In Her Hands

A Continuation of the Episode "Arabesque"


By Linda Barth

 

"Unto thee I lift my hands, and eyes, and heart, and crave of thee a gift."

(George Gordon, Lord Byron)

 

On a darkened terrace far above the city streets, two souls clung to a lifeline woven of love and hope. Having found the courage to open his heart to Catherine, Vincent had revealed dark and destructive truths from his past; yet in doing so, he had risked losing her forever. In the silent aftermath of his confession, they held each other, seeking shelter from the torment of memories, the shame of revelation, the despair of dreams.

The suffocating depths of Vincent's anguish had left him beyond words, alone in his grief. Only the promise of Catherine's unending love might guide him home, yet he had denied his right to follow that light to its source where it would warm and soothe and renew him. Finally, summoning the remnants of his strength, he opened himself to their bond, both dreading and craving what he might find there.

The torrent of her emotions assaulted his raw and wounded heart, and he shuddered violently, unable to withstand their intensity. Her love raged over him, through him, yearning to consume his suffering. Where he had thought to find revulsion and fear, he found only a fierce and unyielding desire to draw him within her heart and keep him safe forever.

Her passion overwhelmed him, and he recoiled, unable to accept her offering, believing that for her it would be too great a sacrifice. Raising his head, he drew in a ragged breath and tried to pull his hands away from her tight grasp. "Catherine, no. No more." His voice rasped unevenly, revealing the effort it took even to speak. "This is wrong. It can't be. How can you bear to look at me -- to touch me?"

As her eyes met his, they offered a reflection of his own sorrow, and he staggered under its force. The guilt of having brought her with him into this dark place of terrible pain was almost more than he could withstand, and he moaned aloud as he gave voice to his torment and remorse.

"Catherine... what have I done?"

At once she released his trembling hands, then drew him into her arms, easing his head down upon her shoulder as she murmured soft, soothing words. "Vincent, it's all right. Everything will be all right."

For long moments she simply held him, crooning tender sounds and gentle words. Yet as she sensed the familiar soothing haven of her voice and body begin to calm him, her heart and mind were filled with turbulence beyond anything she had ever known, and it took all her strength to shield him from it.

He had spoken haltingly, painfully of an earlier time that haunted him still. His agonized retelling of that long-ago moment with Lisa had conjured images with razor-sharp intensity, vivid memories of hope and despair, pleasure and pain. And as their bond vibrated in discordant waves, Catherine had felt it all, reliving the moments with him as if they were happening then and there instead of in an underground cavern long ago.

Images of a secret place filled with dreams of music and dance and the first stirrings of love. Starbursts of delight and desire to send the heart soaring. Wild hope unleashed, only to live and die in a single moment. Uncertainty, then the sudden shock of pain, pain that in another time and place might have been easily healed. Too many fears instantly ripping apart love's possibility, bequeathing a potent legacy that wedded desire to shame and hope to denial.

At last Catherine knew. She knew everything, and yet she loved him even more.

Finding that at last Vincent's shuddering had diminished, she carefully urged him downward with her until they sat huddled together upon the cool, terracotta floor. Once more she repeated the loving words that were meant to begin his healing.

"It will be all right, Vincent. It will. I promise everything will be all right."

She felt the heat of his tears against her neck as he shook his head in denial, and she pulled him closer into her embrace.

Her simple, heartfelt vow of indomitable faith had crushed him, for he knew that he hadn’t told her everything, and when he finally found the words that would make her truly understand, he would break her heart. The urge to escape was almost irresistible, but he owed her more - much more - than that, even if it would destroy them both. Searching for courage he was no longer certain he possessed, he straightened and forced himself to hold out his hands toward her.

"Catherine, you said these hands are beautiful to you. But there is no beauty in what they have done."

"No, you’re wrong!" she began. But when she reached for him, he pulled his hands away and held them up to her, desperately trying to make her see and accept what he had always known was true.

"There is no beauty,” he repeated, his voice deep and harsh with pain.  “You don’t understand. There is only shame and terror in what these hands have done -- what they have done not only to Lisa but to Devin and countless others whose names I never even knew, over and over, time after time. These hands were meant to destroy. They were not meant to give love. I can never allow myself to forget that, never again." For one heartbreaking moment, his voice trembled, but he went on. "I have finally accepted this truth about myself, Catherine. And you must accept it, too."

