The Risk Worth Taking
By Pat King

  Do you want me to tell you something really subversive?  Love is everything it's cracked up to be.  That's why people are so cynical about it. ... It really is worth fighting for, being brave for, risking everything for.  And the trouble is if you don't risk anything, you risk even more.   
                                                                          ~ Erica  Jong

Vincent slept peacefully, a brief respite in a month of emotional chaos.  Four weeks ago his disquiet began with a reporter's investigation into various unsolved murders, murders with the appearance of attacks by some type of wild animal.  The reporter knew of Catherine's involvement in the cases, an involvement not publicized even in police reports.  The threat of exposure, combined with Catherine's stress, threatened the delicate balance within Vincent's mind, a balance that kept the darkness, the beast within, at bay.

But that wasn't completely true.  The reporter's investigation had triggered this final unbalance, but Vincent's control had been slipping for the past few months, months in which the darkness had been let loose to save Catherine from harm multiple times.  The violence within him was like a genie ... once out of the bottle, it was difficult to get back inside.  Add to this the sexual longing he felt for his lady love, a longing he wouldn't allow expressed in physical intimacy, and the recipe for disaster, or in this case a mental and physical breakdown, was complete.

A week ago he'd taken himself far away from his home, knowing his control was crumbling, and needing to keep those he loved at a safe distance.  Even in his distress, he thought of others.  But, he didn't take into account their love and loyalty to him.  They might accede to his wish to be apart, but they wouldn't let him be alone.

Mouse surreptitiously followed his ailing friend.  That allowed Catherine and Father to find their way to the small, dark cave below the catacombs, where Vincent had retreated to fight his final battle.  The roars echoing from the shadowy entrance gave the watchers pause, all save one. Catherine's heart broke at the sounds, knowing the pain, the agony, that Vincent was feeling, and knowing she must go to him to lead him from his darkness.

Father could not dissuade her.  Vincent was her life, without him there was nothing.  So she put aside her fear of the dark, concentrated on her love for the magnificent being in such torment within, and went forward to bring him back to himself ... and to her.  The only fear she had was for him, never for herself.  She knew, deep within her heart, that Vincent could never hurt her, regardless how powerfully the dark side held him.

The hours in the cave were ones she'd never forget.  The scariest moment was when Vincent's great heart stopped, but she wouldn't accept the loss; and, as with her drowning at the lake, he came back to her.  They brought him back to his chamber where he fell into a deep, healing sleep. But that sleep was disturbed by nightmares, intermingled with periods of tranquillity such as this.

Catherine sat in Vincent's large chair beside the bed.  She gently smoothed a lock of hair away from his forehead, letting her fingers linger on the golden strands.   A poignant smile crossed her face as she looked at him, and her heart sent him her love.  She'd been at his side the entire time, leaving only to answer nature's call, and even those absences resulted in agitation in her truelove.   Catherine knew that Vincent needed her presence to get through whatever trauma he was experiencing in his mind, so she spent the days in this chair, sometimes reading aloud, sometimes just stroking his hand or arm, and at night she curled beside him on his broad bed and held him.

Father could see her love for his son and acknowledged that only this powerful force might bring Vincent out of his illness.  Her commitment was unwavering.  She sat there, day after day, unconcerned about anything except Vincent's well-being.   On that first day, Peter came Below to give a second opinion and returned Above with a note for Joe.  Father questioned Catherine as to its content, knowing the importance of her job.

"I told Joe that someone dear to me was ill, and I needed to be with him.  I asked for an indefinite leave of absence, effective immediately.  If he couldn't swing that, then consider the note a resignation.  If he'd have someone pack my stuff and let Peter know -- it would be picked up."

"But, Catherine, your job ..."

"Is just a job.  Nothing is more important than Vincent's recovery.  I'll be here til he wakes up, and beyond if necessary.  Until I know he's fully recovered, I'm staying ... and perhaps longer, it's up to him.

