Chapter 14: I to My Perils

They were in a courtroom, a long, rectangular room with wood paneling. Catherine had been in and out of such rooms for what felt like forever, but this court was different. The judge was Ma'at, looking not that out of place, with her gold scale in front of her and her unblinking hawk's eyes. On one side---the prosecutor's side, Catherine realized---was the apparition of Paracelsus. On the other, where the jury box should be, there was no one, save a grouping of witnesses whose faces were shadowed. To the left of Ma'at was Vincent, standing tall and proud even though she knew he was in a lot of pain. He would not admit weakness, not here, not now.

Ma'at raised one feathered wing and silence fell in the court. “Paracelsus seeks a verdict,” she said, but the slight bite of distaste to her tone was impossible not to hear. “He wishes the court to decide if Vincent is man or a beast. If the verdict is decided in Paracelsus' favor, Vincent will remain here. If the verdict is not, then Vincent shall decide the fate of his accuser.”

The faceless head of Paracelsus' apparition turned. It was impossible to truly assess body language in a creature with no eyes or face or mouth, but Catherine thought the apparition was surprised. “Do you agree to the conditions?” Ma'at continued.

“And if I...we...say no?” Catherine asked.

“This place, which you call Elysium, is where all questions must be answered. If you refuse to answer them, then you both remain.”

Catherine met Vincent's gaze across the courtroom. Blue eyes looked into her own and the thought was as clear as if he'd spoken. Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, apparently. Answer for both of us, Catherine. You have that right. “I...we...accept,” she replied.

Ma'at nodded. Turning to Paracelsus, she asked, “And you? If you fail to answer what is asked of you, your spirit will remain here.”

“Of course I agree,” the apparition said, waving a disinterested....well, you couldn't call it a hand, Catherine thought, somehow amused at trying to figure out what he was waving. But the effect was the same: the apparition clearly considered himself (itself?) already the victor.

Shows you what you know, Catherine thought. Though the stakes had never been higher, and she'd never been a defense attorney, she had been in one court or another almost all of her professional life. This was a battle she could not, must not lose. And she would win; she would rescue them both as Vincent had saved her, time and again.

Ma'at's golden eyes fixed on the apparition. “Call your first witness.”

***

A woman stepped out of the shadows; Catherine didn't recognize her, but from the jolt through their bond, Vincent clearly did. Phillip's wife, Lark, she heard as clearly as if he had been speaking in her ear.

I can hear you, Catherine said, trying to hide her shock. How is this even possible?

Ma'at's doing, I suspect, Vincent replied. Remember what Winslow said? Paracelsus has the advantage in that he's chosen a witness you do not know. I believe Ma'at has opened our bond further to even the odds.

All right, Catherine sent back. What do I need to know about Lark?

She blamed me for Phillip's death, Vincent responded. Catherine nodded, remembering the story of Phillip as Vincent's Other had told it to her. She folded her hands, waiting.

“Please state your name,” Paracelsus' apparition said as the woman sat down.

“Lark Alvarez,” she responded.

“Thank you,” Paracelsus said. “How old was Vincent when you first met him?”

“Fifteen,” Lark responded.

Catherine did some quick math. Fifteen would have been the year Lisa left, the same year of his first descent into madness. I think I know where he's going with this, Catherine thought.

So do I, Vincent thought. Lark...she saw what I was then. Everything.

His pain and sorrow were a dark current in the bond. It's over now, and you're not the same person, are you?

No, Vincent replied.

Then...try to let it go. Please. She sent all the warmth she could through the bond and felt his pain recede.

“And how did you meet Vincent?” the apparition asked.

Lark shifted uncomfortably. “The first time I met him, he was trying to break down an entrance gate leading Above.”

“And how did you feel?” Paracelsus asked.

“I was terrified,” Lark replied. “Who wouldn't be? And after what he did to that girl---well, I was scared. And I couldn't believe they'd let him live among us, a monster like that.”

Vincent closed his eyes. “I have nothing further,” the creature said, the smug glee coating his words.

Catherine stood. “Mrs. Alvarez. May I call you Lark?”

Lark nodded. “You said you were scared of Vincent, correct?” Catherine asked.

“Yes, of course,” Lark said. “Who wouldn't be?”

“A boy of 15 and you were scared of him?”

“Not just any boy,” Lark replied. “He hurt that dancer badly enough that she had to leave to escape him.”

“Were you there when the dancer was hurt?” Catherine asked on a hunch, while another part of her hurt for the boy Vincent had been, for Lisa, and for the incident that had been blown so horrifically out of proportion.

“No, but I heard----”

Then you don't really know what happened, do you, Lark?”

Lark sat back and folded her arms. “I know what I saw. That boy nearly forcing the gate open. He was mad, wild...dangerous.”

“I see,” Catherine said. “How long did you live in the tunnels?”

“Six years,” Lark replied.

“So you were so terrified of that 'dangerous monster' that you continued to live in close quarters with him for another six years?”

“I had nowhere else to go,” Lark said.

Neither did he,” Catherine said. She bit her lip, considering. Better to bring it all out now, she decided. “Now, did there come a time when you married?”

Lark nodded, the sadness evident in her eyes. “Yes, my husband Phillip.”

“And Phillip is dead, correct?”

“Yes,” Lark replied.

“And how did he die?”

“Vincent killed him,” Lark said.

“Can you explain that further?” Catherine asked. “I'm sorry if it's painful but we really do need to know the details.”

“There were invaders in the tunnels, and one of the sentries was killed,” Lark said. “Vincent and another man were supposed to go out on sentry duty, but Phillip switched sentry duty with the other man, and they were ambushed.”

“So he died in a tragic accident?” Catherine asked gently.

“No, he died because Vincent picked my husband to go with him. And Phillip was just ahead of Vincent when they were ambushed,” Lark shot back. “If he'd picked someone else or gone alone, Phillip wouldn't have died.”

I didn't pick Phillip that night, Vincent said, the memory burning raw. Not that it truly matters. But the choice to go was Phillip's. Father asked if Phillip could switch with Ethan, and Phillip agreed.

“I see,” Catherine said. “Would it make a difference if I told you that Vincent didn't pick Philip? That Phillip volunteered?”

“I...didn't know that,” Lark said.

“And I'm guessing you didn't ask, either,” Catherine replied. “Would it have made a difference?”

“Phillip is still dead, and now, so am I. But yes, it would have made a difference to know it was his choice and not something he was ordered to do.” She brushed her tears aside. “He was my life. I couldn't bear losing him.”

“I understand,” Catherine said. She glanced at Ma'at and at Paracelsus. “I have nothing further.”

***

The next witnesses, perhaps not surprisingly, were Marty Belmont's men, the men who had murdered Carole Stabler and nearly killed Catherine. She was able to dispose of their testimony fairly quickly; making the case that Vincent had killed them in her defense wasn't difficult. Paracelsus truly did not grasp the dynamic of their relationship; that Vincent would risk so much---the exposure of himself and of his own world---for love, to protect her. He can't understand what he's never truly felt, Vincent said when their testimony was done. He murdered his own wife, after all.

Yet there was a pattern to Paracelsus' questions, and it wasn't difficult to follow. His questions were designed to emphasize what he'd always seen Vincent as---an uncontrolled, wild, primal beast. The kind of monster, Catherine realized with a sickening lurch to her stomach, who could be manipulated under his tutelage to be excellent weapon against the people of the tunnels. And again she wondered at just how close Paracelsus had come to taking the infant Vincent and molding him into that sort of being.

“Your next witness?” Ma'at asked.

“I call Lizzie to the stand,” Paracelsus said,

Oh, god, Catherine thought, and felt an echo of Vincent's own horror through their bond. Lizzie. The woman who'd belonged to the feral Outsider family, the only woman he'd ever killed. He'd killed Lizzie before she'd had a chance to kill him, so it was arguably self-defense, but the pain he'd felt had ricocheted far beyond the events of that night.

The woman who seated herself at the witness stand was filthy and disheveled. “Your name, please,” Paracelsus asked.

“Lizzie. Ain't got another,” she replied.

“Very well,” Paracelsus said. “How did you die?”

“That...thing. He killed me,” Lizzie replied. “After he got Micah and Hogg and Jezz.”

And after they tortured and killed Randolph and Simon and Matthew, Catherine thought savagely. “And what were you doing in the tunnels that night?” Paracelsus asked.

“Nothin',” Lizzie said. “We weren't doin' nothin' but lookin' for food.”

Ma'at's hawk's eyes narrowed slightly. “You are bound to tell the truth here, Lizzie. I sense...dishonesty in your words.”

