"The Reckoning"

Aliset.

Summary: A little talk between Father and Vincent, shortly after "The Outsiders"

After Catherine left, Vincent stared at the ceiling for some time. She had said she loved him, and accepted his dark places in a spirit of commonality that frightened and awed Vincent by turns. Either she was willfully ignorant of the Other---in spite of having seen him kill, several times---or it truly did not matter to her. And he was too bone tired to decided which it was. Perhaps later, when he could access his journal and let the words help him order his thoughts.

It occurred to him that he should probably try to sleep, but the adrenaline rush caused by the threat to the tunnels had ceased, wrenching his muscles and bones into unaccustomed aches, and he knew he'd be in for a night of rough dreams and darker moods if he tried to sleep now. The Other had retreated into his mental cage, and Vincent was content, for now, to observe the rough cut stone of the ceiling.

A halting tread, and the faint smell of disinfectant, candle smoke and tea, brought him to full attention. Father. He'd know that walk—and that smell---anywhere. "Vincent," Father said softly. "I'd have thought you'd be sleeping by now."

Vincent would have shrugged, but the painful throb and the sling over his left shoulder warned him against it. "No," he said softly. "I cannot sleep."

Father came to stand in front of him, much as Catherine had earlier. "I am truly sorry," he said.

Vincent didn't ask what he was apologizing for. Father had, he knew, truly regretted the necessity of Vincent's actions---or rather, that Vincent had had to be the one, again, who enforced the community's safety. There was, simply, never anyone else who could. I am become death, the destroyer of worlds, Vincent thought, miserably.

And Catherine had seen what the community apparently had always known---that he was fit only for the battle and the killing, not for poetry or dreams or any of the other emotions he felt for and from her. She had seen and surely, once she had seen enough, she would leave. Which was no more and no less than he deserved.

"It's my fault," Father said abruptly, jarring Vincent from his thoughts.

"What's your fault?" Vincent asked. The only fault was his, in being only and simply what he was. A killer, cloaked in the guise of civilization.

"Catherine...shouldn't have been down here." Father's voice was rough with a shame Vincent had not ever thought to hear from him.

Vincent had wondered why Catherine had come; lacking his own perceptions of their bond, she surely couldn't have known the danger the tunnels had been in, but she was also wise enough not to have come so far alone once she received no answer to her pipe-call. "So why was she here, Father?" There had been no real point to it, and coming down from the heightened haze of fury, when all thoughts deserted him for a time, he hadn't thought to ask her himself.

Father's hands tightened on his cane, a reflexive gesture, Vincent knew, of nervousness. "I asked her to bring us a weapon, to help us fight so you would not have to."

"A gun? Here?" He'd known Catherine had had such a thing; indeed, she had nearly shot him with it the first night he'd appeared on her balcony. But here in the tunnels...such a thing was simply not done. There were no guns, no weapons here. Except for himself, of course. "You sent Catherine down here, to risk her life, for us? For me?" It would have been a roar but his own exhaustion kept the volume of his words muted.

Father looked at him squarely, accepting the anger as nothing more than his just due. "Yes. I would have done anything to protect you from having to kill again. And in so doing, I risked Catherine's life. I am sorry but I could see no other way. She was coming down here to bring us her gun when she was attacked."

"You risked her life for mine, and for what? So she could see me kill again?" he hissed, volume just a few notches from snarling. No matter the intent, that had been the result and Catherine had seen...she had seen....

"I did not want that, Vincent," Father muttered. "I thought, with the gun, we could fight them off and you would not have to.lose yourself."

Lose yourself. Father's delicate and completely useless euphemism for the dark times when the Other came out and killed and slaughtered. Vincent tilted his head back and closed his eyes, ignoring the ache in his neck and back. "This is who I am, Father," he said softly, forcing the rage back into its cage again. "You know it. William knows it. The community knows it."

A hand came to rest on top of his head, the hands that had healed and touched and comforted him so many, many times before. Vincent could feel his regret and pain through the contact. "This is not who you are for us, Vincent. I very much regret the necessity that anyone had to imply otherwise."

"Nevertheless," Vincent muttered, but Father cut him off.

"Nevertheless," Father said, "I have done you a great wrong. I have endangered Catherine and caused you to risk your own life yet again because I could think of no other way to protect us."

Father's queerly formal speech was the mark of a lifetime in the tunnels, of trying to create a world where such dangers would never occur, where all could live in harmony. A perfect world, some would have said, except that a family of hostile intruders had changed everything in the space of a few days' time.

And there would be other times, Vincent knew. Others would stumble on this world and have to be guided out, or they would stumble on this world and mean it harm. He would defend it, in either case. He had no choice. What Father apologized for, the battles, the killings...were perhaps inevitable.

Vincent clasped Father's hand where it had settled on its shoulder. "I will defend this world no matter what," he said. "But do not involve Catherine again."

Father clasped his should once, reassuringly, and Vincent felt again the older man's resolve that there should never be another time like this. And his own unspoken promise, to keep the woman his son loved safe from any future dangers so long as he could. "It's late, Vincent," he said aloud. "Will you sleep, now?"

Vincent shook his head. The dawn was not far off and he had much to think on.

He closed his eyes as Father left.

The End.