The passion lost, taken, stolen.

The dreams that we had and we shared, shattered, broken.

Sarah McLachlan: 'Mercy'

From the album: 'Solace'

 

CHAPTER TWO


Father paused at the entrance to the familiar chamber. In the soft glow emanating from the stained glass window, Catherine sat on Vincent's bed. Shoulders slumped, her very demeanor broadcast disillusionment, despair, and regret. The cause of these feelings lay unconscious on the bed beside her, partially covered with blankets, one bare leg lying uncovered. He had remained unconscious throughout his transport on a stretcher back to the home tunnels. Usually the injured or sick were taken to the hospital chamber, but Vincent intensely disliked that simple room. He had always, whenever hurt, wanted to remain in his own chamber. It had often brought to Father's mind the instinctive reaction of an injured wild animal who only wanted to hide in its den until healed. Or until it died. Father flinched away from that mental picture. With this latest blow, he felt that when Vincent awakened it would be best if it were here, in his familiar chamber where he felt safe.

Vincent, however, was certainly not the only one who would be suffering as a result of recent events. Father shuddered at the memory of the last few hours. Hearing Catherine's panicked screams he had hobbled towards her as quickly as this game hip of his had allowed, Mouse following on his heels with a torch. The light from it revealed the sight he had been most afraid to see, through all of Vincent's life. As if once wasn't enough. It was like the replay of a bad dream, a nightmare. Catherine's jacket and blouse had been torn at the shoulders, a spreading red stain showing through the layers of cloth. Vincent lay crumpled against a rock wall, still as death. Remembering the illness that had surfaced after a similar incident with Lisa years ago, and its recent recurrence, Father quailed at the thought of it renewed yet again. This time, it might very well mean the death of the man he loved as his own son.

Putting aside the worries of a parent and assuming the professional guise of medicine, he advanced towards the bed and its waiting occupants. Catherine's back had stopped bleeding during the return journey, clotting over satisfactorily enough that Father had felt settling Vincent should be first priority. Setting the various supplies he had just fetched from the hospital chamber on the bedside chair, he paused. Would that chair ever look right to him again if anything other than Vincent's large frame filled it? Shaking his head, he dismissed the idea. Vincent wouldn't die. He wouldn't allow it. He had already put a few sutures in the self-induced wound on the back of his head, a relatively minor injury. Choosing a large syringe and attaching the heaviest gauge needle he had, Father slipped the point into a bottle held upside down. Steadily extracting a large volume of the clear liquid into the syringe, he recapped it and set the filled syringe on the bedside table.

"As far as I can tell he doesn't have a concussion, but until he wakes up I won't be able to tell with any surety," Father said as he once again checked the pulse in the furred wrist lying on the bedcovers. "Regardless, both you and I know that if he awakens in the same state he was in before, which is highly likely, he will probably try to hurt himself again. What my son needs right now is rest, uninterrupted complete rest, to allow his body to heal, to physically recover from the ordeal it has been through." He glanced at Catherine's bent head, "I'm going to keep him sedated for the next while, maybe as long as a week. We can tube him to feed him and give liquids if necessary. Usually he sleeps on his own, quite heavily, while healing. Personally I think it's one of the reasons he heals so fast, his body takes over and shuts him down, to regain its strength." Looking down, he shook his head sadly. "In this case, though, his mind won't let him. We'll have to force it. Maybe, once his body is healed, it will be a bit easier for him to deal with what happened down there." 'Although I doubt it,' he added mentally, but not verbally.

"What if he can't, Father?" Catherine lifted her head for what seemed the first time since Vincent was settled here. "He's got to come to terms with this. It will kill him if he doesn't. If only I hadn't been so sure of myself. If I'd left him alone when he asked&"

"My dear, if that was the case, then yes, he might not be here, but then again he might have succeeded in killing himself down there. 'Might have beens are of no use to us, or to him, now. Remember, hindsight is always twenty-twenty. If any of us erred here, it was done out of love. Cold comfort, I know, but there it is." Father placed a comforting hand on her bowed head. "Now, there's the small matter of your back. I've asked for privacy, although Cullen and William are within shouting distance if necessary. I know you won't leave his side. So let's take a look."