He lowered his hands slowly as if to shroud them from her sight within the voluminous folds of his cloak. But she would not let him hide from her, and with gentle strength she reached for him, cradling his large hands in the small shelter of her own as she looked steadily into his tear-filled eyes.

"No, Vincent," she said, her voice low and sure. "I don't accept that. I never have and I never will." When she felt him begin to pull away from her again, she tightened her hold on him, drawing him back with the force of her hands and her heart. “What happened with Lisa and with Devin – those were accidents. You never meant to hurt them like that. And they both know it.”

In desperation, he could not resist grasping at the flickering of hope she’d offered him, yet it was not enough. “But the others – what of them? How can I ignore what I did to them?”

Catherine’s voice never faltered. "You say these hands have caused fear and pain, and yes, we know there’s truth in that. But it was never what you wanted. You’ve never sought out violence. You’ve only done what was absolutely necessary to defend your home and the lives of your family, your loved ones, from people who would destroy them.”

She paused, offering him a chance to speak, but when he remained silent, she continued. “And while I wish more than anything that you had never been forced to experience those moments, I know them for what they are -- and you must know it, too. Those moments, despite everything, were in their own way an act of love. And, Vincent, there is no shame in that."

She waited, anxiously searching his face for even the smallest sign that he had begun to believe the truth in her words. When still he did not speak, yet did not lower his gaze from hers, she saw that uncertain silence as his willingness for her to continue. And she understood that for now it was all he had to offer.

She took a deep breath, aware that she would now take them into places as treacherous as any they had yet encountered. But it was a risk she would willingly take if it might offer him the peace and healing he thought he’d never find. "Now, think of me..." she began, but to her horror, her voice broke in a tremulous quiver.

Instinctively he offered her his strength. "Always, Catherine," he whispered. "I think of you always."

For a moment she closed her eyes tightly, and when she opened them, she knew he saw her love for him in their luminous depths. "Think of the times you've protected me. All those times I’ve been in dangerous situations, and it was your hands that helped keep me safe from harm. They're the hands that have saved my life. Do you find shame in that?"

"No, Catherine! There is nothing I would not do to keep you safe. But the terrible things I've done...the men I've destroyed..." His voice faltered as the painful memories filled him once again. He could not share any more of this horror with her.

But she would not let him retreat further into shadows. "Go on, Vincent," she urged. "Please. It's time we talked about it. You won't hurt me by saying the words.”

His face tightened with pain. "Sometimes I see their faces in my nightmares and it is horrible, unspeakable. I have done things that have caused terror. I have destroyed lives… But I know it was what I had to do, and I would do it all again…for you. If there is shame in that, then it's a shame I will gladly bear to keep you safe."

Her eyes filled with tears, but her voice was strong. "And the shame is mine as well. I know I've led you to that point again and again, never willing to admit that it destroys you a little more each time it happens." She paused and took a deep, trembling breath. " I am so sorry, Vincent, and I don't know how, but I swear I'll find a way to make all of it stop. I promise I will!"

He had never realized how she’d shared in his guilt and suffering. The knowledge stunned him, and his first impulse was to protect her, to deny the truth of her words, but he found that he could not. To do so would be to refute the courage and love that had prompted her own confession, to retreat into darkness when they both had been offered a pathway of light.

Wordlessly, he drew her into his arms and with a small sob she collapsed against him. As they held each other, they treasured the possibility that out of their shared sorrow and remorse, their lives were somehow evolving, bringing them closer to the dream they longed for, the promise that had always seemed just beyond their reach.

For many minutes, Vincent allowed himself to drift in the comforting glow of the hope Catherine had offered. But as he began to stroke the silkiness of her hair, the sight of his hand on her head created an inescapable reminder of the night’s bittersweet revelations.  

With gentle firmness he pushed her away until she sat opposite him once again, close enough so that he could still feel the reassuring warmth of her body, but with enough distance to allow the resurgence of the invisible wall between them. And when she trembled, he pretended it was from the chill of the night air.

"Catherine, you're cold. You must go inside now." But as he rose to his feet, her hands reached out to stop his flight.

"No, I'm fine," she protested. "Please don't go. There's so much more we need to say."

She knew that if he left her now, all hope for further resolution would be lost. They'd come so far this night, she could not risk losing what they had gained. For just a moment, she thought of asking him to come inside with her, to enter the welcome warmth of her home. Yet in a heartbeat she knew the futility of that tender hope. He already felt he had violated her trust; he would not violate the supposed sanctity of her world, a world that he still believed held no real place for him.

