My Heart's Best Treasure

by Aliset

A/N: My thanks to Carole W, who let me use her expansion (from Catherine's POV) as the basis for this one.


Father told me once, as a boy, that freezing to death was not the worst way to die. I didn't realize until years later that he'd come very close to discovering the truth of that, as a young man who'd lost everything in the dead of a New York winter. Had he not been found and brought below to the tunnel community, his life – and mine – would have been vastly different.

I'm cold now; the tranquilizers – Gould's idea, since Hughes had wanted them discontinued once he learned I could speak – are doing their work, and the iron bar across my chest is tightening as my respiration slows. Catherine has gone to Providence, to what is meant to be ... and I, I am here. In this cage. Gould is quite dead and Hughes will be ... and perhaps I will join them both soon.

There is a rustling sound on the concrete. I'm not quite sure what I see ... is it ... can it be ... No. Not Catherine. Not here. I am seeing things. But her hand touches my face and it's warm, so warm ... why is she so warm?

She's warm because she's Catherine. Not my imagination after all. I try to ask about Hughes, but the words come out garbled. I haven't talked in days, years, perhaps. It feels that long. I try again, but the words are raspy and torn in my throat. “Hughes?”

“He's gone,” Catherine says. Her hand, soft and gentle, pushes aside my tangled hair and lifts my chin. She stares into my eyes and loses some of her own color at whatever she sees. The bond between us, stretched to the breaking point, regains some of its strength.

She's terrified. And guilty that she could have thought of leaving, never mind that this was a decision we reached together. “Look at me, Vincent,” she commands, and I do ... as if I could turn away. She mimics the deep breathing she needs me to do to fight the effects of the sedative, and the pressure on my chest lessens somewhat. Her lips nearly touch my ear as she leans against me. “We can't stay here. Help me.”

I try to stand, but two powerful doses of sedative in the hours before she came have done their work; my legs collapse and I fall against the bars. I cannot let this weakness overtake me. Catherine is here and I must survive. I hang onto the hated metal of my cage and pull myself up. She comes close to me and my indrawn breath at her nearness brings me to my own scent, acrid and foul with many days captivity. I touch her gently, gathering her near, and Catherine's small hands clutch my shirt.

“Where are we, Catherine?” I ask. I remember only being shot with the five tranquilizer darts at the entrance to the tunnels, then awaking in a laboratory of some sort, then awaking here. The times between are a hazy nightmare, shot through with the brief, rare periods when Hughes and Gould miscalculate the sedative dosage or forget it entirely.

“At Columbia. The Anthropology building – Schermerhorn. But how ...” Catherine trails off. She doesn't need to finish. I know as well as she does; dark is hours away, but we can't stay here. Eventually, someone – a curious student, a guard – will come looking for either Hughes or Gould.

Not for the first time, I'm grateful for Father's maps and the endless times I've spent wandering. “These buildings are connected by–” I stop and take a rattling breath, forcing air in my lungs. “Heating tunnels. We need ... a stairwell. Under the rotunda in the old library, there’s–” My breath fails, finally, stuttering to silence.

“Then we’re just across the quad. It’s close, Vincent. We can make it.” Catherine takes my hand – how warm it is, how strong, despite its size – and tugs me towards the cage door. She forces the basement door open just enough for us to slip through and I watch as she runs down the hallway, holding to the shadows, in search of an exit for us.

“I have to go back,” Catherine says. At the bottom of the ladder, I lean my head against one arm. It would be easy, too easy, to slip into the greyness that had so nearly covered me. Her voice is an anchor in the darkness, dragging me forward into life again. “Tell me. What did you touch? Did Hughes make notes?” I can see Catherine swallow hard. “Are there ... pictures?”

“There’s a box, a notebook. And a camera, a video camera. My cloak, he folded it ...” I twist to slump against the wall ... slide to a seat. In the dim light from above, I can see the strength in her, the strength that will let her see the records the anthropologists kept and not be horrified by what they might reveal. “There was another lab, but he brought ... everything ... he said, to keep ... it ... from Gould.”

“Rest here. I’ll be right back with some water.” She kisses my forehead and her concern arcs through me like live wire.