Catherine looked up, noting the concern and compassion discernable beneath the professional façade. Surfacing through her chaotic emotions, a recollection of every uncharitable thought she had harbored regarding his interference over the last two years welled upwards. "You always knew this would happen, didn't you? That's why you were so against Vincent's seeing me, against us being together. I'm sorry Father. I'm so sorry." Catherine's chin trembled with the effort of holding all the hurt inside, at having been proven so wrong, in a way that could ultimately kill their dream, their hopes. Everything.

With a sigh Father looked up, examining the golden window before him, not that it showed him anything new. "I didn't know. Not for sure. I& suspected. And hoped I was wrong. You didn't see him that day, with Lisa. I did, and it's something I'll never forget. We tend to ignore sometimes with our easy familiarity that Vincent is, truly, different. But they're not all physical, his differences. Sometimes we are reminded of this, in ways& Well, enough. It's done and nothing can change it. You need rest and care as well. Do as your told now. Off with the shirt."

Slowly, Catherine unbuttoned her blouse. Attempts at removal, however, revealed several sections of the silk, stained brown with blood, had dried and fused to the wounds. At Father's request, Mary was summoned to help. The basin of steaming water she brought was put to immediate use, soaking the spots where material had adhered to Catherine's back. Gradually the fabric softened and was peeled off her shoulders, revealing the entire mess to the physician's eye.

And what a mess it was. There were eight punctures about an inch deep, four across the top of each shoulder blade, with a slicing exit wound leading up. In front were two more punctures just below the collarbones, one on each side. 'His thumbs,' Father thought silently. Mary refreshed the water several times as she and Father washed away the last of the dried blood.

"Thank you, Mary. I can handle the rest myself. I'm sure Cathy would appreciate it if you could find her something to wear?"

"Of course." Dumping the tattered remains of Catherine's blouse into the basin, Mary smiled in response to Catherine's subdued thanks and quietly left.

Finishing his manual examination, Father reached for the antiseptic. "I'm afraid this is going to hurt a little. Down here we don't have access to the more modern solutions, so we have to make do with the old fashioned way. Iodine." At Catherine's nod, he began to apply the liquid, whose initial cool sensation quickly metamorphosed into intense burning. Catherine's gasp of pain was echoed in an equivalent gasp from Vincent, whose eyes opened suddenly.

Opened, to reveal Catherine, sitting on the side of the bed, a dark liquid running down her back. "Catherine?" he gasped as he reached forward to touch the damage. Catherine spun to face him, tendrils of iodine spreading down from her collarbones to trace across softly swaying breasts. Dark reddish-brown lines, like trickles of blood. Blood. Memory rushed in at the sight, feelings of pleasure, guilt, horror! Catherine's love and joy flowing to him, through him, only to be replaced by pain. Fear. Pain from his hand, fear of him! The sensation, seeming so right, of her softness under his hands. Pressure he was so sure was sufficiently gentle. And then suddenly, sickeningly being proven so wrong. The unexpected give as his claws punctured her soft skin, sinking into flesh. Once again, as before, his true nature was revealed to him, to her. This, this abomination against the woman he loved, was the work of his own hands. "No. Please. Catherine, please tell me this is a nightmare. That I didn't hurt&" The anguish in Vincent's voice whipped against Catherine's guilt.

At Vincent's first movement Father dropped the eyedropper of iodine and reached to the bedside table at his left. Careful not to attract notice, he retrieved the syringe he had set there and stealthily removed the needle cap. With a swiftness belying his age and range of motion, Father took advantage of Vincent's stunned horror by ramming down the needle as hard as he could into the thigh he had left uncovered, depressing the plunger instantly into the heavy muscle. With a roar Vincent threw himself backward against the headboard, fangs bared. Snarling, his claws raised in defense, a slow melting seemed to begin from his lower extremities up and, blinking with astonishment, he slid as if boneless back onto the bed.

