"The Mirror Crack'd”
Rating: PG-13 for angst, violence, language and some mature themes. Classic
A/N: My special thanks to Carole and Vicky, for their gut checks and encouragement,
and the ladies (and gents) of the BBTV list, who helped me
with the research on one aspect of this story. My hat’s off to all of you.
Summary: The aftermath of the scene in the Great Hall from “Arabesque”
Out flew the web and floated by
The mirror crack'd from side to side
“The curse has come upon me,” cried
The Lady of Shallot
“The Lady of Shallot,” Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Father was never able to say, then or later, what had drawn him to the Great Hall that night. Perhaps it was some chore of Vincent's left undone, though Vincent was usually careful about such things and at the age of 15 was more than aware that some tasks could not be shirked. More likely it was something Lisa had left undone or done incorrectly. Not a few of the tunnel adults were put out with her; even as they acknowledged and were proud of her dancing talent, the fact remained that depending on Lisa for anything else was like looking to find the bottom of the Abyss. Impossible, and ultimately, a great waste of time.
He couldn't have said what drew him there, but he was glad he had gone. Father arrived just in time to see the desperate, clenching embrace of his son as he held Lisa tight, and the blood that welled from the scratches on her shoulder as she tried---and failed---to free herself. The fact that Vincent had nearly used those same claws on him as he called out his name was the most minor of the horrors welling from that night, and one that Father quickly disregarded as Vincent's sobbing mingled with Lisa's as she fled.
"It's all right," he murmured to his distraught son. But even then, he couldn't have said how anything would ever be all right again.
He met Mary in the hospital chamber as she was putting the iodine back in the cabinet. "Severe?" he asked, knowing who Mary had been treating.
"No," she replied. "Just some surface abrasions. I doubt she'll even scar." She finished folding the gauze, replaced that next to the iodine. "She's in her chamber, quite upset. What happened between her and Vincent?"
Father clenched his fists, upset that he hadn't seen this coming. The flirtation between Vincent and Lisa had been obvious for months and most of the tunnel dwellers had been amused by it, in the way of adults watching the teenagers they care for grow up, but Father had always been of two minds on the subject of Lisa. She had certainly needed them as a child but even then, there was something about her which had made him wary. Now, he dearly wished she'd found someone else, anyone else, to flirt with, instead of his son. "They argued," Father said curtly.
Mary ignored his tone, knowing him far too well to take it personally. "I see," she said, though she had yet to see the argument that would create that sort of wound pattern. Her heart hurt for both Lisa and Vincent. "Where is Vincent?"
"In his chamber," Father replied. "I wouldn't go in there just now."
Mary raised her eyebrows. "He's not...injured?"
Father shook his head. "Not physically. Emotionally, though..."
"But you'll talk to him?" Mary asked.
Father sighed. "Yes. For all the good that will do."
After some deliberation, Father set out for Lisa's chamber first. He found her sitting on the bed, staring out into space, and looking quite pale. "Lisa," he said.
She turned to look at him then, a singularly beautiful girl of perhaps 16 or 17--even Lisa didn't know for sure. "I came to check your wound," Father said, as evenly as he could.
Lisa vaulted off the bed and stood with her back against the wall. “It's fine. There's nothing to look at.”
“Why don't you tell me what happened, then?” Father said gently.
Lisa shrugged, rubbing her arms as if she were cold. “It's nothing. If you don't mind, I'd like to go back to practicing my dancing.”
Father thought of Vincent, who quite clearly loved---or thought he did---this chit of a girl. Who hadn't once expressed any concern for him, who was far more interested in her dance than she was in the well-being of her “dearest friend.”
“I see,” Father replied, seeing all too clearly and liking none of it. “I'd avoid any arm extensions for a few days, until it heals,” he continued. If she wanted her dance, he'd do his level best to make sure she got it. The sooner she left the tunnels, the better for all of them. “Has Madame Delacroix spoken to you?”
Lisa nodded. “She says I may come above and live with her while I train. But I really couldn't leave everyone.”
Leave your club of admirers, you mean. Including my son, my wounded and wounding son. “Indeed you can, Lisa. In fact, I insist upon it.”
Her brown eyes darkened. “You...do? You're making me leave?”
Father laughed, a sound with no humor in it. “Hardly, child. Madame Delacroix has told us many times how talented you are, that with more formal training you could perform on stage before the world. And she's asked us many times to let you go. Before, you were too young but now....we've grown too small for you, Lisa.”
“When am I to leave?”
“Tomorrow morning. Madame Delacroix will come for you.”
With that, he left. In the years to come, he was to turn this conversation over and over in his mind, wondering if he'd been too harsh on a young woman who'd been through a shattering experience of her own. But at the time, with Vincent's emotional well-being foremost on his mind, he couldn't bring himself to care. She was injured, but Vincent was hemorrhaging from wounds far less visible.
Vincent's chamber was dark when he arrived. That, in itself, was not unusual; Vincent could see perfectly well in what looked like pitch darkness to anyone else. But it was unlike him not to leave at least a candle burning. “Vincent?” he called, stepping into the chamber. He couldn't see a thing except a glitter in the corner; the reflection, he realized, of Vincent's eyes.
He was crouched in a narrow corner that should have been impossible for him to crawl into, as tall as he'd become. Yet Vincent had done it and as his eyes adjusted to the dark, he could just barely see Vincent, cross-legged and staring into nothing. “Vincent,” he said again, lighting a candle to see better and hobbling closer to kneel in front of his son.
“Yes, Father?” Vincent said distantly. Father didn't like that tone; it was the sound of shame and isolation and utter dejection. He hadn't heard it since Devin's disappearance and could have gone a full lifetime without ever hearing it again.
“Are you...well?” Father tilted the candle closer and the candlelight reflected off the tear tracks on the sharp planes of his son's face.
“I hurt her, Father. Is she....?” Vincent asked quietly.
“She's fine,” Father replied. “Just a few scratches. What happened?”
Vincent scrubbed at his face with the back of one hand. “Leave me alone,” he said desperately. “I can't...I don't want to talk about it.”
There were a few constants Father had learned over the years in raising Vincent. When he wanted to talk, he would. When he didn't want to, he wouldn't...and nothing and no one would make him speak. And when Vincent wanted to be left alone, it was best to listen. “Very well,” Father said calmly, reassuringly. “If you want to talk, you know where to find me.” He stood up and backed away slowly as he would with any wild creature in so much pain. Though Father longed to take his son in his arms, these were no wounds he could heal.
The next morning was taken up with the minutiae of Lisa's move Above; Madame Delacroix being not quite as prepared for Lisa as Father had led Lisa to believe, but welcoming of her new boarder just the same. She had taken Lisa's arm and her one suitcase and as the door slid shut behind them, Father was conscious only of a immense sense of relief. Lisa hadn't looked back, not once, as she'd left, and now, perhaps Vincent would heal and return from his silences.
Vincent didn't appear for breakfast, nor lunch either. When he didn't appear for dinner, Father went to find him in his chambers. “Lisa's gone,” Vincent said flatly, angrily.
“Yes,” Father said, conscious only that he must protect Vincent from further hurt. “She went Above this morning, for her dance. Remember? There was talk of it.”
Abruptly, Vincent's anger collapsed on itself and his voice grew rougher. “It's because of me,” he said haltingly.
“No, Vincent,” Father said. “She went to dance, to her new life Above. It had nothing to do with you.”
Vincent gazed at him then as if he didn't quite believe him, and in another whiplash of mood change, stalked to the other side of the chamber and began pacing. “I hurt her!”
Father didn't know quite what to say. What words could he use, after all? “She's gone, Vincent. Nothing like that will ever happen again.”
It was the wrong thing to say. Vincent whirled on him, his words biting in the cool, still air. “Why? Because no one will love a beast like me? I loved her, Father, and I hurt her!” Father was struck, suddenly, by how big Vincent had gotten, how imposing his presence had become.
Heavily, Father sat down on the bed. Vincent and his hurts had always wounded Father to the quick; even as a small child, it had been near impossible for Father to see him hurt. “Lisa had her own path to follow, Vincent. She will not be back. Your path is always, will always, be here. You know that.”
