The Journey Continues 

Moose

 WinterfestÖ

Always, it was a time of reflection, of joy and gratitude, but this year Vincent hoped it would mark the beginning of a new life.

Since his breakdown and illness he and Catherine had grown much closer. Even the seemingly unbreakable barrier of physical intimacy had been broached. Time and again she had been the only one that could bring him out of darkness. Whether that darkness had resulted from his protective rages, the drugs of Paracelsus or the horrible vortex of madness, Catherineís presence had dispelled the shadows and guided him back. Vincent finally, truly, believed that there was nothing in him that did not love her or could harm her. He had at last accepted that there could be no other for either of them.

The celebration would soon begin. The hall was ready. William watched over the food, fussing like a hen guarding her chicks, glaring at those who might dare to steal an early taste. The helpers had begun arriving on the arms of their guides and were gathering before the Great Hall. Satisfied that his personal preparations were in place and with a feeling of joy, he hurried to meet Catherine at her threshold.

At the foot of the ladder she stood in the shaft of pale light, waiting. It always seemed to him to be magical somehow, that light, delivering as it did his angel from Above. He had said as much once, standing before the gate at the central park entrance. "You look like an angel standing there." Catherine had not responded directly to those words but he knew that she had been pleased and perhaps a little flustered, hearing them.

Looking at her now, Vincentís breath caught in his throat. Her dress was lush green velvet with long sleeves, a scooped neckline, and a full skirt of dark green silk that shimmered in the soft light. It was liberally splashed with small green beads that flashed and sparkled as she moved. As beautiful as those beads were, they could not outshine the simple quartz crystal at her throat. Catherine always dressed for these events in his world as if for the most exclusive elite of the world Above. That she would take such care with her appearance for himself and his family both pleased and humbled him.

"Catherine, you are a vision that I can scarcely believe to be real." He held out his arms in invitation and she glided into his embrace. Vincent lowered his golden head to hers and met her lips with a soft and tender kiss of greeting.

"Love, youíre a vision yourself. Let me look at you."

She held him at armís length to take in his tall tan boots, dark green pants and her favorite ruffled shirt. His vest was constructed in the patchwork style of the tunnels in rich greens and burnished golds. Some of the green fabric in the vest seemed to be made of the same material as Catherineís dress. The clothing had mysteriously appeared just in time for the festivities. No one had been forthcoming regarding its origins.

Vincent cocked his head at her in amusement "I found my new Winterfest clothing in my chamber several days ago. You wouldnít know anything about that would you? It would seem the vest compliments your dress very well."

Catherine blushed prettily and agreed that the coincidence was remarkable without admitting any complicity in either its construction or its fortuitous arrival.

Vincent offered her his arm. "I see that youíre carrying something. If we leave now we can make a brief stop in my chamber so that you can drop it off before weíre expected at the Great Hall."

Once within his chamber, Catherine offered him the package and told him it was his Winterfest gift.

"Catherine, I need no gifts from you. Your presence in my life is all that I truly need or could ever wish for. You know that donít you?"

She answered his smile with one of her own. "I know you donít expect anything but you deserve everything. Please open it. This is also a gift from someone else and sheíll want to know if you liked it."

As Catherine handed it to him, their hands brushed in a swift caress that left his skin tingling. A brief glimpse of intense green eyes told him that it was the same for her. Would even such innocent contact as this ever lose its magic? Vincent thought not and once more thanked the fates for bringing the two of them together.

He quickly unwrapped the package, carefully preserving the paper for reuse. The look of stunned joy on his face as he beheld her gift was all that she could have hoped for. It was a hand-rendered calligraphy copy of Shakespeareís Sonnet #116 in a simple but beautiful frame. Below the poem was a portrait of the two of them done in various shades of grey, ranging from the light grey down of a doveís breast to the dark grey of slate touched by rain.  Elizabeth had been pleased by the request and had made Catherine promise to tell her how the gift was received. Vincent slowly traced her cheek in the portrait with a gentle touch before placing it in a place of prominence on the shelf carved beneath the stained glass window.

He returned to her, forcing the words through a tight throat. "Thank you for this gift Catherine. Itís beautiful and I will always treasure it. I have a gift for you as well that I hope you will accept later this evening. Can you bear to wait?"

"If thatís what you want Vincent, of course I can," she answered softly. 

Her tone brightened. "We should go to the Great Hall now donít you think? It wouldnít do to keep everyone waiting. After all, no one can get in until you open the doors."  

