She had tried so hard to stop. She knew he was rushing back from talking with Father, rushing back to her, because of her. She could hear him running in the corridor, anticipate his approach in her heart, but she couldn’t stop. Every time she did, it only made the panic worse.
She had been walking, pacing. She was nervous, and in her nervous state she was counting steps again – ten steps one way, fifteen the other. Counting had been one of the only things she could do in the tower, counting the buildings – on a clear day she could see fifty-three – the windows, the clouds, the footsteps across her room. It helped a little to keep the ghosts at bay. Feral dogs of memory and uncertainty bit close to each footfall, of course, just out of the reach of her pacing. Only when Vincent was near did they cower, but, to her humiliation, their chase renewed as soon as he was out of her sight.
It felt like weakness. It felt like failure.
“What’s wrong?” Out of breath, he questioned her. For the second time that day she had fallen into agitation and dread when he was not with her, and for the briefest moment he could discern what haunted her – the sadness, the fears, disappointment, and guilt – but then she gathered them in, pages he was not allowed to read, and crammed them deep down as far as she could.
“Nothing, Vincent. I’m fine.”
“Catherine you are…” distraught, troubled…
…and lying to me. “Please tell me.”
“Vincent, I know that you can feel….” She didn’t finish. She exhaled and dropped her head as she pulled herself in tight. She looked back into his eyes, determined. “I can handle it, Vincent…I can fight it.” She was fighting, but as Boadicea against the Legions, running and battling the memories that tormented her, even here. She would soon be overrun.
Her “protector”? His deeper thoughts mocked him. How can you “protect” her from this? The fear, the shame, the panic nearly courses through her blood, and she won’t even allow you to see it, much less help purge it.
“Please…” she begged, “this is about us tonight,” it can’t be about me. “We have to get going,” she reminded him.
He wanted to tell her damn with the meeting. He wanted to hold her, shake her, compel her to give up her secret heart, but a perverse courage arising from frustration filled him, and he knew it wasn’t his own. She wouldn’t speak of it, not now.
This is only postponed, he promised and warned himself. With the barest resigned acceptance he capitulated to her logic and let her lead them again.
He tried to let go of his own frustration with his breath. “Are you ready, then?” he asked.
She smiled, trying to tame him, hiding everything she could behind it. “I think so, but it’s going to take me a little more time to get there than it used to,” she joked.
“Don’t worry,” he said as he extended his hand to her. “I doubt they can start without us.” She took his proffered hand, and allowed him to lead her to the Council chamber.
Catherine took stock of Vincent with all her senses and found a nervousness that rivaled her own; it didn’t surprise her in the least. She thought he might feel this way, had worried on it in his absence. She had tried to tell him they were in this together, but he might not see it that way. This Council wasn’t just about her or their child. It was a test of his entire life. This was his community and his home, the people he had grown up with, had loved and been loved by, his family. This meeting was as much about his illness as her staying, a test whether they accepted him and, at least in his mind, forgave him his nature. It was his differences, and her love of them, that were on trial here. Could they accept him and everything he was, his fierceness, his ability to kill, his “Otherness,” and call him a man, able to father a child?
She placed her arm in his as they walked at her pace. “You’re worried,” she told him.
“Is it that plain?” his low voice asked her, and his unasked question, Would it be evident to everyone?
“Well, you know, I cheat,” she smiled; Evident only to me.
“Ah, yes…the lawyer,” he quipped.
She chuckled at his little joke, his very little joke. Like his touches, they were getting a little less formal, and it cheered her.
It took him a minute to find any more words. His uncharitable self was still angry for her withholding and therefore did not want to discuss this, quid pro quo, but his logical half understood why she was fighting alone. She wanted this Council; she wanted to be ready…whatever happened, whatever came. Every other feeling was simply inconvenient now, but could they afford to wait to confront these demons? He couldn’t know, and when in doubt, he fell back to his core. “I love you. You know that,” almost a question.
“Of course I do, Vincent.” She smiled her enigmatic smile, joy shining though her words, tramping down any discord. “And I’ll tell you a secret,” she whispered loudly. “So does everyone else. It’s kind of hard to miss.” She ran a light hand over her abdomen. No more hiding.
“Yes.” He breathed out a short laugh, but then apprehension stole any mirth. “Catherine, what if…? What if they are afraid? What if they cannot accept…” he began, but could not speak the words.
She found it difficult to believe that he harbored such fears – he was so loved here – but she also knew he was waging war against a lifetime of doubt. And it was true, there were those that might not understand, would not understand; it had happened in the past. The darkness had concealed him, kept him safe, both of them safe, but their love could not be hidden now. They were easy targets.
