Chapter four

The River and the Reconciled


She continued her course along the precipitous sides of the river, when suddenly her foot slipped, and she fell into the rapid stream. I rushed from my hiding-place and with extreme labour, from the force of the current, saved her and dragged her to shore.


The afternoon Catherine tried to hide Carol Stabler was an inauspicious one.  Phone calls to make, and a brownstone in the Village to prepare.  Clear skies, at least as "clear" as New York ever got, which was to say "sunny, with the haze of car exhaust" that always hovered over the city.

Vincent had prowled back up through the passageways, his mind working as he went, the bag of journals weighing down his progress.

This was a fool's quest.  She was beyond beautiful and beyond his reach.  Literally as well as figuratively.  He was fairly near the Village when he first sensed her alarm.  In a way, that was no coincidence.  He'd been tracking her from Below, wanting to feel the sensation of having her close.

Fear.  A trickle of it at the base of his skull, and he knew it wasn't his fear he was sensing.  She was afraid.  No, not just afraid.  Terrif---

He dropped the bag and took off at a dead run before the word could finish forming.


They were there, and they were fools.  Three of them, and they'd thought to hurt her.

The rage that had been running through his veins now had an outlet, and the results were not pretty.

"Mine!"  Vincent had tried to say the word on a strangling roar, as he'd swung at her attackers.  At first, they'd swung back.  At first.

I resolved not to fall before my enemy without a bitter struggle.

It hadn't lasted long.

As Vincent killed the last one, he was aware of her eyes on his back.  His hope… shattered.

Oh, no.  God, no.  Not this.  She hadn't...seen him do this, had she?  Seen him kill?  Even for her sake, she hadn't watched him dig his bare claws into a man and...

I do know that for the sympathy of one living being, I would make peace with all. I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.


Her voice.  That beautiful, husky voice.  The one he would never hear again, after today.

He sat and saw.  The results were horrific, and he wanted to retch, and not for the first time that day.

Don't look.  Don't look, Catherine.  If you do, you'll never...

He leaned back on the step, exhausted.  It was too much.  It was all too much.  Between what Jacob was trying to wring from him and what she was bringing out in him, and what he was trying to tear away then cobble together for himself, it was too much.

He stayed on a step, stunned, the weight of all of it on his shoulders, then.

When I run over the frightful catalogue of my sins, I cannot believe that I am the same creature whose thoughts were once filled with sublime and transcendent visions of the beauty and the majesty of goodness.  But it is even so; the fallen angel becomes a malignant devil.


Her eyes.  Green pools of sympathy.  Safe.  Still alive.  The other woman, Carol, couldn't say as much.  Now none of them could, except for her.  And him.

He waited for the sympathy to change to horror, to change to fear.  That look he knew.  It was the one Paracelsus' underlings gave him, most of the time, and they were right to show it.

Now she would have reason to.

Do you see, Catherine?  This is what I am.  This is what I can do.  This is what I excel at, naturally.  Jacob can make a scholar or a chess player out of me if he wishes, but this… This is what I am.

And of course she would see, and of course she would turn from him.

She reached for his hands.  His hands!  His claws were covered with blood.

"Go.  You have to go."

It wasn't her words he was processing.  It was the look on her face.

Sympathy, and concern.  Concern for him, and for a moment, he truly had no idea why.  Had he not vanquished the enemies?  Was he not victor on this battlefield?  Vincent.  Conqueror.  He knew the meaning of his name.

"Cather...ine”… Speech was slow to return to him.  It always was, when he was in a blood rage.

"Vincent, you have to go.  You have to be safe."

"Go."  He simply repeated the monosyllable, his brain still not catching up.  God, she was so beautiful.  And she was safe.  And she was a woman who would never be his.

"Yes, go!"

Her voice was stronger now, and it was more than a request and barely less than an order.  His love was giving him, Vincent, an order.  It would have been comical, except for the dead bodies in the room.

"You have to get to safety.  Now!"  She looked to the side as she heard sirens coming.

His love was concerned for his safety.  He felt her small hands drop his, and push at his chest ineffectively, trying to move him.

Fear.  He felt it, again.  But for him.  And not of him.  She was afraid for him, and trying to push him toward the broken doorway, toward the way back down, to safety.

"Go.  Go, go, go!"  Now it was definitely a command, though a fearfully whispered one.

He saw no judgment in her eyes, no harsh reprisals.  And not the approving look of satisfaction Paracelsus had always given him after a kill.  He saw concern for his safety, for the first time in his life.

"Meet me below." His voice was harsh in his own ears.  Roaring always strained his vocal cords.


"Will you?  Meet me below."

The sirens grew louder, and he knew she'd agree to meet him in Hell at that moment, if it would get him moving toward the doorway.

Return as heroes who have fought and conquered, and who know not what it is to turn their backs on the foe.