With relief, she watched as he swept his cloak from his shoulders and arranged it on the terrace floor. Silently he lowered himself upon it and waited expectantly as she moved closer, both aching to open their arms to the other, yet remaining apart.

His voice was low and full of regret when he began to speak again. "I don't question the wisdom, the truth in all you've said, Catherine, but I haven’t told you everything about my relationship with Lisa.  There is something more. There is something in me, a darkness that cannot be controlled, that would hurt even the innocent. And it exists beyond the defense of my family and home, even beyond my protection of you. It is why I must stay apart…alone."

He paused, images of light and darkness, hope and sorrow filling him. "It wasn't always like this. There was a time when I let myself believe, for just a while, that a dream could come true even for someone like me. I let myself hope... But when I reached out for that dream, reached out with these hands, I destroyed that hope. I've thought about that night so many times and it’s always the same. I see Lisa smiling at me, coming to me, so lovely, her eyes full of tenderness. I feel her in my arms, as delicate as a butterfly - and then I feel her start to pull away, to struggle when I would not let her go. When these hands could not let her go.”

He drew a shuddering breath. “I hurt her then. I didn't mean to, but it happened. That darkness in me – I could not control it. I only meant to…love her. But she ran from me and all I could give her was pain and fear." He lowered his head, turning away to find shelter behind the bronze and gold curtain of his tangled hair.

But Catherine would not let him hide from her, and with infinite tenderness she placed her hand beneath his chin and turned his face back toward her. “There was no darkness, Vincent. You were both so young, so caught up in strong, confusing emotions that neither of you understood. It was only an accident, just part of being a young boy who was experiencing his first feelings of love and desire. It was no one’s fault.”

“But because of me, Lisa left the tunnels, just as Devin did. I hurt them, and it was my fault they lost their home and their family. I destroyed their lives...because I loved them.”

She shook her head, feeling a surge of anger at the two beloved companions of Vincent’s youth who, in his eyes, he’d hurt irrevocably.  Catherine knew they’d had every right to move on, whatever their reasons, but they’d been heartless to leave him without a word of explanation, thoughtlessly and selfishly building on his lifetime of guilt and remorse.

“No, that was not your fault, Vincent. It was never your fault.” Her voice was firm and compelling. “No matter what happened, they still had choices. Everyone has issues to deal with, and you’re not responsible for the way they dealt with theirs. They made their own decisions.”

Once more a faint sensation of hope flickered in his heart, but the beliefs of a lifetime were much stronger. “Perhaps there is some truth in what you say. Devin did find his way home, but it doesn’t change what happened with Lisa. I learned another truth that night, that I must never feel that way again. Such dreams were not meant for me, and I could not risk dreaming them again.”

Her heart broke for him, but she believed that there was still a chance for him to heal. "And tell me, despite everything, did you take that risk? Did you dream again?"

He could not withhold the truth from her. "Yes...when I found you. But it’s wrong – I can’t -"

Catherine knew there could be no turning back now. Without giving him time to descend further into self-defeat, she asked gently, "And in your dreams do you hold me? Do you touch me with these hands?"

His ragged intake of breath revealed the hard-sought courage it took for him to reply. "Yes. Forgive me, Catherine, but I do."

In her voice there was only strength and certainty. "Then our dreams are one and the same, Vincent. I long for you to hold me and touch me, as I would hold and touch you."

He closed his eyes tightly, forcing back the torment they would reveal, all the while knowing the act for the futile gesture that it was. Catherine knew his heart, and there was no longer a place where he could retreat and hide from her. Perhaps, he told himself with sorrowful resignation, this is as it must be, as it should be. Now he would speak the final words that would destroy her hope, her faith, her very heart, and with it his.

He opened his eyes and looked steadily into hers. "What you long for, the longing we share, it can never be. My heart is filled with love for you, Catherine, but I have no way to offer you that love, not in all the ways that you wish me to." He glanced down for a moment and turned his hands upward toward her, their empty palms holding ghostly promises of things that might have been.

In silence, she mirrored his gesture, gently cupping her hands over his, palm arching above palm, as if to protect the fragile possibilities in their grasp, all the hope he felt must be surrendered to a grim, distorted reality.

