when it suits him. When he doesn't want to talk, he won't.”

Catherine smiled, just a bit. “'Infernally stubborn'? I can't imagine where he would have gotten that.”

Father looked at her over the top of his glasses, finding a wry smile of his own. “I'm sure you can't.” He opened up his beaten-up medical bag and took out a clean, soft rag. “We might as well try and get some of the blood cleaned up so we can at least see where the wounds are.”

“There's a lot of it,” she breathed. Her hands came to rest on his forehead; nearly hidden by his jagged bangs was the outline of one pale scar. Catherine knew where that scar had come from; the first of many she feared she'd given him, though the only one that was visible.

“Yes,” Father agreed. “Head wounds tend to bleed quite a lot, even when they're not that serious.” He gave her one of the rags he'd dampened with the water in canteen and took the other rag himself. Together, they cleaned Vincent's face and hair of much of the blood and dirt. Father brought the lantern closer to see better. “Hmmm. Looks like a few scalp lacerations which will need stitches, but unless he also has a concussion, I don't think they're severe. I am concerned about the chest injuries, though; if he's got broken ribs, we'll have to be very gentle in bringing him home.”

For the next half hour, Catherine watched Father do his examination in mounting concern. When he finally put his stethoscope away, she looked over at him. “How is he?”

Father rubbed his chin. “Dehydrated, but that's no great surprise. I suspect he has at least two cracked ribs and some deep bruising. But we can move him if we do so gently. After we get him home, we can address the other issues.”

Vincent stirred a bit, reaching out fretfully, and Catherine clasped his hand gently, noticing the deep .bruises there and trying to be gentle. “I'm here. I'm not leaving.” He relaxed back into sleep.

“He did that the last time,” Father murmured. “Kept reaching out for something or someone. I never knew what to do for him then.” His eyes met hers, warm and grey. “Dear Catherine. Just keep telling him that. It's what he needs to hear.”

The sounds of Mouse's fractured chatter reached them and they smiled. Mouse, Pascal and two men Catherine hadn't personally met were outside the entrance of the cave.. One of them was at least as tall as Vincent, the other was shorter, but stockier. “I'm Elijah,” said the taller man, “and this is Paul. We'll bring him home, ma'am, don't worry.”

She watched as they carefully maneuvered Vincent's body onto the waiting stretcher which---like everything else in the tunnels---was patched and composed of parts far removed from their original purpose. It buckled for a second under Vincent's weight and he groaned but with Father's bracing on his ribs, he soon settled again into what Catherine hoped was a deep healing sleep.

She picked up her sweater and overcoat from the cave floor. Clasping Vincent's hand again, she was startled to feel Father's hand on her arm. “Come, my dear. Let's bring him home.”

***

“He's lost so much weight,” Catherine said some time later, as they sat near Vincent's bed. Father had hooked up the IV and Mary had brought a meal for them both. Together, the three of them had cleaned and bandaged his wounds and with the help of Elijah and Paul, they had managed to get Vincent into a clean nightshirt. It was, Catherine thought grimly, probably the first time he'd been clear of the fever in days. Every rib on his chest had stood out in stark relief and once the golden fur had been cleaned of the blood and dirt, it was obvious how wasted he'd become.

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...

22 comments:

Vicky said...

Oh, my... This is, and it's going to be wonderful. Oh I love it! Great job from the very beginning: I'm hopelessly hooked!

"I'm here. I'm not leaving." Go, Catherine!
Thank you, Krista. Though I know you're going to break my heart. Well, well... Vincent is. :-D
Just don't make us wait too long!

Krista said...

Thank you, Vicky. :) I'm so glad you like it---it is dark, and angsty, and it's going to get worse before it gets better...but in the end, they'll come through it stronger for having endured this.

I won't make you wait too long, I promise; I'll probably post the next one this weekend. ;)

Thank you again, ever and always, for reading and commenting :)

Krista said...

Carole W has left a new comment on your post

"Chapter 1: A Vision Softly Creeping (PG)":

The image of Vincent banging his head against the stone - oh, so sad, so heartbreaking.

And your (our) Catherine - Vincent's Catherine – isn't leaving. Yea!!

I'm grinning, smugly, because I know some of what's soon to come. Such a journey awaits him.

I too am completely hooked. Please quit your day job. Today. :-)

Krista said...

Carole, I had to paste your comment in because of Blogger's commenting glitch.

I'm so, so glad this chapter worked for you (and I'm happy you're hooked---is that evil of me? :-P)

The way I see it, this isn't just Vincent's journey, but Catherine's too. It's going to be a time of great chaos and change for them both. But...I have a feeling that they'll come out okay in the end.

LOL, if I could and pay the bills...LOLOLOL

Thank you again :)

Krista said...

Vicky has left a new comment on your post "Chapter 1: A Vision Softly Creeping (PG)":

Oh, but it has to be that way, so that they can be free. So don't worry: I'm all set up for what's to come. To be perfectly honest... I love my bit of angsty when it's for a good reason! So bring it all on. Got plenty of cookies and chocolate to make it barable. LOL

Krista said...

Thanks, Vicky. You're a treasure. :-) Have some cookies and chocolate for me and enjoy :)

-Krista

Three Writers said...

This is wonderful, Krista...I LOVE IT! What a phenomenal start! Is it all written? I want to know it's going to get posted regularly, you see!!! If not, may I bake us all some chocolate chocolate chip cookies with walnuts???
Thank you for all the love you've put into Chapter 1. I can barely face the wait for more! Nancy

New York City Utopia said...

Here is one more reader who loves it! Good start!

Claire

Krista said...

Hi Nancy! :)

It's not all written (I'm fast, occasionally, but not that fast. LOL) I've got the first four chapters written; I will most likely post Chapter Two either on Friday or Saturday.

Thank you for commenting---it's the feedback that makes writing (even the angsty stuff) as much fun as it is. :)

-Krista

Krista said...

Hi Claire,

Thanks so much for commenting! :) I'm glad you like it; this story has been itching at me since I wrote "Mirror" and since it's never wise to ignore the muse, here we are. ;-)

Thanks again,

Krista :)

RomanticOne said...

Finally - "I'm here and I'm not leaving." I do believe Vincent has met his match in stubborness. I admit I cried about Vincent's physical state but found hope in Catherine's devotion. Bring on the cookies. I'm here for the duration.

Krista said...

Hi R1--

Oh yes, he certainly has. ;-) I'm sorry I made you cry...but things will get better. This is just some ugliness that they've both needed to face so they can finally put it all behind them.

I'm up for cookies---anyone have snickerdoodles? :)

Thanks so much for reading and commenting,

Krista :)

Jenna said...

WOW

Krista said...

Thanks, Jenna, for reading and your enthusiasm :-) Chapter Two will be up tomorrow, hopefully tomorrow morning. :)

-Krista

Ann B. said...

I can post now! YAAAY! First, let me tell you how much I have loved all of your stories. You have a gift and I am so grateful that you have chosen to share it with us.

This was a complelling but very difficult chapter to read. The reason you gave for the state of his clothing was true and truly heartbreaking. And the comments regarding his head injuries were dead on as well.

I am very much looking forward to the continuation of this story.

Krista said...

Hi Ann!

I'm so glad you've enjoyed my stories---thanks so much for reading them.

This chapter was hard for me to write too---because, really, who wants to see Vincent in that sort of torment? But it's the darkness before dawn...they just have a long road ahead of them, both of them.

Thanks again,

Krista :)

Sonia Who? said...

A promising start and a good chapter to get your readers hooked. I've enjoyed reading your other stories and I'm sure I'll enjoy this one too.

I always felt that Catherine use the bond and the power of her love to call/bring Vincent back to life, instead of CPR.

Poor Vincent. I feel such sorrow for him that he'd suffered so much and is so tormented. I don't mind some angst as long as it's not 99 percent of the story and there's a good happy ending for V&C.

Looking forward to reading the next chapter.

Krista said...

Hi Sonia,

Glad you're liking it thus far---this is a pretty dark story...but it has to be. There's no dawn without the night :)

Thanks again,

Krista :)

Three Writers said...

Krista, I'm starting with Chapter 1 and plan to enjoy each and every word again...or anew... because I've missed some! This opening was so powerful, so heartbreaking...thank you for the opportunity to see Catherine and Vincent work through 'life' as only they can know it! Love, Nancy

Krista said...

Oh, Nancy, I'm very touched that you wanted to read this all over again...thank you. Their life is a tad bit...messy at times, but they always find a way to muddle through. ;-)

Thanks again,

Krista :)

Cyndi D said...

I am finally here! and I can't wait to continue! You paint such vivid images! I just know you would! Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Krista said...

Hey Cyndi!

I'm so glad you finally made it---it's not quite done, but it is very, very close. :-)

Enjoy the rest---and thanks for stopping by,

Krista :)

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