Home Chapter 15
*Trigger warning: Mental and slight physical torture, drugging and gynecological sexual assault
Angels and ministers of grace defend us…
–Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 4, William Shakespeare
“Vincent, will you take us down deep?”
There Catherine stood in the front hallway of Peter’s home, holding their baby against her wrinkled and sweat-stained blouse, prepared to give up everything to her fears.
Vincent felt her panic during her afternoon with the F.B.I. agents, then the dread that transformed into anger. He couldn’t reach her in any way that mattered, just willing his love to strengthen. And later, as the sun slanted towards evening, all emotion stopped. Nothing. Not unconsciousness, not the breaking of their bond—thanks be to all that was holy—not even hiding her feelings from him. Only … numbness.
The intolerable and inexplicable absence of emotion led him into Peter’s exposed front hallway to await her. He had to see her as soon as she returned. He had to understand.
Jamie and Joe flanked Catherine as she stepped inside, her stare a thousand miles distant. She’d taken off her jacket as soon as the door closed, dropping it on the front chair and discarding her shoes there too. Without each she appeared tiny and as fragile as a frosted pond.
“Some agents tried to follow us into the courthouse,” Jamie informed Vincent then, sentry to her captain of defense. “We had to use a few of my decoys.”
That morning at home in the Tunnels, Jamie—loyal solider that she was—nearly begged Vincent to let her escort Catherine back. He’d relented, thinking to make Jamie a part of his plans, not realizing he was only an insignificant part of hers.
“They still almost nailed us, Vincent. But Amos was ready and got us down super quick.”
It could only be hoped that Amos’ old entrance in the court building would remain a secret, but that was a problem for others.
His problem was Catherine.
She took the baby from his arms with nothing but a look of defeat. Her earlier anger no longer sustained her. He above all understood its fleeting power.
Yet, her question still took him by surprise, even if it shouldn’t have.
“Cathy—” Joe began to protest as soon as the words left her lips, but she was not deterred.
“I mean it, Vincent. Would you hide us deep Below?”
His hand reached for their child, who grabbed it with the tenacity of instinct. “No,” he said, his answer innate, reflexive. “Only if…” The baby’s fingers slipped off and reached out to seize his again. “Only if there is no other way.”
Vincent felt Joe ease beside them.
“I cannot curse you to the dark,” he said, still focused on the child’s reaching from her arms. “It’s no place for you. It’s no place for Jacob,” he reasoned, an apologia that felt both honest and evasive together.
Catherine nodded at the reply she seemed to expect.
Her elegant, trembling hand unwrapped the tiny fingers from his. Then she fled upstairs before he could think what to say next and ahead of Joe’s recounting of the day.
Joe filled in the events that spawned the feelings of the afternoon—outrage and horror over the gruesome photographs, the agents’ repeated interrogation, Catherine’s outburst at the end, and finally, their flight to the courthouse.
“It was ten times worse today. Dunn…” Joe dropped his brief case as he struggled to explain. “Vincent, those sons of bitches paraded pictures of corpses right in front of her—no warning. They’re trying to corner her, force her to cooperate. If she doesn’t play ball, I wouldn’t put it past them to charge her, at least with obstruction.”
Joe enumerated the consequences of Catherine’s resistance to the investigation. He couldn’t imagine they would press for jail, but she’d certainly lose her license. But if Catherine was contemplating hiding deep Below, there were far worse things she feared than the inability to practice law.
Vincent finally made it to their bedroom after escaping the lengthy concerns of friends to find a fed and sleeping child, Catherine in the shower, and a room frenzied and overtaken.
Her clothes lay abandoned on the bedroom floor. Cards from the children Below strewn like leaves across the bed. And there was an odor there, punctuated by the ones she’d brought back from the F.B.I., that needed aired away. He wondered if anyone else downstairs noticed—the bitter, acrid scent that had nothing to do with the fear-sweat that drenched her blouse.
Vincent edged to the bank of windows situated on the far side of the room. He eased one open while staying out of any sight lines. The city sounded too close—cars and trucks rushing past, people walking and talking beneath—but it was worth it.
