Inheritance: Chapter Five- At Midnight by the Flowering Tree

V. At Midnight by the Flowering Tree [5]

Father looked up to see Quinn and Rhys enter the room. Their demeanor—Quinn’s frown, Rhys’s anger—spoke of some trouble. He was not entirely surprised Vincent had asked them to come here; Quinn’s training as a nurse—though she hadn’t practiced in some years—would be invaluable in the event of a serious medical crisis, and Rhys, though usually amiable, still bore the attitude of the street-fighter he’d once been.

Lucas looked at the three of them. “Well, I hate to interrupt this reunion but Angela and I have some…things to discuss. Angela?”

Angela handed her son to Lucas. “The boy’s alive, Lucas. Not much more to be said.”

Lucas gazed down into the face of his infant son. A mixture of emotions Father couldn’t entirely identify crossed the man’s face—hope, anger, fear, love. “Yeah, I…see that, Angela. Come on, now.”

Angela nodded. At the door, she turned back. “Thank you, Father.”

As the door shut firmly behind them, Father turned to Quinn and Rhys. “Are you all right?”

“Quite,” Quinn said briskly, running a hand through her short hair. “Can’t say much for the hospitality but nothing’s bruised except my pride. I should have heard those guys behind us.”

Rhys shook his head. “I didn’t hear them either. Don’t blame yourself.”

Plainly, Quinn disagreed but she didn’t argue. “How are you doing, Father?”

“Well enough. I’ve examined Joshua and he seems to be on the mend.”

“Yeah, about that…Father, if he’s all right, why aren’t you packed up and ready to head home?” Rhys asked.

“There’s a food shortage here,” Father explained, “and a bad one.”

“What, they couldn’t steal enough?” Quinn scoffed.

Father speared her with a look. “Yes, precisely that. There are children here and they’re suffering, Quinn.”

She flushed but said only, “I’m sorry, Father, but what do they expect, living like they do?”

Quinn’s attitude was not an uncommon one and Father understood it, to a degree. They could help in this situation, yes, but there would be others; this aid was no permanent cure, but a temporary fix, a bandage over a gaping wound. “We need to do what we can to help, until they’re capable of…helping themselves.”

Rhys shook his head. “If you say so, Father.” He reached into his pocket and withdrew a bottle of pills. “I almost forgot. Vincent gave them to me for you. Said you’d…likely forgotten.”

His blood pressure pills, forgotten in the urgency of Joshua’s illness. Peter had been insistent and stressed the importance of not missing a dose. Yet he’d left the bottle behind. Father rubbed the bridge of his nose, suddenly weary to his bones. Physician, heal thyself…except the days when he could were long since past. “Yes, thank you, Rhys.”

His duties completed, Vincent began the walk to Bluebird House. The vague, inchoate feeling of danger he’d sensed had not lessened and, indeed, had increased once the distractions of physical work had passed. But he couldn’t narrow the focus of the feeling, couldn’t decide if it was Father, or Quinn and Rhys, or some other danger entirely.  He breathed out, seeking the center as he’d been taught so long before by Solomon, and felt some of the tension withdraw.

Cullen, sensing something of his mood, had volunteered to teach woodcarving class they were supposed to teach together. “Go on, man,” he’d said before their students arrived. “You’re worried, aren’t you?”

There had been no point at all to denying it, though he once would have tried. “Yes,” Vincent admitted. “And yet, there’s no real reason why I should be concerned.”

Cullen had raised his eyebrows. “Oh? Father’s gone off to help someone in the outer ring community. I’d say you were crazy if you weren’t concerned. Now, go. Spend some time with Catherine and…relax.” Cullen’s eyebrows had waggled suggestively, drawing a reluctant laugh from Vincent.

Now, he paused at the sentry post and let Henry and Aidan know where he was going; it was a formality since the sentries were generally aware of everyone’s location, but in his capacity as unofficial leader until Father’s return, Vincent felt he should at least make a formal announcement. Aidan looked up from his sandwich and gave him a mock salute. “Back tonight?” he called.

It was late afternoon and if Catherine had no other plans…. “I don’t know yet. But I’m not far away should anything happen.”

Aidan grinned. “Yeah, I heard about the radiators in your home. Enjoy the rest of your day—we’ll call if we need you.”

The words were said lightly, with Aidan’s usual good cheer, but Vincent felt the weight of what Father must have dealt with all these years: forever available, continually on-call, with the added responsibility of an entire community to contend with. How had he managed for so long?

Because there was no one else who could, Vincent heard Father say in his starched, British tones.  Mentally, he shook himself; this kind of brooding, as Catherine would say, wasn’t helpful. Father would return soon and life in the tunnels would return to normal and he would still (he hoped) have some time before the matter of the succession must be decided. 

