“Where are we going?” she finally asked after walking with him in silence for what felt like miles. Vincent had waited for the question, dreaded it, but knew it was inevitable.
They had been steadily progressing down. After begging to go, she would have expected to be taken back to his chamber or to Father, back to known ground, but instead he took her past all the common tunnels, through the mystery of the largest caverns with hewn stone stairs and spirals, and down, always down.
He prayed he was right to take her, worried they’d be too far away…but he needed to lead her to the place where she could not hide, and that required a journey.
Where were you lost? In the tower, yes, but before… You saved me, but I lost you. We lost one another.
Cold to colder, then descending back to warm, they proceeded into the maze of tunnels that were the Catacombs, past all the dead. Each step seemed to change her, batter at her. Through the miracle that was their growing bond, she now could no longer fight his feelings any more than he could hers. Her numbed distance was breeched by his presence, the hammer breaking her first layer, but the nervousness that took the place of her protective shell quickly transformed to fear as they descended.
He needed that fear.
“Vincent, where are we going?” she asked, her voice rising in pitch.
Where we lost the path…
He stopped and looked into her stricken face, still pale and charged since the incident with William. They had paused to get her water, the shortest respite before he had started to lead her down. They had been moving ever since.
Instead of answering, he replied with a question. “Do you trust me?”
She wanted to say yes immediately, he knew. She would have in the past.
“I don’t know…”
Good, he thought. She was raw enough not to lie. Truth hadn’t left her mouth, and that would help.
She went on, her eyes darting, looking for something to fight, attempting to justify her reaction. “I can’t trust myself. I can’t believe…”
“…that you attacked William?” he finished.
“Oh, God, I did…” She raised her hands to her cheeks, then to her mouth. Heart-stricken guilt, disbelief, regret pulsed through her and radiated along their connection.
He lit and took a torch from the wall, since no one from his world went further than this to light the darkness. He placed his arm around her again and led her on into the intimate black.
“In truth, I’m amazed that it doesn’t happen more often,” he said, hoping he could strike a note of dry humor.
“Vincent, please,” she begged. “They’ll never trust me again.”
She wanted to stop. She tried, but he took her hand and led her forward.
“Do you think you are the first person who has ever threatened someone here? We are a Community of people living together in close quarters. We are peaceful, but at times there are altercations; you know this.” He pulled more insistently. “And it was just a threat, Catherine. You didn’t hurt him, even when you could’ve. Something inside you stayed your hand.”
“But…” she began.
Vincent interrupted her protest. “William pressed you when he shouldn’t have. You were vulnerable. I think he – and the others – will see that.”
He looked ahead. “If not…I will…explain it to them.” Promise and steel laced together within his words.
They walked on for a long time, silent except for their footfalls.
As they moved past the edges of the Catacombs, any wind died and the caves drew in close. Ten minutes more and the air grew stagnant, the walls pressed in, confining them. He placed the torch on the wall to illuminate the deep place within the earth. That’s when she saw the wet stone entrance. He tried to lead her in but she would not be moved.
“No, Vincent! No!” She pulled on his arm, trying to back away from the cave ahead. “Please don’t ask me….”
“Catherine, we must. The cave is where this part of our journey began. We must finish this. I can feel your anger.”
“Because I don’t want to go in there!” she yelled.
“No, Catherine, that’s not why,” he said slowly. This time, she was the wounded creature needing to be approached carefully, lovingly. “I feel your guilt, your fear, your rage. Tell me why,” he commanded.
“Vincent! I can’t…” she pleaded.
“Why, Catherine?” His questioning voice sounded rough even to his ears. “Why can’t you tell me?” He could feel her trying to suppress….anger? Accusation? “Did I hurt you?”
He felt the Beast in him rise. The Beast hunted her; it searched, shadowed, and would not give up until it discovered her.
Find her, it urged.
Her hesitancy could almost seem weak, but Vincent knew adamancy from her; he knew her will. Kindness and care would not be enough. She was too strong, her fears too encompassing.
“Catherine, did I hurt you?”
He pressed, for her sake. No matter price or revelation, he would draw the poison out, even if he had to take it into his own body.
“Take me back!” She pulled out of his grasp.
Her spirit ran from him, and the Beast’s instinct was to pursue.
“I will not do this, Vincent! You don’t want to know!”
“I must, Catherine. What is it you think I can’t know? Tell me!”
Overtake her, the voice demanded. Cut her, if you must, but rip her free from this!
“Don’t ask me questions!” she screamed at him.
