Chapter 9: Underneath My Lucid Skin (PG-13)

Catherine awoke from a dream of caverns and mirrors and Winslow. It was late in the tunnels, or very early; the roar of the subway trains had ceased completely and there were only a few muted taps on the pipes. She blinked, trying to remember the shards of the dream, but they'd scattered and all she had was the sense that some important matter had been settled, some weight made less difficult to carry. And what had Winslow had to do with it, anyway?

She smiled and realized that the warm weight she felt on her lower body was Vincent's own legs intertwined with hers and holding her close. His hand rested on her belly and as Catherine stretched, his hand tightened, not painfully, but enough to hold her secure. “It's okay,” she murmured, stroking the rough silk of his hair, as she had for the hundredth time since they'd brought him out of that cave. “I'm here.” Only then did his hand—and the tension in his neck and shoulders---relax just a little.

“It's good you are, child,” said a voice from the doorway and Catherine started.

It was Narcissa. Narcissa, who never left her own chambers. “Hello, Narcissa,” Catherine said, sitting up and pulling her shawl off the back of the nearest chair. Vincent nestled further against her in his sleep but did not waken.

“Ah, you wonder why I'm here, child, yes?” As Narcissa came further into the chamber, Catherine marveled again at how well she seemed to know her way around, despite being such an infrequent visitor. Narcissa didn't bump into anything even though the chamber was dark, and Catherine wondered at the old woman's ease, given that she'd barked a shin against an object or two in the night.

“Well, yes...but I'm glad you came,” Catherine said. And it was true; Father might have little patience for the old sorceress, but Catherine knew Vincent counted her as a dear friend.

Narcissa sat down in Vincent's old carved chair, her bangles and beads jangling against the wood. “I come because you want to know where he is.”

Catherine's eyes widened. How had she known? “Yes. I'm worried for him.” And that was nothing more or less than the simple truth. During the day, she could be positive and strong for his family and friends, but at night, the ever-present sense in their bond that Vincent was on some unfathomable mental journey made her fear for him. What if he wandered so far that he couldn't return?

“He needs you, like birds need air and fish need water. He will return, child,” Narcissa said, her voice soft and soothing, nothing of the dotty old woman of Father's tales in her manner. “But his journey is not ended. He must face and defeat the Evil One before he can return.”

“Paracelsus is dead,” Catherine said, remembering the horror of the scene that night in Father's chambers, the body stretched out, disemboweled over Father's desk, a corner of his vile mask hanging slack from Paracelsus' chin. And Vincent himself, catatonic in his shock and grief.

“His body, yes. Quite dead, thrown down the Abyss,” Narcissa said, a grim twist of satisfaction in her words. “But his evil lives on.”

Father would have scoffed, but Catherine was quite sure Narcissa knew the answer. “What can I do to help him?”

“You are his anchor, child. He'll need you to pull him from the darkness.”

“Vincent pulled me from death once using our bond,” Catherine said. “How am I to reach him, wherever he is? I haven't his abilities.”

Narcissa opened her hand. Lying on her palm, startling against her dark skin, were cowrie shells. “What do these look like to you?”

Catherine shivered at the brief memory of the nightmare of madness she'd endured at the hands of the voodoo cult, and Vincent's hand, crushing the shell and scattering it over the balcony wall, its power over her ended. “Shells,” Catherine said, shaking off the feeling.

“So they are,” Narcissa said with a chuckle. “But in the hands of another, they can tell the future.” She placed the cowrie shells in a frayed fabric pouch at her waist. “People and things can exist on many levels. Your Vincent is here, but his mind is somewhere else.”

Catherine nodded. “I sense that through our bond.”

Narcissa smiled. “He chose well. It is good you know such things. You are his lodestone, the light he travels to in the darkness, but you are also here. When the time comes, child, you will have to meet him on his level to bring him home. And then you will know how.”

Three years ago, before meeting Vincent, Catherine would have disregarded the old woman's words as so much mumbo-jumbo, but experience---and a few encounters with Kristopher Gentian---had taught her that the world was not always as it seemed. “I understand,” she said, and Narcissa smiled a fond, knowing smile that told Catherine that perhaps she really did. Father might snort in derision of the very idea of multiple planes of existence, but she had the evidence of their bond, and she trusted the bond more. “Can you help us?” Catherine asked.

