This story originally appeared in the now out-of-print fanzineThe Memory Flame II, in 1990. Beauty and the Beast andits characters are owned by Witt-Thomas Productions and RepublicPictures. This story is presented merely for the enjoyment offans.
One to Watch
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, The bed be blest that I lie on.
Four angels to my bed
Four angels round my head,
One to watch, and one to pray,
And two to bear my soul away.
--Thomas Ady, A Candle in the Dark
"Da! Da!" Jacob crowed. He banged energetically on acolorful xylophone, plinking out tunes only he could make senseof.
"You called, my son?"
Vincent's eyes crinkled at the corners and he allowed himself asmall smile as he watched his young son play. At six rambunctiousmonths of age, Jacob was already the darling and the terror of theTunnels. He rarely cried, but Father swore he could move faster onall fours than a tumbleweed in high wind.
Vincent started as Jacob randomly struck a few notes that broughtto mind Catherine's lullaby. "Well done, Jacob," he murmured.
After ignoring his father's comment and failing to fit thexylophone's hammer into his mouth, Jacob let it fall and lookedaround for new amusement. His eyes lit on the statue of Justice--oneof the few things not packed away when Vincent had baby-proofed hischamber--and in an instant the little boy was crawling as fast as hisbusy limbs could carry him.
At the base of the stone lady, Jacob reached out a chubby hand tograsp the statue. He hitched his behind closer and pulled himself up,swaying as he found his balance. Vincent held his breath and stifledthe almost irresistible urge to leap across the room and steady thechild.
Slowly, Jacob let his hand fall away from the statue. For oneheady moment he stood alone, wobbling on his feet, a delighted grinon his face. But his balance couldn't match Justice's, and after afew seconds he fell backward to land firmly on his paddedbackside.
Big, frustrated tears gathered in the hazel eyes, and the lowerlip started to creep out. His shoulders caught once, and Vincentprepared to offer comfort. But after one almost-sob, Jacoblaboriously positioned himself for another try, aiming a baby glareat Justice, as if to say, You better not drop me again,lady.
Vincent gave a snort of amusement, even as a well of sweet painrose to press at his throat. So like Catherine, this son of theirs.Jacob had her fearlessness, her willingness to be hurt in pursuit ofa goal. And her smile. Oh yes, the baby had her smile, one that wrunghis heart with equal parts joy and pain.
"He does not, so far, share your taste in music, Catherine,"Vincent announced quietly, eying the abandoned xylophone. His browsdrew together as he recalled the lullaby. "Then again, perhaps hedoes."
He snapped closed his book, feeling with an inner sense that itmust be close to mealtime for his son. Padding across the room, heknelt and held out his arms to the child, who had once again pulledhimself to his feet with a hand braced on the statue. Jacob turnedthose wide eyes on his father.
"Come on, Jacob. One step," Vincent encouraged him softly."Ravioli for lunch...your favorite!"
Whether it was the promised meal or the look of hope in hisfather's eyes, Jacob gave it a valiant try. He let go of Justice andlifted one small foot, his arms waving madly as he lunged at Vincent.He was confident of being caught before he could hit that unforgivingfloor, and he was. He laughed as his father scooped him up and kissedhis stomach. "D~a!" he squeaked.
"Indeed," Vincent replied, and bore him off to be changed andfed.
Vincent strode along the stone passages on his way to the nursery,Jacob kicking happily in a carrier against his chest. He passedPascal at work replacing a cracked length of pipe in the hall, andwas unsurprised to receive a wide grin and a sound that was somethinglike a waterlogged motorboat. By now, he was used to the trulyastounding variety of silly faces and noises people made when Jacobwas about. Father, hurrying briskly past them on his way to see apatient, contented himself with a chuckle and a poke at hisgrandson's tummy.
Jacob gurgled and churned his legs excitedly at all the attention,but Vincent secretly wondered how babies ever grew up to be sane andintelligent, considering the bizarre form of communication they weresubjected to as infants. Reading Dr. Seuss was about as far asVincent could bring himself to go into the realm of babytalk.