Vincent tilted his head in wry acknowledgement of her words. "I bow to your wisdom as always Catherine. Shall we go?" He once again offered his arm and she gracefully accepted it.

Soon they were headed down the long stair and neared the entrance to the Great Hall.  A group had already gathered there, huddled together, torches guttering in protest at the wind whipping through the tunnel. After settling their torch in a nearby holder, Vincent removed the large board that held the doors shut, heaving it from its place and propping it safely out of the way against the tunnel wall. He returned to the massive doors and bent to push them open, his powerful leg and arm muscles flexing with an effort that was visible even in the flickering torchlight. Watching him, Catherine could not help being awed by that show of strength but thought about how very fragile he was as well. She was the only one that knew, truly knew, what that great physical strength often cost him when called upon in defense of his family and community. In the all-encompassing shelter of her arms, Vincent loosened that tight control, allowing himself to draw upon her strength to renew his own. Oh how she loved him for that manifestation of his trust, knowing how great and rare a gift it was.

This year Winterfest was unmarred by any violence or unpleasantness; a true coming together of family and friends. It was late by the time the closing ceremony was concluded and Catherine and Vincent were ready to go back to his chamber.

"Catherine, I must speak with Rolley. Can you wait for me for a moment? This shouldnít take long."

He was speaking very quietly to Rolley when Daniel, Mouse and Geoffrey joined the discussion. Vincent kept glancing toward Catherine. She had started to walk over to them when he clapped his hand to Rolleyís shoulder in a gesture of farewell and went to meet her.

"Itís late Catherine. I can have a guest chamber prepared if you would like to stay with us instead of returning to your apartment."

"I would love that. Thank you for being so thoughtful."

When they reached his chamber, Vincent excused himself to see to the arrangements for the guest chamber. Taking advantage of his absence, Catherine went to ask William for two china cups and one of his special relaxing tea blends. Upon his return Vincent was pleasantly surprised by the welcome sight of the teapot gently steaming on his writing table. Truly, he thought, he was the most fortunate of men to have such a treasure as this woman waiting for him. Stepping through the entrance, he allowed himself a sigh of contentment. They sat on his bed curled in a loose embrace, sipping the fragrant brew and talking quietly about the Winterfest celebration that they had just attended. It was late; the pipes were muted. The world beyond the walls of that cozy chamber seemed to have disappeared.

They had been visiting for perhaps half an hour when an excited Geoffrey appeared at the chamber entrance. "Vincent, Rolley says he needs to see you right away."

Vincent showed no surprise at Geoffreyís abrupt appearance and actually seemed to be expecting it. He got up to thank the child before sending him on his way and then put his hand out to assist Catherine to her feet.

"If Rolley needs to see you, I can go to the guest chamber. Iím sure it should be ready by now."

"Will you please come with me Catherine? This concerns both of us."

"Of course I will. Whatís this all about?"

He merely gave her one of his small smiles and tugged her forward "Soon all of your questions will be answered." And mine as well, he added silently to himself.

She gave him a puzzled look but he would say no more. Hands loosely clasped, they walked through the tunnels in a companionable silence. The torch Vincent held to guide them through the now-quiet tunnels cast wavering shadows, exposing occasional glittering sparks of mica and quartz. Each of them drew warmth and comfort from the other, making words unnecessary.

Their walk ended at the entrance to the Great Hall. Vincent placed the torch in a nearby wall sconce where the flame guttered and swayed as the wind swept past them.

"What are we doing back here? Everyone left a long time ago."

"Not everyone."

Vincent walked the last few feet to the doors, opening them just enough to allow their passage through.

He extended his hand "May I lead you through the dark once more, my Catherine?"

Catherine answered "I would go anywhere with you Vincent."

Eyes glittering, he led her into a transformed hall. As he closed the doors Catherine twirled slowly around. Candlelight and roses were everywhere. Rolley was at the piano with Daniel directly in front of it. They seemed to be waiting for something. At Vincentís nod, Rolley began to play, and Daniel started to sing in a rich, clear voice.

Vincent slipped an arm around her waist and guided her to the center of the room, beginning a slow dance to the beautiful music.

I am amazed
When I look at you
I see you smiling back at me
Itís like all my dreams come true

I am afraid
If I lost you girl
Iíd fall through the cracks
And lose my track in this crazy lonely world

Leaning into his embrace, Catherine closed her eyes. She breathed deeply, taking in the varied scents of wood and candle smoke, leather and wool, and the wonderful musky spiciness that was his alone. Losing herself in his arms, she fantasized about how wonderful it would be to have this always instead of the all too brief hours and minutes that were currently allowed them by their separate worlds.

