- VIII. -

 

-1-

 

 

December 16, 1989

 
Catherine awoke the next morning to the sound of Vincent whispering to their son. She closed her eyes and listened. Vincent’s voice faded in and out; she knew he was pacing the chamber with the baby in his arms.

 

”Try to be quiet, Jacob,” Vincent said. “Your mother is sleeping; let her rest a while longer. See” his voice grew louder  – “you see? We’ll let her sleep. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll take you to see your new home.”

 

Catherine opened her eyes. “Can I go, too?”

 

“Of course,” Vincent replied. He handed the baby to Catherine and watched as she opened the front of her nightgown and began nursing Jacob. “Are the new chambers ready?” she asked. She kept her voice even, aware of his eyes on her naked breast.

 

“Not quite,” he replied. “They will be soon.” He lifted his gaze and something in his eyes, in the look on his face, captured her attention. “Catherine. Can I touch you?”

 

A ripple of heat coursed through her body. “Of course you can.”

He sat beside her and reached toward her with his left hand. His fingertips touched her lips, then trailed downward, slowly, finally resting against the top of her right breast, just above Jacob’s head. He hesitated for a moment; she felt a slight tremor in his hand. She didn’t realize her eyes were closed until she heard him say her name and felt his hand stroke her cheek. She opened her eyes and looked at him.

 

His expression was solemn. “You are so beautiful. I don’t know if I’ve ever told you that.”

 

She turned to kiss the palm of his hand. “You make me feel beautiful, Vincent.”

 

“I want to make love to you, Catherine. I trust you and I believe in your love for me. My uncertainty lies only within myself.”

 

“I understand.”

 

“I need to know for myself what happened that night. I need to believe in it myself.”

 

“Don’t worry.” She touched his face. “We’ll work this out. We’ll find a way.”

 

 

-2-

 

Joe Maxwell sat in his living room, drinking his third bottle of beer and watching a basketball game on TV.

 

He checked his watch: one-thirty p.m. He wanted to call Diana but decided to wait. Lately she had been keeping strange hours, and on more than one occasion, he had called her in the late morning or early afternoon and awakened her out of a dead sleep.

 

He drained his beer bottle, considered the empty for a few seconds, then rose and went to the kitchen for another. He stared into the depths of the refrigerator, then closed the door. The last thing he needed right now was a fogged-up brain. He had too many things to think about. On the other hand, thinking was just about the last thing he wanted to do right now. He returned to the living room couch and clicked off the television set.

 

He was worried about Diana. They had met twice in the last couple of weeks, once for lunch and once for dinner. Each time she had seemed preoccupied, distant, and she looked thin and tired. After successfully closing the rape case, she had worked on she was given time off to rest and recharge, but Joe could tell she wasn’t following orders. Whatever she was up to, it didn’t include taking care of herself.

 

Joe was tired, too, but he couldn’t afford the luxury of a few weeks or even a few days away from work. The D.A.’s investigation into Gabriel’s affairs was dragging on at an agonizingly slow pace.  None of Gabriel’s former employees had been identified or even located, and it was improbable that anyone would just step forward and volunteer information.

 

Gabriel. Joe stretched out on the couch and closed his eyes. Even from his grave Gabriel was proving to be an elusive and troubling quarry. The authorities knew next to nothing about him, including his real name. A search of his Staten Island stronghold had turned up only the scantiest documentation. Apparently the man didn’t believe in leaving any traces.

 

Joe opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling. As he had done every day for more weeks than he cared to  count, he thought of the black book Patrick Hanlon had given him and that he had passed on  to Cathy, the book that nearly cost her her life. His strong sense of guilt over this incident had thus far prevented him from questioning Cathy about the book.

 

He felt even worse knowing that, at some point, he would have to visit Cathy and Vincent Below and ask about that book. This crucial piece of evidence seemed to have vanished. Joe realized that even if he could get his hands on the book and learn what Cathy knew about the codes, any information he gleaned would be nearly impossible to use. How could he justify it? How would he explain his source?

 

Muffled sounds drifted from the apartment directly above. His upstairs neighbor, a man Joe saw infrequently, had wildly eclectic musical tastes. Today he was listening to some soft instrumental jazz. Joe listened, too, and felt a nap creeping over him…Just in time, he thought. Now I don’t have to think about guardian angels or slashed-up bodies or unsolved cases or--

 

The jangling phone brought him bolt upright. He grabbed the receiver on the second ring.

 

“Hello?”

 

“Joe.”

 

“Yeah, Diana.” He was fully awake. “What’s up?”

 

“I don’t know, Joe.”

 

“What do you mean, you don’t know?”

 

“I don’t know why I called you.”

 

He didn’t like the way she sounded. “Why don’t I come over, and we’ll see if we can figure it out.”

 

A sigh. “Well...”

 

“I’m on my way. Will you do me a favor?”

 

“I’ll try.”

 

“Put on a pot of coffee. I’ll be right there.”

 

Diana hung up the phone and surveyed her loft. Impetus, she thought. Motivation to clean up this mess. She was glad she had called Joe.

 

She grabbed a plastic garbage sack from the kitchen and began picking up the detritus of the last two days: wrinkled newspapers, take-out food containers, travel brochures and a fair number of beer cans and wine bottles. She kept one travel brochure. The front cover pictured a white sand beach in the Virgin Islands: St. Croix? St. Thomas? She couldn’t tell; sudden tears blurred her vision.

