Catherine awoke and stretched, gazing at Vincent. His face was very near hers, and he was starting to look rested for the first time in days, perhaps weeks. She reached out and touched the fine, soft fur on his cheekbones. “Feel better, my love,” she whispered. He made no verbal response---not that she’d thought he would, as utterly exhausted as he was---but Catherine thought she saw the faint suggestion of a smile cross his face.
She turned at Mary’s cheerful greeting. “Hello, Catherine, how are you this morning?”
Catherine smiled. “Pretty well, I think.”
Mary peered closely at Vincent. “He’s looking better,” she said. “Father will be glad to hear that when he wakes up. William’s made some scones and fresh coffee for breakfast if you want to go eat---I’ll stay with Vincent.”
Catherine’s stomach growled, and she laughed. “Well, that settles that. You won’t mind?”
Breakfast had turned out to be as delicious as Mary had said; William pressed more scones and fruit on her than she was sure anyone could reasonably eat. “Take some back to Father if you can’t eat it. I haven’t had any luck convincing him to eat; maybe you can.”
The coffee and the added blessing of a hot shower had revived her, so when she returned to Vincent’s chamber, Catherine felt much more like her usual self. She entered Vincent’s chamber to see Peter Alcott talking with Father. “Now, Jacob,” Peter was saying.
“Don’t ‘Now, Jacob’ me, Peter,” Father returned. “I’m perfectly capable of deciding---“
“’Deciding,’ what?” Catherine asked. “Hello, Peter. What are you trying to decide, Father?”
Peter smiled. “Oh, Jacob here wants me to believe that he’s capable of deciding when he should rest and eat and so forth. But I’ve been here five minutes and I can tell he’s not been taking care of himself.”
“Father, you said you were going to get some rest,” Catherine said. Upon closer inspection, she could see what Peter was worried about; Father appeared drawn and grey, far more exhausted than even Vincent looked.
“I couldn’t sleep,” Father muttered. “But really, Catherine, it’s not the first time. I’ll be fine.”
Catherine muttered something that sounded like “infernally stubborn” and Peter smiled. “She’s got you figured out, Jacob. Look, you’re not a young man anymore and interns’ hours are for interns. Let me keep an eye on Vincent while you get some sleep. I promise I’ll call you if anything changes.”
“And I'll be staying with him too,” Catherine reminded him. She handed him the packed basket that William had given her. “Here's some breakfast too, when you wake up.”
Father looked at her, the ghost of a reluctant smile crossing his face. “I can't win against the both of you. Very well.”
After he left, Peter turned to Catherine. “That was nicely done, my dear. Thank you for helping.”
Catherine smiled. “You're welcome.” She pulled up a chair next to Vincent's bed and watched as Peter performed his examination. After about an hour, he stood up. “Vital signs are strong and the IV nutrition that Jacob's been giving him seems to be working. All we can do now is wait for him to heal.”
She bit her lip. “Peter, is it normal for him to be sleeping so long?”
Peter pulled up the other chair and sat down. “Did Jacob tell you about the last time he had this illness?”
“A little bit,” Catherine replied. “I know he slept a lot after it.”
“Jacob and I have had this disagreement for years about whether it's really sleep or unconsciousness or something in between that his body forces on him so he can heal. I don't know and really, neither does Jacob.” His mouth quirked in a smile. “But we still keep debating.” He sobered then. “Cathy, he'll awaken. I know he will. Try not to worry.”
Catherine nodded, remembering something her grandmother used to say: Worry is like a rocking chair---it goes nowhere. “Does your bond tell you anything?” Peter asked.
“Not really,” Catherine said, trying to find the words for something that was so completely outside what most people thought of as normal. “He's...somewhere. Here, but not. It feels like he's dreaming, but it's not quite the same thing. I can't explain it.”
“Then don't try,” Peter said, “but let that sense of him be your reassurance. The best thing you can do for him is what you're already doing. You're here. And I'm sure he knows that.”
She smiled, remembering something she'd sensed during the night. Vincent's sleep had been more restless than it had been the previous night, and she'd been about ready to move to the cot Mary had provided when his hand had clasped her wrist. The bond between them had fired for what felt like the first time in weeks and though he made no sound, and had never so much as opened his eyes, Catherine had heard him quite clearly in her head: Stay. I need you.
“I will,” she had responded aloud. “I'm not leaving.” His grip on her wrist had relaxed almost immediately and he'd slept soundly the rest of the night.
“He does,” Catherine said now to Peter. “I know that. I just worry.”
“Of course you do.” They watched Vincent sleep for a time, until another question rose in Catherine's mind. She could have asked Father, of course, but Peter had been there too... “Peter, what was Vincent like as a child?”
“A handful,” Peter said wryly, “though not in a bad way. He was just so curious and bright and quick---and stubborn. I used to tease Jacob that he'd met his match in Vincent.”