He started gathering the cards from the children into a pile. Most included variations of “We’ll miss you and baby Jacob,” but the topmost, from Eric, read, “Come home soon. It isn’t safe up there.” Since Ellie’s death, Father had made it a point to watch over the boy. Clearly, Father’s beliefs had rubbed off on the child.
Vincent placed the stack of notes on the side table, then began gathering the discarded clothes while dwelling on Catherine’s seesaw of emotions. They made little sense—horror and rage, then nothing, and now, still nothing.
Vincent rose from the bedroom floor to see a humid mist wafting out of the bathroom like smoke.
That’s when he realized.
He hadn’t recognized the scent when she stood before him in the hall, the smell obscured by a few others, just as he didn’t when he’d encountered it Below. He should have then. It would have saved them all so much pain. At the time, Father had rushed to console him, reminding Vincent of how sick he’d been, of the reporter’s pursuit, of the darkness and violence that surrounded them for far too long.
It wasn’t until holding Catherine’s blouse that reeked of smoke and something worse—something that suggested half-remembered images of sloughing skin and jutting bones—that he recognized the incomprehensible scents of John Pater and the captor whose blood he’d washed from her hands. That’s when he understood.
Catherine’s mother spoke of the soft places, her presence in his dreams proof of conjoining worlds. But how was it possible those included an F.B.I. office in a skyscraper in Manhattan? Yet they did. Of course, they did.
Catherine was surrounded by ice, covered and enclosed. Numb. She had to be. No emotions pierced the shell, because to broach any was to feel all. It was the only way to survive the agents’ questions and what was—impossibly—haunting her.
But ice thinned. Pressing against, it would crack, the deeper waters would rush over. The last time, William nearly died.
Her blouse fell from his grasp as he rushed to her. In a few large strides he’d ripped the shower curtain back.
There he found her, almost hidden by the humid spray, curled, her arms around her knees—naked, but with nothing sexual in her nakedness—only a target making herself smaller.
The water must have been a millimeter’s turn from scalding. Judging by her shivering, she didn’t notice.
She looked up into his eyes, beseeching.
No questions, Vincent.
Heart hammering and with no more idea on how to proceed than the dozens of times Below he’d found her in this place—although never this bad, never this far—he pushed the curtain back. He stood there for moments, empty and shocked, until rationality interjected. He would get nothing while looming over her.
Her fear was fueling his and his was amplifying hers, a rampant and rapacious feedback loop, and one he would have to break to reach her.
There was only enough space in the small bathroom to uncomfortably squeeze down next to the tub. Steam wafted around them, ghost-like and heavy. He said nothing, trying to endure the pain and fear flowing from her without adding to it, because this was love.
This is the vow you swore, to love no matter the pain, no matter the cost.
She chose you, and this is the price of being chosen.
When he was young, he believed love was everything, beautiful and boundless, but years—years with her—taught him the complexity of that beauty, of its terrors and miracles.
If he would not take her down deep, she would get there herself once the world forced her. And she could manage it all without moving an inch.
A flashing memory of a dream—a Catherine from another world, a history without him—weakened, passive, unwanted.
This would not, could not, be her fate.
He could do something.
The curtain would be a screen. She did not have to see him, only open herself to his presence.
Open to me. Let the fear and grief flow out. You’ve done it before. I was naïve to think that would be the only time.
“I’m here to listen to what you will tell me, Catherine,” was what he said, because this was love—to wait for and receive the words you know will change you.
“There’s someone killing everyone involved with Gabriel.”
“Yes,” Vincent sighed. “Joe told me of the photographs.”
“I think…” She hesitated, as if she didn’t want to say the next part. “I think the killer is going to come after me.”
“Why do you think that?” he asked, despite recognizing the brutal, likely truth in her statement.
He couldn’t deny the fear.
Persecution by the authorities was one thing. Someone trying to hunt her, quite another. Perhaps she was right and they should retreat to the deep of Below, the F.B.I. and their case against the former district attorney be damned.
“I don’t know,” she answered with hardly an inflection. “I have no certainties anymore.”