So she sat and waited.  She helped Father with the injuries Vincent had caused to himself; she brushed, then washed and dried his hair; she even helped bathe the dirt and sweat from his body.   Father taught her how to change the I.V. that provided needed sustenance to his semi-comatose son. Nothing was too difficult or repugnant, and each task was done with love.

A low growl emanated from Vincent, and Catherine knew that the brief period of peaceful sleep was at an end.  She prayed that whatever demons he battled would soon be vanquished so he could return to her.  The growls grew louder and the thrashing began.  She tried to hold his hand, to give him a lifeline to reality, but his strength was greater,   and the large palm slipped from hers.  This struggle seemed more intense, more terrifying than any previous episode, and Catherine worried that Vincent's heart couldn't endure the strain.  Oblivious to any danger, she threw herself atop him and held tightly.  All of the love and strength she possessed, she gave to him, willing him to win the battle safely.

The conflict ended; the large body relaxed.  An exhausted Catherine lay beside him, arms wrapped around his body, and caught her breath.  A tear trickled down Vincent's cheek, unnoticed until its warmth met Catherine's forehead.  Leaning away to look at him, she saw the desolate look of grief on his face.

'Oh, Vincent.  What's happening?  What makes you so sad?  Why won't you come back to me?'  She kissed the tears from his cheeks.

As if in answer to her thoughts, Vincent's blue eyes opened.  Tears welled in Catherine's eyes as she looked at him, seeing fear and confusion reflected back.

"Vincent?"  she said softly.

His eyes grew large.  "Catherine?"  He looked around the chamber, trying to orient himself, then back at her.  "Catherine, is it really you? What's happened?"

"Yes, my love, it's me.  You've been sick, Vincent, but I think  you're going to be okay now."

She began to move away to call Father, but found herself held tightly.

"No," Vincent said in panic, and she relaxed once again against his side.

"I won't leave, Vincent.  I promise."  She laid her head on his chest and heard his heart slow to a more normal beat.

"I've been ill?"

Given the severity of his illness, Catherine wasn't surprised he remembered nothing of the past seven days, and she told him all that had happened, including those hours in the cave.

"You came after me?  Catherine, you could have been killed."

"I had to, Vincent.  You're my life, without you there's nothing ... nothing.  I knew you wouldn't hurt me, but you were killing yourself.  I couldn't let that happen."

His energy faded, and he slipped once again into sleep.  The words he said as he dropped off were faint but discernible, "I love you,  Catherine."

"I love you, too."  She kissed his cheek.  "Sleep, I'll be here when you awake."

He slept peacefully.  When Father came to check on his son, Catherine related all that had happened.  Vincent's vital signs indicated that this was indeed a normal, restful slumber.  Father removed the I.V. and left to request some tea and broth for when Vincent woke up.

Once free of the restrictive tubing, Vincent instinctively rolled to his side, enclosing Catherine in the curve of his arm.  She lay, enjoying the closeness, until the adrenaline coursing through her veins subsided, and she too fell into a peaceful slumber.  When she awoke, she looked up to see Vincent looking at her in awe.

"Hello, my love," she said with a smile.  Her fingers stroked the soft bristles of his cheek.

"Catherine."   His voice was hoarse.

"If you'll let me up, I'll see about getting you something to drink."

Apprehension seized him.

"I won't leave, Vincent, I promise."

He looked abashed as he loosed his hold and let her sit on the edge of the bed.

"Oh, look.  Someone has brought us some fresh tea ... and soup as well,"  Catherine said as she saw the kettle and pan on the edge of the brazier.  "Water first, I think," she commented as she poured a tall glass of the cool liquid from a pitcher on the table.

She helped him to sit up, propped against a mound of pillows retrieved from the floor.  Once situated, she handed him the glass, telling him to sip the water slowly.  His hands trembled as he raised the tumbler to his lips, and her own were there to steady his.

"You have to take it easy ... you've been sick a long time."  She poured a cup of tea, adding honey for energy, and helped him sip that too.  His eyes followed her every move, eager, anxious eyes that seemed to devour her.