At the nursery, he found Mary and Brooke presiding over a numberof infants whose parents were busy with all-day work details.
"There's a boy!" Brooke cooed, holding out her arms to Jacob. Shemade a sound like a bird trill, which delighted the baby and sentVincent's eyes rolling heavenward.
Mary smiled her peaceful smile at him and gestured him over to thetray full of infant-sized dishes that William had just brought fromthe kitchen. "Let you know it's time for lunch, has he? Today we'vegot--"
"Ravioli," Vincent supplied, smiling slightly. "William made sureto inform me earlier, since it was so popular with my son on hisfirst try."
"Now, Vincent, he was making a fashion statement," Brooke scolded,laughing. She nudged Vincent into a chair and plopped a bibbed Jacobinto his lap. "Just you make sure he eats more than he wears, thistime."
Vincent dutifully plied Jacob with spoonfuls of mashed ravioli,applesauce, and something green that advertised itself as avegetable. Brooke went off into gales of laughter when he finally hadto resort to "choo-choo" and "airplane" to assure Jacob of adequatenutrition, and Vincent wore a proud smear of tomato sauce across hisvest before the process was complete.
Jacob's eyes drooped sleepily as Vincent laid him down to put on aclean diaper and shirt. The baby still found enough energy to tangletiny fingers in his father's mane and grin an endearing,single-toothed grin.
"Da," he murmured contentedly, and burped.
"Does that mean it was good, little one?" Vincent whispered,caressing the silky, corn-colored curls. He had to bite his tongue tointerrupt an alarming flood of gibberish that rose to his lips. Hetucked Jacob into a crib and covered him with a light blanket.
Mary stepped up beside him to look down at the baby, who was quiteoutrageously adorable, sleeping with one small thumb tucked into hismouth. "He's beautiful, Vincent," she told him, for perhaps thethousandth time. He never got tired of hearing it.
"I know," he said softly. "Just like his mother." He smiled atMary. "May I leave him here to nap? Mouse is expecting my help withthe generator this afternoon."
"Of course. You go on along, he'll be fine." Mary shooed him outwith many reassurances, and Vincent went, but not without a pang ofregret. Despite his certainty that Jacob was in the best of hands, hefelt vaguely uneasy when his son was not within easy reach.
Another likeness to his mother, Vincent thought, as hetraveled the busy corridors on his way to the Falls. He caughthimself before the wave of pain could quite submerge him.
In the months since her death, he had learned that there washardly a moment, day or night, when Catherine was not in histhoughts. The pain came and went. Sometimes it was a delicate,trembling sort of hurt, when some hint of her would catch himunawares; sometimes it was a black, smothering depression that putworry in Father's eyes. But to Vincent, his pain was as precious ashis memories. The pain did not excuse him for losing her, as hisloved ones did. It remained. It connected him to her.
I love you, Catherine, he whispered to the pain, and pushedit gently to the back of his mind.
The companionable sounds of the community at work--laughter, aloud clatter and a curse as something was dropped, faint thumps fromCullen's workshop--gave way to the basso roar of the Falls asVincent's long stride took him down and down. He began to feel therefreshing tingle of mist in the air, and as he rounded the last bendin the corridor, a bedraggled figure appeared before him.
"Vincent!" Mouse waved his wrench enthusiastically. "Glad youcame. Work to do." He grinned, and dashed water-soaked bangs from hiseyes. "Wet work."
"So I see," said Vincent, and began to shrug out of his cloak andvest.
Hours later, the weary warriors returned from their labors, damp,filthy, and triumphant. The water-powered generator--held together,as William put it, with "spit, bubble gum, and a few Hail Marys"--wasMouse's pride and joy, and Father's abiding terror. He looked up fromFinnegan's Wake wearing a curious mix of welcome and apprehension, asVincent and Mouse squelched into his study.
"There you are, back safe. Did the repairs go well?"
"Runs fine. Fixed this part, got little thing from Diana, good asnew!" Mouse answered. He wound up with a terrific sneeze and ashiver, as the cool of the rock around them inserted itself betweenhis wet clothing and skin.
