Catherine rolled over in her sleep, seeking the warmth of a furry body close to her own. She turned to nestle against him and realized he wasn't there. “Vincent?” she asked, alarmed. Since they'd brought him out of that cave, he'd never moved out of the bed, never so much as come fully awake. Where could he have gone?
“You look so lovely when you sleep,” a voice said from the doorway and she turned her head.
It was Vincent, except it wasn't. The light from the single candle normally glinted red-gold in his hair, but this Vincent's hair was black. Only the blue eyes, the blue of the summer skies he'd never seen, were the same. Catherine looked from the empty space next to her to the man standing in the chamber entrance. “Who are you?”
“I'm him. He's me. I'm what he calls 'the Other.'” The Other spread his hands and Catherine noticed the fur was darker. “It's complicated.”
Catherine tilted her head, studying him. She'd heard Vincent personify his darker self, the one he blamed for his killing rages, as “the Other,” but she'd never thought to see him standing before her. “It'd have to be,” she said. “So. You're him. Where is he...where is my Vincent?”
“Here,” the Other said. “Safe. But Catherine, we have to talk.”
“I’m not dreaming, am I?” she asked.
The Other smiled, and it was that smile, more than anything, that told Catherine she was dealing with someone almost completely unfamiliar. Her Vincent could and did smile, but rarely was he so relaxed. “You are, more or less. But so is Vincent. This is…the netherworld. The place between, if you will.”
“You’re not carrying a pocket watch, are you?” Catherine asked.
The Other shook his head. “No. Nor am I about to announce that I’m late. This is all quite real, Catherine.”
She nodded. “All right. Where is he? What’s been going on?”
And as the Other began to speak, to tell her of the journey through the underworld, what he and Vincent had learned, Catherine found herself fascinated by this other Vincent. He was no mindless being, no homicidal killer. As she watched his hands move as he talked, it occurred to her that this was a more emotionally naked version of her Vincent, without most of the insecurities and defenses that her Vincent had accrued over a lifetime. When he finished, there was silence for a time as Catherine processed all he had told her. “All that pain, all those years you were carrying that around, and I never knew.”
“I think you’ll find that much has changed, Catherine,” said a familiar voice and suddenly, there was her Vincent, bright and golden, emerging from the shadows next to his twin. She launched off the bed and threw herself into his arms. “Oh, god, I missed you. I thought you were---“
“Lost?” Vincent smiled down at her, and the smile was that of his darker twin’s, open and loving and joyful. “Not all who wander are lost, Catherine.”
“Quoting Tolkien,” Catherine said through her tears. “Now I know you’ll be all right.” She turned her head, noticing that the Other had disappeared. “Where…what happened to your twin?”
“He’s…me, as I am him. We’ve accepted each other.”
And that, Catherine knew, was no simple thing. For years, Father had referred to his son as if he were two different beings, the light and the dark, but it had taken illness and his breakdown for Vincent himself to truly accept the darker side of his own nature. “You’re healed and whole,” she said and Vincent nodded.
“Yes,” he replied, “perhaps for the first time since…well, I can’t remember. But yes, he is a part of me.” Vincent gazed down at her, blue gaze intent. “Are you…how do you feel about that?”
“It’s what I wished for you always, that you would accept yourself,” she replied. “You don’t have to be perfect or a paragon, you just have to be…you.”
Strong arms enfolded her and he breathed out once, the hair on her head ruffling. “I have been…incredibly stupid at times, Catherine. And I’m sorry for all the times I didn’t tell you what you mean to me, for all the times I shut you out. I love you. I need you.” And gently---ever so gently---Catherine felt his mouth touch hers.
When he finally released her, Catherine pushed her hair out of her face and grinned up at him. “Wow. Apology accepted.”
Vincent laughed then, the soft breathy laugh she’d so rarely heard and it kindled her own. Finally, finally, he was whole. Sobering, Catherine sat down on the bed and leaned against him as he sat next to her. “Do you know what will happen next?”
“I believe some sort of test,” Vincent replied, gathering her close. “Catherine, the way before us is still uncertain, and given a choice, I would have---“
“Tried to protect me?” Catherine asked, smiling. “I know. But I’m here, now. You…the Other, I mean, he told me what you’ve been through so far. How much worse can it be?”
Vincent shook his head, blue eyes darkening. “Catherine. Paracelsus is here.”
“How can that be?” she asked. “He’s dead. Narcissa told me his body was thrown into the Abyss.”
“Was it?” Vincent asked. “I didn’t know. But nevertheless, his spirit is below. I can…sense him. He’s here. Somewhere. Waiting.” He tilted his head. “You met with Narcissa?”
Catherine nodded. “Just before I woke up here. Wherever here is. She came to warn me, I think, that your ordeal wasn’t over.”
“She’s right. I don’t think this is quite over yet,” Vincent replied. One corner of his mouth quirked in what she recognized as a wry smile. “Did Narcissa send Father’s blood pressure through the roof again?”
“Yes,” Catherine said, giggling helplessly. “I’m afraid she lost him when she told him the cowrie shells told her to come and visit me.”
“It’s quite possible they did,” Vincent replied. “Narcissa’s ways of knowing are…unique to her. I’ve never known her to be wrong, though.”
Light flickered in the doorway, and a woman with hawk's wings stepped through it. Catherine remembered the Other's recollections and knew instantly who the woman was. “Greetings, Ma'at,” Vincent said.
Catherine felt the woman's golden eyes on her, studying her. “So. This is your chosen, Vincent?”
“She is,” Vincent said, pulling her close.
“Then come,” Ma'at said, her feathers rustling slightly. “It begins.” She extended one large wing and with a slightly bemused look, Catherine followed Vincent to stand under it. There was a snap and the roll of thunder and time stopped.
They were in a dark room, clogged with shadows and sounds that echoed. “This is no place in the tunnels that I know of,” Vincent said, holding her hand. “I can see no exit. Or entrance.”
“Then how'd we get in here?” Catherine asked. She couldn't see a thing but she could feel Vincent's smile through their bond.
“Ma’at,” Vincent said. “Who else?” He was standing close enough that the threads of his hair brushed her face. “You seem nervous, Catherine.”
“Oh, well, I can’t imagine why,” Catherine replied dryly. “In the last hour, I’ve encountered the Other and an Egyptian goddess and now I’m with you in a room we can’t leave. There’s nothing at all unusual about that.”
Vincent chuckled. “I didn’t say that,” he said. She felt one warm hand touch her cheek. “But please, try not to worry. We’re together.”
Catherine smiled. “That we are.” She nestled against him, feeling the reassurance of the strong slow beating of his heart. “I truly thought I’d lost you when I went into that cave.”
“I know,” Vincent said. “I’m sorry. I never wanted to make you afraid.”
“I’ve never been afraid of you, Vincent. Only for you. And…well, that’s the price you pay for loving someone. Besides, you’re worth it.”
He didn’t protest, didn’t turn her words aside as he would have before. Vincent merely pulled her close and said against her hair, “Thank you.”
There was the creak of a door and a thin sliver of light and a dark figure stepped forward. Catherine felt the jolt of Vincent’s surprise through their bond in the instant before he spoke. “Phillip?” Vincent stammered, sounding as thoroughly stunned as she’d ever seen him. “Is it really you?”
“My ghost, but yeah, man, it’s me,” Phillip said.
“What are you doing here?” Vincent asked.
“'All the world is a stage,’” Phillip said. “Isn’t that Shakespeare’s line? Well, my role is to take you on your next journey through our little drama.” He sighed. “Unfortunately, Paracelsus isn’t much of a script-writer.”
“He holds you captive?” Vincent said.
“Yes…and no,” Phillip said. “I’m nearly 20 years dead, Vincent, and my spirit has long since gone on to… well, you’ll find out one day, but not today.” There was a flash of a smile and Catherine felt Vincent relax just a bit. “But I’m here because your memory of me held you captive…and Paracelsus would like to see you stay ‘bound by chains you forged in life.’ He’s evil, man.”
All of a sudden, Phillip noticed Catherine. “I’m sorry. You must be the lovely lady I kept telling Vincent he’d find. Nice to meet you.”
It felt odd to be shaking hands with a ghost, but she’d drunk cappuccino with Kristopher Gentian. After that weirdness, nothing else quite compared. “Nice to meet you too,” Catherine replied, releasing his hand, startled to find it was warm.
“So you're a memory?” Vincent asked. “My memory of you?”
“Pretty much,” Phillip said. He looked Vincent up and down. “Paracelsus thought you'd feel more guilty, more ashamed. I'm glad to see you don't.”
“I had some...help...seeing that I couldn't have prevented your death,” Vincent said.
Phillip laughed. “Yeah, that Other of yours, he don't mince words much.”
“I've noticed,” Vincent said dryly. “It's not a bad talent to have.”
“No,” Phillip replied, smiling, “that it isn't.” He paused, as if listening to some inward voice. “That Ma'at, she don't say much but you get her point just the same...anyways, I'm to tell you what's to happen next. You will meet some people along the way and there will be things you must do for them---or to them----to finish your task.” He folded his arms. “Now, this is just me telling you this, not Ma'at. You have to destroy Paracelsus. You have to get his heart up on that scale of Ma'at's. You understand me?”
Vincent nodded, and Catherine wondered at the sense of calm purpose she felt through their bond, at the measured, leashed power that had settled over him like a cloak. She had known there would be changes when Vincent finally made peace with himself, but she had not expected this serenity. “I understand,” Vincent replied. “Is there anything else you can tell me?”
Phillip smiled. “Only this: no matter what, I never blamed you. You were my friend and I was proud to go out defending my home. Just so we part with that straight.”
“You're leaving?” Vincent asked.
“I'm a memory, Vincent. I've never truly left you, have I?”
“No,” Vincent said. “I never forgot you.”
“So you know I can't be gone, not really.” Phillip glanced towards the door, which had once again appeared. “That's all I can say, man. Just...don't forget what I told you, okay?”
“I won't,” Vincent replied, and he and Catherine watched as Phillip left and the door disappeared, leaving them in darkness.
“Now we wait, I guess,” Catherine said, sitting down on the floor and crossing her legs underneath her, drawing Vincent down to sit beside her. She tilted her head seeing his vague outline in the darkness. “You've changed.”
She couldn't see Vincent's smile, but Catherine felt its warmth through their bond. “I've had to, Catherine. Does it surprise you?”
“A little,” Catherine replied, smiling in return. “When Phillip mentioned destroying Paracelsus...you accepted it. Like a warrior.”
“I am,” Vincent said, and the growl riding under his words was unmistakable. “I will not let Paracelsus accomplish in death what he could not in life. It's not my fate to be a protector, Catherine. It's my choice.”
Catherine nodded, remembering his anguished, guilt-ridden torment after the Outsiders, after the times he'd killed to protect her, his fears of his other, hidden nature overpowering. “You feared the Other. And now you don't?”
“I don't,” Vincent agreed. “Catherine, you must understand this. I don't like the times I've had to kill. I would prefer to do it much less, but I don't regret what I've done. I saved your life, and the lives of people below, because I was able to defend you all.” His hands, strong and warm, cupped her face, the claws gentle against her skin. “How can I regret the outcome?”
Click here for Chapter 11....