“Vincent’s been acting weird lately.”
Father took off his glasses and shot five year old Emily a harsh look. “I don’t suppose you can find a nicer way to put that, by any chance?”
“You know what I mean, Father. Ever since he came back from that surprise trip of his, he’s been different. He walks around grinning….”
Father cut her off with a smile and a shake of his head. “And I suppose you’d rather he go about frowning all day?”
“Father, that’s not what I meant,” Emily protested. “He keeps disappearing; he won’t tell any of us where he’s going. I mean, he won’t even tell Catherine! And he never keeps anything from Catherine!”
Father tried to hide his growing smile behind his book, knowing that the little child’s questions came from a place of fear. Where Emily had come from, secrets and odd behavior were things to worry over, things that meant that something bad was likely to occur.
“Come here, Emily.” Father pulled the young girl into his lap, and gave her a warm hug. “Emily, we’ve talked before about how our world is different than the one you left behind, right?”
A slow nod and frightened eyes were her only response.
“Well, this is one of those ways in which it is different. Secrets here aren’t always bad – in fact, most of the time they’re good. Secrets here are usually about one person, or even a group of people, trying to do something nice for someone else.”
“You mean like how everyone’s been keeping secrets from William this week?”
“Exactly! William’s birthday is nearly upon us, and many of his friends are working on birthday surprises for him.” Father gave her a reassuring smile. “Those secrets aren’t bad, now are they?”
“I guess not,” Emily admitted with a sheepish grin. “I’m sorry, Father, it’s just hard to remember sometimes that people want to be nice to each other here. I mean, that’s pretty weird, too, you know?” And with that sad statement, Emily gave Father a kiss on the cheek and ran from the room.
Father rubbed his eyes, and wondered how long it might take Emily to realize that the type of place she had come from was the exception, and not the rule. She was hardly the first child to be brought Below who truly believed that any good that was to be found in humanity was a temporary fluke at best, and a trap at worst. Still, each of these little damaged souls ate at his heart, and made him long for a safer world for all the children who resided Above, as well as for those who now had a home Below.
“Father, are you all right?”
He had been so lost in his thoughts that he hadn’t even heard his son’s quiet approach.
Father looked up at Vincent with what he suspected was a rather unconvincing smile. “I’m fine, just tired, that’s all.”
Vincent came up behind his father and put a warm hand on his shoulder. “I just saw Emily running from your chamber. She wouldn’t happen to be the cause of your “tiredness,” would she?”
Father sighed and shook his head sadly. “She’s still waiting for something to go wrong here. She can’t seem to understand that she has truly found a place of shelter from the pain of the world Above.”
“Give her time. She’s only been here a few weeks, Father. You know that many of the children, and even quite a few of the adults, needed more time than that.”
Father nodded, than decided a change of topic was in order. “You know, Vincent,” Father said with a teasing grin, “this is entirely your fault.”
Vincent smiled in return, suspecting that since the problem with their newest resident was his “fault” he would no doubt be assigned the task of fixing it. “And what, precisely, is it I’ve done this time, Father?”
“This time? Now really, Vincent, you make it sound like I blame you all the time.”
“Not all the time, Father,” Vincent teased in return. “Just when you want me to do something with one of the children.”
Father had to laugh at that, in spite of himself. “Well, that really is your fault, you know. If you weren’t so good with the children....”
Vincent laughed as well. “I concede defeat! Though it could be that I merely had a very good teacher,” Vincent couldn’t help adding, as he kissed his father’s cheek.
“So, what did happen with Emily?”
Father watched his son out of the corner of his eye while pouring them both a cup of tea. He knew that the best way to get information from Vincent was to keep his tone casual and nonjudgmental. “Well, it seems that young Emily is a bit puzzled about your activities of late.”
Vincent smiled at that, knowing full well that it wasn’t just Emily who was puzzled. “What exactly is it that’s puzzling Emily, Father?”
“Oh, all these mysterious trips of yours at all hours of the night. Mouse tells me that he’s seen you go below the pipes four nights this week, usually carrying a large bundle each time. And Cullen says you’ve been hunting through the storerooms, though you won’t tell anyone what you’re looking for.” Father now gave up all pretense of indifference and looked at his son with his fiercest glare. “Added to that is this material, lace and silk, that you asked one of our Helpers to obtain for you. Now, Vincent, I’m not one to pry, but...”
“Are you sure about that, Father?”
Vincent couldn’t help smiling at Father’s confusion. “That you don’t tend to pry.”
