Iron Behind the Velvet - Chapter 19

What Outweighs the Heaviest Night 1



“I have so much to tell you. A story you'll hardly believe.”

“I know. I’ve felt you close. I’ve heard you. Here.” He pressed her hands to his heart. “There’s much I need to tell you as well. A story of my own. And a truth I must share, Catherine. A truth I came to understand just tonight.”

“I don’t know where to start.” She tightened her hold, capturing fabric and his fingers in her grip. “Or which one of us should go first, but I– I need to sit down.”

“I won’t let you fall.”

He bent to her and she arched against his steady hand spread warm at the small of her back. Greedy for her, his kiss was confident and deep. On her tongue was the taste of amber honey and from his hair, from the hollow of his throat, a heated scent rose, spiced cream and shaved wood. Mine. My lover. My life. She would follow the curve of him wherever he might lead, even to his darkest river at the ends of his earth. She would never give him up.

He pulled away, his raw need exposed.

I see you, Vincent. I know you.

As she brushed his cheek, a winged energy blazed in her breast. The sounds of the city, the unfamiliar place, dissolved into glimmering shafts of light – green and pink and violet – a spiraling borealis. An all-powerful joy overwhelmed her, a new, exquisite pleasure, without beginning or end, without origin or design ... She merged bone to bone with him, vein to vein, the dark red blood of their love returned to one heart.

With a sound both ragged sigh and muted roar, he broke from her, gasped for breath. She dropped her forehead to his lapels. “Was that ... ”

“Our bond, Catherine. In concurrence.”

“It was so strong, as if we were the same person. Vincent, this ... this was ...” She looked up at him. “Everything was light!” And the light is there still, in your eyes. So blue. So beautiful. “Is ... is that how it is for you? Always? How ... how do you manage?”

“No,” he murmured. “Not always. Sometimes, when we’re ... together ... I feel it begin. Your mind sweeps into mine, my breath fills your lungs, and there’s a vibration, a celestial hum in my ear. Something stirs within me, some essential unnameable force.” He brushed back her hair, cupped her cheek. His thumb traced her lips. “It's very beautiful, this ... sharing.”

“Do you think– Will it happen again?”

“I hope so.”

“Why tonight? Why now, Vincent? Something’s different.”

“As if a great presence is moving nearby, spiraling us toward a magical place?”

“Yes! I’ve had that very thought! How–”

“The heart feels things the eyes cannot see, Catherine, and knows what the mind cannot understand.” 2

Her head tucked beneath his chin, his breath sounds were a solid comfort. The night music rose — the low drone of traffic, the melody of laughter. Settled again to their nests, doves cooed in the eaves. Her arms went around his waist, tight with appeal.

“I wish we were home.”

Close to her ear, a dusky purr ... “As do I.”

“Take me below.”

“But–”

“Love me.” Her hands roved over his hips. Evidenced in the artery of his neck, his pulse hammered. “Below,” she repeated. “Now.”

He panted out his protest. “I will not ... take you ... against a stone wall, Catherine.”

“You have …”

His thighs tensed, as did his haunches, and when she stroked the ridged muscles, he gulped. Audibly. “But that was our wall,” he managed.

“I’m staying with you tonight, Vincent.”

“There’s no privacy. The facilities are ... rudimentary.”

“I can imagine.” She wedged her fingers in his back pockets and felt his resistance flag. It was impossible not to smile.

“We sleep on the ground,” he insisted. “And I have last watch.”

“Is that all you’ve got? Surely you won’t argue with me, not after ...”

“No ...” he said, releasing a jittery breath. “No, I won’t ... can’t argue. Just ... not yet.”

He led her to a corner of the rooftop. There, an embellishment of concrete and bricks framed a small enclosure, a cozy recess padded with cushions. A heavy, tufted quilt lay folded in waiting.

"Aniela and Damien come here ... to talk," he explained before she could ask.

She bit her lip against a laugh. “I’m sure they do. Is that Aniela’s van parked out front? I’ve nearly blocked her in.”

“She'll not be leaving tonight.” He still held her hand and in deliberate succession, touched a kiss to each knuckle. Her gasp elicited his small smile. “And they'll not be coming above. They’ve gone, Mouse said, for a ... walk.”

His attentions burned deep, though she shivered as if he trailed ice between her breasts. “To talk,” she said.

“Yes. To walk and talk.”

