Rating: Classic, PG-13 for mature themes, R in the very last segment of the Epilogue for mature content.
Summary: What happened in the cave, and after.
It only takes the tiniest of fires sometimes
to light the way you knew was always there.
In the heart of matters, it's the journey keeps us warm,
the lights that lead us where we are to go.
May you raise your eyes and know with every step:
we are not alone.
---S.J. Tucker, "Come to the Labyrinth"
Chapter 1: A Vision Softly Creeping
The trek down into the lower catacombs was a long river of night, seemingly without beginning or end. Catherine would have been terrified, back in the days when she needed a candle or a night light to chase back the shadows, but now, other fears held her captive. There was Father, whose tight-lipped grimness told her all she needed to know about what might be waiting for them, and Pascal, uncharacteristically somber, whose eyes met hers then flickered away. Their silences said more than words: Vincent had gone beneath the catacombs to die.
She hardly needed someone to tell her that in any case. Their bond was wide open and Vincent's terror and self-loathing were tearing at her with a savage force, louder than any storm. What have we done to you? Catherine wondered. How could someone who loved, who was loved, by so many, hate himself so? And why hadn't she seen this coming? Surely, as bound as they were, she must have sensed something...but she had not. Only his sadness and a mild sort of aching despair had seeped through their bond and Catherine knew he had hid himself from her, even in this.
They had to stop at least once or twice; the path was rocky and uneven and not one that someone with Father's injury should have attempted, but no one would have asked him to stay behind either. He took her arm when he stood, ostensibly to steady himself against his limp but, Catherine thought, he needed the contact too. Pascal was a ways in front of them, his torchlight casting flickering shadows on the rocks when she finally looked over at Father. "You'll bring him home," Father said. "You must believe that."
Catherine looked down the distant rocky corridors where, very faintly, she thought she could hear roaring. She had brought him out of madness once before, but that was a child's tantrum compared to the tempest raging inside Vincent now. He was in such pain and if he truly had lost himself, what could she do that would save him? All she had was her love for him and it might not be enough this time. But a life without Vincent? Impossible. Unthinkable. She squared her shoulders. "I will," she replied. "I have to."
It was another hour's deep, descending climb before the roaring grew more distinct. Unlike the perpetual chill of the inhabited tunnels, this section was far Below the earth and much warmer. The heat was almost oppressive and she wondered again how Vincent had made it this far, as sick as he was. "He always did like the dark places," Father said, glancing around him and looking every bit as uneasy as she felt. "The last time..."
"'The last time,' what? What happened?" Catherine asked, feeling impatient---as she knew Vincent himself did at times---at the older man's reticence.
"When this came on him the last time...the dark was what comforted him," Father replied. "It was as if some part of him feared the light."
It was only a turn of phrase, but Catherine thought that it wasn't helping Vincent at all to be constantly described as being two separate beings. He was just Vincent, one being, one man...and she loved him, all of him. Another wave of grief and rage tore through her and she shivered in spite of the heat. Father guided her to a rocky outcropping and Pascal halted. "Catherine, you don't look at all well. Sit down for a moment." He peered at her, grey eyes sharp and assessing. "Is it the bond?" he asked, sitting down next to her and resting his hip against the rocky ledge.
She nodded. "There's such rage in him, such fear and grief. This...whatever this is, it's destroying him."
Catherine was startled when she felt Father clasp her hand. "It's always been his battle, the war he always had to fight alone. The last time, he...died, but came back to us. This time, he has you."
She blinked back tears, knowing she couldn't give into her own grief and fear if she was to be of any use to Vincent. "Thank you, Father," she said. She stood, a bit unsteadily. "We need to keep going."
At length, they reached the long narrow corridor where the gathering storm of sound was the loudest. Mouse crouched a few feet outside the cave entrance, plainly terrified. Father bent down and touched his shoulder and offered a shaky smile. Mouse looked up and his eyes lightened when he saw Catherine. "Make Vincent okay?"
She forced a smile she did not feel. "If I can, Mouse."
