(PG-13 for some sexual references)
“Now, look, baby, ‘Union’ is spelled with 5 letters. It is not a four-letter word.”
― Dorothy Parker
Buffeted by empathetic storms, Vincent surged through the underground of New York trying to break the cage it was. For Catherine, for himself, there was no shelter. Everything between them – love, hope, remorse… culpability… – magnified by their circumstance. He could not ease their shared fears, and he could not stop time – his only protection, to keep moving.
Miles passed as he touched her in his heart. He saw his twin, the demon that haunted her dreams.
…in the dark with me…
He felt her crying out for him, her spirit’s demand for his presence, but also her terror of him, not of tooth or claw, those less than nothing to her now it seemed, compared to an unforgiving, hateful heart and the rending damage it could inflict.
Half a dozen times he turned back, locked between love and guilt. How could she want him close if he was the one she most feared? But, the answer had been gifted to him long before the question could even be asked. This was the other side of love that she had spoken of, the vulnerability, the need, the fear of rejection. He had felt it. He had inflicted it. His sins were many, and the changes in her blood another in his long list of wages.
His love always felt more like a sin than a blessing to her, but he prayed it would not always be so. How can you repent a sin you cannot stop the commission of? He had plucked her out of the human race to be cursed, infected with his singularity. His nature haunted them as much as her ghosts.
I am her true demon. She is cursed with a demon…a demon who loves her.
For so long, countless nights upon nights, he felt the pull of her, his needs and hers wrapping their fates, twining them as one, but he had held himself away – an embrace, a hand held, a touch, all he would allow them. She would be protected, he swore, he prayed, more times than he could count. He would keep her safe, even from his desire, but he had failed her even in that, spectacularly failed.
Defeat haunted his headlong escape; the hours of flight, the miles of twisting underground could not erase the beauty of her body. There was no diversion, no distraction. The smooth wall of a transit tunnel became her smooth skin under his hands. The rough limestone walls evoked the rough curls at the juncture of her thighs. Nothing could stop the images, the impression of her embedded into his cells. What he had for over half a year wished to remember – had to remember, her dream-ghost mother had warned, in order to be one with Catherine again – now besieged. The feel of her encompassing him, the feel of her breast held in his hand, could not be outrun. He could not outpace the reality of her, or their child awaiting its imminent and uncharted birth.
He was used to this fear, like an old and accepted companion. He had always feared for her safety throughout their years together; her life encircled the full measure of his own, yet he had urged her to continue her dangerous work. Why?
His darker voice, almost a physical presence pursuing him, shadowing him as it did her, replied, At least then she needed you. You kept her the only way you knew how.
Bloodshed and rage….
At least in violence he could give of himself and still allow her freedom to live separate from him. Beyond his terror of hurting her, even deeper than his dread of his uncontrolled burning thirst for her, was his horrific certainty of his own ravenous spirit.
Vincent knew, almost from the beginning, from the blessed and cursed day he was certain of her love, that if they were together physically, even once, he could never be without her again. Her freedom, her life would be memories, the sacrifice to him and their dream.
Worse than what he had inflicted on Lisa, his raking claws would be nothing compared to his desperation, his rapacious need to keep Catherine with him, forever.
Catherine had tasted his fathomless want twice. She had found beauty and pleasure in it, but she did not understand, could not comprehend, that this was truly the barest surface of his hunger. Before his illness they might go days or even weeks without seeing one another, without talking, without touching, but no more. His body and spirit, having known hers, were greedy things, and it was as he feared, the long-deprived part of him already prepared a cage for her.
He could laugh. She thought she had chosen this, believed in her ability to choose, but the old word for childbirth was “confinement,” and he had…confined her.
…in the dark with me…
She was trapped by his child, by his craving, his life. He must try to give her freedom, or she might wither as a wild bird caged, but he simply could not understand how. She was already so bound to him.
Before Peter’s revelations, he knew, although he could not confess it, even to himself. More than her scent, more than her violence or unstable emotions, ever since he found her again, she moved… differently. It was a little thing, no one else would see it, but it spoke of changes in her that his intentional mind did not want to consider. There were times she lost her pregnant gait and walked fluidly. Before her pregnancy she had this way of throwing her arm out to keep her balance, especially on the stony stairs and dust-covered ground of the Tunnels, and more than once she’d stumbled. He had gently teased her, after his initial concern, of course, and after her easy dismissal. Natural lack of grace that no amount of dancing lessons could cure, she had laughed then, but she was changed.
Another toll for the road they had chosen, the one they were forced down, but one he would have to pay. What other way was there?
This was the fight and the essence of faith, the reshaping of self he would have to endure, for her and their child.
How long had she begged him to understand that she had changed, because of him, for him. What if he had accepted then? Would they have lost so much? The memory tore him, and he could rip himself to pieces with the “what if’s”, the “should haves,” but that was no way to help her.
There simply was no other option now but to move forward, towards love, “Though his ways are hard and steep.”* What they had, what for the briefest moments they shared, union in body, in spirit, in life, they could not give up.
For you I…”bleed willingly and joyfully”*
What they forged together, experienced together, despite all the changes, despite the fears, was worth everything.
Even her life? His doubts whispered.
She would say yes, her life was forfeit, but he prayed that future was not certain. That die wasn’t cast. Peter and Mary and Father would use all of their combined knowledge to shepherd them through their child’s birth. Father would do everything he could to keep her safe.
It wasn’t enough for his own son’s mother.
No, but how many since then? Rachel, Olivia, Lena, countless others…with his and Mary’s help, they had all been guided safely over the rough bridge from womanhood into motherhood.
But YOU are the father of Catherine’s child, the demon sneered. You are not Jacob’s son, not really.
