"It’s your fault she’s gone. You lost her! You’re too weak to let yourself remember. You’re too cowardly to open the bond. You didn’t even remember her name. You’re nothing more than a pathetic shadow. You lost her. For that, I will kill you!” The Other uttered a deep growl blue eyes cold and fierce with rage that could no longer be suppressed. He lunged forward with arms raised, claws glittering menacingly in the lantern light.
"No.” Vincent’s voice was low and equally menacing. "She’s gone because of you. You’re the beast. You lusted after her. You wanted to do things to her.”
"I’m the beast?” the Other asked incredulously. "I’m the beast!” he repeated laughing mirthlessly and shaking his great head at the absurdity of the statement. "You fool,” he hissed. "She loved me! She wanted what I wanted! The very same things I wanted!”
The only response was an anguished wail as Vincent hurled himself forward. The Other avoided him easily.
"She wanted me!” he taunted. "You can’t deny it. You could feel what she felt. You knew her desires. All of them,” he challenged. "But you stopped me. You got in the way, you sanctimonious bastard, and now she is lost to me. Lost to both of us.”
Vincent lunged again and missed again. The Other hovered above him. "You stupid fool. You’re the coward, too afraid to acknowledge your own desires, too afraid to trust her, too afraid to even try. I would have given her what she wanted. I would have given her everything. I still would if I could find her.”
"I won’t let you. You will never touch My Catherine!” Vincent snarled.
The voice was low, cutting, "Ah, but there’s the problem. I’m not the one who was cruel to her. I’m not the one who denied her. She gave you everything, would have given you physical love too but you were too gutless, hiding behind chivalry. Always the gentleman,” he sneered. "She loved you but she wanted me, needed me. Me!” he roared. "And I … I … had the courage to truly love her. I would have held her, undressed her, caressed her. She would have undressed me and touched me, everywhere. She would have moaned with pleasure, cried out for me, demanded the weight of my body on hers. She would have wanted me again and again and again. And I would have given her everything she wanted,” he boasted. "Everything!”
Vincent was driven to stop the Other, stop the voice that stabbed his conscience mercilessly. He rushed forward with a bellow of rage… and fell into the abyss. In fury and frustration he roared again and again and again as his body tumbled over and over, descending forever.
"Vincent!” Someone screamed calling him back. Not Catherine’s voice. Hands holding him, restraining him, attempting to sooth him. Not Catherine’s hands. Oh God, why weren’t they Catherine’s hands?
Soft voices penetrated his conscience. "How long has he been like this?” Peter asked.
"Since the early hours of the morning. He has hardly eaten, refused to rest, barely slept since Catherine’s disappearance. About midnight, I think, he finally passed out from exhaustion. Then he woke us all with terrible roars of rage. He was wild, fighting himself. It took several of us to hold him down and I gave him a sedative.”
"He’s been calm since?”
"Yes, and there is no fever.”
"What do you want me to do Jacob? It seems you have taken care of him well.”
"Peter, I didn’t ask you down here today for Vincent. I asked you for me. I think it is all my fault that Vincent was so ill, that Catherine is lost to us.”
"What?” Peter was astounded. "Paracelsus caused this, not you. And you certainly had nothing to do with Catherine’s disappearance.”
"Shush.” Father gestured to Peter and they moved away from Vincent’s bed but not so far that he couldn’t still hear their conversation clearly. Vincent was about to let them know he was awake when Father added. "It’s sexual frustration.” Vincent froze. He wanted to clap his hands over his ears, deny the words spoken by Father, the words that echoed the Other. But a desperate need to know forced him to lie perfectly still, to listen to it all. Fists clenched, breath held, he waited.
"You remember the incident with Lisa?”
"Of course,” replied Peter.
"Catherine blamed me for that you know.” Father sounded sad and defeated.
"She said that I blew a normal adolescent experience way out of proportion making Vincent feel more guilty than he ever needed to. She thought that if I hadn’t overreacted the way I did, hadn’t sent Lisa away, the infatuation would have died away soon enough.”
"Her argument is logical,” Peter said slowly his voice gentle as he laid a comforting hand on his friends shoulder.
