Epilogue, Samhain night.
Vincent dressed carefully, anticipating a night in the open air. No stone roof above his head. No easily defensible position. Too many people, and all of them unknown to him.
It should have been the kind of thing that gave him hives.
In the months since he'd saved her he barely recognized the changes, in either himself, or her.
She'd found some level of peace and fulfillment in the hard days she spent at her job. And the warrior inside Vincent met the scholar in him, as well.
She was indeed a guardian of the people, now.
He was discovering that role for himself, with her help, and with Jacob's.
My thoughts now became more active, and I longed to discover the motives and feelings of these lovely creatures; I was inquisitive to know why Felix appeared so miserable and Agatha so sad. I thought (foolish wretch!) that it might be in my power to restore happiness to these deserving people.
"There is no way I can dissuade you from this...is there?" Jacob sounded hopeful as Vincent adjusted his cape.
Vincent grinned slightly at the irony that Jacob should be worried for him.
"Surely tonight, of all nights, I can walk among them."
"We can consider it your fault if I am caught. Brigit O’Donnell is in New York. Catherine is attending a party for her, and will meet me, after."
"You are determined about this, then?"
"I already agreed not to meet O’Donnell. More you should not ask, Father."
It was almost worth it to hear Vincent call him “Father” more often than he called him "Jacob," these days.
Jacob shook his head, wondering at the transformation in his “son” as he carefully adjusted his elaborate cuffs. It was a chilly October night. Still, the sight of Vincent in layered clothing was… different.
Vincent could sense the walls between the worlds growing thin, even before the sun had set.
"It would make me feel better if you would agree to stay in Catherine's apartment, at least," Jacob tacked on.
"Catherine wants to show me her world. Show me the beauties of it. I will not disappoint her, Father."
Jacob increasingly knew that tone. Though far more civilized, his adopted son was no more tractable.
"The two of you are utterly mad, you know."
"I do. But it is a magnificent kind of madness," Vincent replied, and actually smiled. "'I am but mad north by northwest, and I know a hawk from a handsaw, when I see one,'" Vincent quoted Hamlet to him. He was reading constantly, and preferred Shakespeare over anyone, now. Even Shelley. Either Mary or Percy.
“Vincent, please. There is no safe place up there.”
Vincent took pity on the man who was becoming more like a father to him every day.
“’Sometimes we must…walk empty-handed among our enemies.’”
“Those are Brigit O’Donnell’s words…”
Vincent did not hear the rest of the useless protest, as he made his way to Catherine.
With Samhain swiftness, he ascended to her balcony. The lights were off, but he could sense her coming up in the elevator. He was still not entirely comfortable here, and he'd never been inside her apartment. But this, like everything else, was growing increasingly more familiar. He was learning to trust the safety of the hooded cape. Learning to trust many other things, as well.
She turned on the lights in her apartment as she came in, and for a moment, he forgot to breathe.
Even without the gauzy lace of the curtains, she looked ethereal. Angelic. Otherworldly. Guardian angel to the afflicted.
She hurried to the doors, knowing she was a little tardy. Trying to get a taxi from across town on Halloween had been insane, and the wide bustle of the dress made getting in and out of the cab a challenge.
"Wait. Stop." His voice reached her as she opened the doors. Mine to protect, love, and cherish. All praises bestowed on her I received as made to a possession of my own.
She stood on the threshold between her world and "theirs." The balcony was the one place they shared, increasingly comfortably, on his part.
"You look like an angel... standing there." His voice was barely a whisper.
An angel. And an owl. The mask was a mass of ribbons and feathers, slung over her wrist.
She paused, holding the handles on the doors. The décolletage of the dress dipped enticingly. His mind clicked back to the night he'd found her, when the dress was cut. She'd come so far from that April day.
She paused, but couldn't bear to simply stand there, waiting. She swept onto the balcony, looking like the royalty she was.
"I've been waiting for this night. You have no idea how excited I am."
"You met Brigit O’Donnell?"
She did, but of course, that wasn't why she was excited. "I did. She autographed your book." She produced the story about the owl woman he'd shared with her.
"It is your book, Catherine. It was a gift."
She smiled as she showed him the signature.
"I wish you could have met her."
"Perhaps next year. Father says I must finish 300 Days, first. And then I must change my mind, so I won’t get shot."
Catherine smiled up at him. He was huge. And he was happy.
"They say she'll be back next year. Will you see her then?"
"I would not miss it, if you are there," he said, drawing her out to the edge of the terrace.
His voice was warm, and intimate. And she still was getting used to seeing him in a shirt, under the vest.
"It's been an amazing year. For both of us."
"For both of us, Catherine," he agreed.
“I’ll meet you. Below. On the ground, below, not in the Tunnels. Meet me?” she asked, ready for their night to begin.
Can I lead you through the dark, Catherine? He thought it, but didn’t say it.
“Of course,” he answered aloud.
They walked. And then they walked some more. Brigit O’Donnell told him it was all right to walk empty-handed among his enemies, and Vincent realized she was both right and wrong.
It was all right. It was all right, to do that.
But his hands were not empty. They were full of Catherine's. And he could find no enemies near. Only beings, not so dissimilar from himself. Full of hopes, and fears, and wonders, and stories. And on this night, he was part of that rich tapestry.
He tried to memorize all of it. St. Patrick’s, the bridge, the park. He wanted to hold it all inside so he could write it all down in his journal, for later.
He thought he'd never keep one of those, since John had done so.
Now he found he couldn't go more than a day or two without writing in it.
