Frames of Reverence
By Cindy Rae
"A game of chess, Father?" The invitation was from Vincent, but the invited barely glanced upward, from his position in the heavy chair.
"Perhaps some other evening. Not tonight, Vincent." It was evening. At least the tapping of the pipes assured the tunnel's progenitor of that much. The long, long day was, blessedly, almost over.
Jacob wasn't sure if that made the situation better or worse.
Worse, he thought.
He looked at a page in the book he held, knowing he hadn't "seen" it for hours. He didn't want to read. He wanted to give the impression that he was reading, so that other people would not bother him, today.
His very sensitive son was not fooled, and did not need the gift of empathy to know that something weighed heavily on Jacob's mind. Father had barely emerged from his chambers all day, according to Mary.
"Being and Nothingness?" Vincent read the battered book's spine. "Jean Paul Sartre is a bit... heavy before bedtime, isn't he?" Vincent took the seat opposite his only parent, even though he'd not necessarily been invited to sit.
It was a testament to Jacob's level of self-absorption that the very large being moving into his space barely made a ripple in his considerations.
Bedtime. Yes. Jacob closed his eyes against the images "bed" and "time" evoked, knowing he would not find sleep in his own bed for many hours, yet.
Of course, on his wedding night he hadn't really minded that.
Vincent leaned closer, Jacob aware that he hadn't answered, but also aware that some kind of response seemed necessary.
"I was just... refreshing my memory," Jacob replied weakly.
That much was true. Vincent sensed it as well, though he also sensed that the “refreshing” of Jacob’s memory had nothing to do with French Existentialism. Or at least, that it had very little to do with it.
The photograph Jacob had been using as a bookmark sat on the open page before him. He closed the book slowly, almost protectively, and with some reluctance.
But not before Vincent had seen the image that lay between the pages.
Margaret. A Polaroid taken the day she came Below, using one of those instant cameras which spit out a poor quality image. Mouse had snapped it, fascinated with the technology.
Film for it long ago used up, the camera sat among Mouse's treasures, as the photograph sat among Jacob's.
It was a picture of the husband and wife together, standing in this very room. Taken almost the hour of their reunion, Margaret was as "healthy" as she was going to be, at the time.
Seven days. Seven amazing days.
Jacob held the book, lost in the wreck of his memories. Or at least wandering there.
Vincent's voice was soft. "Catherine once said that the tragedy of you and Margaret was that you had a beginning and an end, but no middle. I disagreed with her, I think, at the time. But perhaps she was right?" The last was phrased as a question as Jacob set the book on the table, but kept his hand near the cover.
"You know, I think I remembered this day for the first five or six years after I came Below,” Jacob said. “I would grow very quiet, the day it came around. Then... one year... Oh, I don't know what it was. You were learning to walk and had fallen and scraped a knee, or Devin was in some sort of mischief, or I was helping Mary bring Olivia into the world... something. Something distracted me, and I realized the day had passed a good bit after it actually had." He traced the cover of the book with a loving finger, knowing its contents.
"Is it her birthday?" Vincent asked, knowing full well it was not the anniversary of her death. Margaret's passing was marked on both their calendars.
"Our wedding anniversary," Jacob told his special son. He wiped a hand across his grizzled chin. "Hard as it is to believe, Vincent, forty... no, forty-one years ago today, I became a bridegroom." He looked at the battered cover of the book and past it, to a day before Vincent had even been born.
Ah. So that's what this was. Mary, always sensitive to Jacob's moods, had mentioned to Vincent that Jacob seemed "off," today. He'd spent almost the entire day in his chambers, eaten little, and seen almost no one. It was Mary who suggested the chess game. Vincent, carting down supplies from Above, had not realized anything was amiss until after dinner.
Mary, it seemed, also had no idea what day this was for Jacob. Not that there was any reason for her to know it.
Perhaps no one did, until now.
"It must have been... a very special time for you, back then. For the two of you,” Vincent ventured carefully.
Jacob lifted his hand from the tome and rubbed his fingertips across his wrinkled forehead. "It was. It very much was." He sat for a long time in silence, and Vincent was not sure he would say more. The younger man nearly rose to leave, but Jacob's voice stopped him.
"It was different in those days, you know. Women were... different. A bride was often still a virgin, on her wedding night. You had to proceed with... care."
Vincent was startled that Jacob would say something so intimate. Clearly, the memories of four decades ago were flooding in on him.
Old eyes saw backward. "She was nervous, and trying not to act like it. I was patient, and... trying to remain patient," he said with a ghost of a smile, remembering the passion of his youth. That, and the wonderment he'd felt as his wife lay warmly in his arms.