"You agree then?”
"Jacob, it was a long time ago and you did what you thought was best.”
"But,” Father pushed.
"Perhaps Catherine is right. If Vincent and Lisa had dealt with the encounter at the time, Vincent would have been more accepting of the possibilities Catherine’s love offered.”
There was a long pause and Vincent’s heart ached. Father had always protected him, done his best, what he thought was right. If Father accepted that he had made a colossal error in judgment it would weigh heavily. Before Vincent could move to reassure him, Father spoke.
"Yes, Father agreed. "I must carry that mistake with me knowing the pain it has caused Vincent – Catherine too. But she blamed herself also,” Father added. Only Vincent’s life long iron control kept him from crying out a denial.
"Good lord. Why?” Peter was stunned at Father’s words. "Catherine loved Vincent with all her heart. She would do anything for him. How could she think she was at fault?”
"When he was so ill, she told me that she believed she deliberately put herself in danger so Vincent would come to her.”
"She would never do that!” Peter was shocked at the suggestion and Vincent silently thanked him for this vehement defense of Catherine.
"Not consciously, no. But she said she thought it was a substitute for loving, a way to experience passion with Vincent. She admitted that she felt what he felt, that she reveled in the power and the release that came after.”
Engrossed in their discussion, neither of the speakers noticed Vincent’s sharp intake of breath at these words. That Catherine felt what he did when he did shamed him. But there was a thin edge of elation as well. If she felt, she understood. And she did not condemn; the proof was in her continued love and loyalty. She had said she would never leave him. She had kept her promise to him. The Other was right. It was he who had betrayed Catherine. He had lost the bond. He had left her. Peter’s voice interrupted his anguished thoughts.
"That explains something she said to me.” Peter was thoughtful. "She came to see me when Vincent was in her apartment so ill those three days. Her conversation was oblique and I didn’t understand then what she was trying to say.”
"Now you do?”
"I think so. She blamed Vincent too.” Vincent tensed and held his breath dreading the words yet to come. How had she blamed him? "She was sure that his fear was more than one of hurting her.” Peter continued. "I think she understood that he was afraid to love her fully because that would mean leaving the safety of the realm of romantic hero. Loving her fully would mean exposing himself to her completely, letting her see his body, letting her see his need.”
"He couldn’t risk Catherine thinking he was less than perfect in any way?”
"That’s my guess,” Peter replied. "She also said she wished she had been more direct with him, more explicit about letting him know exactly what she wanted from him.”
"She wanted a sexual relationship,” Father acknowledged.
"She said, and I quote, "I should have pushed him Peter. If I had maybe none of this would have happened.”
"The love they had for each other allowed for physical expression too. I was too blind to see that, too stubborn to tell Vincent I was wrong.” Father paused and looked at Peter helplessly. "Dear God, Peter. What a mess we have all made of everything. We have to fix this. We have to find Catherine.”
"I’ll go see Joe Maxwell first thing in the morning. Maybe he has some news.” Peter didn’t sound particularly hopeful. Vincent, the tunnel family, their helpers and the police had been searching for two months with no results.
Vincent released his breath slowly as the two men left his chamber. He stayed perfectly still, thinking carefully about all that he had heard, thinking about his ‘encounter’ with the other, waiting impatiently as the remainder of the day dragged by, waiting for his world to be silent. When he was sure Father and most of the others were asleep he had a quick bath and put on fresh clothes. Minutes later he was on Catherine’s balcony.
He found the key to the terrace doors. Long ago, she had put it in a planter for him. He was ashamed that it was only when she was gone that he could find the courage to use it and enter her apartment. He walked through the living room first, gently touching her things, trying so soak up some of her essence. He opened the doors to her bedroom noting absently that they had been repaired. He searched her bathroom and found her shampoo. He opened the bottle and breathed in the familiar scent of her hair. He capped it and put it in the pocket of his cloak.