Catherine turned on Father, furious. "What was that? Why did you have to do that? You hurt him!"

"Not overly," he replied absently as he lifted Vincent's upper lips, checking for proper oxygenation by examining the color of his gums. "I think we can at least rule out a concussion, he seemed to be focusing properly. My dear, I don't disagree that that did hurt, but it was necessary." Stopping Catherine's quick blaze of answering anger with a remonstrative look, he continued, "In a few more moments, both you and I know he would have been out of this chamber and on his way down there again, to do God knows what to himself. Maybe, in his state, something rash."

"But why did you have to hurt him? Hasn't he suffered enough?" Catherine sank down and reassumed her bedside seat. Reaching forward, she tentatively, tenderly stroked and rearranged the tangled mane that had fallen in disarray over Vincent's features.

"Catherine," Father sighed, "you have to understand. As I was saying before, Vincent is physiologically different from us. His muscle tissue is much denser. So it's a lot harder to inject anything into him. Also, it takes about twice as much sedative to put him out as it would any of us, pound for pound." Catherine nodded slowly, remembering Professor Hughes and his dart gun, which had taken three shots to take down Vincent previously. More recently, Peter had struggled to administer a vitamin injection while Vincent was ill in her apartment. Father glanced up at her while straightening Vincent's legs, noting her grudging nod of comprehension. Moving up, he replaced the rumpled blankets tenderly, tucking the covers gently about his son's neck. "You're thinking of that Hughes fellow, aren't you? Well, horrible as that experience was, the knowledge I gained from those notes you took away from there did prove invaluable for this particular situation. 'To everything a purpose unto heaven' I guess." Reaching into his medical bag, he withdrew a plastic bottle, removed the top, and began to place drops into Vincent's open eyes. "Don't worry", he responded to Catherine's questioning look. "This is just mineral oil. I'll close his eyes, but if for some reason he manages to reopen them, this will help keep them from drying out." Finishing, he straightened and returned his attention to Catherine. "Well, my dear, you can't avoid treatment that easily, let's get back to it."

Later, returning from the bathing chamber washed and dressed in a tunnel nightgown Mary had found for her, Catherine contemplated the long walk to the guest chamber. Father was just finishing cleaning up and putting away his instruments as she arrived for a last check on Vincent. "How is he?" she asked quietly.

Peering up over his spectacles, he had to repress a smile. Well, she certainly had wormed her way into his heart, despite his better judgment, and still remained there in spite of this recent tragedy. She looked like one of the children, standing there warming one foot on the other, wearing a tunnel gown which was far too long for her diminutive height. Checking Vincent once more, he spoke softly. "There is really nothing I, you, or anybody can do for him right now. I've given him enough sedative to make him sleep for twenty-four hours without moving. It's out of my hands, now".

"Father?" the low voice spoke again as he finished his task and straightened to leave.

"Yes? I'm sorry, is your back still hurting? I can give you another painkiller ‑" He paused at her small negative shake of her head. Gazing steadily at her, he waited. Her discomfort with what she wanted to say was obvious.

"No. It's not that... Do you think maybe would it be all right if I stayed here tonight? With him? It might help if he feels me near, he might sense that I'm OK."

Father considered her request. It was true that Vincent wouldn't be moving for a while, and who was to say whether it would help or not? It certainly wouldn't hurt. His long experience with family medicine, however, told him that this request had more to do with her needs than those of his son. No matter. Compassion born of years of being both a father and a doctor coached his response. "I would never have asked it of you, but I'm sure that it would help him rest easier. Thank you." With a strained smile, she padded across to the big bed and crawled in, wincing slightly as the stitches pulled. Father approached and tucked the covers up under her chin carefully, much as he had done for his son earlier. Bending, he smoothed her hair back, surreptitiously checking for an elevated temperature, before placed a gentle kiss on her forehead. "Sleep well, my dear. I'll be by first thing in the morning to check on you both."

Drifting off into an exhausted slumber, Catherine was unaware of the point where she turned to snuggle against the warm body beside her, although it must have been painful. And she remained unaware as the bond, in response to their physical contact, resumed its too often interrupted work.