“Catherine, did I hurt you?” he growled over her.
“Yes!” she screamed, she howled.
The part of her the Beast knew as his own – huntress, predator – unleashed the hurt; the words escaped, exploded past all her barriers. His greatest fear…
“You left me! You left me here!” She pointed into the dark. “Your heart stopped, and you died, and you left me!” she screamed, to the walls, to him. “I felt your spirit go! It wanted to go! It ran away, and then you couldn’t find me!”
This was her fiercest weapon, this blame, the piece of herself that she never wanted him see, the blade she refused to acknowledge, always in her hand. She had tried so valiantly to keep it sheathed, hidden, but he could not let her. Secreted, it was as dangerous to her as to him.
It cut so sharply that for a moment his bleeding didn’t even begin, and Vincent could see all clearly.
She knew what he had wanted.
Of course she knows you. She is your other half, his demon whispered. She had months to comprehend, days upon days to dwell on what you tried to do to her, but she didn’t need them, did she? The moment her lips touched yours, she could taste it, your aching heart. It must have tasted bitter with your intention.
She would have taken anything you were willing to give, accepted anything “gratefully,” she said, but it was you who could not. That wasn’t what you wanted.
He hadn’t wanted the life she carried – that was so implausible an idea, unreasonable and unforeseen it might have been a fairy tale. At the time he only wanted what option seemed possible, destined: he had wanted death. It had been too much – the wounds, the conflicts, the needs he thought he had subjugated, ground so far down; the pressure when it erupted, as it inevitably must, released madness thousands of times too strong to fight. Death became the only refuge he could believe in, but she believed in only him.
“You left me. I needed you…you left us…” she sobbed.
…in the dark…
She knew what he had done, but he had not. At the time, he hadn’t understood; at the time…
There was no time. What is time to madness, to an animal? She was his time. There was before her, after her, and after losing her. Until the last, he hadn’t realized what his desired death would condemn her to, the woman he said he loved – to be alone in the world. Now he knew. He had lived without her presence in his heart, her voice gone, her scent fleeting, immensely precious in its rarity. Alone was itself a type of madness, a sickness, and one he deliberately infected her with.
She loved. He could behold the depths of it before him – like a physical thing he could almost grab it, treasure it – but her losses, her loneliness like heavy sand buried love and spirit with it, shining for precious moments, but too easily obscured and entombed.
She understood, she reasoned, she loved, but her heart still accused.
And she should.
“I left you.” He accepted. “I chose to die and a part of me did. I suppressed my shame, hid away from myself, and I lost our Bond because of it, and I am sorry. I caused you so much grief…I should have believed. If I had accepted all your love perhaps none of this…” Her cuts bled him out, the poison seeped into him, but he wouldn’t yield to them. He would not run from the pain again. He gathered her to him. “I am so deeply sorry…”
He held her, attempting to show with his grounded feet that he would not leave her. She needed this, but it wasn’t enough. There was an uncharted land within her. His “should have’s” had created it. It had to be traversed and there were monsters dwelling there. He prayed they could discover them, fight them, and create the safe haven she needed. Slowly, he led her under the arch and into the cavern, but no sooner had they walked inside then her anger flared through the sadness and she tried to pull away again.
Her blame wasn’t the only hazard. There was a pain even deeper and she would fight to keep it hidden. He pressed the wound; the poison lay so deep…
“Vincent, I can’t!” she cried out, trying again to pull away, twice as hard as before. “I can’t face this!” Her rage gave way to oppressing remorse. He could always feel this, ever since their reunion: the guilt underlying everything, self-blame that dwarfed anything she could level at him. What supposed sin did she feel the weight of?
“You can’t see…” She backed away and would say no more. She didn’t realize, but she was trying to bar herself into her dull cell a world away, that had held her so long. It was a place of torment, yes, but familiar, known, unlike the place he wished her to venture.
“I cannot stop loving you!” His hands were open, outstretched, beseeching her to believe, asking her to leave that place behind. “You know I can’t! Please tell me why you feel this burden. Why are you afraid?”
“Don’t ask me…” She stood now against the wall, brought to her most primitive level, ready to fight or run at a word.
“Catherine…tell me why….” Find her. Free her.
“No!” she shouted.
“Catherine, you are safe with me! Tell me! Tell me why!” he growled at her.
“I HURT OUR BABY!” She screamed one hand against the hard stone, the other protective over her belly. She screamed with rage – enough to collapse the Tunnels and all the buildings Above, violence and wrath – enough to shatter the world, but this time only for herself.
