It rushed against her, chilling her skin and dulling her thoughts, as consciousness came back in a rush. She was trapped in this trunk and Vincent...oh, God, Vincent....he couldn't save her, not this time. She should have listened, should have gone Below earlier when he'd asked...instead she was here. She was dying here.
But she wouldn't go down without a fight. She kicked and flailed and pushed, desperate to find something, anything, to set her free from her cold wet prison. The water rose higher, brushing against her throat. The darkness pulled, weighing her down.
Oh, Vincent. I'm sorry....
Catherine's remembered terror seized at his gut, making his breath come fast, flooding every nerve with the need to rescue! fight! protect! He had awoken in the few minutes before her nightmare began, intending to start heating up the water for tea and coffee, and Vincent had just managed to fill the pot and settle it on its hook over the fire when her dream had captured him. He rushed to her and grabbed her shoulders, frantic, desperate that she should escape the dream and know that she was safe. “Catherine! It's all right, you're alive, I'm here.”
She opened her eyes, wide and terrified in the dimness. “Oh, no,” Catherine said, sagging against him, her racing heart thundering close to his own. “I had....that dream again.”
“I know,” Vincent said simply, finding his own breathing gradually return to normal now that the danger had passed. “I sensed it.” He heard the sloshing of the water in the pool against a large boulder in the center and wondered if that sound had triggered Catherine's nightmare. Putting that aside for now, he brushed a disordered lock of hair back from her face. “Are you all right?”
“I think so, yeah,” Catherine replied. “Vincent, I...”
He pulled her close, and pressed a gentle finger to her mouth. “Don't. You have nothing at all to apologize for.”
She kissed his finger. “But I do. We're on our honeymoon, for crying out loud. Of all the things I could be dreaming of....”
Vincent smiled at her. “It happens, love.”
“I know,” Catherine replied, breathing out once. “But I thought it was over.”
“Some wounds take a longer time to heal,” Vincent said; it was a lesson he'd learned through brutal experience.
“I'm sorry,” she said again.
He shook his head. “There's no reason to be. Haven't you seen me through nightmares and...worse? There is no reason---none---to apologize.” Vincent tilted his head. “Or would you finally let me apologize for my actions in the cave?”
“Vincent, no. You were sick, not yourself, and...” Her green eyes narrowed. “That was nicely done. Are you sure you're not a lawyer?”
“Very sure,” Vincent replied, chuckling. Sobering, he continued, “I mean only that you shouldn't be so hard on yourself for one recurring nightmare.”
She nodded. He sensed that even if she was not completely in agreement with him, then at least she was not as embarrassed. “What time is it?”
“Just after dawn,” Vincent said, reaching for his inner time sense that never relied on cues of moon and sun. He always just...knew, in the same way he knew when a storm was coming or when snow would be on the ground soon.
Catherine groaned. “So early.” She peered groggily up at him. “You were awake?”
Vincent nodded. “The water takes time to heat with the fire as low as it is, and I'm sure you'll want coffee later on this morning.”
She yawned. “I will. Later on. Right now, though...”
He smiled at her, understanding all she wasn't saying; the bond spoke clearly enough. “The water will keep. Come here, love.” Vincent straightened out their sleeping bag and released a small sigh as Catherine sank next to him and nestled close. “Will you sleep now?” he asked, breathing in the familiar, welcome scent of her.
Catherine's hands played with the fur on his chest and as her bare thighs brushed against his own, he began to feel a familiar stirring. I cannot, not now, not when the horror of her dream is so close...I cannot, Vincent thought, desperate to control his own desires. She needed his comfort, not his ardor.
“I need you,” Catherine said, not at all discomfited by his reaction. “Please? Heal me?”
“Are you sure?” he asked, though the impressions through their bond were clear enough. She wanted him, the healing and love his touch brought.
“I need you close,” she murmured against his neck. “Do you remember?”
At that, Vincent smiled. Oh, yes, he remembered.
After Jenny had left, Catherine had rushed into his arms, nearly knocking him off-balance where he stood on the balcony. They had both been shaking uncontrollably, the grief and horror at what might have happened surging through them. “I felt you go,” he said against her wet hair, words impaled on a strangled half-sob of worry and fear. Vincent couldn't prevent the panicked clenching of his hands on her shoulders, her back, desperate to feel her alive. “I felt you go.”
“I know,” Catherine said, sobbing a little herself. Her frantic hands clenched in his hair---needing the feel of him as much as he needed the feel of her.
The shivers rushing through her were not all from the cold, Vincent knew, but he realized she was quite damp and it was chilly on the balcony. A little thing like entering her apartment no longer seemed like the obstacle it had been, not after what they'd been through. He grasped the curved brass handle of her balcony door and turned it. “Come. Let's go inside.”
