The violent family of outsiders was no longer a concern to the tunnels. Vincent, as always, had dispelled the threat to his family…and to Catherine. They thought the danger was past after Vincent had obliterated the vicious predators who threatened his loved ones, but he and Catherine were surprised when the child who had been with the outsiders appeared holding the gun Catherine had lost in the scuffle with her attackers. The young boy, who was obviously frightened, shot Vincent in the shoulder before dropping the weapon and darting off into the tunnels again.
Having convinced herself that Vincent’s wound wasn’t immediately life-threatening, Catherine scooped up the gun before it could cause any more damage, returned it to her purse, sent an SOS on the pipes and helped Vincent toward the medical attention he needed. Her message brought two men from the home tunnels, and they helped Vincent the rest of the way. Finally arriving at the hospital chamber, they found Father and Mary waiting.
His concern was obvious, but Father’s only words to Vincent were, "Lie down." He’d almost called Catherine back earlier and withdrawn his request for the gun, and he had a bad feeling about Vincent’s wound. Turning to her as he gathered his medical instruments, he asked quietly, afraid to hear the answer, "The weapon we discussed?"
She simply nodded sadly and went to a small sitting area to wait for news.
Father hurt for Vincent, knowing how his son suffered after having to kill…even though it was to protect those he loved. He wondered exactly what had happened, but he couldn’t bring himself to ask anything else. There would be time for that later…if Vincent would talk about it at all. Torn with guilt at his part in the shooting, Father worked with Mary in silence. She had assisted him in surgery so often that there was hardly a need for words.
After the bullet was removed and the wound closed, Father let Catherine know that Vincent should be fine before long; and she sat with him until he was awake. Since Mary had stepped out for a few minutes, Catherine had no help in convincing him to wait for Father to return. Even just out of anesthesia, Vincent easily outmatched her, and he intended to go back to his chamber; so she helped. On the way, though, she managed to coerce him into Father’s chamber instead, where Father checked the wound and immobilized his arm. Knowing they would need a few minutes, Catherine went to Vincent’s chamber and found him a clean shirt. She left it for Father and waited in the common room until he called her.
Father could think of nothing helpful to say. Having seen his son in this state before, he knew Vincent would spend days in self-recrimination… isolating himself from everyone. It hurt that he wouldn’t be able to alleviate either the physical or emotional pain his adopted child was feeling right then…that he could only wait it out and be there when or if he was needed.
He nodded to Catherine to indicate that he had finished, and without a word, he turned to leave them, stopping to touch Vincent’s shoulder sympathetically on his way out. He seemed to know that he was leaving his son with the only person who might be able to reach him.
"Talk to me Vincent."
Vincent looked to one side, away from Catherine, unwilling to meet her eyes.
"Nothing to say."
"What you did was necessary."
There was no answer. Vincent simply turned his head and looked in the opposite direction.
"Let me share your pain."
Vincent finally looked at her…in surprise?...disgust?...anger?....resignation? She couldn’t tell.
"How can you even look at me?"
"Because I know you. I know who you are."
He looked away again, looking down this time.
"You don’t know me."
"Vincent, there are dark places in all of us."
"A part of me feeds in that darkness…and I am lost in it." There was a slight pause, and he looked aside, still avoiding Catherine’s eyes. "Leave me now." When she didn’t leave, Vincent looked up. "Please."
Catherine saw the pleading look in his eyes and resigned herself to follow his wishes.
"I love you," she stated, allowing him no doubt that she meant it, and she turned and left the chamber, as he had asked.
She entered the passage outside the doorway and aimed her steps toward home, but the farther she walked, the more she needed to go back. He needed to share this awful self- reproach with someone, and it ought to be with her. She stopped, uncertain for a few seconds, weighing his request against what she thought he needed…what she knew they needed. She had never refused his appeals before, but this time was going to be different.
When she re-entered the chamber, Vincent was still sitting where she had left him, obviously tormented by what he had done.
"Catherine, please go," Vincent begged.
"Why?" She asked matter-of-factly.
"Because I need to be alone," he answered, sounding agitated. "Because I can’t bear to have you look at me after I’ve done something so…so…."
"Protective of those you love?" she challenged.
"We both know it was far beyond protective," he answered, desolately. "Please…leave me."
"Catherine.…" He spoke more strongly, almost harshly, but still with a sound of pleading in his voice.
"No," she answered angrily. "What do you intend to do? Go off to that river, or wherever it is that you go to run away from me…and disappear for days and days?"
"I can’t talk about this right now," he answered. He instinctively started to lean forward and rest his elbows on his knees but stopped, pain reminding him of the bullet wound to his shoulder. He stoically clenched his teeth and leaned back, trying unsuccessfully to hide his pain from Catherine; then he dropped his head, his face again hidden in the mass of golden hair that fell forward around it.
Catherine knelt next to him and rested one hand on his knee, looking up to make him see her. "You don’t have to talk if you don’t want to, but please don’t run away from me again…not even in your mind. And don’t send me away. Do you realize how many times you’ve come to me when I needed your strength…your light? You’re always there to listen to my joys, my sorrows, my worries, my triumphs…doubts, darknesses, failures, ramblings…. Always. Those times are important…a part of your love for me. Do you know how inadequate I feel that I can’t do that for you more often? When your thoughts are too dark or your problems are too heavy, you run away from my arms, not into them. I want us to build a life together, and I think you want that, too. Do you intend to shut me out like this forever? It won’t work. I won’t leave you this time. You’re going to have to stay and tolerate being loved…even if you don’t love yourself right now.
Vincent finally looked directly at Catherine. "How can you feel the darkness take me the way it did…know the feelings that exist there…and not be afraid to come near me?"
"You knew I felt it this time?"
"Yes." He looked away from her again.