“I took that book and put our baby at risk! I knew I was pregnant! I should have told you. I should have let it go! I should have fought harder to get away. They hurt me, they injected me, and they hurt our son! I couldn’t…keep him…safe…” She sank to the floor, sobbing into the earth, the pain too much for her to bear the weight.
I should have known…
I should have fought harder…
He fell to her, almost yelling to be heard above her remorse. “The baby is healthy. I feel him! He is alive…” He clutched her arms as she keened, trying to reach her. “You saved our child. You kept silent. You knew they would kill you once they could find the book, is that not so?” He tried to look in her eyes, but she evaded him. “You kept our child alive until they had a reason to keep you alive.”
“And still you kept silent. You saved us. Please do not pay for their crimes. You are not to blame!”
“I am!” She finally spoke between the ratcheting sobs. “Don’t you see that? I put our baby in danger. And now I’m…crazy! How can I be here with you? How can you look at me?” Her words fell off to a whisper.
“Catherine…” He gathered her face to kiss her tears. “You…are…not…insane.” He emphasized the each word, so the truth of it was clear. “You’re hurt. There’s a difference.”
At this pronouncement, her weeping grew, but he could feel the rage begin to dissipate. He couldn’t stop this pain, but hoped his acceptance would allow it the chance to heal.
He lifted her off the floor to hold her close. “You are strong,” he told her with conviction, “and you will survive. We will find a way to safety, and we will care for our son.” His faith in a life together grew stronger each day she lived; the roots were his deepest hopes, and its sunlight, her love…but her prison of doubts couldn’t allow her to see it.
“Vincent, you don’t know…” she said in monotone as if there was no feeling left within her to stop or color her words.
“What don’t I know, Catherine?” he asked like questioning a frightened child. Yet within her he knew there lived her predator and he would never discount it again.
“I see things…things that can’t be…that aren’t there…” she whispered.
“What you saw…” he began. “You were frightened and tormented. I think, somehow, it is natural…for us.” he said, claiming her nature as he did his own; with her love, he could accept. “You saw spirits, demons. You know I see them at times as well. Your mother said they tormented you, and I did not doubt her.”
For a moment she was too stunned to speak or even cry, the growing knowledge that he truly understood, the relief of it seeming to fill in places she forgot were emptied.
“…my mother? Vincent, what do you..?” And in a small voice, tears barely held in check, “You saw her too?”
He nodded. “She brought me here,” he told her, looking around the cavern. “She said you needed me, and that by understanding what you had given me, our connection would be restored. She revealed what, in my disgrace, I had lost.” He looked into her eyes. “You have given me everything – love, acceptance…our child. Please believe I am here with you, always. I cannot give you less.”
He took her hand and with her in his grasp he made a promise. “I will not leave you again, not by my will, this I swear. You are whole, Catherine,” he said slowly, trying to reach her, but instead of looking at him, she peered into the dark, testing it. He knew what she searched for. He had scrutinized those black hallows almost his whole life, waiting for the demons to emerge.
“So, you really don’t think I’m crazy for conjuring the ghost of my dead mother?” she asked ruefully through her tears. There was bitterness within her words, but he could believe she was beginning to trust in his acceptance.
“No.” He shook his head. “You are becoming a mother, and you wished for yours. It is the most perfect reason in the world to ask for her guidance.” He worked to find her eyes again. “Your father visited you after his death; you needed his blessing. Your mother blessed you as well. Without her, I may never have found you…” He placed his hand on her belly. “…found both of you.”
She dropped her head, and rested her hand on his so they all connected – mother, father, child, but she still questioned, she still doubted herself.
“And the other one…” she whispered, asking about her demon that was him but not him. Her dreams that he had shared, that still held terrible power over her fragile psyche, would not leave until she spoke of them. It relieved Vincent that she brought this vision to him without him asking, that she would trust him with this.
He sighed. “His voice haunts me as well. I saw him when I was ill. I have seen him…” he blew out the words, letting go a secret too long hidden, “…for years, Catherine. I hear him taunting me…”
“But why? Why did he come to me? He isn’t you!” She protested. “The things he says….” But she couldn’t describe what he could do to her.
“I know. He shows us our weakness, our nightmares. He knows part of you doesn’t trust me.”
“Vincent…” she tried to object.
“Catherine, you don’t trust me.” He shook his head against her denial. “You didn’t. Why would you have taken that knife in the tower when I carry my weapons, always?” He held up his claws for her to witness. “You had to stop your captor, and you didn’t trust me. You were right not to. I have always protected you, but I could not save you from my fears, and part of you knew this. I was not ready to accept all that we are together.”