***


I think it takes precisely forever to make it back to the home tunnels. We stop many times as the sedatives slowly leave my system, as my lungs try to remember their function. I am nauseated and shaking during much of the journey back, but just the feeling of Catherine next to me is enough to give me strength. Eventually, though, we hear tapping on the pipes.

“We should send a message. Have someone meet us. Help us,” Catherine says, her shoulder warm against mine.

“Not yet,” I say, but cannot finish the words. Her arm tightens around my waist. Perhaps, after all, no words are needed.


***


“We’ll take over from here. Winslow!” Father’s voice is cold, and Catherine must surely feel the force of his anger hanging in the air, a thick fog of grief and nightmares realized. Winslow steps forward and I have to smile; of all the men in the tunnels, only Winslow could support me should I fall.

“Wait!” Catherine cries, but Father hurries on, determined not to hear her. My arm is around Winslow's shoulder but I turn, forcing him half around.

“The second right, Catherine. The next two lefts.”


***


It is about an hour later when Father, after much muttering, lets me leave the hospital chamber.

“You're still far from well,” he says, putting away his stethoscope. “This is precisely why I never use painkillers or sedatives on you; your blood pressure and heart rate are already too low and sedatives and the like just make it worse.” He pauses, looking at me over the tops of his glasses. “They nearly killed you, you know.”

Oh yes, I know. How could I not?

“I don't want you doing anything strenuous for a while, but I do want you to get up and walk around,” he continues. “When did you last eat?”

“I don't remember,” I say.

Father's mouth tightens at this bit of news, but I can tell he's not really surprised. “You're dehydrated. I really should start an IV, but I think you've had enough of needles for now. I'll have William bring by something for you later.” He hugs me fiercely then, and I know anew what a nightmare this is for him. It is everything he has ever feared for me, everything he has ever warned me about.

His nose wrinkles a bit at the stench of my clothes. “Would you like to take a bath first?” he asks, releasing me.

I nod, and he helps me towards my bathing chamber.


***


The light in her hair is candle-flame, and it's sweeter than anything I've ever seen – Catherine, sitting in a chair by my bed, reading a book. My love, my life.

“You're still here?” Father asks. There is resignation in his tone, but also a sort of grudging respect that I'm not sure Catherine has learned to hear yet. He gives her no real reason to like him, but she stays anyway.

“I'm here,” Catherine says.

Father leads me to my bedside. “I should check your blood pressure one more time, Vincent. And I’ll stay and monitor–”

“Father,” I say, quelling. I have been watched and monitored and poked and prodded enough these last few days. I want time with Catherine now.

Father looks from my face to Catherine's and opens his mouth to speak, but doesn't say what he's thinking. Instead, shaking his head, he backs away a step. “You’ll call me, Catherine, if–”

“I will,” she says firmly.


***


“You were reading, Catherine?” I say, grateful that I can speak again without my breath failing. Well, no more than words ever do when I look upon her.

“I was.”

“Perhaps you would–”

“Vincent. Did you know? Did you know I never left. That I couldn’t leave?”

Oh, this I know too, now. Providence is what's meant to be, and it's providence that drew me to her on a cold April night. I can no more leave her than she could leave me. “Read to me,” I say.

She opens the book to the bookmark, a bird's bright feather.

Surprised by joy, Catherine reads. Impatient as the wind
I turned to share the transport - Oh, with whom
But thee ...

And when she finishes and my muscles have settled into the relaxation of home and safety and love, I smile at her and make room for her on my bed.

*****
or

2 comments:

Anonymous June 14, 2010 at 4:57 AM  

Just lovely Aliset!

I was there with Vincent in the cage. I could feel his joy at having Catherine by his side once more.

The love they have for each other - the care, concern and the fact they will do whatever it takes for the other - it's just beautiful.

The ending was perfect - them spending the night together in Vincent's chamber.

Love Jodie xxoo

Krista June 14, 2010 at 5:42 AM  

Jodie,

Thank you so much for your kind words---I'm glad the story worked for you. ;-)

They didn't actually spend the night together (not then); he was making room for her on his bed for her to hold him. :)

Thanks again,

Krista :)

Post a Comment

Comments are welcome. Just click inside the box to type.

About This Site

Admin Control Panel

New Post | Settings | Change Layout | Edit HTML | Moderate Comments | Sign Out