*Note on the text.
This is meant as a sequel to my story Though They Go Mad, though it could be a sequel to any story where Catherine comes back from the dead through any method, taking season three as a reality. Many of you may not have experienced Wendy Piniís beautiful graphic novel Night of Beauty, but it is Beauty and the Beast canon, and is referenced here. This story is also a poetic orgy, so enjoy.
City and Sea of Glass
"Long were the days of pain I have spent within [this cityís] walls, and long were the nights of aloneness; and who can depart from his pain and his aloneness without regret?"
Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet.
"There are different kinds of healing."
Wendy Pini, ElfQuest.
Things should have been blissful.
After traveling through hell and back, Catherine had been found, and was back in Vincentís life. Everything was perfect. Catherine was safe and sound in the Tunnels. Vincent had his true love back in his arms. Their son was growing happily with two parents to watch over him. Everyone was happy. Everyone was loved.
And everything was wrong.
Catherine denied it at first. She had spent so long in so much torment and sadness that she didnít want to admit that her new idyll was far from blissful. She was so far from where she had been that it felt like surfacing to dry land after a year trapped in an abyss in the sea. It took her three months to come to the conclusion that the dry land she had sought for and found was nothing more than a barren, sandy beach, littered with sharp shells that cut her feet. Moreover, there was no fresh water. She couldnít stay here.
But she feared going over the barren dunes to find the good earth.
To wake up every morning with Vincentís arms around her, the scent of him, his warmth filling her, the sound of his breath in her ear, was magical. To feel safe and happy, to again take delight in a poem or a painting, was delightful. To know her son was happy and loved, to have him there, calling her Mommy, ready to laugh and learn and live, was a miracle beyond all sense.
But Vincent was sad.
He would never say he was sad. He believed himself happy. He told her, and himself, that he was shedding or burying his regrets, that his happiness was like a blade cutting through all the shadows, and that everything Ė everything Ė was wonderful. But there was something seriously wrong.
Vincent wasnít sleeping. Not really.
Oh, he would take brief naps. She would often catch him nodding or "resting his eyes" when she took it upon herself to read aloud to the Tunnel children in his place. When they snuggled up in bed together she knew he closed his eyes and began to breathe deeply. But she knew he wasnít really sleeping, and she knew why.
He feared dreaming.
First he feared Catherineís dreams. Catherine thought he feared them more than he feared his own, as hers communicated themselves to him on a level that almost wounded him. So much time in misery, touched with fear and madness, had bruised her heart. Her guilt at not returning to Vincent and her child sooner was a terrible thing as well. Both of these tortured, dark truths made her nightmares black and viscous, sticking like stinking treacle over all their joys.
Vincentís nightmares were worse. He didnít fear them, in that he thought he deserved them and knew he could face them. But he feared their results. Vincentís nightmares had always been potent things. The depth of his emotions and the strength of his character were such that his dreams took on prodigious proportions, sometimes bordering on the prophetic. For nearly a month after Catherine returned to them he had wrestled with them. At Catherineís request (his alternative being separate beds) he had taken to wearing gloves to bed, so that his thrashing claws didnít tear her flesh. The gloves had helped, but, though she never mentioned it, he had bruised her several times in his sleep. She knew he knew, though, in the careful way he wouldnít look at that part of her body which had sustained the mild injury. He was terrified lest he hurt her while he was unconscious.
But she wouldnít allow him to seek a separate bed. She couldnít even allow him out of her sight.
It was a terrible thing to have discovered. For more than a week they simply didnít feel like going out of each otherís company. They had been apart for so long, through so much hardship, that they enjoyed the ability to walk together, eat together, shower together; every moment, together, together, together.
Catherine had realized it one morning when she woke and Vincent wasnít in her immediate line of sight. He had risen from the bed and was writing in his journal curled in a different chair than he usually used. After one flicker of her eyes she bolted straight upright, heart pounding in her chest, stomach clutching with terror, her breath coming as quickly as a frightened rabbitís. Vincent dropped his journal and came to her, his eyes concerned. "Catherine, what is it? Did you dream?"
Catherine blinked at him. He was right there! Of course he was right there! This was his chamber, these tunnels were his home, of course heíd be there! "Yes," she whispered, but they both knew it was a half-truth. If Vincent wasnít with her, she panicked.
Since that awful realization sheíd tried, a dozen times, to make herself be apart from him, if only for a few moments. She told him to get back to his usual routine, that she must be settled in by now, and that he should resume sentry duty and tunnel maintenance and kitchen work and all the other hundreds of jobs that it took to maintain their little world. And three or four times he even tried to do it, for an hour or so. Eventually her misery and panic always drew him back, no matter how much she tried to suppress it. Their bond was too important to him, and her terror was too potent to ignore.
She didnít want it to be like this. They loved each other, trauma had separated them, tortured them. She wanted to be normal. But she was too tortured inside, and Vincent was slowly torturing himself. She could see the paleness to his bronze skin, the redness in his deep cerulean eyes, noted the awkwardness of exhaustion in his once graceful movements. Even when she abandoned her own sleep and relinquished the bed to him while she read or sewed (badly) some garment, he woke within the hour, suppressing a roar from his nightmares.
Something had to be done, and she racked her mind to figure out what. It was when her old neighbor Brian came down and mentioned, in an offhand manner, that he was house sitting for the neighbors who now kept the apartment that had once been Catherineís that everything tied together in her mind. She knew what she had to do.
Catherine and Vincent retreated to their room after getting Jacob settled in with the other children. He rarely slept in what had been his old bed any longer. The tapestry over Jacobís alcove had been sufficient when he shared the room only with Vincent. Now that Catherine was there as well, it had created a bit of a conflict. Jacob didnít seem to mind that, more often than not, he was sleeping with the orphaned children in the communal bunk rooms, but it irked Vincent. It wasnít only that Catherine was there now; it was a reminder that Jacob was growing up, far too quickly. "Does it bother you?" Catherine asked.
Vincent shook his head, more in distraction than negation. "I donít know. It feels strange."
Catherine smiled weakly. "If you think we can make love quietly...?"
Vincent smiled. "Unlikely." He glanced at her, recognizing the invitation. He almost sighed. He wanted to make love to her Ė he always wanted to make love to her Ė but he was so tired. Still, it wasnít as if he was going to get any rest in either case. Might as well drink in the feel of her, the taste of her. He crawled into bed beside her. There was something bothering her, something he couldnít pinpoint. "Catherine, what is it? Is something wrong?"
"No," she said, kissing his cheek. "Please hold me."
"Always," he whispered, and pulled her to him. She always felt so fragile, so small. The thought of her was an exquisite pain.
Catherine shuddered in his arms. "Hold me tighter," she whispered. "Tighter."
He held her as tightly as he dared, and still she seemed to be trying to crawl inside him. This was strange. She was full of dread. "What is it?"
"Nothing," she said. "I only love you. More than I can say, I love you. You know that, donít you?"
Vincent pulled away a little and gazed into her green-grey eyes. "Itís all right, Catherine. Iím here. Youíre here, youíre safe."
She sniffed and buried her nose in his chest. "I know," she said. She nuzzled his chest fiercely for a moment and then reached up to kiss him. The kiss was so deep it almost hurt. "I know!"
After that kiss the rest was inevitable. She pulled him over her and ran her hands beneath his nightshirt. He groaned with the sensation of it, as desire twisted with his exhaustion, leaving him flustered and eager. He had to bite her. He was too tired to lose control, to let the beast take him; there was no knowing what it might do in the state he was in. He growled with the frustration but opened his mouth to kiss her throat. She moaned, pushing up against him.
Their lovemaking had turned perfunctory, almost routine in the last month or so, ever since Vincentís exhaustion had precluded any true loss of self. They didnít stop making love; couldnít, it seemed. Their need for each other after so long apart was too great to return their relationship to the almost chaste embraces that had dominated their love for so long. But it wasnít the impassioned, beautiful joinings they had reveled in before, either.
They didnít even fully undress. Catherineís nightdress was pulled up as easily as the sheets, and Vincent had long since stopped adding trousers beneath his nightshirts. Catherine usually took them off within ten minutes, anyway, and the nightshirts reached to the knee. They found each other quickly and heaved a sigh as they returned to their deepest solace in their rocky, regret laden reunion. "Oh, Vincent!" Catherine said as he entered her. To his surprise, she was nearly crying.