 

She sat down hard on the couch, crumpling the brochure into a ball in her fist. This was what she should have done, what she thought she wanted to do: fly off to someplace warm, sunny and completely unfamiliar, where she could spend a week doing absolutely nothing, including thinking.

 

But no. She had chosen instead to stay in cold, dreary New York, with nothing to do and no one to do it with. The time off was supposed to be a perk; it had turned out to be a hardship. She spent most of her waking hours thinking about Vincent and feeling sorry for herself.

 

She stuffed the travel flyer into the trash bag, sealed the bag and dumped it in a corner of the kitchen. Trash pickup was Monday. She looked at the garbage bag and thought of her old mattress, the one Vincent had destroyed, moldering in a dark corner of the basement.

 

Ought to throw that out, too, she thought. She kept meaning to do that but never got around to it. She had that and the piece of stone with Vincent’s name carved into it that she found in the tunnel under the park. She had Catherine’s rosebush.

 

And Catherine had Vincent.

 

She hurried through the rest of the cleaning, then settled herself in front of her computer: Got to get out of here. Things are getting scary. I haven’t had a vacation in over a year, and I really need this one. She stared at the bright words on the dark computer screen, then typed: I never should have let myself fall in love with Vincent.

 

She heard the elevator buzzer and turned off the computer. That would be Joe, and that was good. Joe was good for her. He was a patient, funny, no-nonsense friend. For Diana, good friends in the world Above were in short supply.

 

 

 

-3-

 

At shortly after two that afternoon, Catherine, Vincent and Sybil Lawton were once again seated in their familiar places in Vincent and Catherine’s chamber.

 

“So,” Sybil said, after inserting a Mozart disc into the player and turning it on. “Here we are again.”

 

“Are you all right?” Catherine asked, noting the tired look around the doctor’s eyes.

 

Sybil’s mouth trembled. She cast her eyes down for a moment, then looked at Catherine. “I had a bad night. I started…” Her voice broke. She covered her eyes with a shaky hand. “Oh, damn!” she said, and started crying.

 

Instantly Catherine and Vincent surrounded her. “What is it?” Vincent asked.

 

Sybil accepted a handkerchief from Catherine. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t bring my problems in here.”

 

“It’s O.K.” Catherine exchanged a worried look with Vincent. “You’re a friend now. We’d like to help.”

“It may be nothing. I mean, I may be getting upset over nothing.”

 

“Is it your husband?” Vincent asked.

 

“No. Well...yes, kind of. I told you I’m pregnant with our first child, but that isn’t exactly true. Before this pregnancy I had two miscarriages and a stillbirth. And last night...” She shut her eyes, took a deep breath, then opened her eyes. “I started spotting. Just a little. I called my doctor and she said not to worry. So I’m trying. But I just wish...”

 

“That your husband was here,” Catherine finished.

 

“Yes,” Sybil said. She squeezed the handkerchief into a ball. “For purely selfish reasons, of course. It would make me feel better.”

 

“That doesn’t seem selfish,” Vincent said. Catherine watched him as he knelt beside Sybil and touched her hand. “He would want to share this with you, if he could.”

 

“Are you saying that people who love each other should share both the good and the bad?”

 

“Yes, of course.”

 

Sybil stared at him a moment, then narrowed her eyes: “You’re a fine one to be telling me that.”

 

Vincent closed his eyes and sighed. He glanced at Catherine before replying: “Yes, I suppose I am.”

 

Sybil took a deep breath, then rubbed her hands together and sat up straight. “O.K. I’m fine, I’ll live. Let’s get started.”

 

Vincent moved to the bed and Catherine sat at the table. Catherine watched Sybil rise from her chair and pace the room, her eyes on the floor and her arms folded across her chest. She nodded to herself, then switched off the CD player and sat on the bed next to Vincent.

 

“O.K., you two,” the doctor said. “I want to do things a little differently today.” She looked at Vincent. “Would you be willing to let me push you a little harder?”

 

Vincent slowly nodded. “If you think that’s best.”

 

“Catherine?” Sybil asked.

 

Catherine shrugged. “We trust you.”

 

“Good.” Sybil looked at Vincent. “First I want to get your resting heart rate.” She placed two fingers on the side of Vincent’s neck and looked at her watch. “Catherine, could you write this down...wow.” She removed her hand and contemplated Vincent.

 

“What is it?” he asked.

 

“Forty.” Sybil looked at Catherine. “Could you please write down a resting heart rate of forty?”

 

Catherine complied. “That seems awfully slow.”

 

“I think Vincent has the cardiovascular system of an athlete. Either that or you’re ridiculously calm, my friend.” She and Vincent exchanged a smile.

 

“I want you to get as comfortable as possible,” Sybil said. Vincent moved all the way to the back of the bed and leaned against the headboard. “What I’m going to do is take your

pulse at different stages throughout the session. I’ll give you a hypnotic suggestion that will enable you to ignore this so it won’t bother you.”

 

“Why are you doing this?” Vincent asked.

 

“Curiosity. And because this may be a rough session and I want to have a little better handle on what’s going on inside you.”

 

“No music?” Catherine asked.