The water remained the only sound between them for long minutes before she continued.
“The doctor’s dead. The one they sent to examine me.”
A doctor in name only. Collaborator. Traitor to your oaths.
Good, the monster inside him exalted.
“I saw him almost every day I was there. He begged me to tell them where the book was, but I didn’t.”
Because you are strong. Because your loyalty is the core of you.
“I saw a picture of his body today. He died running away. Someone… someone who killed the cop who—“ She stopped, deliberately truncating the tale, “—and someone who killed the guards from Gabriel’s building, killed the doctor.”
A person with inside knowledge of her captors’ organization was murdering those involved. Someone who might know of Catherine.
“I hated him,” she continued, “—the doctor. I pitied him, too. He didn’t want to be there either. That was easy to see… But I hated him.”
Then she said something Vincent wasn’t expecting.
“I didn’t fight.”
Didn’t fight? When?
Catherine always fought.
He didn’t believe it, couldn’t believe, and perhaps she felt his skepticism.
“I stopped fighting, when I was there,” she explained.
“I tried to fight, to get away, at first, but they kept injecting me.” She interrupted, her admission once started would not abide reassurance it seemed. “Sedatives—mid … midazolam, I think, sco … polamine, I remember them saying. I don’t know what they are, but the doctor didn’t want to give them to me. He said they could… they’d hurt …”
Guilt, hot and jagged, stabbed through them both, first piercing her, then Vincent through the bond. He recognized the guilty ache, a part of the deep pain he perceived when he first brought her home.
“I begged the doctor to stop, but he kept injecting me on Gabriel’s orders.”
She was in hell, and you didn’t save her, her protector’s voice inside him accused.
“I kicked. I ran, but they caught me, and every time they injected me with more. To keep me quiet, to get me talking, to shut me up—I didn’t know. Early on, I kept trying to get away, but I realized…”
She breathed before she went on.
“…the drugs were killing the baby. Because of me, they were killing him.”
The ice was cracking, the sadness rushing in now.
“Catherine—” he tried to reassure, to stop her from the self-blame.
“It was the first time I felt him, Vincent.” She kept going, but so much quieter now. “It was exactly like when you were in danger. I could feel him.”
If he were any other man, he might not have heard her above the pounding water. He almost wished he didn’t.
“He was screaming, Vincent,” she whispered. “Our baby screamed while he was inside me…” Vincent fought the impulse to gather her up, to make her forget the past, despite his earlier hope for her to share the hurt.
“He wanted to live, Vincent. Jacob wanted to live. Save me, he said.”
“I couldn’t keep him safe, and his fear… battered me. Save me, save me, savemesavemesaveme…”
He saw her shake her head through the opaque curtain.
“After that, I stopped resisting. I didn’t talk, but I didn’t run… and thankfully…” She sighed “…it was around that time they saw you. Gabriel wanted the baby after that. They stopped asking about the book and mostly stopped injecting me, thanks to you.”
But you didn’t save them, his monster accused. She’s placating you. You failed. You didn’t save her.
He felt her waver in her retelling, the uncertainty of whether she should keep going almost taking over, but, finally, she continued.
“The only time after that I fought them, I think it just burst right through me. I told you before that they ran a million tests on me. One day, the doctor was checking me… checking for… I don’t know, something, and he put his fingers…”
She had to think of how to explain.
“…where I didn’t want him to.”
Vincent welcomed the fury he perceived from her, the disgust, the revolt—truly a rage to rival his own.
He needed to see her, to see the proof that the emotions, or lack of them, couldn’t swallow her up.
He inched the curtain open. She stared forward, unaware or uncaring of his intrusion.
“I kicked him, Vincent, hard. I think I almost broke his jaw. They weren’t expecting it. In the confusion, I nearly got away…”
She chuffed a tiny, bitter laugh.
“…for about twenty seconds. They always had a needle close by.”
Her acceptance of their cruelty broke a heart he didn’t think could shatter any more.
“I woke up, naked, lying on the bed in my room.” The distance flatness returned to her recounting. “They could have done anything.”
