Chapter 11: Go Forth With Your Fears
Vincent sensed him first, a bare few moments before Father left the passageway. As he emerged into the dim light afforded by Angus’s hastily lit torch, Vincent saw that his cane was missing. Added to Father’s considerable limp and the pulsing flare of agony from long-damaged muscle and bone and Vincent knew his missing cane was no accident. “Father,” he murmured, and stepped forward barely in time to keep the other man hitting the ground.
“I’m all right,” Father insisted. “Leg…just gave out.”
“He’s not all right,” Quinn retorted from Father’s other side. “I don’t know how he’s managed to walk this long.”
“Sheer stubbornness, more like,” Mary murmured. “Did you manage to get his doctor’s bag?”
“Here,” Rhys said, handing it to her. “I grabbed it just before we left.”
“Good,” Mary said shortly as she opened the scarred leather case. “Ah, good. It’s still in here.” She removed a long polished wooden tube, folded into fourths. “One of Mouse’s inventions. He called it his ‘travel cane’—I think he modeled it after the cane that blind people sometimes use. I packed your bag before you left, remember?”
Father sighed. “And I thanked him for it and thought I’d never use it. That’ll teach me.”
“Well,” Mary said, “time to see if this is the one of his inventions that actually works.” She unfolded the cane and with a muted snick, the cane unfolded to its full length. “I think it should get you back home, at least. Father, shall we try it?”
Vincent helped the older man to his feet, suddenly conscious of his frailty, of the new lines in his face and the grey in his hair. So much rested on one man’s aged shoulders. “Thank you, Vincent,” Father murmured.
“Very touching,” a flat nasal voice said, hissing against the rock walls. “Where did you think you were going?”
“Why, hello child,” Narcissa’s Haitian cadences greeted Catherine as she returned a blissfully sleeping Benjamin to his cradle. The older woman was, improbably, knitting something that looked like a sock, her needles flashing in the candlelight. “You soothed the little one. Good, good. His mother has need of rest.”
“I bet she does,” Catherine said dryly, staring down at the little face, now slack with sleep. He was still too young to look much like either of his parents, but Catherine thought she saw something of Marisol in the furtive smiles that crossed his face now and then. “Is Marisol all right?”
“Sleeping, child. Just sleeping. I told her I’d wait up until you returned.” She gestured towards the carved wood cradle, and Catherine wondered again how Narcissa could know so precisely where it was. “You do well with her son, yes?”
Catherine nodded. “He seemed to like my hair a bit, but I think we got along fine.” She paused. “Narcissa, I can’t remember the last time I saw you here. Is everything… all right?” The words rushed out before Catherine had time to consider them, but Narcissa only smiled.
“What, you don’t believe an old woman would come here merely to visit?”
Narcissa always left Catherine feeling a bit off-kilter—small wonder, considering the circumstances of their last meeting. Yet Vincent counted her a dear friend, as did Marisol. She pondered her words and decided that honesty was the best course. “Yes, and no. It’s a very long way to travel, isn’t it?”
Narcissa laughed. “Oh, child, farther than you know, farther than you can see.” Her gold earrings twinkled in the candlelight as she tilted her head. “You know where….The Father and the others are, yes?”
“Vincent is bringing them home,” Catherine replied slowly.
Narcissa leaned back in her chair. “Ah, you…see it too, don’t you?”
“No,” Catherine said firmly, yet there was no accounting for the chill that shot up her spine, or the hairs that rose on the back of her neck. “What’s going on?”
“The Evil One had many in his employ, bound to him by greed or anger or pain,” Narcissa stated, and there was no trace in her words of the dotty old woman who so bedeviled Father. “It is one of…those your Vincent meets.”
Narcissa speaks in layers, Vincent had said once, long ago. Catherine was no stranger to hearing hidden meanings, and the jagged currents of danger in her words were impossible to miss. “ ‘Those’? What have you seen?”
A stitch fell unnoticed from Narcissa’s needles as her hands stilled. “There are no words in your language…or mine. The spirits speak to me, child, but I don’t understand what they say.”
Catherine struggled to parse this. “You had a vision and…you couldn’t make sense of it? And you thought Marisol could?”
“She is a seer,” Narcissa said flatly, as if it was a matter beyond all debate. “If she saw it, then I thought…” She laughed. “But I am a silly old woman, as The Father says. And perhaps the vision wasn’t meant for me at all.”
That laugh. Catherine had heard it before, in an utterly different context: sitting across from a witness or a victim, and listening as they brushed off the seriousness, the danger of what they’d faced…because admitting the danger also meant admitting how very near death had been. It was the laugh of the uncertain, the…afraid. Afraid? Narcissa? She took a deep breath and placed her hands over the older woman’s. “You…fear what you’ve seen. Don’t you?”