He turned his head, then realized he'd spoken to empty air. Vincent had fled.
Father refused to worry. Vincent went to ground when he was hurting; after Devin's disappearance, he'd fled into one of the caves lining the Maze and holed up there for a few days. Surely Vincent would return, under his own power and if not precisely healed, then at least more at peace. It was nothing he needed other people for, only time and solitude.
Vincent sat in the shelter of a dark cave and closed his eyes, letting the darkness cover him like a warm blanket. Lisa is gone, he thought, dully, but the images, the rages at that simple statement burned through him like lightening. She left. She left me. The scene had replayed over and over in his head: Lisa's feather-light touches, the softness of her skirts around his legs as she twirled, her scent increasing as she perspired. Then when he had taken her in his arms, she had brought her face up to his and his hands had held her and....Vincent buried his face in his hands and felt the guilt wash over him. Not since Devin had he hurt someone with his hateful claws. And to have hurt Lisa, of all people....
She fought us. That was an odd thought, a whisper of darkness at the edge of his consciousness. “I'm going mad,” he said aloud.
And nearly jumped out of his skin when his own voice answered back, though his lips hadn't moved. “No, you're not.”
“Who...who are you?” Vincent asked the apparition, which was emerging from the shadows of the cave. It perched on a rocky outcropping just to the left of him and looked for all the world like him, just...darker. Somehow, more lethal, more intent. And dark. Very dark. “I am losing my mind.”
The apparition smiled, evilly. “Think that if you want. But I'm you. And you're not insane.” He climbed down from the outcropping and sat down on his haunches. “We hurt her. So she left us.”
“I didn't want to hurt her,” Vincent muttered, wondering how he'd ever explain this conversation to Father. Perhaps he wouldn't, then.
“Lisa offered herself to us,” that malevolent voice continued, as if they were discussing the weather, no particular emotional impact beyond the bare facts. “We do not like it when prey struggles. Or changes her mind.”
This was all so horribly askew, Father's instructions about you must be careful now, gentle contorting and clashing with the instinct to hold on tightly to who and what he loved. “You could go find her,” his dark counterpart said.
It was possible too---he knew where she'd be. But this parting was final, and for the greater good and he couldn't do that. He couldn't love her, couldn't have her, wasn't fit, wasn't right... Vincent clenched his fists, feeling the hated claws biting into his skin. There would be blood, he knew, but didn't care. “Leave me,” he rasped.
“I'm a part of you,” the creature said, mockingly.
“No!” Vincent howled. This primal demon, a part of him? The instinct to harm instead of heal, hurt instead of care? A part of him? It couldn't be.
“I'm going now,” his darker self said. “But I'm not leaving. Not ever.”
And he was gone. Vincent rubbed his face, and wept. But was unable to drown out the sound of the creature's laughter.
Vincent returned to his chamber early the next morning before anyone else was stirring. He hoped, without much optimism, for a few hours of sleep, but found them interrupted by red-hazed dreams where he searched for Lisa but was turned away again, and other, darker dreams that left him aching and sweating and sticky when he awoke. Horrified by the residue of those dreams, he balled up his stained sheets and clothing and tossed them in a basket in a corner; he'd launder them when no one was around.
After a few hours tossing and turning, he gave up, and got dressed, just in time to see Father hobbling in. There was no mistaking the relief on his father's face. “Ah, Vincent, I'm glad to see you're back.” Father tilted his head, and Vincent sighed inwardly. He knew that look, and had never been able to hide anything from Father anyway. “Would you like some breakfast?” Father asked.
His stomach rebelled instantly at the thought of food. “No, I'm not hungry.”
Father came closer then and pressed a cool hand to Vincent's forehead. Before he was even aware of the touch, Vincent felt a low snarl building up in his chest. It was instinct, nothing more, but Vincent reeled backwards, horrified. “Father, I....”
Very carefully, Father sat down in the chair opposite side of the bed. Vincent noted that the chair was out of swinging range, and his shame rose to burn his face. “Vincent, you're running a fever,” Father said, as if nothing at all unnatural had happened.
Shows you what he knows, his inner demon mocked. We are unnatural. Vincent ignored it. “Why don't you come down to the baths?” Father continued. “I can't give you any medication for the fever, but the water should make you feel better.”
The thought of climbing into the bathing pool naked now, with so many people soon to be about and able to stare at his misshapen, ugly body was horrifying. “Perhaps later, Father,” Vincent managed.
Father didn't leave as Vincent thought he would. Nor did he maintain his careful distance. Instead, Father took his hand. “Vincent, I know you're going through a rough time right now. But there's no sense in making yourself sick.”
“Sick” was too littlea word to describe this feeling, with the demon clawing inside him and fever burning at the corner of his eyes. Nevertheless, it would do. “Yes, Father,” he said, as obediently as he could. The creature inside him snickered, the roiling distaste churning his stomach further.
Father did stand then and Vincent found he had no energy at all, either to continue the conversation with Father or to argue with the beast inside him. “Rest,” Father said. “I'll take you off the chore list for now, but I want you to eat something when you wake up.” He brushed aside Vincent's bangs, as he hadn't since Vincent was a small child, and left.
Vincent stretched out on his bed, closing his eyes. He was unable to close his mind to the insistent chant. Go to her. You know you want her. She is ours.
Vincent awoke to the still, quiet darkness of the tunnels at night. Restless, he kicked off his sheets, noticing again that they were soaked and sticky. A subway train roared nearby as he tore the sheets off the bed and threw them in the laundry basket. He remembered only the feel of Lisa's thighs in the dream as he---
“Oh, I just bet you did,” his dark half drawled, leering down at him from the upper alcove. “I bet you were too busy dancing with her to notice the way her leotard was so tight right there.” The voice was oily, mocking and Vincent felt the harsh fury rise within him.
“Enough,” Vincent snarled, and the creature laughed. “You think you're the only one who's ever felt this way for a woman?” The beast jumped down to stand next to him. “'Tua pulchra facies me planszer milies, pectus habet glacies.'”
Vincent rocked back on his heels in shock. The Latin was a language he'd learned literally at his father's knee, along with the other children, and the translation came easily to him. “'Your beautiful face makes me weep a thousand times, your heart is of ice.'”
“Or if that doesn't do it for you, how about this?” The beast circled him in a rough mockery of Lisa's last dance. “'Vellet deus, vallent dii, quod mente propusui: ut eius virginea reserassem vincula” (2)
The words were obscene, and the red haze of rage came roiling over Vincent in a wave more powerful than anything he had ever known. “I cannot!” he snarled, shoving his dark twin up against a wall hard enough to rattle the statue of Lady Justice.
The apparition seemed unmoved. “Sure you could have. Except you're not man enough. You could have had her at any time. All those times spent watching her dance, by yourselves. You could have taken her and---”
It was too much. Vincent slapped the apparition hard, not bothering to pull his claws in. Blood dripped from the corner of the creature's mouth. “So you can be moved to passion, eh?” he said, not bothering to wipe the blood off his face. “But you know what the real problem is? Lisa wouldn't want you, because she wants a real man, not some furry, half-beast thing who won't even come for her.”
Vincent sank down onto the cold floor, shaking, torn asunder with the force of his emotions. He sat there for a long time, and did not notice when the creature disappeared again. “'Estuans interius ira vehementi in amaritudine loquor mee menti: factus de materia, cinis elementi, similis sum folio,de quo ludunt venti he murmured to the shadows, and was left alone with the echo of his voice.
The next morning, Vincent found Father waiting for him in Commons, clearly planning to haul him off for a whole battery of tests if Vincent didn't try to eat something. His temperature was down, the likely result of his cold baths earlier that morning. He had no real hunger and no particular desire to eat, but if the choice was between eating and being poked and prodded in the hospital chamber, he'd take eating any day. Good, you're eating, his inner voice muttered as he picked up the toast. You need strength to hunt.
Shut up, Vincent thought and concentrated on ignoring the creature's laughter. I am not a beast. I do not hunt. He looked up from his toast and found eyes as blue as his own staring malevolently at him from across the table. His dark half, come to life again, here, in front of all these people. Vincent just barely managed to avoid rearing back in shock and concentrated on the mechanical motions of eating: chewing, swallowing, eating again.
