Once Upon a Galaxy
A/N: This story was partially inspired by a discussion on BBTV; those who were around at the time will likely remember it. ;-) This story first appeared in the 2013 Conzine- I Bid My Heart to Follow.
Peter Alcott removed his stethoscope. “It's bronchitis, I'm afraid.” He looked severely at Catherine. “That, my dear, is what you get when you let a simple cold get this bad.”
Catherine coughed painfully. “I thought it was just a cold, Peter.”
“You do not take care of yourself sometimes, especially during a trial,” Vincent reproved gently, taking her hand.
She smiled, acknowledging the point; it was an affectionate, well-worn discussion. “Sorry, love,” she managed, looking at her husband. “Looks like you'll be stuck with me for a few days.”
Vincent's hand brushed her forehead, feeling the fever burning under her skin. “It's no trouble.”
“Are you sure?” Catherine asked. “You must have work to do; you don't have to stay here with me. I'll be fine.”
Before Vincent could answer, Peter spoke. “Nonsense, Cathy. Someone needs to stay with you, if only to make sure you stay in bed and rest. I'll bring by a prescription of antibiotics later on this afternoon and I'll call your boss and let him know you'll be off for the next few days.”
“Will you let Father know as well?” Vincent asked. “I'm sure he's guessed but....”
“But he worries anyway,” Peter finished, smiling. “Sure. I'll tell him.” He stood and shrugged back into his coat. “Get some rest and drink plenty of fluids, Cathy. Let Vincent take care of you.”
She rested her head against Vincent's arm. “I don't seem to have much choice.”
Vincent walked Peter to the door. As the older man was about to leave, Peter turned to him. “I don't know if you're aware of this, but antibiotics....”
Vincent tilted his head. “Yes?”
“They can interfere with some kinds of birth control. Make sure you use a back-up method if you...”
Vincent forbore to mention it wasn't likely they'd be indulging in those sorts of activities for several days at least. “I...see. Thank you; I didn't know.”
Peter grinned wryly. “I couldn't see Jacob mentioning it; listening to him sometimes you'd think chickens barely laid eggs.”
He chuckled. “True. Thank you for coming, Peter.”
“Anytime, Vincent. And if you need anything at all, just call.”
Vincent turned the burner off on the stove and stirred the chicken noodle soup one final time. It was William's, virtually guaranteed---as tunnel lore had it---to bring the dead back to life; Kipper had brought it along with some groceries for the pantry, which was mostly bare since Catherine had almost ceased to live here. He poured the soup into a bowl and walked into the bedroom.
As he'd suspected, Catherine was dozing. Vincent didn't want to wake her but she needed to eat something. “Catherine,” he said softly.
“Mmmm,” she replied, groggy. “You're here.”
“Where else would I be?”
She smiled. “That's William's soup.”
“It is,” Vincent confirmed.
“It's good soup,” Catherine said, tasting it. “Look, here we are again. I'm sick and you're taking care of me.” She sat up in bed. “I only wish...”
“I wish I was in our bed.”
He handed her an antibiotic, along with some juice, and brushed her forehead. “Which bed would that be? The one below, in our chamber---which Father and Peter both agree is too cool and damp for someone with bronchitis? Or the one in our house, where the central heating is being repaired? You wouldn't get any rest with all the noise.”
Her hair was mussed and her complexion wan, but Vincent still thought he'd never seen anyone more beautiful. “You know what I mean,” she said. “It's all so...disruptive.”
Vincent gave a low chuff of amusement. “This from the woman who stopped everything when I was so ill and who stayed Below until you were certain I would recover. Catherine, it's no trouble...and if you were Below, I'd be removed from the work crews because everyone would understand my place was with you.” He kissed her forehead. “Finish your soup, and if you like, I'll read to you.”
By the end of his third day in the apartment, Vincent knew Catherine was getting stir-crazy. She was a compliant patient---far more compliant than he himself had been during his illness, he acknowledged ruefully---but that didn't mean she wasn't getting bored with the inactivity. It showed in the tiny constellations of her gestures: the books she opened, read briefly, and put aside, her unfocused gaze towards the balcony windows, where a heavy rain fell. “Vincent,” she asked one afternoon as he put their lunch dishes in the dishwasher, “why don't we watch a movie?”