“Surely you’re not suggesting that my questions are intrusive? Anything that affects this community is my concern, and certainly anything that affects you is of interest to me. Now,” Father said with a shake of his head, “don’t try to change the subject. Just what are you up to?”
“Father, you do know what today’s date is, don’t you?”
“April 1st.” Father paused for a moment to give the date some thought. “Don’t tell me this is all part of some elaborate April Fool’s Day joke?! Vincent, what kind of example is that to set for the children? Every year we try to explain to them that most practical jokes are mean spirited, and now you mean to tell me that you yourself are orchestrating one?”
“You misunderstand, Father. I merely meant to point out to you that it is now April, and as such, I have plans to make. You do understand, don’t you, Father?” Vincent asked, as he began to walk out of the room.
“You know, I still find it astonishing that Catherine has managed to restrain herself from making me eat all those words that I said to both her, and to you, over the years.” He shook his head ruefully, wondering why wisdom always only seemed to come in hindsight. “I once went so far as to tell her that the love between the two of you could only bring you pain.” He smiled up at his son’s thoughtful expression. “I can’t tell you how glad I am to have been proven wrong.”
“So am I.” Vincent got
as far as the stairs leading from Father’s chamber when he was stopped
Vincent turned back with a merry smile on his face. “I know.” And with that, he headed out of the chamber at last.
Vincent spent the next days in a flurry of activity. Furniture was found and carried to a hidden chamber near the underground river that he often went to when he was in need of solace and privacy. The material that Father had found out about was used to create a lover’s nest for two, complete with silk sheets, lace tablecloths, and curtains to block off their secret chamber from the rest of the world.
But Vincent had been forced to concede that perhaps their secret chamber wasn’t quite as secret as he had originally thought. New items were appearing daily, with nothing to identify who had left them. Some he could guess at...the candles, in many different, colors, sizes, and scents, had to have come from Rebecca. The picnic basket filled to overflowing with food, wine, and drinks were clearly from William’s kitchens, and the warm blankets he suspected were handmade and delivered by Mary. But there were other things, other gifts left by his loving family, that he was less sure of. The books of poetry, the music boxes (he had received nine of them over the past week), the box of chocolates, the tea set...the list was extensive, as were the possibilities of who could have left these treasures behind. He was sure that Catherine would be as touched as he was by their thoughtfulness, not to mention their discretion! Now, if they would just keep away once he brought Catherine here....
“Careful, Catherine, don’t hit your head.”
“Vincent, where are we going? And why won’t you let me open my eyes?”
Vincent chuckled at that, enjoying the whisper of joy and amusement that he could feel through their Bond, in addition, of course, to her very obvious curiosity.
“I seem to recall you thinking it rather romantic when Kanin blindfolded Olivia before letting her see their new chamber.”
“Yes, but it’s not as if I’m seeing our new chamber!” Catherine laughingly answered. “I mean, first of all....” Catherine stopped in mid-stride and mid-sentence, her eyes flying open to fix on Vincent’s smiling face. Her eyes filled with tears as her heart beat wildly. She tried to speak, but found that her voice failed her entirely. All she could do was stare at this man who was her life, who had become over the years her whole life. “Vincent?” Catherine’s voice trembled as she asked with that one word for everything that her beloved had to offer, for all the joy that their life together could give.
Vincent bowed his head shyly, his hair falling in waves over his face. He spoke from beneath his hair in the softest of whispers, the depth of his feelings for his Catherine making it hard for him to speak. “You’ve mentioned on more than one occasion how difficult it is for us to get any time alone when we are Below. Between the children, my work projects, and Father, Mary and William all trying to fuss over you, over us, at once….” Vincent shook his head ruefully. “I have come to realize that the only way we will ever again get a moment to ourselves is to resort to drastic measures, and so….” With a smile, Vincent took her hand in his and led her towards the chamber he had lovingly prepared for them.
Catherine looked around in awe as her falling tears blurred her vision. There were a dozen five-foot tall metal candleholders, each with a thick rose scented candle atop it, lining the path ahead of them. As they walked along the path, she saw that it led down to a river, one that was glowing with the light of the hundreds of small candles set afloat upon it. Catherine stood staring for a long time at the beauty before her, knowing that what truly made it beautiful to her was the man who gave her this gift.
“Vincent...is this...are we....” She shook her head, trying to find the words to let him know what his gift meant to her.