Then Father came to sit down. For the first time in his life, Vincent didn't want Father to be there. Not so close to this dark phantom. I could strike him down with one swat. And you couldn't stop me, could you?
"No," Vincent muttered softly, feeling the growl rising in his throat at this threat to his family.
You are the threat. I live in you, the beast responded, amused. Where do you think I come from, after all?
"Vincent, what is it?" Father asked.
Vincent had a swift awareness of how odd this must look: himself, staring and growling at the empty space in front of him. Father touched his arm, and the sense of concern washed through him and over him. I have made him worry. Again.
Regrets are for humans. You're not. The creature's words pounded with the sick, burning rhythm of his blood and Vincent closed his eyes and clenched his fists, trying desperately not to hear.
“Vincent?” Father said again, and the hand that touched his forehead was ice cold. “You're burning up again. You should be in bed. Come,” he said softly.
Vincent felt the urge to flee from this man and the sharp grey eyes that missed nothing, and the dark apparition across from him heartily agreed. Flee. Run to her. Leave this man. She is ours. Fighting down the snarling part of him, the part that would never agree to anyone's care or consent, Vincent left with Father.
He awoke some hours later to a wet, chilling feeling washing over his body. Vincent opened his eyes and realized that his sheets were soaked again and there were bags of ice under his armpits and in his groin. Ice? The sheets must be soaked from the melting water then, he thought, relieved. The demon had not come to him in his sleep again.
Vincent turned his head and saw Father watching him. The pipes were quiet so it must be early yet. Or late. “Father?” he murmured.
“Oh, Vincent,” Father said in relief. “Your temperature went quite high. How do you feel now?”
He considered. “Tired, Father.”
“Well, I suppose that's to be expected.” A pause, then, “You were delirious. Do you remember anything?”
Vincent shook his head. “No.”
“I suppose it's just as well,” Father said. “You must have caught a bug, dear boy. Rest now and hopefully, you'll be feeling better soon.”
Vincent closed his eyes, feeling the dark weight of his exhaustion pressing him downwards into the depths where the Beast lurked and waited, biding its time.
“I want you to talk to him,” Father said uncomfortably. “Please.”
Winslow wiped the back of his sweaty forehead with a rag. It was hot here in the forge, hotter than it was Above in the height of midsummer, but Winslow had long since gotten used to it. And what he couldn't get used to, he endured. It had always been that way. “Why me? Because I got all this romantic experience?” Winslow asked.
“No,” Father replied, gripping the handle of his cane. “Because I don't. I don't know what to say to him. And he's more at ease with you than with anyone else.”
“How about 'there are other fish in the sea'?” Winslow said. “That was your line when I got entangled with...oh, hell, what was her name again?”
Despite himself, Father found himself returning Winslow's smile. “It was Rebecca.. And as I know you remember, I said that after she wouldn't dance the first dance of Winterfest with you. And you were 17 at the time.”
Winslow poured a cup of water and handed it to Father, then poured one for himself. “And this isn't the same thing, I take it.”
“It isn't.” Their eyes met and Father frowned. “I don't know what to say to him. How can I tell him I'm sorry she's gone, when I sent her away? When I wasn't sorry to see her go? Vincent will see through that in an instant.”
“Then don't say that,” Winslow said. “Look, I'm not used to being asked for my romantic advice, but since you asked---”
Father sighed. “What do you suggest?”
“Look, I can go up top and meet any girl I want. I haven't yet, but I could. Vincent doesn't have that option. So skip the line about the fish in the sea, 'cause it does him no good if he can't swim in the ocean.” Winslow drank some water. “It should be Devin talking to him, you know.”
“I know,” Father agreed. “If only I knew where he'd run off to...”
“You don't think he's dead, then?” Winslow asked curiously.
“Vincent doesn't. And I'm inclined to trust him on this point. He knew Devin better than anyone.” Father sighed again. “Will you talk to him?”
“Father, I'm twenty years old. Just what do you think I can tell him?”
“You're his friend, and he trusts you. I was hoping you could tell him, reassure him, that his sorrow is normal, but it will pass.”
Winslow frowned a bit, considering. “I'll talk to him. But Father...he might not want to listen to me. Or to anyone. So don't be surprised if this isn't over yet.”
A few days of rest found Vincent, if not entirely well, at least well enough to resume his normal duties. Vincent had discovered early on that he enjoyed heights and he enjoyed climbing, and once he was sufficiently old enough that Father judged it was time for him to start learning the work of the repair crews, he had been assigned to the crew which repaired the pipes and monitored them for leakage.
Today was the first time since his fever began that Father had decided he was well enough to return. “Now, see here, Vincent,” Father said, his accent becoming more clipped as it did when he was worried, “you will tell me, won't you, if you're feeling unwell?”
“Of course, Father,” Vincent said, and immediately regretted it. He felt unwell each and every time his apparition appeared but maybe it was gone now and he wouldn't have to tell Father anything. He leaned forward and kissed Father on the forehead. “I'll be fine.”
“Go on, then,” Father said, brushing his bangs and barely, just barely, touching his forehead.
“I'm not sick,” Vincent said.
“I know you're not,” Father replied. “But be careful anyway.”
Vincent nodded, picked up his satchel of food supplies and headed out to meet Winslow in the corridor. “You up to this?” Winslow asked gruffly.
Vincent grinned up at him, noticing that the difference in their heights was a lot less than it had been. “Are you going to go up there by yourself if I'm not?” he asked wryly.
Winslow chuckled. “Now, that'd be fun to explain to Father. The pipe burst because my fat ass sat on it. No, I'll leave that to skinny types like you and David.” Winslow called ahead to David, who was zipping up the bag of tools. “Which one's causing problems this time, David?”
Tall, lanky David scratched his head. “The elder Pascal says it's the one in the linkage that leads near the storage room. If that one goes....” He didn't have to complete the thought; the storage room held all of their bulk foods, preserves and emergency rations.
“Where do the pipes link?” Vincent asked. He had an excellent memory for the physical locations of this world, but the pipes were Elder Pascal's pride and joy and no one knew them better.
“Elder says the linkage is above the Mirror Pool, about twenty feet up,” David replied.
And therein was the problem in pipe maintenance. David knew how to fix pipes, but he had no head for heights. Winslow didn't mind heights and had no problems making whatever tools were needed, but couldn't climb up to fix the pipes. This left Vincent, who could climb and who was light enough to sit on the highest pipes and fix them if he was walked through it. It was an imperfect system but had worked several times before; Winslow just hoped it continued to work until Vincent was as fully trained as David.
They reached the Mirror Pool and began laying out the tools, the rappelling ropes and the pipe diagrams. Winslow watched uneasily as Vincent suited up in their make-shift safety harness. If anything happened to him, Father would have his guts for breakfast. “Are you sure you're up for this?” he asked again, quietly, so David couldn't hear. David was new to the tunnels and Winslow was uncertain of how much he'd heard of the incident with Lisa.
Vincent's hands stopped fiddling with the safety knot in the ropes. “Winslow,” he said seriously. “I need to work. And this needs to be done.”
Remembering his own teenage tribulations, and recognizing that Vincent was doing his best to take up a man's part in this world, Winslow nodded. “Just be careful,” he said. “If you can't fix the pipe, come back down. We can always find another way.”
The glance Vincent threw him was darkly amused. “Right. I'm sure we'll get a plumber down here. I can just hear the instructions now: 'take the sewer tunnel all the way to the left, and straight on 'til morning.'”
Winslow chuckled. “Just get it done, Vincent.” He watched as the boy---no, young man---skittered up the sheer walls. Blindingly fast, it seemed he went up the walls without any searching for toeholds or hesitation in his path. “How does he do that?” David asked. “I've never seen anything like it.”
Winslow shrugged. “You want to know, you ask him. Let's get this job going; the sooner it's done, the sooner we can get back home.”
