Certain Gifts Are Best Shared

Arlene

Catherine looked up from her notepad at the first sniffle, her maternal instincts on high. Just as she suspected, a tiny figure stood in the doorway to her and Vincentís chamber, dressing gown too large for her petite body. Mane-like hair, the same honey gold as her fatherís shadowed her face as she wiped her sleeve against her nose again.

"Mamma?" she whispered in the sad, heartbreaking voice that makes all mothers want to rush over, sweep up their children and hug the pain out of them. Catherine hurried to her side, opening her arms as the feather-light child rushed in and embraced her.

"Maggie, whatís wrong?" she asked gently of her youngest child, just barely 5 years old. Sapphire blue eyes looked up from the curtain of hair, and she sniffled again. Her cheeks were streaked with dust and tears and her nose was running like a leaky faucet. Margaret, or Maggie as she was affectionately called, took after her father in coloring but her mother in physique, reminding Catherine of her own toddler-hood. Margaret was very slender and petite but taller than most of her age-group. She was so lithe, in fact, that some of the tunnel dwellers had taken to calling her the Fairy Child, a name which Maggie enjoyed greatly.

"Mamma, I feel funny," she whined sadly and Catherine pressed her hand to the childís forehead. Like Vincent, all her children had a high tolerance against colds, illnesses and even inherited his natural body heat, so for one of them to feel ill caused her great worry. Luckily she felt no fever, and as she performed a quick examination, she could detect nothing wrong with the little girl.

"Letís go find Father," she offered, wrapping her arms around Maggie and lifting her into an easy embrace. The little girl nuzzled her face against her motherís neck as Catherine traveled the few tunnels and passageways to Fatherís chamber. As usual, he was bent over some tunnel maps, making notations and pointing out errors to Mouse.

"Now see this chamber? The structure is too unsound to allow us to use it as anything but storage. This whole area is under extreme pressure from the lower subway tunnels. I propose that we dig a new chamber here, about 50 paces down the tunnel and use the rock to fill up the old one. It will solve the problem as well as allow us a much larger room." He handed the map to Mouse. "Leave some natural shelving in the walls, so Cullen wonít have to do as much work. Iím thinking that we could use it as a Öoh hello, Catherine," he greeted and Mouse grinned.

"Fairy Child!" Mouse chimed and waved enthusiastically to the little girl. For the first time, she looked up at the strange man who was her friend and waved cautiously before shyly hiding herself in her motherís embrace again.

This was not unnoticed by Father. "Mouse, take these plans down to Cullen and see what he says, Iíll speak to you later." Mouse nodded, casting one last look at Maggie before hurrying up the ladder stairs.

"My poor child, whatever is wrong with our little dear today? " He asked sympathetically as he opened his arms to his grandchild. She looked at him worriedly, and clung to her mother in what Catherine had described as Velcro-baby syndrome. It would be a miracle to pry herself out of her childís hard grip.

"She says she isnít feeling well, but I canít detect a fever," Catherine explained, rubbing a soothing hand over Maggieís back. Father gently touched the childís head, but she pulled away from him as well.

Catherine frowned worriedly; all the children loved Father, and Maggie was especially attached to him, had been from the moment of her birth when she grabbed hold of his hand with her tiny one and looked directly at him.   They were so close that Catherine named her Margaret because the child seemed to be so in tune with Father that Catherine sometimes considered the possibility of reincarnation.  He had dismissed her notion as fanciful thoughts, but sometimes she caught him looking at Maggie with a curious gaze, as if in fact Margaret had returned to be a part of Father's life, albeit a newer and different form.

"Maggie, you have to let go of Mamma so that Father can find out why youíre sick," she urged gently.

"Mínot sick, I feel funny," came the muffled reply from her hair, "Skin feels funny, tummy feels funny, head feels funny"

Father and Catherine glanced at each other and Catherine carefully set Maggie down on a nearby table, pulling the childís arms from around her neck and kneeling to face her daughter.

"But youíre not sick?" she asked and Maggie shook her head.

"Not sick like Jacob sick," she replied, referring to her older brotherís recent bout with a light case of food poisoning, "just funny. Sad, but not sad, hurt but not hurt, happy but not happy."

Catherine looked helplessly to the side at Father, the words flying meaninglessly through her mind. Now that someone was listening, Maggie looked less scared and more determined. She looked back and forth at the adults who didnít know what to make of what she was saying. Maggie scrambled to her feet, and bit her lip trying to form the words in her mind.

"Like bugs, like Arthur," she said running her hands over her arms, wiggling her fingers quickly. "Feels like bugs on me, but no bugs. Feel itchy." Her mother tilted her head to the side in confusion. Catherine understood the first part. The newest incarnation of Mouseís pet, another raccoon named Arthur had caught a bad case of fleas, and the children had been remarkably interested in these tiny creatures that swarmed all over the poor animal. Maggie had even cried when they administered treatment and killed them all.

Maggie frowned and crossed her arms, pouting her tiny pink lips before huffing to herself. She thought to herself, thoughts in her mind trying to express themselves without the words to do so. Her blue eyes began to water helplessly as the adults spoke softly between themselves, and all she knew it wasnít good.

"Maggie baby, can you show me where it itches," her mother said gently. Maggie pulled up her sleeves to show her thin arms, blemish free except for an occasional freckle. No sign of bug bites, or anything that would cause itching, and no rash either.

"Where does it hurt?" she tried again and watched as Maggie thought a moment, and then lifted a hand to touch her forehead, then her throat, and finally placed her hand over her heart. Catherineís eyes widened in fear for a moment and she watched as her daughterís eyes also opened and she flinched away from her motherís touch.