The storm of feeling raged through the bond---fear, hate, despair, self-loathing. Catherine took one step towards the cave entrance and Father grabbed her arm. "Catherine, please!"
She met his eyes levelly. "Father, he is my life. Without him…there is nothing." The words were out, leaden in the air, but she had never meant them more. Better to ask the sun to stop rising than to imagine a life without Vincent in it.
Father blinked rapidly and released her. Catherine began the long walk to the entrance to the cave. Slowly, Catherine recovered some of her night vision, enough to see faint details in the path…Vincent’s halting footprints, as if he’d swayed nearly to collapse before entering. A dark heap of cloth right at the entrance was Vincent’s cloak.
She ducked her head and entered the cave and was just able to see his outline, a darker shade among all the other shades of grey, crouched in a corner. The roaring was powerful, terrifying, a wall of sound and fury signifying only a man pushed beyond all mortal limits. "Vincent," she said softly, and walked towards him.
The darker streaks in his matted mane she knew instantly to be blood. The same streaks coated his hands and the defined muscles of his chest and ribcage. He wore no clothes and she realized why with a heartbreaking suddenness. Animals wore no clothing.
"Vincent," Catherine said again, but the harsh roaring continued, as if it was torn from his throat. Vincent rose to his full height and stared down at her. There was no recognition in that cold blue gaze.
The emotions flooding their bond were inchoate, fractured. Overriding everything was his terror and rage and it grabbed and tore at all rational thought. Catherine tried to project all of her love back to him through the bond, but it was lost in the deluge of his feelings. She forced herself to meet his eyes, knowing if she showed even a hint of fear, he might strike out. He wouldn't know he had done it, but it would hardly matter: she'd be dead or injured just the same.
As if in slow-motion, she saw his right hand rise, the killing hand, and time stopped.
He had no words. Words were for men and he wasn't. Everything was reduced to sensation only, to the fearsome Other he chased in the shadows of the cave, to the grief and terror that rose and drowned him in black, tarry waves. He was a creature of feelings only and though he knew that there were lighted caverns where he had a name and a family and a woman who loved him beyond thought or reason, they seemed so far away and not for him in any case.
He was not a man.
The last shuddering bits of awareness flared and died at the sight of the small creature who entered his lair. He was dangerous, a threat...foolish that she should come so close. He roared at her in warning, but she came still closer. She had a name too, much as he also had a name, but he could remember neither of them. He growled again and abruptly became aware of her mind trying to brush against his own....knowing him...loving him.
This could not be. He could not be loved. But her presence insisted it.
He raised his hand---to draw her close or scare her away, he would never know or remember---but on the downfall of his hand, the shards of his consciousness that remembered this woman and their love, managed to pull the blow. He heard her scream a word, then all was darkness and silence.
"Vincent!" Catherine screamed as his hand fell just inches from her body, as he slumped like a marionette with severed strings, as he fell gracelessly to the ground. She ran to him, feeling for a pulse and was shocked again at how hot he was, his temperature higher than it was even in those days in her apartment. It wasn't until she felt for the slow pulse at his neck that she realized there was no pulse at all.
He was gone.
Catherine placed an ear against his chest. Nothing. "Vincent," she muttered, "you can't do this, you can't let us end like this, you can't."
But it was only in fairy tales that pleas resurrected the dead, and there was no response. "Father!" she yelled, beginning CPR and blessing Joe, who'd insisted they all take the class when it was offered at the office.
Breaths, compressions, breaths, compressions....it seemed to go on and on but Catherine didn't know the passage of time as the ribs of that large chest creaked under her efforts, as she felt the blood from his lacerations coating her hands. Father came just as her own strength was beginning to fail and on his count, she stopped and he picked up the rhythm. Catherine held Vincent's hand, that large warm hand...the warm hand...the warm hand....
"Father?" Catherine gasped, wanting to hope but suddenly afraid to.