He dried his hands off with a towel. “I think that's a wonderful idea. Which movie did you have in mind?”
He listened to her breathing as she walked towards the small shelf where her videos were kept. She's getting better, Vincent thought, reassured. “What about Star Wars?” Catherine asked. “Have you seen it?”
“No,” he replied. “I remember it making quite a stir Below, though.”
“Some of the tunnel children wanted to see it, but of course, we didn't have the means to send them. One of our helpers was able to pull a few strings with the owner of a local theater, so Winslow---”
Vincent nodded. “Yes. I know it's hard to believe, but he loved science fiction movies even though he wasn't fond of herding cats---as he put it---to see one. Winslow took the children Above to see it, but was late---very late---getting back.”
“They returned a couple of hours later. They'd decided to watch the movie again. Father...was not amused.”
“Oh, I can imagine,” Catherine said. “Was that the last film you all saw?”
“No,” Vincent replied. “Occasionally we've been able to see older films using a projector, but not this one.” He picked up the case of the videotape. “Was it a great favorite of yours?”
“Oh, yes. Nancy and I must have seen it four or five times when it came out.” She took the tape from him and popped it in the VCR and uncoiled the remote on its cord.
Vincent sat down on the couch and felt his wife nestle against him. The couches were still little and “dinky,” as Catherine had told him Joe had once described them, but there were certain...benefits...to being forced to sit so close together. And although his legs hung off the end of the couch, Catherine's head rested on his heart, where she always was.
As he'd more than halfway expected, Catherine didn't make it through the opening credits, but Vincent cradled his wife and became absorbed in the Death Star and Darth Vader, a boy named Luke and the Force....
Two days later, they'd made it through both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Catherine wasn't surprised to find Vincent enthralled by the series. “Will there be any others?” he asked as he cleaned up the last of their dinner dishes.
“There's been some discussion about it,” Catherine replied, handing him a clean towel. “I hope not. I doubt they'll be as good.” She smiled up at him. “So you liked them?”
“I did,” he replied. “Very much. They remind me of the legends Father has in his library---the hero on a quest, the rogue with the heart of gold...”
“Sounds a bit more like the sons Father raised,” Catherine countered dryly. “Devin could surely play Han Solo, no doubt there.”
“And who would you suggest I play?”
She kissed him. “Why, the hero, of course.”
“Luke whines too much,” Vincent observed. “I do not whine.”
“No,” Catherine agreed. “But you do tend to…brood when things don’t go right.”
Vincent affected a pose of injured innocence. “What things?”
“Oh, like when the central heat went out at our home.”
“It had just been installed before we moved in,” Vincent said. “There was no reason for it to have stopped working.”
“No, you’re right,” Catherine replied. “But it did make you all grumpy.” She smiled. “And it was kind of cute too.”
Heedless of her soapy hands, she pulled his head down for a kiss. “You are.”
Peter replaced the stethoscope back in his battered doctor’s bag. “Your lungs sound clear. No fever or aches?”
Catherine shook her head. “Nope.”
“The rest did you some good, then,” Peter told her. “You can go back to work tomorrow if you like.”
“That’s good. Vincent’s been so worried,” Catherine said, buttoning up the last button on her blouse.
“Yes, where is he?” Peter asked. “I thought I'd be tripping over him.”
Catherine’s expression grew serious. “Santos sent word late last night of a planned inspection by City Water which was going to come a little too close to one of the tunnel entrances. Vincent and the others have been working around the clock to set up false walls. I don’t expect him back much before the end of the week.”
Peter nodded. “Get a message to me if they need any medical supplies---they’ve got more than enough for ordinary use but a crisis can certainly strain things.”
“I will,” Catherine agreed.
“Have you had any difficulties with the backups?” Peter asked.
“Um, what? What backups?”
“Oh, I thought Vincent would have told you…about using backup contraception.”
“Well, we haven’t recently…that is….” She shook her head. “Peter, I’ve been sick as a dog for the last week. Do you really think either of us would...?”
“Stranger things have happened,” Peter said with a smile. “And I’ve delivered many of them.”
