Union Chapter 13
“Love is the greatest of dreams, yet the worst of nightmares.”
Soon after Vincent stormed away, Catherine left the group too. She couldn’t be with the stunned elders any longer. She wanted no pity. Her baby was all that kept her alive for six months, fatal possibilities or no. She wanted no reassurance; they couldn’t see the future any more than she, and she had no reassurance to give them. With the fewest words they would allow without needing to follow her, she fled them to make her way back to Vincent’s chamber, alone.
Almost immediately she encountered Olivia, Kanin, and Luke walking ahead of her, glowing with their reunited happiness. How did they return to each other so quickly, easily, after his imprisonment? Olivia had forgiven Catherine her part in their separation, if Olivia’s kind words and promised gifts were any indication, so they must be content. The logic brought harsh and unfair envy to the place behind Catherine’s eyes. She knew it was unjust, the couple before her had experienced their own share of heartache, but she couldn’t block it.
She might have stopped and let them go, but they were slow, swinging Luke between them, and Catherine could not slow. The frenzied anxiety coursing through her would not allow it. She couldn’t speak to them, nor listen to any well wishes, not without Vincent with her.
In Olivia and Kanin’s blissful game, Catherine heard the unconscious mocking of all the fits and starts, wishes and anguish she and Vincent endured, and called it “Love.” It was love between them, she knew as she knew the feel of her skin under her hand, the earth under her feet—something unquestioned—but misery and worry had stolen the type of quiet comfort and delight she saw between this husband and wife, leaving her and Vincent only the aching bindings. This familial joy seemed so far from anything they might ever grasp. “Love” was simply too universal a word to encompass all of it, it was hummingbirds to ravens.
Catherine tried to slip past the little family, but she wasn’t easily slipping past anyone currently—her only defense to completely ignore them and hurry as fast as her over-taxed legs could carry her to Vincent’s chamber.
Out of breath on her arrival, she was confronted by his dark and empty room.
I want you here! Why aren’t you here!
She wanted to scream, but feared what an outburst would bring if she allowed herself the freedom. Catherine tried desperately to slow her breathing, to ease her frantic heart. She took the long-burning candle from the front of the chamber and began lighting the room. It took less than a minute, and then … there was nothing to do. She was too unsettled to read, filled with disquiet, and it wasn’t just her own. Vincent and she were feeding off one other; the agitation couldn’t leave them.
She started picking up objects, exploring the room they now shared. Of course, everything within the chamber was his, with just a few practical items given over to her use, therefore it was really only his chamber still.
She picked up and examined him, his things, his treasures. He had so many, even after the rampages during his illness: a tiny elephant, a scrimshaw, monuments in miniature—so many little mementos. How did she not know all their stories? Had they spent so little time together? He was the other half of her, yet still a mystery.
She explored the room following a clockwise path, trailing her fingers across a statue’s cast gown, reading the names of the records in his small vintage jukebox, opening boxes and trunks, anything to try to find him in objects if she couldn’t in flesh. She discovered the wind-up carousel, the beautiful, heart-breaking impetus of Devin’s disappearance, in a scraped and dented trunk in the corner. She listened to its soft and fragile music and wondered if all Vincent’s things were paid for with bittersweet memories.
When she finally started to feel tired—calm was too much to wish for—she sat down on the bed, but sleep wouldn’t come until she knew. She felt almost guilty, invading his privacy, but she craved reassurance, any she could get. With her new-found ability she touched the Bond, followed the pull of connection within her heart, and found him almost immediately. He wasn’t a great distance off. He would stay close enough if she absolutely needed him, she felt that, but also sensed that he still wished to be alone. He was disturbed, angry, and a word came to her through their shared awareness: culpable. Above all, he did not wish to see anyone now, even her.
The furious envy from behind her eyes returned, and suffused all her changed blood, spread to all thought, and she hoped he got a good dose of it. He could escape everyone’s attentions, everyone’s eyes, and she could not; not accustomed with the myriad paths in the Tunnels, she would have felt uncomfortable, unsafe, trying to escape on her own. The privacy of his chamber, what little privacy it afforded, was all she could hope for.
They had been tossed upon waves of union and separation, this day more than any other. Their second lovemaking at the warm spring had been everything she had ever wanted, and made her crave him all the more. He had surrounded her and she had encompassed him. They had flown so high, bound so tight, so strong, a rope plaited in a thousand strands, one being. They had been accepted by the community and, for the briefest time, they were together, they had future days, but the rope had already begun to fray, even then. Second thoughts stole her rage at him, uncertainty taking its place. He wasn’t the only one culpable. She had started the cutting. Wasn’t it her insistence they break off of their connection because of fear for him? And now, because of his demons, his fears for her, he wouldn’t come near.
She was wrung out in both spirit and body, and she was beginning to feel sorry for herself. She hated feeling sorry for herself. They would have to find some way to fix it, but tomorrow.
Before Catherine had left Father’s chamber, Mary had warned her labor could begin at any hour and she needed rest. It was time to take the midwife’s advice. She took out a large nightgown from their now shared wardrobe. “So much for size 6,” she told only the candles and the room, and then got ready for bed.
It must have been late when she woke. The clink and clank of the pipes were nearly silent, and the pillar next to her had burnt low. She was uncomfortable, but then, this far into her pregnancy, she was never really comfortable. A heaviness had taken up residence at the bottom of her belly, her hip ached, and she probably needed to go to the bathroom … again. She slowly, carefully, turned from the wall and looked into the now-darkened room.
Opposite her, high above and perched on a rock, she saw him.
“Hello, Catherine,” he called.
“Vincent?” But her heart faltered, and she knew it wasn’t him. She strained to sit up against the pillows of the large bed and placed a protective hand on her belly.