He looked at her bed picturing all the times he had seen her there, all the times she had scrambled up at his knock on her terrace door. He had lain there in illness too. He remembered Catherine with him, her soothing voice, her gentle hands, trying to ease his tension. He lay on the bed and held her pillow, which still had a faint trace of her scent. As memories of Catherine flooded over him he felt the familiar tension rising from his center. This time he didn’t try to stop it. He rolled on to his stomach pressing his body hard against the bed, imagining her under him. The phone ringing startled him. Oh God, her voice on the machine! His whole body shuddered with the strength of his reaction as release came in a rapid burst.
Much later, when his breathing calmed he rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling. Countless numbers of times he had suppressed his physical desires, ignored them, denied them or in desperation had found a measure of relief in the cool waters of the natural pools below. He had denied Catherine’s desires too, refusing to believe they were real, refusing to accept they were in any way directed to him. God, he had been such a fool! The Other was right. He owed Catherine so much more than he had given her. Above all he owed her a courage that matched her own. Tonight in Catherine’s bed he had finally acknowledged his physical desire, and hers, had given in to that desire, allowed it to rule him and he hadn’t lost control, hadn’t lost himself. Accepting, acknowledging brought, for the first time in his life, a sense of peace.
But the peace didn’t last long, replaced almost immediately by shame and self-loathing for having denied Catherine, denied them both. He bitterly regretted ignoring her needs, ignoring her pleas. How could he have been so stupid? He moaned in despair. He had to find her! He had to love her fully! He had to before it was too late!
As he lay on her bed savoring memories of her he gradually calmed and became aware of a gentle fluttering around his heart. Catherine? He lay perfectly still waiting. There it was again. No, it wasn’t a false hope. He could feel her! Through a thick fog, he could feel her desolation and misery. He searched carefully. They were definitely not his own emotions. He fought to stay calm and searched again. She was not asleep but the fog was still there, drugged maybe? The bond had reasserted itself and he could only conclude that his cowardice had severed it. He must have subconsciously broken their connection as a way to hide, to protect himself from his fears. He prayed that his actions had not brought undue harm to Catherine. He prayed that he would find her. He prayed that she would forgive him. He prayed.
After two hours of ducking through dark alleys and multiple back tracking he knew he had found the right building. He was on the roof and he could feel her just below, stronger and more sure than before now that he was physically closer but still through a fog. She was asleep but it was more than that. Again the word drugged came to mind. His first instinct was to break in immediately, find her and carry her home but it would be light very soon. Besides, there was another way, a better way. He sent her a message of love and reassurance and headed for the tunnels.
Catherine woke just before dawn to the familiar hated grogginess of the drugs and something else she couldn’t define. The child in her womb kicked again. She had felt the strongly defined movements repeatedly through the drug haze for the past several hours and she had fought to waken. She wanted to be fully conscious to experience this life affirming sensation. Not surprisingly the baby’s movements brought Vincent closer and she felt a lightness of spirit, a new hope that Vincent would come.
She buried her face in her pillow. She couldn’t fall into that trap again. It led to such great misery. Instead she planned, as she had each day of her captivity, looking for a way out. Escape was essential; she had to save her child.
She had found one hope. They had stopped the injections three weeks ago and switched to tablets. She was careful at first to take the pills obediently. Gradually, she practiced palming the pill and faking the drug’s effects. She couldn’t do it all the time though. Last night the nurse had been watching too closely. But, she only needed once and if she could be alert enough she increased her chances of getting away. She would do her best to hide the pill again. For some indefinable reason she felt that it was especially important to be alert tonight.
Fierce and urgent messages sounded on the pipes waking everyone. They all gathered in Father’s study, most still in nightclothes.
"What’s wrong, Father?”
"Is Vincent worse?”
"He’s not in his chamber.”
"The message is from him.”
"I’ve found her!” Vincent announced as he jumped the three steps down into Father’s study. "I need your help to rescue her. Will you do it?” There was a stunned silence and then everyone started talking at once. Father watched Vincent closely. Vincent didn’t need them. He was doing it this was so they could all feel part of the victory and I, he thought, can absolve some of my guilt.
