The room felt cold in his absence, and for the first time she realized how shaken she was as she sank into the nearest chair. There were light footsteps in the corridor and she masked her expression as her father entered, making it as pleasant as she could. He was surprised to see her there. "Helen, I did not know you had returned! Did you have a nice walk with John?"
"It was very illuminating," she said meaningfully, and her smile faded when his back was turned.
Her head turned, wondering who had spoken, for there was no one in the room apart from her father and herself, and he was going on about his latest medical discovery. Believing she might have been mistaken, Helen accepted the glass of port he offered her and attempted to listen to his conversation. But it came again, a voice that she now was able to distinguish from the background. "Helen…" It was deep and sensual, attractive and caused vibrations to cascade through her form, but her father was oblivious to it. John's voice, calling her name, but without anger or maliciousness, only urgency.
Everything around her flickered, but her father continued to speak as if nothing unusual had happened. The oil lamps flared and crackled the voice more persistent now. "HELEN!" it demanded, and her glass slipped from her fingers, shattering on the hearth. Nothing happened. Her father continued to talk, as if she had not arisen to her feet, and it was then she realized that she had been playing out a part, that nothing she said or did would alter the outcome. The world around her flickered again and suddenly she was not standing in the parlor, but in her room. Her engagement ring shone on her hand, and she knew he was there before she saw him out of the corner of his eye, John standing in the shadows behind her.
"Helen…" he breathed, and came toward her, no longer garmented in the somber Victorian waistcoat, for it truly was John now, and not just an illusion or a repeat of her darkest memories. The world around them was flickering, flashing, transporting her through her memories, taking her from once place to the next, from the corridors of Oxford to the streets of Whitechapel, to the war-torn battlefields of Europe and the depths of the sea. But it could not shake John, no matter how much it tried, and in a single step he crossed the expanse of air between them and took her into his arms. Reality was returning to her, memories flooding into her mind as it was opened, the illusion shattered and hundreds of years' worth of experiences crowding into her head.
Ashley. That was the name that came to her lips, one she could not speak, for that was her most recent memory, of watching her daughter go up the staircase to her room. Everything beyond that was a blur, trapped in this endless rotation of events that had brought her nothing but pain. They were in the parlor once more, a darkened room with only the light of the fire cast over them. She knew by her garments, by the placement of the clock on the far wall, by the instruments on the table, that it was the night she had suspended her pregnancy, had preserved the embryo that would one day become her daughter, intending to wait until John was dead to decide if she would bring their child into the world. John had done terrible things in those long weeks… he had avoided her at first, and then haunted her footsteps, becoming unpardonably cruel, hating her with such a violent passion that there were times that she dreaded his abilities, wondered if she would awaken in the night to find him standing over her.
The murders in Whitechapel had stumped the police and terrified the locals, but she had known all along who was to blame, for he was doing it to punish and humiliate her. The insult was obvious, profound, heartless, but she still loved him enough that she hesitated, could not put a bullet between his eyes, even at the cost of a woman's life. John had no common sense left in him. Driven by a ruthless sense of revenge that she could not comprehend, and forced into madness due to an over-use of his unique abilities, she had never known more pain than in this moment, when she had considered destroying the child, fearing what it might become. "Yes," John said in her ear, as she reeled from the memories, "that is why you were brought to this moment. You have to face it, Helen! You have to face it, or you will never come out of it!"
John pulled her across the room to the table where her instruments were lain out and Helen shuddered when she saw them, remembering the advanced science she had used, things she should not have been capable of, but that had come without hesitation. "The others could not face it," he whispered. "None of them could face the past and so they all died. Their insides turned to poison that licked through their veins and caused them to disintegrate internally. You remember that creature you found in the tunnels? Do you remember the dreadful stench? Do you remember the Shadows?"