“I know I should have shared this place with you long ago, Catherine. I wanted to, but something held me back.” Vincent looked slowly around at this place that had at one time been his sole comfort, and then turned to face the woman who was now his true comfort in life. “This place…at one time, it was my sanctuary, my private refuge from the pain and confusion that I often faced in my life. It was where I would go to try and find at least some small measure of peace, not only in my world, but within myself.” Vincent gently took both of Catherine’s hands in his own and began to caress them as he spoke. “From the very first moment you came into my life, I began to realize that I didn’t need the solitude of an empty cavern, as much as I needed you. There were times when I still sought out this place, when I needed to take a step back from what we were becoming. Catherine, I was always so afraid to hope, so sure that our dream could never be.” He paused again, this time to place a gentle kiss on her hair as he pulled her close to his heart. “There aren’t enough words for me to ever fully express to you how grateful I am that you stayed, that you never gave up on us, on our dream. You are my refuge, Catherine, you are my sanctuary, you are where I go now when the difficulties of my existence become too much to bear.”
Vincent took Catherine’s hand in his and walked with her slowly to the water’s edge. “I no longer want this place to be mine. I no longer need it. But, perhaps, there is something that this nameless river can give us. It can give us a place to go when we, together, need a place apart from the rest of the world. When we need time to be alone with our thoughts, with each other, with all that our dream can be…now we will have such a place. In the years to come, it can be a place for us to come as a couple, or…” Vincent paused, as he gently placed his hand over Catherine’s, where it rested protectively over their unborn child, “as a family.”
Hours later, after Vincent had given Catherine a tour of their new retreat, they stood together, their faces lit by the candlelight that illuminated their bedchamber.
On the same breath they spoke the words that were truest to their hearts.
“Four years ago tonight.”
“One year ago tonight.”
“Four years since you saved me and my life began anew...”
“One year since you gave me my most precious treasure – the gift of you as my wife.”
They smiled softly at each other, letting the love they felt for each other resonate through their Bond.
“When I think back on what my life was like before I met you...” Catherine shook her head, a mischievous grin lighting up her face. “The rich socialite who thought work was where you went to kill time between parties and shopping, who thought that the greatest pleasures were those that could be obtained with a credit card. If someone had told me then that someday I would find my truest treasure below the streets of New York, I would never have believed it.”
“You shouldn’t sell yourself short, Catherine. Your warm heart was always there, always looking for ways to give to others. All you needed was the courage to let that part of yourself show through.”
“You gave me that courage, Vincent. When you entered my life, I found a strength that I never knew I had, a sense that my life had meaning, and value, that what I did could truly make a difference. You gave me that gift, Vincent. You’ve given me everything...everything I’d ever hoped for out of life, and everything I never thought to even wish for.” Catherine smiled up at him as the tears that had filled her eyes now trailed a path down her cheeks. “You are my dream come true, my wish upon a falling star, every hope, desire and prayer that I’ve ever dreamed of. Vincent, you are all of that to me, and so very much more. I love you. With all that I am, with all that I could ever be, I love you.”
“Catherine....”Vincent sighed the softest of sighs, as his hand gently wiped the tears from his beloved’s face. “Catherine...after all this time, you still don’t know, you still don’t see, just what a gift you have been to my life. I had friends, family, a home...all of that before you came into my life. But, Catherine, what is a life truly worth, if there is no place in it for dreams? I didn’t, I couldn’t, dream of a life that was more than what I had. A life that included someone to walk through life with, to share all of life’s joys and sorrows with. I knew that such a life could not belong to me, that someone like me could never receive that kind of love, could never give that love to another. But, Catherine, from the moment you entered my life, I couldn’t help but dream. Even when my mind would whisper that I must let you go to build a life of your own, my heart knew that our dream was destined to be. And now, four years after we first met, one year from the day that we were wed, I stand before you, and make you the same pledge that I made to you on our wedding day.” Vincent kneeled before Catherine then, and took her hands into his own. “I promise you, my Catherine, to love you with all that I am, with all that I could ever be, for all of my days.”
They held each other then, the light of the candles and the warmth of the fire surpassed only by the light that glowed within each of them. They had lived most of their lives apart, yet once they had found each other, they had both known that those days were at an end. Their hearts, their Bond, now joined them in a love that would last for as long as time itself – it would last forever.
Credit where credit is due…. The initial idea for this story came from the episode “Dear Dad” from the TV series MASH. Somehow Radar’s secretly shipping a jeep home in pieces made me think of Vincent shipping a bed below, and the rest is history!