"I think we were both desperately afraid we might disappoint each other." His fingers massaged his temple for a moment, as if he was either coaxing a memory or trying to be rid of a headache.
"We didn't," he concluded, dropping the hand to pull the book closer toward himself. He wanted her picture near.
Vincent said nothing, not certain what to say. He watched a different memory cross Jacob's eyes.
"And of course there was Grace, and some small part of me still felt... unfaithful, even though Margaret and I had been done for a long time."
Vincent nodded in understanding, sensing that Jacob needed to talk, more than be talked to.
"Funny. Margaret and I were married and she wanted children right away, yet... she never conceived. One impulsive night with a completely different woman and there he was: Devin. On more prosaic evenings, I wonder if Grace paid for my sins."
Grace had died bringing forth their son. Tonight seemed full of sorrow and regret, for Jacob.
Now Vincent did speak. "As... difficult as Devin was, I think he was the only gift I never thanked you for, Father."
Jacob smiled a little, at that.
The older man rubbed his forehead, again. "You know, it occurs to me that I am an utter disaster at every important relationship I have ever had, except for you. Devin is gone. Margaret is... gone. Grace."
"Father, you are hardly to blame for that,” Vincent assured. "Devin was always... destined to leave. He was not meant to stay Below. Grace... fate was unkind, but I have no doubt she was proud to bear her son. Margaret..." The emptiness of the wealthy woman's life spun out, to Vincent's eyes. "Margaret loved you very much, and carried that love with her."
Jacob closed his own eyes against a distant pain that suddenly and unexpectedly seemed very, very close.
"I'd forgotten about this day. Part of me truly had. But Margaret had one of our wedding invitations among her things…” Jacob sighed deeply.
“I married her on a Sunday. She carried yellow flowers, because I told her about the taxi, that the color always made me think of her. Roses, I think, mixed with daffodils. One of the roses was pressed in a Bible, on our shelf, back home.” He rubbed his eyes with hands clad in fingerless gloves as he remembered being young, being in the blush of love, and being a bridegroom. “Ah, the wreck of my memories,” he quoted.
Vincent had never heard Jacob refer to any other place besides the World Below as "home."
The unique hand which heaved boulders of stone covered Jacob's shoulder, gently. The weight of sorrow clearly pressed Father down. Vincent wondered if he'd so much as moved from the chair, today.
Offering platitudes would do no good, Vincent knew. It simply wouldn’t. Jacob, as much as he wanted comfort, wanted to feel his link with his past, today.
"Margaret was a very beautiful woman. It must have been... wonderful, even astonishing to realize you were her husband," Vincent said compassionately.
Jacob smiled, actually smiled at that. "You know, I think that's the word that best describes it. I was... ‘astonished.’"
Vincent could see Father's eyes wander back through his memories until he found that certain day, found his bride. “She was so beautiful, Vincent. So beautiful, in that wedding dress. I think it was an heirloom. She wore it like a young queen.”
He was lost in a day Vincent couldn’t see, but Jacob clearly could.
“I never could tell her the memory I carried was still of her the day she stepped out of that taxi, but... all that day I think I moved from one… astonishing moment to the next."
Vincent nodded with understanding, even smiling a little as Jacob leaned forward as if telling something in confidence. Vincent realized that in all his years down in the tunnels, Jacob had had no one with whom he could share this day, this very important day, for him.
"She wanted an intimate ceremony, not some huge, overblown thing. Her Father didn't seem to mind that, and her mother was already gone, and my parents...” Jacob shook his head, indicating they were not there, for some reason.
“So Margaret got her wish, and the ... kindest minister I ever met, the one who'd baptized her twenty years earlier... made us man and wife. He looked so old to me then. Come to think of it, he was probably my age, now." Jacob gave a rueful smile at the irony of that.
"But he was a kind man, and his voice was steady, and Margaret stood beside me... glowing. And at that moment I couldn't remember any other part of the day. Not getting up or getting dressed or being driven to the chapel. There were flowers everywhere and I don't think I even saw them, because I saw her."
There was a wisp of a smile on Father's face, as he remembered standing beside the woman who was becoming his wife.
"Were you nervous? Do you remember?” Vincent asked. He knew that part of Jacob wanted to speak of this time. That much was obvious.
Jacob almost chuckled and again, Vincent was surprised. He'd gone from morose to wistfully happy, in the space of a memory. Memories had so much power over a mind.
"Nervous? You know, I thought I should be, but I told myself I was a doctor, and if I could handle things like life and death, I could handle a wedding. I never realized how much both of those things, being a doctor and being a husband… would change my fate. How much both would mean to me."