“What is to be, I cannot interfere with,” Narcissa said. “I once sent your Vincent to demand truth from a madman because I knew he would destroy the Evil One.”

Catherine gasped. Narcissa had known Paracelsus was below...and had done nothing, because it was Vincent's fate to destroy him? Just as she began to speak, Narcissa held up a hand. “Child, it was no easy thing. I have known your Vincent from a young child, when he would evade Father's attentions and visit me in my chamber. I was never a 'crazy old woman' to him. But I had seen what was to happen, and it was not my place to interfere. The Evil One, Father had tried to destroy and failed, too many times. The Evil One destroyed himself with his words, and that was meant to be.” Her head tilted and the sightless eyes darted towards the entrance. “The Father comes. Remember my words, Catherine. To save him will take everything. And you will know what must be done.”

She stood then, in a rattle of beads and bangles, and the slightly dotty aura that had been completely missing during their conversation came back just as Father's shadow crossed the threshold. “Ah, Catherine, I thought I heard voices...oh, hello, Narcissa. What brings you so far?”

Narcissa shook the bag of cowrie shells at her waist. “The shells told me I was to come.”

Catherine bent her head and smothered a grin at Father's chagrined expression. “The shells...I see,” Father said, though he clearly didn't. “Well...good. It's good to see you.”

“I must return. The spirits are calling me,” Narcissa said, and Catherine choked on a laugh. With her face still half-shadowed, Father couldn't possibly see Narcissa's roguish wink. And in a flutter of fabric, she was gone.

“Catherine, dear, you're coughing. Do you need anything?”

Catherine managed to shake her head. “No, Father. Just a...tickle in my throat.”

***

Vincent opened his eyes to the shadowed interior of Father's chamber. A faint sense of unease skittered through his awareness...something was wrong...something was very wrong.

“It's too clean,” the Other said. “Can't you smell it?”

Vincent inhaled, opening his mouth slightly. He smelled it then, the lingering scent of harsh cleaners rough on his throat and in his nose. And all of a sudden, he knew. “Oh, no, no, no....” he moaned, head in his hands.

“Yes,” the Other said. “This is Father's chamber after we killed Paracelsus.”

Nausea twisted in his gut, the pain of the festering wound of memory biting into his heart. Vincent raised his head to stare at his dark twin. “I cannot relive this.”

“You may have to,” the Other replied, though not without compassion. “This is the cliff he pushed you over. You were meant to think you killed Father.”

“I thought I had, until he unmasked himself,” Vincent whispered. “I thought I had killed my own Father.”

“Did you really?” his twin asked. “How could you have? There were signs, Brother. Paracelsus was a good actor, true, but no one is that good. How could you really not know?”

That was something to consider. He had known, through Catherine, that Stephen Bass---a man he'd never met---was insane, but he'd not noticed the most obvious signs that it was not Father he'd killed. “I don't know how I missed it,” Vincent said, memory unwinding and time snapping back...

***

Vincent had stalked into Father's chamber that night, reeling from the news that Paracelsus was his father, that Anna was his mother, that he was no abandoned child but just an orphaned one. But Paracelsus, of all people---Paracelsus, who'd killed Lou and tried to kill Narcissa, who'd killed 50 people above by selling his poison, who had once been Father's friend until some unknown tragedy had severed their relationship. Vincent had been conscious of a widening tremor deep inside himself from the moment he'd pushed aside the moss on Anna's tomb and the crevasse of horror, of shocked realization, of hurt and angered fury, showed no signs of narrowing. Why? Why had Father not simply told him? There were other orphaned children below and no one would have held the crimes of the father against the child. Why? Vincent asked that question in a thousand different forms growing up, but tonight, he meant to have an answer.

He was peripherally aware of Catherine in the chamber, but for the first time since he'd met her, he was not as aware of her as he was of Father, garbed again in the clothes of below and looking for all the worlds like his life, at least, had not changed. “Anna...was John Pater's wife,” Vincent snarled.