Her eyes widened in shock. “Really? You want....?”
“I was going to come inside...before,” Vincent reminded her. “It's warmer.”
Catherine chuckled, a ghost of her usual humor returning. “It's always been warmer, Vincent. But...let's go inside.”
Vincent had stayed with her, leaving only at the first rays of dawn. They had clung together the entire night, and when he would have left, fearing that Catherine would not rest if he remained, she had merely clung to his shirt or his hand and murmured, “Stay. I need you close.”
And so he had. He had fixed a quick dinner---soup, he thought, and a sandwich for both of them, though he honestly couldn't remember later---and they had eaten it in front of her fire. Afterwards, Catherine had returned to his arms as if it was the most natural thing in the world...and for the first time, Vincent was convinced that it might be. She needed him, was finding her healing in his arms. Her shivering stopped around midnight, but he didn't release her.
When the first rays of the sun began to lighten the sky, Vincent asked her to come and spend the weekend Below. Catherine had agreed, promising to meet him at the basement entrance as soon as she called Joe to let her know she'd be “staying with some friends” for a couple of days. Just before he'd begun the long climb off her balcony, she pulled him close and kissed him. It was not the same kiss as they'd exchanged after her father's death, nor was it the kiss of a platonic love. It was the kiss of a woman for a man who completed her and for days after, Vincent felt the touch of her mouth on his own.
“I need you close,” Catherine said, and Vincent understood. She needed the reassurance that once she slept again, she would not dream of drowning in the trunk of a car, but know instead she was safe in her mate's arms.
He rose to put another piece of wood on the fire---it was chilly along the narrow strip of beach---and then returned to lay by his wife's side. “The water touched you here,” Vincent whispered, brushing one furred hand against the side of her neck. “Feel my touch now.”
“Yes,” Catherine murmured. “Oh, yes.”
He let his mouth trace where his hands had gone, knowing that nothing would anchor her so well. There was the delicate softness behind her ear where the scent was strongest, the graceful column of her neck, the fine lines of her collarbone. The water had touched her in all these places but his desires, their need, would touch her now.
Vincent felt her hands move in his hair, seeking...finding that one spot, there. He shivered in mounting pleasure and raised his head to meet her eyes. “No,” he rumbled. “This is for you.”
“For both of us,” Catherine insisted. “Please, love.”
There was no denying her resolve; it fairly echoed in their bond. “If you're sure?” he asked, and lowered his head to take one breast in his mouth.
“Oh, yes, very,” she sighed, and for a time, there were no more words between them.
It seemed to Catherine, when she thought of it sometime later, that they loved for hours on the little strip of beach, passion and joy doubling and redoubling through their bond. Their loving was not as all the others had been; this loving was a healing for them both. Vincent was determined to erase the memory of the very touch of the water against her skin and through his persistent, passionate touching, Catherine arched and twisted and moaned against him, feeling the fierce strength of his love banishing all ghosts and nightmares. She might once nearly have drowned, but this drowning, the overwhelming love in his touch that obliterated all other feeling...this was paradise.
When they finally came back to earth, Catherine leaned against her husband and listened to the fast rhythm of his heart slowly resuming its normal pattern. She kissed his chest, his neck and felt him shiver all over again under her hands. “I love you,” she said.
It wasn't that Vincent couldn't speak after their loving, Catherine knew, but in such times the words he would have used were scattered, distant. He pulled her close then and nuzzled her hair, as he'd done so many, many times before. “I love you too,” he finally said, words still a bit raspier than normal. “Will you sleep now?”
She smiled and kissed his neck. “Are you sure you want me to?”
Later on in the morning, they ate a quick breakfast, took a swim in the waters of the pool and prepared to break camp. As Vincent was putting away the last of the dishes, he saw Catherine dig into her pack and retrieve a small pill and swallow it with the last of her coffee. He knew what the pill was; he was a doctor's son, after all, but Catherine saw his glance. “Do you mind?” she asked.
“No, of course not,” he replied. They had discussed it, after all, and had agreed to wait but...”Do you think it will be possible one day?” Vincent asked.
“You must, or else what was the purpose of that third bedroom, love?” Catherine asked as she replaced the mug back in her pack and closed it.
“It's a repository of...'things that are not'...yet,” Vincent said, remembering the bit of teasing he'd taken from Kanin and Cullen as they were carving it---”counting chickens before they're hatched,” was how Cullen had phrased it, smiling. “But I asked you what you think.”
She stood on tiptoe to wrap her arms around his neck. “I think...I know...it will be possible, one day.” Her green eyes stared up into his. “Unless you want...?
