My Pain is Your Pain
Catherine descended the ladder into the subbasement of her building and was surprised that Vincent wasn’t there to meet her. They had plans for the day and she’d expected him to be waiting on the other side of the brick wall, if not at the bottom of the ladder.
"Well, no sweat," she thought. "It’s not as if I don’t know my way."
She started down the tunnel only to be stopped within a few feet by the sentry who was hurrying up behind her.
"Catherine," called Jamie. "Wait up a minute."
Catherine stopped and turned.
"What is it Jamie?" she asked as the girl caught up and stopped beside her.
"Vincent just wanted me to tell you that he’s sorry he couldn’t meet you at your threshold, but he wanted Father to look at his shoulder before he goes anywhere or does anything today. He’ll meet you in the hospital chamber."
Catherine frowned, but nodded, remembering the deep cut that Vincent had sustained earlier in the week while helping move some furniture for one of the tunnel residents.
"Shouldn’t that be almost healed by now?" she asked. "I thought he healed faster than most people."
"Most of the time, but this one was particularly deep. I was there when Father was patching him up. He was debating whether to put in a drain. If it had been anyone but Vincent, he probably would have, but Vincent insisted that he wouldn’t need it."
"Thanks for delivering the message. Are you on duty much longer? Do you need anything?" asked Catherine.
"No, I came on at 4AM. It’s almost 8AM now; my relief should be here soon." She turned to leave. "See you later," she called back over her shoulder.
Catherine made the slight deviation in her route required to take her to the hospital chamber and arrived there just in time to hear Father and Vincent in what sounded almost like an argument.
"Vincent, when it started to show signs of inflammation, you should have come right to me. Now it looks like I’m going to have to reopen the wound, clean it out and insert that drain I allowed you to talk me out of."
"Honestly, Father. I didn’t notice anything until this morning when I was bathing. That was when I noticed that the area was more sore than it was yesterday, appeared to be swollen and that the lymph nodes under my arm were also swollen."
Catherine entered the chamber to see Vincent sitting on a stool with father peering intently at his shoulder.
"Is something wrong?" she asked, worried.
Vincent turned to her with a smile. "Nothing important," he assured her. "Just a little inflammation."
"Understatement," Father muttered under his breath as he prodded gently at the nearly healed over wound on Vincent’s left shoulder just under the clavicle. He stood and directed his next words at Catherine.
"Catherine, could assist me? All my usual nurses are elsewhere this morning. Mary just left with a Helper and a group of children for an outing, and I sent Brooke and Jin Above to help another Helper nurse a house full of sick family members."
"Certainly, Father. I’ve never had any medical training, beyond getting my First Aid Badge in Girl Scouts, but I’ll do whatever I can." Her voice was strong and steady but Vincent could feel the slight tremor of nerves that flowed through her.
"It is nothing complicated, my dear," he assured her. "I just need you to do a couple of things to speed up the procedure, and then lend an extra pair of hands. First, I need you to shave the area around the scar on Vincent’s shoulder. I want it smooth as a baby’s bottom for about four to six inches all around. Then rinse the area, and blot it dry. Be gentle," he warned, "the whole area is very tender."
Catherine removed her denim jacket revealing the snug pink long sleeved t-shirt she wore underneath. She pushed up her sleeves then picked up a stainless steel bowl and started to fill it with warm water.
"Father, are you sure she needs to be here for this?" asked Vincent. Up to this point, his shirt was unbuttoned, but he’d kept it on, but he knew that he was going to have to take it off for Father to proceed.
"Yes, Vincent. I’m going to need her hands," Father insisted. Then he went on to finish his instructions to Catherine. "When you have finished that, put on a pair of the rubber gloves from the shelf and use some of those gauze pads to cover the entire area with this." He handed her a bottle of Betadine. "Then you’ll need to take off the gloves and move to the head of the operating table. Stay there and do exactly as I tell you."
"Yes, Father," Catherine answered as she watched Vincent move to the operating table and lay down.
"Vincent, you are going to have to remove that shirt," said Father over his shoulder as he washed up.
Vincent looked quickly over at Catherine who appeared to be paying no attention to him but was working up a lather with a bar of shaving soap. He removed the shirt and lay down on the table again.
As soon as he was comfortable, Catherine moved to his side and dabbed gingerly at the inflamed area on his shoulder with a warm, wet cloth, then she spread her lather over the area and carefully began to shave.
It did look pretty bad, and her shoulder began to ache in sympathy. She kept her feelings on a short rein, but she did notice that the hair growth pattern on Vincent’s upper body was similar to any other man’s. It was heavier on his forearms, and was thinner on his upper arms. His chest was really not that much hairier than other men’s, and it thinned as it went around his torso; it was almost nonexistent on his back. The main difference was the texture of the hair. Most men had coarse wiry hair, Vincent’s was softer, more like golden fur covering his only slightly lighter golden skin.
As she was carefully, but efficiently removing that golden fur from the skin on his shoulder she asked what had happened.
"I thought it was healing nicely," she said.
"I thought it was too, but as sometimes happens with me, the outside healed faster than the inside and it has more or less abscessed. Father needs to reopen it and clean the wound thoroughly."
"Yes," added Father. "I may have missed something the first time. This time I’ll put in a drain before I restitch it." He directed his gaze at Vincent. "You’ll have to keep your arm in a sling for a few days, until I take the drain out, and then go easy on it for at least two weeks."
Catherine finished with the shaving then swabbed the area liberally with Betadine. She did as she’d been directed, and pulled off the gloves as she moved to stand at Vincent’s head.
"Now comes the most difficult part," said Father as he moved to Vincent’s left side. "We don’t have any anesthesia that works well on Vincent, and I have yet to find a local anesthetic that works, so all of this is going to have to be done without anything to dull the pain." Catherine looked shocked, but Vincent just looked resigned. "Catherine, what I need you to do is to hold his head and keep him focused on you. When he is subjected to pain, even if he is expecting it, he tends to thrash about, and sometimes snarl and growl, but seeing how you’ve handled that in the past, I’m sure we can do this quickly and with as little fuss as possible."
Catherine nodded at Father, not trusting her voice, then she placed her hands on either side of Vincent’s head with her thumbs on his temples. She was looking at him upside down and while Father was occupied looking at his shoulder she dropped a quick kiss on his forehead and smiled.
"It will be over before you know it," she whispered.
Vincent lay quietly, gazing up into her eyes during the whole procedure. He never even twitched. Father found it hard to believe.
But Catherine, on the other hand, was in agony. The first touch of the scalpel had sent white hot lightning bolts through her left shoulder. She didn’t know what was going on, but since whatever she was doing seemed to be helping Vincent, she didn’t make a sound, not a whimper. Father was finished fifteen minutes later. The last stitch was taken and a bandage applied, then he taped down the drain tubing and helped Vincent sit up.
"That went easier than I expected," he commented as he took his tray of instruments to the sink to be washed. "You didn’t move a muscle."
"That was because of Catherine. She had me mesmerized, staring into my eyes and massaging my temples." He turned to smile at Catherine who had collapsed onto a chair against the wall. She had her head down between her knees as if she was going to faint, and Vincent could see sweat stains on her shirt.
Alarmed, Vincent jumped up and went to her, dropping to his knees beside her.
"Are you all right, Catherine?" he asked.
She drew in a deep breath, and spoke without lifting her head. "That was the weirdest thing I’ve ever encountered. I felt every cut of the scalpel, every probe and every stitch. My left arm feels as if it is going to fall off!"
She struggled to sit back in the chair and Vincent assisted her. At his gasp, her eyes flew first to his shoulder, but nothing looked amiss, and then to his eyes; they were riveted to her left shoulder.
"Father, quickly. Catherine has been hurt."
Father turned from washing up and then rushed over to Catherine’s side.
"What happened, Catherine?" he asked when he saw that the left shoulder of Catherine’s t-shirt was drenched in blood.
Father immediately started tugging at the shirt and between them he and Vincent managed to get it off.
Catherine looked down, trying to see the cut on her shoulder. All she could see was the oozing blood. "I don’t know. I don’t remember being scratched."
Father moved a light so he could see the wound better and he gently probed it. "It isn’t deep, less than a quarter inch. It won’t require stitching. I’ll just clean it up and put some butterfly tapes on it and cover it." He turned away to get gauze and the tapes and when he turned back, he just stood looking at the cut with his head tilted to one side. He glanced over at Vincent, who was still on his knees next to her chair and then back at Catherine. "It’s strange, but that cut is in exactly the same place I made the incision to drain your wound, Vincent."
"And I felt everything you did to Vincent," added Catherine, looking back and forth between the two men.
"But this has never happened before," said Vincent. "I’ve been hurt, wounded, but you’ve never felt it or sustained injury from it."
"I have felt pain," corrected Catherine. "When you were trapped Above after the explosion, every muscle in my body ached for days afterward. I chalked it up to tension. Then that time you were in the cave-in in the maze, my head started hurting and throbbing. Every time you’ve been seriously hurt, I’ve felt some of it. This time, as it was happening, I felt it all."
"And I felt almost none of it," whispered Vincent. He stood and turned away from them.
Father busied himself bandaging his second patient. He kept up a monologue speculating on what could have caused it. He came to no conclusions, but pronounced it all "Extraordinary!" as he finished.
Vincent stood with his back to them and Catherine stared at his back from where she sat.
Father could feel the storm brewing. "I’d suggest that you forego any more strenuous activities that you might have planned for today. Maybe some reading or a game of chess would be more the ticket."
Catherine stood, picked up her denim jacket and put it on then picked up her blood soaked t-shirt and Vincent’s shirt. Father went back to his cleaning up as Catherine moved to Vincent’s side.
"We need to talk," she said quietly.
"There is nothing to talk about," he said in an equally quiet voice.
"Yes there is." She grabbed his right hand and tugged. "Come on…We need to go to your chamber and talk about this."
They made the short trip to his chamber in silence. When they arrived, Catherine carefully folded his shirt and laid it on the end of the bed. She wadded up her own shirt and tossed it into a chair near the door. Vincent just stood in the middle of the room watching.
"Is there something I can put on instead of this jacket? It’s a little bulky."
"There is a sweater that belongs to you in that bottom drawer over there," he indicated the armoire in the corner.
She opened the drawer and on top of several items of clothing that she’d used on other visits was the ivory cashmere cardigan that was half of a twin set she owned.
"I wondered where I left that," she commented as she pulled it out and started to unbutton the denim jacket. She kept her back turned to Vincent, but he still dropped his eyes and studied his toes as she removed the jacket and put on the lightweight sweater.
It wasn’t as if he hadn’t already seen the pale pink lace bra earlier in the hospital chamber, but still, she didn’t deserve him standing there gawking at her like an teenager.
She buttoned all but the top two buttons and then she turned to Vincent.
"What happened back there?" she asked.
"I’m not sure," was his quiet answer.
"Not sure, don’t know or won’t say?" she walked over and sat on the edge of the bed.
He finally sat in his chair, but he kept his head bowed, his hair shielding his face from her.
"Not sure…but I have an idea."
"The Bond, it’s stronger…more than we realized."
Catherine was quiet for a few minutes.
"Vincent, I’ve always had questions about the Bond. I’ve never really worked up the courage to ask, but this seems as good a time as any."
She scooted further back on the bed, kicked off her shoes and pulled her legs up.
"I’ll answer what I can, but I don’t really know that much about it; just that it is there." His right hand came up and he unconsciously massaged the bicep on his other arm.
"First," said Catherine, noticing his discomfort. "Would you like me to help you put on a shirt?"
"Thank you," he answered quickly. "There is one that buttons down the front in the wardrobe."
Catherine got the worn denim work shirt as he stood and gingerly removed his arm from the sling. She helped him slip the shirt on, first over his left arm and then the right. She pulled it up and settled it on his shoulders and he was able to button it himself, then she helped him ease his arm back into the sling. She went back to her seat on the bed and he sat in his chair, this time turning it to face her.
Catherine sat thinking quietly for a while then she started asking her questions.
"Vincent, have you ever had this Bond with anyone else?"
"To some extent, but nothing like what is between us. I noticed when I was quite young that when I was in a room with someone and emotions were running high, I would know it, no matter how well that person was hiding it. By the time Devin left, I’d found that there were certain people that I could ‘tune in’ to if I wanted: Father, Devin, Mary, Pascal, Winslow. It did no more than let me know generally where they were, and what their mood was, but I used it when I needed it. I actually thought it was normal, something that everyone could do, until I talked about it with Devin; he assured me that he didn’t know anyone else who had that ability."
"How old were you when you found out that others didn’t share this ability?"
"It was before Devin left. I was about nine or ten." He was still staring at his hands resting in his lap.
"Vincent, I mentioned before that I have occasionally been on the receiving end of the Bond, never like today, but to some extent. But only when you were under great stress. I’m going to ask you something now, and I want you to be completely honest with me."
His head finally came up and his eyes met hers. "Catherine, I’ve never lied to you," he said sincerely.
"But you have, upon occasion, withheld the truth from me," It was a statement, not a question. "when you felt that it was necessary."
"Upon occasion," he reluctantly admitted.
"But you won’t now. You’ll answer me honestly?"
"If I know the answer," he agreed.
"Vincent, does the Bond go both ways?" She held up her hand, to stop his quick answer. "As I said before, I have occasionally sensed you, and when Paracelsus kidnapped me and took me down to his chambers, I was able to quell my fear and stop you from rushing off without thought. I didn’t shut the Bond down, I’m not sure if that is possible, but I was able to keep it down to a trickle, so to speak."
Vincent’s eyes had dropped back to his hands. "I didn’t want to burden you with my turmoil…"
After a brief hesitation, he spoke. "Yes, Catherine the Bond is a two way street. I discovered that before you ever left here that first time. You always knew when I was near. I think you decided that it was just heightened hearing because your eyes were covered, but I had just discovered that I could sense you, and whenever I approached my chamber, I would feel your anticipation building, until I called out to you. You knew I was there."
"Why, Vincent?" she asked, sounding as if she might cry. "Why didn’t you allow me to experience what you were experiencing?"
"As I said, I didn’t want to burden you. I understood what was happening, I’ve experienced it most of my life. I know how to control it, keep it in the background, on the fringes of my mind most of the time. I can distinguish your feelings from mine. Nothing like that had ever happened to you before. I know from my early experiences with it, that it can be very disruptive. I don’t want you losing sleep because my mind is active about eighteen hours out of every twenty-four. I don’t go to bed before midnight and I’m usually up every morning by six."
"But you could have taught me."
He finally looked up at her again. "When you left here the first time, I really didn’t expect to ever see you again. I expected the Bond to fade with separation." His gaze went unfocused as he remembered. "But it didn’t; it only grew stronger. I knew you were undergoing a lot of changes; some of them caused you physical pain, some caused mental pain. I knew you were well, busy and sometimes stressed, but it got to a point where I had to see you, to see with my own eyes that you were well. The book was only the excuse to go to you that night…
"Now is has come to this." He gestured at her shoulder, and dropped his head back to lean on the back of his chair.
"Vincent!" Catherine said, sternly. "This is not something for you to feel guilty about. You had no control over this. This Bond…it’s a gift. I don’t know whom from: God, the universe, the Fates, choose one, but it is a gift. So…I felt your pain, even manifested a small wound as a result, but that is nothing. Can you imagine how that makes me feel?"
He glanced at her and was surprised to see her smiling.
"You’ve had the exclusive rights to the Bond up until now," she continued. "Now that I know it goes both ways, I’m not going to let you keep it from me. I want to experience what you’ve had for the last three years. I want to know what you are feeling, even if it is painful. For the last three years you’ve been right there through every cut, scrape, gunshot wound, beating…hell, you’ve probably even felt my menstrual cramps…" she paused for breath as he looked up at her again. She could see a slight smile and watched as the color crept up his neck into his face.
"Yes, Catherine, even that," he admitted. "Everything. That is why I blocked my end. I didn’t want you to be constantly distracted by what was going on with me. My life is a series of minor cuts, scrapes and muscle aches."
"But you’ve learned control, and how to tell the difference between what is yours and what is mine. You can teach me that."
She was surprised when he shook his head. "No, Catherine!" he insisted. "I don’t want that for you. It wouldn’t be good for you…"
Before he could finish his thought she was on her feet towering over him, as much as a small woman of only 5 foot 4 could tower, hands fisted at her sides.
"Who are you to decide what it good for me?" she demanded. "This isn’t just about you, Vincent. It is about me, too; about us, and I have a say in what is good for me and what isn’t."
She seemed to get over her anger as quickly as it had taken her. She dropped to her knees in front of him and took his hands in hers.
"Vincent, do you have any idea what this means? I don’t know one couple who hasn’t at one time or another expressed the wish that they could have a better understanding of what was going on in their lo…..partner’s head." She caught herself on the word quickly made a substitution. "Over the last three years you’ve always had that understanding of what I was going through. You never had to ask, you always knew when I needed you and you were there. Open the Bond to me, and let me do the same for you."