* * * * *

The vision of Catherine's blood streaked breasts faded before Vincent's eyes, enveloped by a gray haze. His disbelieving mind strove to see, to comprehend, as awareness of his surroundings faded into blackness. By my hand. My hand! Everything destroyed. Our dream. Destroyed. Destroyed&

Consciousness returned in a blinding flare of light, followed by the crash and rumble of thunder. Eyes readjusting to the return of darkness after the flash, Vincent sat up in panic. Memories of a similar time, awakening in the park in full daylight, screamed across his nerves as adrenaline flew throughout his system. "The park. I'm in the park again," he muttered as he leapt to his feet. Not the same place, though. Last time it was light, in an open meadow-like area. This time it was night, and he was in a heavily forested section, not one with which he was at all familiar. Unusual, he had thought he knew every last part of the park thoroughly. Senses strained as he attempted to discern his exact location. There was no noise, no traffic sounds, or any sounds of sleepy birds disturbed by his sudden movement. Nothing - only the wind blowing in gusts, pushing his cloak against the backs of his legs, flapping it forward in occasional whip-like cracks, and the rumble of the approaching storm.

It was no use. He had no idea what area of the park he had wandered to this time. Vincent gathered his cloak up to still its wind‑driven gyrations. After some consideration he chose to follow the dictates of the ever-increasing gusts and travel with the wind until he found a recognizable landmark. Soon the forest, trees evenly spaced in ordered rows, began to degenerate. Gnarled twisted limbs that caught and tugged at his clothing replaced straight trunks. The neat rows became a chaotic jumble of underbrush. Even seemingly stable ground was deceptive, moss having grown over dead limbs and needing only the weight of a large creature to give way to unexpected pits. There was a feeling of pressure in the air as the electrical storm, which lit the night in irregular flashes, continued to advance. Giving up, he turned to retrace his steps and try to find an easier route. Then a sound shivered like ice over his senses. A wild, rasping growl. And he remembered.

Catherine. Kissing him, loving the feel of his hands on her, her warm soft lips under his own. A feeling of incredible rightness. Then, suddenly, blood. Blood running down her blouse to her breasts. Blood running down his hands, a sticky warmth turning cool beneath his claws. Her eyes, wide with remorse and guilt. Guilt! For having the sense to fear him, to fear the beast!

His scream of anguish seemed to have an echo as it reverberated through the night forest. Vincent collapsed to his hands and knees as the echo faded into the blackness. Raising a hand to tear out his own throat, an act until now he had not had the courage to carry out, he paused. Once again, weaving through the dense trees came that wild snarl, the one that he knew too well. The other. The beast. The one who had snatched away his humanity and tried to kill the one person he loved above all others. His Catherine. He could feel the muscles around and below his nose contract, lifting his split upper lip away to reveal dagger-like fangs. An answering vicious snarl erupted from his immediately enraged body. He would find this beast. And he would kill this destroyer of dreams.

Launching himself from the ground into a full run, Vincent sought the source of the wild growl that seemed to echo off the trees. Following the thread of its passage, he closed on the menacing sound, until the forest ended in a rocky clearing. Before him lay a cave, black and stark. He could hear the snarls, rising and fading in volume, oozing darkly from the cave mouth.

"Out!" He screamed in a rushing roar. "Come out of that pit, demon, and face me!"

"Are you sure that is what you truly want?" The slick whisper issued nearby, almost as if beside him, dripping with contempt. "Can you face me, Vincent?"

Vincent's answer was wordless, a challenging roar which was primal, intense, and readily understood.

From out of the darkness the figure slowly emerged. A flash of lightning, directly above the clearing, illuminated the form of the beast. Its naked body was a dull black like the pit from which it came, mane lank and heavy with filth. The murderous fangs, bared in a snarl, gleamed in white contrast. Thunder rumbled through the air as Vincent met the beast's eyes, icy blue, gleaming hatred.