He settled into the pillows, inviting her into his arms with an innocent look on his face, a flicker of promise, of paradise in his eyes. Molded to him, half-turned, she found the sweet niche of his shoulder. There is something different …

"How should we start? I’ll need hours for everything, but I only want to hear your voice.” She faltered. “I’ve missed you.”

“These days apart ...” He brushed hungering lips across her palm and opened his mouth against her wrist ... caught her skin in his teeth. “Are too long,” he whispered along her forearm, whispered into the bend of her elbow. “Almost ... too painful to bear.”

Luminous, the aurora flashed behind her closed eyes. Against his chest, she rode the pitch and surge of his breath, counted the slowing beats of his constant heart ... nineteen, twenty. “Tell me, Vincent. Tell me your story ... and this truth.”

“The truth first, Catherine. Always.” He started and stopped, began again. “One night, Damien came to me, asking for advice, advice regarding Aniela and their relationship.”

“Did that surprise you?”

“That he, that anyone, would see me as one with insight into the course of love? Yes, it was – is – a surprise.”

“What did you tell him?”

“He was worried – about her life above and his below, how the two worlds might meld. I encouraged him to be truthful, to control his jealousy, to refrain from the unilateral decision ...” He drifted away in thought and after a moment, Catherine sat up. She stroked his set jaw, coaxing free his next hoarse words. “I suggested he listen when she speaks, that he not question or interpret but believe her ... the first time.”

He huffed in exasperation and threw his head back. Her heart constricted with the pain that pulled at his tender mouth. “I’m a hypocrite. A young man sought my wisdom and I delivered a hollow speech, the very words you’ve spoken, truths you’ve repeated at my stubborn ear.” His gaze bored into hers. “I tried your patience, Catherine, almost overlong.”

“Only almost, Vincent.”

The muscle in his jaw flexed. “Once, months ago, I asked you ... I asked how you could even look at me.”

“I remember.”

“You answered, because you knew me. You stood with me, unflinching, bearing such pure light on my most loathsome features. And I ... I made you leave.”

“I should never have left you alone, no matter what you wanted ... or said you wanted.” She blinked away tears.

“You will not bear guilt, Catherine. I won’t accept it from you. I've done you a terrible injustice. No. No protests. I must finish.” He turned her face to his with the tips of his fingers and grazed her cheek with his nails. “I placed an impossible burden on you, and convinced myself it was your acceptance of me, of what I am ... and what I am not ... that stood between us and a life together. That your assurances, though I required them again and again, were naive ... blind. That you would one day, see me standing, bloody and snarling, eternally, miserably apart from you.

“You didn't leave me. I left. More than once I retreated to the prison of those fears. In my mind, I keep that door barred and locked shut, but behind it ... a demon paces and shouts and rattles chains I forged years and years ago, chains in which I've had little confidence. You were patient with me. You, Catherine, too often alone with your faith, with your courage. You persevered, when I was convinced I waited for you. You brought me from the depths of my solitude, soothed me, held my head above the black waters.

“You made a sweet world for us, mixed a morning breeze with my midnight, but I feared my origins, the ravines where my madness lay, glutted with blood and mystery. I saw you, so brave, balanced at your own edge, reaching to save me. But I wouldn’t let you call me away from my companion.

"I’ve learned that the darkness feeds on my own denial. I am its accomplice. I've visited that chained door again, laid my face to it. My fears ... wrapped in all we will never know ... still prowl there, but if I no longer deny that part of me, if I can give that darkness some freedom, it will lose power, and that which manifests in this face, in these hands, the other that I cannot name, I can control. I choose it when I must. I have such terrible remorse for what I've done, for all you've seen me do, yet, each time, if I'd not acted ...

"I'm ready for you, Catherine. Finally, ready.”

____

How can silence be so loud? A dozen words, a hundred, formed in her mind, each rejected for imperfection. Your shadow is a necessary warrior, ageless, instinctive. You are worthy. You are good. You are enough. I love you. Her most fervent desires flared — to heal even his smallest hurt, to dress each wound with her most tender ministrations, to lay him back, to smooth his tangled hair, console him, cool him with the balm of her touch. The ravaged terrain of all he bore, for years so alone, unrecognized ...

The chains fall; the doors open. We enter our life. We live in each other. She moved her hands, met his gaze. Yours.

“Say nothing, Catherine. Nothing.”