Narcissa’s sightless eyes stared off into the middle distance. “When I was a girl…there was a man in my village, a young man, you understand? Full of life…oh, Jean…you should have seen him then. I thought him beautiful and I was not the only one. But he was not what he seemed. He began to change…became angry and vengeful, stirring up old grudges and feuds for his amusement. His family asked the loa for guidance and…” She shuddered, a memory over half a century old clearly still biting. “Catherine, it is one thing when an illness makes a man a stranger. It is quite another when he chooses it.”
Catherine stared at her case notes, unseeing. She had retreated to her study below, determined to at least make a start on refining on the questions she would ask the prospective jurors on the Avery case, but the image of a rattled Narcissa would not leave her mind. She closed her eyes, forcing away all her fears and her worries and all the questions she couldn’t yet ask. Vincent and the others would be home soon; a message sent from the furthest sentry station at the perimeter of their community had assured their arrival within the hour. Father was, the message had gone on to say, well enough, though dehydrated and in some amount of pain.
That last announcement had caused no end of worried, angry murmuring, Catherine remembered—understandably so. If Vincent was the heart of this community, Father was its compass, the one who had held the entire community together in its times of deepest danger. The furor over his treatment would run deep—and Vincent’s own feelings…Catherine closed her eyes, feeling the insistent thrum of his anxiety fluttering in their bond. I’m here, she thought to him. I’m here. You’re not alone in this.
She felt his answering warmth—-message received and understood, then—and returned to a determined study of her notes. Given the potential size of the juror pool, and the usual antics of Avery’s attorney, Catherine knew she’d have to be very careful in screening prospective jurors. If she could get a jury composed entirely of contractors and construction workers, the verdict would be a slam dunk, but Graham Sparks was unlikely to let that happen. At least he couldn’t dismiss the entire jury pool….
Half an hour later, Catherine was well and truly into the weeds when she heard a knock on the door. Not one of the community, she thought—they usually announced themselves with the pipe code for their name. A topsider, then—and Catherine smiled at the turn of phrase. She had been a topsider once.
Peter stood in the doorway, all rumpled coat and mussed hair. “Jamie called—I came here straight from the airport. What on earth has been going on around here?”
Vincent had survived enough disasters in his life that he understood it was common for those who had endured them to want to discuss everything, as if in reassurance that they had survived and overcome. What he wanted right now, though, was Catherine, his bed (or Catherine in his bed, one part of his mind acknowledged with an inward smile) and solitude. However, with Father still being examined by Peter, he understood he was unlikely to have any of these things anytime soon. Peter had bustled them off to the hospital chamber with a minimum of discussion, insisting they must be examined first before returning to their families. Catherine had planted a very quick kiss on his cheek and said she’d follow shortly. As far as Vincent was concerned, “shortly” couldn’t come soon enough.
He watched as they clustered, an unlikely grouping, in a deserted corner of the hospital chamber, each waiting their turn for Peter’s examination---Mary, Quinn, Angus, and Angela and her children. His keen ears picked up the topic of their discussion: their escape from Tamara and how, in Angus’s words, it had all been too easy. Vincent found himself agreeing; Tamara might have been an old woman, but her followers were not. They had been armed and, in Lucas’s case at least, furious at Angela’s departure. Yet Tamara—and Lucas—had let them leave. Why?
“…I don’t understand it at all,” Angus was saying. “What was a young woman like that doing with them?”
Angela’s head jerked, and the short hairs on the back of Vincent’s neck stood up. There had been no other woman with Tamara’s group. “Who…who did you mean?” Angela asked faintly, growing pale.
Angus looked at her, bemused. “You know, Tamara.”
Quinn closed her mouth, then opened it. “Angus…she had to be in her 80s at least.”
“What? No! She was in her 20s! A beautiful girl! Reminded me of a girl I used to date…”
“That’s what I saw too,” Rhys put in. “A lovely dark-haired girl.”
Angus shook his head. “No, she was blonde, with her hair coiled around her head.”
Quinn rolled her eyes. “Fine, we’ll ask Vincent. What did you see?”
“An old woman,” Vincent replied, though that had not been the half of it. Only Catherine would hear and believe. No one else would understand what he’d seen in the instant before the torches were lit.
Angela looked as if she wanted to say something. “Go on,” Vincent urged softly. “We…speak our minds here, as you noticed.”
She offered a quick smile that did nothing to dispel the look of horror in her eyes. “No…I cannot. I will not.”