“Not now,” Vincent replied, pulling her close again, startled by how much he wanted some space of time---some---with just Catherine, just being a husband, before becoming a father.
To his surprise, he felt Catherine smile. “I know. I feel the same way. So…later, then?”
“Later,” he agreed. But the same thought was in both their hearts---it would happen.
As they journeyed deeper and deeper into his world, Catherine was grateful for Vincent’s cautions about the terrain. There were several narrow, twisting paths, some littered with small, slippery gravel, plus stalagmites and stalactites that seemed to appear from nowhere in the semi-darkness. It was another world, Catherine found, a world of glistening cave pools and odd rock formations, of sounds that echoed, of cave pearls and the muted sloshing and dripping of water, but the one constant was the man by her side.
As they traveled further, and the torches began to be few and far between, she found herself relying more and more on Vincent’s extraordinary eyesight. He had advised against using their remaining fuel to relight the guttering torches along their way. “We’ll have to use the fuel at some point,” he said, “but I wouldn’t want to use it all now. There’s no guarantee we’ll be able to find more.”
“That’s fine,” Catherine agreed, and it was. She had a flashlight, after all, and the sound of Vincent’s voice as he warned of a low overhang or a path with a sudden, steep decline was as reassuring in its way as any light. “Where are we now?” she asked, trying to recall the map Vincent had shown her before they left while keeping eyes and ears peeled for any danger.
“Two hours west of Masthead Point.” She saw a glimmer of white---Vincent, smiling. “We should be at the Crystal Caverns early this evening, if we keep to our present pace.”
“Does this place have a name?” Catherine asked as they walked, careful of her footing, hearing the rush of water.
“It does. We’re near the Nameless River,” Vincent replied.
Catherine remembered, in the dark times after the feral family had invaded the tunnels, that he had gone to “a nameless river” to think. And emerging from a meandering path to the river’s shore, she could well see why. There were no pipes here, no well-meaning visits from friends or family. It was a place to go and be profoundly alone. You’ll never be alone again, she promised him, and knew that his heart heard her words.
His eyes met hers, wide and dark in the dimness. “Come, love. We still have ‘miles to go before we sleep.’”
They were about an hour away from the Crystal Caverns when Vincent tapped an insistent message against her palm: Turn off your flashlight.
Why? Catherine asked, though she flicked the flashlight off regardless. Vincent asked nothing without good reason.
I hear something.
Friend or...? Catherine shivered, remembering Erlick and the remnants of Paracelsus' followers who might still be Below. She knew from the map that Paracelsus' community---such as it now was, without his malice to lead them---was almost exclusively scattered to the southeast, but there could still be a remnant here...watching...Stop it, she ordered herself. Remembering their watcher from Connecticut, she smiled. What do you sense? Surely not a cougar? Catherine asked her husband.
Wait. Vincent's measured calm, flavored with his amusement, flowed through their bond, and Catherine relaxed. If Vincent wasn't alarmed, there was no reason for her to be. It's Narcissa.
In the dark, all Catherine could perceive was the dim reflection of the metallic threads in Narcissa's turban and the clink of her earrings and Catherine marveled again at Vincent's eyesight. “Narcissa,” Vincent said, “it's good to see you.”
The blind woman emerged from the small side cavern and walked towards them. “So far from home, children. And married now, the spirits tell me. What was meant to be has come.” She cackled, a laugh that should have sounded chilling, but wasn't; there was no harm in Narcissa, not for them. “I told The Father, but he would not hear me.”
Vincent chuckled, a soft raspy sound. “Father heard, Narcissa. He just didn't want to.”
It was impossible to say how, but Catherine knew Narcissa was amused. “You have the way of it, child. Come, I have something for you.”
The old woman's hands seized on Catherine's with a strength that was surprising, considering how frail she looked. Rooted to the earth, she thought, then wondered where the thought had come from.
Narcissa smiled, and beckoned them forward.
She led them to a small cavern, barely large enough for any of them to stand upright. Vincent glanced around in the grey shadows and saw that it was apparently one of Narcissa's workshops. He had seen a few of them as a boy, had helped her gather supplies Below for one reason or another, much to Father's eternal consternation. As in each of Vincent's previous visits, there were no candles lit; Narcissa didn't need them, though Vincent could see the outline of candles in their jars.
“I've been wrong, such a poor host,” Narcissa tut-tutted to herself, shaking her head, the gold earrings glinting, “the lights are needed now.” Shadows flickered and a few of the candles lit themselves in their containers.
Vincent, Catherine tapped in his hand, she didn't just...
She did. I've never been able to explain how, but she did.