Vincent caught one of Winslow's makeshift wrenches in his left hand. “Got it,” he called down to them. One part of his concentration was on David's instructions; the other was split on the sheer joy of being able to climb openly. Father had always worried that Vincent might fall and hurt himself climbing, but Vincent never fell, and had been climbing for years without Father's permission or knowledge. It was a joy, and a pleasure, to be able to do it openly. I can help us and I can be...me. For the first time in days, the pain of Lisa was forgotten. She was in her world and he was needed in his. If he was no kind of man that a girl might willingly touch, he was at least useful here.
He crossed his legs under him as he shimmied further down the pipe, tightening down bolts that had come loose with the change of seasons and replacing others that needed replacing. He made a mental note to let David know the entire pipe would have to be replaced; it would hold with the repairs but one more season would see it leaking again. Father won't like that, not at all. But it has to be done.
“Forget about me, have you?” the silky voice said out of nowhere and Vincent felt the sick, crawling nausea again. Oh, no, not here. Not now. Please.
“I thought you'd forgotten. But I kept thinking that you wouldn't do that to us.” The apparition perched precariously on a nearby pipe.
“Why are you here?” Vincent demanded, hoping that the acoustics of this place wouldn't carry his voice to Winslow and David, twenty feet below.
“To remind you that she's still out there. Wanting us.”
Vincent shook his head. “She doesn't want us...me.”
His dark half smiled, showing all his fangs in a way Vincent never would. “Oh, but you're wrong. She dreams of us at night. You know...those kind of dreams.”
“What of it?” Vincent hissed softly. “I am here and she is there. So there is nothing to be done.”
“Vincent, you okay up there?” Winslow called.
Vincent cursed, softly and fluently, in words Father didn't know he knew. What if Winslow had heard? “I'm fine,” he called back. “I'll be down shortly.” He made a great fuss of tightening a bolt that was already pretty tight to begin with. Without looking at his dark alter, he muttered, “Look, is that all you ever have to say? That I should go after her? She left. I would have explained---”
His ears caught the unmistakable sound of a snicker from the creature across from him. “Explained what? That she'd taunted and teased us, that her scent was full of wanting, that even as she said no, her body was saying yes? Oh, I can certainly see how that explanation would have gone.” The dark one folded his arms. “If you want her to understand, then we must go Above. Find her and make her see.”
Vincent closed his eyes. Above was forbidden, Above was dark and dangerous and treacherous. Above was....
...where Lisa was. “I cannot,” he hissed.
Winslow's voice, urgent, now, called up from below him. “Vincent, David's hearing something on the pipes that he doesn't like. Get down, now!”
Vincent never ignored Winslow in That Tone of voice. Fleeing the dark creature, he scampered back down the pipes, just before a smaller, non-critical pipe ruptured in a hiss of hot steam.
“Boy, that was a close one,” Winslow muttered, once they were safely done. Elder Pascal had located where the smaller pipe linked in and had managed to shut it off before much damage was done. When it was cooler, Vincent and the others would repair it too, but now the main damage of the leaking pipe was fixed for the time being and they relaxed, knowing another disaster had been averted.
David had left already to get a meal from the Commons. “Hey, Vincent,” Winslow began.
“Yes?” Vincent said, throwing small stones into the Mirror Pool.
“I heard you up there, talking to someone. You okay?”
Vincent's heart skipped one beat, then two, then resumed its normal rhythm. Yes, why don't you explain that one? “I'm fine,” he said tersely.
“Uh-huh,” Winslow said, unconvinced. “Look, Vincent, I know what happened with Lisa. I know you two quarreled and she left. I've been there. If you want to talk---”
“We did not quarrel,” Vincent hissed, in a voice that was not entirely his own. “She teased. She left. That is all.”
Winslow felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up. This was not the Vincent he knew, the child he'd seen grow up, the young man so eager to learn. This was someone much more...alien. And dangerous. The eyes were a darker blue, lacking their usual warmth, and in that sharp and feral gaze, Winslow saw nothing of his friend, nothing at all.
“Okay,” Winslow said, wondering how he'd explain this to Father. This is a lot more than a broken heart. “Okay.”
The hard part, as always, was finding Father alone long enough to have a private conversation. Every trouble, every minor detail, trounced its way through Father's chamber at one time or another, and Winslow was getting frustrated.
He finally managed to secure some private time by dint of ambushing Father after dinner, with some excuse of a matter in the forge. “So I talked to him,” Winslow said, not wasting time with preliminaries.
Father sat down heavily in Winslow's lone chair. “And?”
Winslow leaned up against the wall. “He's not well, Father.” And he related the events of the pipe repair, the conversation he'd heard Vincent having with someone who wasn't there.
“I saw something like that at breakfast last week,” Father admitted. “I had hoped it was merely the fever. But he was well when I sent him out this morning.”
“Yeah, he seemed fine to me too,” Winslow agreed. “Until I heard him arguing with shadows. What do we do now, Father?”
Father rubbed his eyes. “Keep an eye on him, Winslow. I'll see if I can get in contact with Peter Alcott. If you see anything more dangerous than a hallucination, please find me immediately.”
Winslow eyed him. “Vincent...you know how strong he's gotten?”
Father nodded wearily. “Yes. Anything more dangerous than a hallucination could be harmful...and not just to him.”
Courtesy of a late-night message to a helper who knew an emergency when he saw one, Father was able to locate Peter Alcott at home, after being switched back and forth between the front desks of three different hospitals. When the doctor's beleaguered receptionist told Father that the doctor had finally gone home, Father felt no small amount of relief. Peter's wife had died some years previously and his daughter, Susan, had just started college on the west coast. Peter would be alone in the house and able to talk.
When Peter answered the phone, he sounded a bit groggy, but alert. Such were the hazards of being not only an on-call physician Above, but below as well. Father related the story of Lisa's leaving, Vincent's fevers and hallucinations, and Peter's voice grew progressively more concerned. “Will he submit to an examination, Jacob?” Peter asked and Father started briefly, wondering who this “Jacob” was. Then he relaxed, knowing that as long as he and Peter had known each other, the title of “Father” must still be strange on Peter's ear.
Father sighed into the phone. “I don't know. Yesterday, I would have said yes. Today...”
“All right. I'll be down shortly. Is he exhibiting any other strange behavior?”
“No, not now. When I last saw him, he was sleeping in his chambers.”
Vincent was sleeping, but not peacefully. He was in the Great Hall again, where Lisa danced for him in garments of a filmy pink substance that was nearly the color of her skin. She came near him and her scent rose higher and stronger the longer she danced. He had never smelled it before, but his body knew, had always known, what it was: arousal. She wants me. Lisa circled him, planted feathery kisses on his cheekbones and he watched as she pirouetted away....
...to dance with someone else. His dark half, dark where he was fair, kissing Lisa and his hands roaming all over her body, in the places where the leotard was tightest. Vincent clenched his fists. “This cannot be real,” he muttered.
The beast looked up from where he was nuzzling Lisa's shoulder. “It can be. If you have the guts to find her. She still wants us.” Lisa's dark eyes smiled and turned back to her lover.
Vincent's eyes snapped open and he smelled, impossibly, Lisa's scent, hot in the still air around him. He would find her. He would find her this night and make her his.
He brushed by the sentries as he rushed towards the entrance. She was his. Nothing could stand in his way. Nothing.
“His temperature was 103 degrees last night,” Father began as he escorted Peter from his basement threshold.
“Did you give him anything?” Peter asked.
“No,” Father replied. “You know about his unusual drug reactions. I didn't dare.”
“Well, I hope that we won't need them this time either, but---” Abruptly, a fury of clanking burst on the pipes. Peter knew the code well enough to know it was an emergency but any other nuance escaped him.
Father paled. “Dear God, it's Vincent. Quickly, Peter, we must go to the main entrance!” They rushed as fast as they could with Father's injured hip, but they heard the danger a long time before they saw it. A roaring, harsh and painful and furious.
As they rounded the corner, they saw Vincent, haloed in the glow of the sunrise through the light that entered into the main entrance tunnel. Father's heart sank as he noticed how dark the hair was around Vincent's hairline. Perspiration. He's burning up. Again. Vincent roared his desperation as he threw his body against the gate, only to find that it still held firm. The blue eyes were wild with fury and there was no recognition in that feral gaze.