Catherine answered him gravely, “They should be afraid, but not of you, Vincent. Most of the men that abducted me are still up there,” she answered, completely sidestepping his worries, mostly because they were almost certainly unfounded, and also, well, she was a lawyer. Redirection was, literally, her job, and her own fears too close not to give some voice. “They could try to track me…us here. I never wanted to endanger the Tunnels this way. I would rather find someplace else to hide than see this place threatened….”
“And you know that I will never leave you,” he answered her, not breaking their stride, as if this was so elemental there was no need mark the statement. “I cannot.”
“I know,” she said, letting her head fall to rest on his arm. “I never imagined you might have to make a choice.”
He dropped his gaze to the woman who placed herself on his arm and in his care. “But it would be the life I chose, Catherine.”
“Touché,” she acceded with a sad, ironic smile, “but it’s not the choice they made. They exist, in part, because of you. They love you, all of you, Vincent. You are integral to them.”
“And so are you, Catherine. You will see. Come,” he pulled her a bit, their goal almost in sight, “they’ll wish to start soon.”
Only they had started. As they rounded a corner, the couple could hear Father’s cultured, clear voice explaining to the Tunnel dwellers what Catherine had told him earlier that day.
“…the man who kidnapped her was the head of a vast crime syndicate. He had taken Catherine to discover what she knew of his operations. However, when he found she was carrying Vincent’s child, he wanted the baby for his own.”
There were angry shouts from the crowd for the man that had threatened Vincent’s child, and it was a crowd, taking up every free space the chamber offered. Catherine had never seen so many Tunnel dwellers. A quarter of them she barely recognized, and another quarter she didn’t recognize at all. It was a much larger group than she had ever imagined.
Father went on, “He is dead now, killed when Catherine and Vincent escaped him, but that does not mean that his evil cannot still reach us. Catherine’s own boss was a part of his operation.”
“You mean Maxwell?” Out of the crowd came the disbelieving and angry voice of Sammy, the sandwich maker and sometimes courier that had brought her messages at the office.
“Ah,…no…Samuel,” Father answered him, “the head District Attorney, John Moreno.”
Catherine flinched at his name. His betrayal still hurt, even after so many months. She imagined Moreno had his reasons for giving her up to a madman, maybe even ones that allowed him to sleep at night, but his duplicity undermined her spirit almost as much as her imprisonment. His betrayal called into question everything she had done since she had joined the D.A. and, in turn, the danger and anxiety she had put Vincent through. She knew she and Vincent had done good, saved people, but what if that good was overshadowed by the corruption? Moreno’s name tasted like ashes in her mouth.
Father continued, directing his comments to the rest of the community, “…which underscores the severity of this situation. This man who took Catherine could have had hundreds on his payroll. He boasted that he controlled judges, police…. It is not yet safe for Catherine to take her place Above again, and if she is traced here,” he opened his arms in a helpless gesture, “it may not be safe for any of us.”
There were murmurs and some grave faces. Catherine could see that some wished she hadn’t brought this trouble to them. She wished that too.
“However,” Father, in a voice that spoke with ceremony and tradition, continued, “for a person to be brought into our community, a vote must be taken. This must be a decision we all make.”
“Father,” Catherine interrupted before ceremony could take over, “may I speak?”
“Of course….” A little taken aback, he]yielded the floor to her.
She left Vincent’s side and walked forward. She was quiet for a moment, dropping her gaze to the floor, and then looking up, trying to speak her heart, as Father had once suggested to Lena. “I never wanted to put any of you in danger, but I fear I have. This man that I was investigating was a very powerful and dangerous criminal. I found that out too late, and it cost me a great deal.” She looked down again, the weight of her sadness and worry a physical thing. Unconsciously she brought her hand over the curve of her belly. “I don’t know if, or how, he can threaten you now, but I do not want his evil to touch you here in this place of safety. I would rather try to find another place to hide than to bring harm to any of you.”
Father was dumbfounded, and a gasps and “No’s!” could be heard in the hall. Vincent had never discussed this possibility with him.
“Catherine,” Jamie called. She stood on one of the spiral stairs. She spoke loudly, so all could hear, but she directed her words to the woman below. “We take care of our own here, and…well…that’s… I’m sorry, but that’s just stupid. You’ve been a part of us for a long time. You helped whenever we asked. We searched for you, just like Vincent, because you’re important to us. I’ll fight if I have to, for you, and Vincent, and your baby. You need to stay here with us. There is no better place for you Above. Your home is here.”
Mouse, who stood behind the fierce young woman, patted her on the back in approval. Many assents from around the chamber followed her speech. Catherine was humbled; her idea of leaving them seemed naive now. Jamie was right. There was no better place for them. These people would never give up Vincent or his child, and in turn, they would never give her up.