"I will.  Please!  Go!"

He knew she was telling the truth.  He also knew that his strength was ebbing.  That after the rush of the kill always came the weakness of the aftermath.  An almost aching tiredness that would set into his bones, and leave him exhausted.

He ran while he still had the energy for it, and heard her voice, behind him, buying him time.  The shattered brick would have to cover his escape.  He had to go.  He'd stayed too long, just to be near her, just to be sure.  He knew it.

He leaned against a wall, panting, knowing two things with certainty:  Every muscle in his body hurt, and he couldn't wait for her to reach him.

But I feel myself justified in desiring the death of my adversary.


He sat in "their" spot, just past the tumbledown wall of bricks, hands clasped to his knees, resting with his back to the wall.  He'd had less comfortable places to come down in.  Far less comfortable.


Nothing is more painful to the human mind than, after the feelings have been worked up by a quick succession of events, the dead calmness of inaction and certainty which follows and deprives the soul both of hope and fear.


It was hours before he heard her step on the ladder, and he anticipated no less.  Vaguely, he could "feel" her inside their bond as she dealt with the aftermath of their day.  Then he felt her come home.

A step he would never tire of hearing made its way down.  He stood, anticipating her arrival, yet dreading it a little, too.  Did the interval give her time to reconsider?  She'd have had time to see the bodies...

She launched at him, embracing his huge form the minute her booted foot hit the ground.  "Are you all right?" she asked, worriedly.  He'd looked weak.   It was a look she was wholly unaccustomed to seeing, on him.

Once I falsely hoped to meet the beings who, pardoning my outward form, would love me for the excellent qualities which I was capable of unfolding.

"I am now," he told her, closing his eyes to bliss, as his huge arms went around her.  "Are you?  They didn't hurt you, did they?"  He wanted to pull her back a bit, to inspect her form.  But on the other hand, didn't want to let her go so much as a fraction of an inch.

"No, no, I'm fine.  Thanks to you.  Thanks to you, Vincent."

She squeezed his neck, and he held her as close as he dared.

"How did... how did you even know to be there?" she asked, confused. 

He'd never told her about the growing empathy between them.  Had barely been able to accept it, himself.

"I feel what you're feeling," he said simply.  Thus strangely are our souls constructed, and by slight ligaments are we bound to prosperity and ruin.

She gave him another squeeze.  "You do, don't you?  Oh, Vincent.  What are we going to do?" she asked, and he both knew what she was asking him and he didn't.

He didn’t tell her what he was thinking.  He couldn’t, not without frightening her with all he felt.  I would tear apart the world for you.  Remake it in your image, if I could.

"Hold on to me.  Just.... hold on to me for a few minutes, Catherine," he said, rubbing her back, loving the feel of her beneath his hands.  His clawed hands.  She was not afraid of him.  She was not disgusted, not terrified, not appalled.  She was holding him, and pressing her woman's body against his masculine one, and locking her small arms tight around his neck, a rag doll of feminine sweetness, refusing to let go.

I love you.  The words whispered through his brain.  Were they hers?  His?  Both?

"You're tired," she fretted, after she let him go a bit.

He was.  There was no sense trying to hide it.

"It's always like this after I... after I fight," he told her.

She nodded, understanding.

"Catherine, I... I didn't frighten you?"

"I was more afraid for you than for me.  Vincent, if they ever caught you..."

"They won't," he humored her, knowing if they ever did, it would likely be his last week on earth.  Or he'd wish it was.  "And if they do, I have you.  My protector."  A guardian angel to the afflicted… He brushed her cheek with his thumb.  His hirsute thumb.

"Will you rest?  Will Father let you stay here for the night?”

He'd told her very little of how he truly lived.  But he'd told her enough so she understood the situation in a large picture, if not the particulars.

"I'll speak to him.  I... may owe him an apology for earlier."  Scattering the chess pieces felt like a year ago, when in reality it had only happened the day before yesterday.

Catherine nodded, not asking for the details.  Perhaps she didn't need them.

"I can't stay long…" She looked back up the ladder.  “My friend Jenny is coming over soon.  She heard about today.  I know she'll stay the night."

The warning was clear.  Even if he felt up to the climb, the balcony was off limits.

He nodded, understanding.  He had to let her go.  That was good, because he felt as if he was about to keel over, and didn't want her to see his weakness.

"Catherine, I..." The words.  He wanted to say them.  He wanted to say “I love you.”  But they stuck in his throat.  Love?  His was so worthless a thing.  Especially right now, when all he could offer her was a ragged pallet in a chamber in Hades, peopled by miscreants only slightly more grotesque than himself.

"Be well, Catherine," he finished lamely,

"Be well, Vincent," she returned, touching his cheek before she ascended.