Father stepped forward. “Jacob,” Peter began, but Father waved him off. “He's my son, Peter.”
“Vincent,” Father said firmly. “Come with me.” He was very careful to make no sudden movements, for fear of startling his son into some even more reckless action.
Vincent crouched down as if to attack, blue eyes dark and angry. The growling continued. Father took one more step forward. “It's time to come home, Vincent.”
His son crouched lower, leaning up against the gate and the growling came to a slow stop. “Father?” he rasped weakly. “What....?”
Father rushed forward to hold Vincent in his arms. “Vincent, it's all right. Do you feel up to walking?” He looked down at his son and smoothed the sweat-dark hair back from his flushed face. Fine tremors ran through Vincent's body. Fever, and now chills, and hallucinations. What are we dealing with here?
Vincent nodded. Clambering up on unsteady legs, with Peter on one side and Father on the other, they made their way back home.
Vincent had fallen into a deep sleep almost as soon as they reached his chamber. Believing he would sleep now that the adrenaline of the flight towards Lisa had dissipated, Father blew out the one remaining candle and led Peter down into the library.
“You were lucky tonight, Jacob,” Peter said, holding the cup of tea in his hands but not really aware of it.. “How long has he been like this?”
“He's had the fevers off and on since Lisa left last week. The hallucinations are something new, so far as I know.” Father rubbed his eyes. It was just dumb luck that no one had gotten hurt; a sentry had seen Vincent rushing the gate but hadn't confronted him. If the sentry had tried to interfere, the consequences could have been disastrous. Vincent, enraged, was nothing to fool with.
“You'll have to sedate him,” Peter said quietly “Because that gate won't hold forever.”
Drugs. The one thing they tried to avoid using on Vincent ever since he was a small child, when a reaction to aspirin---aspirin!---had nearly cost him his life. They'd been lucky; Vincent was rarely sick and healed very quickly when he was injured, so drugs hadn't really been necessary since then. But now....
“I know,” Father said, defeated. He got up and walked unsteadily towards the locked cabinet in his study, the one that contained their emergency supplies of sedatives and anesthetics. He closed his eyes briefly. In rendering his son unconscious, even for a few hours, would he truly be helping him? Or would he be surrendering Vincent to the beast that clearly held him in his grasp?
And if he manages to hurt himself or someone else, what will you do then, Jacob? Father shook his head. He knew, he had always known, that Vincent's place among them had been bought by a large amount of willing ignorance. People were comfortable around Vincent largely because he acted and spoke and thought as they did, because he did so few obvious things that were foreign to what they knew as “normal.” The beast inside Vincent, the beast which Father suspected was fueling the rages and the fevers, was another matter entirely. Rarely seen since Vincent was a toddler and surfacing only in moments of terrible provocation since, Father had never forgotten his brief encounters with the darker side of Vincent's nature.
He unlocked the cabinet and withdrew his largest gauge syringe and a bottle of a strong sedative he used when setting broken bones. Perhaps this would give his son a few hours of rest while they tried to figure out what to do next.
Peter followed him as he crossed to Vincent's chamber and watched in astonishment as Father gently woke his son up. “Jacob, why...?”
“I've never lied to him, Peter,” the man now called Father replied. “If I'm going to make him unconscious, he should at least know why.”
Vincent's blue eyes opened, fever-bright in that pale face. “Father?”
“I want to give you something to make you sleep for a few hours. Is that all right?”
Vincent nodded weakly. “Before you do...did I hurt anyone?”
Father shook his head. “You've been very ill, Vincent. But no one was hurt.”
Vincent nearly sobbed in relief. “I just remember working on the pipes and---”
“I know,” he said gently. “Winslow told me. It's all right. Soon, you'll be well.” Uncovering one lightly furred arm, Father rinsed off a clean site and injected the sedative. “Sleep well, my son.”
Father was dozing over a worn-out copy of Great Expectations when he heard the slow step behind him and came almost instantly awake. Peter had departed some hours earlier, promising to return with research and treatment alternatives, and Vincent was still sleeping soundly. So who was entering his chamber?
He turned his head and nearly dropped the book. It was Vincent. I gave him enough sedative to put him under for six or seven hours. What on earth?
“Vincent?” he managed. “Are you all right?”
The change in the tread of those booted feet as they came towards him sent his instincts clanking. Vincent was sometimes awkward with his sudden growth spurt and he walked slower to keep from tripping over his feet. He wasn't walking that way now; his footsteps were even and quick, and, as he came to stand in front of Father, Father understood what his instincts were trying to tell him.
This was Vincent. Except that it wasn't. This was the Other, who moved with a feline grace and power that was strangely hypnotic to watch. “Why, hello Father,” the Other purred. “It's time we had a chat, don't you think?”
“What do you want to talk about, Vincent?” Father asked calmly. He would not treat this...personality as anything other than his son's delusion. Oh, Vincent, I wish I knew what to do for you now.
“I'm not Vincent. He's weak,” the Other replied savagely. “He couldn't even make it to Lisa, though she wants us.”
Father felt chilled as Lisa's name was mentioned. Did he know? How could he? “You are Vincent,” he insisted. “You're not weak. Just very...ill.”
Vincent came close to him suddenly, nearly nose to nose. The Other's breath stirred the hair on Father's face as he spoke. “I smell her scent on you. Where is she?”
Her...scent? Oh, dear God. The letters. “She's not here, Vincent.”
“Then why do I smell her scent on you?” One clawed hand gripped his shoulder and Father fought the tremor of fear. He can smell her scent on the letters she sent down, the letters I burned without reading. And I can't tell him that she's been trying to contact him.
“I touched some of her things, Vincent. Truly, she's not here.”
The creature---Vincent---sniffed the air and released him suddenly. “It doesn't matter. She will be ours soon enough.”
“I see,” Father said quietly. There would be other lunges at the gate, other tries at escaping and clearly, sedation wasn't the answer anymore.
“You sent her away,” Vincent said accusingly.
There was no point in lying. “Yes, I did. She was----”
“She wanted us, so you sent her away.”
Father got up from the chair, unnerved by the sight of those feral dark eyes staring down at him. “No, I sent her away because it was time for her to go. It had nothing to do with your...relationship.”
Oh, didn't it? The little niggling voice that sounded like his own father muttered. She was a threat to your son, so you removed her. May I suggest that now is not the time to lie to Vincent?
He needed---and needs---protection, so I sent her away, Father said to his internal voice, then chuckled humorlessly. Here am I, having a debate with my son's delusion, while I'm debating with myself over whether it was all right to lie to him. Kafka couldn't have come up with a better scenario. Aloud, he said, “Vincent, it was time for Lisa to go.” He made himself walk across the chamber and face his son.
“It was not!” the creature hissed. “She wanted us!”
Which told Father that his suspicions were true; just prior to that last, devastating incident in the Great Hall, there had been some teasing on Lisa's part, of the sort that he'd witnessed for years between teenaged couples in the tunnels. It was normal, if awkward and painful to watch at times. But this kind of teasing from Lisa had scalded his son and driven him to madness. That little....did she know she was playing with fire?
“She hasn't written you, Vincent, not once. She doesn't want you, “ Father said. “She's gone Above, and she will not be coming back.” It hurt to say the words, but if this delusion could be turned from his plan of going Above.....
“So you say,” the Other snarled. “But why should I believe you?” And he was gone, black cloak flying after him like some malignant ghost.
Father sat down heavily in the chair, hands shaking from delayed shock. He'd seen madness and delusion before, but this was his son. Oh, dear God. What have I done?
The search parties had gone and come back, each more disheartened than the last. The main gate had been reinforced and strengthened, but there were no signs of Vincent anywhere. “Probably went to ground,” Winslow said, remembering Vincent's disappearance after Devin left.
“Which brings up another...concern,” Father said uneasily. “When Vincent is found, he must not be allowed to leave the tunnels. It's for his safety and our own.”