 

Sybil shook her head. “Not this time. Who’s taking care of Jake, Catherine?”

 

“Olivia has him.”

 

“O.K. Let’s break after a little while so you can nurse him, then we’ll resume. Does this sound all right with everyone?”

 

“Yes.” Catherine looked at Vincent, and he nodded. “Whatever you say.”

 

“God, you two are so trusting!” Sybil sat at the table and fixed her eyes on Vincent. “Vincent, close your eyes and breathe deeply. Just relax. That’s it...close your eyes and relax...”

 

An hour later, Vincent was sunk deep in the strongest trance state he had ever experienced. He was only dimly aware of the passage of time. More important to him was the faint sense of euphoria that accompanied the now familiar feeling of total relaxation of mind and body.

 

Sybil’s calm words fell into his mind like leaves floating to the bottom of a still green pool. He knew Catherine was nearby, and he convinced himself that he could feel her love and warmth flowing over him. He was safe, loved; nothing could hurt him. Nothing said, nothing thought, nothing felt...whatever happened, he would be all right.

 

“Vincent, I’m going to take your pulse now. I may do this several times while you are in trance. You will feel my fingers on your neck, but you will not be disturbed.”

 

Sybil rose and once again felt the strong pulse on the left side of Vincent’s throat. She counted under her breath, blinked in disbelief, then started all over. When she was finished she returned to the table, shaking her head.

 

“Is something wrong?” Catherine asked.

 

“No, but this is really strange. Write this down: twenty-eight at deep trance level, paren plus one hour, close paren.”

 

“Twenty-eight!” Catherine finished writing and set down the pen. ”Isn’t that awfully slow?”

 

“Yes, it’s very slow. But for him, this could be normal.”

 

“Could be?”

 

“I’ve never seen anyone go this deeply into trance.”

 

“Is he in any danger?”

 

“I don’t think so. As a matter of fact, this is all for the good since I have a feeling our Vincent will be scraping the bottom of the emotional barrel at some point today.”

 

“I don’t like the sound of that.” A frown appeared between Catherine’s eyebrows.

 

“Well, honey, try not to worry. I have a good feeling about today. Now, let’s get to work.”

 

Catherine listened and watched as Sybil guided Vincent through a seemingly innocuous list of questions. The questions, as Sybil had explained to her, were designed to lead Vincent back through his life to his teenage years and his fateful encounter with Lisa, the dancer.

 

Catherine closed her eyes, letting herself be lulled by the doctor’s soothing voice. She let her memory wander back to the few brief encounters she herself had had with Lisa.  She remembered the turmoil Vincent suffered because of this woman. How would Sybil turn this into something positive? Catherine trusted the doctor, had liked her from the first moment they met, and she knew Vincent shared her feelings.

 

Still...Catherine lifted her lids and settled her gaze on Vincent.   Be careful, she thought. Please be careful with him. He looks so strong, but inside he is so fragile.

 

For Vincent, reliable time had taken a startling leap backward. He was at once his adult self and a young boy, in love with Lisa and dealing with the crush of emotions created by his feelings toward the beautiful girl.

 

Sybil’s voice throughout the trance-induced hallucination was a balm rather than an intrusion. Some of the memories the doctor helped him recall caused him to tense up, but almost immediately her quiet words would calm him and reassure him that he had nothing to fear from the voices of the past.

 

“Vincent, you and Lisa are standing on a ladder, hidden in shadows, watching the ballet. How do you feel, standing this close to her?”

 

“I am overwhelmed by her beauty, by the soft warmth of her body.” The words out of him, uninhibited by any governing force of his conscious mind. “She is so happy to be here, watching. Her happiness flows into me until it belongs to both of us, just as we belong to each other.”

 

“Do you love her?”

 

“Oh, yes.”

 

“And does she return your love?”

 

“Not in words. In her eyes, her voice, the way she moves, I see the love she bears for me.”

 

“The ballet is over. It is another day, and you are watching Lisa dance in a chamber Below. Can you see her?”

 

“Yes...” Oh, the light, the golden light of candles and lamps, reflecting from her satin skin and long brown hair”...the light.”

 

“The light?”

 

“There are candles and lamps everywhere, all around the room, and Lisa...she dances, away from me, then closer, then farther away. And she has her own light.”

 

“Does it help you see?”

 

“It blinds me.” Vincent’s voice was a hoarse whisper. “I can see nothing but her. I cannot think. I can only feel what I want. And what I want, I cannot have.”

 

“What do you wan…”

 

“Now she is close to me...she is in my arms. I close my eyes and breathe and I forget everything I know, everything I am. I want only to touch her. She whispers, I feel her breath on my cheek, and I...my hand is on her back. Oh, no, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it! I didn’t mean to hurt you!”

 

“Tell me what’s happening, Vincent.”

 

“No...it was an accident. I didn’t mean it. Father, I’m sorry!”

 

“Vincent, it’s all right. This is just a memory. It can’t hurt you, and you can’t hurt anyone. It’s all in the past. Now take a few deep breaths and tell me what happened.”

 

Sybil’s words washed over him in a comforting tide, and within moments he was able to continue. “Her skin was so soft, so warm...I didn’t want to let go. She tried to pull away, but I couldn’t let her. Then she did pull away, and I scratched her. These hands.” Vincent held his hands before his closed eyes. He clenched his fists, then lowered them to his knees. “I loved her, I touched her...and I hurt her.”