With a growl echoing the thunder, Vincent sprang, claws extended, fangs bared. Ducking forward under his leap, the dark beast slashed upward, claws rending through cloth, scoring four sickeningly familiar parallel slice marks into Vincent's thigh. Landing, Vincent glanced down at his leg, the four long wounds seeping blood into his breeches. 'How appropriate' he thought, 'that I now know the pain it has been inflicted on others through me.'

Spinning on his heel Vincent threw himself back against the black devil that had killed his every hope. Striking him full in the chest, the two, dark and bright, hit the ground, rolling together in a blur of vicious snarls. Regaining his feet with an oily twist, the Dark One aimed a wicked kick with his bare feet, which contained razor claws as deadly as those upon its hands. Rolling away, Vincent gained his footing as well. His legs and thighs showed the marks from those feet already, many rows of deep slices shredding his boot leather. Pausing momentarily, with a roar of hatred, Vincent once again flung himself toward the slashing razors. In a blinding array of attacks and parries, the two traded blow for blow, snaps and slashes too swift for the eye to follow. Short respites occurred, while the tiring combatants paced in circles around each other. Any opening would result in another blurred flurry of knifelike claws. Once, Vincent sank his fangs into the arm of his enemy, only to receive an equally deep bite into his scalp and be shaken off.

Eventually, the two slowed to a standstill, panting gustily on trembling legs. Vincent shook his head and blinked, a rivulet of red making its way from the cuts in his scalp into his eyes and open mouth. The thick iron and copper tang of blood permeated Vincent's senses, smell and taste. The Dark One's left arm lay limp along his side, dripping blood from the deep laceration in its biceps muscle.

"At least tell me why, before you kill us," rasped the Dark One between ragged breaths.

"What are you ‑ talking about?" The growled rejoinder whistled through bared ivory fangs. "You wanted ‑ to kill her!"

"I never wanted that! How can - you think that? Because I'm the one - who kills? Because I'm nothing but - a vicious animal? What choice - have I ever had - but that?" Vincent again shook his head and blinked, re-focusing on the dark version of himself that swayed unsteadily before him.

"You hurt her. You took her gift of love and destroyed it!" Vincent again lunged forward to slash, but his claws met with empty air. Ducking to the side, the Dark One crashed back against Vincent, his weight bearing him face down to the ground. A wild snarl of desperation erupted from his chest and he sank his claws just into the skin of Vincent's throat.

"Listen to me, you overeducated imbecile." The raspy rough voice of the dark beast ground out, through glistening fangs poised an inch away from Vincent's ear. "I tried to stop you. I screamed at you, but you have repressed us for so long, you would not heed the warning. I told you this was not the time, that the mate was not for us now. As always though, anything violent, or anything outside your acceptable behavior rules, I bear the blame for - I am punished for. Not this time, my brother. I'm sick of it." Claws flexed slightly on Vincent's throat and small beads of blood formed like tears beneath each tiny puncture.

Through Vincent's rage, that truth struck home. Pausing a moment in his useless struggle to free himself, Vincent's thoughts flew back to that wonderful terrible moment, to the voice that had cried in his mind, the rough, familiar voice that he had pushed aside. To the words which now came clear and their meaning. "I remember," he breathed, almost unheard through the heavy boom of thunder from the ominous sky overhead.

"Oh, now you remember. But once again, your blame, your punishment, fell on me. Hoowwww convenient I must be," the dark beast drawled bitterly into his ear. "Yes, I kill! How can I do otherwise? I am kept here in darkness and only released when there is danger. Should I stand idly by then and let the mate die? No, I protect. Her. You. Our territory. I do the work that you cannot face! And for that I am imprisoned, caged! I should just kill us and stop this ridiculous charade! You will never change." Vicious claws flexed again, sinking deep, the scarlet beads of blood elongating to downward flowing lines. Vincent awaited that inevitable final tearing pull back and out, which would rip open his throat, the action horribly familiar and felt now from a new and terrifying perspective. Abruptly, the painful claws were cleanly, gently withdrawn, accompanied by a low rumble of resignation.