Vincent balked at Catherine feeding him, but she wouldn't relinquish the spoon.

"You fed me when I was recuperating, it's my turn now."

He sighed as he relaxed into the cushions, too tired to even argue.   He ate a cupful of the warm, fragrant broth, and Catherine ate the rest.  Once the dirty dishes were on the tray, ready to be taken to the kitchen, she sat beside him again, taking his hand.

"Tell me," she said quietly.

"What shall I tell you, Catherine?"

"The dreams, the nightmares ... you can't bottle up whatever seemed to happen.  I know it was devastating, but you'll feel better once you talk about it."

For the first time since waking he looked away, scanning the chamber, unable, unwilling, to face her.

"Something happened to me in your dream, didn't it?"  His attention immediately returned to her.  "I could tell by your surprise at seeing me. What happened, Vincent?  I'm here, I'm okay ... you can tell me."

Her gaze drew him out, pulling the memories into the open, giving voice to the words.

"You died, Catherine.  After my illness, the bond was gone.  I couldn't remember people, events ... especially what had happened in the cave.  You were kidnapped because of your work and held for many months.  I almost saved you once, but I was too late.  I searched, Catherine, I searched
every night, but without the bond you were lost to me."

Tears streamed down her cheeks, matching the glistening traces on his own.

"Finally, I felt you ... something ... I didn't know what; but I had to follow the sensation.  I found you, but it was too late ... you died in my arms."

She pulled him to her, holding him against her breast as he sobbed, his hands clutching at her for assurance.  She rocked him gently, allowing his grief to run its course.  When the weeping diminished, she asked, "Then what? There's something else."

"Before you died, you told me that we'd loved in that cave, and we had a son.  The man who'd imprisoned you took the baby.  I carried you to your apartment and stayed as long as I could, but finally had to leave with the dawn.  I wanted to die, to be with you ..."

"But you couldn't.  You had to find our son."  Her heart, though breaking for his pain, rejoiced at the thought of having Vincent's child.

"Yes.  I found him and brought him home to the tunnels.  He was beautiful, Catherine; he looked so much like you.  We had the naming ceremony, and then I awoke to find you here, alive."

"You named him Jacob."

He started, leaning back to look at her.  "How did you know?"

She smiled at his surprise.  "It's what I would have suggested, had I been there."  She lay beside him on the bed, her arm draped across his broad chest.  "Now that you've told me, the memories won't have power over you, and I can help you get through this.  I'm here, the bond is still here," she looked at him questioningly, smiling at his nod, "we didn't make love in the cave, though I wouldn't have minded it,  ...  so things are different already.  I don't see this as a prophetic dream, I think it was just all of your fears combining and magnifying, added to the mental instability you were experiencing from Paracelsus' machinations."

They lay in comfortable silence for a few minutes.

"I love you, Catherine, with all that I am.  If I were to lose you, child or no child, I don't know if I'd survive."

"I'm planning to live a long, long time with you, Vincent.  But if,  God forbid, something were to happen to me, I want you to go on, especially if we have children.  It's hard to lose a parent, but to lose both is devastating.  In fact, I'd want you to find someone else to make you happy, because you deserve it."

"No.  If we have children, I'd live for them, but there will never be anyone else for me, Catherine."

The despondency in the air was overwhelming.  Catherine decided to lighten the mood.  "Well then, we'll just have to live long, healthy lives.  We'll grow old together, bouncing grandchildren on our knees.  But the first order of business is for you to get well.  We didn't make love in that cave, Vincent, but I plan to jump your bones as soon as you're up to it.  No more of this shy hand-holding, I want the whole enchilada."

"The whole what?"

"The whole enchilada, Vincent.  I want it all, everything.  I want all of you.  I want to be under these covers, body to body, skin to hair, making love until we can't move.  You're the sexiest man I've ever seen, and I plan to let loose the passions I've kept bottled up for the past two years. So you better get well fast, mister, because we have a lot of time to make up for."  The last was emphasized by her finger poking his chest.