When Vincent and his crew finally surfaced almost a week later, they were tired, dirty, and hungry…but the inspection had been completed and the false walls had served their purpose. Catherine and the others had met the crew as they emerged; Vincent had been so swathed in mud and muck that the only bright spots were the blue of his eyes. “Come on,” she urged gently as she took his hand. “The brownstone’s closer and you know we’ll hear if there’s any news.”
Vincent managed a tired nod. Their brownstone had two radiators; one downstairs and one in their bedroom. Matthew, Mouse and Angus had contrived to make sure they were hooked into the pipe network and though their noise was muted, the radiators allowed Vincent and Catherine to keep an ear on the goings on Below. “All right,” Vincent agreed through a yawn. He gazed down at their joined hands. “I’m getting you all muddy.”
“And you know I don’t care,” she murmured. She led him unresisting to the small side tunnel which led to their basement and into their home Above. “Go ahead and get into the shower, love. I’ll get you some clean clothes.”
Catherine went upstairs and pulled out the clothing he favored when it was just the two of them in the house---a worn pair of sweatpants, a loose shirt. She dug around in their upstairs bathroom for his wide-toothed comb and the leave-in conditioner, then came downstairs intending to put the finishing touches onto dinner---a rich, heavy stew William had taught her to make---which had been simmering in the crock pot all day. It wasn't until she unloaded the dishwasher that she realized the shower was still running---longer than Vincent normally took in the shower, even allowing for the filth which had covered him. She walked into the bathroom and was somehow not surprised to find he’d fallen asleep standing up. “Come on, love,” she said to him softly as she turned off the water.
He opened one sleepy eye, then the other. “Catherine…what…”
Catherine tugged down two of their thickest towels which sat under one of the heating vents. “You’re all done in,” she murmured, draping one of the towels over his broad shoulders. “You fell asleep in the shower, love.”
He raked back the soaked thickness of his hair with one hand. “First time I’ve ever done that,” he mumbled.
Catherine peered at him closely. She brushed a hand against his forehead and sighed. “Vincent, you have a fever. You’re exhausted. No wonder you fell asleep standing up.”
“I don't get sick,” he insisted.
The pink tinge under his eyes---signs of a fever---told otherwise, and Catherine shook her head. “Everyone down there is sick with something this time of year, Vincent. Why don't you dry off and I'll bring you some dinner?”
“You look tired,” Marisol observed over lunch a few days later. She had stopped by the brownstone on her way back from taking her baby son to see Peter and Catherine, glad for the company, had invited them to stay for lunch. “Is everything all right?”
“I am tired,” Catherine acknowledged. “It's been a long couple of weeks. The heater went out in the brownstone, I had bronchitis, Vincent and the others had to deal with the surprise inspection and then he got sick and now...” She sighed. “We've both been so busy.”
Benjamin stirred in his sleep; Marisol rubbed his back. His tiny hands clutched in her hair. “When was the last time you and Vincent did anything fun? Something just the two of you enjoy?”
She thought back to the movies they'd watched. Vincent and Star Wars. Whoever would have guessed? “He came to the apartment while I was sick and we watched the Star Wars films.”
“Not my idea of a vacation,” Marisol observed dryly, “but if it works for you two, then...” She smiled. “Catherine, I know how hard you both work, but don't forget to take time to play too, all right?”
“What do you and Miguel do?” Catherine asked.
Marisol coughed and a faint blush rose to her cheeks. “Well, um...did I ever tell you how I got into the tapestry weaving business Below?”
“No,” Catherine asked. “How---?”
“Right after Miguel and I were married, he had to pull a lot of overtime. I didn't see him for nearly two weeks because he was covering other shifts. When he finally came Below, it seemed everyone in the tunnels stopped by to congratulate us. And...you know how it is down there. People, they mean well but...we never had a moment to ourselves. So I came up with a way to make sure we had time together, and that was my first tapestry Below.” Marisol's dark eyes twinkled. “You have doors here. Use them.”
Vincent looked up from the folded note, perplexed. It was from his wife; even if her handwriting hadn't been a clue as to the writer's identity, her scent clung to the heavy bond paper. Meet me at the basement, the note said. There was a light impression of mischief too---clearly, Catherine had been pleased with herself when she wrote the note. He refolded the note and placed it in his cloak pocket, and a fond smile crossed his face. Whatever she was up to, he'd know soon enough.