Lizzie's sullen gaze turned back to Paracelsus. “We were lookin' for food. Those others wouldn't let us have what we needed.”

“And what did you need?” Paracelsus asked.

“Everything,” Lizzie said. “Wasn't anyone but us, just us four and the boy.”

Ma'at turned to Paracelsus and the scales in front of Ma'at tilted, just slightly. “Your witness is a liar. Either she answers honestly or I will send her back. Don't try my patience, Paracelsus.”

“Very well,” Paracelsus hissed. “Since I'm not to be allowed to ask any further questions, I have nothing further.”

Catherine stood. I was there. I know what happened. Again, Vincent killed to save me---never mind that I wouldn't have been there if Father hadn't asked me to come, the fact remains that those four deaths are on my hands as much as his.

No, they aren't, Vincent thought back to her. I didn't enjoy what I did, but they threatened my home, my family, you...I'd do it again.

But you shouldn't have had to, Catherine sent back, remembering the long nights of his pain and sorrow that had followed. Aloud, she faced this latest witness. “Lizzie,” she asked, “what were you and the others doing in the tunnels?”

“Doin' what I said, lookin' for food.”

“You were given food,” Catherine replied. “And quilts and blankets. What did you do with them?”

“Ate the food,” Lizzie replied. “Burned the blankets and quilts. Weren't no use to us except as tinder.”

“And then what did you do?” Catherine continued, relentless.

“Went looking for more. Found a man, who wouldn't give us food.”

Randolph, Vincent thought to her, his memories of the young man tinged with regret and sorrow. Randolph didn't refuse to give them food. He probably didn't have any on him; he was on sentry duty that night.

“So you asked him for food, and he didn't give you any. What happened then?”

“Micah killed him. Said he weren't no use to us if he didn't have food. Boy was weak anyway.”

Catherine paused, letting that detail sink in, that Lizzie had been there and had done nothing to stop the killing, and hadn't even found anything particularly wrong with Micah's actions. She stared at the apparition. The real monster here isn't Vincent. It never was. “Let's return to the night you died,” Catherine said, trying to send as much warmth as she could to Vincent, knowing the next line of questioning would distress him. “How did you die?”

“I told you,” Lizzie said, sullen. “That...thing killed me. Last thing I remember is being rammed hard against a wall, then nothing.”

Among the deaths of the outsiders, it had been Lizzie's that had disturbed Vincent the most. Catherine understood, and had tried many times to get him to see that his actions were justified but she knew that the pain of that night still resonated. “And how were you rammed against a wall? Where were you?”

“On his back,” Lizzie replied. “After he killed Micah, I jumped on him.”

“You had knife at his throat, is that correct?”

Lizzie shrugged. “Well, sure. He killed Micah and Jezz and Hogg. Wasn't going to let him live.”

Catherine turned to Ma'at. “Vincent defended himself while under attack. I don't agree that his actions make him a monster.”

“Nor do I,” Ma'at said. She turned to Lizzie and the woman vanished. Ma'at turned back to Catherine. “It's your turn now. You may choose witnesses in defense of Vincent. They must already be deceased, of course.”

We sure never covered this in Criminal Procedure, Catherine thought, smothering an astonished smile. “Thank you. May I have a moment with my...client?”

Ma'at nodded, and Catherine walked over to where Vincent was standing. “How are you?” she asked, voice barely above a whisper. She was aware of Paracelsus' apparition not five feet away from them.

“Well enough,” Vincent said in the same tone.

She drew back a little to look at him. The lines of strain around his eyes, strain she'd not seen since the Silks, told a different story but she wasn't about to disagree with him aloud. “Who should I call to help me defend you?”

“Winslow, Ellie, and Phillip,” Vincent said. “They were....fearless and faithful in life.”

She nodded. “Anyone else you can think of?”

Vincent shook his head. “All right, then,” Catherine continued. “I'll think of someone else. But those three should be fine to start with.”

Catherine clasped his hand once, a gesture of love and reassurance, and stepped back. “I'm ready to begin, your honor.”

A faint smile might have crossed Ma'at's face; it was difficult to tell in the candle-light. “Very well. Call your first witness.”


Click here for Chapter 15...

16 comments:

OKGoode said...

Excellent, Krista! I love how you're pulling it all together now! And Ma'at kicks butt!

Krista said...

