Catherine turned in her sleep, dreaming of a bright field of sunflowers. Vincent was beside her, holding her hand and the summer's heat beat down on them. It was hot, so very hot and the yellow of the flowers burned her eyes....the sun was so fiery....why was it so warm? Some inner warning of danger made her her eyes snap open and she stared at Vincent. “Oh, no,” she said.
It was cold in the chamber but the heat of Vincent's body burned her. She threw on a shawl over her nightgown and rushed into Father's chamber. “Father,” Catherine said, “please wake up.”
He came awake almost instantly, a doctor's reflexes never forgotten. “What is it, Catherine?”
“I think Vincent's running a fever,” she said.
“A fever, you say?” Father said, rubbing his eyes briefly. “I was afraid of that.”
She raised her eyebrows. “You were?”
“It's probably from those chest wounds---we cleaned them but they were quite deep, you remember.”
Catherine nodded. Those wounds had been the deepest, the ragged tears in the skin making them hard to close, and finally Father had just settled for flushing the wounds out with saline as best he could and bandaging them lightly. She watched as he grabbed his doctor's bag and followed him into Vincent's chamber.
Vincent's skin was flushed, dark with fever. Father lifted one of the gauze bandages and pressed gently, stopping when he felt Vincent flinch and snarl in his sleep. “I know it hurts. I'm sorry.” Father turned to Catherine. “I'm afraid he's developed an infection in those wounds.” He stood, banging out a quick message on the pipes. “I'm going to send someone above with a message for Peter. He needs antibiotics, and quickly. We've run out.”
She tore her gaze from Vincent's face. “I can go, if you want.”
Father shook his head. “No, I appreciate it, but...no. Vincent needs you more, here.”
Catherine nodded. “What can I do, then?”
“Stay with him. I'll send Geoffrey up to reach Peter.” Father placed one hand on Vincent's forehead. “You're right. His fever is quite high.”
“Can you give him anything for it?” Catherine asked.
Father shook his head. “No. He reacts badly to many medications. We'll have to bring the fever down some other way until the antibiotics come.” He stood and banged out a second message on the pipes and a few short minutes later, Mary came, along with Elijah and Paul. Geoffrey arrived just behind them, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. “What's going on, Father?” Geoffrey asked.
“I need you to take a message to Peter. Can you do that, Geoffrey?”
The boy---no, young man, Catherine thought, wondering when he'd grown so tall---nodded. “No problem, Father. I'll find him for you.” And just like that, he was gone.
Father turned his attention to Elijah and Paul. “Can you please lift him? Catherine, Mary, we'll need to get the quilts out from under him.”
She watched as Elijah and Paul gently lifted Vincent up, pulling off his nightshirt and then she and Mary pulled the quilts out from under him, folding them neatly on the chair. With a muffled groan, Vincent was settled back on the mattresses. Father filled a wash-basin from the dry sink in the corner and dampened some cloths with the cool water. Together they ran the cooling water over Vincent's body, turning the golden fur dark.
After what could have been a few minutes or an hour, Father stopped and placed his hand on Vincent's forehead. “No change,” he said, worrying at his lower lip.
Catherine dampened another cloth. “Then we'll just keep going,” she said, running the cloth behind Vincent's neck and watching as the water trickled down the strong lines of his jaw. “What do we do if this doesn't work?”
“It has to,” Father said. “We don't have many other options.”
The morning wore into the afternoon as Vincent’s temperature continued to rise. Geoffrey had sent a note down through a helper; Peter was in emergency surgery and not expected back anytime soon. Mouse had brought bags of ice from the community’s freezers and they’d applied the ice near the major arteries. Then, and only then, had his temperature begun to fall. “I don’t understand this infection,” Father said. “He usually heals so quickly. I didn’t see this coming.”
Catherine placed a hand on his shoulder. “It’s not your fault that he got an infection, Father. You did all you could.”
Paracelsus. Just hearing the name was enough to make Catherine's stomach clench, remembering all Vincent had endured at his hands. That he'd kidnapped her from her balcony and tried to kill her was secondary, she thought, to the torture Vincent had experienced. “Father, I need to know,” she began, and stopped, unsure of how to phrase her next words. She’d faced hardened criminals in court, men with dead eyes and hollow souls, but words failed her now.
“What do you need to know, Catherine?” Father asked. “Anything you ask, I’ll tell you.” His eyes settled on Vincent’s flushed face. “I owe you that much.”
There was no other way, she thought, to lance the poison except to be quick about it. “Why didn’t you tell Vincent about Paracelsus? About Anna? He’s lived with half a story all his life and if you’d just told him what really happened, maybe…”
“Maybe he’d not be lying here? Maybe he’d not have been driven to the very edge of madness?” Father’s voice held no self-pity. “You haven’t said anything I haven’t thought a thousand times since.” He paused. “The short answer is, I was ashamed.”
“Why shame? Anna’s death wasn’t your fault,” Catherine said.
“It was,” Father said. “I made a mistake, a dreadful one that cost a good woman her life. Anna, you see, knew that John had become unstable, but he was quite skilled in hiding it from the rest of us. When Anna first came to me…I turned her away, thinking she was exaggerating. John was my friend; surely he couldn't be capable of such things. So I sent her back to him, and left her---and Vincent---in the care of a madman. John killed her the next night and would have escaped with Vincent had her body not been found first. No, my dear, you can’t accuse me of worse than I’ve done.”
“And then after,” Father continued. “It was my own vanity, my need to be perfect to lead this community. Too many people depended on me to keep them safe; I didn’t want to admit to anyone, least of all Vincent, that my stupidity, my arrogance had killed a young woman who had trusted me with her life and his own.” He paused. “Anna loved him so and would have been his mother, had she lived. How could I tell him I took that away from him?”
“Paracelsus did that, Father. No one else.”
He shook his head. “Who’s more responsible, Catherine? The cancer or the one who lets the cancer continue? After we found Anna’s body and discovered what John had planned for Vincent…we expelled him. The argument was made that we should have executed him, thrown him into the abyss for his crimes. But I argued against it, shouted down those calling for blood, because I didn’t want the community’s healing to be based on revenge. And John had been my friend...once. If I’d known then....” Father shrugged then and his eyes were old and tired. “I did what I thought was best. But I’ve been wrong a great many times, Catherine.”
“I was wrong,” Father said. “I don’t have any explanation, except that once the lie was told, the truth left half-revealed, it was easier to keep going than to admit I’d lied to him all those years.” He ran a hand through his hair. “So many times, I’d look at him and want to start explaining….but I couldn’t. I’d almost convinced myself that it wouldn’t matter in the end, that Paracelsus would give up, find a new target for his obsessions, and I'd never need to tell Vincent just how wrong I'd been.” He gave a short bark of laughter, utterly without humor. “I’d forgotten that John was always a much better chess player than I.”
“Do you think there's still a risk from his followers?” Catherine asked.
Father shrugged. “Oh, they're still below, if that's what you mean. But Paracelsus was very much the dominant force behind his community. We've been monitoring the message traffic from their pipes; they're disordered, in confusion, without him to guide them. That may change, of course, and we'll have to remain vigilant, but I think most of the danger is past.”
Catherine nodded. She leaned towards him, intense. “Father, when Vincent comes out of this---and he will---you have to tell him what you've told me. All of it. No matter how much it hurts you.”
“I know,” Father replied. “And I hope that in his great heart, there will be forgiveness for the pain I've caused him.”
It was raining, Vincent noticed, a hot steaming rain that evaporated almost as soon as it hit the purple grass. The Other made a wordless sound of disgust. “I don't really enjoy being wet,” his twin said wiping off the rain as it dripped from his dark, ragged bangs. “I don' t suppose you'd care to go inside?”
“Inside where?” Vincent asked, wiping the heated rain off his damp forehead. There didn't seem to be a shelter around.
And in an instant, they were on Catherine's balcony. The Other opened the balcony doors---not a difficult task, since they were only barely hanging on their hinges. “Come in,” he gestured.
Vincent felt an instinctive recoil, both at the sight of the damage he'd caused in his delirium just a few days before, and at the thought of entering Catherine's apartment. “I can't.”
“You didn't have a problem a few days ago,” the Other observed. “And you know the mate wouldn't mind. What gives?” Without waiting for an answer, the Other gave one sharp tug on Vincent’s hand and all but yanked him into Catherine’s apartment.
Vincent blinked. “Are you sure I have the right apartment?”
The Other laughed. “This is what Catherine sees when she dreams of us with her.”
It was not the interior of Catherine’s apartment as he remembered it, pale interiors and clean lines. This was a cottage library, full of overstuffed furniture and bookshelves filled to the ceilings. “It’s the library at her father’s place in Connecticut,” the Other said.
Connecticut. Vincent winced. “One more place I’ve failed her,” he said.
The Other stared at him, hard. “Are you the same person as you were then?”
Vincent shook his head. “Then don’t assume,” the Other continued, “that you’ll never see this place. Your love, the love you share, has the power to remake your reality and shake all your assumptions. Think on it, will you?”
Vincent nodded and was startled when his twin handed him a towel. “You’re dripping on the hardwood floors.”
“So are you,” Vincent replied.
“Nope, I’m not. Figments don’t drip,” the Other said, grinning.
Vincent dried himself off, and sat gingerly on the leather couch. “It's comfortable, isn't it?” the Other said, propping one booted leg on the coffee table.
Vincent nodded. “So why am I here?” he asked.
The Other shrugged. “Isabella. Catherine. Why you're still letting old fears of our beastliness run your life.”
Vincent folded his arms. “Isabella left to attend college in California. She was never afraid of me.”
“No, but you certainly were afraid of her, weren't you? Afraid that if you told her how you felt, that she'd reject you. Or were you more afraid of Father's reaction?”
A fire appeared in the stone fireplace, burning brightly. Vincent stared into it, remembering. “Isabella was never going to stay below; there was no point in telling her how I felt. I'd just have burdened her with something she didn't need to know.”
The Other rolled his eyes. “Oh, please. Are those Father's words I hear?” Before Vincent could answer, the Other plunged on. “Vincent, Father has done his best to raise us. But he's also put us in an impossible position, insisting that you be only half of what you are, that you be 'normal.'”
“He never---” Vincent began.
“Never what? Came out and said that? No. But how many times did he break up our horseplay with the other boys in the tunnels because he was afraid we would hurt them? How often did we make him uncomfortable with our differences---what we could hear and smell and see and sense? You know he stopped trying to measure such things, even in our medical records. We made him uncomfortable.”
“Yes,” Vincent said. There was no denying such a thing; the smell of Father's unease had been dense and thick whenever some oddity, some strangeness had occurred.
“And our visions---he has disregarded those too, especially when they concerned the mate,” his twin said.
“He's a man of science,” Vincent said. “How could he be expected to---”
“To believe? Forget believing, then, how about trusting us, because we are his son and he should know we don't exaggerate?” The Other snorted. “When that man, Stephen Bass, was stalking Catherine and we had a vision of her danger, Father dismissed the visions as simple jealousy. Sure. Because we always get precognitive visions from mere jealousy.”
“I was jealous,” Vincent admitted, finding for the first time no shame in admitting it, or in acknowledging the feeling of how much he had disliked Stephen Bass. “But I...the danger was quite real.”
“It was,” the Other agreed. “And when we returned to the tunnels, what did Father say? Did he apologize for being wrong?”
“No, he didn't,” Vincent said. “In fact, he was quite determined to ignore the whole incident.”
“Of course,” his twin responded. “Because heaven forbid Father should ever admit that he was wrong, that you were capable of things outside his experience.”
Vincent chuckled dryly. “I've always been outside his experience. Outside everyone's, for that matter. To say the least.”
“So we are,” the Other agreed. “But Father knew us and he should have known better.”
“Catherine didn't,” Vincent said.
“Not then, no. And it hurt terribly,” the Other replied. “But it was all very new to her that we could know such things. Father had no such excuse.”
Vincent started at the touch of a clawed hand on his shoulder. “Brother, you have to be content in yourself, in your abilities, in whatever we are, before you can be whole.”
“I know,” Vincent said. “I'm trying to learn.”
The Other chuckled. “You'll do.”
Father awoke instantly at the touch of Catherine's hand on his arm. “Father, look. His fever has broken.”
“Oh, thank God,” Father murmured, touching his son's forehead and feeling nothing but the clammy dampness of the end of a fever. Vincent was sleeping soundly again, holding Catherine's hand tightly in his own.
He sat down heavily in his chair. “Catherine, I was so afraid---”
“I know,” she said. God, didn't she just? “But you'll have that chance to talk. Don't waste it.”
He stared at her as if seeing her for the first time. “I won't.”
Click here for Chapter 8....