What he wanted and what he felt to be right battled within him.  The same old fears surfaced in his mind.  As he struggled in his mind, Father appeared in the entrance.  Catherine acknowledged the older man before turning to her love.

"Vincent,  I'm going to take the dishes to the kitchen while Father checks you out."  He tensed beneath her.  "Nothing's going to happen to me, Vincent.  In fact, I bet I'm back before Father is through.  Remember,  we have to get you well quickly," she wagged her eyebrows, "I have plans
for you."

He slowly relaxed, even chuckled at her innuendo.  She kissed his lips softly before leaving.

Father's examination was quick but thorough.  It seemed the worst had past, now came the factious period of recuperation.  Vincent was a reluctant patient at best, and an irascible one at worst.  Perhaps Catherine's presence would ease the process.  Father noticed Vincent's distraction and asked about it.

"Catherine wants us a life together.  She even wants my children."

Vincent waited for Father's tirade.

"And?"

"And?  You know better than anyone else why this isn't possible.  Look  at me, Father."

 Jacob contemplated his words carefully.  "I love you, Vincent.  I have since the day you were placed in my arms as a babe.  I've done my best to raise you and protect you from harm.  However, in my desire to keep you safe, I've done you a disservice.  I've reinforced the negative, feeding fears that shouldn't have been, partly from my own hurts and disappointments.  I've been wrong, and I apologize.  Catherine loves you, and you love her.  You should be together."

"But what if I hurt her?  Besides, she doesn't know what I'm like beneath these clothes ... I'm more animal than man."

"You could never hurt me, Vincent."  Catherine entered the chamber.

Father moved to allow her to sit on the bed.  "There have been so many times when you could have injured me, times when you didn't recognize even Father, but you knew me ... you responded to me.  And I've already told you how I feel about your body, and believe me, I do know what you look like under those clothes."

Father chuckled at Vincent's surprised expression.  "Catherine has been assisting in your care, Vincent; you wouldn't allow anyone else near.  Even I had to have her here to keep you calm."  A pink tinge appeared on his son's cheeks.

"So you see, I do know what I'm talking about."  Catherine's leer made him blush even more, a fact she found adorable.

"Yes, well, um, I'll leave you two alone."  Father's flustered manner amused the others.  He stopped at the entrance, regaining his composure.  "I want you to know that however you decide to share your lives, officially or unofficially, you have my blessing.  You both deserve all the happiness in the world."

Catherine crossed the expanse and kissed his cheek.

"Thank you, Father.  Your acceptance means a great deal."

"I'll see you two in the morning."

 When he'd gone,  Catherine returned to the bed, snuggling next to Vincent.

"What did he mean, officially or unofficially?"

Vincent's chest rose beneath her as he took a long, cleansing breath.

"Many of our community will go Above, or have a helper such as Master Po come here to perform marriage ceremonies, ceremonies that are recognized and recorded in your world.  Others, especially those who have lived in these tunnels for their entire lives and have no status Above, participate in a joining ceremony here Below.  It is not recognized Above, but is just as official and binding in our world.  Then there are some who just live together without benefit of either ritual."

"Then, Vincent, will you officially join with me before your family and friends?"  She sensed his hesitation.  "It's only acknowledging a given ...we're bound to each other heart and soul, forever, nothing and no one can ever change that.  This will just allow us to share our joy with those
who care about us."

"But you deserve" Vincent began, only to be interrupted by Catherine.

"I deserve the best, and that's you.  I love you, totally, unequivocally.  You give me more than I even imagined needing.  I love you for all of the special qualities you possess, and the fact that you're handsome and sexier than hell doesn't hurt.  Don't you want me?"

Shocked, incredulous, Vincent replied, "Of course, I want you, Catherine.  If you're certain this is what you want."

"Then it's settled.  We'll give you a month or so to get well, and then we'll make it official."  She kissed him, her passion tempered by regard for his health.  "That's a sample of things to come.  Rest now, I'll be here ...I'll always be here."

As Vincent drifted off to sleep, her love surrounded him, and he knew he'd never be alone again.