Cradled against him, within their intimate communion still and warm ... she might rest forever, but voices from the sidewalk below, a grind of brakes from the intersection returned the softened world to a sharper focus. "Did something happen?” she asked. “There’s more ... more to this than Damien’s concerns. I know it.”

“More. Yes, more than Damien’s question. I’m too far from you, Catherine. I miss everything. How quickly I've come to expect you in my arms ... in my bed. This separation ..." He broke off, pressing his cheek to her crown. A slow exhale flurried her hair. "Our days are long,” he said. “We’re uncomfortable and the food is plain, the work intense. To keep everyone centered, to remind them of the imperative of the work without ratcheting their fears is ... difficult. We don’t know exactly who we must defend against, and this makes us anxious. Anxious workers are irritable. Tempers flare. They seek distraction. Distraction leads to mistakes. Mistakes make us even more anxious.” He tipped his head as if listening to a clamor below. His heartbeat thudded at his wrist, a tattoo against her hand. She loosed from his grip, brought his palm to her lips. As a wave might crest and glide to shore, he sighed deeply and long.

“We’ve split the crews,” he went on. “And we’ll make better progress, but now I cannot watch over everyone as I should. Father is left almost alone with the care of the community. He must stay behind and that ... weighs on him."

"He's growing older. More and more, the responsibilities will fall to you."

A silent beat passed. “Yes. I made a promise."

A promise extracted, not offered, she countered inwardly. A hazy spectre hovered at the edge of their world. Was that looming likelihood what weighed on him so after Winterfest? What took him so deep within the earth, within himself. Away from me? 3 Part of it is resolved, she’d told Father, and while true, he’d told her far less than she’d surmised. Interpreted. She cordoned away that avenue of thought. There would be a time to lay this bare between them, but it was not now.

“And then,” she said instead, “there is Kanin.”

"Yes, Kanin, who's tried everyone's patience. There’ve been times I’ve wanted to pin him to the wall in frustration. He stands to lose everything, with this ... test ... he administers. He lays up a barricade of stones and dares us to care enough knock them down. One night, in Woodlawn Cemetery amid those grand, cold mausoleums, we spoke of forgiveness, of its true gift. Around us was proof that life is too soon over, that an end will come and we'll have no more chances to make things right. I thought ... hoped ...” He shook his head and sighed again.

"Now he's sealed himself beyond our tunnels, disappeared across the perimeter in search of more than information. If he doesn't change, if he won't face the whole of himself, the mortar he’s spread will set. Olivia will not wait forever; she will provide for her children. One day, another man will come. He will love her, protect her, and Kanin’s children will call that man Father. It seems ... wasteful."

"Olivia asked that we take Luke and Althea as our own should something happen to her."

"Althea. So she's chosen a name." His eyes misted. "She's losing hope."

“You’ve heard nothing from him?”

“Nothing.”

“Are you desperately worried?”

“Yes, but I’m exhausted by him. And when he does return ...”

“You’re not sure whether to kiss him or deck him?” He chuckled and caressed her shoulder. Good, she thought. He was not lost to worry. “Are you sleeping at all, Vincent?”

“I need little sleep. You know that.”

“You need some. And I think you need something else ...”

“Yes?”

“A vacation.”

“A vacation! Where shall we go?”

“I’m not joking. When you’re done here ...”

"Hmmmm. Enough of me for now. Now you ... your story.” Shifting his shoulders against the rooftop wall, he stretched his legs straight.

I will never have enough of you. "You are so beautiful, Vincent.”

“What you see in me is the only the reflection of the beauty inside you.”

“You said something like that to me once, in a dream.” She teased the corner of his mouth. “This is better.”

“Your story,” he urged.

"How to begin ...” She drew herself up, tucked her legs. “I wanted you with me. All day. There were times I was sure you were close. I ... I thought, I believed I heard your voice."

“I sensed your excitement, Catherine. Once, I felt something almost miraculous had happened to you, that you had seen or heard something that changed you ... that changed us.”

“I tried to be open to you. There were so many surprises. Strange and thrilling coincidences. And yet, it all seemed predestined.”

“Providential.”