"I have a plan,” Vincent announced quietly and they all stopped talking to listen. Suggestions were made, accepted, rejected until they were all satisfied it would work. Everyone scrambled to dress and get things ready. Helpers were contacted, directives given. They worked together effectively and efficiently. Like a well trained army Father thought, as his watched his study become command center, people coming and going all day, relaying messages to and from Vincent. Through it all Vincent paced and planned tense and alert with an urgency that could not be fully contained. He searched the bond constantly; needing to assure himself that Catherine was there, that she was safe, that he had not made a mistake waiting till tonight to rescue her. Finally it was time. Everyone assembled in Father’s study at eight that evening, looking wordlessly to Vincent for direction. He nodded and they filed out, each knowing his or her place and role, each anxious to succeed.
"Have you found her Joe?”
‘No, but I might be on to something. Now, don’t go getting your hopes up,” he warned. "Jenny, the guy in Cathy’s life?”
"Her mystery man.”
"Yeah what do you know about him?”
"Only that his name is Vincent and that he was very ill just before she disappeared.”
"Yeah, she told me that. Said he almost died. Did he?”
"I don’t know Joe. Why?”
"Well if he died, that would explain why he hasn’t been pounding down my door hounding me to find her right?”
"But I think there was a reason he couldn’t meet us. Cathy wouldn’t have kept it such a secret otherwise.”
"Some terrible disfigurement or something?”
"That’s what I always thought.”
"I think he’s alive and I think he’s found her.”
"God Joe. What happened?”
"As I was leaving my office tonight some kid bumped into me a shoved a note in my hand. Let me read it to you. Mr. Maxwell, I’ve found her. We need your help to rescue her. Be in the main hall of Grand Central Station at 10 p.m. tonight. Vincent.
"I’ll be there.”
"No Jenny,” Joe ordered. "I can’t risk losing you too. Stay home. I’ll call you first thing when I have news.” Jenny agreed only reluctantly making Joe promise again to call her the second he had news and hung up. She tried desperately and unsuccessfully to stay calm and not hope too much. Beneath the worry for Cathy, she hugged close to her heart the warmth that came from Joe’s protectiveness.
Joe looked around at the crowds wondering who would meet him. "Mr. Maxwell, I’m Kipper and this is Samantha.”
"But you’re just kids.” Joe sputtered as he stared at the two oddly dressed youngsters. They looked like street kids, well fed, but street kids. They couldn’t possibly know anything about Cathy. He searched over their heads, hoping to find evidence of more substantial help in the form of a responsible adult or two.
One on each side, the kids grabbed his hands and dragged a loudly protesting Joe down a stairwell, through a maze of train tracks, utility rooms and service crawlways until they reached an access to the tunnels. "What the hell is this?” Joe demanded when they finally halted.
"The way to Catherine.” Samantha stood hands on hips and glared at him indignantly. "Don’t make our job more difficult,” she commanded. "Vincent needs us.”
The name Vincent captured his attention and he followed along obediently even though he harbored totally serious doubts about ever finding Cathy. About half an hour later he and the children came upon a group of roughly twenty people. One of the men turned to them. "Good, you’re here. We’re almost ready. Just waiting for Mouse to disarm the security.”
"She’s here?” Joe asked as he looked at the group of motley dressed men, women and children. Like the two children who had escorted him, they all wore clean, but much repaired layers of clothing. He could see mismatched patches and signs of wear and age and wondered where they came from and how they knew Cathy or more precisely, how she knew them. Someone answering his question brought him back to the task at hand.
"Yes, we’re under the building and Vincent thinks she’s on the top floor. He’s up on the roof now. Once the security is disarmed, we’ll go in. We thought of turning off the electricity too but we need the light and we need the elevators. Earlier today a helper checked out the floor plans and night staff on duty. There are two guards in the main foyer and a number of cleaning people we can mostly ignore. The top two floors have been completely off limits for the past two months,” Kanin emphasized. The significance of the time frame was not lost on Joe, "and will be most difficult as we don’t know who is holding Catherine and how many guards are posted up there, or what kind of weapons they have. We’ll get off the elevators one floor below those levels and move up the stairwells from there. I’ve got a key from a helper in security in case the fire doors are locked from this side so accessing the stairwell won’t be a problem. The children will be our best ammunition up there. Once we have control of the floors Vincent will move in.”
