PG for very mild sexual references
“Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.”
Vincent had left Catherine in his chamber to get them some food with the most perfect ache at her core, gentle tightenings in her belly, but also with a panic slowly rising – the good and the bad always for them, it seemed. Catherine tried to release the agitation, to stop it, telling herself, He will be back, he will come back, but her heart pounded a deafening rhythm within her body.
I can’t completely rely on him. I have to get over this. It isn’t who I am, dammit! This isn’t who I want to be to him! Doesn’t he have enough to deal with? Why should he have to endure my fears, my pain….
She moved towards the warmth of the brazier on his small table, trying to towel-dry her damp hair. She drew within herself, breathing, focusing on the child within.
Vincent stepped into the doorway, tray in hand, but she didn’t notice him. She stood almost transfixed, slowly drying her hair, staring into the flame, searching. She remained lost within her thoughts until he placed the meal of Brunswick stew, bread, and tea on the table. Heartbeat to heartbeat, something changed. She had found a resolution, he could feel it in her, see it in her eyes when she looked up from the small stove, eyes that both thanked him but now held new questions.
Vincent moved the chair so she could sit, but also so he could watch her from his seat on the bed. He now walked there and perched, half-sitting, half-standing, bowl in hand, bread within.
How many meals had they shared? Not enough, he had told himself, faced with a kitchen full of choices. He realized he didn’t know what she liked with any certainty, and choosing had proved even more complicated by her pregnancy, how it might affect her tastes. What would she want? He could only resolve to return to the kitchen again if the stew didn’t appeal to her. He had to get back. Her agitation was palpable, pushing through his thoughts, becoming his own.
A smile thanked him and for a few moments they ate in silence. It was not a contented quiet, only a resolved one.
Finally she softly spoke. “Vincent?”
“Why…why did you…what I mean is…why have you stopped fighting me? Over us…being together, I mean.”
He lowered his bowl, also trying to find the right words. After a moment, he simply stated, “I believe, now.”
She required more than that. She asked him to go on with her eyes.
“I understand who you are, better…than before…” – his eyes motioned to the child within her. “You have survived everything,” may she keep on surviving, “everything, including me. I knew you said you loved me, that you were not afraid of…us…, but until you brought me out of my illness, until you walked into that cavern….” He sighed. He wasn’t explaining it right. “It’s the difference between reading a novel when you are young and being told the meaning, and then with knowledge and experience, revisiting it and truly comprehending the essence in the words. You told me we had no limits, but I could not quite believe. Now, I understand who we are, together, the significance of it.”
“I think, I said that there are always limits in life, Vincent,” she corrected him, “but, I would take you and your life, and it’s limits over any man in the entire world, especially if you…umm…make love in such a ‘limitless’ way all the time. ” She was embarrassed to say the words, but she wanted him to know how amazing he was, especially in an area he had so little experience.
He hesitated in response, clearly abashed. “Well, I…I took you at your word, that it would be all right to…make love to you.”
“Mmmm, I did wonder that myself, if it would be safe,” she explained, “but Mary said it would be all right, good even,” she finished before taking another bite, trying to hide her smile.
Vincent nearly choked. “Mary? She told you…you asked her…”
“Mmmm,” Catherine assented. “Mary encouraged it.”
Why don’t you take Catherine to one of the warm springs.
“But.…” He remembered and nothing would come out. She had, once again, left him speechless.
Catherine couldn’t help but laugh at his consternation. “Oh, Vincent, you can never underestimate two things: What women will talk about, and the…umm…drive of a woman in love with you.”
He laughed at her gentle admonishment and finished his stew. He would certainly need his strength for her.
They finished their meal, and had taken time to discuss how to get a message Above. Catherine was back to thinking, her eyes focused on the steady flame of the brazier, her fingers trying to ease through her lightly damp hair.
“Do you have a brush, Vincent?”
“Of course,” he answered, stepping to a drawer in the corner. She wanted more than that; he could feel an inquisitiveness about her, but he would wait until she told him, or showed him. It was a dance, them together, he realized, asking, leading, but also learning to move together, seeking where they should go, and trusting her to lead their life at times. It was hard, against his instinct to let go of control.
“Do you dance?” she had asked him last winter.
Yes, Catherine. For you, I will.
Father had sent them word through a very excited Kipper. There would be a council tonight about her staying in the Tunnels. They had never discussed it. Father had assumed, correctly in this case, but it seemed they should have had some sort of formal asking. They had gone so slowly, with such care, for so long. This new pace of life was akin to holding on to the top of the speeding subway car.