"I’m not afraid because none of it has ever been directed toward me...because it’s a part of you.
"I’m sorry, Catherine," he answered, covering her hand with his. He wasn’t looking directly at her, but he was speaking to her directly from his heart. "I never wanted to draw you into this darkness. It shames me for you to know those feelings...to know that they exist in me…for you to have to witness such…abominations."
"And it shames me that I haven’t been able to convince you that you can trust me with those feelings…trust me with your dark places."
Vincent’s eyes met hers with a look of surprise. That reaction from Catherine was clearly one that had never entered his mind.
Catherine moved her other hand to cover his, sandwiching it between hers. "I don’t love you any less for it. Vincent, those things I witnessed are the only reason I’m alive to be here with you now. And there was darkness in me, too. Do you think that I didn’t want to hurt those men who were trying to kill you? When one of them was about to attack me, I shot at his legs. If I’d still had the gun when I saw them attacking you.…." She stopped for a moment, feeling her own self-reproach. "I wanted to empty it into them to be sure you were safe. When you threw your head back and roared your victory…and pain, I understood." She paused once more and took a deep breath before plunging into words again. "For a moment…when that child shot you…just for a split second, I thought I might hurt him. My God, Vincent, there was actually a fleeting moment when I thought of hurting a child…a frightened, challenged child...because he was a threat to you. If that isn’t darkness…." Now it was Catherine who turned away briefly. "That I even had the briefest thought.…" She looked at him again, the pain showing in her eyes. "It frightens me."
"But you didn’t act on it. You know you would never hurt a child."
"And no matter what the threat to both of us, you never considered hurting him, either, did you? I doubt that you even harbored the thought."
"If the tables were turned, do you think those men…those monsters…would have hesitated to hurt him to save themselves? They were the monsters, Vincent. None of them had any qualms about killing or causing pain…none of them had a conscience. They enjoyed the damage they did…the fear they caused. You’re not like them."
She thought Vincent seemed to want to believe what she was saying, but he didn’t appear entirely able to accept it.
"I’m not sorry that I had a glimpse of what you feel when you lose control…what you suffer afterward. If you never let me know the despair of the darkness, how can I help you celebrate the joy of the light?"
"You are my light, Catherine."
"And you are mine. Love has to work both ways, Vincent. You give love and understanding when it’s needed…and you accept it when you need it." She paused for a moment to consider the rest of her argument. "Does it do you good to offer me comfort and support?" she asked, looking up at him
"It has been one of my greatest joys."
"Then allow me the joy of knowing I can do that for you – even in your darkest times. Please don’t keep denying me that."
"How can you see me do these things repeatedly…and still speak to me with such love?"
"Because I’m complicit in all of it, and I still see myself as a good woman…with some heavy secrets…and a lot of guilt."
"I am. The first time you killed to protect me I was horrified, but in less than a minute I had made a conscious decision to ignore it. I may not have understood then that the reason was love, but somehow I did know that you were important enough to me to risk anything to keep you safe. When I took your hand and left with you, I had made a decision to place you above the laws of my world – to place us above the laws of my world. But you never asked me for that, Vincent. It was my own decision, made of my own volition. I had a choice. You don’t need to feel guilty that I made it. So, if there’s anybody at all you should be able to talk to about this, it’s me. I’m the one who was there…the one who can come closest to understanding."
"I don’t deserve you."
"You probably deserve better." She ventured a little smile. "I don’t know that I’m such a prize, but you’ve got me anyway. The question is…what do you intend to do with me now that you have me? Will you let me in?"
"It isn’t one of my finely honed habits," he answered doubtfully.
She was relieved to hear a small hint of acceptance in his rather rueful answer, but she still raised her eyebrows with a look that clearly questioned his intent and brooked no argument from him.
"I can try," he offered.
"That’s all I ask." She smiled encouragingly. "Practice should make it easier."
Vincent took a deep, resigned breath, stood, took her hand and helped her to her feet. He pulled her close in a one-armed embrace, the best he could do with the other arm strapped across his chest.
"No. You should lie down," Catherine protested when he led her to a sofa in the corner of the common room and sat down. "As much as I’d like sitting close to you, I know you need rest."
"Having you close will be…a comfort," he answered pointedly, cautiously moving his free arm across the back of the sofa in invitation.
She smiled softly at his effort to concede to her wishes and moved carefully to sit beside him, leaning against his side and resting her head on the offered shoulder.
"Doesn’t it hurt to do this?" she asked.
"No," he answered untruthfully, slipping his uninjured arm around her shoulders and nuzzling his face into her hair.
She knew he must be feeling the pain of turning his head and stretching the muscles near the wound. She also knew he wasn’t likely to admit it.
Catherine snuggled against him, one hand stroking his arm now and then. He still didn’t talk, but he was allowing her to be part of his recovery. It was a big step for both of them. For once she didn’t feel left outside. She knew Vincent would need more than time close to her to recover from the events of the last couple of days, but at least he was willing to let her in…to let her be a part of the process. They sat still and quiet for a while, mutually communicating sympathy, comfort, understanding and love.
Knowing Vincent needed sleep, Catherine finally convinced him to rest his head on a pillow in her lap and prop his legs on the arm of the sofa. She stroked his hand and his hair until she realized that Vincent’s chest was rising and falling in the regular breathing of sleep, and then she allowed herself to relax into the same state.
When Father returned later to check on Vincent, he found both Catherine and his son asleep - Vincent’s head was in Catherine’s lap, their joined hands rested on his chest, and Catherine’s head drooped to one side against the back of the sofa. They both looked at peace, at least in sleep.
Before getting ready for some much needed sleep, Father stood for a moment simply to look at the picture before him, finally having fully accepted that he had been wrong about Catherine. Vincent was blessed to have found such love.