Her eyes would not meet his. She still grieved for everything they had to endure to be whole. He had no choice but to continue until she could recognize his full part in this.
“I think he is the embodiment of the monstrous, everything that we doubt, everything we despise within us, all our hate – but he is our passion as well, good and bad. He is there to defend. He challenges us and we must grow stronger.”
Her tear filled gaze finally met his, and he offered his belief about their tormentor. “You have allowed me to see what I should have always known. He is not separate from us. He is us. We conjured him, and only we can excise his cruelty…with time…” He looked past her into the darkness that she dared the ghosts from and wished he could vanquish all their demons with words, but it would take will and work, and time together. He could give her the words, and he prayed he could give her the time.
He said nothing more, but let her grief feed on itself until it lost its sharp edges. Within his arms her tears slowly ended. For many minutes they simply stayed that way until a question came to him.
“Catherine, you said you saw him while you were imprisoned in the tower? That he looked like me. When I came for you, how did you know it was me and not my shadow?”
She thought for a moment before she replied. “I felt you coming for me. After so many nights…when I saw you, you felt right, but…mostly…” She looked up at him finally and a small but sweet smile shone through her sadness. “You looked frightened.” A fraught laugh escaped her. “And he never was frightened of me.”
“I wasn’t frightened, Catherine,” he protested. “But you can be surprising,” he said, perfectly serious, with a hint of mirth dropping his voice low. “…unsettling.”
God, how I love this woman. He sighed and brought her to him.
She placed herself into the safe circle of his arms, turning her cheek to his rapidly beating heart.
She had revealed her terrors, her spirit bare to him, and it was time she should know his. No more hiding, not here, not from her. “Catherine, I believe…I have failed you, and will fail you.” He spoke into her hair, trying to hide the worries there. “I…covet you…I wish so much for you, so much freedom, but my need…” He didn’t know how to encompass it all. He sighed and tried again. “I want you to have the sun, but also want you mine, down here, where I am forced to dwell. The sacrifices, the boundaries of this existence may cause you to doubt a life together.”
She said nothing in answer to his most basic conflict.
He turned from her, and on a breeze that should have been impossible in this place so far from the world Above, he could smell the faintest mix of floral perfume, face powder, and light smoke. He turned back to her and lifted her head with his finger.
“But never doubt,” he emphasized, “you have my love, and will always have it; whatever happens, whatever comes….I can promise, I will always love you both.” He placed his hand on her belly, touching her and their child in concert.
“You did not fail me, Vincent,” she said finally. “After a lifetime…after what Paracelsus did to you, how could you not fear us…together. I think…I think we failed ourselves. I was reckless and afraid, but I accept us and everything that comes with our life together, the good and the bad, any light, and any dark…” She pressed his hand on her belly closer, stronger. “I can promise you, I will always love you both.” Then she reached up on her toes and kissed him with her heart, accepting his worthiness and his fallibility, as he did hers. She kissed him as she had in this cave so many months before, with all her soul, and he returned the kiss much more quickly this time.
They were bound – by love, by purpose, and by fate.
She wasn’t healed, but she was healing. She would always feel the guilt of taking on an investigation she felt she shouldn’t have, for putting him and their child in danger, for her breakdown. He would always feel the shame of losing himself, her, and their Bond, for changing and trapping her with his love, but they could live with remorse. If it meant they could be together, they would live with the past that shadowed them like a cloak.
It was, and would have to be, enough.
After their kiss she seemed to shrink. The maelstrom was over, the waters as calmed as they could be. She was drained, and he held her steady. His words, his love built a house for her soul – torn and hurt, but free – where it could rest and anchor itself. There were still ghosts there, but within his shelter, they were not as frightening, they held less power over her, and the rooms in which they dwelt could be explored without crippling fear. She was safe and loved.
“We should return soon,” he said to her, kissing her hair.
“It’s a long way home…”
Yes, he thought, a long and rough journey home, ‘and a sad heart to travel it.’* But they had braved the ghosts together. They had survived.
“It is,” he agreed.
“Can we rest here a while? I’m so tired.” She sank even more into him.
“Of course,” he assured her. He helped them down slowly, the baby making settling to the floor precarious, but soon he had Catherine gathered into his arms so her head could rest against him. He sat in the corner against the stone wall of the cave where she had once held him.
He could feel her ease down, trusting his embrace, and finally, truly, rest.
*Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte