He did not know how long he had until his memories were wiped. He could feel it even now, the tethers of the bargain that he had struck, pulling at the edges of his mind, whispering threats of unravelling. It had been two days already, two days since the woman had given birth. Two days, he thought, was pushing it. But the bargain had been clear—he would remember enough, just enough, to make sure that the girl was safe.
And then she would take his memories, his powers, for her own.
Even now, as he lurked behind the raven-haired woman dressed in hospital rags, he wondered why he even bothered. It was only a sense, one that tugged deep within him, to a part of his body he could not even remember existed, that told him he had to keep watching. Had to make sure the woman completed her task. Had to make sure the girl was safe.
So he watched, from behind the stone-carved column of the New York brownstone, as the woman climbed those five steps to the front porch. She bent down, her arms carefully extending from where she warmed the baby against her chest, and dropped the swaddle by the door. She kissed it twice before knocking—so weakly he doubted anyone would hear it—and made her hasty escape.
He watched her turn into the deserted alley before making his way up the steps. Glancing down at the baby, he stopped, certain that he must have made a mistake. That somebody had to have made a mistake.
For staring back at him from the front porch was not one baby, but two. They were identical—twins—except for their coloring. The first one was like her mother, with hair as dark as night, as black as the shadows that lurked behind him. But the other one… that one was different, her hair like troves of gold and honey and roses and her eyes, awake while her sister’s were not, were deep pools of icy blue, and he swore, as he looked into them, that she recognized him.
It was all he could do to keep from grabbing her. Especially when, two seconds later, he heard footsteps running back from the alley. Running back to the babies she had left.
He vanished in seconds. Still there, but not. He could feel it draining him, feel how the bargain took its toll on him at this last small use of his powers. But he stood there, pressed up against the door of the brownstone, as the frazzled woman, beautiful even so, returned to the house, her face wet with grief. With regret.
He wondered what she was thinking as she once again knelt by the babies, her gaze rising and falling, from the door to the children she had abandoned, left and right, taking in both of their faces. At last, she grabbed the shadowy one, her own miniature clone, and whispered a tearful apology. Not to the one that she had left abandoned on the porch, but against the forehead of the baby she now held against her chest.
She gazed once more to the baby she had left, to the house and the residents she was now entrusting its life to, and, resolution set in her gaze, reached out to ring the doorbell. Her hand nearly brushed his arm as he stood preternaturally still beside it.
When she left this time, she did not come back.