At that, his voice grew wistful again, and Vincent could tell the memories were shifting to something far more personal, and more private.
Then Jacob’s voice lowered, and grew almost somber in its reflections. "They gentle us, you know. Women do. Turn us from warmongering idiots into decent men. Good providers. Good fathers, if we're lucky, and good husbands, at least. I didn't know that, before. If they ever covered it in any of my classes, I missed it. You don't quite know who you are, yet, until you find yourself with..."
Jacob stopped, aware of the ground he was reminiscing on, and with whom. This was a conversation better had with Cullen, perhaps, or Kanin or Henry or Peter. Men who’d been married, or still were. Men who knew, and could relate.
Then, something in Jacob chafed at that. Chafed and pushed against it. Why should Vincent not know this bliss? Not know this amazing, astonishing transformation of self? Who could appreciate it more?
Vincent thought they were through talking, that Jacob was about to be embarrassed for intimating things to Vincent that Jacob thought he could never have.
He was wrong.
"They're a little timid, at first,” Jacob said surely. “Even if they've had... some level of experience. There's never been a ‘you’ in their life. Men are always larger. Heavier. Almost always more intimidating. Sometimes it is good to stand very still, and let them come to you. Like deer, or some other shy thing. It's just to... check you over, some. Just… how it is, so she can make sure she's safe. Being still helps them, sometimes."
Vincent nodded, astonished that Jacob was speaking this way, that he was including his son in a conversation about intimacy.
"You become someone else when you're with her, Vincent.”
Vincent knew Father was speaking about both Vincent, and about himself.
“With her that way. You become someone you like far more. Someone you respect in a different way." The soft brown eyes were intense, with meaning.
"It changes you. You have no idea how gentle you can be until something you love more than anything else puts itself in your hands, and trusts."
Jacob sat back in the chair again, and watched Vincent process the words.
It would. It would change you, and just that way. Vincent took the words into himself, knowing not only that Jacob meant every one of them, but that he meant them for Vincent, just as he would have meant them for any other man. Vincent felt humbled by the acceptance that implied.
In that moment, he loved his father very, very much.
"The two things that killed me about the annulment were perhaps both the more obvious and less so," Jacob went on. "One, I had lost her. Lost her forever. Gone to a place I couldn't follow, to a life I could no longer claim. She was gone to me.
“For you, that would be as if your bond with Catherine had been somehow... severed.”
Vincent visibly recoiled at the thought, but understood what Jacob was trying to say.
“But the other thing was the annulment itself. It wasn't a divorce. An annulment is when the law declares the marriage never happened. Never happened at all. That offended me, Vincent, and I remember the anger of it staying with me a long time."
Jacob held this memory again, too, and for an instant, Vincent could see a whisper of the righteous indignation Jacob had felt.
"Because it was like denying all of it had ever happened. The beautiful dress, the yellow flowers, the butterflies in my stomach... and everything, everything that came after. I was changed. She was changed… No legal piece of paper could ever put us back the way we were, before all of that. Nothing could. I think that's what her Father was trying to do. I wonder if he ever understood how miserably he failed."
The older man stared into space a moment, his eyes fixed on an unseen foe. Something in him felt satisfied to have spoken all the memories aloud, and let them go. Margaret’s father had failed. At least there was something in that.
"I think he must have known it." Vincent put his hand on Jacob's shoulder again. "Margaret never remarried, Father. I'll venture a guess that there was no one else in her life, no one important that way, outside her friendships. Then she was yours again, in the end. And you were hers."
"We were," Jacob agreed. "Those seven days gave us our sense of... self back. I was her....” He shook his head, searching for the words for a moment. "I was her besotted husband, again. And she was still my wife."
Vincent nodded, and Jacob sighed again, suddenly feeling tired, really tired. The kind of tired that meant sleep was near, and not the “tired” of the bone-crushing sorrow he'd carried all day.
"You know, I think I'll turn in now." Jacob rose, picking up the book as he did so.
"Very well. I'll look in on you, later." Vincent rose with him.
"It might be a handsome night. You should go and see Catherine. Give her my love, please. If it had not been for her..."
Vincent knew. Had it not been for Catherine, Jacob might still be in a jail cell somewhere, and Margaret would have passed out of this world, all alone.
"I will send her your regards, and bring you back the same. Rest well, Father. I will look back in on you again, before I go to bed."
Jacob nodded, setting the book on his nightstand so that it would be within the reach of his hand.
"I should get a frame for that picture, to make certain it isn't damaged. Perhaps I'll ask Jamie is she can find me one..."
"Yes, Father. A frame. One you could keep near you."