"I have you," he breathed to her, letting her feel how much that was true. He filled her completely and pushed against her. "Iíll never lose you."
"Kiss me," she whispered, and he did so. The kiss was deep and salty as the sea, and the beast in him growled, too exhausted to respond, too tortured not to. She was so warm and small beneath his strong body, so soft and perfect and beautiful. She pushed herself against him, and there wasnít much more. He came quickly, but continued to thrust into her until she clutched him and sighed. It was over Ė too soon, always, it was over.
Vincent rolled off her and pulled on his gloves. Catherine was already curled up, and her feelings had calmed down with their love making. He sighed. Usually he could count on an hour or so of dreamless sleep after making love. It was about the only sleep he could catch, anymore.
Vincent awoke feeling strange. Something was wrong somewhere. Something was very wrong. He felt ill. He felt lonely.
He sat up, wondering if Catherine had had a nightmare. Usually her nightmares made him feel ill and lonely, much like this. He hadnít been dreaming, he knew. As always, heíd only been asleep for an hour or so, not long enough to fall into a dream. "Catherine?" he asked.
She didnít answer. And she didnít answer because she wasnít in the room.
Vincent blinked and sat up. "Catherine?"
And he knew what was wrong.
She wasnít simply gone. She was gone. Their bond was severed, he could not feel her inside! Horror engulfed him. No. No, it couldnít have all been a wonderful dream! She wasnít still dead, she was alive, they had found each other again! Panic began to seep in at the edges of his consciousness. He was aware of his breath coming more quickly, of his heart beating faster. The few articles of her clothing which graced the corners of his room did nothing to dispel his fears. His hands trembled as he pulled on his clothes, scorning the pieces with more intricate ties and resorting to things he could yank up and pull on.
It was very, very early, still dark in the city Above and long before breakfast. Most people were still asleep. He knew Father had a tendency to rise early, his hip making it difficult to sleep for more than four hours at a time. He ran to Fatherís study. "Where is she?" he demanded of the lazy figure who idled over a book.
Father glanced up. He was used to this time being personal, and his early morning studies were usually conducted in half a dream state. "Vincent?"
"Where is she, Father, I cannot find her."
"Catherine?" Father asked, knowing without a doubt that any she Vincent was this concerned about had to be Catherine.
"Yes. Sheís gone."
Father shook his head. "I havenít seen her."
Vincent closed his eyes and tried not to roar. "Father..." He was shaking. He was ashamed to admit to his fears, but he needed reassurance from someone he trusted. Next to Catherine, he trusted Father above all others. "She was here? I did not dream her?"
"Yes, Vincent," Father said, without judgement. "Sheís been here for the past three months, hale and whole."
The profound relief which Vincent felt at those words was palpable. Then worry surged again. "Then where is she?" he demanded. "She is gone, gone from my senses. We must rouse the others."
Father stood up, refusing to be as worried as his most beloved son. "Thereís no need to suspect danger, Vincent."
"There is reason enough! There is nothing, Father!" Vincent snapped. "Nothing! I have no sense of her!"
"Calm yourself, Vincent!" Father said, the commanding tone which had calmed down Vincentís potentially dangerous agitation since he was six years old. "Iím sure thereís a reasonable explanation."
Vincent knew the explanation. He had lost her again. She was dead, stolen by remnants of Gabrielís henchmen, lost, crushed or drowned in the tunnels, dead, oh, God, dead by her own hand, or at the bottom of the abyss, unable to endure the night upon night of horrors which her own psyche and his had inflicted upon her, unable to endure living in the dark, unable to endure a life with him. His breath caught.
"Father?" said a tiny voice.
Vincent whirled. Curses! His agitation had woken Jacob. Vincent tried to compose himself, but it was a losing battle. Vincent was afraid he was going to break if Jacobís next words were, Whereís Mommy?
Jacobís little hand reached up with something in it. "Mommy said to give you this."
Vincent blinked. "Catherine said...?"
Jacob nodded, his blue eyes concerned, but not frightened. "She said youíd be scared. Itís okay, Father."
Vincent knelt down to pick up his son, and the young boy pressed a piece of parchment into Vincentís hand. "When did she give you this?"
"At bedtime. She said Iíd know when to give it."
Vincent frowned. She had snuggled up to Jacob to give him her private goodnight, but she usually did that. "What else did she say?"
Jacob looked a little uncomfortable, but he said, "She asked Ďbout my dreams."
"My bad dreams. Where I canít move and the voice is talking and talking and talking in the dark, and I feel nothing. Only grey hate and black greed."
Vincent tended to use sound as an analogy for his mild empathy; Jacob had begun using color. He was speaking of his dreams of Gabriel, which still plagued him now and again. Jacob knew that he had been lost as a baby, but Vincent never spoke Gabrielís name to him. Evil shouldnít be given a name. Names held power. Vincent shuddered. Why would Catherine ask such things, and bring the evil out of the darkness?
Vincent opened the parchment and frowned. Heíd been afraid to find a suicide note. Instead what he found was fragments of a poem. After no more than a few lines he handed the boy to his grandfather and kissed him on the forehead. "You stay with Grandfather," he said.
"I know," Jacob said, and the way he said it led Vincent to believe that Catherine had said something about this, as well.
Vincent was not very familiar with the poem. He thought it was Cristina Rossetti, and it wasnít complete. As a message, though, it made perfect sense.
There's blood between us,
love, my love,
There's father's blood, there's brother's blood,
And blood's a bar I cannot pass.
I choose the stairs that mount above,
Stair after golden sky-ward stair,
To city and to sea of glass.
Vincent ran to his chambers to
fetch his cloak. She had gone Above? But why? What had prompted this, when
even leaving his sight for five minutes filled her with a panic that tore at
his heart? And what had happened to their bond? Why could he not feel her? Why
did he not know where she was? The last time this had happened, he had lost
My lily feet are soiled with
With scarlet mud which tells a tale
Of hope that was, of guilt that was,
Of love that shall not yet avail;
Alas, my heart, if I could bare
My heart, this selfsame stain is there:
The stairs... He guessed she meant the spiral stairs, which was the fastest route to the drainage tunnel entrance. He was running, running as if Gabriel was on her heels, running as if her life were in danger. For all he knew, it was. What pain was she in, to have left this tortured poem as a missive?
I seek the sea of glass and
To wash the spot, to burn the snare;
Lo, stairs are meant to lift us higher--
Mount with me, mount the kindled stair.
She wanted him to follow her.
To the ends of the earth, into the dawning of the day, into the jaws of death and past the gates of hell, he would follow her.
Your eyes look earthward, mine
I see the far-off city grand,
Beyond the hills a watered land.
He passed William languidly reading during sentry duty. He seized on the man. "Have you seen Catherine?"
William looked up and nodded. "Aye, she went by about an hour ago. Is something wrong?"
But Vincent had already left William behind before the question had completely left his mouth.
The time is short and yet you
To-day, while it is called to-day,
Kneel, wrestle, knock, do violence, pray;
To-day is short, to-morrow nigh:
Why will you die? why will you die?
What was going through her mind? Had her madness returned, as she feared so greatly? Had he done something wrong? Where was she? His heart had again grown used to feeling Catherine there. The emptiness bore down on him like a weight. He couldnít bear to lose it again. And to lose her again...! It had nearly destroyed him before. What would it do to him this time?
How long until my sleep begin
How long shall stretch these nights and days?
... For all night long I dreamed of you;
I woke and prayed against my will,
Then slept to dream of you again.
At length I rose and knelt and prayed.
I cannot write the words I said,
My words were slow, my tears were few;
But through the dark my silence spoke
Like thunder. When this morning broke,
My face was pinched, my hair was grey,
And frozen blood was on the sill
Where stifling in my struggle I lay.
The journey to the central park entrance was, in fact, the fastest route to the surface, and Vincent made it there long before dawn. He had at least two hours of darkness left before he had to find shelter from the daylight. But Catherine... What if he couldnít find her within those hours? He opened the door of the tunnel, the scar of Mouseís patch job glaring at him. This was the door Gabrielís assassin had ruptured to attack. It was where Diana had learned, fully, what it meant to know a being like Vincent. Many places held a secret horror for him now, and this door was one of them.