Winslow folded his arms. The alternatives were bad, and growing worse by the hour. Sedation hadn't worked, nor could they count on simple exhaustion to confine Vincent, not for long; even worn out by fever and delusion, he was still stronger than many of them. And rumor had flown faster than Father knew. People were scared, afraid that Vincent might surface from nowhere and attack them.
“Preposterous,” Father had said, when Winslow informed him of this. “The only person he's been attacking is himself. It's himself he battles.”
“Try telling Lisa that,” Winslow said, and Father threw him a sharp look. “Look, Father, rumors are flying faster than the facts right now and maybe you should, I don't know, tell everyone what's really going on. Or tell them something, if you can't tell them everything. It's gonna get ugly if you don't, because people are damned jumpy right now.” His voice softened. “What exactly did happen between them? I know they quarreled and she left, but there's something else going on. ”
And Father told him everything. When he finished, Winslow shook his head. “She's lucky she only got away with a few scratches. And this is why Vincent's so sick? Because he blames himself for hurting her?”
“Yes, I believe so,” Father said. “But without any sort of testing, there's no way to know the cause of his illness.” He rubbed his eyes. “In any event, I will call a general council meeting to try and put these fears of Vincent to rest.”
The meeting, much as Father feared it would be, was less a gathering of rational people than a mob on the verge of panic, worried about this new, erratic element in their lives. As much as they knew and liked Vincent, the fact was that he'd never acted this way among them. “Vincent is very ill,” Father said for what felt like the umpteenth time. “He poses no danger to anyone so long as he is not confronted.”
“Jeremy saw him at the gate,” a woman spoke. Father recalled her name as Andrea; she had been in the tunnels only a few weeks. “How can you say he poses no threat?”
Father turned, looking for Jeremy, and found him sitting on the banister. “Jeremy, did Vincent hurt you?”
The man shook his head. “No. I ain't fool enough to get near him when he's like that.”
“Common sense is a remarkable thing,” Father stated dryly. “I've heard the rumors that have been spreading, some foolishness of Vincent leaping out of the shadows to attack you all.” Various people in the crowd ducked their heads, trying desperately not to be the target of that sharp-eyed gaze. “Vincent is very, very ill. He's battling some force within him that only acts out when confronted. So don't confront him. If you see him, send out a message on the pipes and stay out of his way. And if you have any questions about what's really going on, may I suggest asking me instead of starting these rumors?”
After the crowd left, more subdued than when they arrived, Father saw Winslow and gestured him forward. “You think that settled matters?” Father asked.
“Well, if it didn't, it should slow them down some.” Winslow folded his arms, looking grimly determined. “And if it doesn't, I'll take care of them. Vincent's a good guy, and he doesn't deserve to have people whispering about him.”
The pipes erupted in a burst of sound. It was from young Pascal, who'd joined one of the search parties looking for Vincent. V found. Ninth Street entrance. In shock. Help needed.
It was some six hours later when the searchers managed to get an unconscious Vincent back to his chamber. The Ninth Street entrance was so far away, so seldom used, that Father speculated that Vincent must have roamed all hours of the night to find it. He was cold and clammy as they laid him in his bed, despite the blankets the search party had piled around him, and his pulse, to Father's horror, could barely be felt. Shock, he thought. Or the lingering effects of the sedative. Either way, I dare not use a tranquilizer on him.
He rubbed his eyes wearily, casting through his mind for options and finding none. Peter had sent a note that only reinforced how utterly out of their depths they both were: Nothing in research. Call if emergency. P. So that, apparently, was that---Vincent was ill, delusional, perhaps near a nervous breakdown, and there was nothing at all that anyone could do.
A low growling brought him abruptly out of his thoughts. Vincent, restless on the bed and shivering so violently that Father could feel the vibrations through the layers of bedclothes. He flailed about, searching, hunting for something that wasn't there. Or someone. Father came to sit beside him on the narrow bed. “Vincent,” he said softly, capturing one of the cold hands between his own. “It's all right. I'm here.”
The restless reaching calmed somewhat. Father's eye fell on a book he'd read to Vincent often, because of its depictions of sun and savannah and places and things that Vincent could never, would never see. Would the sound of his voice reading the book help now?
He released Vincent's hands, and watched as they settled, motionless, on the covers, and picked up the book. Opening it, Father began to read. “'There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and singing and they are lovely beyond any singing of it. The road climbs seven miles into them, into Carisbrooke; and from there, if there is no mist, you look down on one of the fairest valleys in Africa....'”(4)
Father looked over at his son, and was pleased to see that Vincent was starting to relax, as if the murmur of words was reaching through the madness and anchoring him, somehow. I would read every book in this library twice, if it kept you whole and sane, my son.
Father continued to read through the night and into morning, until his eyes blurred and the text grew wavy and his voice grew hoarse. He finally stopped when his voice gave out completely, but by then, it didn't matter. Vincent was asleep and closing his eyes, finally, so was Father.
“So reading to him helped?” Peter asked the next afternoon, when his schedule had finally lightened up enough for him to come down. They were sitting in the library where Father, after a brief nap, had agreed to meet Peter.
“Yes,” Father replied hoarsely. “But it's not a permanent solution. His fever is rising again. I've sent for some more ice bags.” He sat down heavily, weary to his soul as he hadn't been since his internship. “I have two of our strongest men standing guard at his chamber, and we are making...arrangements to isolate him further should he become violent. I fear there is nothing more to be done.”
“There is,” Peter said. “There must be. Do you think he'll let me touch him?”
Father shrugged. “When I'm not in the room with him, he becomes more restless. His reactions are...very erratic, Peter.”
“I'd like to take a blood sample,” Peter said.
“A blood sample? Peter, the risks---”
Peter nodded. “I know. But we're stumbling in the dark here; even if this illness is primarily psychological, there may be a physical cause we can treat, but I won't know unless I can get a blood sample.”
“Very well,” Father replied. “But Peter---be careful. Whatever is going on, it is extremely volatile.”
They walked towards Vincent's chamber. Father nodded at Winslow and stolid Elijah, both of whom had volunteered to stand guard over their friend. “How has he been?” he asked Winslow.
Winslow's eyes flickered towards the interior of the chamber. “Some growling, a lot of muttering, nothing that makes any sense. No sounds at all for the past few minutes.”
Vincent was sitting up in bed as they entered, the tell-tale red flush to his skin and the perspiration at his hairline giving evidence of the increasing fever. “How are you feeling?” Peter asked.
The words, when he spoke, were forced out over a voice gone raspy with fever and fatigue. “I shouldn't be here. I need to go Above.”
“Sure, of course,” Peter said, not mentioning that it was full daylight and Vincent wouldn't be going Above anytime soon. “Can I get a blood sample?” he asked, pulling out his syringe in a quick, efficient motion.
It was a mistake. Vincent caught the hand holding the syringe and his eyes dilated until there was hardly any blue left at all. Fight or flight reaction one part of Father's mind remarked. It was the one thing, aside from his outside appearance, that was the most feline about Vincent. Like any number of domestic cats Father had known, he did not take kindly to sudden movements. “Peter,” Father said softly. “Drop the syringe.” Peter did so with difficulty, because Vincent was holding his wrist tightly, but he managed. “Vincent, release Peter. He means you no harm.”
Vincent blinked as if not quite sure where he was or what he had been doing. His eyes, still fever-bright, glanced at the hand holding Peter's wrist and back again at Father's face. He released the wrist slowly and his eyes regained some of their awareness. “I'm...sorry,” he said roughly.
Peter smiled. “No harm done. Can I get a blood sample?”
Vincent shook his head and Father noticed how tangled and dull his mane looked. “I'm not sick,” he protested. “I just need to go Above.”
“Vincent, you're running a high fever,” Father said, trying to distract him from yet another mention of needing to go Above. “You've been very sick.”
It was subtle, but the shift in the body language was unmistakable. This was the Other. “We are not...a lab animal,” the Other hissed.
“No one said you were,” Father replied evenly. “But you have not been well, Vincent. Peter needs a blood sample so we can figure out how to help you.”
“You do not want to help us,” the Other replied. “You made Lisa leave. You will not let us leave.” With one quick movement, startling in someone weakened by fever and fatigue, he lurched out of bed and ran for the chamber entrance.