Vincent could feel Catherine's relentless rationality---the same quality that had led her to insist and keep insisting that Kristopher Gentian couldn't possibly be a ghost---battling with the evidence of her eyes. Finally, she tapped, I can't deny I just saw that.
Narcissa smiled at them, clearly enjoying their reaction. “The eyes lead and mislead, children. Come, come.”
They followed her into the back of the workshop and watched as Narcissa bent down to unearth a round object, almost completely buried in a nest of salt. “Ah, there you are,” she said, lifting it up and handing it to Vincent.
It was a small oval mirror, decorated with carved, graceful lines around its edges, enclosed in a coiled brass half-frame. One side was clear, the other polished obsidian, or perhaps hematite and the half-frame allowed the mirror to pivot to one side or another. He heard the rustle of Narcissa's clothing as she came to stand near them. “I remember you as a child, Vincent, so afraid of that dark other that you feared the very mirrors. Will you take this gift from an old woman?”
The gift, Vincent knew, was and was not what it seemed; he had seen Narcissa use dark, polished surfaces for any number of spells, to see what was unseen and hidden. “Light and dark, they balance each other,” Narcissa continued. Her dry fingers touched his face. “Have you learned now, Vincent, that you must have both?”
Then she smiled and gazed at Catherine. “I see you have. Forgive this foolish old woman.”
Vincent could sense Catherine's bemusement through their bond, but she took the mirror from him. “Narcissa, it's lovely. Thank you.”
Narcissa shook her head. “It called for you both. I only obeyed.” She gazed at Catherine. “It will show you what you cannot yet see.”“I....thank you,” Catherine said again, clearly unsure of what else to say to such a cryptic pronouncement.
The other woman chuckled. “It is well, child, it is well.” She tilted her head, looking---Vincent thought---very much like an intent bird. “The spirits call me to return to my home, children. Be on your way. Be safe.”
The candles flickered, guttering out, and---though Vincent could not have said how---he knew that he and Catherine were alone in the cavern.
“How does she do that?” Catherine asked.
Vincent grinned, remembering asking Narcissa the same thing as a child. “You wouldn't believe me if I told you.” Placing the mirror in his pack and drawing the pack closed, he held out his hand to his wife. “Come, beloved.”
They walked another hour before deciding to stop for lunch. “So,” Catherine asked as she assembled their sandwiches, “how long have you known Narcissa?”
He poured a cup of water from one of the canteens and handed it to her. “She's been here since I came to the tunnels---Father told me once that she was one of the early settlers.”
“Did she live with you all then?” Catherine asked, passing a sandwich—peanut butter, on William's thick homemade bread---to him.
Vincent nodded. “Until I was a boy. Then our community started to expand and Narcissa just...retreated.” He shook his head, remembering. “Father tried to convince her that it wasn't safe beyond the inhabited chambers. I think he feared Paracelsus' community and the threat they represented and Narcissa was older even then, though she still had full use of her sight.”
“But she wouldn't listen?” Catherine surmised, taking a bite out of her sandwich.
“No, of course not,” Vincent said, smiling. “I don't think I was supposed to hear their...discussion, but Devin and I hid in the upper balcony and watched. When she started invoking the spirits, saying that they called her to the dark places, that was when Father gave up trying to convince her. He never has had much patience with her beliefs.” He gazed at his wife, curious. “What do you think of her?”
Catherine thought as she ate her sandwich, gathering her thoughts. Finally, she said, “There's something ageless and...uncanny about Narcissa, isn't there? Mind you,” she continued, holding up one hand, “I'm not sure I buy all her talk of spirits either, but there's something...there.”
Vincent nodded. “I understand. I used to visit her as a boy---she'd send a message on the pipes asking for my help with one project or another. Father wasn't pleased but after Devin, I think he knew I needed the time. We spent hours together, she and I, and she would tell the most wonderful stories.” He took another bite of his sandwich. “She tried to tell me years ago that the dark was not always something to be feared but...I wouldn't listen.”
She reached out and touched his hand. “Perhaps you weren't ready to hear what she had to say?”
He smiled. “I'm sure of it.” Glancing back towards the path they'd just left, Vincent chuckled. “I'm just glad she didn't say, 'I told you so.'”
“Why?” Catherine asked, curious, though his amusement flowed easily through their bond.
Vincent folded his hands, looking back at her again, blue eyes bright. “Narcissa said, 'One day, child, you'll find someone who will see your dark places and make you whole.' And you have done that for me, my Catherine.”
“Oh, Vincent,” she said, feeling her eyes fill. Catherine was not surprised to feel him lean forward and kiss her, his mouth soft and wonderful against hers. The same thought was in both their minds as they touched.
Click here for Chapter 16...
 Pablo Neruda, Sonnet XXV