"Now here hurts!" she exclaimed and touched a hand to her windpipe. "I hurt here."

"Catherine," rippled a soft velvety voice from the tunnel above them as Vincent appeared, dressed in comfortable clothing for the digging that was occurring in the lower levels. Catherine felt relief flow through her and watched as Maggie jumped off the table and scrambled up the ladder to be swept into her fatherís massive arms.

"I heard," he said and cradled his daughter close. "My poor beauty," he whispered to her gently.

"Vincent, I donít know whatÖ." Father began but paused as he saw the look in his sonís face.

It was calm, though his eyes reflected a faint hint of pain. Vincent nodded. "I believe I know whatís wrong with Margaret," he began. "I wish to speak with her alone, if you will allow me Catherine."

Catherine nodded, "Of course! But Vincent, how do you know?"

He gave her one of his faint smiles, painted with just a hint of irony, "Because, it was an affliction I suffered as a child myself." Fatherís lips parted for a moment before he wisely nodded and Vincent left down the passageway from which heíd emerged.

Maggie never looked up from his shoulder the whole trek down the long tunnels, never speaking, never making a sound except for her soft breathing the whole way down to the Whispering Chamber. There he stopped and pulled her from his shoulder to sit on his lap as he crouched near the bridge. She rested her head against his collarbone.

"Margaret," he addressed her softly, for he never used any of her nicknames, "do you hear the voices of the world above?"

Margaret nodded her head, looking up into the voluminous cavern that echoed the strange random bits of conversation from the city.

"I used to come here as a child, because I could listen to what the world above was speaking, and because it was here that I could truly be alone," he began, and looked down into her innocent face. "You and I are creatures unique in this world it seems."

Maggie tilted her head. "You-neek?" she asked and her father chuckled.

"Unique, it means special. It means that there are very few people in the whole world who can do what we can." He explained simply and she nodded. Her father always spoke to her as if she was much older and she always tried to understand him, even when she didnít really.

"Thereís more than one way to speak, Margaret. Most people speak with their mouths, and they use sounds. Some people like Laura speak with their hands," he continued and smiled when she held up her tiny hand. Her petite digits folded in, leaving her pinky, index and thumb extended outward. Laura had taught her how to sign I-Love-You. "Yes, like that. And all people speak with their hearts and their spirits, and it takes very special people to hear that. But it is a talent that comes at a great price. "

He shifted so that she was leaning back against him, and rested her hands on his, holding them up for her inspection.

"When I was a child, I had no one to tell me why I felt so strange. Why when someone was angry, I felt sparks on my cheeks, or when someone was sad I felt like a weight was strapped to my chest. I read books upon books till I realized that I had a special gift, just like you do. We can feel what others feel, as if they were our own feelings."

"Like you and Mamma?" she exclaimed, understanding lighting in her eyes. Her parents had explained to them that they were tied together in a way that most people werenít, and that they could always feel what the other was feeling. Vincent shared this bond with all his children as well, and that had been a key factor in raising three such miraculous children.

Vincent smiled at her cleverness, "Like your mother and I. But I can also hear the hearts of other people as well, and so can you." Maggie blinked and looked at him in wonderment as he continued.

"What is the funny feeling you get when you were with your mother tonight?" he asked and she closed her eyes, trying to remember.

"Tired, like running in the tunnels, and then scared like when I got lost," she said softly, "but wasnít scared, wasnít tired."

"And when you visit with Laura above?" he asked and her face lit up.

"Sunshine!" she exclaimed, her face lighting up, "sunshine everywhere!"

Vincent nodded, "You are reading their hearts, and you can only listen with your heart, which is why you feel it inside you. But itís not your pain, or your sadness, or your joy, but just a reflection, just an echo from someone else." He motioned to the space of the cavern. "Just like the voices here, we can hear them, but theyíre not our voices."

Maggie blinked curiously. "But how come I canít hear your heart Daddy?" she asked sadly, tilting her head to the side.

Vincent smiled, "You can, but I make sure my heart whispers so that your head doesnít hurt too much. Would you like to hear?" Maggie nodded and she pressed her ear to his vest as he wrapped his arms around her.

Maggie closed her eyes, feeling the great beating of his heart and slowly began to feel warmth spread over her skin, like stepping into a beam of sunlight on a cold day. Only this wasnít bright warmth, but soft warmth and it wrapped itself around her keeping her enveloped. She smiled brightly and curled her fingers into his long hair, sighing deeply.

"I like your heart Daddy," she said and he nodded. "And I like yours. It isnít always happy and sunlight, but as you grow older, youíll learn to listen to the hearts you want to, and block out the hearts that make you hurt. But youíve got a long time to grow and I will be there to teach you what I can."

Maggie nodded, "And youíre the best teacher in the world!"

Vincent chuckled and lifted her easily with one arm. "Now, before your mother and grandfather worry themselves too much, we should head back."

Maggie nodded and grew pensive. Vincent looked into her face and paused in his step, "Are you all right?"

Maggie nodded her head again, her eyes deep and intense as she raised herself up and leaned close to his face. Her small hands clasped his down-covered cheeks and she brought her nose up to his. In a voice so faint she whispered, "Thank you Daddy."

"For what," he whispered, equally soft. Margaret had moments like this, when she was incredibly intense in her emotions, and what she couldnít convey in words, she did with actions. Vincent could feel the deep swelling in his daughterís heart, the pure innocent emotion that only a young child had. The emotion of discovery and awe. It welled from deep inside her, like a spring of light that rippled through her touch and her voice.

"For sharing with me," she replied and gave his nose a feather light kiss.