The Shadows. Helen's eyes darted across the room around them, finding them in every corner, and realized they had been present throughout her ordeal. Shadows beneath the arches, under tree branches, trailing after them at the opera, even in her room as John had made love to her. Threatening, ominous, seemly innocent shadows. Creeping down corridors, passing across floors, falling on the wall behind her, and now obvious to her perceptions, waiting to consume her, to embrace her from within, and cause all to fall into eternal darkness. Helen was rarely frightened of anything, but in that instant drew in her breath, realizing she had allowed them to have her, to manipulate her, to overcome her mind and her senses, to cloud her reasoning and force her into the past. It was then that she truly saw John as he stood before her, no more than a fragment of his past form, for it was worn about the edges. She had given him a compound on their last encounter that she thought would destroy him, but there was enough of her blood in him that he survived, caught between worlds. He was an illusion, but also in her mind, capable of accessing her hallucinations and controlling them.
"Why?" she asked him with obvious pain, and it caused him to pause, drawing slightly back from her as he considered her slender form, still as beautiful as it had been in much earlier times, when they had been friends and lovers rather than enemies. John reached out to touch the side of her face, as he had so often done during their courtship, and she did not pull away from him. "Do you not hate me still?"
"There was never true hatred, Helen; disappointment and anger, but never hatred. Tell me what you intended, what you attempted to do. You thought about killing her, didn't you? Because she was mine."
Tears were in her eyes, an admission she had never made to anyone, had never dared consider, that instant when she had held the small beaker holding her daughter's embryo and considered throwing it into the fire. She remembered what her emotions had been, her fears, if their child would be as violent and dangerous as its father, if it would come to hate the creatures that she so loved, or even worse, if it would be unlike Helen – it would grow up, and live, and die, while she was forced to watch, unchanging as centuries passed without her. She was not even aware that John's arms were around her, that he understood, that some of the madness had passed from him in the love that they had once shared. The Shadows were creeping nearer as she crumbled, salivating at the thought that she would be overwhelmed with the pain, convinced that John's presence was not enough to save her.
But the same strength that had prevented her from being rid of the child, the same determination that had allowed her to survive those dark days when John had broken her heart, now intervened. The oil lamp burned brightly, casting flickering, dancing forms across the walls and ceiling, forms that she now knew were alive. In a movement so swift they could not anticipate her intentions she caught up the lamp and hurled it onto the hearth. Oil spattered across the floor and walls, ignited by flames that were soon licking around them, the heat unbearable. The shadows were screaming, the world flickering as they attempted to change the surroundings, but she refused to move, to abandon the parlor and thus transport them with her into another scene from her memories. John would not let her move. His hands remained on her shoulders, holding her firm as the inferno blazed around them. It imploded in a violent streak of white light, her golden hair flying around her face and fading into the dark brunette that had come with age. His arms were around her then and he was pressing his lips to hers in a final farewell, a deep, passionate embrace that left her yearning for more as he drew away from her.
They stood in her room in the darkness, moments after she had entered it and Helen knew they were no more than shadows, fragments of reality intervening like ghosts on a quiet scene. She saw herself asleep on the bed, and knew from the cracks in her perceptions that the vision was fading. John kept hold of her hand, lifting it to kiss as he faded into nothing. "Never hatred, Helen," he whispered before he was gone, and the room resonated with it, before she awoke against the pillows. It was nearly dawn and the fire had burned out, leaving only smoldering ashes in the hearth. It seemed impossible that only a few hours had passed, when she had relived several years of her life, but it was the same morning it had been when she had fallen into unconsciousness, and her footsteps were confident as she passed down the long corridor, relieved to hear the sounds of Will and Ashley arguing in the den.
"I am telling you, there are no such things as shape-shifters. I have seen just about everything this planet has to offer, and not once have I ever encountered a shape-shifter." Ashley was seated before the fire, a small table set up with a checker board between them.
Will reached forward to move his piece, the reflective lens of his glasses glowing in the firelight. "You ask me to believe impossible things every day. I say it's within the realm of reason to suspect that shape-shifters exist. If mermaids, and yetis, and folding men exist, then why not shape-shifters?" He jumped three of her pieces and said "HA!" as he added them to the pile on his side of the board. Unobserved in the doorway, Helen smiled as they continued to argue, turning to find Bigfoot behind her.
"It has stopped raining," he said, and she turned her eyes to the crimson streaks of dawn appearing through the far windows. So it had, she observed. Today, there would be no lingering shadows.