Catherine smiled, trying to picture the young Vincent. “I wish I'd known him then,” she said, stroking a lock of Vincent's red-gold hair that had fallen over his shoulder.
“You met him when you were ready for him,” Peter said. “I used to watch him and think about you, growing up in the same city, and I would toy with the idea of introducing you to this world. I regret that I never did.”
“Why didn't you?” Catherine asked, curious. Peter had been a helper since the beginning; it had been Peter whom a frantic Father had called when Anna had brought the abandoned infant Vincent to the tunnels.
“I thought of asking your mother to be a helper---Caroline had a good heart and a true empathy for people in dire circumstances. But by the time I'd gotten approval from the council to ask her, she'd had you and then when she became sick...I couldn't ask Caroline to take on the burden of secrecy that being a helper requires, not when she already had so much to deal with.”
“No, I suppose not,” Catherine said, thinking that but for that choice, her life might have been so vastly different---growing up, perhaps knowing about the tunnel world...and Vincent.
“In the end, though,” Peter continued, “I think it worked out well. When you met Vincent---even if the circumstances were far less than ideal---you were mature enough to accept him and understand him. I'm not sure you would have been even a couple of years before.”
Catherine thought of the woman she had been, fashion law and Tom Gunther and Stephen Bass, and nodded. “You're right. Sometimes, I don't recognize myself, the woman I was then. It all seems so unreal now.”
“You're a different person, Cathy,” Peter said., smiling. “Not that you were all that bad to begin with. Even before Vincent, you were changing, growing. He came into your life, and you came into his, when you both were ready for each other.” He paused. “I'm glad Vincent has you. I know Jacob is too, though he probably hasn't admitted it. He just never thought that romantic love was a possibility for Vincent.”
“He's my possibility,” Catherine said. “He always has been.”
Vincent opened his eyes to find he was standing in a large patch of sunlight. He knew, somewhere, somehow, that it wasn't literal sunlight, but the warmth from his bond with Catherine. She had always been light and sunshine to him and a whole host of things he'd never experienced before but only read about.
He was not surprised to see the Other next to him, stretching out in the warmth, looking more like a dark-maned lion than ever. “The mate loves us.”
“She does,” Vincent said, feeling the warmth beginning to melt the ice in his soul.
“We never thought this was possible for us. Father was quite...insistent,” his twin said.
“He meant only to protect me from what he saw as harm,” Vincent replied, a ghost of old, ancient pain surfacing.
The Other sat up, looking annoyed. “Even into our adulthood, he was still trying to decide things for us that were ours, and ours alone, to decide. Do you remember Isabella?”
Isabella. Izzy. A daughter of one of the helpers, they'd grown up together. He hadn't heard from her in years. “Yes, I remember. And perhaps, in that instance, Father was right.”
“Father was right, and yet he was wrong.” The Other stood in front of him, furred hands planted on his hips. “Vincent, we were an adult when he chased Isabella away from the tunnels, as if to love us was some great unforgivable wrong.”
“Isabella never intended to live below,” Vincent replied. “She would have left eventually anyway.”
“She would have,” his twin growled, “but it would have been her choice. Not Father's.”
He had first met Izzy the year before Devin left. Her father, Grant, had been a helper for several years and when his wife died, Grant asked the council for permission to tell his daughter about the tunnels. They had agreed and on her third or fourth visit below, she had been introduced to Vincent. She had not flinched or looked away---the usual reaction---but stared at him in fascination. “Cool,” she'd said finally, and Grant had chuckled. Vincent had relaxed and gazed at this strange girl who seemingly found nothing odd in the way he looked.
Vincent's first impression of Izzy had been of a girl with crooked teeth and braids of frizzy blond hair. Devin, never one to pass up the opportunity to crack a joke, had called her “Frizzy Izzy” almost from the start. Vincent, who knew something about frizzy hair, had told Devin to knock it off. They had fought about it later, out of Father's watchful eye, and Vincent had won and from then on, if Izzy was below, she was included in whatever activities were going on. She climbed rocks with the boys and scraped her knees just like they did and eventually, the boys forgot Izzy was a girl. “She's just Izzy,” they said.
Izzy's father died shortly after Devin left. She didn't come below as often as she had before; her uncle Louis was a helper as well but a busy one and not one given to making frequent trips below. A whole year passed, the year of Lisa and Vincent's first descent into madness, before Vincent saw Izzy again. When Izzy returned, Vincent had sentry duty and he could hardly believe it was Isabella when he saw her. She had strange metal things on her teeth---braces, he was told they were called---and the blond hair was still frizzy, but not in braids and she'd grown taller and curvier. She looked, to Vincent's stunned eyes, worlds away from the tomboy of the year before.