"Off with you then. Get into some dry clothes," Father said,gesturing with his glasses. "William has your supper in thekitchen."
Mouse, abruptly discovering a huge hole where his stomach ought tobe, vanished with alacrity. Father glanced at Vincent, who hadfetched a towel and begun to rub his hair dry. "Is that boy going toblow us all to Kingdom Come?"
"Not for several months, at least," Vincent replied,straight-faced. Father chuckled.
"I shall trust in your judgment, my son. Your supper is overthere, along with something else that belongs to you." Father lookedtoward a corner occupied by a low table and a playpen.
Still towelling his hair, Vincent crossed the room to peer down atJacob, who was busy swatting--with his left hand, Vincent notedabsently--at the whirling figures of a mobile attached to theplaypen. Vincent blinked as Mickey Mouse took a high-speed spin nearhis nose.
"You're getting big and strong, aren't you?" he said softly. Jacobsmiled, and offered him an odd-shaped ball of faded pink yarn.
Vincent felt a chill race up his spine--one not caused by hissoggy shirt and jeans. Gently he tugged the object away from Jacob,who was agreeable.
Strands of pink yarn had been tied together at the middle to formthe ball, and its face--comprised of knotted blue yarn for the eyesand cheerful red for the mouth--stared up at him blandly.
"Where did he get this?" Vincent whispered.
"What's that?" Father asked, looking up from his book.
Vincent turned slowly, and held up the bit of fuzz. "Who gave thisto Jacob?"
"I've no idea. Mary or Brooke, I suppose." Father waved a handdismissively and bent over his book, though he wasn't certain thatuninterrupted concentration could help him parse the intricacies ofJoyce. Vincent's next words put Finnegan to bed for the evening.
"This was Catherine's. She made it."
The look in his blue eyes had Father stiffening in his chair."What do you mean? How could it be?"
"It was hers," Vincent insisted, carrying it toward the light castby Father's Tiffany lamp. He peered at it closely.
"She told me it was the one arts-and-crafts project that came homeintact from summer camp, the year she was eight. She showed it tome."
Father abruptly relaxed, and his eyes cleared of perplexity."Diana must have brought it. You know she said she had some ofCatherine's things that she took during the...the investigation."
He tried for a natural tone, but despite himself he could neverspeak comfortably of the manner of Catherine's death, or anythingconnected with it. He felt as though he were driving splinters intoVincent's skin every time the subject came up.
He looked anxiously at his son, wary of any shadow of grief hemight see. But Vincent's brows were drawn together in thought, andhis frown was nothing more than that.
Vincent nodded finally, accepting the possibility. "Perhaps.Though I had thought she'd brought everything down...."
"She must have overlooked it, and given it to Mary last time shewas here. Eat your dinner, do, before it gets any colder."
"After I've changed," Vincent said, still distracted. Jacob letout a sudden squeal, deprived of both his toy and his father'sattention, and Vincent hurriedly returned the fuzz-ball to its newowner.
Jacob took it, and patted the soft warmth against his face."Ma-ma," he said clearly.
Vincent shivered again. He knew better than to mention his uneaseto Father.
Music...a clear voice singing amid the moans of illness and rough,guttural coughing...the sound of water wrung from cloths...theworried cadence of Father's voice....
Vincent pulled himself reluctantly from the warm arms of sleep.Jacob?
The baby's angry sobs floated from the adjoining chamber, andVincent groggily swung his legs to the floor. The grueling day'slabor had left him weary to his bones, and he was clumsier than usualas he groped on a robe. He hissed at the icy touch of the floor onthe warm soles of his feet, fumbling for a candle and matches.
All in all, by the time he padded to the door of Jacob's chamber,the baby had quieted somewhat. Vincent held his candle high as hedrew near the crib. Jacob had kicked off his blankets, and he stillheld the fuzzy pink ball close against him. Tears pooled and ran downthe sides of his face as he whimpered and chewed fretfully on thefingers of his other hand. He was probably teething, Vincent thoughtwith a sigh.