It pulled aside far too slowly for his taste, and he hoped, only half hoped, that he would find Catherine on the other side, waiting for him, as the poem she had left him had half promised.
When once the morning star
When earth with shadow flees away
And we stand safe within the door,
Then you shall lift the veil thereof.
Look up, rise up: for far above
Our palms are grown, our place is set;
There we shall meet as once we met,
And love with old familiar love.
Catherine wasnít there. But something was.
Nestled in a corner was a candle, flickering gently. It was one of Elizabeth's candles, waiting in a painted glass jar. The jar had been painted by Jacob; Vincent recognized it. Around the neck of the jar was tied a piece of paper. Vincent knelt and picked it up.
The people Below hadnít much use for music that wasnít a least a hundred years old Ė indeed Vincentís preference was for Baroque and Classical pieces Ė but he actually recognized the poem in his hands as the first verse to the lyrics of a folk song. The concerts in the park had not all been symphonies; heíd been exposed to other music. (He distinctly remembered nearly getting caught by the throngs at the Simon and Garfunkle Concert.) He didnít remember the rest of the song before him, but he recognized it as the next link in the chain Catherine meant for him to follow.
Yesterday a child came out to
Caught a dragonfly inside a jar
Fearful when the sky was full of thunder
And tearful at the falling of a star...
And the seasons they go round
And the painted ponies go up and down
Weíre captive on the carousel of time
We canít return we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game.
He swallowed. He did not want to return to the carousel. Terrible things had happened there while Catherine was away. The darkness of those times returned all too easily for him. Still... where Catherine led him....
As he crept across the park the dark shape of the carousel loomed. In no way did the circle of painted ponies seem joyful to him now. The death of John Merino was another stain on his soul. A corrupt man who had sold his Catherine to her death, it hurt his heart to think of it. And more: this was the beginning of the end of Elliot Burch.... No. That did not bear thinking about.
He slipped his way into the ill-guarded carousel house, and felt sick thinking of what had happened there. There was more to Merinoís death than the murder of a man whose morals had degenerated past redemption; Vincent blamed himself.
After Vincent had saved her life, Catherine had abandoned her job at her fatherís corporate law firm and joined the District Attorneyís office. Yes, this job had put her in danger, time and time and time again. Vincent had always blamed himself, a little, for all the risk that Catherine ended up taking as a consequence of her job. She had taken this job as a civil servant to give back to the world, to give of herself. She had done this because, in her heart, she knew it to be right. She had done it because she thought, rightly, that it was the sort of thing Vincent would have done in her place. Compassion. Duty. Sacrifice. These were virtues Vincent carried, and they were virtues Catherine would carry as well. And as a result of his existence, she had thrust herself into the power of a corrupt man who sold her to the devil.
For two years she had stayed under the power of this man Merino. For two years, she had spoken of him, obeyed him, respected him, even. Two long years. Vincent should have known, should have guessed, should have protected her. And he did not.
That there was no way he could have known did not lessen the guilt he felt in his heart.
The tortured wooden horses seemed to accuse him. You were too late. You were too late.
And yet he had avenged her. He had taken a bullet for it, but he had punished John Merino for his complicity in Catherineís abduction. Perhaps he should take comfort from that.
And he would, because while Catherine was not here, there was another candle. A quiet light flickering in the darkness. This one was in a horn lantern. They had lanterns like this Below, and he thought this one might have been taken from their chambers. Tied to the neck of the lantern was more folded parchment.
It was another poem. A translation of Catallus, from the Latin. It took him long minutes to realize the trail it led him to, but the poemís direction was obvious, really.
Under Dianaís protection
we pure girls, and boys:
we pure boys, and girls,
we sing of Diana....
mistress of mountains
and the green groves,
the secret glades,...
Take whatever sacred name
pleases you, be a sweet help
to the people of Rome,
as you have been of old.
Vincent tapped on the window, but he already knew Diana wasnít there. Her loft was dark, he could not hear her breathing or smell her scent. He tapped at the window again and again, futilely. He was so agitated he was tempted to break it. It was growing light, the sun shone golden over the edge of the city, and the world was waking up. He would have to be Below soon. But he could not begin to think about going Below when his Catherine was Above, and had sent him a message to come to her. She could be in danger, either emotionally or physically, and there was nothing he could do for her Below.
He knew when Diana returned to her apartment. She pulled open her elevator and didnít even bother to look at the window before she climbed to her little roof terrace. She did not look at all surprised to see his shadowy form there.
"Where is she?" Vincent asked.
The answer was obvious. "Not here," Diana said. "Come inside."
She never asked that, never dared to ask that. He meant to protest, but something in her demeanor told him this was something he must do.
"What is happening, Diana?" Vincent asked, following her into her loft. "Tell me!" His voice was husky with urgency.
Diana shook her head. "I canít answer that." She yawned. "I was woken up at four in the morning, and Iíve been running ever since. Iím going to sleep. Catherine said you should stay here today. The elevatorís locked, youíre safe." And with that extremely cryptic and unhelpful reply, Diana retreated to her bedroom and left Vincent alone with three scraps of poems, two half burned candles, and his thoughts.
Vincent hated being trapped Above. He felt vulnerable and exposed, even in a safe place like Dianaís loft. He'd been trapped here before, broken, ill, frightened... grieving. He couldnít even consider sleeping, not with his bond to Catherine severed and the sunís light streaming in through the windows.
Instead he paced. He would perch hesitantly on a chair or the table, and then pace again. The last time he had been trapped here heíd been in pain and half mad and burning with fresh grief. It still weighed upon him, despite the easy, comfortable lay of Dianaís apartment. Unlike Catherine, Diana had no pretensions to designer decor or expensive art. Diana had brick and board bookshelves and mismatched furniture. She kept many plants. She still had Catherineís rosebush, carefully tended by her sofa. Catherine! he thought. What has become of you? The roses held no answer.
He turned again to the poems. He wondered if there was more meaning to them than merely direction. The poem by Rossetti might have been an explanation of why she was going. If so, it was a terrible, dark reason. She felt severed from him for some reason, severed by blood, severed by pain. Guilt. Whose guilt? His or hers? Or someone elseís?
His eyes caught on one passage.
Kneel, wrestle, knock, do
To-day is short, to-morrow nigh:
Why will you die? why will you die?
What did she mean? He shook his head. He couldnít understand. Why send him to the carousel? "Weíre captive on a carousel of time." He swallowed. His dreams did tend to circle back again and again, like a carousel of horrors. Was that the guilt they suffered? Why would that cause her to leave him?
Had she left him? Truly?
The thought tore at him, and the wordless heart of him whimpered.
After long hours he heard Diana stirring in her bedroom. She was awake, then. He looked at the last poem. "Under Dianaís protection... be a sweet help to the people of Rome, as you have been before." Why send him to Diana?
Diana started a little at Vincentís looming figure which waited just outside her door. It was only just afternoon. She groaned. "Let me get some coffee."
"Diana, you must explain this to me."
"Coffee," she repeated, and turned on the machine.
Twenty minutes later she seemed more keen to talk. Vincent had been growing more and more agitated as he waited, and was now pacing back and forth across her apartment like a lion at the Bronx zoo. From time to time he would look at her, and she would sip her coffee and regard him silently. Finally she set down her cup. "Sheís fine," Diana said.
Vincent nearly barked. "She is not fine! I have no sense of her! IĖ" He grabbed the sides of his head as if trying to hold himself together.
"She said you might be like this. Believe me Vincent, sheís fine. Actually, I think sheís doing better than Iíve ever seen her."
Vincent stared at her. Diana had only ever seen Catherine since her near death. Sheíd seen her mad, depressed and panicky. Catherine was still not recovered from the horrors she experienced, and Vincent knew that full well. Of course, he wasnít recovered, either. "Why did she come to you?"
"She wanted to ask me some questions. About what happened while she was gone."
"Iíve told her all," Vincent said with a brusque flick of his arm.
"No, you havenít," Diana said quietly. "She didnít know what kind of a state you were in. You skirted over the attack on the drug lab. She didnít know... what happened with me."
Vincent twitched. "Nothing happened with you."
Diana shook her head. "Something happened, Vincent." She looked down at her empty coffee cup. "And you felt it too."