He stood before her, the brush in his outstretched hand, waiting for her to take it. She looked up into his eyes.
“Brush my hair?” she asked, almost reticent.
He could feel her leading him somewhere. The dance had begun.
He said nothing, but moved behind the chair and lifted a lock in his fingers. He started at the end, but after months of growth, broken strands and little care, he encountered a snarl almost immediately. Her discomfort stopped his hands. He nearly dropped the brush.
“Vincent,” she looked up at him, with the slightest hint of amusement shining in her voice, “you have to hurt me a little, or we aren’t going to get anywhere.”
He hesitated, but she preceded him, leading him down a path he did not recognize. He would try to follow.
He lifted the lock again and slowly stroked down, teasing out the knots. It hurt. He tried the next, holding the lock higher, tight within his fist, than brushing, hoping to save her from any discomfort, but there were just too many snarls, especially underneath, where he could not stop the pulling. His hand was shaking. It wasn’t the pain, of course, that troubled him. He daily ripped brushes through his own hair, but causing her pain…. Why was she asking him to do this?
“Vincent?” She didn’t turn to look at him this time, but seemed to be studying her lap. “Can you shut down our bond so this won’t hurt you as much? It will help. You can do what needs to be done.”
It took him the briefest moment to understand what she was asking, but when he did he threw the brush across the table in complete rejection of her request – the spoken and unspoken.
“No, Catherine!” Vincent’s anger could not be curtailed, and it radiated through her. He could see it almost broke her confidence, but the baby kicked her, her hand immediately stroking their son’s sheltered body, and her conviction renewed.
She didn’t see him, her eyes only forward. “Vincent, I need you to be able to shut it off. It has to be done.”
He turned and crouched in front of her so she was forced to look at him. “Don’t ask this of me. I will take any pain. Catherine, don’t ask me to walk in that grey world again. I cannot endure losing you….” His voice fell to a whisper, his body shaking against the onslaught of her entreaty.
She took his hand into her lap, trying to comfort him, trying to make him understand. “Vincent, I am right here.” She squeezed, showing him her reality. “I won’t be lost! I am here with you. I know you’re scared, but I don’t plan on leaving you…or our son.”
“You have asked me to share everything, Catherine, all my pain, with you. Please don’t ask this of me,” he whispered.
You cannot endure this alone. I won’t let you.
She frowned. She lifted her chin and gazed straight into his eyes. Her expression could almost be called cold if he didn’t feel the love behind it. He wondered if she knew how she appeared when sure of her course: like an angel, but a fearful one. “This is what I ask of you, Vincent.” She would not budge on this, but then her expression softened. “Please, do this, for me.”
He stood, retrieved the brush from the far end of the table, and brought it back to her hair. It took him almost an hour, but he was able to learn to shut her out of his heart, to shut out her pain, if need be.
When he was finished, he was shaking once more, his strength at its limit.
He placed the brush on the table and walked away. He would not look at her. Catherine almost cried at what she had done to him, would do to him, and without their connection he had no idea the anguish, the turbulence this caused her, the confusion of her emotions. He couldn’t know how desperately sad it made her to push him away like this, but it had to be done, didn’t it?
“Vincent, I’m sorry….”
He opened the corner drawer the brush had come from, placed it there once more, and pulled out a small silver hand mirror. A tiny crack marred the corner, tarnish had blackened the scroll work, but in all other ways, it was serviceable, lovely even. He allowed himself this mirror at least, she thought. There had to be a story wrapped within its whirls of darkened silver, hidden as it was, like a guilty treasure, but this was no time to ask him. He brought it to her, and this time she would take what he offered.
He placed the mirror face down on the table for her, but before he could move, she grabbed his hand with both of hers. “Please, Vincent, please understand….”
Before she could go on he stopped her words with a kiss on the tresses that had caused him such turmoil. Like a warm rush of air, she could feel him return to her heart, and she knew he could sense her again. They were open to one another. Without words he forgave her and told her he understood.
“I have to talk with Father…about tonight,” he said into her hair.
She nodded, accepting. He gathered his sweater as she picked up the mirror from the table. She held it up to herself to see what he had wrought.
“Oh, Vincent,” she called him before he could go. He turned to her and she smiled in her now too-familiar sad way. “See what beauty can come from a little pain.”
He kissed her again before he left.