 

Sybil let a full minute pass before she spoke again. During that brief time, she checked Vincent’s pulse again. “Eighty,” she mouthed to Catherine, who wrote down the number. Sybil returned to her chair. “Vincent, how do you feel?”

 

“Tired. Sad.” His voice had lapsed into a dull monotone.

 

Sybil caught Catherine’s worried look. “Don’t worry,” she whispered. “He’s all right.” To Vincent: “Has Lisa forgiven you for accidentally hurting her?’

 

“She says she has.”

 

“Have you forgiven yourself?”

 

A long pause. “I understand what happened, but it’s hard to forgive.”

 

“How does Catherine feel about what happened?”

 

“Catherine?” Vincent’s voice was tinged with surprise. “I...I don’t know.”

 

“Does Catherine fear you?”

 

“No...?”

 

“Have you ever harmed her in any way?”

 

“No.”

 

“Have there been times when she was in danger from you, but your love for each other kept her safe?”

 

“Yes.” A whisper.

 

Sybil leaned back in her seat. She rested one hand against the slight swell of her belly and stared at Vincent for a moment.

 

She turned to Catherine. “How’re you holding up?”

 

“I’m fine. How is he doing?”

 

Sybil looked at Vincent. “He’s doing great. Now, let’s see if we can go a little deeper.”

 

“The ‘bottom of the barrel’?” Catherine asked.

 

Sybil nodded. “Damn near.” She spoke to Vincent. “Vincent, I want you to relax and concentrate on your breathing. Breathe in four counts, hold four, then breathe out. That’s it.  Keep breathing and listen to me.

 

“You were a young boy, and you reacted to Lisa’s flirting as any other young boy would have. You didn’t mean to harm her; it was an accident. All it means is that you have to be careful when you touch the people you love. I’ve watched you with Catherine, and I know you’re capable of great caring and tenderness. You must learn to trust in that side of yourself and let it guide you. You will not harm someone you love.”

 

“I killed Father once.” The words were flat, empty.

 

Sybil’s mouth fell open, but she stopped an exclamation. She turned to Catherine, who whispered a quick explanation about Paracelsus and his manipulations.   Sybil spoke to Vincent: “You only thought you killed him.”

 

“What is the difference?”

 

“The difference is that you were driven to the brink of insanity, and in that state of mind you were not responsible for your actions. You were used, manipulated and lied to. Your father is alive today, and that’s all that matters.”

 

“Catherine told me we cannot live with what might have been.”

 

“She’s right, Vincent. You should listen to her. She’s very wise.”

 

“She is my life.”

 

Sybil smiled. She whispered to Catherine, whose eyes were shining, “This is good. Now it either gets better or it all goes straight to hell.”

 

To Vincent: “Like everyone in this world, Vincent, you have many sides to yourself. I want you to see your different selves so you will understand yourself and feel that you have some control over your life. I want you to picture a spiral staircase. You are standing at the top, looking down. The bottom is far away. You descend the stone steps with slow footsteps, grasping the wrought iron railing for support. With every downward step, you will sink deeper into yourself. Deeper, deeper...keep going. You’re almost there. Tell me when you reach the bottom.”

 

Sybil relaxed in her chair and waited. Beside her Catherine sat perfectly still, her eyes never moving from Vincent.

 

Vincent’s voice pierced the silence: “I am there.”

 

“Now that you have reached the end, you will see a door. Go through the door. Inside are your different selves. You will see, hear and feel everything, but nothing will harm you, nothing will frighten you. Now, look around. Tell me what you see.”

 

Vincent stepped through a rough wooden door into a small, brightly lit room. He saw three people. One, an adult with snarled hair and dirty, ragged clothing, was hunkered in the farthest corner of the room, staring at Vincent.

 

“Him,” Vincent said.

 

“Him? Who is ‘him,’ Vincent?” Sybil asked.

 

“The part of me that I fight.”

 

“Your violent self?”

 

“My carnal self.”

 

“Can you turn - do you want to turn away from him?”

 

“I cannot. He is part of me; he is in my blood.”

 

“Who else do you see?”

 

“Two others. An adult and a child. They are both me.”

 

“And are they afraid of the other?”

 

“They show no fear.”

 

“Are you afraid?”

 

Vincent didn’t reply. He knelt before his alter ego, and the two locked eyes.

Sybil’s voice sounded distant. “Are you afraid of him, Vincent?”

 

“No.” He did not move, neither did his twin, but he felt the inches of air between them dissolve as they slid and fell into...

 

...darkness. Hot, wild, slippery darkness.

 

He opened his eyes and smiled.

 

Catherine felt the hairs on the back of her neck lift as the air turned to ice. No, it wasn’t cold, it was hot. Her own breath was burning her.

 

She turned to Sybil, but the doctor didn’t see her, couldn’t seem to tear her eyes from the man sitting on the bed. Catherine looked again and saw Vincent, her own Vincent, but she didn’t recognize the look in his eyes. He was looking at her, and he was smiling. It was a smile that weakened the muscles in her legs and caught the breath in her throat before she could form words.

 

Sybil spoke: “Who are you?”