“Hi, Vincent,” Izzy said, hugging him. She looked up at him. “You've grown, you know that?”
“Yes,” Vincent said, recovering some of his ability to speak. “I'll be off sentry duty shortly and we can go talk if you want.”
“Sure,” Izzy said. “I'm sorry I was gone so long; it wasn't my idea. Uncle Louis needed my help in his store and between that and school---”
Some impulse he'd thought dead and buried since Lisa rose within him. Vincent touched her hand. “Izzy, it's okay. Really.”
She glanced at him. “I heard about Devin; Winslow told me he left. I'm so sorry.”
The loss of Devin was still an aching wound, but Vincent managed to nod anyway. “Thanks. I was sorry to hear about your father. He was a good man.” Izzy nodded, her feelings of loss echoing his own. Vincent tilted his head, hearing the sounds of footsteps. He knew that walk. “Ethan's here to relieve me. Is there someplace you'd like to go to talk, Izzy?”
Izzy smiled. “It's Isabella...and how about the Mirror Pool?”
Vincent smiled back at her. “The Mirror Pool sounds fine...Isabella.”
After that, Isabella came down every few weeks, as often as her school schedule and her job in her uncle's shop would allow. She brought down excess produce her uncle hadn't been able to sell or supplies he wanted to donate, but for Vincent, the most valuable thing she brought was herself. Since Devin, since Lisa, he had not had many friends close to his own age. He spent long hours with her, walking the tunnels, hearing her stories of being a teenager in the world above and enjoying the company of someone who didn't expect him to be other than what he was.
It wasn't until he noticed the knowing glances that he realized what his tunnel family were assuming: that he and Isabella were dating. Father had confronted him with it one night after dinner. “What's going on between you and Isabella?”
“We're friends, Father. That's all,” Vincent said, beginning to be annoyed. Love was dangerous and no one knew that more than he.
“That's not what I've been hearing,” Father said. “Vincent, you know you must be careful.”
He slammed the door of his wardrobe shut. “'Careful'? Do you say such things to Pascal and Janelle? Or to Winslow and Marta?”
“No, but they're---”
“What? Normal?” Vincent snarled. “Isabella and I are just friends. I know perfectly well that other such...relationships are not for me. I don't need to hear more on that subject.”
“You and Lisa were friends too, once,” Father said, and the words fell leaden in the air. “Vincent, I'm concerned for you, and for Isabella. I don't want to see either of you hurt. Not like...before.”
Vincent sat down heavily on the bed. “I know what you're saying, Father. It isn't like that. We're just friends.”
Father reached out a hand to touch Vincent's unruly mane. “I'm glad you have a friend. Just please, see that it stays that way.”
“Father did not trust us,” the Other hissed, low and angry in his ear.
“No,” Vincent said, acknowledging that deep hurt for the first time. “He remembered Lisa.”
“He remembered wrong,” his twin said. “The blame was not entirely ours. And that memory colored every thought, every hope he had for us.”
Vincent recognized the anger that coated the Other’s voice; it was an old and familiar fury, grown no less potent with the passage of time. “He insisted we were the same as everyone else, but then told us we were different from everyone else in this one thing. Which was it?” the Other continued
The contradiction was one he had felt before and dealt with in a thousand different forms—as his friends paired off and started families of their own, in the unspoken demands of his tunnel family that he be only and exactly what they expected of him, in Father’s outright anger and hostility when he and Catherine had fallen in love. Am I not a man? Vincent wondered now. Am I not allowed to love and feel and need as everyone else does?
“We've never felt comfortable admitting we needed anything, have we?” the Other said, sitting cross-legged on the purple grass.
“No, I haven't been.” He remembered growing tall so fast, at the end towering over even Mitch and being desperately afraid that people might be as intimidated by him as they were by Mitch.
“There's nothing wrong with needing, you know, nothing wrong with being a little selfish once in a while. And you're not Mitch, who bullied and intimidated people by fear and violence.” The Other stood, skipping a stone across the lake, a lake that hadn't existed just a second before. “Why have you never told Catherine you need her?”
“She knows it,” Vincent replied. “I can feel it in her.”
“Ah, yes, through the bond,” his twin said. “The problem is, Brother, you still need to tell her these things.” He stopped by the lake, and turned to Vincent. “I'll tell you why you've never told Catherine you need her, while you waited until we were literally at death's door before you ever told her you loved her. Because you worry about binding her to you.”
“I only wanted her to be free to choose someone else,” Vincent said.
“She won't, you know. Not ever. Which means you need to pull your head out of your Shakespeare and your Rilke and your Thomas, and just tell the mate that you love her and you need her and you want her in your life. She deserves that.”
Vincent felt the weight of a clawed hand on his shoulder. “And just as importantly, so do you.”
Click here for Chapter 7....