"Yes! Like it was meant to be.” Her fingers laced, she tapped knuckles to her chin. Images rushed her memory, welled and overflowed. “I had breakfast with Jenny this morning, and then we went to Eimear’s sister’s shop. Her name is Rosaleen ... Rosie. Jenny bought a mirror for Ned, who reminds me of someone, I just can’t think who. And I saw Rosie’s photographs. She had one of Zach, Vincent. Of Zach maybe three years ago. Of Zach in an alley nose to nose with an orange cat Rosie had followed through the streets for hours. I couldn’t believe it. And then she told me an incredible story and asked me a question and when I answered, she showed me a marble sculpture that somehow you must see. Then I went to a party ...”

“At Eimear’s house. Eimear’s and Flynn’s.”

“Yes! How did you know?”

“There was music, beautiful music, fiddles and drums and flutes. And dancing. You stepped on Neal’s toes and dashed his hopes.”

“Neal?”

“I heard Martin describe the twin flame. I heard you declare yourself ... as mine, Catherine, connected through all time by the blue-silver chord. I heard you share our story.”

“Martin! You know his name? You can’t read my– Can you?”

“I was there, Catherine.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Let me show you.”


She followed him to the rooftop door. Inside the stairwell, a bare yellow bulb dangled from a long cord, casting more shadows than light upon the waffled-metal treads. He stashed the cushions he carried, the quilt she’d folded in haste, then led her down four flights to a basement, past a stash of Aniela's stonemason tools, to a secret door in the exposed brick, down and down again, and over the unimagined bridge.4


______


“We’re not far,” he assured her. His stride was long and she hurried to keep pace.

“Mouse found the passage? I can’t believe it! When?”

“Tuesday night. The first night I heard Martin play.”

“A passage within the church wall? A tunnel entrance?”

“Martin said the old priest there had traveled beneath the city, but he thought him daft.”

Digging in her heels, she tugged him to a stop. “Wait. What? Did you just say ... Martin said? Does that mean …"

“Yes. Friday night. His music was beautiful and lively but I was tired. I fell asleep. He ... discerned me, called out to me. Thinking I was homeless and hungry, he offered me chicken left from his supper and a bed for the night. He seems a very kind man.”

“He’s that. But, Vincent! You spoke to him?” Her tone was incredulous and proud.

She sounds just like Father. “I had to. ‘Twould be rude to not.”

She squealed. “You did! Tell me exactly what happened. Don’t leave anything out.” She’d started down the tunnel, her demand tossed over her shoulder. With an impatient wave, she motioned him to catch up.

Capturing her hand, he purposefully slowed their approach. “Mouse snuck up on me.”

“That’s impossible.”

“I'm no longer sure what the word impossible means.”

“Just go on, Vincent. Please. You’re killing me.”

He heard the word without flinching. “Mouse surprised me — I’m sure I was thinking of you — and said to come with him. I did and he led me down this corridor.”

“Don’t tease me.” She danced in the passageway. “I can’t wait! Show me.”

He rounded the corner and slipped into the crevice. A lantern hung just inside the opening. He lit the wick, deliberate, taking his time with the match and the mantle and the globe, watching her expression shift from delight to bewilderment. They walked in its tawny glow to the first iron gate and through to the final chamber.

“Now where?” She jumped at the sharp reverberation of her voice.

Shhhh,” he admonished. “Mouse made me search for the secret door.” Even in the dimness, he saw her eyes flash a warning. “Never mind. I’ll show you. Here.” He manipulated the hidden lever, rotated the shackle and the wall swung wide, revealing the passage to the stairs.

For a moment, neither moved and both held their breath, then he turned to her and smiled. Once, he might have scoffed, but no more, not after Winterfest, because here ... yes ... he could hear it still, just beyond the silence. Music.




click HERE for Chapter 20

_______________

1. Rainer Maria Rilke. Duino Elegies. The Third Elegy.
2. Attributed to Robert Vallett.
3. I Carry Your Heart.
4. Rainer Maria Rilke. Uncollected, untitled poem. Translated by Edward Snow. 1924.

15 comments:

Brandy said...

Oh Squee. It's all coming together. I can see it.

*hugs self with glee*

Oh, and that Vincent jumping the ladder thing? Very hot.

Now if only I didn't read so damn fast so I could savor this more...

AT44 said...

Brandy, thanks! Keep the water boiling—I may need a second dashing with those wet noodles—but I'm really glad you were pleased.

Urban Literati said...

Oh my. I think I fainted.

New York City Utopia said...

Wonderful! I can't wait for the next chapter.

Anonymous said...