She glanced over when either his feelings or his face betrayed his shock. She shook her head against his alarm.
“I don’t think they did, Vincent,” she hurried to say, as if he was the one who needed comfort.
She turned back to the water spray, before she added, “But they marked a red ‘X’ on my leg. The one I kicked the doctor with.”
An X? On her leg?
Confusion. She must have sensed it.
“I think they were saying whatever I fought with I was going to lose. I didn’t need legs to be an incubator.”
“I mean, I can’t be certain that’s what Gabriel meant … they meant.”
She curled her wet hair behind her ear.
“They never answered my questions,” then in a low register, an aside, “not that I would have asked that anyway.”
It took more time and quiet for her to go on, almost as if she didn’t want to burden him more, but she needed to tell someone.
“Not knowing, though… Would they take my legs if I tried to run? Would they take my arms if I tried to fight them off? Would they do it in my sleep? Wondering what they planned—that was part of Gabriel’s torture.”
Dear God, why did you let that touch her?
“That’s when I stopped fighting.”
Violence had been his shame, yet he wasn’t sorry those men were dead. He only wished he could have spared her the aftermath.
“But I was starting to get desperate again by the end. I was going to try to escape. I knew I was getting close to having the baby. They still needed me until he was born. They couldn’t kill me yet.”
Gabriel said as much to her when they confronted him.[i] The words had haunted Vincent’s dreams ever since.
“I thought maybe if I got some help, maybe a guard or the nurse, but…” She shook her head, the defeat and disappointment clear even in what she didn’t say.
“And then you found me… just in time.”
So why does it feel too late?
She turned away, curling around her legs again.
“I thought we’d traveled through the storm, Vincent—ridden it out—but we’d only hit the eye.”
Was it true?
They’d been through so much, her most of all. To have to survive more, unknown and uncharted dangers, seemed impossibly unfair. But the other half, the warrior, knew what the eye meant—the small time to ready for what was to come.
“’Though they go mad they shall be sane,’” he recited, easing the curtain back further.
She turned to him.
“’Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again,’”
The ice was cracking, the water rushing in. She would sink, but she would rise.
“’Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break,’” he continued—a prayer, a desperate hope.
Your spirit isn’t broken, Catherine. You can heal from this. You are strong.
“I can’t live with this, Vincent. Can you?” The curtain gone, her eyes searched, wide with fear.
“You don’t have to do it alone.” He was crying with all the tears she would not shed. “My heart is here, with you, always, Catherine. Remember?”
“I thought they’d stop after we got away, after the baby. They should have stopped, but I can’t get away from them.”
Those in the building, those who tortured her, those who would have destroyed her, yes, but more than that. The stink clinging to her clothes confirmed it.
The panic reaching her eyes again, “No!”
“You’ve told me what you feared before.”
She shook her head vigorously. “You’ll blame yourself. You can’t blame yourself, Vincent.”
She didn’t trust him.
“I only survived that place because of you. And it’s my fault…” and after a moment’s hesitation, “…and our fault. It’s us together, I think. We are something that has never been—” a gasp cutting short the last word.
Yes, tell me.
“You have to understand, Vincent—”
“I will, Catherine.”
“I—I need you.”
“I promised… I promise, I will be with you,” he assured her, in full realization of his marriage vow—to bear together whatever trouble and sorrow life may lay upon us—in this strange place between their two worlds. “Accept my promise.”
I won’t leave.
She took a moment. She breathed.
When he sensed her acceptance, words flowed from him as if waiting for their escape.
“Why do your clothes smell of Paracelsus?”
She couldn’t stop the flinch, the response to the blow, but she gathered herself and spoke.
“He was there, today, in the room, with the agents. So was Gabriel.”
Her eyes stayed far away, as if afraid of seeing his reaction.
“I still see them, all of them, Vincent. Not just my mother, not just the… the other one that looks like you.”
Oh, Catherine, why must this be your burden?
“In the tower, they came to me when… when no one else could—Kristopher, and Winslow, my mother, my father, Ellie…”
Water echoed in a world both opening to possibility and collapsing under the weight of the infeasible.
