Catherine awoke to the feel of something tickling her nose. She brushed her nose, then realized it was Vincent's hair, clean-smelling and untangled for the first time in days, which had awakened her. In his sleep, he'd drawn her closer, so that her head was directly under his chin. It was still late, or early, she judged; the pipes were quiet and the sound of the overhead trains had ceased.
She lay there for a time, not wanting to disturb Vincent's sleep. He had been restless in the night, muttering unintelligible sounds and growling low in his throat a couple of times, but he hadn't awakened. His left hand, with the IV line, rested on her thigh while his right hand held her left one in a firm clasp. Catherine studied those bandaged hands, the hands that had killed for her and for the tunnels so many times, the hands that grieved him so. She had seen them be gentle, soothing many a child's fears. Yet all Vincent saw was the killings, the mark of a beast, he would have said. How could she help him move beyond that?
She knew she'd have to go above in a few hours, to call and tell Joe that she needed a leave of absence. He wouldn't be pleased, but better him angry than him calling the police because she'd disappeared for days without explanation. If she still had a job when Vincent was healed...there were going to be changes. Starting with her job. It had become too dangerous, and if it was in her power, she would never see Vincent kill for her again.
Catherine heard a soft, even tread and turned her head. It was Father.
“I just came into check on him,” Father said softly. “I'm sorry to have disturbed your rest.”
“I was awake,” she said just as quietly. “I think he's doing fine, so far.”
“Hmmm,” Father said, taking Vincent's pulse and checking the IV. “So far, so good.”
She studied Father's face, noting how drawn he looked. “Are you sleeping at all?” Catherine asked.
Father smiled. “I think I slept more during my residency, but don't worry.” He studied her carefully. “How are you doing?”
“Thinking,” Catherine said. Father followed the line of her gaze to her hand clasped with Vincent's, and nodded. “Have you come to any conclusions?” Father asked.
“I'm going to ask for a transfer to the trial division, if I still have a job when this is all over,” Catherine replied. “I think...no, I know....Father, it's become too dangerous.”
“And you want this? Because you know what Vincent will say if you change your job assignment merely for him.”
“I do,” Catherine replied, smiling a bit at his likely reaction. “And if Joe can't or won't approve the transfer, then I'll quit and find work at a small non-profit. Anything. Just so he doesn't have to kill for me again.”
Father folded up his stethoscope, and replaced it in his bag. “I will tell you what I'm sure Vincent would. Follow your heart.” He looked down at their clasped hands then across at her again. “For myself, I would welcome anything that keeps the two of you from harm.” Readjusting the IV line, he pulled the covers up around them both. “Rest, now.”
When he'd left, she nestled against Vincent once again and closed her eyes. The morning would come and there was time enough to make plans.
Vincent was sitting on the park bench again. The Other sat next to him, eating an ice cream cone. It was such an incongruous image that Vincent almost laughed, except that the sight of his twin contentedly licking an ice cream cone was no weirder than anything else he'd experienced thus far. “What now?” Vincent asked.
“It's chocolate. You want some?” the Other asked.
Vincent shook his head. “No, thank you. Chocolate doesn't really agree with me.”
The Other grinned in a flash of white teeth in that dark face. “I know. But it tastes good while it lasts. Remember when Sam brought the ice cream down?”
Vincent nodded. He'd been 20 and they'd finally gotten reliable refrigeration thanks to Phillip's inspired jury-rigging. Sam had brought the ice cream down in celebration, and it had tasted so good after lugging the refrigerators---surplus from a helper's store---down to the main stockroom. .
It had also been the last week Phillip was alive. Vincent frowned, remembering. “I know,” the Other said. “Phillip was a good man. But his death wasn't your fault.”
“Wasn't it?” Vincent asked. “If I'd been just a bit sooner...”
The ice cream cone had disappeared; the Other sat up and looked him straight in the eye. “Would have, should have, could have. Brother, the past is past. You did what you could, when you could. Let it go.”
Vincent felt the touch of a clawed hand on his shoulder. “I cannot,” he said. “I was their protector. I should have been there.”
The Other sighed. “Very well. Then we'll go down this path again.”
They'd just finished hooking up the refrigerators to Phillip's jury-rigged electrical system when the alarm rang out on the pipes: intruders. “Probably just some drunk teenagers again,” Phillip said, straightening from his wiring. Above, he'd been an electrician until his continual battle with the bottle had left him homeless, sick and alone, in what turned out to be the tunnel's main entrance. Now, almost eight years after Vincent and Devin had found him, he was a trusted member of the community.
Vincent grunted in agreement, carefully maneuvering the refrigerators into place. “I should go,” Vincent said. “I have sentry duty tonight anyways.”
“After hours of hauling these lugs? Man, that's brutal. How do you do that?”
Vincent wiped his hands on a relatively clean bit of rag. “Because I must,” he replied, uncomfortable with any suggestion that he might be more different or unusual than he already knew himself to be.
“Nah, man, I mean, when do you sleep?”
“Tomorrow,” Vincent said, smiling at Phillip.
He'd grabbed his cloak and walked to where the intruders were----an access tunnel preferred by some of their older helpers because of its close proximity to the inhabited tunnels. Along the way, he met the sentry who'd sent the alarm. “How many are there?” Vincent asked James.
James shrugged. “Four or five. Young guys. I heard them moving about and there might be more now.”
Vincent nodded. The drunks weren't usually a problem---one good roar and they'd go running and if they didn't, there were other ways of scaring them off. But if they were sober and exploring, that was a whole other kind of risk, and one they all feared. “I'll go check on them,” Vincent replied, pulling the hood of his cloak up.
“Be careful,” James said.
“I will,” Vincent said, stepping into the shadows. It was a short walk to the corridor where the intruders had been sighted. He crouched behind an outcropping of darker rock and watched them. Five, six men, hefting large bundles down from the street above. Two men stood guard, guns slung over their chests, watching with wary eyes.
He growled low in the back of his throat. Drug dealers. Storing their poison in his home, near the places where children lived and slept every day.
“Drug smugglers? Are you sure?” Father asked in the council meeting that night.
Vincent nodded. The council meeting had gone on for an hour already and they were still no closer to reaching a decision than they were when he and James had returned. The rolling tide of emotion---fear, anger, defiance---beat against him and added to the headache he felt in any large, agitated gathering. Father's voice cut through the confusion. “We need a plan. Does anyone have any suggestions?”
“We could try and scare them off,” Vincent said, resisting the urge to rub the bridge of his nose where the headache gnawed fiercely. If he could just go somewhere quiet...
“And if that doesn't work, what then?” Winslow demanded. “If they're storing drugs down here, it won't be long before they find more entrances. Even if we block the entrance they used, that doesn't mean they won't find others the longer they're down there.”
“So what do you suggest?” Father asked.
“Perhaps an anonymous tip to the police,” James said. “Then we block or reroute the other entrances.”
“It's located near a main artery,” Father replied, gesturing to the map that was laid on the table before him. “We could change the entrances but that would be difficult on the helpers who live near there...and there's no guarantee that the police wouldn't go searching for other tunnels they might have used. No, we cannot involve the world above in this, even though they bring their poison to our home.”
Father looked over at Vincent. “Take a couple of men with you. Try to scare them off.”
Vincent met Phillip’s eyes across the chamber, knowing full well what would happen if they couldn’t scare the drug dealers off. The tunnels were limited in their ability to defend themselves; the sentries traditionally carried no weapons, and if there was further trouble, there would almost certainly be bloodshed. And Vincent knew which role his tunnel family expected him to assume in such times: the protector. “Which is a crock,” Phillip had said on more than one occasion, and loudly too, until Lark—Phillip's wife of three years---shushed him. “What, no one else can defend themselves around here?”
It wasn’t the first time Vincent had thought such a thing, but it was the first time he’d heard it said by anyone else. “That William,” Phillip said, “he’s ex-Army. What, he can’t fire a gun to defend his home? What good are the sentries if Father won’t let them carry arms?”
“He doesn’t want the violence above to follow us down here,” Vincent repeated, as if by rote. It was a philosophical argument he’d heard since childhood and at times, it was wearying.
Phillip had scoffed at that notion too. “You all gave me a place when I had no one. My wife lives here now. Give me a pitchfork or a kitchen knife, and I’ll defend this place. Seems to me everyone else should be willing to do the same.” Phillip’s dark eyes had looked into Vincent’s own; they were almost of a height, he and Phillip. “It shouldn’t always be you, man. You’re just a kid.”
Vincent had chuckled at that---no one had referred to Vincent as a kid since he’d topped a rangy six feet at sixteen---and the conversation turned to other things. But he remembered the conversation now as the wrangling and the arguments and the fear ricocheted around the rock walls. Phillip's arm was wrapped around his wife's waist and there was a careful, subtle nod. Whatever Vincent was asked to face, Phillip would stand with him.
In the end, three of them went that first night: Vincent, Phillip, and Winslow. “I don't like this much,” Winslow said as they walked to where the criminals had made their camp. “My old man told me stories of the drug dealers up top. You all think they're going to be scared by some meowing?”
Vincent chuckled a bit. Only Devin and Winslow could get away with that kind of teasing. “I do not,” he said with some dignity, “meow.”
“Sure, whatever you call it,” Winslow replied, punching Vincent lightly in the arm. “But still. You're gonna growl, or whatever, at them and they'll never come back? Who does Father think he's fooling?”
“Winslow,” Phillip said, “Father doesn't want to provoke an all-out war. I don't blame him. These guys don't fool around, and we're not armed like we should be.”
Winslow breathed out once. “My old man and Father had that argument for years about arming the sentries. I get his point. Doesn't mean I like it.” He rubbed his hands together. “So, what's the plan?”
Vincent shrugged. “The plan is, we go there, make a lot of noise. Coming at them from all directions, it might scare them off.” He spread his hands at Winslow's dark look. “Do you have a better idea?”
“Calling the cops wasn't a bad one,” Winslow said. “But since this is what we got, we'll go with it. And hope to hell it works.”
They crouched lower, hugging the shadows as they came closer to the drug smugglers. Five of the smugglers were crouched around a fire, passing bottles of beer around. Vincent reached up and made a light tapping noise on the pipes; the signal for Pascal's part to begin. All at once, a loud random clanking burst from the pipes over the smuggler's heads.
“Hey, what the hell was that?” one smuggler asked, eyes darting around.
Phillip reached back and grabbed the old pots that James had stashed behind a rock outcropping the night before; handing two of them to Winslow, they began banging loudly on them, in counterpoint to the noise of the pipes.
“Man, this place is creepy,” another smuggler said, covering his ears as the noise grew louder and louder, relentless, the echoes chasing each other in small space.
Then it was Vincent's turn. In safe, normal times, it was difficult for him to roar, but these men threatened his home and his family and all the fierce protective energy the Other could muster rose within him, primal and defiant. The roar started somewhere in the middle of his chest and the sound ricocheted over the sound of the banging pots and the clanking of the pipes. He stepped forward, a tall hooded figure, dark in the shadows cast by the smugglers' fire.
The roaring continued, and at the advance of the hooded figure, the nerve of the smugglers broke. They ran for the entrance ladder above, leaving their drugs behind. Vincent retreated, the roaring slowly lessening until it was nothing but a threatening growl then finally, harsh breathing. He slumped against the wall, trying to rein in the Other, to control the instinct to chase the intruders from his home and make sure they never returned. Winslow banged out the all-clear on the pipes and the noise above them ceased.
Phillip threw down his pots and touched Vincent's shoulder. Vincent recoiled, a warning snarl emerging despite his best attempts. Phillip jumped back a little in shock and Winslow grabbed his arm. “Leave him be,” Winslow said. “He'll be all right in a moment or two.”
“He will?” Vincent heard Phillip ask, as if from a great distance. The roar in his ears began to recede.
“He will,” Winslow replied. “That's what most don't get---this ain't easy for him.”
Vincent took one breath, then two and the haze of protective rage faded. “I'm sorry, Phillip.”
Phillip smiled. “No problem, man. Looks like they've scattered. Let's get rid of these drugs and go home.”
The Other smiled at his twin. “I enjoyed that, you know. Scaring them off. It felt good.”
Vincent nodded. It had felt good. But he'd been scared of it too, frightened that the protective rage would flare out and harm the others. “See, that's where you keep messing up,” his twin said. “We never hurt or scared anyone that didn't have it coming.”
Vincent raised his eyebrows. “What about Devin? Lisa?”
The Other leaned back against the park bench and folded his arms. “Devin had it coming. You'll remember he hit us first.”
“I shouldn't have hurt him,” Vincent said. “He still has the scars.”
“It was a fight between brothers,” the Other said. “And he was spoiling for a fight. Haven't you and I fought often enough?”
Vincent felt the echo of his twin's sardonic grin cross his face. “Didn't you tell me you weren't real?”
The Other grinned back. “I'm not. But your mind likes to think I am, so...until you get over the idea that I'm some dark, dangerous part of you that can't ever be allowed to surface, here I am.”
Vincent stared at his twin. “You were dangerous, with Lisa. I hurt her.”
“So you did. But hurting her was an accident. We didn't mean to hurt her. She toyed with us, teasing. Surely you remember that.”
Vincent nodded. “But it doesn't excuse what I did.”
“What you did, was to hold too tightly to a silly, immature girl who was startled when her game went too far. No, you shouldn't have hurt her, but there's plenty enough blame to go around. Forgive yourself, brother. Just because you made one mistake---two, if you insist on counting Devin---doesn't make you a monster.”
Vincent leaned back and studied his twin, the blue eyes so startling in those dark features. “You were very different when I became ill the last time. Why?”
“I frightened you, didn't I?” the Other said. “Surely you can figure out why. You desired Lisa, and that scared you. Father told you, had always told you, how different you were, so you couldn't talk to him. When you hurt her, even accidentally, it was confirmation of everything you feared---that you really were some monster, that you weren't fit to love anyone. And your guilt nearly destroyed you.” He paused. “What you feared, Brother, was yourself. What you battled, in your rages and fevers and deliriums, was only and always...yourself.”
Click here for Chapter Four....