Vincent swallowed. Diana was the only person he had truly opened up to after Catherineís death. There had been reasons... needs... confusions....
"She told me what you think," Diana said. "She said you have a mild empathy with everyone, not just with her. And that you think that I... the reason Iím so good at what I do is because I... become the people Iím trying to find, or help."
Vincent regarded her, his blue eyes very deep. "Only a little."
"Which means I was a little bit Catherine. Which must have been a little bit hard for you. I know it was a little hard for me."
Vincent looked away. She was used to what her gift did to herself. She wasnít used to it ever affecting anyone else. That he had sensed some of it must have been... awkward.
"You may be right," Diana said. "I wish youíd told me yourself, it would have made things make more sense. Itís what I do, Iíve done it before, I do it a lot, but usually... usually itís not such an intense situation Iím putting myself in. The love you felt for Catherine, and she for you, is... beyond." She didnít say beyond what, and it almost didnít matter. Beyond sense, beyond normal experience, beyond reality, it was beyond everything. "It sort of consumed me. Worse than usual."
Vincent swallowed. Diana looked very sad, almost wistful. "Diana, you donít..."
"No, I donít," Diana said, preempting the very question. "And itís hard because I... there was a part of me Ė thereís still a part of me Ė that wishes I could."
Vincent didnít know what to say. In most situations he always knew what needed to be said. Between Catherineís new disappearance and Dianaís distress, he felt... sliced.
Diana was fighting back tears now, rather effectively, but they were there. She sniffed and rubbed her forehead. "So... she wanted to know all the things you didnít know. Like all the dreams I had of you, and... how hard I looked to find you, and w-what you meant to me when I did. And the risks I took, to bring you here, and to help you, and to keep your secret. Vincent... I lost my fiancť because you were in the other room." Vincent stared at her. She had never told him that. "I probably would have lost him eventually anyway. Once I had a taste of the kind of love you felt for each other, nothing less would begin to satisfy. Now all I have is... whatever this is." She was still holding back the tears, but her voice failed her for a minute. "Sorry," she whispered after all that. "But thatís why she came. She needed to know all of that. And she did need to know, Vincent."
Vincent stared at her in horror. He hadnít realized, fully, what kind of sacrifices Diana had undergone for him. "What have I done to you?" he whispered.
Diana seemed to lose her temper then. "It wasnít you, okay? Itís me. This is what I do, itís my job, itís my life." She shook her head. "But Catherine said I needed to talk to you about it, and sheís right, I did. She and I have a... a bond. Not Ė like yours, but... she knows me, as much as I knew her. Itís strange, I wonder if... I donít know. She knew I needed to talk to you, and I think she knew you needed to hear it. So itís done now."
"What do I mean to you, Diana?" Vincent asked. "I mean different things to different people. Iím... very rarely just my self."
Diana fingered her mug. "You mean all things are possible," she said. "You Ė both of youĖ mean all the mundane truths of the world are lies. But unfortunately, I live in that world of mundane truths. And thereís nothing else for it." She looked up at him. "Itís hard. But in the end... Iím so happy you two found each other again, Vincent. You canít believe how happy I am for you."
"And you couldnít believe my gratitude," Vincent said. "For everything."
"Is that what I mean to you?" Diana asked. "Just gratitude?"
Vincent thought about this. "No," he said at last. "You mean solace. You mean hope. You mean redemption. You mean..." He paused and thought about everything, all they had shared, the darkness she had pulled him through. "Youíre my dearest friend, Diana. More than a friend. More than a sister."
She smiled and looked down.
"Please tell me where Catherine is?"
"I donít know," she said. "We spent a little while here, talking, and then she made me take her to see Joe. Boy was he happy to see her. Even that damned early."
"Yes. Sheís otherwise staying hidden, wearing a hood like you. We donít know whether Gabriel still has henchmen who might care. Sheís going under the name of the replacement ID Witness Protection gave her."
"Sheís still with him?" Vincent tried to figure out how he could find Catherine if she was with Joe.
"I doubt it. Not still. She told me to give you this... after we talked."
Vincent was expecting the folded piece of parchment this time. He opened it. William Blake, this time.
THE GARDEN OF LOVE
I laid me down upon a bank,
Where Love lay sleeping;
I heard among the rushes dank
Then I went to the heath and
To the thistles and thorns of the waste;
And they told me how they were beguiled,
Driven out, and compelled to the chaste.
I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen;
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.
And the gates of this Chapel
And 'Thou shalt not' writ over the door;
So I turned to the Garden of Love
That so many sweet flowers bore.
And I saw it was filled with
And tombstones where flowers should be;
And priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars my joys and desires.
Diana had obviously read it. "What does it mean?" she asked.
Vincent shook his head. "Iím not sure. I donít know what sheís doing. This is the fourth poem sheís left for me."
"Can I see the other ones?"
By themselves, the poems meant little, so he handed them over. She frowned when she got to the third one. "Is this me?" she asked, holding up the poem for Diana.
"Yes. The first one she had Jacob give to me. I took it as a message that she was going Above. The second she left at the threshold, and that one at the carousel. It led me here."
"Sheís leading you somewhere, then," Diana said, turning to the Blake poem. She laid the four poems on the table and pointed at each of them in turn, her brows knitting. This was her job, the kind of thing she did all the time. Then she laughed, without humor. "Her grave, Vincent. Where I found you."
Vincent had avoided thinking of Catherineís grave, false though it might be. He had only fled to it the one time, when he had thought he was dying. It was a place of such grief and horror, and now it was connected with Diana and pain and fear as well as grief, and he couldnít bear to consider going there. He could think of only one place worse, and that was the rooftop where Catherine had Ďdiedí in his arms. At the rate this was going, sheíd send him there next. "Why!" he hissed. "Why is she doing this to me?"
Diana shook her head. "I donít know. But it should be dark soon. You can leave then. Are you hungry?" Then she laughed. "You know, I donít know, what do you eat?"
"Rats," he said, perfectly deadpan.
She blinked. "Seriously?"
"No. Food," he said with a slight grin. "Just like you."
He was exhausted, but food refreshed him a bit. He was still worried about Catherine, but Dianaís confidence was contagious. She had faith that all was well, and as far as she knew, Catherine was healthy and safe with a trusted friend. It still tormented him that their bond was severed, though.
As the sun began to set his anxiety returned. The darkness wouldnít come fast enough. "Pacing wonít turn the earth any faster, Vincent."
"You donít understand," Vincent said. "She panics when Iím out of her sight."
"Youíre the one who looks panicked," Diana pointed out.
He sighed. "Perhaps youíre right. I thought it was only her, but this... emptiness!" He clutched the sides of his head. "I... I couldnít bear to lose her again, not so soon. It would destroy me."
"I donít think you will. I think sheís doing something she has to do. I think sheís looking for... closure or something. Thatís why she wanted to see Joe." She touched him gently on the arm. "She loves you, Vincent. You love each other with a depth that no one else on earth can ever know. I couldnít even aspire to that depth of feeling."
Vincent frowned at her. "Why not?"
She smiled, sad. "Iím not Catherine," she said. It wasnít the first time sheíd said those words.
"You arenít. But you are Diana. Diana, you deserve love. Do you believe thereís no one for you?"
She shrugged. "Donít know."
Vincent shook his head. "I once believed, wholeheartedly, that there was no one for me. It wasnít true. I donít think itís true for you, either."
"Maybe not. You know, Joe Maxwell asked me out on a date?"
"Yeah," she said with a bit of a grin. "When I dropped Catherine off he jumped out into the hall as I left and hugged me. He was in love with her, you know."
"Who wouldnít be?" Vincent said, mostly to himself. He looked at Diana. "Did you accept?"
"No," she said. "I told him to ask again in another month if he was still interested. A burst of gratitude isnít real affection. I told him Iím a workaholic with a lot of secrets to keep, and I might not be a lot of fun. He said he knew all that, and heíd keep in touch." She shrugged. "Maybe he was just happy."
"Or maybe he meant it. Any man would." That was definitely a compliment, almost a flirt. He brushed her cheek with the backs of his furred fingers. "Keep an open heart, Diana."
"Well... if anyone can make someone believe in love, itís you and Catherine."
"I hope so," Vincent said before he slipped out into the twilight.