After checking Jacob's diaper, he lifted the baby, blanket andall, from his crib and headed for the rocking chair in the corner. Itwas battered and scarred--its deepest gouges placed by his ownchildish claws--and had served Father well in years past. Now, it wasa tight fit for Vincent's long frame, but it still worked wonderswith a crying child.
Vincent settled into the chair and lifted Jacob to his shoulder.He began to rock back and forth, patting the baby's back andmurmuring nonsense words of comfort. He let his head tilt back andhis eyes close, and wondered if he would fall asleep before his sondid.
Sleep, my pretty one. Rest now, my pretty one.... Withoutthought, he began to hum the melody that had haunted him all day. Thespaces between Jacob's sobs lengthened gradually, and his breathinggrew more even. Vincent shifted him to the crook of his arm andstroked his cheek, watching his eyes blink, and then slowlyclose.
Even after the baby slept, Vincent hummed the tune to himself, andthis time it brought no ache. Only a warm, comforting peace. She isclose to us, he thought, staring wide-eyed into the dark.
"Good morning," Father said, as he served himself tea from afragrant pot. "Would you like a cup?"
Vincent grunted a noncommittal reply. He dropped his boots,carried between chest and elbow, and laid Jacob in the playpen.Father ran shrewd eyes over him.
"I know that look," he said. "A kind of shell-shock known toparents of infants cutting teeth. Up late, were you?"
"Early. Too early," Vincent rasped, and reached for the cup Fatheroffered. He spied a bottle warming in a steaming pot of water."Father, would you mind...?"
Father chuckled. "I can't deny a man in need of his tea."
He crossed the room and lifted his squirming grandson into hisarms. "Ready for breakfast, Master Jacob?"
The baby's bright eyes and dimpled smile belied his nocturnalawakenings. He loosed a babble at Father that soundedconversational.
"Well, is that so! And what else have you to say for yourself?"Father questioned, smiling. He sat down in the worn, high-backedchair behind his desk and nudged the nipple of the bottle betweenJacob's lips. "There we are. A fellow never forgets the knack, didyou know that?"
Vincent smiled a little over his tea. The Tunnel patriarch wasthoroughly besotted with his grandson, and rarely bothered to hidethe fact. "I'll spoil him if you don't watch out, Vincent," Fatheroften told him smugly.
"I thought I'd help Cullen with the new railing after morningclasses," Vincent said. He reached for a corn muffin and poured asecond cup of tea. "Unless you have something else in mind forme?"
Some of the Tunnel residents had standing jobs, like William inhis kitchen and Mary with the little ones, but Vincent, among others,was a jack-of-all-trades, and worked at different tasks all over thesubterranean world. It was a part of his morning ritual to receivehis marching orders from Father.
"Oh, I think that can wait, if Cullen doesn't mind. Eliza sentdown a note early this morning. She'd like to see this youngster ofyours."
Vincent looked up from the task of pulling on his boots. "She'sreturned from Arizona so early?"
Father nodded. "She says Anne fought to get her to stay until theend of winter, but Eliza'd rather put up with a little joint painthan with the `monotony' of the weather out there."
"I can imagine Anne's reaction," Vincent smiled. The mother anddaughter, once residents Below, had moved Above when Eliza'srheumatism had become too severe for her to navigate the Tunnelseasily. They had lived in New York before Anne's career had takenthem west, and Eliza still returned periodically to visit her oldfriends.
"She's staying with Lin and Toby Kwan. Their shop is a gooddistance away, but you could have a nice visit this afternoon andreturn before dinner."
Vincent nodded. Time with Eliza, a cherished teacher from hischildhood, was a rare treat; and Jacob would enjoy the walk.
"The capital of Peru, Vincent! Surely you haven't forgotteneverything I taught you?"
Vincent smiled, not bothering to conceal his fangs. Few knew himas well and as long as Eliza had. In his childish eyes, only Fatherhad surpassed her as a font of wisdom and knowledge. She had taughthistory and social studies to the children Below, her best studentthe one among them who would never see the splendors she described.Even so, she had taken him from the Devil's Triangle to the banks ofthe Rubicon; from Galapagos to Easter Island, and the wonder of itwas with him still.
