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.”
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