There was a rattling breath, frighteningly harsh, but it was a breath. Father sat back on his heels, breathing heavily. "He's alive," Father said, "but we must get him out of this place." Calling to Pascal, he dispatched both Mouse and Pascal with orders that sounded as complex as some military code, then Father turned to her. "I think we should both stay here until they come back." His eyes scanned her face. "Did he hurt you?"
Catherine smiled, brushing her own tears away. "No, Father. He couldn't."
Incredibly, Father smiled. "Of course not. You're his heart."
She did cry then, just a little, barely holding back the torrent of emotion until the circumstances were better. "Thank you, Father," she managed, pulling Vincent's head into her lap to stroke his hair, feeling the tangled, fever-damp mats in his mane. Only then did she remember that he was quite naked.
Father picked up the lantern Mouse had left behind and turned it up higher. The dark shades of the cave evaporated into a dim orange light and Catherine gasped at the blood on the walls. His clothes were shredded in heaps along the cave floor. "Vincent...wouldn't want to be seen like this when we bring him home," Father said, picking up the abandoned mound of Vincent's cloak---still intact, somehow—and placing it over him.
It was true, Catherine knew; Vincent's layers of clothing weren't merely protection against the perpetual chill of the tunnels. But her heart hurt some more at how much he felt he had to hide, even among family and friends. She pushed that thought aside for later consideration; the immediate concern was to get Vincent out of this cave and back to his home.
Father stood and headed for the cave entrance. "Mouse said he stashed some canteens of water nearby. I'll bring them back."
Catherine nodded; it was stiflingly hot and now that the immediate danger had passed, she was uncomfortably aware of her sweater sticking to the thin fabric of her camisole and bra. She pulled her sweater off and folded it next to her trench-coat. There was a slight movement out of the corner of her eye: Vincent, shifting restlessly. She scrambled back to him and looked down at his face as she had done all those long days in her apartment. "I'm here," she said, touching the fine soft fur on his cheekbones. "I won't leave."
His eyes opened just a bit and his mouth worked, trying and failing to speak. "Don't, my love," Catherine said. "Rest. You're safe now. It's over."
Vincent's eyes slid shut just as Father returned with the canteens. "Was he conscious?" Father asked, coming to sit by them.
"I don't know if you'd call it that," Catherine said, picking out one tangle in his mane and trying to unravel it. She laid one hand on Vincent's forehead, noting that his temperature seemed to be coming down a bit. "He awoke a bit and looked at me and tried to say something. But I'm not sure he was really aware."
"Still," Father replied, "that's a good sign. He didn't strike out at you, so perhaps this...illness is losing its hold on him."
Catherine wasn't so sure about that. "Father. What was he like after...the last time?"
Father stared off into the distance. "He awoke briefly, to ask me if he was dead and when I told him he wasn't, he said he was hungry." At Catherine's muffled chuckle, he laughed a bit too. "Well, he was, in that respect, a very normal teenage boy. Between he and Devin and Pascal and Winslow, it's a wonder they all didn't eat us out of house and home when they were teenagers." He sobered then. "Physically, he recovered within a couple of weeks, regaining his strength quickly as he always does. His emotional recovery, though, took quite a long time. For several weeks, he was silent, withdrawn---embarrassed, I think, and haunted by what he'd been capable of doing, what he'd become in that madness. It was months before I heard him speak more than a few words to anyone." Father looked over at her and the grey eyes softened. "I bear some of the blame for this latest illness. When he awakes, I hope he can forgive me."
Catherine tilted her head, picking out another stubborn tangle. "What do you mean?"
"After his illness, when he finally spoke to me...Catherine, I was afraid."
"Of him or for him?" she asked, blunt.
"Both," Father confessed. "Lisa had been the source of such disaster for him and I didn't know...I didn't want him to ever hurt like that again. So I told him, as his friends began to pair off, that it was best if he not...get involved."
Catherine bit her lip, feeling the hard words rumbling in her throat, but knowing they needed to be said. "And the message he received was that he was unworthy of love, of being loved."
"I never meant him to think or feel that," Father said. "Dear God, not that. Anyone who knows him knows there's no one who deserves love more."