 

Vincent answered her question, but his gaze never faltered from Catherine. ”I am the part of myself that rarely sees the light. I am Vincent’s carnal nature, his connection with animal rage...and pleasure.” Still staring at Catherine, Vincent moved toward her to the edge of the bed, slowly, as if delighting in each movement.

 

Catherine stole a glimpse at Sybil. The doctor leaned forward, gaping at Vincent, but her voice was firm. “Are you still in trance?”

 

“Yes.” This time Vincent did look at the doctor, but only for a moment, his eyes instantly flicking back to Catherine. “I am in your trance. But I must say something to this woman, and I will not be interfered with.”

 

“Go ahead.” The doctor’s voice was calm.

 

Vincent leaned toward Catherine. She had never seen him like this: pride, arrogance, strength, raw power radiated from him like heat from the midday sun. He began speaking, and even his voice was different.

 

“I have killed for you, many times. I would do it again in an instant. I am the part of Vincent that does not regret the deaths I have caused. I do not glory in them but I recognize the necessity of saving your life, over and over again, for the purpose of loving you.

 

“I am also the part of Vincent that admits that many of these deaths were caused by your carelessness and your growing dependence on our awareness of your activities, your whereabouts, your thoughts and feelings. Do you see the truth in this, my Catherine?”

 

My Catherine...my God! “Yes,” she said in a heavy voice. “I’ve known that for a long time.”

 

“Do you also know that you can no longer afford to put us in that position...that we can no longer bear this suffering?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“If you live with me, you must live a safe life. You will no longer endanger us or this community by your actions. You accomplished much good in your life Above, Catherine, but you also caused much grief to people who love you. You must never do this again. Are we in agreement?”

 

Catherine felt his eyes smolder into her, through her. She felt that if she did not give him an answer, he would penetrate her mind and take it. “I never wanted to hurt you. I only wanted…”

 

“To love me.” He smiled, and although the smile contained no hint of malice or cruelty, it nevertheless sent a fresh chill over her body. “You will love me, and I will love you completely. I remember the act of love that forever changed me, even as it brought forth new life. I remember our night together, and soon the other part of me will remember. After that, my Catherine, after our memories are melded into one, our lives will never be the same.”

 

Still smiling, he pulled himself back to his original position on the bed. “I relinquish myself to you once again, Doctor.” Instantly his eyes closed, his shoulders slumped and he was still.

 

Sybil jerked upright in her chair with a little gasp. For a few seconds she did nothing but stare at Vincent’s unmoving form. Then she looked at Catherine. “What in the name of God Almighty was that?”

 

Catherine’s eyes were huge. “You’re - why are you asking me? Don’t you know?”

 

Sybil opened her mouth, then shut it. She turned back to Vincent. “Vincent, can you hear me?”

 

“Yes.” The answer was slow in coming, and then the answering voice was almost inaudible.

 

“Do you know...did you see and hear what just happened?”

 

The clenching muscles of his jaw were visible in the candlelight. “I heard...I saw everything.”

Sybil picked up a pen, tapped it against her lips, then set it down. “Vincent, where are you right now?”

 

“I am in the room. I stare at my brother, and he stares at me. We...now we understand each other.” A tiny smile lifted one corner of his mouth, then vanished.

 

“I want you to remain in deep trance. Keep breathing deeply and...rest. Just rest.” Sybil took a deep breath and slumped back in her chair. She watched Catherine stand, one hand pressed to her bosom.

 

“I need to nurse Jacob,” Catherine said. Her voice trembled.

 

Sybil watched Catherine’s gaze wander back to the bed. “Go on, Catherine. He’ll be all right. I’ll keep an eye on him.”

 

“I won’t be gone long.” Catherine moved toward the chamber door, her eyes still on Vincent. She turned the corner and left.

 

Sybil made herself comfortable in the chair. She practiced the four count breathing method she had taught Vincent, trying to calm herself. She knew that what she had just witnessed was extraordinary. She had had many experiences with patients getting in touch with different facets of their own personalities.   She had also treated people who were multiple personalities, helping them reintegrate into one whole, solid human being.

 

But here with Vincent was something altogether different: a side of himself of whom Vincent was wholly aware, whom he acknowledged but feared accepting. His carnal nature.

 

Sybil shook her head. She studied Vincent: the long, slightly tangled hair, the clawed hands, the strong body. He was beautiful in a way that had as much to do with physical appearance as with the rare power and strength he possessed, an inner force that could not be muted by a posture of repose.

 

She moved to the bed and sat next to him, as close as she could without touching him. For a moment she did nothing but listen to his breathing, calm and regular. Then she extended one hand and found the pulse on the side of his neck. “Vincent, can you hear me?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“I want you to continue breathing slowly, deeply, just as you are now. And I want you to listen to me. Listen carefully. We don’t have much time and I have so much to tell you...”

 

Half an hour after she left the chamber, Catherine returned. She found Sybil and Vincent just as she had left them. She touched Sybil’s shoulder as she walked past and took her seat. “How is he?”

 

“He’s fine.”

 

Catherine was surprised to see embarrassment in the doctor’s face. “Did something happen while I was gone?”

 

“I did something, Catherine. I...think it was the right thing.”

 

“You think?”

 

“Yes, I think. This is not an exact science. Sometimes I have to, uh, play a hunch.”

 

Catherine stared at the doctor. “What have you done?”