Winslow caught him, just barely. Vincent swung around, ready to attack but Winslow caught his arm and twisted it behind his back, shoving Vincent against the wall while Elijah kept him there, despite his struggles to break free. Had he been at anywhere near his full strength, they would never have caught him. “What now, Father?” Winslow asked, gasping.
“Are you either of you hurt?” Father glanced at the two of them; no blood, but there would be some nasty bruising.
“No,” they answered. “You got him?” Winslow asked Elijah.
Elijah nodded, not trying to make his voice heard over Vincent's furious roaring. Winslow stepped back a bit. “Look, Father, that room you asked about? Young Pascal sent word. It's ready.”
“What room?” Peter asked, looking shaken.
Father rubbed his eyes. He was not crying; it was the dust in his eyes, the dust Vincent had stirred up in his enraged flight. “The storage room. Where we're going to have to confine Vincent until this passes.”
The storage room was a large chamber with one unique feature: it had a door, a thick door of mahogany and iron that wouldn't have looked out of place in a medieval dungeon. No one knew who had put it there or why but it would serve very well. Vincent was strong, but the door should hold should he try to escape.
Father was pleased, and saddened, to find that his instructions had been carried out to the letter. There was nothing sharp in the chamber, nothing that could be used as a weapon. There was only a rough pallet with some blankets. Strong hooks had been driven into the rock walls; if they had to restrain Vincent, those would be where the ropes and harness would be attached.
It was a prison and a dungeon and Father knew that any sight of his son there would haunt him until the end of his days. But they couldn't risk him escaping Above in daylight, couldn't risk Vincent's health or anyone else's. And so, Vincent would go into this chamber and he would not leave it until he either recovered or he died. There was no longer any other option.
Winslow had prepared the makeshift harness, made of strong leather and iron lengths of chain that he had forged long ago for some other purpose. Even then, it might not be enough to hold Vincent, but it was the best they could do. Father watched as Winslow and Elijah frog-marched Vincent into the storage room; it was as if they held some wild, furious animal between them. Vincent twisted and turned and snarled; his face dark and flushed with rage. His roars echoed off the rock walls and drove themselves into Father's heart. If he survives, he may never forgive me for this, Father thought.
It occurred to him then, with a terrible sinking weight on his heart, that Vincent might die from his illness. He'd fought tooth and nail to banish even the shadow of such a suspicion from his mind, but looking at his son, gone gaunt and feral in his fever and hallucinations, Father felt death shadowing his footsteps.
Not this time, Father swore. I saved him once. You will not have him now. He turned then and walked towards the struggling figure of his son, trying to break free from Elijah and Winslow's firm grasp. “Vincent,” he said, resting his hands on the straining shoulders of his son and raising his voice to be heard over the roaring, “you must fight this and come back to us. You're going to be all right.”
The roaring dimmed to a faint growling and as the blue eyes gained some distant glimmer of recognition, Father just barely caught his son as he slumped forward bonelessly.
Leaving the unconscious Vincent temporarily in the hands of Peter and Winslow, Father made his way back to his chamber. In the library, he grabbed two of the thickest books he could find and some blankets of his own. Whatever Vincent was fighting, he would not fight it alone.
When he returned, Peter took the bundle from him. “I managed to get an IV started,” Peter said, “and he's at least gotten some fluids into him.”
“An IV...very good, Peter. He's been so dehydrated. Is he sleeping now?”
“If you can call it that,” Peter replied. “I doubt he's really slept much at all in the last few days. For right now, he's not tossing and turning, but if you want to keep that IV in...” Peter didn't finish the thought because he didn't have to. One summer when they had both been struggling medical students, he and Peter had taken jobs as orderlies at a local insane asylum. It had been a harrowing experience that neither of them had ever forgotten.
“Winslow has...everything ready,” Father said. “I pray it won't be necessary.”
Peter nodded, knowing there was nothing else to say. “Do you want me to stay down here tonight?”
Father shook his head. “No. Go home, get some rest, and I'll try to do the same.”
“Are you sure?” Peter asked. “Vincent could be--”
“Dangerous? Yes, I know. But I am his father and whatever we have to face now, we'll face together.”
“If you say so,” Peter said, unconvinced, but getting up to leave nonetheless. “If you need anything, call me.”
Winslow stood outside the entrance to the storage room, gazing into the room every so often. “He's settled down some since Peter left,” Winslow said, answering the unasked question. “He's not all that fond of strangers, you noticed?”
Despite himself, Father smiled. It had always been that way with Vincent; he was wary and nearly silent among people he didn't know. Peter wasn't entirely a stranger, but also wasn't someone Vincent saw every day either. “Yes, I noticed.”
Winslow noticed the bundle Father carried. “You mean to be here alone with him? Like that?”
Father nodded, not acknowledging Winslow's unspoken Are you completely insane? “Come back in a couple of hours. And leave the...equipment outside the door.” Winslow ambled off, and Father was at last alone with his son.
Vincent was quiet, still, and Father was stunned by the changes the last few days had made in him. There were deeper lines on his forehead and around his muzzle, lines of sorrow that seemed far too old on a boy who was only 15. If I could have protected you from this hurt, I would have.
Picking up one of the books, and dragging Winslow's chair from the entrance inside the room for his throbbing hip, Father began to read: “Arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris...”(5)
Dawn came, the time announced on the pipes, and Vincent was still, miraculously, alive. Winslow had returned, replacing the bags of ice that had melted overnight. Vincent's fever had declined a bare two degrees, but was still far too high for him. Father changed the IV a couple of times, but then he went back to his book and read on, finally finishing with Aeneas' defeat of Turnus at about the same time that Elijah and the younger Pascal brought him his fourth---or was it fifth?---cup of tea and a light lunch. Vincent had stirred restlessly at their presence but still, did not awaken.
“Will he be okay?” the younger Pascal asked. He and Vincent were almost of an age; the younger Pascal had been a toddler when Vincent came to the tunnels and they'd been nearly instant friends.
Father had answered in the only way possible. “I don't know. I hope so.”
Vincent, for his part, was aware of their words, but on a distant level that seemed far removed from the warm, dark place he now drifted. There was a person who touched him, but he was known and nothing to fear, so Vincent didn't even respond at his presence. There were others who came, friends that he knew, but their fear---of him? for him? he didn't know---flared sourly in the darkness and he tried to flee from them.
It seemed he was traveling down a long, dark tunnel, bare of sound and the mental presences he'd sensed since his earliest days, the sensation of other minds surrounding his own. For the first time in days, or weeks, there was no more pain, no fever, no nightmarish visions to be dealt with. At length, Vincent came to an empty space and stopped, weighted down by the sudden need to stop and rest. Another presence announced itself, a female presence that was both foreign and familiar. She was a tall column of light and Vincent felt nothing but calm in her presence. “You have a choice,” she said, kneeling beside him where he slouched on the ground.
“What choice is that?” Vincent asked, looking at the presence, but the light shimmered exactly where he tried to focus and so, he could not see her clearly. “I hurt Lisa.”
The presence nodded. “You did. But no more than she hurt herself. She ran from you as she will run from everything until she, too, finally finds a need to rest.” The presence shimmered slightly. “Your choice is to stay here or go on.”
“Go on?” Vincent asked. “Go on to where?”
“If you go on, you will suffer much pain, much sorrow, but there will also be much joy, in a form which you cannot even dream of now. Or you can stay here, and exist where there is no pain, no sorrow. It's your choice.”
“Is it? Really?” Vincent asked. Choices were like what option you got for breakfast, like between William's oatmeal or toast. It wasn't all that often, or at all, that you got to choose whether to live or die.
The presence seemed amused. “Yes. Really.”
It was warm here, and safe, and it was nice not to have his dark apparition clinging to his every shadow, but it also was without Father and Pascal and Winslow and the chess game he'd begun with Father just before he became so ill. Vincent feared the illness, which he knew, in some deep unnamed way, had not yet run its final, horrifying course, but he feared the lack of life more. “Let me go on. Please.”