“Thank you, Jamie,” Father said, hitching himself over to Catherine and placing his arm around her, unconsciously comforting. She was grateful for the support. “I know many of you feel this way, and have echoed Jamie’s sentiment to me in the last few days. However, we need to vote, man, woman, and child; all those in favor of Catherine being taken fully into our Community, raise your hand.”
Every hand in the hall went up.
Father was moved by the deep affection his community had for his son, by their acceptance of him and his chosen love. John and his mercenary ideas seemed so far away from them now. “Then it is unanimous, as I knew it would be,” he said to Catherine, and embraced her around her shoulders as a way of welcome.
“And now, we must discuss security…,” Father continued, and released her to Vincent’s care.
Vincent had held back until then. It was true, the outcome was usually set before any assembly. These meetings were merely a last chance to examine motive, attitude, and obedience to the high standards that made life in the Tunnels possible. Few who were brought for a vote were turned away, but few were accepted without any question.
Vincent’s intellect, his power, his very nature had always been celebrated, glorified
even, within the councils, but that was also isolating. Unknowingly, his family respected his “otherness” and the objectivity that stemmed from his singularity. This day, they showed he was something different to them, not the counselor or, as in Father’s estimation, “the truest and the strongest” voice. Today, all he was to them was a man asking for his beloved’s sanctuary. When Father gently guided her back to his protection, he took her hand and kissed it for the sheer, blessed ordinariness that she brought to his life.
The meeting went on with talk of more sentries, more false ends, rock falls, and shoring up entrances, especially near the 39th and 6th and the other routes near the midtown area. Mouse had ideas, only some of which were outrageous and cost prohibitive, but soon plans were agreed on and the meeting was over.
The Tunnel dwellers took their leave of Catherine and Vincent with congratulations and hugs. An impromptu receiving line formed. Pascal mutely embraced her and rapped Vincent on the arm before taking his leave. Jamie wanted to apologize for her harsh words, but Catherine wouldn’t hear it, and Mouse greeted her with, “Catherine, wow, look different!” He was immediately slapped on the head by Jamie and pulled away to where she would undoubtedly have a few words for him. William promised Catherine special cakes and Olivia teas to help with the pregnancy. Lena brought over little Cathy, although the baby, cranky from an upset sleep schedule, did not seem in the mood for reunions. Lena promised to bring her the clothes that the baby had outgrown as she whisked the crying child away. Mary had just begun to talk to Vincent and Catherine about the birth when Catherine asked to excuse herself for a moment. Vincent worried that after so many months, all the attention might be too much, but he stayed silent as he watched her walk haltingly up the stairs at the edge of the hall, following a group of children getting ready to leave for bed.
“Eric?” Catherine called into the group. In the midst of a din of children, the little boy turned to her. He was still so small to her eyes. She worried that the early neglect he suffered had stunted him, despite the attention he enjoyed now. His glasses were much too large for his face; when…if…she got a semblance of her old life back, she would try to get him some new ones. She tilted her head and asked, “Can I speak with you?”
He shyly moved away from the crowd towards her as she, in turn, slowly walked to the pack. Many people in the hall stopped to listen, but that was beyond Catherine and Eric’s notice. For a moment he studied her, his face reflecting half hope, half apprehension, but quickly concern for her overruled all. He was such a loving child, despite his terrible young life. Her decision to bring him and Ellie to the Tunnels had cost him his sister, but she prayed he would be saved.
“Catherine, are you okay now?” he asked. Clearly the way she had reacted to his welcome-home greeting still worried him, as she knew it would.
She didn’t know how to answer. He deserved truth, all children did, as much truth as adults could stand to give. “No,” she told him. “But,” she added with a small smile and a voice just above a whisper, “I think I’m better than I was.”
She opened her arms to him – a request – and he rushed headlong to them, offering all his love and trust. She gathered him close, and he placed his cheek next to where the child grew under her heart, and they stayed there, enjoying a moment hard-won for each. They held each other, unaware of the smiles and a few tears that were being shed around them, but then, in surprise, he broke away.
“Hey! The baby kicked me!”
Catherine laughed, and all the children flocked around her. Vincent could hear Samantha’s excited voice. “Can I feel too!” Geoffrey who followed Samantha in all things, crowded in as well. Marvin, Maria, and Zach weren’t far behind, along with half a dozen other children, cooing and gathering around Catherine. Vincent was relieved that she seemed supported by their attention rather than overwhelmed.