 

Sybil turned to Catherine and held out both hands. When Catherine’s hands touched hers, Sybil held them tightly. “I talked to him while you were gone. I told him to embrace this side of himself. To explore it, feel it, know it. To do everything but reject it outright.”

 

“Did he agree?”

 

“Eventually.” She squeezed Catherine’s hands, then let go. “He wants to, Catherine. More than that, he has to.”

 

“Do you think he’ll be...safe?”

 

Sybil shook her head. “At this point, I can’t guarantee anyone’s safety. So much for your living a safe life. But that’s not what he meant, was it?”

 

“No, it wasn’t. What do we do now?”

 

“Now we explore the night you made little Jacob. It’s time to begin.” She pushed a piece of paper across the table. “Here. Read this while I get started.”

 

Catherine picked up the paper, and as she read, a frown appeared between her eyes. “What is this? Why would you want me to…”

 

”Listen, dear heart, this may not be an exact science, but I’m still the expert here. So to speak. Please read it and be ready for anything because honest to God, I truly do not know what will happen next.”

 

“Vincent, where are you now? What are you doing?”

 

“I am in my chamber, sitting on my bed, listening to you and Catherine talk about me.”

 

“Does that bother you?”

“No.”

 

“Vincent, I want to take you back to the night Jacob was conceived. The first time you and Catherine made love.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“We’re going to work back to that night, very slowly. You will remember what you were thinking, what you felt, but you will not let it affect you now. You will know at all times that you are safe and loved. None of the bad feelings can harm you now. Think back, beginning with the first memory you have of Catherine after you came out of the cave.”

 

From the murky depths of the trance state an image appeared, as sharp and clear as glass:

 

He was lying in a bed in a room. He recognized nothing and no one, not even the beautiful woman sitting at his side, smiling down at him. She was...who? He looked about him, unable to name anything or anyone he saw. Yet he felt as if he belonged here, as if the people who hovered over him with anxiety etched on their faces also belonged to him, and he to them. He closed his eyes as the beautiful woman touched his face and whispered a name: “Vincent.”

 

“So when you first came out of the cave, you didn’t recognize Catherine.”

 

“She seemed...familiar, but I didn’t know why. I was too exhausted to think.”

 

“I want you to go back, a little before that. Before Father and Catherine helped you into bed. Before they brought you back to your chamber. Don’t worry about the things you can’t remember.”

 

“But I do. I remember all of it.” Vincent’s voice sharpened, deepened.

 

“What do you remember?”

 

“Father and Catherine, Mouse, Pascal...many others, waiting for me outside the cave. Before that, Father enters the cave and finds us. We are on the floor, Catherine and I. I am lying on the floor, and she cradles my head in her lap. Then before...before that...she is my...she gives me...”

 

Sybil heard a soft sound from Catherine. They both watched as Vincent’s head tilted backward, a sensuous movement that exposed his neck and brought a soft, strangled cry to his lips.

 

Sybil forced herself to think. “Before that, Vincent. Way before that. Think back; think fast, you and Catherine are not making love. She has just entered the cave and you…” She cowered in her seat as an inhuman, wailing roar tore out of Vincent’s throat. The sounds he made were deafening, heartrending. After the initial shock, she made herself act, shouting over his continuing cries. “Vincent, listen to me! It’s all right, it’s not really happening now. Please listen, you’re not really…”

 

Real. What was real? And what was that brief light at the cave entrance?

 

The words - real, light, cave - lost all meaning. His brain had turned to blood, his rage was tearing itself out of his bones, and the wind and fire that burned through his veins were too loud for thought.

 

He howled his agony, dimly aware of the screams echoing back to him from the cave walls. That was the only real thing in him now: the bloodlust, the need to rip open every fiber of his life and release the hunger that seared and sparked along his nerve endings, setting aflame every inch of his skin.

 

He squinted at the light once again. It was closer...too close, it had to be gone. He had to be alone with himself, alone to fight the demons that were wringing from him every ounce of man and replacing it with…

 

It was her. She was an angel of life and light. She would stop him; now he would never be able to finish this; he would die here and now, no, no, no, she must go back...

 

“Do something. Oh, God, can’t you do something?”

 

Catherine could barely hear her own voice over the din of Vincent’s howling. She caught movement from the corner of her eye and turned to find Father at the chamber entrance. The old man watched his son with abject horror written on his face.

 

Sybil jumped from her chair and motioned him back. “Please, Jacob, leave. He’s all right, really, he’s not going to hurt…”

 

“What have you done to him?” He fixed her with a cutting look. “Dear God, hasn’t he been through enough?” He turned toward the bed and tears welled in his eyes as he watched Vincent thrashing on the bed, tearing at the covers, screaming in pain.

 

Sudden anger flashed in Sybil’s face. She pointed toward the door. “Go. Now. I know what I’m doing. So does Catherine.”

 

“I don’t!” Catherine cried. “I don’t know what’s happening; I don’t know how to help him!” She winced as a fresh wave of earsplitting sound erupted from the bed. Her own panic rose inside her.

 

Sybil grabbed Catherine’s arm and spun her around until they were nose to nose. “You know what to do now because you knew what to do then.

 

Catherine’s eyes widened in comprehension. “Oh, my God.” She turned to Father. “She’s right. You can go now; we’ll be all right.”

