SEALED WITHIN THE HEART

By Helen Charlotte Hill

Vincent's huge and familiar black-cloaked, auburn-haired form sat slumped against the cold rocky wall near the waterfall. He had shared so many happy times here with Catherine, and nowadays he was drawn to this place like a magnet. Here, in the exact place he was sitting now, they had spent hours reading to each other and the greatest poets had painted beautiful pictures for their minds to share. They had talked about what every poem meant to each of them and learned so much about each other. It was here that they had planned events which no-one, least of all Vincent himself, would dare to imagine could happen in his life.

He smiled as he remembered how very much Catherine had wanted him to see her childhood glen in the mountains. She was so excited about the thought of sharing it with him that she seemed to almost forget that he was 'different'. Dear Catherine. There had been times when she even made him forget he was different. Now that she was gone, he almost wished he had gone with her to the glen. At least then they would have had some time together in the sun, some time with no limits, seeing and feeling all the things they had read about so often. But, of course, the risk had been too great; not only to himself, but to the whole world below, which Father had built and nurtured for so many years. The very world which was keeping him and his son safe now.

Baby Jacob was growing steadily and Vincent could see Catherine in his eyes more each day. The bond which Catherine had left them, almost like a precious parting gift, was stronger than ever. Vincent tipped his head back and rested it against the wall, his chiseled jaw and sad features looking gaunt, his upper lip dragging down and pulling more tautly than usual. It seemed so very long since she was in his arms, and yet it had only been a year, almost to the day. He longed to feel her close to him now, to feel her warm loving arms around him and her body pressed close against his.

Vincent closed his eyes. He could remember the first time they made love as vividly as if it were yesterday. Before that night, he had never dared to imagine how it would be to know physical love. And yes, he had been afraid, afraid of hurting Catherine. His greatest fear was that the beast inside him would battle and conquer his gentle side. He had violent visions of his nails ripping through her flesh in a vicious and passionate frenzy, of his teeth cutting her face, of his arms crushing her body. But his fearful visions could not have been more wrong. The beast within him had never been more dormant than when they lay naked together. The pads of his fingers and even the shiny backs of his claw-like nails had glided smoothly across every inch of her soft skin. He had never known such tenderness in his fingertips. He never knew feelings like those existed, never knew the beast within him could be so calm, or that love could be so joyful and passionate.

He would never forget the first time Catherine's hands had trailed down the length of his bare body. Her touch was like magic, magic which would live forever. He knew then, as he knew now, that he would never love again. No emotion, no relationship would ever shine as brightly as the light in Catherine's eyes. Her eyes still haunted his every thought, and the soft pliability of her mouth against his ... Their love was something which had never been before and would never be again. It still lived deep within his heart and soul, it would never fade and die.

Never. That was a painful word. Vincent would never hold Catherine again, that was certain. They both knew that 'death has no dominion', but at times like this when his arms ached for her as much as his heart, even those words were little comfort. At times, the pain was almost unbearable. His chest would heave, his lungs constricting while his head moved from side to side as he tried to compress the imminent roar which would shatter the air and be heard by every ear in the world below. Then the tears would fall hopelessly down his tragic face, shaking his whole body, and filling his very soul with agony. It was so unfair. All those months their love remained unconsummated, and when they finally completed their bond and received the precious gift of a child, Catherine was torn away from Vincent.

First, the empathic connection which had once been invincible was broken, and later, Catherine's life was callously taken. Vincent's lip curled back in a snarl at the thought of Gabriel. How could a man be so unfeeling, so cruel, so very cold, impassioned only by violence and bloodshed? He was not a man, just a machine which was programmed to destroy anything in its path.

A year. Had it really only been a year? Every day was so long and difficult to get through, it seemed more like ten years had passed. How could he go on? He had to go on. Baby Jacob needed him, and between them, they would keep Catherine alive within them. Vincent loved Jacob ardently and treasured every moment he spent with him, although all happiness was tinged with pain because Catherine was not there to share it. But he told himself she would be looking down on them with such pride and such love, feeling every precious moment through Vincent's heart. His world had turned grey since Catherine died, but amidst the grey mist, a tiny face was illuminated by a golden ethereal light, which became a glow of hope in Vincent's heart, a warmth he hoped would spread throughout his soul as time went on.

Pondering on the thought of Jacob, Vincent's body suddenly jolted in a painful spasm, he doubled over, feeling as though something was tearing his heart from his chest. He groaned with agony, and just as he started to feel the pain was too much, it passed as quickly as it had begun. But the feeling it left was worse still. Not a physical pain, but a void so absolute that he felt sick and dizzy. The bond ... it was missing...My God! It was missing!

Vincent leapt up quickly and broke into a run through the tunnels. Finally reaching his chamber, he rushed over to the beautiful cot which Mouse had made for Jacob, with such excitement and eager love. Even before he lifted the small, limp body into his arms, he knew. He knew Jacob was gone. He hugged the tiny body of his son to his chest and threw back his great head. The silence and emptiness which death leaves in a room was broken by a loud roaring yell from deep within Vincent's stomach, "NO-OOOOO!!"