He had the distinct impression the presence was pleased. “You'll see me again,” she said, “when you need me the most. Goodbye, young Vincent.”
And Vincent was released back into the confined horror of the dungeon where he'd been trapped, listening to Father read—was it Homer?---and closing his eyes in the darkness, he slept.
The sounds of snarling rage shocked Father out of a deep sleep. Vincent had torn out the IV and was now crouched in the corner, glaring ferally. Blood welled and dripped from the IV site as Vincent howled his fury. His eyes darted for the door a bare instant before Father realized what he was going to do. “Winslow, grab him!” Father called and watched in mute horror as Winslow caught the struggling Vincent, but not before Vincent landed a wicked blow that send Elijah crashing into the rock walls.
This time, there would be no reprieve, no soothing. The Beast had fully surfaced; Vincent was lost in his madness and until it passed, they were all in danger. Father rushed towards Elijah and was relieved to find no serious damage; the young man was just stunned. Father helped Elijah outside, then banged an emergency message on the pipes. The makeshift harness and the chains were just outside the door, but they were more than any one person could handle alone.
Winslow's struggles with Vincent ended briefly when Vincent saw the chains and the harness. A ghastly look of utter terror crossed his face as he saw the younger Pascal, Allen, David and the elder Pascal coming near him to force him into the chains. The growls intensified, then, and the struggles began anew. Vincent did not intend to go easily; he turned and snarled and hissed and made even the simple act of grabbing one of his wrists to fit them into the manacle nearly impossible.
“Winslow, can you---” the younger Pascal said, trying to reach an arm that was twisting out of his reach.
“Just what do you think I'm trying to do here?” Winslow gasped, only barely holding onto Vincent.
Father stepped into the chaos. I hope he forgives me, one day. With his own hands, he snapped the edge of the manacle around his son's flailing wrist. Startled, Vincent stilled for few seconds and that was enough for the other men to attach the rest of the restraints. Father stepped back and watched as they carried his son to the bed and attached the chains to the hooks in the walls. Vincent's back arched in fury but the chains held firm.
Vincent's eyes turned and met his own. They were mute, anguished, pleading. Free me, they said, and Father knew his own eyes said, Forgive me.
Father leaned back in his chair and rubbed his eyes. A full day had passed since Vincent had been placed in restraints, and although his wound from the IV site had been bandaged and the abrasions around his wrists had been treated, there was a new and ominous symptom. Vincent's heart was beginning to fail.
In one of his son's few quiet periods, when he'd worn himself out roaring and the chills were beginning to descend, Father had been able to get some basic vitals. His son's heartbeat, which was already a slow twenty-one beats per minute, was slowing. His breathing was labored, with long pauses between each one. They'd given him oxygen to help his breathing, but the wildness in Vincent didn't tolerate the mask.
Vincent was dying, and there was nothing he, or anyone else, could do.
Peter had come down, concerned. “He's not better, then,” Peter had said as he took in Father's white, anguished face and reddened eyes. “What are his symptoms now?”
“Delirium,” Father said as they walked back from the main entrance. “High fever, then chills. He's become violent and we had to restrain him.” The words were simple but the rough tone of pain and guilt was hanging in the open air, like a knife. “His heart is under...considerable strain.”
“Cardiac arrest?” Peter asked.
“No, not yet. But...soon, I think.” Father looked down, clasped his cane. “I don't know if I'll be able to bring him back.” His voice dropped until it was barely louder than the pipes around them. “And I don't know if I should.”
Peter stopped, aghast. “What are you saying?”
“I look at my son,” Father said softly, “and I see that the beast has overtaken him. What kind of life would I bring him back to?”
Dropping his medical bag on the ground, he grabbed Father by the shoulders. “While there is life, there is hope. You taught Vincent that---don't make yourself a liar now.”
Father nodded, chastened. “I'm sorry, Peter. It's just---”
Peter nodded. “I know. But you can't give up hope now. Remember when he came to you and he was so tiny and no one---including me---thought he would live? We were all wrong then and we'll be wrong again. You just have to have hope.”
And hope, Father mused, was all they had. Vincent's voice had gone hoarse with his howling and was now just muted, but the howls tore at his heart for all that. He strained at the restraints and had come close, even in his weakened state, to breaking them. Had he been completely well, they would never have held.
After a while, even Peter had left. He’d left behind some epinephrine and a large bore syringe if…when…Vincent’s heart should finally stop, but there wasn’t anything else he could do. Winslow had come by, and the younger Pascal, and Rebecca. Father knew their purpose, to say goodbye to a childhood friend, and was touched by it. Whether Vincent knew of their presence, as far gone as he was, Father did not know.
Mary had come too, gentle Mary who had lost her only child in the weeks prior to coming to the tunnels. She was all the mother Vincent had ever known. “It's near the end, isn't it?” she asked softly, wiping Vincent’s face with a damp cloth during one of his few quiet moments.
Father nodded. “He's struggling so much now, even to breathe.” When she left, when Peter had left, Father sat in the gathering dark and thought about his son.
There were so many memories crowding now, as he listened in a state of panic for that ragged breath to continue or fail. There was Vincent the infant kitten-child, and Anna’s white, frightened face as she handed him to Father and begged him to do something, anything, to heal this child. There was John Pater’s possessive madness over that same child and the first splintering of their community, a splintering which Vincent’s very existence had helped to heal. There was Vincent chasing Devin down the tunnels and climbing on rocks and learning to read and never failing to ask “Why?” There was breathy kitten laughter and blue eyes that trusted, always trusted, that Father could somehow make everything all right. And somehow, Father always had, though he’d frequently felt unequal and unqualified for the task of being a father.
The pauses between Vincent’s breaths were growing longer. Father came over to the pallet and undid his son’s restraints. If this was the end, Vincent would not die restrained. When the last strap was undone, he gathered Vincent in his arms---how light, how fragile he felt!---and pressed the tangled mane to his heart, as once he’d done when Vincent had been an infant and had cried for hours on end.
The ragged breaths hitched and slowed, hitched and slowed. At 3am, when life is at its lowest point, the breathing finally ceased and the only sound was Father’s weeping. Forgive me, my son. I failed you.
He fell to his knees and couldn’t have said, then or later, how long he sat like that. It might have been minutes or seconds. His hip throbbed but it was nothing. Vincent was dead. He had failed, as a father and as a doctor. And the penalty for his failure was life without the child who meant more to him than anything, anyone ever had.
Father rose and staggered back over to the pallet, filling the syringe Peter had left. Just as he was preparing to push its contents directly into Vincent’s heart, there was sharp intake of breath. He held his breath and the sound repeated, and a dawning hope caused him to pull back the blanket. “Vincent?” he muttered, and a low groan greeted his ears.
Alive. He’s alive. Ohmygodmysonisalivehowisthispossible? The thoughts ran over each other like water careening down a waterfall, and with just as much force. Dragging his stethoscope from around his neck, he placed it against Vincent’s heart, and there it was, the steady rhythm it had always had, save for these last few desperate days.
“Father?” Vincent asked, voice worn to a bare rumble. “Am I alive?”
Father managed to keep from sobbing at that first, tentative question. “Yes, my boy, you’re alive. How do you feel?”
There was a pause as Vincent thought that one over. “I need a bath,” he said finally. “And I’m starving.” And Father laughed, a deep laugh of relief and joy and hope. Whatever else might happen now, Vincent would at least be alive to face it.
Dawn came and the news rang out on the pipes, the first news of the new day. Vincent is alive.
 Lyrics and translation of the Carmina Burana from http://www.classical.net/music/comp.lst/works/orff-cb/carmlyr.php
 “May God grant, may the gods grant what I have in mind: that I may loose the chains of her virginity” http://www.classical.net/music/comp.lst/works/orff-cb/carmlyr.php
 “Burning inside with violent anger/Bitterly, I speak to my heart/Created from matter, of the ashes of the elements/I am like a leaf, played with by the winds.”
 Alan Paton, Cry the Beloved Country
 Virgil, The Aeneid. Translation by Stanley Lombardo. “Wars and a man I sing, the first to come to the shores of Troy...”