He jumped down easily from the great height and strolled towards her. She was certain now, this wasn’t Vincent. Vincent didn’t move this way, so casually self-assured.
She hadn’t seen this one in a long time.
Please, not here. Why couldn’t he have stayed in the tower along with the other monsters?
“Did you miss me, Catherine? Did you feel me in the water? I was there. I’m always with him, and now, I am always with you,” his voice soft, belying his true intentions.
She had clashed with him in the tower, the first and worst of all of her shadows. She had glimpsed him at times before that, in the warehouse, after the drugs—Vincent … but not Vincent. She had wondered if it was the injections that created him. He mocked her in every way. She wanted Vincent to be near, but this one came instead.
There were other ghosts who haunted her during her captivity—her most basic certainties stolen along with her freedom, and replaced with a grey world of the dead and demons. Her stalker was one of them, the one who came so close to delivering her watery death. He would settle next to her bed, just underneath the camera, crouched down, crooked-necked and bloody, gashed from where Vincent must have struck him dead. He could be there, silent, his head barely attached to his body, just staring at her for hours until her mother’s desperate pleading to look away finally reached her. Paracelsus would come, his evisceration by Vincent’s hand obscenely evident. Her mother couldn’t rescue Catherine then; John Pater’s spirit was too malevolent for even a mother to fight. The old, sour man’s words were cuts, jagged and as unspeakable as his wounds. Kristopher visited too. “Everything’s going to be okay, Cathy,” he would try to reassure her, but if she knew anything about Kristopher, he was a liar. Even Ellie came, mute and unreadable—to cause or ease suffering, Catherine could not tell, but none of the others compared to the one before her. Her fears and weakness lay without protection in front of his biting gaze. He had all the advantage.
The first time he spoke wasn’t long after the Man had begun asking her questions, insisting she tell him about Vincent. Her mind started slipping that day, and Vincent’s vicious opposite was her first concrete proof.
“No!” Catherine half-screamed at him.
He disregarded her.
“Please, go…” She pleaded, ending in a whisper.
“But I can’t, you know that! I’m in you.” The vision slinked up to her. She could smell sweat and blood all over him, bitter and copper tanged.
“Did it thrill you, Catherine,” he whispered to her, crouching in front of the bed, “to mix your blood with mine? To know it’s reshaped you.”
She held her belly even tighter.
“You’re changed. I told you, I changed you.” He stood, his hand sweeping the space. “Now it’s clear to everyone, everything I already knew,” he said proudly. Pointing to her, he added, “You’ve evolved since you let me inside you. You were a bird, fluttering and helpless, but I have reformed you in my image, and what are you now?” He turned his head, trying to gain new perspective into her.
She shut her eyes tight to him, hoping that he would disappear. It had been her only defense against him.
I was nothing, I was no one, but I am Catherine. She tried to hold on. I am Vincent’s Catherine. I am my child’s mother. She pushed her perception towards the baby inside her, her touchstone. Her son was always content as only a soul with every need met could be, warm and untroubled. He was her ground when Vincent wasn’t there. If she didn’t have her son, she worried that her spirit might simply float away.
“You cannot fight who you are. You cannot hide. It will hobble you, Catherine, just like it did him. It will shatter you. Maybe … it already has.”
She opened her eyes, tears beginning, and he smiled as if he found a bright new toy.
“Maybe that’s why Vincent left you in that room for so long.” He stood up, towering over her shrinking form. “…so long … in the dark…” He punctuated each phrase. He wasn’t leaving. The creature paced about the room as his twin sometimes did.
“He knew you were brittle before, but did he finally figure out … just how broken you really are?”
He stopped and crouched beside her to look her in the eye. “You’re damaged goods,” he proclaimed. “We knew from the moment we found you in the Park. You’ve been good at hiding the scars.” He nodded, almost in respect, shaking his dark mane. “…but they’re still there…”
“No!” she screamed at him.
He shrugged his massive shoulders. “You’re still bleeding, aren’t you?” And lower still, a malevolent whisper, “You’re still drowning, aren’t you?”
Her deeper thoughts agreed with him. You never really stopped, no matter how much you tried, no matter how tough you were. You’re still wounded.
He sat next to her on the bed. It dipped at his weight. “It’s fine to play at love with a splintered mind, but you don’t set up house.” He sounded so convincing.
She tried to stay with the baby, but the creature’s closeness was defeating her. Vincent’s absence and the agitation she felt from her son were overwhelming a fragile spirit. The baby, rather than being content, grew troubled inside her. She was losing. The child was uneasy; the child was frightened.
“Get out,” she whispered, desperately trying to calm the baby within her, and to be calmed by him.
The creature beside her was a hunter, a predator of no conscience. She had nowhere to run. The kill was inevitable.
“Don’t worry,” he mockingly soothed. “You may die giving birth, but your child, my child, will survive. Father and Peter will see to that. Vincent will care for him and, in time, Vincent will find someone else to … love…”
He leered at her. He was good at this: taking her hopes, her convictions, and turning them into weapons.
Anger, hatred, again, even here…
He loomed over her. “He’ll replace you, and keep your memory up on a pedestal somewhere, while really, you’ll just be stuck…” he slunk closer, “…in the dark,” closer, “…with me.”
She was slipping into the raging sea. It drew…
…and as he had promised, the drowning, the shattering…
“Get Out!” She screamed and kicked at him with all her terror and fury.
And then, she awoke.
This time she was alone. The pipes were quiet. It was late into the night, the long-burning pillar was out, and Vincent had not returned, nor would he return that night, she was certain.
If Vincent could see her dreams, he knew who haunted her.