Jeeze, these guys were all nuts! The entire city police force hadn’t been able to find Cathy and this rag tag bunch not only claimed they knew where she was but proposed to rush to her rescue. He shook his head in disbelief knowing instinctively that they wouldn’t be able to give him any concrete evidence to justify their actions. Furthermore, they had no weapons that he could see other than speaking vaguely of floor plans and kids. "What do I do?” Joe asked sarcastically. They didn’t appear to need him at all, when his experience told him that if they were right the situation really called for the Swat Team.
"You have your cell phone ready to call the police to mop up and you, lucky devil, get all the glory, media attention, promotions. Catherine will love that. I’m Cullen by the way.” He grinned happily at Joe.
"Ok good, ok fine.” Mouse announced, interrupting Cullen’s explanation.
"You’re sure?” Michael asked.
"Pretty sure,” Mouse mumbled. "Should work. Checked the gizmos.”
"How can you rely on him?” Joe demanded studying Mouse. The boy was clearly mentally challenged.
"It’s fine.” Jamie told the group, glaring at Joe. "I was there.”
Getting in to the building from the tunnels proved to be ridiculously easy. Capturing the guards and one maintenance man on the main floor and the four cleaning staff they encountered when they got off the elevator equally so. One of the kids would call softly distracting the person and the closest adult would throw a huge flour or potato sack over their heads and someone else would put tape around their mouth over the sack, so they couldn’t call out. A third person would wrap rope around their arms and legs and the victim was left lying unharmed until someone would find them the next morning.
The second last floor was the trickiest. They had no idea how many staff or guards they might find. This was the children’s biggest challenge. Kipper started by softly calling help from one doorway. Then Eric called from another. Samantha cried softly from another corner. Geoffrey and Jamie joined in. Within seconds three guards were entering the halls, guns in hands.
"What the hell is going on?” one demanded.
"I’m here,” Eric answered.
"No, I’m here,” Geoffrey called.
"Sounds like a bunch of damn kids. How did they get in here?” The question was not answered as the adults set to work again with the sacks, tape and ropes. Joe found himself enjoying the whole thing immensely. He just hoped this was the right place and that Cathy was here and well.
Satisfied that they had everyone on this floor nicely packaged the group moved stealthily up the stairs to the top floor. This wouldn’t be so easy. They changed tactics this time leaving the children behind. William walked boldly down the hall. Six men charged out of the rooms on either side of the hall, guns cocked and aimed at his ample belly. Two nurses materialized further down the hall. "Where is she?” William bellowed, much louder than necessary. A signal to Vincent, Joe guessed.
He was not wrong. With a wild roar, Vincent dropped from above. With one swipe of his powerful arm the two men nearest him were swept to the floor, unconscious and no longer threats. Vincent didn’t wait for the others. He turned unerringly to the door of Catherine’s room and smashed though it with one swift drive of his powerful body using his shoulder as a battering ram. Catherine was there, waiting for him. She flew into his arms. He gathered her close in his arms, wrapped her tightly against him under his cloak and fled up to the roof.
The others had not been idle. With all attention on Vincent they had been able to do their bagging again. Cullen turned to Joe; "I think you could make your call now,” he suggested dryly. Joe grinned as he pulled out his cell phone and everyone whooped with joy.
"We’ll go open the front doors,” Jamie told him. Within seconds the rescue team disappeared and Joe was alone with the captured men and women. He had caught mere glimpses in the moments it had taken Vincent to do his part. A number of things fell into place. Unsolved cases, Cathy’s secrecy. What did he do now? Vincent and these people had done what he and the police couldn’t. He heard the sirens and wondered how he would explain all the squirming ‘body bags’. He grinned and made his second call - to Jenny.
It was almost noon and still Joe stood watching the teams gathering evidence. There was enough to keep the lawyers and courts busy for years. Preliminary indications were that a huge crime ring would be out of the picture. This was big. About Vincent and the others? He had done a lot of thinking these past few hours and he had decided it boiled down to a decision between loyalty and duty. Loyalty won. He would talk to Cathy. Tell her not to worry. He would keep her secrets.