As she gazed at him, a tender smile lit her face. "Hands are just hands. Flesh and blood and bone, no more and no less than that, to do with what you will, or what you must. I've seen your hands dry a child's tears and hold your father’s body to shelter him from pain. I’ve watched them reach out to offer food and blankets to those in need. I've seen them speak words of courage and love to an angry, frightened young woman...and I've seen them hold a newborn baby. There is so much love in these hands, Vincent, in your hands."

For a heartbeat he hesitated, wanting desperately to believe her, but unable to evade the beliefs he’d held nearly all his life. "And there is pain in these hands as well, Catherine, pain and suffering and destruction in what I have done. We cannot pretend otherwise."

When she felt him start to pull his hands away, she responded instantly, entwining her fingers with his, leaving him no further chance of escape. "No, we can’t, but that’s all part of the past. We can help each other to accept it and to move on. And we can do everything possible to make sure you never have to feel that way again.”

Her voice continued, soft and warm. “But beyond everything else, you must understand that your hands were always meant to give love. They have helped heal me with their touch. They've reached out for me when I've been frightened and alone. They've touched me with tenderness and love, always with love. You could never hurt me, Vincent. I know that and I believe it with all my heart. And I think that deep inside you believe it, too."

"It's what I want to believe," he whispered, his voice roughened with effort. "But how can I be sure? What if I --"

With unsettling swiftness, she interrupted his sad musing. "And what of my hands? Tell me what you find in them."

“In your hands?” He tilted his head in confusion, contemplating her unexpected request. "In your hands, there is tenderness and comfort and strength. In your hands there is no pain, there is only love."

She shook her head, gripping his hands even tighter as she spoke. "These hands - my hands - have struck out in pain and fear. They've held a gun. They have hurt others. And they have killed."

"Catherine, no!" He struggled to silence her, but she would not let him.

"Yes, Vincent, they have. You know I’ve done these things." She waited as he glanced away for a moment in unwilling confirmation of her words. "I'm not proud of it, but we both know it's the truth. And knowing that, how can you bear my touch, the touch of hands that have been instruments of pain and destruction?"

As he returned his steady gaze to her, there was no hesitation in his reply. "Because you have only done what you had to do when you had no other choice. That’s not who you are. You – your hands -- have given shelter and solace and healing. Their touch is gentle and kind. These hands are a part of you, Catherine, and you would never knowingly hurt me. These hands have given me nothing but love..." His deep voice trailed off in a whisper as he finally heard the truth in his own words.  Words that echoed in their hearts, in the love they had shared from the very beginning.

Catherine watched the anguish that had ravaged his face at last begin to dissolve, leaving a dawning light of new-found hope and absolute trust. Her heart pounded within a body that threatened to collapse in joyful relief. And she knew the discordant songs of sorrow and despair that had haunted Vincent for so long might now begin to fade to distant memory.

As his eyes looked deeply into hers, he made no attempt to conceal the complex tangle of emotions he knew she would find there. And then, with slow and steady grace, he raised her hands to his lips, echoing the pledge she had earlier entrusted to him.

"These hands are beautiful. These are my hands."

She felt the sweet warmth of his breath a heartbeat before his mouth caressed the softness of her skin. The sensation sent flames rippling through her, and she knew without the shadow of a doubt that same fire burned within him, barely controlled and waiting only for the time when together they would set it free.

Her gaze held his as she gently drew her hands from his grasp and reached to cradle his beloved face. "And my heart, Vincent, that too is yours. Only yours, always."

There was tenderness and trust in his voice. "As mine is yours, Catherine. Only yours, forever."

Without another word, they melted into each other’s arms and for long moments out of time, they remained as they were, safe once again in the haven of their love.

 

"Now join your hands, and with your hands your hearts."    

(William Shakespeare)

 

 

Author’s note: “In Her Hands” was the first B&B story I ever wrote, and it has a long and diverse history. The original version of the story was called “When the Music Stops,” and it was published in the ‘90’s in Volume I, Issue I of Barb Hill and Terrie Milliman’s wonderful zine series “Soulmates – A Never-ending Dream.”  A revised and renamed (“In Her Hands”) version of the story was completed in August 1996 for CABB’s online fiction archives Tunnel Tales.  Years later, I reworked it once again for my limited edition print zine “Remember Love,” an anthology of my short stories, and then again more recently for the conzine for our beloved show's 30th anniversary. The story you have just read is the latest -- and truly last -- version.

Thank you for taking this story-writing journey with me. If you would like to contact me, I'd love to hear from you. My email is azurite412@gmail.com.