Love. Yes, Vincent deserved all that and more---hadn’t she said so, tried to show him many times? All the words, lost down some unknowable abyss of the soul. Had he ever really believed her? She stared down at Vincent, at the blood drying on his forehead, thinking of all the rage, all the pain those wounds represented. He clearly had been banging his head against the rock, trying to…what? Destroy something? Block it out? Catherine thought then of other times blood had coated his hands---when he’d killed to protect her. Killed for her, perhaps, because he feared to express his love in any other way except through his protection.
And I didn’t see. Dear God, I didn’t see. "I should have known what the killings were doing to him," she said.
"How?" Father asked reasonably. "If there's one thing I've learned about my son, it's that he can be infernally stubborn when it suits him. When he doesn't want to talk, he won't."
Catherine smiled, just a bit. "'Infernally stubborn'? I can't imagine where he would have gotten that."
Father looked at her over the top of his glasses, finding a wry smile of his own. "I'm sure you can't." He opened up his beaten-up medical bag and took out a clean, soft rag. "We might as well try and get some of the blood cleaned up so we can at least see where the wounds are."
"There's a lot of it," she breathed. Her hands came to rest on his forehead; nearly hidden by his jagged bangs was the outline of one pale scar. Catherine knew where that scar had come from; the first of many she feared she'd given him, though the only one that was visible.
"Yes," Father agreed. "Head wounds tend to bleed quite a lot, even when they're not that serious." He gave her one of the rags he'd dampened with the water in the canteen and took the other rag himself. Together, they cleaned Vincent's face and hair of much of the blood and dirt. Father brought the lantern closer to see better. "Hmmm. Looks like a few scalp lacerations which will need stitches, but unless he also has a concussion, I don't think they're severe. I am concerned about the chest injuries, though; if he's got broken ribs, we'll have to be very gentle in bringing him home."
For the next half hour, Catherine watched Father do his examination in mounting concern. When he finally put his stethoscope away, she looked over at him. "How is he?"
Father rubbed his chin. "Dehydrated, but that's no great surprise. I suspect he has at least two cracked ribs and some deep bruising. But we can move him if we do so gently. After we get him home, we can address the other issues."
Vincent stirred a bit, reaching out fretfully, and Catherine clasped his hand gently, noticing the deep .bruises there and trying to be gentle. "I'm here. I'm not leaving." He relaxed back into sleep.
"He did that the last time," Father murmured. "Kept reaching out for something or someone. I never knew what to do for him then." His eyes met hers, warm and grey. "Dear Catherine. Just keep telling him that. It's what he needs to hear."
The sounds of Mouse's fractured chatter reached them and they smiled. Mouse, Pascal and two men Catherine hadn't personally met were outside the entrance of the cave.. One of them was at least as tall as Vincent, the other was shorter, but stockier. "I'm Elijah," said the taller man, "and this is Paul. We'll bring him home, ma'am, don't worry."
She watched as they carefully maneuvered Vincent's body onto the waiting stretcher which---like everything else in the tunnels---was patched and composed of parts far removed from their original purpose. It buckled for a second under Vincent's weight and he groaned but with Father's bracing on his ribs, he soon settled again into what Catherine hoped was a deep healing sleep.
She picked up her sweater and overcoat from the cave floor. Clasping Vincent's hand again, she was startled to feel Father's hand on her arm. "Come, my dear. Let's bring him home."
"He's lost so much weight," Catherine said some time later, as they sat near Vincent's bed. Father had hooked up the IV and Mary had brought a meal for them both. Together, the three of them had cleaned and bandaged his wounds and with the help of Elijah and Paul, they had managed to get Vincent into a clean nightshirt. It was, Catherine thought grimly, probably the first time he'd been clear of the fever in days. Every rib on his chest had stood out in stark relief and once the golden fur had been cleaned of the blood and dirt, it was obvious how wasted he'd become.