"Peru," he repeated, blue eyes narrowing in concentration."Bordered by Columbia, Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, and thePacific Ocean. Once Incan, conquered in the sixteenth century bySpain. Current President of the Republic, Alan Garcia Perez. Chiefexports are minerals, fish products, cotton, sugar, and coffee. Andthe capital--" he paused, with a sly grin--"is Lima."
Eliza laughed and clapped her hands. Her bright black eyes weremore sunken now, the messy black hair silvered, but her rich, crustylaugh brought back the swish of the schoolroom maps and the cheerfulscents of chalkdust and peppermint. "Bravo! You have not forgotten,after all. Perhaps this coffee we drink is from Peru--and the sugar,too. Let's have another cup, shall we?"
She poured for both of them, as Vincent craned his neck to seewhat Jacob was up to. There was much to tempt him in the Kwans' cozyparlor. Vincent spotted him behind and to the right of Eliza's chair,investigating Toby Kwan's prized ficus tree.
"Jacob, no." Vincent nailed his son with a father's daunting frownjust as the baby pulled a leaf toward his mouth.
Jacob pouted for a moment, but forgot the plant as the Kwans'beagle puppy, Charlotte, sidled out from under the couch. Jacob'sprevious enthusiasm for the animal had sent her into hiding, but thepup's curiosity had drawn her forth again. She sniffed at Jacob, whoinstantly grabbed for a tantalizingly long ear. Charlotte duckedunder Eliza's chair.
With difficulty, the old woman bent down and coaxed Charlotte outwith a cookie. Then, taking Jacob's sticky fingers in her own gnarledhand, she guided him as he patted the puppy's head. "Gently, mylittle one. Gently."
Jacob squealed happily as Charlotte thoroughly scrubbed his facewith a pink tongue.
"A good job, that," Eliza said, her eyes on Jacob. "He must giveyou much happiness."
Vincent did not look up from the milky mug of coffee in his hands.He felt Eliza's shrewd eyes taking his measure.
"But your joy in him is tempered by your grief for hismother."
Her words were not a question; rather a blunt statement thatdragged his pain, quivering, out into the open. Were she anyone else,Vincent would have evaded an answer. But this was Eliza, the oracleof his childhood; the one person, before Catherine, who had set himfree. He nodded.
"I keep thinking...of her joy, in him. Joy she was denied. The manwho--who took her from me, he told me he let her hold him. I knew helied."
A silence stretched out between them, and Vincent finally raisedhis head. As soon as he met his teacher's gaze, he knew he was introuble.
"Vincent, I'm disappointed in you," Eliza said crisply. Her tonespelled homework left undone, set aside for hijinks with Devin. "Yourloss was a terrible one, Jacob's more so. But do you truly thinkCatherine takes no joy in this child, and took none while she carriedhim? Where she is, she is with him every moment. You may hold tothat."
Vincent's eyes widened as events suddenly collided in hismind--the lullaby, the mysterious toy, his weird sense that Catherinewas close in the night. But before he could comment, a yelp fromCharlotte distracted him as Jacob accidentally poked her in the eye.He bent to rescue the puppy, and the conversation was laid torest.
Nightfall beyond the Kwans' windows had set Vincent and afractious Jacob on their homeward path. Damp silence pressed closearound them, broken only by the baby's occasional squalls and thesoft scuff of Vincent's boots.
Jacob had cried inconsolably when separated from Charlotte, andhad not stopped sniffling since. Vincent knew he was hungry andovertired, and that a warm bottle and crib were required withoutdelay. He decided to take a shorter route home than the one he hadused on the outward journey. It was a dark, two-mile corridor thatthe children were forbidden to use because of the trench that randown its center, but Vincent had navigated it many times.
As he walked he bounced Jacob gently and recited bits of verse,anything that came to mind. "'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves didgyre and gimble in the wabe; all mimsy were the borogroves, and themome raths outgrabe. Beware the Jabberwock, my son! The jaws thatbite, the claws that catch! Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun thefrumious Bandersnatch!"