He was afraid of this place. It reeked of sadness, stank of grief. There was an undercurrent of love, of peace, of family, but as far as he was concerned it was only a place of death. Of her death.
He knew right where it was. And unfortunately, this time, he couldnít help but think of Elliot Burch.
He had come here just after Elliotís death, while his vision was still bleary and his blood still flowed. Elliot Burch. Vincent blamed himself for Elliotís death, as well. Wholeheartedly. He was a good man, Elliot Burch. Not perfect, but good at heart. A king in the world Above. A king who adored Catherine. He had depleted his fortune rather than leave Catherine lost. The laws of the world Above would have abandoned her to Gabriel and her fate, but Elliot continued doggedly. As did Joe Maxwell. As did Vincent. These three men had turned their lives upside-down, fruitlessly. It was all too late.
And in the end, the only thing that had saved her was an accident of fate, and a maverick EMT who identified the morphine in her system and gave the "corpse" a shot of narcan on the way to the coroner, just to see if it would work.
As always, Vincent felt ill when he thought of that. A single injection. If he had merely taken her directly to a hospital, rather than trusting his exhausted and grief-stricken senses, he would have known she lived. Neither of them would have suffered the agonizing time apart. They could have sought Jacob together. Elliot Burch might still be alive.
In the end, this grave belonged to Elliot, whose scorched and waterlogged corpse would never be found.
Vincent feared what he would find at this grave. He feared the poem he was sure was there. He was certain it would direct him to the top of Gabrielís building, and there he could not bear to go. Catherineís death, and the bloody corpse of the assassin that had invaded their tunnels and killed Old Sam and young Stephen. Heíd gone there many times after Catherineís death. He couldnít bear to remember those times.
There was no candle waiting for him at the grave that pronounced the death of Catherine Chandler. Instead there was a rose. A red rose. From the bush in Dianaís apartment; he thought he recognized the fragrance. The parchment was tied to it near the bloom. He opened it with trembling hands.
In front of
the sombre mountains,
a faint, lost ribbon of rainbow
And between us and it, the thunder;
And down below in the green wheat,
the labourers stand like dark stumps,
still in the green wheat.
You are near to me, and naked feet
In their sandals, and through the
scent of the balconyís naked timber
I distinguish the scent of your hair:
so now the limber
Lightning falls from heaven.
Adown the pale-green glacier river floats
A dark boat through the gloom Ė
and whither? The thunder roars
But still we have each other!
The naked lightnings in the heavens dither
And disappear Ė
what have we but each other? The boat has gone.
D.H. Lawrence. On the Balcony. He heaved a sigh of relief. That terrible rooftop was not his next stop.
A frightened scream cut through the night air.
"Brian. It is only me."
The seventeen year old boy gasped and sagged in the deck chair. "Jeez, Vincent, you scared me! Howíd you get here?"
"I climbed," Vincent said.
Brian had only noticed Vincent after heíd been standing there for more than a minute. Heíd been absorbed in a comic book labeled ElfQuest, with pictures of scantily clad elfin maidens and brawny point eared warriors riding fierce wolves. Brian was so absorbed heíd occasionally read some of the dialogue aloud, and Vincent was rather enjoying watching him. He seemed so young and so alive.
"Oh. Well, I guess that explains this," he said. He held out the strangest gift yet. It was a flashlight. Not just any flashlight, one of the battered and ancient flashlights salvaged from Below, repaired many times by Mouse.
"Did Catherine give you this?"
"Yeah. She knocked here just after I got back from school. I guess she remembered I was housesitting. Mostly just watering the plants, but itís someplace away from my dad, you know?"
Vincent did not open the poem. He was overcome with memories about this balcony, and the woman who had lived here. Her bedroom, where they had shared many memorable hours. This balcony, where he had opened his soul a hundred times to bleed upon her feet. The scents from the open French doors were different now. The furniture had changed. But the carpet was the same. The carpet where he had sweated out his madness. The madness which had led to the beginning of the end. The end which had led to his climbing again to this balcony, carrying her still, white body, slowly growing cold....
He had to stop this. He was living too much in the past. "Who lives here now?"
"The Millers," Brian said. "Nice couple. They travel a lot, though. Still, it gives me a job. Twenty bucks a week to water their plants and collect their mail. And feed the canary. Thatís Orpheus over there." He pointed at a sleeping yellow bird in a golden cage.
"And Catherine knew you were here?"
"Yeah. That guy dropped her off... damn, whatís his name. The district attorney. His pictureís in the paper a lot."
"Yeah. He seemed real worried to leave her, but she promised Iíd take care of her. I donít know what she meant by take care of her. All I did was drop her off at the basement."
So she was back Below. Vincent closed his eyes for a moment in relief. "How did she seem?"
Brian shrugged. "Jumpy, but okay. I mean, sheís been weird since she got back, but nothing scary. Why?"
"No reason. Thank you for delivering this, Brian."
"You can pay me back."
Vincent frowned. "How?"
"Let me watch you climb back off?"
Vincent smiled. "So long as you donít ever try it."
Vincent waited until he was safely in the elevator shaft before he opened the poem. At first he was confused.
Wee, sleekit, cowran, tim'rous
O, what panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi' bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,
Wi' murd'ring pattle!...
But Mousie, thou are no
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!
Still, thou art blest,
compar'd wi' me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But Och! I backward cast my e'e,
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!
Then he recognized it. It was easy enough to guess where she was leading him this time. Robert Burns. To a Mouse.
"Vincent!" Mouse looked up from his workbench where he was soldering something unidentifiable. "Okay, good, come on."
Vincent caught Mouseís arm. "What do you mean, come on? Have you seen Catherine?"
"Yeah, Mouse saw. Come. Come." He darted out from under Vincentís arm like the mouse he was named for.
Vincent turned and padded after him. Mouse was running awfully fast. "Is she well?"
Vincent suppressed a growl. Mouse was delightful, and was one of the few people who could almost always be counted on to make Vincent laugh, but he was not the best person to pump for information. His language skills had never developed very well. At first Vincent thought it was just the years of isolation that Mouse had suffered, but by now he was convinced there was more to it. It was likely that Mouse had been abandoned because of his eccentricities, and the isolation had merely exacerbated his natural tendencies.
"Please, Mouse," he said, touching the young man on the shoulder. "Tell me what she looked like."
Mouse shook his head. "Not well. Not happy. Scared looking. She said alone, like Mouse was."
"Yeah, alone. Like Vincent alone. Alone is bad. Worse than bad. Worse than worse."
"But she is not alone," Vincent said. "She has all of us."
Mouse shook his head. "Donít know. What she said." He darted back down the tunnel. "Come!"
Vincent hurried after. "Where are we going?" he asked.
"To the place Catherine said. Only Mouse knows. Only Mouse could get there." And he started to run.
Vincent could keep up, but only because he was Vincent. Once again he was struck by the uncanniness of Mouse. In many ways Mouse seemed no more entirely human than Vincent. His abilities with mechanics were sometimes equal to physicists at MIT, with the language and social skills of a petulant five year old. That could be considered the qualities of a savant, but there was more to it. Mouse could creep through the tiniest cracks and disappear into the smallest shadow. He could shadow a shadow and never lose it. Only Mouse knew every tunnel, many of them better than Vincent.
The tunnel he was leading them to now, for instance, Mouse had found all on his own. Vincent guessed where he was being led before they got there. In the midst of his grief, Vincent had fled from everyone, even from his family Below, and holed up in a dismal cell of a tunnel all on his own. It was there that Mouse had followed him, and it was there that Mouse was leading him now. He swallowed. His behavior and depression during that time were also memories he did not want to face.
"Here we are," Mouse said. "Catherine said here." He pulled a smudged and crumpled piece of parchment from his pocket. He paused before he gave it to Vincent. "Why did Catherine need Mouse? You two fighting?"
Vincent shook his head. "I donít know what Catherine is thinking right now." He touched the brick wall of the cell. His damp and miserable nest had been in that corner. It was there that heíd curled up in a shuddering ball of grief when the pain was too great. It was there that he let the tears take him again and again. He had told his family that he had decided to live apart from them to protect them from Gabriel after the assassin had come. In truth, he had fled because he couldnít bear to let them see him like that. He couldnít hold himself together any longer, and for them to see their strength, their great protector, curled up in an impotent ball of misery, frightened them. Their grief for Catherine and their fear for him had communicated itself back to him from all directions and only made everything worse. Heíd had to flee. And he had fled to this barren, dark, dismal den.