Mary nodded. "He hasn't been eating regularly...I'm surprised he didn't collapse long before this." She rose then, and clasped Catherine's shoulder. "He'll be fine, Catherine. It's been a scary time for all of us, but things will turn around. You'll see." She looked down at Catherine. "Should I make up the guest chamber for you?"
Catherine shook her head. "No. I'll stay here with him."
Mary smiled, as if she'd expected as much. "Very well. I'll be in the nursery if you need anything."
When she left, Father looked over at Catherine. "Are you sure you wish to stay? His sleep may be restless for some days, until he comes out of this...whatever this is."
"I'm sure," Catherine said. "You said it yourself: he needs me near. And I need to be there."
"Yes, of course," Father replied. "And I'm sure he'll heal faster knowing you're near. I only meant that it might be a rough few nights until he wakes up." He stood then. "I'm going to go to sleep myself. If you need anything, please call."
"I will, Father," she said. Vincent had shifted in his sleep slightly; there was just enough room for her to curl next to him on the bed. She pulled off her shoes and crawled in next to him and pulled the covers up. Taking one of Vincent's bandaged hands in her own, and being careful of his IV line, Catherine murmured, "I'm here. I'm not leaving." Overcome by weariness, she slept.
Chapter Two: Coming Forth by Day
It was dark, wherever he was. It wasn't the cave, but it wasn't the dimness of his chamber either. He was nearly weightless, the tether binding him to earth slender and frail...but at the same time, he didn't want to let go of the tether for fear of being lost. There were presences he felt, those that loved him and worried for him, but he had no energy to sort them out, no power to even open his eyes and respond.
"You're not dead, you know," a female voice said out of the stillness. Vincent turned his head and saw, to his shock, a great winged goddess. Ma'at, from the Egyptian legends he'd read as a child.
"Ma'at?" he asked, stunned.
Her large wings, the wings of a hawk, fluttered a bit as she came towards him. "I was wondering if you remembered your legends. Who am I the goddess of, Vincent?"
"Justice and law," he replied. She had been one of his favorites to read about, she and Selket and Sekhmet.
Ma'at nodded. "Very good. Do you know why I'm here now?"
He remembered, with his heart in his throat, that Ma'at was also the decider of souls, the one who determined whether the souls of the dead would pass on into the afterlife. He recalled the story of the scale she carried, the scale that weighed whether a man's heart was heavier than a feather with the crimes he had committed while alive. Yet she had said he was not dead. "To...pass judgment?" he asked with a mouth gone suddenly dry.
"On those who need it, yes. Should I stand in judgment of you?" She folded her arms, the feathers rustling.
"I have killed, Ma'at. Too many times. I have lost myself in it too often. I no longer know if I am anything but a killer."
Her great gold eyes gazed at him. "You defended the weak, the ones who could not defend themselves. You judge yourself far more harshly than I could." She gestured with one feathered arm towards a section of the darkness which was growing lighter. "The war you fight inside yourself is what has so nearly destroyed you. Come."
Unwillingly, he stood. "Here is where you leave," Ma'at continued. "When your journey ends, we will meet again."
Vincent awoke to find himself on a park bench in Central Park. In daylight. Instinctively, he tensed, reaching to pull the hood of his cloak up, but there was no hood, because he wasn’t wearing his cloak. Before this oddness could unsettle him, he noticed that the colors around him were even stranger---purple grass, brown trees, a dune yellow sky. "Ah, I see you’re awake, brother," a voice said from off to his right, and he turned.
It was the Other. Darker than he, and more formidable, but strangely calm. "Why are you here?" Vincent asked, forgetting for a moment all the dangers of being in the sunlight, or the sheer weirdness of waking up here, in a Central Park with purple grass.
The Other hopped down from his perch on a boulder. "Why do you think I’m here?"
Vincent growled softly in the back of his throat, having no patience for riddles. "I was in the cave and…"
"And the lovely Catherine saved you," the Other finished. "Good work that was, pulling the blow. You’d have killed her."
"It would have been you who did it," Vincent ground out, the growl riding just under his words. "I could never hurt her. I was trying to protect her from you."