Hey Laura,

Thank you! I'm so happy you like it. :)

None of the Egyptian deities were precisely wusses, but Ma'at was particularly formidable, since she had the ability to decide whether you'd be spending an eternity getting eaten by crocodiles or in paradise. Frankly, I think Paracelsus has met his match ;-)

Once again, thanks for reading :)

-Krista :)

Anonymous said...

Wow!! I LOVE IT!! I can hardly wait for the next chapter! It'll be interesting to see how Catherine rips John Pater's butt apart!

Jenna

Krista said...

Hey Jenna,

Glad you like it :-) The next chapter will be...interesting, to say the least.

Thanks for reading,

Krista :)

RomanticOne said...

Have to admit that this was a pretty slick move on Paracelsus' part. Only problem is, Catherine is smarter. I can see love and pain ahead when Winslow, Ellie and Phillip are called because you are so good at calling forth your readers' deepest feelings. Looking forward to the next chapter.

Krista said...

Hi R1!

Yeah, Paracelsus is sneaky, and underhanded, and all things nasty, but he's never loved like Catherine and Vincent have and that's their greatest strength and his weakness. ;-)

Thanks again for reading and commenting...I really appreciate it. :)

-Krista :)

Sonia Who? said...

Very cool chapter. Good idea to have the final battle with Paracelsus in a court setting, and have Catherine as Vincent's lawyer. Look forward to seeing how the case plays out. I'm sure it'll be very interesting to read.

Brit said...

I can think of a few others that could are fearless and faithful to Vincent. Enjoyed this. In a courtroom-what a setting! I mean V gets to see Catherine in her finest! and I think part of this will help V see how much C loves him. :)
THANKS!! LOVE IT! cant wait for the next part

Krista said...

Hi Sonia,

I'm glad you're enjoying it--I think this is another example of Paracelsus' arrogance (as if we needed one LOL.) He really thinks he can go up against Catherine---a trained lawyer, even if she's not a defense attorney---and win.

Thanks again for reading,

Krista :)

Krista said...

Hi Brit,

Oh, I think Vincent already knows how much Catherine loves him, but he's never seen her in a courtroom before. ;) So, a new experience all the way around.

Thanks for reading and commenting---I really appreciate it.

-Krista :)

Three Writers said...

OH NO! Krista, there's no link at the end of 14 to take me to 15!!!!!!!!!!!
I stopped leaving comments some chapters back but I hope you read this and tell me how to get to Chapter 15...soon! Love, Nancy

Krista said...

LOL, Nancy, nice try. I'm hoping Chapter 15 might make it up this weekend; Chapter 14 was supposed to be the last chapter before the Epilogue but it started getting really, really long, so I split Chapter 14 into two sections.

So, if the muse cooperates (and I'm giving her a ton of chocolate right now by means of encouragement) I might be able to get Chapter 15 posted this weekend. Until then...you'll just have to wait. ;-)

Thanks again for reading,

Krista :)

Three Writers said...

You NEVER should thank me for reading ... this is wonderful. But I thought Carole mentioned you'd posted 18...she must have said Michelle and I heard Krista. I was so sure I was doing something technologically wrong and that the chapters were waiting for me to find them. I can send you a plane-load of chocolate if it would help...! This is such a remarkable story that it's going to be very hard to wait :) Love, Nancy

Krista said...

Hey Nancy,

I'm so happy you like it. :) Michelle is the one who just posted Chapter 18; I don't have any chapters written ahead (aside from Chapter 15, which I'm still working on.)

Chocolate works. :) I'm also giving the muse coffee---I'd love to get Chapter 15 up this weekend, but....well, the muse works when she wants to. ;-) Maybe the sugar and caffeine will help. :)

Thanks again,

Krista :)

Carole W said...

He can't understand what he's never truly felt, Vincent said when their testimony was done. He murdered his own wife, after all.

That is truly chilling. But P can't imagine the teamed force of V and C, can he.

I don't want to just ditto all the above, most deserved praises, but ... ditto! I can just see this before my eyes. You do such a great job of storytelling and tension building.

Brava once more!

Carole

Krista said...

Hi Carole! :)

No, Paracelsus hasn't a clue there. Or anywhere else, for that matter. ;-)

Thank you so much, Carole *blush* :) I started writing fanfic years ago because no one was writing the stories I wanted to read---that you and everyone else are enjoying this story, is the best of all possible worlds :)

Thanks again,

-Krista :)

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