He had come halfway through the passage before the first finger offoreboding touched him. As he paused and sniffed the air, he caughtthe wet, sharp tang of mud and rotten wood. He shushed Jacob andlifted his lantern to study the tunnel around them.
More dirt than stone, this passage was close to the surface, andnot natural. It had been dug out and then abandoned, an ambitious armof the subway system that had veered off in another direction. Thick,aged wooden beams held the tunnel's shape. To Vincent's right, beyondthe six-foot width of the path, lay a trench in which track wouldhave been placed, had the excavators proceeded that far. Now, thetrench held perhaps a foot of water--seepage from the unseasonableMarch snows that plagued the city above. Beyond the trench, anothernarrow path abutted the far wall of the tunnel, which glistened withmoisture.
Danger whispered from the prickles that surged beneath Vincent'sskin; in the low growl that shook his throat. The lantern illuminatedwalls that ran with water and mud, and there were but two questionsto be answered: How soon would the walls bulge inward, and should hego forward, or turn back?
Two quick swipes of his claws--one of which drew blood--cutJacob's carrier from Vincent's chest. He let it fall and wrapped thechild in his cloak, for all the meager protection it could offer.Forward, or back?
Vincent's own muscles answered the dilemma, igniting him into arun. The lantern's light yawed crazily as it swung, glancing offrivulets of water and dark ooze. His sense of impending dangerheightened, a high-pitched mental whine above Jacob's outraged sobs,and home was still miles ahead when he heard a percussive crack and asplintering above. Vincent jerked his head up to see the ceiling andleft wall reaching for them.
He leapt for the far side of the trench, even as the first of thedebris struck him. Something heavy slammed into his legs, throwinghim off target, and his chest hit the edge of the trench.Instinctively, he let go of Jacob, shoving the child toward safety.As he fell he sensed the huge motion of the mudslide behind and abovehim--
It was Catherine's laugh, husky and larger than it should havebeen in the echoing tunnel, that brought Vincent out of inkyblackness and into painful awareness of how much he hurt. He openedhis eyes.
"No, no, Jacob. Mustn't. You stay up here, where it's dry, sortof. Would you like to play pat-a-cake?"
"Catherine?" Vincent said. Or tried to. He ejected mud andbrackish water from his mouth, and pushed himself up to his elbows.He lay half-in and half-out of the trench, buried to the waist in mudand loose rock.
"Look, Jacob, your father's awake."
Vincent wiped dirt-crusted hair out of his eyes. She was aboutfour feet away from him, sitting Indian-style on his cloak with onehand curved protectively around Jacob.
He drew in his breath in a sharp gasp. There was a soft glow abouther which did not seem to emanate from the feeble lantern, lying onits side nearby. Her grey-green eyes collected all the light therewas and spilled it back to him, and she smiled as though sharing adelicious secret. She was just as he remembered, even to the soft,brown bangs that insisted on drooping over one eye. The fragile linesof her were solid; she cast a shadow, and he feared to move, lest shevanish.
"You...you were watching," he breathed. His heart skipped oddly inhis chest, even as he noted with one part of himself that Jacobseemed unharmed.
She laughed. Her eyes were luminous with all the love heremembered, and more. "Of course, I watch," she chided him gently."Couldn't you feel it?"
"I...I hoped, but I thought it was only my wishing that I felt,"he whispered. Trying to go to her, he twisted in his prison of earth.His back screamed, but did not refuse to move.
"Careful," she cautioned. "You took quite a pounding."
Mere pain was not going to keep him from her. He dug his clawsinto a spar that had fallen longwise into the trench and strainedagainst the pull of the quagmire. It gave him up reluctantly, with ahollow sucking sound, and then he was climbing onto the ledge besideher. He might have touched her. He reached out, then drew back. Hishand was filthy.
"You've come back."
It was a prayer, a supplication, but Catherine shook her head."No, Vincent. I can't. I can never come back."
A half-sob caught his stomach. "You're here," he begged. "I cansee you, hear you--" Even the scent of her shampoo, spicy andwell-remembered, crossed the space between them.