The Other appeared utterly unfazed by this display of temper. "So you say. But you nearly died. Chasing me, of all things. Anyone ever tell you that chasing a part of yourself makes about as much sense as chasing our non-existent tail?" His dark counterpart came to sit next to him on the bench and Vincent was able to see that they were, indeed, nearly twins. The Other’s hair, which he’d taken for being dirty, was merely black, if uncombed.
"So what do you want?" Vincent asked.
"I’m not real," his twin said, serious. "I’m a creation, a figment of what you fear. That’s why you’re here. And that’s why we’re going to take this trip together."
Vincent remembered the first time he’d sensed this apparition, back in the dark days after Lisa left, and the sick crawling nausea he’d felt each and every time he’d seen The Other or heard his taunting words. But now…he felt no fear of him, no despair. Nothing. "Am I dead?" Ma'at had said he was not, and yet....
His dark alter snorted. "Does this look like paradise to you?"
Vincent had to admit it did not. "Then let that be your answer," the Other continued. "You’re not dead. Just in the..netherworld. Elysium, if you remember those legends Father read to us when we were ill."
"I do remember," Vincent said. "I’m just not sure why I’m here."
"Because you need to be," his dark alter said. He stood then and beckoned with his hand, clawed like Vincent’s own, though the fur was much darker. "Come."
They walked for a time under the yellow sky until the Other stopped. "This is where you go ahead. I’ll be at the other side of the path when you’re done."
Vincent turned, meaning to ask which path the Other meant---there were many, branching off in all directions---but when he looked beside him, the Other was gone. Walking slowly in the direction his dark twin had indicated, Vincent found that the path behind him was growing darker and dimmer until it was night.
He stepped into a Central Park possessed of its usual colors…or, at least, what he thought of its normal colors: the cool shades of moonlight and night. Stars glittered pale overhead and there was a warm summer’s breeze blowing. A faint smell made his nose wrinkle in distaste; he hadn’t smelled the acrid grass smell since he’d been a teenager walking the park.
Vincent looked down at himself---he, at least, was not changed, but he very much feared the world around him was. He looked closer at one group of students, dressed in bell bottom jeans and tie-dyed shirts and was shaken. This was not his world, his time, any longer. A shadow crept out from behind the trees, a young man dressed in bell bottom jeans and a t-shirt that had seen better days. "Remember me?" he asked.
From the shadow of his hood (when had he gotten his cloak back again? Vincent wondered) he looked sideways at the stranger. "Should I?" The voice was not at all familiar to him.
"You don’t remember me. But I…I remember you." The young man turned his attention to a lone female jogger, who waved at the laughing students as she ambled by. "Do you remember her?"
Vincent’s breath froze in his throat. Did he…oh did he? How could he not? And all of a sudden, he remembered the young man, the jogger and the events to come. "It cannot be," he muttered.
"I want her," the young man said, sullen in his rage. "But she won’t look twice at me. I have to make her see me."
In the space of a heartbeat, Vincent remembered how this scene had really occurred. Time snapped, and rebounded back...
"I'm going to walk in the park," Vincent had said, gathering up his cloak. It was stiflingly hot, even in the tunnels, but he needed the cloak's protection.
Father turned to look at him. His hair and beard were dark; there was not a single strand of silver. "Vincent, I know I don't need to tell you the dangers, but must you? Especially with the attacks in the park; our helpers haven't been crossing through the park in weeks since these murders occurred." He laid down the newspaper that he'd been reading; Vincent didn't need acute eyesight to see the headline that blared: FOURTH VICTIM FOUND IN CENTRAL PARK.
"I'll be careful, Father," Vincent said, seventeen and impatient to escape the close, heated confines of the tunnels. The heat-wave above was making everyone Below tense and nervous with the unaccustomed heat and Vincent thought that if he didn't escape the collective irritability of his tunnel family for a few hours, he might lose his mind.
"'Careful,' hmm?" Father said, scathingly. "And if the police are chasing this criminal and they see you, what then? Do you know what they'd do to you above?"