Vincent felt the weight of the Dark One leave his back and he painfully pushed himself upright to regard the form which crouched warily a few feet away. A flash of lighting and roll of thunder split the sky as above them the storm broke, intermittent drops of rain quickly evolving into a torrent. Vincent's cloak and clothing swiftly became saturated. The dark one's fur, so like his own, plastered against his body as it too absorbed and held the driving rain. Frozen, they regarded each other, apprehension and fear mirrored by two sets of identical blue eyes.

"Tell me why, brother. Why did you start to lock me away? Why do you hate me so?" The dark creature leaned forward, a strange sort of pleading in its eyes. "Why do you feel such terror of what we are? Can't you remember the good? From the younger days?"

Lowering his head, Vincent broke eye contact. Memories long unexamined sprang to mind. Urges and actions, long repressed. Things that he felt proved to the world, and to him that, despite all his efforts, all his wishes and dreams, at heart he was an animal. They were from a more innocent time. Mostly from before his fifth year. Gazing absently into the cavern before him, they played against that black backdrop in a series. Scaling the forbidden walls of Father's chamber (and being punished for it afterwards). Tracking down by scent in a mock hunt the other tunnel children, just because it was fun and he could do it (and seeing fear of him beginning to evolve in their eyes). As the dam so painstakingly built against those recollections crumbled away, more and more fragments flooded through, each clamoring for acknowledgement, so many he could hardly believe he had pushed them all away. The memories scrolled through his mental view. Slowly, reluctantly, he plucked forth each one, turning it in the light of his mind for examination from all angles. Finally, he lifted his head to once again regard the dark double of himself, who patiently watched him through the few raindrops that still clung to the tail end of the passing storm.

"Those times& I did not yet understand my differences. I thought everyone could& I -"

"Yes, in youth, in innocence, differences are not a terrifying thing, they just are. It is only through other's eyes that they became, that I became, something to be locked away, something to fear, something not to be trusted." The dark brother tilted his head in a strangely familiar gesture.

"Yet this does not explain Catherine, what happened. I hurt her! These hands hurt her! The person I would give my very life to keep from harm!" Vincent cried.

"Brother, perhaps you do not understand because you will not understand. You only know half of yourself. Answer this - how can half a truth suffice to understand the whole?"

Overhead, the dark gray storm clouds began to break up as Vincent wrenched his mind from contemplation of Catherine's injuries to ponder the that question. Glancing toward up, Vincent gazed absently at his dark double. The wet figure waited for his reply, endlessly patient and still as any born hunter is. "Is it too late then?" Vincent answered softly, question for question, "to learn?"

Slowly, hesitantly, the mirror visage before him creased itself into an unfamiliar, hesitant smile. The long despised voice rumbled out, gently, "As she always says, 'anything... is possible.'"

From the storm tossed sky above, a break in the clouds flooded the forest clearing with watery sunshine.

* * * * *

An uneven tread accompanied by the tap of a cane heralded the arrival of Father, who stood once again at the chamber entrance. Catherine slept lying on her side, curled against Vincent. Moving forward, Father checked each for any sign of fever, which would herald infection. Muttering in negation, she shrugged away from his hand, snuggling closer into his son.

With a sigh, Father regarded the pair. How they were going to come to terms with yesterday's events was anyone's guess. Examining Catherine critically, he noted her sound, deep rest and thanked heaven for painkillers, and for sleep medication. As he had informed this woman whom he loved like a daughter, Vincent needed rest. Left unmentioned was the fact that she needed it almost as much as his son did. Knowing her, however, she would agree with his diagnosis and then pretty well ignore it. Pills look so much alike, though, a painkiller so like a sleeping pill. One often took two tablets at once...

It was Saturday now; she could stay until Sunday and not be terribly missed by anyone above.

As Father retreated from the chamber, Catherine stirred, partially awoke and carefully rolled over to her other side, falling back to sleep almost instantly. It did not strike her as strange at all that, in doing so, she had not once lost physical contact with Vincent.

 


Continued in Chapter 3