"Mouse did something else. Need to ask. Was it good?"
Vincent turned back to him, trying to banish the shadows. "What else?"
"Promised Catherine to give you note. Here," he added, pushing it into Vincentís hand. "Here, here. Only here. Then led her Below."
"She was already Below."
"No. Needed a guide, she said. Important. Was it good? Or was it bad?" He swallowed. "Is Mouse in trouble?"
Vincent shook his head. "You didnít break any rules, did you?"
"No, no rules! Only listened to Catherine."
"You did fine, Mouse. Whatever she asked you to do, I know she had a good reason."
"Okay, good. Okay, fine. Mouse was scared." He hesitated. "Is Vincent scared?"
Vincent closed his eyes for a moment. "Yes," he said, very quietly.
Mouse frowned. "Sorry," he said.
Mouse took his leave. Vincent turned on the flashlight and read the crumpled poem in its harsh light.
"Rake out the red coals,
For there the child shall lie,
Till the black witch comes to fetch her
And both up chimney fly.
Catherineís selections were growing more obscure. This was from The Changeling, by John Greenleaf Whittier. It was the smallest excerpt yet, and one of the most enigmatical, but Vincent knew the tunnels well. There was only one Ďblack witchí.
"Ahh! Come to see an old woman, Veencint?"
"Iíve been waiting for you!" Narcissa said with a suppressed cackle. "Time to follow the breadcrumbs to the crazy old woman, eh?"
"You have seen Catherine, then."
It was strange that Narcissa should have been brought into this. As far as anyone knew, including Catherine, she had nothing to do with anything that had occurred since Catherineís disappearance. The old black woman was nearly blind, and did appear mad in many ways, but Vincent had always felt an affinity for her. He was raised by his scientific Father, but his very existence spoke of arcane forces. Narcissa helped him to understand the many facets of the world, both Above and Below. Impossible meant nothing to Narcissa.
"Iíve seen the white woman, yes, Veencint," Narcissa said, turning back to a bubbling brew on a fire. She looked very much like a witch at her cauldron, but Vincent could smell that the pot held nothing more sinister than chicken soup. "You did not expect to see her again in dis world, no?"
"She has returned to us," Vincent said.
"Brought back from de dead, Veencint. Her spirit does not walk easily."
Fear clutched at his chest. Truths and realities seemed to bend around Narcissa. "She is alive."
"Yees, yees, she be alive today. And she owe you for dat."
Vincent blinked. "She does not. I nearly killed her. I let myself doubt her, doubt her strength and her tenacity, and I would have let her die."
"She was dead, Veencint!" Narcissa said, rounding on him. "De white woman die in your arms, and you knew she did. You were de right of it from de beginning!"
Horror clutched at his throat. "What are you telling me, Narcissa?"
"Dat your Caterine be a woman of death, Veecint. But you knew dat. You walked her tírough it."
A thousand different horrors bubbled through his mind, a sickening angry pain that washed over him like a vengeful sea. "No," Vincent mumbled, turning away. "It was a false vision!"
"Like your storm of Snow? Or your son, who tolí you again and again to go and get his motíer? You know what happen in your heart. She knew what happen in her mad, dead mind, stripped of all life."
Vincent grabbed hold of his head. It wasnít real! It was a false vision, a broken half truth, only his own soul had suffered through it! But if that was true, how had Catherine known to come to Narcissa, the only other person who knew? My God, what have I done?
It was no more than a week after Catherine had died, and his heart might as well have been opened and raw, beating the blood of his grief onto the ground. He had accepted that he had to live for the sake of Jacob, and he swallowed his grief like a painful tonic, that stripped his throat. But he had felt her spirit, hovering by him, waiting in torment, and he had fled Below to Narcissa, the only one who might help him past the veils of that other, formless world.
Narcissa had helped him, lending him the power to take his spirit from his body to find Catherine there. The formless reunion had been beautiful, but painful and hopeless and torturous. Her journey was full of horrors, but the only way she could find peace was for him to walk her through them. He had believed Ė he had known Ė that he was leading her deeper into death. If she had no living body, it was the kindest thing he could have done, the only last gift he could give her, the cessation of pain. But Catherine had been alive, and if his vision had been real, he had only slowed her recovery, led her deeper into madness, perhaps sapped a piece of her spirit away. And that, that was what kept bringing his guilt and his pain and his grief forward again and again, refusing to let him touch a dream, refusing to visit the realm in which he had committed this wretched crime. He blamed himself for her death, and every circumstance of her death, time and time and time again, even after it was all over.
"She came to me to see if her vision was real, Veencint. I did not walk wití you. I could not tell her what you did see. I only knew you were right, and her spirit had no form. Her body did not hold her, Veencint. She died to be wití you."
"But den she tolí me what she saw of her own vision. And I tolí her what it meant."
Vincent looked at her then. Her cataract white eyes did not fix directly on him, but they rarely did. Narcissa always seemed to be looking through you or behind you, even when her eyes were brown and soft. When he was a child he used to run to see her, just to be reminded that he wasnít the strangest thing in the universe. Now that he knew more about the world he knew that Narcissa was not, entirely, unique, while Vincent appeared to be. But still, she did not have both her feet entirely in the physical world. "And what did it mean? Did I only make things worse?"
"You canít ask dat of me, Veencint," she said.
"Then what! What do I do now?"
"You need to find de answer to dat yourself." She reached into her pocket and pulled out a long, golden chain. At the end of it a glimmering crystal caught the light, and shattered it about the dim room. As if in a dream he held out his hand, and Narcissa dropped the crystal into it. Catherineís crystal. The one he had given to her on their first anniversary.
There was no other clue, no more words, no more poetry. Vincent looked down at the crystal in his trembling palm. Heíd gotten this from the Crystal Caverns... but by itself, that place meant nothing to them, their bond, their relationship. Besides, this entire journey had been a sink slowly through darkness. He knew where the heart of the darkness lay.
Apart from his guttering torch, there was no light. There was no sign that any had passed this way for more than a year. He picked his way around rocks and fissures in the sandy floor, ducked when a jagged section of the roof threatened to bruise his skull. The darkness was tangible, a hungry, enveloping beast of shadows. Was he on the right path? Had Catherine come here? He couldnít know. Why would Catherine come here again, back to this dark place, where she had pulled him from his madness and set herself on the path of death?
Very close, now. He was reminded of a poem, "the darkness pulls in everything..." It was pulling in him, and as he moved through the black he felt on familiar ground. The darkness had been pulling him here for years. "Whatever happens... whatever comes... know that I love you." Ever since he had uttered those words in Catherineís apartment the darkness had been pulling him here. It pulled him here in his madness, it pulled him again in his grief, and now Catherine was pulling him again... why? He couldnít know.
He clutched the crystal in his hand, and wondered if he had read the message right. He still had no sense of her. She might have been Above, she might have been a thousand miles away, and he wouldnít have known. And yet, when he paused in the stillness, there was a sound. Or not a sound. Almost a sound, something inaudible yet indisputably there.
He ducked under the arch of the cavern and around the last corner, holding up his torch.
Catherine. No candles, no flowers, no cryptic poetic messages, just Catherine. She was curled in a tiny ball on a nest of blankets, dressed in a white tunnel shift stitched in brown yarn. Her head lifted as the light bathed her in its warmth, and her lower lip trembled. Tears touched her eyes.
He had barely time to remember about and find the torch bracket on the wall before he fell to his knees before her. She launched herself at him, and they fell into her nest, her tiny body holding his large, powerful form entirely helpless. Her lips sought his and relief shot through him as profound as the breaking of a fever. A surge of warmth spread from his heart, flowing like a river through his veins, along his torso, tingling his fingers and warming his toes. And it wasnít only his. As Catherine kissed him the door opened on their bond and he felt her return to him, his heart filling with her own relief, her own exhilaration. She pulled away a bit and her hands found his skin beneath his sweater.
"I found you!" He couldnít help but utter those words. They fell from him like a prayer of thanks. "I found you!"