Breathing shallow and fast, feeling as if his lungs were caving in and the vacuum would cause his ribs to crack, he gently laid the body back in the cot. He looked around hopelessly, desperately, wondering if Jacob's spirit was now lingering for its last few seconds in this world. But no, the empty body was lifeless and dear sweet Jacob's soul had left it forever.

Vincent stared fixedly ahead for a few seconds, his eyes mad, wild and dangerous. He paced the length of the chamber several times, head bowed, legs moving fast, spinning on his heel every few seconds as he changed direction. Clenching his teeth, he grabbed a chair and hurled it at the half-circle stained glass window above his bed. The glass shattered and fell away; the beautiful colored pattern was ruined, leaving a jagged gaping hole in the centre - symbolic of Vincent's present state of mind. He turned and ran from his chamber, hurtling through the tunnels at break-neck speed. He did not know where he was running to, but found himself back at the waterfall. He fell backwards against the rocky wall, trying to catch his breath. Then he was pacing again, and stopped eventually, shaking his head as if refusing to accept what had happened as the truth. His chest rose and fell strong and fast, he clenched his fists and raised them to his temples, then sharply pulled his elbows into his waist and spread his hands in a gesture of angry despair as his grief and pain rang forth as a savage roaring cry. He slumped to the ground and leaned against the cold rocky wall once more, his head bowed, hugging his knees.

The tears came slowly at first, marking a sad wet path down his contoured face. Then came the sobs, violently shaking his body as he felt lost in grief and loneliness, torn apart by the overwhelming sadness in his battered heart. Anyone who saw Vincent now would not see a frightening and terrible beast, but a man, a very human being, in desperate mental anguish. A broken man, completely devastated by the tragic events in his life. Vincent's blue, sharp and alert eyes were dull, matt and red-rimmed when at last he raised his head after his tears had run dry. Inside, he was striving for some kind of consolation; something, no matter how small and seemingly insignificant, to make his life seem worthwhile yet. But there was nothing, nothing for him now.

Loneliness was coming down and covering him like a heavy blanket and his heart was like a lead weight in the ribbed cavern of his chest. Vincent closed his eyes hopelessly, and through his lids he could see an unfamiliar light. He opened them, and there in front of him, suspended five feet from the ground, was a huge red and shining heart, seemingly made of a semi-opaque substance, with a glowing light inside.

Vincent shook his head with a grunt, *Now I'm losing my mind!* He thought. But he was sure he was awake and the apparition seemed so very real. Then with a splintering sound the heart split clown the middle and Vincent felt a sharp pain inside him. He clutched his chest with one hand, and used the other to shield his eyes from the blinding light. Slowly, the light began to swallow him and it did not hurt his eyes anymore, and rising out of the two halves of the heart was an image which took Vincent's breath away. "Catherine?" His voice was no more than a whisper. "Dear God... Catherine!" Vincent stood up, gazing in awesome wonder at the sight before his eyes. He had remembered her beauty, the image of her face was burned in his mind; and yet looking at her now, she was far more beautiful than even the greatest of memories could ever hope to remember. She was looking down at him, smiling serenely, her beautiful eyes soft and twinkling.

She stretched one arm out towards him while the other cradled baby Jacob, also smiling and reaching out to his father. Vincent did not shake his head or rub his eyes, for the last thing he wanted now was to find that this vision was only in his imagination. All at once, due to a desire in his heart rather than a movement of his limbs, he was moving towards Catherine's outstretched hand. Their fingers interlocked and the desperate racing beat of his heart calmed to a steady and contented pace. His pain, grief and loneliness fell away like a silk cover falling and flowing to the ground. In a moment, he was beside Catherine and their son and the only thing that mattered was now and the future. The huge glass-like heart began to close around them, gently cradling the small family in its cocoon. Before it sealed around them, Vincent caught a glimpse of a black-cloaked, auburn-haired figure slumped against the rocky wall, head bowed, arms loosely hung around knees.

Vincent stood behind Catherine, his big hands on her shoulders, and both of them looked down at baby Jacob, who gazed back at them with wide and happy eyes. Vincent and Catherine exchanged happy, loving glances, and then they were laughing. Laughing with relief and contentment, laughing heartily with joy that they were all together at last. Jacobs light, musical giggle could just about be heard beneath the hearty chuckles of his parents. They were all together at last, a strong and invincible unit ... a family.

******

Below, a community mourned a unique child and his remarkable father, while still mourning the death of the warm and wonderful woman who had also come to mean so very much to them. They would each be missed for their own very special qualities, and the sense of grief and loss within everyone who knew them was immense. Yet, deep within each of the many grieving hearts, was a growing knowledge that this was not the end of three lives, but only a new beginning. For Vincent, Catherine and Jacob, it was the beginning of a new life. A life without limits, in a world where nothing would restrict their love and they could be everything they wanted to be, and do all they wanted to do, together...eternally.

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