 

“Catherine, this is far too dangerous…”

 

“Please, Father!”

 

“All right! I will go, but I do not like this.” Father backed away, his eyes still filled with suspicion and fear.

 

“Keep everyone away from here, Jacob, far away. Please,” Sybil said. He answered her with a curt nod and left.

 

Sybil and Catherine moved closer to the bed.

 

“It won’t be long now,” Catherine said.

 

“No?”

 

“No.” Catherine picked up the piece of paper Sybil gave her earlier and waved it. “Thank you for this.”

 

“Don’t thank me yet.” Sybil nodded toward Vincent. He now stood in the middle of the bed, his arms held stiffly away from his body. He stared at Catherine, his eyes wide with terror.

 

Catherine inched closer and faced him. Sybil backed toward the chamber entrance, careful to avoid any sudden movement. She watched Vincent stare at Catherine and wondered what he saw through those tormented eyes.

 

There is no tomorrow no yesterday no today just this moment if she moves I will move   she is moving...  

 

VINCENT!!!

 

The voice was a small, cool hand against his forehead; a tender smile; the faraway beating of a strong, brave heart reaching toward him with an aching love.

 

He saw her fear-clouded eyes and fell into them, into the shadow of safety and hope.

 

“Vincent!” Catherine cried. She tried to stop him as he began to topple from the bed. Instantly Sybil was at her side, and the two women were able to keep him from falling to the floor. Instead he collapsed on the bed, his hair damp with sweat, his chest rising and falling in spasmodic waves.

 

Catherine felt Sybil’s hand on her shoulder. “You know what to do?”

 

“Yes.” She covered Sybil’s hand. “I know.”

 

“Then I’m out of here. I’ll see Olivia and take care of everything. You take care of him.” She glanced at Vincent, then back at Catherine.

 

Catherine couldn’t speak, could only nod her thanks. In seconds Sybil was gone, leaving behind all her equipment.

 

Catherine leaned over Vincent. His head was in her lap, and his breathing was still labored and painful to hear. She brought her mouth close to his ear. “Vincent, can you hear me?”

 

“Ye…” He seemed to choke for a moment, then coughed. “Yes,” he said in a voice raspy with exhaustion.

 

“I’m going to count from one to five. When I reach five, you will be wide awake. You will remember everything - everything, my love.  And you will be free.”  She wiped away her tears, tears that were raining on his face and running down his neck. She took a shaky breath and began counting: “One...two...you’re beginning to wake up...three...four...coming closer...five.  You’re awake.”

 

He didn’t know what he had expected, but it wasn’t this. He knew he was awake, knew who he was, where he was and everything that had transpired. But, this wasn’t right. Something was missing. Hadn’t she...didn’t she kiss him? What did she say? “Not without me”?

 

“Not without me.” He heard a murmuring voice, and a few seconds later realized the voice was his. He opened his eyes and saw white fabric, worn with age and washing, covering something soft. He put out his hand and touched the cloth. A dress - Catherine’s dress. The softness - it was her body. He flattened his palm, spreading the fingers wide, and ran his hand along the length of fabric.

 

He heard something above him, a quick intake of breath. Slowly he sat up, pushing strands of hair from his eyes. He found himself looking into Catherine’s eyes, close, so close. He looked down and saw his other hand resting on her thigh.

 

He looked at her. With his free hand he touched her face, every part of it. He felt his other hand - no, he allowed his other hand to travel slowly upward, over the slight roundness of her abdomen, over the soft expanse of her breasts. She closed her eyes.

 

He brought his face closer to hers. “Not without me. Isn’t that what you said? Not without me.”

 

“I couldn’t let you go,” she whispered. “I couldn’t. If you were going to die, I wanted to die with you.”

 

“Your touch kept me alive. Your lips on mine…” At once his lips were on hers, their mouths opening into a kiss that lasted until they were breathless.

 

Vincent broke first, pulling away slightly to let his eyes take in her body. “Your touch…you touched me everywhere. You opened my clothing, you touched me…”

 

“The way I had always wanted to touch you.” Her fingers stole to the top of his shirt, and she began unlacing the ties.

 

“No.” She drew back in surprise as Vincent stopped her hands. “I will not allow you to do everything. Not this time.”

 

She watched in astonishment as he tore his shirt off, not bothering to finish unlacing it. She felt his hands on her, warm strong hands made stronger and even more careful than usual by the urgency flowing through him. His fingers flew of their own volition, and his eyes never left hers. She saw in him the mirrored reflection of her own desire.

 

Before she could say anything, she found herself on her back. Vincent removed her shoes and threw them across the room. He kissed her toes, the soles of her feet, and she moaned as the blood in her body rushed to her pelvis, seeking a new center of gravity. His lips moved upward in a languid stream as he lingered over every bit of her, tasting, nibbling, surprising her with a delicate flick of his warm tongue.

 

He pushed her dress upward as he moved, keeping all his weight away from her. His hands reached her panties. He inserted a finger under the narrow band of material at each hip and pulled, slowly, so slowly that for Catherine time seemed to halt.

 

“Vincent,” she managed to say. Her voice was barely audible. ”What - what are you doing?”

 

“I only want to look at you, Catherine. Don’t worry.”

 

“I’m not worried.” God, help me breathe. “Do you...oh, God, Vincent!”