I envy you your perfection, but I gratefully leave it to you so that we can have this perfectly crafted story. Thank you. Thank you. This is such a gift to all your readers. Nancy

AT44 said...

You GUYS! UL and NYCU and Nancy...I can't tell you how encouraging it is to find these comments. You all are so nice to me. I promise to stick with it, even during the often-interrupted holiday days. C.

Sonia Who? said...

(I made some corrections to my comment)

I love the development of this story and how vividly you portray the characters, and how easy you express their feelings. You have a wonderful gift. I love reading your stories and wish there were more to read. I finished reading all your stories, except the one titled The Things With The Feathers, in 3 days. I just finished reading chapter 20 of this story, Iron Behind The Velvet, and can't wait to be able to read the rest of the story. Please, please finish it soon. I'm so impatient and can't stand unfinished stories. But alas, your stories are worth waiting for. Thank you for writing these. I love good stories about Vincent and Catherine and don't think I'll ever get tired of them. Please continue writing about them.
I can't wait to read about Vincent's reaction when he sees the statue and read when Catherine's new friends finally get to meet him, or later when her other close friends, Joe and Jenny finally learn her secrets. Can you give us a hint of what your next story's plot line will be? Can't wait. I feel as impatient as Mouse usually seems to be. :)
Your newest fan.
Sonia

AT44 said...

Sonia, you are too kind. I'll be apologizing over and over for the slow progress on this story. It's hard! I'm slow!

I'm working on that very part now, C telling V about Rosie. I'm in my usual mode of write, delete, rewrite, ponder for hours, edit, write, critique myself, delete and write again. Eventually, I will put something out there, promise.

As far as the next story line??? I'd better stay on task here, but I do have something, or two somethings, starting to noodle in the background.

Thanks for the comments, Sonia, here and on Marriage Morning and on Chapter 21 too.

C.

AT44 said...

And on Feathers as well, Sonia. Thanks again.
C.

Krista said...

I'm late in coming to this---I hadn't read it when it was first posted since I didn't find your site until 2009, but Carole, this revision is glorious. You have such depth in your writings of them, such poetry, even when Vincent is being too stubborn and Kanin is being a martyred ass. ;-) Everyone here is so real that I feel I could reach out and touch them.

I write, but I aspire to write like this. Fantastic job. :)

Carole W said...

Oh Krista. What can I say to you? You're so giving, so encouraging. Your kindness is something I've rarely known. I'm reduced to tears, you know I am.

However, I shall take you to task over your last paragraph. In private though. ;-)

weepy hugs,
C

Kemara said...

Carole,
Forgive me for being such stranger lately! I haven't forgotten about you or your wonderful stories. I stopped by today and saw the changes you made to this chapter.
Favorite line:
"But that was OUR wall."
I so wanted Catherine to slap him! Hee-hee! Can't wait to see what else you have in store for us.
Love and Hugs!

RomanticOne said...

Loved the whole chapter! I was there! Still, I have two favorite parts. First, when he kisses and whispers his way from her palm to her elbow. He only touches her arm and it's not only romantic - it's hot! Second is when he tells her that she brought a morning breeze to his midnight. It's no wonder your fans (me included) can't wait for the next chapter. When this story is complete, you should consider printing and binding it for sale. I know it may not be possible because of copyright issues but if you could, I would be first in the order line.

Carole W said...

Kemara! It's good to see you again. I'd been wondering what was up with you. Fill me in on things, soon.

LOL, I'm glad you liked that line. I've had that tidbit of dialogue in my 'gotta use it somewhere' file for weeks. During the editing, it seemed to just float into place.

Don't disappear again, okay?
Carole

Carole W said...

R-1, you do wonders for my spirits. You're so thoughtful and you say such nice things. I'm truly grateful that you'd read through again. Thank you.

Oh, I'm glad you liked that scene - the wrist to elbow caress. It struck my fancy too! Lucky Catherine, huh?

Now you're making me blush, but I do want to make I/V into hard copy for the experience of learning some desktop publishing techniques. I just trialed Chapter 1 as a pdf formatted like a commercial novel with indented paragraphs and no spaces and an ornamented 1st letter of the chapter and I liked the way it looked. When I manage to finish the story (and I will!) I'll fiddle around with some formats and when there's a hard copy to be had, I'll send you one. You're right - I can't advertise it or sell it for profit, but I can certainly give them as gifts.

Thank you so much for your patience and your support. I want you to enjoy I/V.

Carole