Out in the corridor, Vincent found Valerie and Cullen, walking with their newborn daughter, Leah. “Hey, Vincent," Cullen said, "We're on our way out to the park to watch the sunset.”
“And maybe get Leah to sleep,” Valerie put in with a yawn.
Cradled in Valerie's arms and swaddled in her blankets, Leah resembled nothing so much as a rosebud with a few tufts of dark hair peeking out. “It should be a lovely night,” Vincent agreed. “It's supposed to rain later, though.”
“We won't be out that long,” Valerie murmured, shifting Leah to her shoulder. “Where are you off to?”
“Our basement,” Vincent explained. “Catherine...sent me a letter.”
“Ohhh,” Valerie said with a delighted grin. “It's a summons.”
“A request,” Vincent protested mildly.
“Trust me,” Cullen said dryly as he wrapped his arm around his wife and child. “It's a summons.”
At the foot of the basement steps, Vincent found another note, propped up against an unlit candle. Don't turn the lights on, the message read. Come to our bedroom. I'm waiting for you.
He swallowed hard, images of what waiting might entail momentarily derailing his thoughts. He picked up the candle and opened the door leading into their brownstone. It was completely dark inside, though bits of light from the streetlamps peeked through the curtains Catherine had drawn over the windows. His ears caught the faint sounds of music, music whose familiarity teased at the edges of his consciousness. Putting aside that mystery for now, he walked up the stairwell towards their bedroom.
“You're here,” Catherine murmured from the grey shaded darkness. She was in the middle of their bed, her bare shoulders like carved ivory against the colors of the quilt.
“I am,” he replied. “Catherine...what....?”
“Do you recognize the music?” she asked.
“I've heard it before,” he acknowledged. “But...”
She smiled. “You'll recognize it soon enough, I'm sure.” She gazed at him and Vincent thought only eyes like his would have seen the want, the need in her eyes as she pulled back the corners of the quilt. “Why don't you join me?”
If her note had been a summons, it was a summons Vincent was only too happy to obey. Their lives had been so busy lately, between illness and the ordinary business of life... “I've missed you. It's been...too long.”
“I know, love.” Catherine smiled at him. “I...have a surprise for you.”
The very thought made him laugh. Catherine, who had been the greatest of all surprises, had one more? “What are you up to?” he asked.
“Get into bed and I'll show you. It's in the bathroom; I'll bring it out to you.”
It? Vincent wondered. In the bathroom? What could she be doing in there? “All right,” he responded, pulling off his shirt and pants and climbing into their bed. The strains of the music continued from the stereo in the corner and he recognized the music as the soundtrack from Star Wars. Star Wars? Mysteriouser and mysteriouser.
The bathroom door creaked open and Catherine emerged with one hand folded over...something. “Close your eyes,” she instructed. “This is a surprise, after all.”
He laced his fingers behind his head and closed his eyes. He heard the rustle of fabric as her silken robe and gown fell to the floor, the groaning springs of the mattress as she settled next to him. “All right, love, you can open your eyes.”
There was a small glowing green circle in the palm of her hand. Vincent opened his mouth, closed it, then opened it again. He was not unfamiliar with such things, being a doctor's son, and he knew full well that Father kept a cookie jar full of them in the hospital chamber. But this... “Catherine. A glow in the dark condom?”
She nodded and her laugh was rich and mischievous. “Well, Peter said...”
Vincent waggled his eyebrows. “I'd love to see that prescription.” A thought occurred to him. “Catherine. The music....?”
“Mmmm...hmmm,” she replied. “Gives a whole new meaning to 'may the Force be with you,' doesn't it?”
He couldn't help it. The laughter burst from him as he realized what his wife had done---brought joy and fun back into their life together, dispersing the grinding weariness of the last couple of weeks. He looked at her, his love, his light. “ 'Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope,' ” he murmured against her mouth. She was so soft under his hands....
Vincent felt more than saw Catherine's answering smile, the quickening of her heartbeat. “ 'Use the Force, Luke.' ”