“Those teens who killed those women in the Park, the stalker who tried to drown me…”
Hot vapor swirled around them as truth took form. The last weeks, the sudden shifts in mood that couldn’t be explained away, the sense that she strained against some invisible force—
“I know how it sounds. I didn’t tell you… I didn’t tell anyone. I know it sounds…” She didn’t say the word, her fear of the verdict too great.
“They haven’t stopped. They’re still coming. Paracelsus told me today… told me to ‘wake up’.” She almost laughed at the absurdity, but soon was teetering stoicism again. “He said he should have seen what you were capable of.”
Capable of what? Bringing his death? Of defending our home?
“And Gabriel… Gabriel said he’d sent his ‘wrath’.”
She grabbed her legs again.
“He said, if he can’t have the child, ‘no one will.’” She whispered into the water, “I want them to stop…”
She is a bridge to the dead. Narcissa had warned him[ii].
It was impossible, but that didn’t mean he didn’t believe. He believed in the incredible. He believed in magic. How could he not? He was the meeting of worlds both magical and mundane. He’d experienced divination and prophetic dreams, seen the power of Narcissa’s crystals and shells, trusted in Father’s logic and books. He’d experienced a supernatural bond, but this…
This was the power of the Abyss.
This was swirling madness and falling forever…
… and a spell of shared insanity. He recognized the scent that had no business being there. He’d seen the wondrous.
“You see them… always?” His voice wavered with the question. He wished it didn’t sound pathetic.
She thought for a moment. “No. Not always.” She looked up. “Not when you’re near.”
“Then I will always be near,” he replied, unthinking, his intention overriding wisdom.
At the words she offered him eyes filled with love, but also skepticism—as if to say, I believe your heart, your intention, but we are so far from future promises now.
He was going to present a further defense when they were interrupted by the baby’s panicked cry.
She was up and stumbling past him before he could catch her. Her knee hit the tile floor with an appalling thud as she slipped up and over the side of the tub.
The pain didn’t even register.
She rushed still wet and dripping to the child’s cot. She took a quick assessment of the room and the baby before she did anything.
“Jacob?” she questioned above his howling.
No immediate dangers became clear as she searched the room again while snatching the baby from the basket. Then she rocked him in her wet arms.
“Shhhh, it’s alright, little one.”
Vincent grabbed a towel while running out of the bathroom and placed it around her shoulders.
She dropped to the floor in the middle of the bedroom and offered the baby her breast, but Jacob kept crying, not understanding what she was trying to give him.
“It’s alright, Jacob,” she said as Vincent dried her. “Shhhh, baby. I’m sorry.”
And as a dam broken, she couldn’t stop.
“I’m sorry, Jacob. I’m so sorry.”
Sorry for what? Vincent wasn’t completely certain.
Sorry for the danger.
Sorry for taking Jacob from the children and grandfather who adored him.
Sorry for fighting.
Sorry for not fighting enough.
Sorry for the fear he felt.
Sorry for not knowing how to heal.
Everything she’d done since she’d returned was for the child in her arms—to keep him safe, to make a home, to create a family out of the ashes of her old life. The baby could never understand her regret—that she couldn’t get away from her captors, that her work put him in danger. It wasn’t her fault. Of course, it wasn’t. There were men, living and dead, who should pay with their souls for the things they’d done to her. They were responsible, and maybe her mind knew that, but her heart felt the guilt from her imprisonment and the new threats to their baby just the same.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I’m so sorry, little one.”
“Oh, Catherine…” But Vincent could say nothing else. There was no magic, no logic, no words that would lift this haunting.
He crouched and embraced her, encompassing her and their son together, trying to offer all the reassurance and sense of safety he didn’t feel.
The child continued to cry. The baby cried for her, just as his father did.
He held her and they swayed, attempting to soothe the baby together.
It was everything he could offer.
He feared it would never be enough.
With love all things are possible…
No, not always, even together, but they would face this.
Because this was love.
“True love is like ghosts, which everybody talks about and few have seen.”
― François de La Rochefoucauld
[i] Union, Chapter 5
[ii] Home, Chapter 1