Vincent barely refrained from rolling his eyes, but it was a near thing. "I know, Father. But I have to get out of here for a little bit."
"It's not much cooler above," Father said, trying one last time.
"I know," Vincent said. "I won't be gone long."
"See that you're not," Father replied.
Vincent had left the tunnels then, anxious for the cooler air and the calmer minds above. He had dodged the small groups of drunk and stoned students who were hanging out in the park, unafraid because they were young and they thought nothing bad could happen to them. He managed to hide in the shadows when a prostitute and her john came within a few feet of his hiding place and he was able to leave without their noticing.
But he hadn't counted on the lone female jogger. She passed within inches of him near a heavily wooded trail and he'd had to stand stock still and hope the shadows obscured his face. "Who's there?" she asked uncertainly.
Vincent held still, holding his breath. If she came any closer, she might be able to see him, cloaked or not. She stared into the shadows of the trees but didn't see anything and slowly, she picked up her pace again. Vincent breathed out in relief and emerged from the trees and resumed his walk. It was a few minutes later when he heard the voices ahead on the path. The female jogger and someone else, talking.
"What are you doing out here, Jesse?" she asked.
"Oh, you know me, I love a walk in the park," her companion returned. He was a young man, dressed in bell bottoms---how do they walk in those? Vincent wondered---and a grubby t-shirt.
"Sure you do," the woman said. "If I didn't know better, I'd think you were stalking me."
"Nah, not me," the man replied and Vincent shivered at the hate emanating from him. How could she not sense it? Vincent wondered. "I just want a date, that's all," the young man continued.
"And I've told you 'No,' a thousand times," the jogger said, finally becoming annoyed. "I'm engaged, you know."
"He can't love you like I do." The obsession and longing emanating from the other man was nauseating in its force and Vincent began to wish he'd stayed Below.
"Jesse, come on, let's just....don't touch me, you asshole!" The man grabbed her arm and the jogger tried to free herself, her panic beating against Vincent's mind like the flutter of bird's wings.
It all happened so fast; later, Vincent would see the precise sequence of events over and over and not be able to think of what else he might have done differently. The young man had grabbed the jogger roughly, intending to force her off the path into the woods. There was a struggle and the ripping of cloth and the silver light of a knife and Vincent had known he couldn't stand by and let the jogger be raped and killed. Instinct had taken over, overriding everything he'd ever known or been taught. All he'd known was that he'd had to protect.
When it was over, when the man Jesse lay in slaughtered ribbons, bleeding his life out into the woods, the jogger had looked up in her terror and screamed, backing away from him. "You...you're a monster! Get away from me!"
Vincent had stood, hands and face and fur covered in blood and left her, as she'd asked.
"That was rough," the Other said, appearing at his shoulder. Time had, apparently, reverted to its normal form, Vincent thought dully. "That was the first time we killed and she didn't appreciate it, did she?"
"I terrified her," Vincent said, turning away from the scene, frozen like amber in front of him.
"Sure," the Other agreed equably. "But you saved her, too. I'm sure when she thought it over, she'd much rather have been alive to be terrified."
"Perhaps," Vincent said.
His dark twin came to stand in front of him. "You still don't get it, do you? We don't murder. Jesse killed four women and would have killed a fifth if you hadn't stopped him."
"I know," Vincent replied. "But Father's reaction---"
"Father's reaction was overdone," the Other said. "He saw us when we came back and thought we'd been hurt. And when you told him what had happened, his next thought was that you'd risked the discovery of the tunnels by saving a topsider. So you were never able to talk to him about what you felt when you killed Jesse."
"He didn't wish to know," Vincent replied.
"He didn't wish to know," the Other said, "because that side of us has always frightened him. He's known we were capable of such things ever since Devin, since Lisa. But he doesn't want to see it."
"I don't want to see it either," Vincent growled.
"It's who we are," the Other insisted softly. "But it's not all of who we are. It's your choice, brother. You can accept it, or be destroyed by it." He paused. "Hasn't there been enough destruction?"