While Catherine was engaged with the group, Vincent sought out Sammy to give him the note that Catherine and he had decided upon that afternoon. He prayed their faith was well-placed. Just as he was finishing his request, he heard a rush into the chamber.
“Jacob!” The call echoed through the hall. Peter appeared, dressed in his work suit, pulling off his fall jacket, papers held aloft in a gesture of victory. “I need to talk to you and Vincent and Catherine. Mary, you come too.” He beckoned them into Father’s private chamber.
Catherine extricated herself from the children’s loving touches and grazes on her belly and carefully made her way down the stairs, each step onto the metal grates a lesson in faith. She couldn’t see her feet. She could only pray nothing had changed since she walked up them, and with as much confidence as she could muster, she made her way down towards Father’s private chambers on the other side of the hall.
Peter was placing papers down on a worn desk as she entered the room, followed closely by Vincent. As soon as Peter finished his frenetic organizing, he turned to them.
“As you know, Jacob, I took a sample of Catherine’s blood back to the hospital for a type and screen, just to confirm what I had in my records. I was going to bring down some blood to have on hand for after the birth, just as a precaution,” he explained. He turned to Father. “But Jacob, it all reacted.”
Father was stunned.
“What does this mean?” Vincent asked, concern already coloring his voice. Catherine didn’t even have to feel it through their connection. She knew the tone well enough.
“What it means, Vincent,” Peter explained, “is that according to my records, Cathy‘s blood type is A positive, but her blood isn’t compatible with A anymore – in fact, not even with O negative. It shouldn’t react, but it does. It’s almost unprecedented.”
“And probably too close to the birth to even attempt an autologous donation,” Father concluded from the information revealed. Downcast, he opened his glasses so he could look at the papers.
Catherine had never understood why the doctor had wanted so much of her blood during her captivity. Now it was becoming clear.
Vincent turned from Peter, from all of them.
“There’s more though,” Peter went on. “Take a look at these, Jacob.” Father picked up the printouts. “I took what blood I had left to my friend at Columbia.”
Father looked up in dismay. Peter put up his hands, trying to soften his friend’s fears. “Don’t worry, she owes me, and she knows how to keep a secret. I helped her get her lab there. She did some more sophisticated tests, absolutely hush-hush, I promise, Jacob.”
“I don’t understand. What do these all mean?” Mary waved at the papers on the table and in Father’s hands.
Peter turned to Catherine. “Catherine, it’s incredible. Your blood is completely unique. It shouldn’t be possible.”
Catherine believed she could grasp the rudiments of what Peter was claiming, but it didn’t matter. Didn’t he see that? Her baby mattered. Vincent mattered. More to the point, Vincent’s quickly rising temper mattered, and Peter’s long-winded explanation wasn’t helping.
Peter went on, oblivious to her and Vincent’s distress. “You should either be dead or have lost the baby by now, but you haven’t.”
This wasn’t getting better. Dismay and shock were multiplying Vincent’s growing rage.
“Peter.” Catherine tried to be calm, but the radiating energy, the angry heat coming from Vincent, made that almost impossible. Didn’t any of them notice? “Your physician is showing.” She exhaled an exasperated sigh. “Just tell us what it means.”
“In cases where fetal cells mix with the mother’s blood it can kill the mother, in rare cases…” Again, he wasn’t making this better, Catherine thought. “…but more often, it can set off a reaction in the mother’s immune system to fight the intruder cells. The mother makes antigen D that can attack and kill the fetus. It does look like you mingled blood at one time, maybe when you were abducted, but…”
The black and blood-red emotion that rose from Vincent paralyzed her. Peter didn’t even recognize it when he gently grabbed her arm in his enthusiasm. “…and this is the amazing part, your body didn’t fight the baby’s blood, it changed to accommodate it!”
Vincent’s hand slammed down on the table, nearly smashing it in two, causing papers to fly up and some to scatter off the surface. Catherine had known the outburst was coming, she had felt it build until it had nowhere else to go but through his body, but she still startled with the rest of them.
This was all he needed, a reminder of his differentness, proof of what his love could do to her. This was a hundred steps back for them.
“Vincent, this is good news,” Peter tried to console him. “I can only guess this means her body wants to have your child.”
“And yet there is no possibility of a transfusion should she need it!” he yelled at the doctor, arms wide with incredulity. He looked at Peter, mystified. “You are amazed by this, but all I can fear are…possibilities….” And with that pronouncement, he barged past them all and out of Father’s chamber.
Catherine couldn’t even think of going after him. She knew…she felt, he didn’t want that.
He was angry at her, and at himself, always.
It was her greatest fear realized, and she felt herself vanishing again under the weight of it. He had left her, despite his promises, and she was to blame for his leaving.
Her blood had betrayed him.