His eyes met hers, and gradually she started to feel a warmth. It was almost as if there was a line stretching from his heart to hers and all the love he felt was flowing along it into her heart. She closed her eyes and just experienced it.
After a time, Vincent spoke.
"I don’t want to overwhelm you, Catherine. I’ll do as you ask, but I will open it up a little at a time. I don’t know how to teach you about it, but we’ll talk, and as you learn, I’ll open more to you. Will that work?"
Catherine rested her forehead on his knee and allowed herself to float on the wave of feelings she was receiving. "Yes, Vincent," she whispered.
She barely noticed as he tugged her to her feet then pulled her down into his lap, nestling her head into his right shoulder. He rested his head against the top of hers and just let his emotions flow gently. He didn’t try to control them, he just let go.
He felt Catherine shiver once or twice and he reached over to the foot of the bed for a knit throw that he pulled around her. They sat like that for a long time before Catherine was capable of speech.
"Vincent, it’s beautiful," she said in a hushed voice.
"It isn’t always beautiful," he warned.
"I know that, but being able to feel you like this, I can tell when something is bothering you, or if I’m doing something wrong, as you’ve been able to with me."
"But I wouldn’t want you to make all the concessions."
"I wouldn’t have to, we can talk about things, but now I will know what is bothering you and what we need to talk about. Before I always had to depend on you to tell me and as you said, sometimes you kept things from me to protect me."
She raised her head to look into his eyes, and she ran her fingers down his cheek.
His next move surprised her more than his previous one of pulling her into his lap. He gently, and a little shyly, kissed her. It didn’t last long, actually not long enough in Catherine’s opinion, but it was a kiss and he’d initiated it.
He tucked her head back into his shoulder and his right hand went to the small of her back where he started to gently knead the muscles. "Your back aches," he said simply in explanation.
"I had yesterday off too, and I moved furniture and cleaned thoroughly," she said as she enjoyed the light massage. "Then I flipped my mattress."
"I know," he said with a hint of humor in his voice. "Perhaps next time you decide to start your spring cleaning early, you will call me to help you move the furniture and turn your mattress."
"You would…" Catherine continued after a brief pause. "You know this connection we have could really enhance a relationship. Add a new dimension."
"How so?" he asked as his hand continued to move in slow circles.
"Even when two people are in love, they aren’t always in the mood to express that love…physically." She chose her words carefully, as not to cause embarrassment. "But sometimes one partner will go along out of love, or sometimes just to avoid an argument." She was remembering her relationship with Tom. "With our Bond, once we have reached the point of expressing our feelings in a more physical way, we won’t have that problem. We will know if it is a good time, if the other is in the mood, or maybe even what might be done to put the other person in the mood."
"Umm." The sound was noncommittal.
"You understand what I’m talking about, Vincent?"
Vincent paused, as Catherine began to feel an edge of amusement creeping along the connection. "Yes, Catherine. I do understand. You are talking about making love…when we make love. But there is something else that you should consider and think about before that happens," he tilted her head up and looked into her eyes. "We will have to consider that with both of us feeding feelings into the bond, it could become very intense."
"Oh my God!" she sat up as something dawned on her. "You’ve been holding back all this time, not because you are worried so much about physically injuring me, although that is part of it, but that you fear you would lose control of your hold on the Bond and that I would be overwhelmed at what would suddenly hit me. Kind of like a feedback loop…it could be overwhelming!"
"Yes, Catherine," he breathed. "That is one reason I’ve been holding back. Now that you know about the Bond, and are going to be learning how to handle it, well…once we are both comfortable with it…we can move toward love…take that last giant step."
She collapsed into his arms, putting her arms around him, and nestling as close as she could get.
"You realize that I will be rushing my lessons," she whispered.
"And I expect you to be an excellent student," he said with a chuckle. "A good place to start would be here."
He lowered his head and touched his lips to hers gently. The kiss grew as Catherine opened her lips and Vincent deepened the kiss. She didn’t know where he’d learned how to kiss, maybe he was using the Bond as his guide, but whichever it was, she wasn’t in any hurry to stop.
"I think I’m almost glad that cupboard fell on you last week," she murmured when they came up for air.