“How is he?” Vincent asked sometime later. Mary had taken Angela and her children to be settled in a chamber, and from the sound of things, would be having lunch with Santos later on today. Angus and Quinn had left with Rhys and Bronwyn, so it was just he and Catherine remaining. He breathed in, Catherine’s scent reassuring.
Father opened his mouth, clearly intending to voice some protest, but Peter cut him off. “As well as can be expected, but that’s not saying a lot. He’s dehydrated, has a hairline fracture in his upper thigh, and he’s working on a lovely case of bronchitis.”
“None of which is fatal,” Father put in. “Really, I’ll be fine.” The deep hoarse cough bellied his words.
“Uh-huh,” Peter said skeptically. “I’ll send down some medications for him as soon as I can get to the pharmacy. As far as the fracture, I’ve set the leg but Jacob, you’ll have to let it heal. Not like you did before.”
“What do you mean?” Vincent asked.
“Oh, you don’t remember—you were only a child, Vincent, but part of the reason he has that limp is because he got up too soon after his hip injury. They don’t heal overnight.”
“I don’t recall I had a choice,” Father retorted acidly. “Who else was going to run this place, hmmm? Who else?” He breathed out. “It’s all long ago and far away now.”
“Yes, but…” Peter stared at him hard. “Jacob, there are others here who can help now. You must let them.”
Vincent felt Father’s grey eyes settle on him and Catherine’s hand tightened on his own; a necessary, welcome anchor. “Yes, of course.”
The basement of their brownstone was silent for once, Vincent observed with a glimmer of humor—the ghosts possibly sleeping off a spectral hangover. Catherine had insisted on their return to the brownstone (“It’s not as if they can’t find you, Vincent,” she’d said with her hands on her hips and what he thought of as her courtroom gaze) and since he’d long ago learned the wisdom of not arguing with someone trained to argue, he’d agreed.
In truth, he was glad to return. The chamber was his, and although he’d made a place for her in it, rearranged and remodeled it to suit them, the brownstone was the first place that had been exclusively theirs from the beginning, their place between the worlds. And now, with the demands of his word pressing on him, he needed that space.
“So,” Catherine asked as she opened the creaking basement door to enter their home, “what are your plans for tomorrow?”
Vincent was startled to recognize he hadn’t thought that far ahead. “I…don’t know,” he confessed. “You?”
“I’ll have to get some work done first thing; we’ve got pre-trial motions on Monday. But…” Catherine took his hands, the clawed hands he’d once despised, in her strong grasp. “I think you’ve earned a day of ‘do not disturb,’ personally.”
Such a thing would once have been unthinkable; even as the others had rested, he had always sought extra work. Now, though…Vincent kissed her, the scent and feel of her chasing away the shadows of the last few hours. “What did you have in mind?” He had a sudden vivid memory of her asleep in their bed as the rain, haloed by the light of a nearby streetlamp, cast dappled shadows on her fair skin. He had wondered what the rain would taste like on the gentle curve of her breast…
Catherine unlaced the leather ties at the collar of his shirt. The sudden jolt of joy as she touched him shouldn’t have been a surprise, but it was…a surprise and a gift. “Precisely the same thing you do, love.”
Later, much later, Catherine awoke to find Vincent standing by their bedroom window, staring out onto the cemetery far below them. The moonlight cast him in silver, highlighting the long lines of bone and muscle, but there was something about his posture; he was clearly lost in his own thoughts.
She didn’t bother to put a robe on as she left their bed—he was naked as was she, and it was hardly necessary. “What is it, love?” she murmured.
He turned to her with a start. “Forgive me. I…didn’t want to wake you.” He looked at her under the thick veil of his hair. “I was…thinking.”
She came to stand behind him; the muscles of his back and shoulders were stiff and tense under her hands. “About what?”
Vincent breathed out once. “We met an armed party and were grossly outnumbered. Yet Tamara let us go. Lucas let his wife and children leave without much more than some vague threats. This…isn’t over. It can’t be.”
Catherine had thought the same thing once she’d heard the story, but given the relief over Father’s return without serious injury, she hadn’t thought it prudent to mention that this was likely only the first salvo in what might be a long-running conflict. “I know. But was there anything else you could have done?”
He gazed down at his hands, the claws glittering like shards of diamond in this light. “One part of me wanted to,” he confessed softly, “but Catherine, I was afraid…I was so angry with them for trying to kidnap Father that I wasn’t sure I could control my rage.”
She clasped his hands, forcing them to unclench. “Vincent, you did the right thing. You brought them home. And Father will be fine.”
“He will,” Vincent acknowledged. “For now. Later, though?”
Catherine tugged on his hands. “Later is…later. Come back to bed, love. We’ll deal with it in the morning.”
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