Catherine looked from him to Father, clearly more than a little nervous. Did she sense the widening chasm within him too? Vincent wondered. “I'll wait in your chamber,” she said. Vincent didn't respond as she left.

Father had returned to his habitual seat behind his desk as Vincent stalked forward. “Is it true, then? Was Paracelsus...my father?” Even saying the words left a bitter nausea in his mouth. That he could have come from such a man, a man of such horrific deeds that even grown adults whispered his name with fear...

Father didn't respond. “What have you done?” Vincent asked.

Incredibly, Father seemed completely insensate to Vincent's anguish and that rocked him further. Always before, he had reached out with a careful touch, a hug, or a kiss when Vincent had felt such pain, but now...it seemed he didn't want to touch him. Not at all. Am I such a monster now, because my father was one? Vincent wondered. And felt the inner chasm increase, cracking and splitting along the lines of Father's avoidance of touch.

At length, Father spoke. “It was done out of love.”

That Father could claim that now, with thirty-odd years of misdirection and outright lying behind him, was utterly unsatisfying. “The greatest crimes,” Vincent spat, “are always committed in the name of love.”

Father didn't immediately respond to this either, and a faint sense of unease rose in Vincent's consciousness. Something was...off, just a shade wrong, and his mental sense of Father was not quite right either, but with the final unexplored truth of his origins hanging just outside his reach, he pushed the impressions aside and waited, impatiently. Father spoke then, looking out into the middle distance. At the time, it seemed so obvious. But now... Dear God, sometimes I feel so lost--”

The words were bitter in Vincent's mouth. He felt lost? He? He had not just found out that his father was a ruthless murderer. When had this become all about Father's pain? What about the people who had been harmed by his lies? “Tell me,” Vincent said, the steel under the words giving no doubt that it was no request, but a command.

And so he did, a tale of a good woman killed by the succubus in her womb. Vincent had howled then, an agonized roar of pain and fury and shame that seemed to begin from deep within the chasm in his soul. And when the faint smell of sulfur and dampness reached his nose, perhaps the sulfur was from the fires of his own personal hell...and the moisture only the scent of his own tears.

***

“I know how,” the Other said. “Paracelsus knew, had always known, that your one weakness---if you can call it that---was your curiosity to know, finally, how we came to be. And that was the weapon he used to nearly destroy us. There were plenty of signs that it wasn't really Father we spoke with---the smell of sulfur and dampness, his complete indifference to our pain, his slight stoop when he walked---but your pain and anger almost completely blocked our empathic sense of him. You did not know as you would have had you been fully in your right mind.” The Other narrowed his eyes and something feral and wild glinted darkly. “But I did. I knew it was Paracelsus. I'm the one who killed him, not you. And I'd do it again with a smile on my face.”

This was the side of the Other Vincent had feared for over twenty years; the killer, the avenger. “For words? Just words?”

“For those kind of words, yes,” the Other said, the feral light darkening the blue eyes. “They were weapons, as surely as any knife or gun.”

“I thought it was Father!” Vincent said, the words forced from him in a torrent. It was what he'd wanted to say all the long hours after he'd awakened, when both Catherine and Father had tried to convince him that he must have known it was Paracelsus all along. They didn't understand, they could not understand. He had killed a man wearing his father's face in cold blood, for no more than words. And he hadn't known it wasn't Father until Paracelsus had unmasked himself.

“Some part of you knew,” his twin said, pacing the confines of the room. “I knew, and as we've both established, I'm you. You were angry with Father for keeping the 'truth' from you, but deep inside, you knew that monster wasn't Father, because I knew. Father may be a lot of things---and he has lied to us in the past---but he'd never say anything that vile.” The Other tilted his head. “And you'd not have believed any of it if Father had just told us the truth in the first place---told us about Anna, her death and why Paracelsus was really exiled. So don't go assuming Paracelsus' death is entirely your fault. Father left us vulnerable by not telling the full truth.”

Vincent nodded, turning the thought over in his mind. It was not a new idea; there had been inconsistencies in Father's stories of Paracelsus almost from the first time Vincent had heard the name. Father was capable of lying, of long-term misdirection; Devin was a prime example. “I wonder why he never told me the full truth,” Vincent said.

The Other sighed. “He wanted always to protect us. And he also wanted to protect himself. But...you may just have to ask him to find out the real reason.”

Vincent nodded. “I killed a man in cold blood,” he said, feeling again the shattering horror when Paracelsus had unmasked himself. “Never mind that that man was Paracelsus. How do I forgive myself for that?”

“People die for less reason every day,” the Other said. “Good, decent people too. Paracelsus was none of these; he was more a monster than we ever thought of being. Call it self-defense if you must; you surely know that he'd not have stopped, not ever, if we hadn't acted.”

Vincent was startled to feel his twin gather him close in a rough, brotherly hug. “Regret the necessity if you must, but don't regret the action. Paracelsus was as much a threat as ever and that threat is---mostly---ended.”

Vincent drew back. “Mostly?”

“His evil lives on, in your world and this one. To stop it...will require both of us, whole and healed.” The Other tilted his head in an oh-so-familiar gesture. “Can you handle that? Taking me in, accepting me as part of yourself that is necessary and needed?”

“You're me,” Vincent said, grinning and exposing all of his teeth. “How can I not?”


Click here for Chapter 10...

15 comments:

RomanticOne said...

Wow. Looks like Catherine is going to have to step very carefully when she does meet Vincent on a different plane. Accepting secrets and violence as a painful but sometimes necessary part of life changes a person. I see the rescue of a gentle soul in Catherine's future. Can't wait.

Krista said...

Hi R1,

Yeah, they're in for quite a journey ahead...but, with Vincent whole and accepting of all of himself...somehow, I think they'll be okay in the end.

Thanks again for reading and commenting ;)

-Krista :)

Carole W said...

Regret the necessity if you must, but don't regret the action.

Ah, what a recognition. With that acceptance, Vincent becomes a warrior. Of course, he always has been, but it's so very nice to know that he knows.

This was intense, Krista. You take us deep with your insight and creativity and sensitivity. What a gift you've given us all!

Carole

Krista said...

Hi Carole! :-)

Thank you, so much. :-) This has always been the hardest part to write; for so long, Vincent had good reason to be fearful of the Other...now that he *knows* the Other is not a homicidal beast lurking within him, he still has to be able to accept the part of himself that can kill. He doesn't have to like it but this part of him *is* necessary, and important. The difference now---as you pointed out---is that he knows that now.

Thank you again, so much, for writing and commenting in spite of having seen all these chapters in their various stages. It means so much to me. :)

-Krista :)

Joan said...

Wonderful story Krista,enjoy reading it immensely,very riveting, can't wait for more:)
You write so very well...
Hugs,
Linn

Krista said...

Hi Linn,

Thank you so much for your kind comments---I really appreciate them. :-)

More is coming but the muse begged for a weekend off. Can't annoy the muse, after all ;-)

Thanks again,

Krista :)

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful story, I have been greedily waiting for each chapter. Your writing is so detailed and intense. I can picture each chapter so vividly. Vincent finally coming to terms with his other self. The difference between what "is" and what "is necessary".
And Catherine's understanding and love.
Love it! Can't wait for the nest chapter.
M.

Krista said...

Thank you, M. I'm so happy you liked it enough to comment :-)

What makes writing stories like this so much fun is knowing that people really enjoy them. Thank you for making my Monday :-)

-Krista ;)

Vicky said...

Oooh, that ending! Now he knows; now, he can begin to be whole. Another brilliant chapter, Krista! Thank you so much.

Sonia Who? said...

Interesting that Catherine seem to have experience some of Vincent's dream-visions (that he was having in the previous chapter) while she slept, but couldn't remember what she was dreaming about when she woke.

Awww, so sweet the way Vincent was holding her close while they slept, and how his hold on her tightens when he thinks she's going to leave. I can just imagine Catherine tenderly stroking his hair, face, shoulders, back, arms and hands, soothing him with her gentle, loving touch and voice.