And if it is not? If there is no decision, what then? a dark, softly menacing voice asked, and Vincent paused. This was the Other, his sometime-nemesis, speaking from a barred chamber in his mind. Not entirely real, but nonetheless speaking a counsel he had learned to respect.  Will you let yourself be chained again?

Vincent shook his head, remembering the ache of metal against the sharp bones of his wrists, remembering too the long confused haze of memory and nightmare which had plagued him so recently. They had only been able to chain him once, he thought; the second time, he had been too strong, too possessed of fury and fear to let anyone come that close. Anyone, that is, save Catherine…Catherine who had freed him from any number of metaphorical chains simply by loving him for all he was and wasn’t. Freeing him to choose, to make a real choice…one day.

He paused at the hidden wall which concealed the short tunnel leading to their basement entrance, sensing, as he sometimes did, the faded murmur of other presences just beyond. He and Catherine had heard them at times when the house was still—the clink of champagne glasses, the hushed murmur of voices and laughter, the faint notes of ragtime music. Now, the presences were far more quiet—though Vincent supposed the speakeasy that had once been in their basement had never operated during broad daylight.

The wall rotated back on its pivot and Vincent walked through the tunnel beyond it to their basement. It was warm in the tunnel this close to the surface and he removed his cloak, shaking his thick hair back. He fancied he could almost feel the warmth of the summer sun in his bones, and his unease receded still further. This place, their home, had no shadows.

The basement door opened with a muted creak; Vincent closed it behind him, already becoming aware of the unusual quiet of their home. There was, of course, the muted tapping on the radiator, but those noises were so much a part of his daily life that he had long ago ceased to notice them. Catherine was here, he knew that much from the gentle scent of her perfume, but where was she? Then the faint sound of snoring reached his ears and he smiled.

Catherine was asleep on the couch, her notes and law books scattered in a mini-tornado around her, piled in disordered heaps on the steamer trunk which served as their coffee table. Sunlight streamed through the partially-opened curtains and warmed the burgundy leather of the couch, the gilded gold of her hair. He knelt on the patterned carpet next to her. “Catherine.”

She stirred slightly. “Mmm, what?”

“You’re asleep on the couch. Surely you’d be more comfortable upstairs?”

Catherine stretched and yawned. “Plenty comfortable here. Care to join me?”

The couch was not nearly wide enough for the two of them (they’d discovered that quite by accident, an accident which had ended up with Vincent landing squarely on his tailbone, and Catherine in tears of helpless laughter) but if she lay on top of him…his heartbeat quickened at the thought, all thoughts of fear and concern temporarily driven from his mind.

There was still a lifetime’s worth of caution that insisted that the idea of snuggling on a couch in daylight was too risky. But the stained glass obscured much of what anyone could see from the outside, and the curtains took care of the rest. And the street itself was nearly quiet. “Very well,” he said, and with a minimum of contortions, Catherine rested in the crook of his arm. It wasn’t precisely comfortable; the couch clearly had never been designed for someone of his height and his booted feet hung off the edge, but with his wife resting against him, Vincent hardly noticed.

“Did you hear anything from Rhys and Quinn?” Catherine asked.

“No,” Vincent replied. “Nor from Father either. I suppose we’ll hear when there’s something to tell.”

“Mmmm…hmmm…” Catherine murmured, her hair tickling his throat. “I had a letter from my Aunt Jane.”

Vincent had a near-photographic memory for names and faces and as if in a movie, he saw the library of the cottage in Connecticut and Catherine discussing her mother’s oldest sister. There had been some disagreement between her aunt and her father, but Catherine hadn’t gone into great detail. “Did you? What did she say?”

“She’s coming out here for a conference next spring,” Catherine replied, and there was a certain quality to her voice, echoed by the flare of her emotions. She was not at all comfortable with her aunt’s visit, then.

“It will be fine,” he said, trying to be reassuring. “What can she do?”

“It’s not that easy,” Catherine murmured. “She’s…difficult.”

“Father-level difficult or…?”

Catherine chuckled. “My grandmother could have bested Father on her worst days. Aunt Jane is…very particular; she has some decided ideas about the way I should have been raised and the way I should be living my life now. And telling her I’m content and fulfilled has never worked on the phone. In person? I can’t imagine how well that will be received.”

There was a time, Vincent mused, when he would have been angered at the fates which had made it so he could never been fully acknowledged in her life. And while he still felt the tug—Catherine was his wife, he should be able to be there for her—the sting of that was somehow lessened. He would be there, as far as he could be, and Catherine would never ask any more of him than that. “When was the last time you spoke with her?”

“After my assault,” Catherine said. “She…well, you have to understand, my mom’s family came from money, old money. My dad? Was a tailor’s son from Detroit. When he and my mom met, there were fireworks, and not only of the romantic kind.”

“Your aunt disproved of your father?”

