The distinctive smells of last night's bread baking stirred as he sat up and mentally reviewed his work schedule for the day. There was the literature class in an hour, then Father had asked for his help in evaluating the possible reroute of a drainage pipe that had started leaking in the spring rains. If he hurried, he still had time to eat.
The day which had started out so calmly didn't end that way. Mid-way through the literature class, the pipes rang out with the message that the drainage pipe that Father had wanted rerouted had ruptured. Mary took over the class and Vincent went to go join the other men on the repair detail. By the time it was done, he was covered from head to toe in a fine, silty mud that would harden to concrete in the space of hours if he didn't wash it off. The mud had an acrid fish smell to it, which told Vincent much more than he wanted to know about where it had originally come from. I smell like three day old fish, he thought disgustedly, but knew no one else could smell it and was somewhat reassured, though no less disgusted.
By the time Vincent, Winslow, Cullen, and Kanin had finished replacing the pipe, and installing the newer ones courtesy of a hurried message to a helper who had access to some construction surplus, it was late in the evening and they were all exhausted. Covered in mud, Vincent staggered off to the bathing chamber, where it took several washings with Mary's strongest soap before the faint fish smell had left him. Finally retiring to his chamber, he thought about sleeping but decided to read a chapter from Great Expectations instead.
Vincent lit the one solitary candle by his bed and the lighter smell of the herbs Rebecca used in her candle workshop rose to greet him. By such smells did he know the people of this world; even before he saw them or heard them, he knew them by scent alone. He knew it was not the same for the other people Below. Just the other night, Olivia had announced that she was pregnant, but Vincent had known it for some weeks, known it, in fact, as soon as her smell had changed.
It bothered Vincent that he should know such things; it was something else that marked him as apart and separate and a host of other terms that meant that his senses were, at best, freakish. He did his best to ignore the knowledge he wasn't supposed to have, especially of private things, but there was never any real escaping it. He counted himself fortunate that he hadn't yet given himself away; Vincent doubted even Father knew how acute his sense of smell was, or else Father wouldn't have eaten that onion-laden sandwich that Lou had sent down for him a week ago. The residue of the onions and the greasier smells from the meat still coated the air in Father's chamber and made Vincent wish devoutly for a window that he could open.
Realizing that he'd read the same line in Great Expectations four or five times without really understanding it, he decided to take a walk. Vincent blew out the candle, gathered his cloak and left, meeting the eyes of the sentries as he did so. Vincent's nighttime ramblings were no great secret to anyone in the tunnels.
It might have looked, to an outside observer, that Vincent was meandering without any great thought for where he walked, but the opposite was true. He knew this particular section of the park well enough to know the patterns of its traffic, where the prostitutes and the drug dealers were more likely to be, and he avoided those areas assiduously. There were areas of the park which were entirely hidden in darkness each night, and it was those areas he sought. The wind turned suddenly and the smell hit his nostrils. Blood. The fur along his back and neck bristled. Someone was injured, and the other odors mixed in with the blood---the metallic tincture of knife-wounds, the thicker, cloying smells odor of infection and fever---told him that the person was seriously injured.
Vincent's eyes scanned the park, looking for the source of the odor. At least he found it; a bundle in a dark coat, arms and legs askew like she'd been thrown there. He pulled the hood of his cloak up and ran towards the woman. The smell of blood got stronger as he came towards her and gently turned her over. Feeling for a pulse, he found it; weak and thready, but definitely there. Her dress was dewy, like the grass around her, so she been there nearly too long already. As cold as she was, he wondered if it was already too late.
The first thing Catherine smelled when she awoke was the the dry odor of the bandages covering her face. My face? What happened to my face?
“Your face will be fine, as will you,” a voice said, a male voice that sounded like velvet dragged over concrete. A voice Catherine knew she could trust, though she couldn't have said how or why.
“Who are you?” she asked, breathing in the smells of broth and candle wax and hearing a low, rhythmic tapping on metal. Pipes? This surely was no hospital.
“Vincent,” the man said softly, reluctantly. Why reluctantly? Catherine wondered. “Where am I?” she asked.
“You're safe,” Vincent said, and Catherine knew he was evading the question. I'm someplace safe, but someplace hidden.
With her eyes bandaged and her other senses weighted down by the exhaustion of her healing, Catherine didn't have the strength to ask too much more. She felt herself covered by a blanket scented lightly with lavender and closing her eyes again, Catherine slept.
She slept off and on for the next several days, but less and less each day, until finally she was awake more often than she was asleep. In the interim, someone ways always there---the woman called Mary, with her soft voice and smell of baby powder, who helped her to and from the facilities and helped the man called “Father” with her bandages. And always, always there was Vincent. The morning that she would forever remember as “the day I threw a headlight at Vincent” was the also the day she'd awakened and begun to recognize his scent of candle smoke and leather and something indefinably him that she felt she would know if she never regained her sight, that she would never forget if she lived to be 100.
“I've never been ashamed of what I am, until now,” Vincent said softly and Catherine could have wept for the sorrow in his voice, sorrow that she had put there in her fear and anguish over the sight of her scars.
“How did this happen to you?” she asked.
“I don't know. I have ideas, but I'll never know. I was born and I survived.”
Catherine carried his words with her when she left the tunnels. I was born and I survived. I'll survive. They reassured her on many nights when everything seemed so horribly askew: her father's careful silences that tried to pretend nothing at all had changed, the conversations with Tom that never went anywhere or resolved anything, her own image of who and what she was.
And there were times too when she wondered about Vincent and the world which had healed her. In her dreams she would smell leather and candle smoke and know it for his smell, and she fancied that she might still smell it when she awoke, but it was always gone. Catherine knew perfectly well what any doctor would say if she told them the truth about where she'd been: they'd say she was delirious or traumatized, and had simply imagined the whole thing. But the very idea of Vincent as a fever-dream was too ludicrous, even in a world where her very idea of what was normal and expected had changed forever.
The rattling on her balcony startled her out of her reverie and she reached for the gun in her drawer. Training with Isaac and her own newer awareness of just how easily she'd become a victim had made her senses hyper-acute and a whole host of fears played through her mind. But what she saw, first, was the volume of Great Expectations on the ground, the lovely old scarf...
And Vincent, pressed against the wall as if he were as terrified as she, as if he might bolt at any sudden move. “Wait,” she said. “I've missed you so.”
And then she was in his arms, smelling of home and love and safety and belief and nothing would ever be the same again.
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