Neither Catherine nor Vincent spoke as he carried her to his chamber. There was much to discuss but there would be time for that later. She protested once that she could walk but he simply grunted and continued, his long strides eating up the distance effortlessly. Once in his chamber, he set her carefully on his bed and gathered a soft worn quilt, towels and soap. He held the items out to her and she gathered them in her arms. He picked her up again and took her to the bathing chamber. He set her down by the edge of the pool, took the items from her and laid them on the shelf nearby. Then he slowly undressed her, his hands moving gently, his eyes caressing. She stared at him unresisting, eyes wide with wonder, too surprised to move or speak.
"You are so beautiful,” he whispered as he stood before her staring as if he could never get enough of looking at her. She shivered. From the cold or the promise of his look? She wasn’t sure. Vincent saw and spoke again. "Catherine, the water is warm. Please, go in.” As she did so, Vincent undressed and followed her down the stone steps carved into the side of the pool. Catherine stood in the waist deep water, eyes glued to him, watching his every move. He was so beautiful, more beautiful than she had imagined. She was afraid she was dreaming, afraid she would waken in that horrible little room, afraid they would come with their needles and pills, afraid, afraid, so afraid…
Vincent sensed her fear but said nothing. Touch would be more healing than words. He lathered a washcloth and gently began to bathe her.
"Please Catherine, let me. I need to do this.” She said no more as he washed away the memories of her captivity, and the feelings of fear and isolation. When he was satisfied with that he reached for her shampoo bottle, sat on the second step below the water level and pulled Catherine gently to sit on his lap facing away from him while he washed and rinsed her hair.
"Oh Vincent,” she breathed. "That feels so good, smells so good.” He kissed the top of her head, then lifted her in one smooth motion and stepped out of the pool. He wrapped her in the old quilt and found a towel to dry her hair, then, ever so gently combed it with his fingers to remove the worst of the tangles. He pulled his cloak over his damp body and carried her back to his chamber.
He pulled back the covers and placed Catherine in the center of his bed, removed the now damp quilt and tucked the covers over her to ward off the chill. He turned away and felt the keen stab of her disappointment just as he had felt her eager anticipation moments before.
Not this time Catherine. Not this time. He closed the tapestry over the entry and turned back to her. The smile that lit her face as she understood eliminated all need for candles. He let his cloak drop to the floor and slid into bed with her. She wasted no time plastering herself to him, reaching for him, caressing him, touching him everywhere!
"Finally!” The Other sighed in satisfaction as he merged fully with Vincent, never to be denied again.
Afterwards, they lay limbs entwined, Vincent with his hand on her slightly rounded tummy. "Our baby.”
"Yes, I can feel him or her.”
"You’re ok with this?” Catherine sounded uncertain. It was a long time before Vincent answered but she was patient. He had overcome so much already this night. She could wait.
"I’ll worry constantly about everything,” he admitted honestly. "About your health, your safety in childbirth, about the baby. Will he or she be like me? But, to answer your question, yes, I’m ok with it. I won’t fight our love ever again.”
"Finally.” Catherine breathed thankfully. Vincent could feel her love and joy wash over him.
"We need to bring Joe and Jenny here,” Vincent added.
"Why?” Catherine couldn’t hide her curiosity
"I was so wrong about that too. You could have shared your secrets with them. You did not have to be so alone up there.”
"Oh, Vincent, please don’t. You don’t need to feel guilty.”
"There is another reason,” he added. "I thought you might like them to be in our wedding party.”
Catherine sat up abruptly. "Are you asking me to marry you?” She was astonished. Vincent chuckled. That had certainly gotten her attention.
"Oh yes, yes, yes!” Catherine threw herself at him, kissing every spot she could reach.
"Ask one little question and the woman loses all control, practically rapes me. Is that all it takes?” Vincent teased.
"Seems like it and you can wipe that smug look off your face,” Catherine added. "On second thought…” She bent to kiss it away.
"Perfect!” Vincent claimed
Early risers, passing on the way to breakfast smiled as they heard Catherine’s delighted laughter followed by a matching rumble from Vincent. Vincent, laughing! This was good, better than good. All was right in their world.