When Catherine returned to the tunnels, she found Father by Vincent's bedside, reading to him. “Ah, Catherine,” Father said, looking up as she entered. “How was your trip Above? Were you able to arrange things with your boss?”
She nodded. “I've gotten a leave of absence for a month---and if Vincent needs me longer than that, I'll do what I have to do so I can stay with him. How's he doing?”
“Well enough, from what I can tell,” Father replied, closing the book---Great Expectations, she noticed with a smile---and placing it on the table. “He hasn't awakened yet, but I'm not really surprised; that's what the pattern was of this illness the last time.”
Catherine studied Father's face. The lines of worry and care were there, in the tight lines around his mouth. “But you seem concerned. Why?”
“Sometimes I feel so useless,” Father said. “I'm his doctor. I should know how to treat him, if his condition worsens. But I don't. For thirty-odd years, Peter and I have been making it up as we go and we've been lucky that Vincent hasn't been injured or killed by our ignorance. But....” He took a deep breath. “I forced myself to look at the records those two.... scientists”---he fairly spat the word--- “made when they held Vincent captive, just to see if they'd learned more than I had. They hadn't. So we're back at square one, hoping that he can heal himself.” He shrugged, looking older in that instant than Catherine had ever seen him. “I don't always know what to do for him, what to do to heal him.”
She came to sit next to him and took his hand, that worn physician's hand, briefly. “Father, I don't know what to say. You always seemed so self-confident.”
Father smiled. “I've tried to know what was right for him, in many things. And too often, that crossed into trying to make decisions for him that were purely his to make. I'm sorry, Catherine, that I didn't trust Vincent more when it came to you.”
She thought of Margaret, of Lisa. “That's over now, Father. It has been, for a long time. But...thank you, anyway.”
Father smiled at her, then stood. “I need to get some sleep. Will you be all right with him for a few hours?”
“Yes, of course. Sleep well.” Once Father had left, she turned to Vincent. “I'm back, Vincent. I went above and took care of some things, but I'm not going to have to leave you again.” Catherine took in how worn he looked, the shadows under his eyes, the bandages across his ribcage and his hands, the stitches on his scalp visible through the dark gold of his hair. “No matter what happened, I'm here. I love you, and I'm not leaving.”
The words fell on Vincent's ears as if through a long tunnel, but his heart heard them, balm to all the grief and pain of the last few weeks. She was there, close to him, loving him still, wherever he was. The cave? He thought not. Perhaps his chamber.
“She loves us,” the Other said out of the darkness.
“She does,” Vincent said, feeling the warmth through their bond. “I don't know how, but she does.”
His twin sat next to him on a park bench---they were in Central Park again, Vincent realized. “Isn't it enough that she does love you?” the Other asked. “Why must you always question what is?”
“Because I don't understand it,” Vincent said to this shadow self. “I've killed many times. Killed for her, true, but I've still killed. And she's seen what I've become in the rages. Why...how...can she love me?”
“She loves us. All of us. All of what we are and are not,” the Other said. “Why can't you accept that?”
Vincent stared at his other self, darker than he but still, recognizably, him. A part of him, a part that Catherine had found she could love. Even though she had seen...she had seen...
“Yes, she did see that,” his twin said. “Do you remember that she took our hand?”
“Yes,” Vincent replied, the shock of that living in his memory along with all his other memories of Catherine.
“What does that tell you, Brother? She knows who we are. She has always known. And maybe you should trust her more.”
Vincent stared off into the dark of a Central Park night. “Trusting Catherine was never the issue. It's myself I don't trust.”
It was just before Samhain, Vincent recalled, when he thought about that night. He'd gone to see Catherine, ignoring Father's cautions, ignoring even his own good sense that seeing her again would only bring him pain. When he'd seen first seen Catherine on her balcony, he'd known, in a single heart-stopping moment, that the connection between them would not, could not be severed. And had let himself be drawn beside her, to finish Great Expectations amid the night and the stars.
Just a few days after that visit, he and Father had been playing chess when her fear and anger had ricocheted through him in an torrent he could not ignore. Every instinct had fired and disregarding Father's gasp of concern, he'd grabbed his cloak and fled the tunnels, intuition, and feeling sparking towards her in a rush of flame unlike anything he'd ever felt before.
Vincent remembered crashing through the basement of the old brownstone and destroying the men who had threatened her life, the same men (he was to learn later) who had already murdered the witness Catherine had been trying to protect. The killing instinct, the protective rage was starting to fade when he met Catherine's eyes and saw the shock there. Vincent thought it would be the end of them the minute she knew him for the beast he was, and felt his heart seize in shame and horror. Instead of the recoil he'd expected and felt he deserved, Catherine took his sticky, blood-stained hands and tugged on them. “We can't stay here.”
And in the space of one word---claiming him, rescuing him as well as herself---his world had changed forever.
After they'd left the brownstone, Catherine kept her hold on his hand, seemingly not noticing that it was covered in blood. While Vincent absorbed that bit of information---how could she see and not be revolted at what he was?---another part of his mind tracked what Catherine was saying. “I'll tell them something, Vincent. I'll protect you and your world. Don't worry.”
“I'm not worried,” Vincent said. Contrary to all of Father's dark mutterings about topsiders who couldn't be trusted, he knew this woman. She'd keep their secret, even if it killed her to do so. “Are you injured at all?” Vincent asked; the bond between them was so new, so untested, he wasn't sure if he could or should rely on it.
“I'm bruised and a little scraped up, but nothing a hot shower can't fix,” Catherine replied. “Are you injured?”
It was a reasonable question, given the blood that coated him, but Vincent shook his head. “No.”
Catherine stopped. “Oh, Vincent. You risked so much coming tonight.” Her small hand touched his quilted vest, seemingly not noticing the stains on it, and he felt his heart begin to hammer at the contact. Surely she must feel it...but no, she had not. “You saved my life tonight, Vincent. Thank you.”
They had said their goodbyes then but when Catherine left, a part of his heart had gone with her.
Vincent had encountered Father next, just as he was entering his chamber to wash off the dried and caked blood off his hands. “I'm all right,” Vincent said, hoping to head off the inevitable discussion.
“Hmm. Whose blood is this, then?”
The question was delivered in Father's starched, no-nonsense tones, and Vincent might have sighed. “Father, it's over. I'm not hurt. Catherine is not hurt. Can we leave it at that?”
“No, we most certainly cannot leave it at that. You're covered in blood, Vincent. If it's not yours and it's not hers, whose is it? Did you...hurt someone tonight?”
One of Father's classic understatements, Vincent thought, feeling Father's unease as an undercurrent of his words. Father's own preference since Jesse, since the smugglers, was to not mention the deaths directly. But there was no hiding from those grey falcon's eyes. “Yes. They were going to kill her, Father. I had no choice.”
Father blew out his breath once. “No, I don't suppose you did. But Vincent...the risks! And if she tells anyone what she saw---”
“I wish I was as sure as you are, my son, but I'm not.”
And from that opinion, Father would not be budged. Vincent finished washing his hands and face and changing his clothes but when he dreamed that night, he dreamed of Catherine.
“I remember those dreams,” the Other said.
“Yes, I'm sure you do,” Vincent replied, “since you're me.”
“You admit it?” his twin asked, grinning with all of his fangs showing.
“Do I have a choice?” Vincent replied.
The Other folded his arms. “Well, no, not if you want to regain your sanity.” He sobered then. “Those dreams disturbed you. Why?”
“You have to ask? Look at me,” Vincent replied, baring his fangs in what was most definitely not a smile. “I can kill, so easily. I could injure her, so easily. And yet I dreamed of....”
“Making love to her?” his twin responded. “If you need any proof that you're a normal guy, I'd say that's it.”
Vincent rolled his eyes, something he hadn't done since he and Devin were children, mimicking Father behind his back. “You don’t understand. I killed two people that night and dreamed of making love to a woman I barely knew just hours later. How is that normal?”
The Other grabbed him by the shoulder and shook him, hard. “For one thing, you didn't 'barely know' Catherine. Oh, sure, you'd just met but...the mate has been ours, as we have been hers, from the beginning. Even then, you knew it---you might not have wanted to admit it, but you knew it. For another, having normal desires doesn't make you a monster either.”
“There was more to the dream,” Vincent said, stepping away from his twin.
“Yes. I know that too. You saw yourself hurting her. Which is ridiculous. Have you never wondered why our bond with her is, why it exists?”
Vincent glared at his twin. “You know I have.”
“And? Any conclusions coming out of that overused brain of yours?”
“So that I cannot hurt her, or allow her to be hurt,” Vincent said, voice just above a whisper.
“Exactly,” his twin said. “So…you’re wasting all this mental energy on an outcome which can never, will never, happen. You can’t hurt her. You won’t”
“But I almost did,” Vincent said. “In the cave. I didn’t know it was her.”