He slept hard on the ground near the ladder, his cape serving as a blanket.  The Tunnel air was cool, up here near the surface.  It felt good against his fevered skin.  Still.  He would have to get heavier clothing if he was going to stay here, would have to make arrangements, would have to...

Would have to speak with Jacob, and take the stiff-necked pride out of his voice.  At least as much as he could.

Rising, dusting himself off, Vincent set himself on the course he’d been facing since almost the moment he brought Catherine down.

Lugging the bag of belongings with him, the being who identified with a fictitious monster more than any living man slowly made his way to the other person who would shape his destiny.


Vincent washed up in the basin of the hospital chamber, a room where he'd set a stack of John's journals as he emptied the bag.  It was there Jacob found him, as he pulled clean water through his mane with his clawed fingers.

Jacob knew Vincent was aware of him from the moment he'd entered the chamber, the soft tapping of his walking stick giving him away if nothing else had.  The big man didn't turn.  His shoulders were bent.  Whatever had happened after their argument, it had taken some of the starch out of him.

Jacob thumbed through one of the journals.  Some of it was encoded, some was gibberish, to Jacob.  Some was horrifying.

"The bodies you found."  Vincent addressed the stones.  "They raped a woman in the park.  Made the man watch, then killed him for his wallet.  I... was too late to save either of them.  I tracked them to your east entrance, before it was sealed.  They were in the hallway."

"Did you fight them, then?"

"Not at first," Vincent admitted.  Then he turned.

“There was a girl coming down the hallway, about to walk right into them.  One of yours.  Jamie. I... I led them away, but they didn't follow very far.  Refused.  When they started to go back... then."

Jacob didn't doubt the words.  He couldn't.  But until then, the killings had made no sense.

"Sometimes there were others.  In the park.  John told us to leave the bodies Below so the police wouldn't find them, wouldn't draw attention."

"Were they always... evil people?"  Jacob asked carefully.

"All people are evil people, Jacob.  Haven't you heard?" He looked away a moment.  Then:  "They were murderers, yes.  But don't make me out to be noble.  John would set us on the worst of them as a test, and as a sport.  There is no sport in killing a man who doesn't know how to kill you back.  We would find someone who had done that.  Erlik and I.  Track them.  Find them.  Sometimes kill.  Sometimes not.  First blood ate better that night, or got the extra blanket for the floor.  I didn't do it to be noble.  I did it because there was a stone in the middle of my back, where I lay."

Jacob understood his meaning.

"John told us to leave the bodies where they would frighten you."

Jacob nodded.

"And I don't like thinking I have to explain myself to you," Vincent concluded.

"Perhaps you don't.  Perhaps you're explaining yourself to you, Vincent."  Jacob leaned on his walking stick, feeling older than he was.

Vincent turned back to the sink, scrubbing his hands and arms nearly to the elbow.  When he was done, he leaned against the battered receptacle, the wet fur of his arms dripping into the basin and down the sides.

"John said he made me."  Vincent still faced the wall.  "He lied.  Didn't he?"

The question.  The one that had haunted Vincent since this whole thing had begun, since he'd brought Catherine Below.  Longer.

"Yes.  I'm afraid so, Vincent."  Jacob's voice was very gentle.  "I'm also afraid I don't know anything about how you came to be.  We found you outside St. Vincent's Hospital.  Wrapped in rags.  It was the coldest night of the year."

“’When falsehood can look so like the truth, who can assure themselves of certain happiness?’”

Vincent quoted Shelley, as always.  Jacob wondered if he knew any other author so well, and realized he probably didn't.  It would take time.

"We?"  Vincent asked. He’d not missed the word that described being found.

"Helpers, foraging above.  Anna Pater, for one.  She was John's wife.  And one of the kindest women I ever knew."

John had mentioned Anna rarely.  Vincent did not remember her.  Or didn’t think he did.

"He told me my mother died.  That I ripped my way clear of her womb." The big man turned, calm acceptance in his eyes.  "It's why he never made another of me.  Said the process was too long and the female had to be too... particular.  And that disposing of the body afterward was inconvenient."

Jacob saw how deeply that lie alone had agonized Vincent.  After a careful pause Father asked, "Did you ever know John to find killing someone ... inconvenient?" 

Vincent shook his head slowly.  "It's part of why I suspected he was lying," was all the big beast said, finally rubbing his arms with a towel.  He slung it over his massive shoulder.

"I killed three men today," Vincent confessed.  "They attacked Catherine.  They were the ones who savaged her face.  They were going to kill her, so I... killed them, first." The last was said almost reluctantly, as if he didn't want Jacob to know, didn't want anyone to know.  What an odd feeling, this... this opening one's self up for the judgment of others was.

"Is Catherine all right?"  Jacob asked.

Vincent nodded.  “She is safe, Above.”