"Shh," she said quietly, and made him sit up as she pulled his shirt from him. She descended on his exposed flesh the moment it was free, her hot, warm mouth caressing his sternum, causing ripples of sensation across his entire body. She kissed her way to the wide leather that augmented his trousers, and he let her undo them, unwilling to think of all the questions he needed to ask her. They didnít matter. It was only him and her, and they were together; he had found her, and the why didnít matter just now.
She wouldnít let him guide her. She stripped him completely naked and pressed him onto his back and covered his chest with kisses. She sat up and lifted the white shift she wore over her head in a single fluid movement. She was gorgeous, the torchlight turning her into an ivory statue of a goddess. She found him quickly, no hint of trying to savor him. This was need, desperate, searing need, and she was furious in her assault on his body. He let her, submitting with a desperate grace, so exhausted and weary from his long journey that he was relieved to let her take utter control.
And take control she did, forcing him to pierce her and grinding her body into him, crying out with an exquisite sob as her body found what it needed. His words not only fled, they died, leaving him nothing but sensation. His lips parted in rapture, and he could not keep his eyes open. He half roared a groan. His hands found her hips, but he did not need to guide her. Her passion carried them forward, quickly, until all the pain and worry and shadows of the last twenty-four hours melted away in a moment of blissful oblivion. A single cry poured form their separate throats, that echoed around the chamber, and seemed to put out their torch. It guttered and faded.
In the sudden dark even Vincent was blind. Catherine fell down atop him and nestled into his furry chest. With her body nestled snugly against him he felt as if heíd had a piece missing. She filled it, perfectly, and there was nothing amiss with the world. It would take a while for his words to return, but he didnít need them. He had her, that was all that mattered. He pulled the thick blanket over them both. Then he wrapped his arms snugly around her tiny form, and fell blissfully into sleep.
He opened his eyes a few hours later into darkness. Catherine had shifted in her sleep and was now curled against his side. It was dark, an empty, pitch dark, but he could feel her body, smell her hair, listen to her even breathing. Her peaceful, sleepy emotions filled his soul. He couldnít think if anything else could ever matter in the universe. He closed his eyes again.
He didnít know how long he had been asleep, but when he woke there was a small fire across the chamber. Catherine was wrapped in his cloak, curled on her knees by the fire, tending a kettle of water that slowly blackened in the soot. She felt... he couldnít put his finger on it, exactly. Uncertain of something. He shifted in the blankets and she looked up at him. She smiled warily.
"Catherine," he said. "What was all of this?"
"How are you?" she asked, ignoring his question.
"Well enough," he said. "Catherine, why did you send me on this journey?" He didnít say, this terrible journey, this tortuous journey, this journey which drew me through every darkness in my soul, but he was pretty sure she could hear it in his voice.
"How did you sleep?"
"Fine," he said, slightly annoyed. Why was she evading? "Catherine, what was this?"
He stumbled on his next demand as the meaning of her question dawned on him. He blinked in wonderment, searching his sleeping memory. "None," he said in wonder.
She smiled at him with true joy. "Me either," she said. She abandoned the fire and crawled back into the nest with him. "Oh," she breathed, "I love you so."
Vincent tucked his arm beneath the cloak to find, to his joy, she was still naked beneath it. He pulled her form against him. "Catherine," he asked, this time with only amazement, "what have you done?"
She took a deep breath. "What I had to do. One of the hardest things Iíve ever done in my life. But I did what had to be done."
"But what? Why send me to follow you through..."
"Through your memories," Catherine said. She sat up on her elbow and began touching his face with her fingertips, the line of his brow, the side of his cheek, as if memorizing it. "You werenít sleeping. And you werenít sleeping because you dreamed. You dreamed because there was a part of you that didnít believe in what we had. This," she said, moving her hand to his chest, to where his heart beat. "Would not believe that I was safe in your arms again. And that was because only this," and she touched his temple, "was the part of you that brought me home. Your heart doesnít understand logic or speech. It only understands... the hunt. The search. That part hadnít truly found me again. I needed to show you... all of you... how to find me."
Vincent closed his eyes. How did she know him so much better than he knew himself? She didnít feel his feelings every hour of every day, how did she have this magic to understand him? He opened them again as he realized how hard it must have been for her. "But you...?" he asked.
"I needed to do something, too. My heart may not be as... unique as yours, but it had its own doubts. I needed to know you could find me. I needed to be apart from you so that every part of me knew, without a doubt that you could find me." She swallowed. "It was hard. At least as hard as this last day has been for you. And I can guess how hard it was for you. Iím so sorry to take you through it all again, but there was no other way. Sometimes, healing hurts."
She took a deep breath. "At first it was hard deciding where to send you, and when, and preparing the trail without you knowing. Iíve been writing those poems out by hand in those very few hours when youíve slept. Itís taken me the last four days. I knew, for you, poetry was the best thing to lead your heart to me."
He sighed, almost a laugh, in acknowledgment. First and foremost, Vincent adored poetry.
"First I warned Jacob that youíd be feeling unhappy, but I assured him everything was safe. And it was, despite my fear."
She idly fingered his hair. "I thought the first part would be the hardest, when I knew you still lay sleeping in our chambers, but once I passed through the initial panic and started to run, I felt... better. Not fine, but better. I was... free. I havenít gone for a run since... before Jacob was born. The park was easy. The dark was something to hide in. Finding Dianaís loft... that was harder. I was afraid to hail a cab, so I had to walk, and I wasnít sure where it was."
"You could have called a Helper."
"Who might have told you where I was without the journey. No. This was something I had to do alone. I had Dianaís address, but Iíd never been there before. And you may find it easy to climb up to that roof, but I had to give it up and just hope sheíd answer the buzzer. She did, eventually. I was so afraid lest someone should see my face, and someone... recognized me who shouldnít. After that I wasnít alone. Diana was very forgiving about being woken up at three-thirty."
"Sheís like that," Vincent said.
Catherine smiled at him. "You love her."
He searched her eyes and her emotions, but sensed no jealousy there. "It isnít...." He trailed off, unable to say what it wasnít, what it never was.
"I know," Catherine said, understanding. "But thereís a kinship there. I feel it too. I knew sheíd be able to help me. I thought I should make peace with who I was before. There were things I needed to do, Above. I needed to see Joe, for one. For all he did for us."
"Your friend is getting suspicious."
Catherine shook her head. "Joe passed suspicious a long time ago. Heís been working on resigned. He knows what is going on is beyond his experience. He had a lot of questions."
"What did you tell him?"
"Not a lot. Mostly I let him tell me what happened through his perspective, and tried to loosen any tangles that disturbed him. There were a lot, but heís surprised me. The biggest problem out of all of it was that he grew angry at Diana when she cut him out of the loop and started keeping secrets."
"And what did you tell him about that?"
"That they were my secrets," Catherine said. "And she was kind and sensitive enough to keep them for me once she found them. Once he knew that, he said he thought he understood. Heís really falling for her, and it bothers him."
"He is? Is it real?"
"He doesnít want to admit to it, which makes me think it is. Joe doesnít like admitting he feels anything at all. Itís a... curse of living Above as a man. Men arenít supposed to feel emotion."
Vincent laughed outright at that. Oh, the irony! Perhaps he wasnít a man, if that was the criterion!
"Just out of curiosity," Catherine said, "itís probably not my place to ask, but... do you think she feels the same?"
Vincent shrugged. "Sheís not you, Iím never certain with anyone else. Sheís wary, I think. Her feelings change so much with her gifts, I think she finds it hard to remember how she feels."
Catherine lay her head on Vincentís chest. "I hope they could make it work. They deserve each other. Out of our hands, I suppose."
"But not out of our hopes," Vincent said. "Is that all you needed to do Above? Clear things up with Joe?"
"I had him bring me to see Jenny. She cried when she saw me. She didnít know I was alive. Though apparently sheís had dreams about it. I told both of them if they ever needed a safe place, or help with anything, or if they ever needed to contact me, they could through Diana or Peter. I hope thatís okay?"
"Of course it is. Theyíre youíre friends."
Catherine shook her head. "I love them both... but I feel... disconnected from them. As if weíre not of the same world." She sighed. "I guess weíre not anymore. I think I needed to know that, too. We went to my grave, and then Joe brought me to see Brian. And I think you know from there."
"You had Mouse guide you to Narcissa." Vincent swallowed, afraid to ask. "Why?"