“Yes, you did,” the Other said, looking thoroughly exasperated and bearing an astonishing resemblance in that instant to Father in one of his less-patient moods. “I was there too, remember? You were attacking me---which was not one of your brighter decisions, but we’ve covered that---and she entered the cave. You pulled the blow that would have killed her. You did. Not me.”
Vincent considered the words from his other self. “I want to believe,” he began, but the pull of uncertainty, of fear was hard to resist; it was too much a part of him to easily be shed now.
Mixed in the memory of his recovery from Paracelsus’ drug, Catherine’s presence had stood out in a bright candle flame, the light in his darkness. “She stayed with me.”
“Yes, she did,” the Other said.
After he’d returned from the burning wreckage of Paracelsus’ lab, Vincent felt his weariness washing over him in a slow-moving tide. He’d managed a brief message to Father on the pipes to let him know of Paracelsus’ probable demise in the fire, then headed for the comfort of his chamber. His head ached and now that the adrenaline of the hunt for Paracelsus had faded, he felt thoroughly ill, diffuse and vaguely unreal…as though the world around him had not quite righted itself.
He’d encountered Father on the way there, of course, with his doctor’s bag carried in his good hand---Vincent winced to see the bandage on his shoulder---muttering darkly about smoke inhalation and drug overdose and all sorts of dire speculations that Vincent could only barely follow. When Vincent entered his chamber, it was to find Catherine sitting there reading a book. Waiting for him. “You stayed,” he murmured, surprised by this grace, that she hadn’t been appalled or shocked at the growling demon he’d been under the influence of Paracelsus’ drug.
She jumped up as soon as he entered. “Of course---how could I leave? Vincent, are you all right?”
“No,” he managed, not liking to confess any weakness but not able to lie to her either. “I suspect I now know what a hangover feels like.”
Father had grabbed his arm and steered him to his bed just before the dizziness came over him in a wave. “Father, is he---“ Catherine asked
“He’ll be fine, Catherine,” Father said curtly, a doctor focused on his patient. “You can return above if you like.”
“I’m not leaving unless he wants me to go,” Catherine said, folding her arms. “Vincent, do you want me to stay?”
He’d never been able to handle anyone else around him on the rare times when he’d felt ill---only Father, and sometimes not even him. But Catherine’s presence was another matter entirely---soothing and anchoring. “If you can,” he said.
“I can,” Catherine said, taking his hand.
Father had glanced from one to the other and grumbled a bit under his breath, but had continued with his exam as if Catherine wasn’t there. By the time he was finished, Vincent was too tired to make out much of Father’s diagnosis. It was only when he felt Catherine’s gentle tug on his arm that he realized Father had left. “He wants you to rest, if you can,” Catherine said.
Fighting a yawn, which would have exposed all of his fangs, Vincent nodded. “I don’t think that will be a problem.”
He shook his head, then regretted it almost instantly as the dull thud of his headache escalated to a roar. “It was necessary, Catherine.”
She squeezed his shoulder. “I know it was. I just wish…Vincent, you could have been killed. I saw what Paracelsus did to Jimmy---he went out alone too. I don’t want to lose you.”
Vincent looked up at her then, remembering all she had risked to bring him back out of the darkness. “I don’t want to be lost.”
“Well, you're not. You won't be,” Catherine said, smiling. “Father was quite...insistent that I let you get some rest. Shall I read to you?”
“I won't be awake for most of it, I'm sure,” Vincent said, returning her smile and not feeling quite so ill. “But if you wish...I would like that.”
The story she read was The Velveteen Rabbit and in the minutes before sleep claimed him finally, Vincent thought, She has made me real.
“The mate knows who we are, and is not afraid,” the Other said, looking at him from across the chessboard in his chamber. “She stayed with us even though she'd seen us become a snarling beast just hours before. If you can't trust your instincts, perhaps you should trust hers. Catherine knew that you could never hurt her. Even Father knew.”
That brought Vincent up short. “How do you mean?”
“Did you never think of how Catherine ended up in that passage? Father called her, hoping that her voice, our bond with her, would bring us out of our delirium. He never intended for her to touch us, true, but he knew---or suspected---that the one person we could never hurt was her.”
“Perhaps I am not such a beast after all,” Vincent replied, staring at his hands.
“Oh, you are,” the Other said, cheerfully. “But no more than anyone is, when their home and family is threatened.”
His dark twin came to stand next to him. “Brother, let it go. Such doubts are poison.”
Vincent nodded, gazing at the chessboard where a queen was poised to capture the king. Inside himself, just a bit, there was a tiny crack of light.
Click here for Chapter 6....