"I like holding it, though. It gives me comfort." He sat on the bed, and slipped out of his shoes.
"You've had no dinner," Vincent reminded him.
"I am truly not hungry,” Jacob answered honestly. “Tomorrow, perhaps."
"Tomorrow, then. Sleep well, Father." I hope you dream of being a bridegroom again.
Vincent pulled the quilt up as Jacob allowed himself to be ministered to, and tucked in like a child. Vincent moved gently, knowing that his father was exhausted, but also knowing he would sleep. Jacob’s brown eyes closed, almost immediately. Vincent left on quiet feet.
He walked down the circular hallway he'd travelled hundreds upon hundreds of times, realizing how familiar the way to Father's chambers was, and had always been, for him.
Yet, within those chambers was a man Vincent felt like he was meeting for the first time.
He wondered if it was that way for all children, if they “met” their parents again, as adults, after having known them all their lives as something else.
While Vincent had been a grown man for a long time, and an independent force for even longer, he marveled that Jacob was still someone he could “meet,” still someone he could "get to know," in a way.
Part of him felt a pang of sorrow for Devin, that his brother had missed this opportunity. He thought it even as he understood that it was likely Grace, and not Margaret, whom Devin would like to hear more about.
Perhaps it was just as well, then.
Catherine was not home, yet, and would not be for some few hours. Even though the night was well under way, she'd mentioned some social obligation for her work. An engagement party for a colleague. Ted, and his lovely fiancée. The world seemed bent on weddings, of one sort or another, this evening, Vincent mused.
Vincent took himself into Cullen's woodworking shop, content to pick through the scraps of unused wood until he found what he needed.
Saw, glue, nails and paint were set aside. At the end of the hour he had something he could work with.
When Jacob awoke an hour or so before dawn, Margaret's beautiful face beamed at him from his bedside table. The book was nearby. The photograph was suspended in a simple rectangle. The thin glass that protected the image had been repurposed from something else. The names "Jacob and Margaret Wells" had been carefully written in ink across the bottom, in Vincent's flowing, left-handed penmanship.
It was a pretty piece. Wide pieces of light blonde oak gave it an airy feel. The varnish on the wood still had a faint smell. Jacob suspected if he touched the wood, that it might still be a bit tacky.
"Good morning, you,” Jacob said, smiling, knowing he was really saying "good morning" to two of his loves. His son had been busy and likely stayed up a good while, to make this from scratch and finish it. A softly painted flower sat at each of the four corners. Roses and daffodils. Yellow, of course.
"I have an amazing son, Margaret. I wish there had been time for you to know him better."
Jacob and Margaret Wells
Jacob eyed the frame, resisting the temptation to trace his finger over the words, just yet. Wells.
To the world as a whole, Margaret had died as Margaret Chase, the name she'd lived with almost all her life. The name her father’s manipulations insisted had never changed, legally.
But to Jacob, and to Margaret herself, she'd been Margaret Wells. It had happened. They'd been married, and however brief that marriage had been, it had changed both of them, forever.
Jacob tucked his arm back beneath his head a moment, content to stare at his wife.
"I gave him some very good advice yesterday, about love." He grinned ruefully. "And while I admit part of me is terrified that he'll take it, and act on it... the other part thinks... he shouldn't miss it, for the world."
Pausing a moment before he started his day, that feeling settled inside Jacob's chest, and expanded. Catherine Chandler was an amazing, some might even say an astonishing, woman. She was Vincent's love, and she was his chance to see where love would take him. Heaven. Hell. Everyplace south of Oz and north of Shangri-La. Anywhere. Everywhere. Vincent, like other men, had his chance at something soul- making.
"Well. I'd best get on with my day. I'm afraid I ignored everyone quite pointedly, yesterday," he told the portrait. "Lord only knows what Mouse has gotten into."
He pushed back the quilt and carefully adjusted the picture just a little, setting the angle to where he preferred it. He knew Margaret was no longer alive. But he was fairly certain that as long as he carried her inside his heart, the worthier part of her was still there, somehow.
Far above where Jacob now sat, his exceptional son stood leaning against a certain wall on a certain balcony, while a certain astonishing woman dreamed, near him. Dawn would bear the cloak of night away, soon. He knew he could not stay much longer.
His booted foot planted against the stone wall, Vincent stood, relaxed, as he watched the night depart. He was in no hurry to move or leave. It had been a beautiful night. He'd made Jacob's frame, then come to Catherine's balcony, even though she was already sleeping. He'd been tempted to wake her, just to talk and tell her everything about his evening.