I like when Narcissa says, "Your Vincent" to Catherine. (As I also like when Mouse refers to her as Vincent's Catherine.)
Catherine is Vincent's lode-stone. Good metaphor. Lots of great writing in this story.
Yes, Catherine is Vincent's light just as he is hers.

-Nausea twisted in his gut, the pain of the festering wound of memory biting into his heart.- Good sentence.
Poor Vincent to have to relive that painful memory of that horrible and traumatic experience; but it's necessary for his healing.

(I thought the number of people whose death Paracelsus was responsible for were 15. But 50 sounds better to show how cruel he really was.)

(I didn't know the meaning of the word succubus so I looked it up (on thesaurus.com). Then I looked up the word is commonly confused with, incubus, which seams to fit more.)

I love how cleverly you're interpreting and explaining these events from the episodes (as well as those of your back-stories).
The Other's explanations make complete sense. I always thought that deep down Vincent must have known that it wasn't his father he was killing but Paracelsus.

Wow, this was an intense chapter of painful revelations of some heavy truths. Excellent chapter, truly awesome writing.

I second what Carole, Linn, M and Vicky said.

Interesting that Catherine seem to have experience some of Vincent's dream-visions (that he was having in the previous chapter) while she slept, but couldn't remember what she was dreaming about when she woke.

Awww, so sweet the way Vincent was holding her close while they slept, and how his hold on her tightens when he thinks she's going to leave. I can just imagine Catherine tenderly stroking his hair, face, shoulders, back, arms and hands, soothing him with her gentle, loving touch and voice.

I like when Narcissa says, "Your Vincent" to Catherine. (As I also like when Mouse refers to Catherine as Vincent's Catherine.)
Catherine is Vincent's lode-stone. Good metaphor. Lots of great writing in this story.
Yes, Catherine is Vincent's light just as he is hers.

-Nausea twisted in his gut, the pain of the festering wound of memory biting into his heart.- Good sentence.
Poor Vincent to have to relive that painful memory of that horrible and traumatic experience; but it's necessary for his healing.

(I thought the number of people whose death Paracelsus was responsible for were 15. But 50 sounds better to show how cruel he really was.)

I didn't know the meaning of the word succubus so I looked it up (on thesaurus.com). Then I looked up the word is commonly confused with, incubus, which seams to fit more.

I love how cleverly you're interpreting and explaining these events from the episodes. The Other's explanations make complete sense. I always thought that deep down Vincent must have known that it wasn't his father he was killing.

Wow, this was an intense chapter of painful revelations of some heavy truths. Excellent chapter, truly awesome writing.

I second what Carole, Linn, M and Vicky said.

You have written a very engrossing and compelling story here so far. I read the first 6 chapters yesterday in one night; would have probably read all the current chapters but started reading late; went to sleep at dawn. I'm really hooked, really enjoying it and can't wait to read the rest of this superb story. Please don't make use wait to long for the rest.

Brit said...

My husband said "When you kill off a character, there is no return from the dead..or its really hard to bring them back." The writers, directors, producers of Beauty and the Beast have really created a path that they hadnt realized would be taken.
I can not wait to read what you have next. To see what the Evil One's existence still lingers and how this will affect Vincent and Catherine, I burned the midnight oil so that i could read as much as possible! Can't wait for chapter 10.
THANK YOU.

Krista said...

Wow, Sonia, thank you so much for your enthusiasm for this story--I really appreciate the time it took you to comment. Thanks :-)

I hope to have Chapter 10 up within the next week or so...it's going to be a bit...bumpy. ;-)

Thanks again,

Krista :)

Krista said...

Hi Brit!

Nice to see you around. :-)

Thanks so much for reading and commenting. It means a lot to me that you'd take the time to burn the midnight oil. ;-)

Chapter 10 should be up relatively soon, the muse allowing. Thanks so much for sticking with it. :)

Brit said...

OK GOOD! OK FINE! :D
simple words yet so much said!

Three Writers said...

I can't tarry here...I want so much to read what happens next, Krista...you'll excuse me to go to the next chapter? :)Nancy

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