 

“So beautiful.” She heard his voice, felt the hot surge of his breath as he kissed the soft skin several inches below her navel. “You’re so beautiful, Catherine, so warm and perfect.”

 

“This is not...Vincent, this is not like before.”

 

“No.” He paused long enough to answer, then continued upward with his tongue and his lips.

 

“You remember?” Her words were bare imitations of words, the vaguest remnants of decipherable speech.

 

“I remember, Catherine.” He was kneeling at her side, leaning over her, and with a sudden, deft movement he opened the bodice of her dress. “You made love to me that night. My eyes were closed, and it was dark. And I remember something else, when it was over, before I fell asleep.”

 

“What?’

 

“I told myself that if we ever made love again, I would make love to you in the light, with my eyes open. I would touch you here…” he grazed her left nipple with the palm of his hand “and here…” the same hand drifted along her belly “and here.” He lowered his hand and, with a gentle firm motion, covered her pubic hair.

 

A sound wrenched free from Catherine’s throat, a sound she didn’t know she was capable of making. She tore at Vincent’s clothes, careless of her fingernails. He helped her, and after a few frustrating long seconds they were both naked. Then for awhile there were no words, except for those spoken from one heart to another when two people who love each other completely try to express that love with every part of themselves.

 

Catherine knew there would be time enough later for talk. For now she marveled at the downy softness of the fine golden hair covering most of his skin and drank in the sight of him, his well-muscled arms and shoulders, the long legs that entwined with hers, the beautiful lines of his body.

 

He shifted his weight over her. She took his penis into her hand, startled by its weight and thickness, gratified by the sounds he made as she guided him into her.

 

He moved slowly at first, and with every firm thrust she felt him grow larger, harder. The wild heat of his body poured over her, into her. He kissed her and she returned the kiss, letting her hands touch every part of him she could reach, helplessly digging her nails into his back. She slid one small hand between their bellies and grasped as much of his penis as she could between her thumb and forefinger. At her touch he slammed his face into the pillow beside her head, barely stifling a loud groan.

 

He was moving faster now, thrusting harder and deeper. She pulled her hand away, trailing the fingers up his flat, hard stomach until she reached his nipples. She used her tongue, teeth, lips and fingers and listened to the changes in his breathing, reveling in the sudden gasps and cries that were almost whimpers: “Oh, yes...don’t stop, please...don’t stop, Catherine.”

 

He would give her anything, he would do anything she asked, if she would never, never, NEVER stop what she was doing.

 

He opened his eyes and gazed at her, trying hard to focus. He was in a mist, a stream, a wind that galloped across his skin and caressed him from his feet to the top of his head. No, it was her breath and that was better still, her breath coming in great waves, warm and sweet, strong enough to push his hair from his face and fan his own sweat before it reached her.

 

Careful. I must be so careful. I will not, I CANNOT hurt her.

 

A thought bit at the one small rational part of his brain. He shoved it back, but it returned and spilled into words: “Catherine. This is not a dream, is it?”

 

Her face flashed past his, and he felt her teeth sink into his earlobe. “Does this feel like a dream?” she said in a muffled voice.

 

“No,” he said, and surprised himself by laughing. Where did he find enough breath to laugh? But now she was laughing with him and the joy on her face spread into him, insinuating itself into every corner of his heart and mind, filling him with love beyond comprehension.

 

“Vincent.” He felt her lift her head once more to his ear: “We could be...we might have another baby. We could—”

 

“Yes.” He pulled as far away from her as he could without leaving her body. He leaned over to kiss her breasts, punctuating each touch with the word “yes,” over and over again. He pushed his arms beneath her and pulled her close to him. “Yes,” he whispered in her ear, against her eyelids, a soft touch before running his tongue over her lips. She opened her mouth and they fell into the kiss, their bodies fast becoming one, inseparable.

 

He felt a quickening in his loins, a pulsating urgency that swept away all thought. He could smell Catherine, could feel the solid wetness of her, he was inside her and was there anywhere else on earth...was there...any...where...

 

The force of their orgasm crashed through them, flesh upon flesh, her mouth biting into his shoulder, his shoulder swallowing her screams of ecstasy, his face buried in her hair, panting through her hair into the pillow below, no sound escaping him because he had no breath in his lungs, no strength but the strength that flowed into Catherine with his seed.

 

For a moment he was weightless and they seemed to levitate above the bed, floating upward, and then...they fell back on the bed with enough velocity to knock all the air out of Catherine.

 

For one terrifying moment she couldn’t breathe, she was drowning, suffocating, the look on Vincent’s face, Oh, no. He thinks he’s killing me…

 

And then she was in his arms, both of them streaming perspiration and dragging in long draughts of air. She clung to him, shivering, as the last tremors dissipated.

 

She heard his voice, the words sounding above her head and vibrating through his chest: “Are you all right?”

 

She couldn’t speak. She nodded and kissed his chest, loving each tiny hair that tickled her face.

 

“Dreams,” she heard him whisper.

 

“What?”

 

“Dreams come true, Catherine.” He took her face in his hands, and the love in his eyes washed over her like a hot, dry wind. “Dreams come true.”

 

“Yes, my love.” She touched his lips and smiled. “Sometimes, if you’re lucky, they do.”

 

He pulled her deeper into the shelter of his body.


Chapter 9