But then, seeing her sleep, a huge sense of peace and contentment had washed through him. His love was safe. His love was dreaming. He'd leaned against the wall a while, and stargazed. He’d been replaying Jacob's words in his head, as he watched the moon clear the skyline.
It changes you. You have no idea how gentle you can be until something you love more than anything else puts itself in your hands.
Then Catherine's soft voice echoed from a different memory. These are my hands.
Vincent looked at his hands, knowing full well what he would see. Fur. Claws. Strength. Long fingers that had spent much of the night putting together Jacob's gift. A loving gift. Hands that had climbed to her, had fought for her, had carried her, would serve her all his days.
Perhaps they could be hers, then. Perhaps she was right. Perhaps they could give love. Perhaps they already did, in many, many ways.
Vincent could smell the sun about to rise. He had to go.
He moved off toward home, knowing he would need to sprint across the park, but welcoming the run. His world would be waking up, some members of it already quite busy.
Perhaps he'd stop by the kitchen, to see if William wanted help with breakfast. Perhaps visit Mary, later, to admire whatever piece of beauty she was creating with her needle, and talk about the antics of the children under her care. It had been a while since he’d sat in Pascal’s pipe chamber, and shared a meal.
There were so many wonderful people in his life. So many amazing, and wonderful and... astonishing people. Jamie. Brooke. Samantha. Cullen. Elizabeth. Mouse. Kanin, Luke, Olivia... the list seemed to go on, forever.
He wondered if he could find time to see all of them, at least for a few minutes, today. He'd been up all night. He knew he should be tired. He also knew he wasn’t. He'd need to squeeze a nap in somewhere, in between an honest day's labor, checking on his friends and family, and then coming back to see Catherine, this evening.
But right now, it felt as if he might never need to sleep again. A quiet exhilaration whispered through every vein, and with it, the sense of a possible future that waited for him. For them.
He knew they would talk, and that much of it would be about the amazing night he'd just spent.
Jacob’s words repeated themselves, as Vincent watched one day truly end and another truly begin.
Sometimes it is good to stand very still, and let them come to you. Like deer, or some other shy thing.
And her voice, from a dream he’d had of her:
And if I sat very still, the deer would walk by and not even see me. I could almost reach out and touch them. It seemed...enchanted.
Vincent knew he had indeed pushed his time Above to its limit. There were joggers in the park. The black of night just before dawn was starting to take on a greying tone. Sunrise was closer. It was all right. His cape and the dense line of trees he reached would offer him more than enough concealment.
He turned, once he entered the culvert, watching the sky lighten just a little more. He would not wait for the sunrise or watch it, as he was sometimes tempted to do.
There were people in his life that needed tending. Beautiful people. Astonishing ones, really.
The astonishing man with the astonishing hands made his way to the doorway of what truly was an astonishing, unique, and sometimes breathtaking home.
He knew the warm, welcoming feel of homecoming, and more, the deep, thrumming feel of Catherine, inside his chest. She was like his heartbeat. Perhaps she was his heartbeat, now. He put his hand to it, feeling the warmth. Yes. There she was. The bond told him she was having a good dream. He couldn't see what it was about. He wondered if she would remember it, to tell him, later.
After all, everyone should have a good dream.
No matter where you are in your own fairy tale, I wish you love. ~Cindy
Author’s note: When a dream disappears, when a beloved series is cancelled, it often simply… fades. Lost to time, to other things, to ‘the next big new thing…’ Always something to command the attention away. Always something.
Yet here we are.
And as hard as it can be to keep the memories of that wonderful show alive, keeping the dream of it alive can be at least a little bit more of a challenge. As fan fictions overtake (and sometimes even direct) the course the fans want the show to take, (and I am as unabashedly guilty of that as anyone), it’s tough to stand by an ideal, more than to stand by a desired outcome. Tough to be a guardian of all the show truly espoused for you, for all of us, in the face of years going by, the mounting changes, and the diverse paths we all tread.
Those who manage to hold onto that dream are our Dream Keepers. They help to protect ideals, and ideas.
I think Vincent would have approved. (Smile.)
Jacob’s remembrance of a dream-like time he once had, and his urge to include Vincent in that dream struck just the right note with me, for this. We do wonderful things when we include others in our fondest dreams.
So, to all the Dream Keepers out there, thank you. When I wander just a bit far off the beaten path, you remind me why I loved this little show, and why I love it still. And you remind me that you love it, with me.
So this is for the Dreamers. Both the ones who brought the show to life, and the ones who help it to live, still. And the Dream Keepers. You know who you are.
Submitted with a humble and grateful heart.
We are such stuff as Dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep. -- William Shakespeare, The Tempest
Happy Anniversary, Beauty and the Beast.