"Because something happened to me," Catherine said. "And there was only one person who would know if it was true. I had a - a vision, while I was still in the hospital. A castle, a forest of enemies. And you came to me, and walked me through it... on the path away from you. And I wondered if it was a true vision, and your spirit had in fact found me. There was that ayahuasca and patchouli smell mixed into it all that Narcissa always has, so I wondered if maybe she had... helped you to find me."
Vincent shut his eyes. "Iím so sorry."
"Sorry?" Catherine looked at him and frowned. "Why?"
"I thought I was helping you," Vincent said. "That your spirit was trapped and I needed to set you free."
"It was," Catherine said. "I truly believed, heart, mind and soul, that I had died in your arms, Vincent. Only my body continued to live. I stayed with you, because thatís where I wanted to be. Through my madness and my grief, I was... soulless. When you crossed into the dream world and walked me away, helped me to leave you, I was able to find myself again. You didnít walk me into death. You walked me into life. It was only that you didnít know it. And my spirit was... degrading. Falling apart. According to Narcissa, a spirit cannot stay intact long away from the body. If you hadnít taken me through that night of dark beauty, there would have been nothing left of me for you to find again." She kissed him gently. "I wouldnít be with you now."
Vincentís breath caught. Heíd been so tormented by it.
"After that came the worst of it," she said. "Leaving the clues, leading you to me, didnít take so much time. But then... I waited alone in the dark for you. I had Narcissa bring me here again, and then I just waited. I donít know how long I was here. The dark just pressed in on me until I wasnít real. I wanted to cry out, or light a light, at first, but after that I couldnít even move. I just endured. Itís timeless, in the dark. When you came through that arch, I felt as if I was born again."
Vincent touched her face and gazed at her. She was the strongest, bravest, most amazing creature in the universe, an angel in human form, granted to him for he-knew-not-what honor. "And our bond?"
"You had to travel the path, not skip to the end of it," Catherine said. "Or your heart, which kept making you relive the horror so you could find me through it, wouldnít have healed. I closed it off, so you wouldnít know where I was. Besides. You didnít want to feel my panic. It was something I had to work through alone."
Vincent closed his eyes. "Catherine, I understand. But please, please donít ever do that again?"
"Intentionally, I never will."
"What do you mean, intentionally?"
"Well, I didnít mean to do it while carrying Jacob."
"Oh. I see what you mean. Well, next time promise me you wonít let yourself get abducted."
Catherine chuckled. "Not even by you?"
Vincentís groin twinged at the mischievous words. "Well... maybe we could make an exception there." He lifted his head to kiss her, softly, gently. Her lips were so warm, so sweet, so welcoming, his heart melted in his breast. With his last words before he let them flee, he whispered, "I found you."
Catherine smiled. "You did."
He turned her over and perched himself above her, watching her trapped beneath his strong body. Ah, yes, his. He bent down and lapped at her nipples. She writhed and squeaked and giggled, and he caught one in his mouth and sucked long and hard. Her giggles faded to little grunts, and then a long, drawn out groan as her body unfolded.
Vincent turned his attention to her other breast, and she watched his beautiful mane as it moved with his head. Yes, oh, God, yes, sheíd missed this! Sheíd missed the heart of Vincent, the wordless, demanding beast that knew what it wanted and took it from her. The scholar in him could make love, but it was when he let the beast loose that their love truly flared.
She sat up and found his face beneath his hair. She kissed it again and again, and he frowned. He took hold of her arms and pushed her back down. No, she wasnít supposed to sit up. He hung over her and nuzzled her forehead. Catherine strained against his confining hands, not to try and escape, but to feel his strength holding her. It was so comforting. She sometimes wondered what would happen if she tried to pull away while Vincent was like this, but she never tried it. A part of her wouldnít dare, but the greater part of her never, ever wanted to. He only let it happen when he felt it was safe. He trusted her with his strength. It was an intensely powerful feeling.
She opened her mouth and her tongue reached to find his lower lip. As if it had a little hand, it pulled his mouth to her, and she felt his teeth against her. He caught her lower lip gently in his fangs, and she gasped. Then he started kissing her face, every part, traveling in circles up her jaw, along her brow, across her cheek bones, down her nose. Until he found her lips again and tasted them like sorbet.
Then he pulled away and stared at her. A little growl escaped his long throat. Catherine wanted to touch that throat, to kiss it, but her arms were bound. She hummed a small noise, something sheíd found tended to get her farther than words when Vincent was like this. He could still feel her emotions, after all. He growled again, but he sat up, still straddling her, to release her.
Catherine sat up too, and her arms snaked around his broad back. She nuzzled his throat and then kissed it, gently using her teeth on the sweet smelling skin. He tipped his head back and sighed with the sensation. She could feel his purr beneath her lips, and it sent shivers through her chest. She started to push him onto his back.
But Vincent wasnít having that. He grabbed her arms again and turned her around, until her back was to him. She could feel the hard length of him against her thighs, but it always surprised her how undemanding he was about that. He seemed to want to hear her groan and scream more than he wanted release. She supposed it was the hunt again. He kissed her throat, gently biting the back of her neck. Then he slowly began kissing his way down her back, pushing her down on her stomach on the bed. He nuzzled her buttocks and then stuck his tongue between her legs, just once, to taste the juices there.
Catherine shuddered at the unexpected sensation, but Vincent had already moved on to her legs, caressing and nibbling, barely touching her with his claws. She grunted and groaned as the sensations traveled up her body. She laughed when he got to the backs of her knees, which tickled. He growled, and she stopped that nonsense. He moved on to her calves, then down to her ankles. The pads of his fingers massaged her instep. She curled her toes in delight.
She wanted him inside her. She rose up onto all fours and moved her hips provocatively, a perfect invitation. He wasnít so easily baited. His hand found her slit and fingered the hungry little nub at the top. Catherine groaned, for the feeling wasnít enough, but felt wonderful never the less. Then a slight scratch touched her folds, and a thick thumb entered her. The hand moved once, twice, holding her firmly impaled, and she nearly came, helpless, hung upon his hand. Then his claw scratched something and she whimpered. Gently, but swiftly, he removed his hand, and licked her buttock in apology.
"Itís okay," she breathed, knowing she wasnít really hurt.
He was nuzzling her hip now, and gently insinuated himself beneath her stomach until his nose caressed her navel. He kissed her tight belly, and then curled her into his body, until she kissed his lips and smiled down at him. "I love you," she whispered.
His lips parted in response, in a feral grin, and she laughed, breathy, quiet. He needed to be inside her. He needed to find her. It had been too long. He rolled until she was beneath him and then, crouching, he let himself find her.
She was warm and wet and welcoming, and he slid in so easily they might have been the same person. The poet might have had words; she felt like summer rain or the sweetest sleep, she felt like the cool breath of night on his face. He was past all those inadequate analogies. She felt like her, and that was all he needed to know.
He thrust, letting the movement ripple all through him, so that his hands clenched her shoulders at the start, and his knees gripped her thighs at the end. He started steadily, pushing his way deep, and then deep again. Then he wondered at how well they fit together and began trying at different angles, pushing first to the left and then to the right, harder at the top of the thrust, and then more fiercely from the bottom. Catherine moaned and pulled at his back, using her legs to push up into him.
She couldnít stand it! He was going so easily, so steadily, she thought she would burst. She pushed and writhed, but it was as if he wouldnít let her come. Suddenly he moved, grabbing her bodily, and crouched on his knees, holding her hips to keep her with him. He lifted her and pushed her, moving her up and down against him, over his shaft. It was so demanding and powerful that she came almost instantly, and she screamed loud enough that the chamber echoed. He kept going, though, holding himself back into the last moment, until her screams began to fade. With that he released her, stiffened his posture over her, arching over her body and pushing, pushing, pushing into her. He came with a satisfied growl and gently bit Catherineís throat as it faded, feeling her pulse beneath his teeth. She groaned and rubbed his shoulders with her hand.
Gently, he pulled away from her, sighing with relief. His words returned slowly. As always, the first one he found was, "Catherine." He smiled down at her, his strong, wise, wonderful angel lover. Through all they had gone through, the fires of hell, the endless black alleyways, the sea of broken glass, here, in the heart of the darkness, he finally and truly had found her again. "I found you."