Sometimes itís so hard to believe
When the nights can be so long
And faith gave me the strength
And kept me holding on

 You are the love of my life
And Iím so glad you found me
You are the love of my life
Baby put your arms around me
I guess this is how it feels
When you finally find something real
My angel in the night
You are my love
The love of my life

 Now here you are
With midnight closing in
You take my hand as our shadows dance
With moonlight on your skin

 As they danced Vincent held her close. He felt Catherineís longing and understood it. How many empty years had passed in which he had been utterly convinced that such things were not meant for him? Then one April night, all of that had changed. Faith and fate had indeed brought him his angel in the night and banished his loneliness. Catherine had finally convinced him that he too was worthy of a womenís love. Vincent could no longer conceive of living a life that did not include her as a constant part of it rather than just stolen moments out of time.

 I look in your eyes
Iím lost inside your kiss
I think if Iíd never met you
About all the things Iíd miss

Sometimes itís so hard to believe
When a love can be so strong
And faith gave me the strength
And kept me holding on

You are the love of my life
And Iím so glad you found me
You are the love of my life
Baby put your arms around me
I guess this it how it feels
When you finally find something real
My angel in the night
You are my love
The love of my life

They did not speak, allowing the music and the words to wash around and through them.  The comforting aroma of roses and candle wax, the slight stirring of the air on their skin, and the more subtle scent of dampness and stone cocooned them in a world of their own.

Vincent slowed and drew her to a stop, stepping back slightly as the music ended. Taking his arm from around her waist and grasping her hand in one of his, he retrieved a small box from his pocket. Rolley and Daniel quietly exited the hall through a side door in order to give them the privacy they needed.

Looking intently into her wide, green eyes, Vincent paused, gathering himself. He had given much thought to what he would say to her. Usually a man of few, carefully chosen words, now he needed to share all that was within him and could only hope that she would understand.

Taking a shuddering breath, Vincent spoke the words straight from his heart to hers. "Catherine you are more than life to me and I can no longer bear to be without you. I want your face to be the first thing I see when I wake and the last thing I see before I sleep. I want to share the rest of my life with you and provide you all that is within my ability to give. I can ask no more of that life than to grow old with you and die in your arms. The gift I spoke of earlier was the gift of myself and all that I am or ever hope to become. Will you accept it? Will you be my wife?"

Vincent pulled his hand from hers and opened the small box he held. "These rings belonged to Father and Margaret. Father gave them to me shortly after Margaret passed away. It was their wish that I give them to you when I felt the time was right. It represents a love that endured despite great hardship as ours has endured. Will you do me the honor of wearing them as a symbol of our love?"

Only inches separated them, but to Vincent it seemed as if he stood alone on the edge of a vast chasm as he quietly awaited her decision. While he was outwardly calm, his thoughts were not. Had he said too much? Expected too much? Would she realize finally all that she would be giving up by truly sharing a life with him and leave? If she did that now he knew he would not survive such a loss.

Catherineís hands hid her face, her emotions in such turmoil that he couldnít read them. Long moments passed while neither moved. 

Catherine finally uncovered streaming eyes. She had dreamt of this since she was a little girl. In her mind she had rehearsed everything that would happen at this moment. Now that it was actually here, she found that all words had fled. How could she express all that she was feeling? Somehow mere words were too small and ultimately not needed. All she could do was look up into that beloved, anxious face and extend a shaking hand towards him. Through his love and the bond they shared, he knew what was in her heart and that would be enough - more than enough.

His hands were steady as he placed the rings on her finger, tenderly kissing her there. Vincent curled his fingers under hers and gently pressed her hand to his bowed forehead with a sigh that seemed to relieve a tension that had been there all of his life. His spirit had finally found itís longed for home; never again would he feel that terrible aloneness that had so isolated him. They had endured much and had triumphed.

With a slight tug Catherine pulled Vincent to her, arms reaching up to gently stroke his back. With her head nestled into his shoulder and his arms wrapped tenderly around her waist, they stood quietly content for some time before turning as one to continue their journey towards love and a new life together.

 

Lyrics: Love of my life
Jim Brickman

The last few minutes of this story can be seen at the end of the episode "Dead of Winter"