"Sometimes it is permitted. I'm able to be here now, for him." Shelowered her eyes to Jacob, who had rolled onto his back, pillowed bythe cloak. Catherine ran a hand over his downy head, and Vincentached at the sight.
"You can return for our son--but not for me?"
She smiled, sadly. "In the beginning, when it was a raw wound forboth of us, I came for you. Remember?"
He did. In the entrance below her building; in the cavern wherehe'd fought his own darkness; in the Great Hall, he had felt herpresence.
"It has to do with need," she went on quietly. "Our son needs me,will need me until he is grown enough to understand why I'm not withhim."
She sighed, and a shadow stole over her face. "He won't rememberme--and that's probably for the best. But in his heart he'll know thesafety of having his mother close. You needed me when you felt therewas no hope--when the grief was so enormous that you couldn't beginto heal--and so I was close to you then. You don't need me now."
"I do! I love you!" Vincent cried. His voice was half-roar in hisanguish. "Catherine, there's so much I want to say--I'm sorry, sosorry--I was too late to save you--"
"Hush. I know."
She leaned toward him and took one of his hands in hers, ignoringthe mud. He shuddered at the contact. She felt so good--so warm.
"It was a whole tangle of choices that brought us to that rooftop,and dictated what happened there. Neither of us could have changedit," she argued.
Vincent's other hand clenched in his lap. "It was me he wanted,"he whispered fiercely. "Me, or the part of me that lives in Jacob.It...It should have been me who died."
He had hurt her. He felt it not through the bond, long dead, butin her convulsive grip on his hand.
"Vincent, stop this!" she insisted. "You must not trap yourself inguilt, or might-have-beens. Gabriel might have killed me allthe sooner if not for our child; he might never have kidnappedme if not for Moreno.... It happened. We cannot go back."
His shoulders hunched with the effort not to sob aloud. The onlysound was his harsh breathing and the wet plop of dripping water.Even Jacob was quiet, watching his parents with wide, solemneyes.
"Don't leave, Catherine," Vincent said at last. He raised hiseyes, bleak with pain, to hers. "I will always need you."
She slowly shook her head. Her gaze did not falter before thetorment in his as she let go of his hand. "You're stronger than that.You must hold on to all that we are, not just the pain of ourparting. You will go on, and where you go, you take my love.Always."
She was fading. The misty light died gradually, and he stareduntil the shape of her bled away into the darkness of the tunnel. Hereached out, but his fingers traced empty air.
"Catherine," he whispered. New grief welled up, blade-sharp. Itwas almost welcome in place of the leaden sorrow he had carried forso long. He felt a lick of anger at the fate that snatched her beyondhim a second time, until a small voice caught his attention.
He looked down. Jacob had crawled into his lap, shivering withcold and fright. Large tears made dusty tracks down his cheeks. Hewas picking up his father's desolate emotions.
For a long moment Vincent sat frozen, unable to bring up fromwithin the strength to tend his son. To go on, again, without her.Yet he must, for the sake of the small, precious life in his hands,who trusted him implicitly--and for Catherine.
"There now, little one," Vincent murmured. He reached for thecloak, still relatively clean, and wrapped Jacob in it before hehugged the baby against his grimy, but warm, body. He felt shaken,but basically sound, as he gained his feet.
He made his weary way home, mentally cataloguing his various achesand abrasions and trying to brace himself for Father's predictablereaction to this misadventure. He decided, sometime during the lastmile, not to tell of Catherine's presence. Father would argue that ithad been a dream, born of concussion and the need of Vincent'sheart.
Need. You don't need me now.
He acknowledged, with a painful sort of tearing inside, that itwas true. He had found a way to continue, a life to belong to andcreate, that did not contain Catherine. And she wished him to liveit. She did not blame him for living, when she had died.
He would always love her, and she him. With that strength, hecould go on.
"Thank you, Catherine," he whispered into the blackness. He knewthat somewhere, a watcher smiled.
Vincent recites verses from Jabberwocky, by LewisCarroll.