Yes, but she is not who she once was either. Vincent retaliated, and she has fortitude. She had the will.
But she also lives under the burdens weighing on her heart, the creature almost purred in his ear. What are you prepared to do to ease them? It demanded.
Vincent, with thoughts consuming all conscious senses, did not see Mouse until he ended his escape running heedless into the young man, pushing him down. The jolt returned Vincent to the world; his twin shadow vanished.
“Mouse? Are you hurt?” Vincent shook himself, concerned that his size could easily harm the boy.
“Nope…” Mouse answered coughing, half-prone on broken stones and concrete. “Just not..up.”
“I’m sorry, Mouse.” Vincent took Mouse’s forearm and pulled him upright. “I was…lost in thought.”
“S’ok. Lots to think about,” he said, shaking off dust and dirt. Vincent looked at the barrier. How did Mouse cause a rock-fall by himself, without any visible tools and without hurting himself? He was a wonder, in so many ways. How lucky the Tunnels were to have him…almost three-quarters of the time.…
“I, actually…” Vincent looked around, slightly embarrassed, “…don’t know where I am.”
“Really?” Mouse couldn’t believe it. “You? Hmm…” he looked up. “Under midtown. Where you got Catherine. Sealed it off here.” He looked to his handiwork. “Easy part. Hidden tunnel entrance…” he looked conspiratorially at his mentor, “hard part.”
Vincent couldn’t believe he had roamed that far, back to the place of so much torment. Catherine did not want him here, begged him not to go anywhere near, but as much as she had lost here, he had lost too, time with her most of all. Something within had led him back.
“Vincent…” Mouse said, now resigned to his friend’s presence, he paced round in a circle. He was thinking, deciding. Vincent could see the effort it took as Mouse endeavored to start a new train of thought. “Here, good…wanted to talk to you anyway.”
Vincent attempted to shake off his black thoughts, to concentrate on the young man’s words, but Catherine’s twisted emotions – her turmoil – still haunted him, still drew him. Could the reasons for it be found here, or did it begin long before? She still hid from the memories, did not trust that he could endure her pain, and by leaving her, he was proving her right.
Mouse sidled up to Vincent. “Don’t tell Catherine,” he whispered, looking behind him, certain if Vincent was here she must be close. “Working on new gizmo…present.” He smiled, nodding. “Cradle, for baby…rocks by itself,” his voice rising out of the whisper with excitement as a hand gestured in a swaying motion. “Just a little problem.” He showed with his finger and thumb how small a problem. “Tried…with Arthur…” His hand changed to a straight line flying far over his head. “Wooooooooo….” Then he shrugged his shoulders and couldn’t help but look a bit sheepish.
“Don’t worry yourself, Mouse,” Vincent, with earnest truth, reassured his inventive friend, “I won’t tell Catherine.”
Mouse looked puzzled. “Vincent, before, didn’t even hear Mouse, didn’t see Mouse. Looked scared…looked…sad. Why?”
Vincent sighed. Mouse never kept questions to himself, his curiosity an innocent yet indomitable force, but this… How could he even begin to interpret this convoluted strife to such a straightforward young man?
“It’s hard to explain.”
The boy replied, not satisfied, with another question. “Catherine okay?”
A carrier of life
A bringer of death
Mouse’s eye went wide with worry. “Baby okay?”
“Yes.” Vincent could feel the miracle of his child’s heartbeat deep inside him.
“Vincent okay?” Mouse was clearly puzzled.
“Yes, Mouse,” he sighed, not fully able to hide his exasperation at the questions, but still trying to relieve the young man’s worry. “I’m all right.”
“So…Catherine okay…baby okay…Vincent okay,” Mouse looked down at his own body, running his hands down the front of his vest, “and Mouse okay.” Mouse’s eyebrows shot up with his open arms. “Then everything okay today, right?”
“Yes, Mouse, the day was…,” a day with Catherine, beautiful, amazing, even within the sadness and the worry, “…good.”
Vincent smiled in spite of everything, in spite of all his doubts. Mouse had a unique way to put life…in perspective. To Mouse, today and the hopeful possibilities of tomorrow were all the world was made of. He didn’t analyze to the point of confusion. It was a gift Vincent wished he could borrow.
Mouse smiled. “You and Catherine together now…Neat.”
Vincent could only nod at the veracity of his friend’s pronouncement.
Mouse swiped his hands together in a finishing motion. “All done here ‘til others come. Have to get back now, late.”
Yes, it is very late.
The scuffed -up young man tugged upon Vincent’s sweater and the large man allowed the small one to begin to lead him back. “Have to get ready, work on entry, work on cradle. Jamie says baby coming soon.”
“Indeed he will, Mouse.” It always came back to that.
Mouse nodded and smiled as they walked. “That’s good, Vincent. Catherine’s really big,” he said, his arms circling around in front of his belly to show how big. He shook his head. “Can’t get much bigger.”
Mouse’s diagnosis brought a defeated nod and despite all, a small smile to Vincent’s lips.
“Baby comes,” Mouse declared seriously, “present, ready!”
“Thank you, Mouse.” Vincent stopped his friend’s stride with a hand on his shoulder. “You have already given me a gift.”
Mouse looked back at him, confused.
“Your words.” Vincent needed words to unravel their dilemma, and not just the unknowing example from his young friend. In order to help Catherine, he needed counsel, and he believed he knew whom to ask.
“Huh…my words?” Mouse scratched his head, for a moment perplexed, but then shrugged. “Well, Mouse is good with words.” He nodded proudly. “Mouse will teach baby words.” He smiled. “Like Vincent taught Mouse.”
Mouse placed his arm around his friend, and Vincent allowed the boy to guide him home.
*Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet