Home Chapter 19
And so there grew great tracts of wilderness,
Wherein the beast was ever more and more…
-“Idylls of the King,” Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Too many miles and hours between them, but she was coming back. She had escaped, and they would hide. Vincent was certain.
He stood, cloak on, hood up, searching the streets from the top of the building adjacent to Joe Maxwell’s. Rain clouds darkened the western sky, killing the sunset’s fading glow. Below him, in the alley, garbage and leaves swirled in brief maelstroms of trapped air. It seemed an uncanny and volatile world he had climbed into—foreign with gray daylight, electric with possibility.
Behind him on the flat roof, gravel shifted when he should hear none, the scent of muck and blood, (familiar, at least) when he should only smell the city and the oncoming rain. His hood, the necessary impediment, made seeing without pivoting impossible, but he didn’t need to. Vincent knew what had followed him.
“Feels like old times… waiting for her, wishing for her.”
The dark twin stepped into Vincent’s obscured peripheral vision, settling next to him at the edge of a low wall. The doppelganger wore old clothes, darker clothes—the layers of a lifetime—stained, cracked, frayed. An accurate description of his voice as well.
“So, you’re waiting for them here, her and Maxwell?”
Catherine should arrive soon, if the bond, her proximity, and the growing sense of right converging with her anxious anticipation did not lie.
Afternoon stretched too long into evening, riddled with peaks of intense emotion and the absent nadirs of them. She was trying to keep him and their child safe from herself. Yet there had been a finality to it—anger and acceptance—around the time she’d left the agents. Jamie had reported as much in her pipe message—that Catherine wouldn’t go back, that the agents knew of the child, and more brusquely, that Joe insisted Catherine eat before returning. Now she was moving again.
“Catherine asked for you to stay Below, the girl’s message said. So, why didn’t you?” the demon questioned, yet with an inflection that hinted it already knew the answer.
It always did.
Vincent shook his head, trying to clear it, not that it ever made a difference.
Should he acknowledge what shouldn’t be possible? The odor, the ragged breathing, the wind catching the leather ties and dull hair affirmed in every possible way that the specter of rage and malice was as genuine as their previous encounters.
Catherine wasn’t the only one saved from the preternatural by being together.
“In fact, while we’re on the subject,” the Other persisted, “why the doctor’s? Why bring the child there instead of keeping him home? The agent found the house. Jacob’s safer in the Tunnels.”
Vincent knew that. Jacob was there now. He’d taken him to Father as soon as Catherine and Joe had departed. He should have remained there too, but something had brought him back into the early evening light.
Pea stones jumped across the asphalt as his twin circled him.
“Was it to save them down there? Or to escape them?”
Vincent didn’t reply, so the Other felt the need to respond for him.
“Truth is, you can’t stand them anymore.”
At the direct challenge, Vincent faced his opponent.
“Oh, you love them,” the thing continued, “the Tunnel people—the family that isn’t really family. They want reassurance. They want safety… without the sacrifice. And you can’t give them those anymore, can you?”
No. Were they only now beginning to understand that? The last year should have made that plain.
“And the way they look at her, just the same way they did after you got sick,” the thing snarled, lengthening the word sarcastically and jabbing his forehead. “Sick, because you had to deny yourself…”
Not just for them—but yes, for Father, for the others—he had submerged pieces of himself, aspects that fought tooth and claw to be acknowledged.
The shadow peered at the street below.
“I wonder if they’ll look at our son the same way someday…”
Another nightmare, another fear, brought to the fore by visions made too real.
“The ‘Father’ never could reconcile his wishes with what biology dictates,” the specter continued. “But it wouldn’t be the first time truth trampled on his vision. Won’t be the last, either… for any of them,” the Other declared, and Vincent had to defend.
The monster chuffed. “That’s the ocean they’ve always lived in.” Then added, pivoting to serious, “And, they can’t trust her now… or you. Your desires, your nature—the answer to the problem, the problem with no answer.”
As if telling a secret, the thing bent towards him. “None of them trust you like she does. She trusts beyond reason and that terrifies you, doesn’t it?”
Vincent said nothing.
“Those people want the protector. They want us, but they don’t see us,” the twin hissed. “They don’t appreciate the predator. But she understands because she is the predator.” He turned and shrugged, staring at the sky. “Easier time hiding it, of course, but you felt it today. Her hatred, her fury—lightning and molten silver coursing through us.”
He tossed his head back, savoring it like a sumptuous scent in the air.
When his revelry finished, he pointed. “You can’t deny it,” the shadow accused.
“Catherine and I are the same spirit. I don’t deny that anymore.”
The shade recoiled, only to strike in a new place.
“No.” He shook his head against Vincent’s words. “Not the same. She’s close to us, but different. A killer, but a cold killer. Maybe she wasn’t before she was hurt… but now…”
Vincent could go mad thinking of that, of who she would be had she never been attacked.
Perhaps that’s what the Other wanted – insanity.
“She met us the first time in that basement—you remember? With the bodies and the blood…”
Vincent would never forget the horror in her eyes—and how she shook off the revulsion to get him to safety.
They saved each other.
“Despite witnessing what we truly are,” the shadow taunted, “she stayed; she accepted.”
Leaning close, whispering, “She embraced us.”
His twin drew back, shaking its head.
“She’s loved us ever since.”
Vincent shut his eyes.
“She loves every part of you. And that’s what scares you,” the monster declared, as if it was an unexpected and novel revelation. It wasn’t.
“It should scare her.”
“Scare her?” the thing asked, chuckling. “Probably not. You’re the one who’s afraid of her.”
“I don’t know what you mean.” Vincent could taste the falseness in the words as they left his mouth. So, too, it seemed, could his companion.
“Liar,” the dark thing growled. “She could destroy you!”
Of course. But that fear had become so much a part of his life since her arrival in it, there was no living without it.
“She could leave… take your son and be halfway around the world, and you couldn’t stop her. And,” he sneered, “it would only be fair. How many times did you leave? Your escapes, your breakdowns—legendary. The last time was quite dramatic, if I remember correctly. She had to get very persuasive to bring you back.”
She had. She’d given body and soul, and he’d still lost her, because of shame… causing more shame. It would only be logical for her to escape the degradation.
And it would kill him.
“She wouldn’t do that,” Vincent protested with less conviction than Catherine deserved.
“Maybe. But I know her in ways you don’t, remember? Who did she see when you were gone? Me!” The twin pounded his chest as if in pride, but also resentment. “Who does she still see? ME!”
The specter circled Vincent again while the wind beat indigo clouds into a blanket from horizon to city-choked horizon.
“She’s the woman who chose to marry a man she didn’t love to save your hide.” He came around, breathing words into Vincent’s face. “And that was before everything else she’s done. Before Gabriel.”
Gabriel, the chaos unleashed on their lives, malevolent, demonic, and somehow … inevitable. All of this—Gabriel and the F.B.I. investigation—unfair, unjust, but, also, destined. How could they imagine they’d be allowed a life together? How could they believe they’d get away whole?
“It’s true,” the shadow said, as if in answer to the unuttered.
The Other watched the lights appearing to fight the coming dark.
“The lessons have been… exacting. But New York has taught her so much.”
They were quiet long enough for Vincent to focus on the growing sensation of Catherine’s imminent arrival while the monster beside him gripped the wall, claws clicking against the pediment.
“She’s brave and stupid enough to think she can fix this,” he said in a rumbling mixture of derision and concern. “Softhearted enough to love all those rejects underground.”
The shade sighed.
“She’ll kill her life up here… Burn it to the ground.”
“I can’t let her.”
“As if you have any power over that!” the shadow barked and gestured to a world where Vincent had no place. “Face facts, you’re stuck. You have nothing to offer her except a cage… a second-hand crypt. And you know she can’t accept! She won’t bring the police down on those weaklings!”
“She may have no choice.”
Not safe Above, she must hide Below, even with the inevitable scrutiny on a fragile Tunnel existence.
The thing shook its head.
“To save them… to spare you and the boy.” He stopped at Vincent’s ear. “You don’t think she’d do anything? You don’t think she’d disappear?”
Vincent stared at the sneering mockery before him.
“Wanna bet?” it snarled.
The shadow made flesh motioned to the roof of Joe’s building. Along the edge, a long, black shaft swung from what appeared to be bags of refuse. Vincent watched as a head emerged next to the thin rod … no, rifle. The assassin’s white hair only visible against the black-grey of rain-filled clouds. No one else would have seen him in the gathering dark, no one but Vincent.
“She was right,” the shadow twin called, fading.
The torrent let go, the storm creating itself. Anticipated all day, the intermittent first heralds struck all around them.
“Storm’s past the eye. The rest is on its way…”