The blank journal had appeared on his table, along with a decent pen. He thought both were from Jacob, and was a bit surprised to find they were from Mary, instead. "Just in case," she’d told him.
Now and then, other things appeared on his table. An hourglass. A little statue of an elephant. A book. A gizmo, from Mouse. Much of the bric-a-brac was from the odd boy, but sometimes, one of the children would bring him some bit of treasure they'd found, and share it with him. They were odd treasures. Gifts of acceptance.
Slowly, the once near-empty room was beginning to fill.
He was amazed at how accepting the children were of his differences. And how eager they were to learn. Next week he was going to begin teaching literature to some of them. Just to try it out. Just to see if he could. He thought he might start with The Wizard of Oz, and see which book whispered to him after that. He found that books could do that…
But he liked it better when she did that.
Footsore and elated, they stopped to sit on a bench near the river. Her wide dress took up half the space, but she still reached over, sweetly, to hold his hand. She'd been doing that half the night.
"You don't know what I'd give to have the right to do this all the time with you, Catherine. What I'd give to erase most of the last... thirty years." There was a wistfulness in his voice.
She wondered if he could possibly understand how closely her thoughts mirrored his, for herself. Yes, there had been good times, and good people. But so much of it had been spent in wasted fashion.
"There are things I would do differently, too. Things I'm trying to do differently, now," she answered. "That's because of you, Vincent." She said it as if it were a confidence. If he could overcome his obstacles, then I can damn well overcome mine, she thought.
"I'm not a good man, Catherine. I'm not a man at all." It was a thing that worried him.
She shook her head, and her elaborate hairstyle moved with it.
"I don't believe that. I will never believe that. Vincent, there’s a place in you that I can feel. Like you’re the best part of what it is to be human. What I never believed is that you were a monster."
"I have done monstrous things."
She knew he was referring to the time he'd killed her attackers. Other times, as well.
"I think I have, too," she confessed, remembering years where she walked right by those in need, ignoring them, pretending they didn't exist because they bothered her sense of a “pretty” world.
He felt what she felt, and raised her beautiful, delicate fingers for a kiss. She truly believed she'd been as monstrous as he had been. In a way, she felt she'd been worse. She hadn't had his excuses, and she’d had the means to do better.
"Father says you'll be teaching literature next week,” she said, changing the subject. “That you're taking them to Oz. If you'd started teaching literature earlier, you could have read them The Headless Horseman.”
Washington Irving. Another author he was acquiring. For him, though, this felt more like Rip Van Winkle than Ichabod Crane. Like he’d finally awoken from a long, disturbing sleep, to find his life changed, on the other side of the dream.
He smiled a little at her words. “Perhaps I should charm them a bit, before I scare them to death. My face can do that, as it is.”
But he said it without the bitterness she knew he once harbored.
"Oz it is, then," she smiled a little, in the greying dark. Dawn was coming.
"Everywhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La,” he decided. “I'll have them reading A Christmas Carol by December. Jacob... Father says there is something called Winterfest, after. That there's a beam holding a door closed that needs to be moved. A Great Hall. More places there I've never seen."
Besides this there is a love for the marvelous, a belief in the marvelous, intertwined in all my projects, which hurries me out of the common pathways of men.
Mary Shelley still whispered. But not the dark passages, not so much, anymore. He realized how much of a humanist she'd been, how hard her monster had fought for it, and even in failure, and perhaps because of it, had elevated himself from what he was.
"Will you explore some more, then?” Catherine asked. “Take me, sometimes?"
His eyes bored into hers. She was inviting herself into his life. He prayed she never stopped doing that.
"It's all right," she assured, speaking to something larger than Winterfest. "I know not all the times will be easy. That there will be some pain."
He did, too. And somehow, that was no longer the daunting thing it once was.
"Then we will have to learn to endure the pain," that at least, he had experience with, "and savor every moment of the joy." He was learning to do that. So was she.
“Catherine, I'm not... I don't know what is next for me. Next for us. I only know that whatever it is, I want you with me." That too, was new. The sensation of letting life take you where it would, rather than trying to make a battle plan out of it.
"Vincent. Whatever it is, I only ask you one thing." Her storm-swept green eyes could own him. They already did.
"What is that?" he asked, watching the sun come up over the Brooklyn Bridge.
"Don't be afraid to want it."
A new light seemed to dawn upon my mind.
She faced him, and he her, and for the first time, he saw sunlight in her hair. It was too beautiful. He had to close his eyes against it.
And he found that when he did, she leaned in to kiss him.
It was gentle, and sublime. A soft pressure of her lips against his. His heart stopped beating. For a moment, he was sure it had. He returned her kiss as much as he dared, until...
"Whoa! Hey, buddy! Halloween was yesterday!"
A jogger. Some fool of an interrupter, and the moment was over.
Except he carried it in his heart.
There was a time he would have laid the man's arm open, or perhaps even his throat. That time was past. Now, it was... funny? Almost. Not quite. But the instinct to smile was there, so he did.
Giving up his seat on the bench, he gave Catherine a good-humored shrug. She smiled back at him. Of course, it was hard to tell. The sun was painting her gold and white, and the glory of her was almost too impossible to look at.
Pulling up his hood, he went back toward the nearest tunnel entrance.
He could feel her soft gaze on his back, the entire way.
Sometimes I allowed my thoughts, unchecked by reason, to ramble in the fields of Paradise, and dared to fancy amiable and lovely creatures sympathizing with my feelings and cheering my gloom; their angelic countenances breathed smiles of consolation.
It was a good feeling.
Happy Halloween, Beauty and the Beast.