“From what Daddy told me, pretty much everyone in the family did. He got through undergrad by bussing tables, made it to law school at Columbia with a scholarship, but he’d been working since he was fourteen years old and never once stopped. The men in my mother’s family…they worked because it was good to be seen to be working, but they rarely needed to.”

Vincent had heard of such things; certainly social class had played its role in the demise of Father’s marriage. “Jane resented your father for not being in their class?”

Catherine nodded. “Yeah. Mom’s social connections ensured a good start for his law firm, once he was ready to start one, but theirs was a genuine love match, regardless of what either of their families thought. When she died, things were…difficult. Aunt Jane and Daddy had some quarrel—I don’t really know what it was about, even now—and he cut ties with her totally. When I heard from her after my assault, it was the first time I’d talked to her in over a decade, aside from cards and letters.”

Vincent kissed the top of her head. “We shall deal with her, when the time comes.”

“You’re right,” she said softly, and Vincent was relieved to hear the contentment return to her voice. “Did I also tell you I had a note from Gertrude? She’s…inviting us to come back to Connecticut.”

Connecticut, the place of their first refuge, where all their dreams for the future had begun, the place where he had walked unafraid in the sunshine, and where he had loved this woman under the arching branches of a secluded grove. “No,” he breathed against the warmth of her hair. “Is she well? And her husband?”

“Mmm..hmmm,” Catherine said. “Vincent, Gertrude gave us a reason to come back there this fall. If we need one, that is.”

It had been in his mind ever since the day they left the white-shrouded couches in the cottage that what had been done once, could be done again. They could return.  “I don’t think we need one but…that was nice of her. What was her reason?”

“Fresh produce,” Catherine said, chuckling. “You know Gertrude, ever-practical. She and Matt have planted some winter squash and they expect it to be ready for us by the fall.”

“Squash,” Vincent mused. “William will be pleased.”

“No doubt,” Catherine observed.

They lay there together for a time and Vincent was beginning to think he might doze himself when Catherine spoke. “You seem…tense.”

There was a certain tone to her voice, a curl of satisfaction and desire edging her words. At the feel of her lips brushing his neck, Vincent was quite willing to remain tense forever if only she would not…stop. “Yes,” he managed, shifting a bit. “Perhaps…we might relax upstairs?”

She kissed him, all thoughts of sleep clearly driven from her mind. “I thought you’d never ask.”

Quinn raised her head, the dark curls glinting in the candlelight. “I have to tell you, Father, I don’t like this, not one bit. If we’re not prisoners, we should be allowed to leave now that your work is done.”

It had been a few hours since Angela and Lucas had left. They’d been fed and shown to the facilities but the door remained resolutely bolted otherwise. There were no pipes to communicate their situation and Father was forced to agree: whether Lucas had said so or not, they were captives. “I don’t like it either,” he told them both, “but perhaps this is a security measure.”

Rhys looked over from where he was inspecting the door. “Maybe. I hope you’re right. But this thing is solid; I can’t even see light through the cracks.” He returned to his pacing, reminding Father quite suddenly of Vincent. He’ll be very worried if he doesn’t hear from us soon.

The door opened, and Lucas and another man Father had never met stood in the doorway. “You all can leave,” Lucas said. “Except for you.”

Father’s eyes widened. Quinn bristled as Rhys stepped forward. “What do you mean, ‘except for him’?” Rhys demanded, his Welsh accent growing broader in his agitation. “We came together, we’ll leave together.”

“No need for you two, but we do need a doctor.”

“So do we,” Quinn said, stepping in front of Father. “You steal from Above, fine, we can’t stop you. But you’re not stealing our doctor.”

“You can get another one,” Lucas said firmly. “You’ve got two.”

“Excuse me,” Father said acidly, “but the doctor in question is sitting right in front of you. And I have no plans to stay here.”

Lucas grinned, a Fagin in worn, patched flannels. “You say that now. But we can be…very persuasive.”

[5] “Changes,” by Sara Teasdale

Click here for Chapter 6....


Anonymous said...

I had a bad feeling Lucas was planning to keep Father. Rescuing him should be a relatively simple project, but solving the long-term problem of this thief community will be quite another issue.

Catherine's Aunt Jane sounds like a piece of work. I have a feeling our favorite couple will be in desperate need of a fall vacation to Connecticut once all of this has been settled!

Krista said...

Hi Lindariel!

(I apologize for not responding to this--real life got a tad...sticky recently. :D)

The thing with Lucas and the others---they're not (necessarily) bad people. They're desperate. Kidnapping Father wasn't one of their smartest moves (um...Vincent, anyone?) but by their lights, it does make a certain amount of sense. He's known and trustworthy, and likely more available than, say, Peter is.

Heh. She'll be an...experience. ;-) In the spring, many, many things will be happening....*whistles innocently*....

Thanks so much for reading and commenting! :)

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