"And if I... if I were to tell you that this course of action, your... involvement with her, will... only bring you unhappiness?  What then?"

I do know that for the sympathy of one living being, I would make peace with all. I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.

"I would say, 'Then I will be unhappy.'"

Jacob nodded again, with understanding.

Vincent sighed tiredly.  "I owe you an apology for the other day.  The chess set."

"You owe me more than that.  I'm missing a pawn.  It's likely rolled under my bed.  I assume you'll try and find it, next time you visit." 

Vincent accepted the censure.  And the invitation.  And the forgiveness.  He leaned back against the sink, staring at the strange, implacable older man in front of him.  Paracelsus had called Jacob a weak old fool, often.

Vincent was beginning to realize that that, like much else, had been a lie on John's part.

"Father," the word still felt strange to him, but he was beginning to understand why those here used it, “am I a man?"  He turned his gaze away, and waited for the response, expecting the worst, and hoping for the best, knowing he'd just made himself vulnerable to this creature, and not liking it.

"Part of you is," Jacob answered.

Vincent accepted the words.  There was no prevarication in them.  Whatever else Jacob was, he was not unkind.  And if he was a fool, at least he was an honest one.  Vincent accepted the judgment.

"I want... that is, I hope you will teach me chess.  After I find the missing piece."

He folded his arms across his chest, a little defensively.  He didn't like being in a position where he had to ask for something, or to apologize.  That was all right, Jacob thought.  He'd get used to it or he wouldn't.  At least he was doing it.

Jacob simply inclined his head.  "I imagine that can be arranged," he answered.

"I... I would like to stay in the room with the large window.  More often than I do now."

Jacob nodded slightly.

"Perhaps... more than ‘more often.’”

Again, Father simply inclined his head.  "That, too, can be arranged, I imagine.  Vincent, we have very few rules here.  But our chief one is that you accept help when it's offered.  And offer it in kind, when it's needed.  Do you think you can do that?"

"I will probably be better at the latter than the former.  If I promise to try, is that enough?"

Jacob regarded him solemnly.  The missing piece.  In a very real way, the Tunnels had not been the same since the day John had taken Vincent, and run.

"What John told you, about your birth… it isn't true, Vincent.  I examined you the hour Anna brought you down.  You still had traces of your umbilical cord.  And while your... your unique features were already apparent... your nails were soft, Vincent.  From the amniotic fluid.  Like all newborns' are."

Blue eyes flickered, and a gratitude deeper than any Jacob could imagine crossed the big man's face.  Lord knew how many lies John had told him, or for how long.  A long road lay in front of them.

"Thank you," Vincent said, the words very unfamiliar in his mouth, yet very necessary.  The difference between suspecting the truth and knowing it was huge.

I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.

"I looked through his journals, hoping to find a clue." Vincent indicated the stack of books and the small pile of belongings he'd brought up in the sack.

"Hmm.  What's this?" Jacob tugged the scrap of blue needlework forward.  "Ah.  I remember this.  Mary made it for you.  Anna wanted to, but Mary was much faster with a needle, and decided you should have a proper christening blanket for your naming ceremony."  Jacob fingered the soft fabric.

"Mary?"  Vincent asked.  He hadn't known.

"Mmm.  She lost a son, before she came Below.  She tends all the children.  I imagine if you want to know some stories of your infancy, Mary could tell you anything I can't."

Vincent thought about the older woman.  Hazel eyes.  Hair in a bun.  Kind.  Fragile, he'd thought.

He was going to have to reassess how he viewed all the women in his life, it seemed.  He kept thinking them not as resilient as they were.

"Hopefully, she's not afraid of me."

"Afraid?  Mary?"  Jacob nearly scoffed.  "I've known that woman for over thirty years. I don't think I've seen her afraid yet."

"Perhaps there is something she needs.  Something she would let me help her with," Vincent answered.

Jacob smiled.  He was learning.

"You know, I think there might be.  She mentioned something about needing a set of shelves built, or some such.  Think you're up to it?"

A bargain was forming between them.  One where he would stay.  Become part of this community.  Serve in heaven.

Jacob extended his hand.  Fingerless gloves kept it warm.

Vincent took it, and they shook.

"I need a proper night's sleep.  It's been a long day."

"That, and some shirts.  Believe it or not, it's not so uncomfortable up here, if you dress for it."

Jacob smiled a little as Vincent moved past him toward the door.  Fatigue still owned the large body, and Vincent wanted to settle into his chambers.  His chambers.  The idea seemed so strange, to him.

"It will be all right, Vincent."

Vincent inclined his head.

Once I falsely hoped to meet the beings who, pardoning my outward form, would love me for the excellent qualities which I was capable of unfolding.

"Of course it will, Father.  After years of holding Frankenstein to my breast, I finally have Great Expectations."

And he did.



to chapter 5


to Once Beautiful and Brave