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Long poems full of fire

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The heart of man is very much like the sea, it has its storms, it has its tides and in its depths it has its pearls too.

(from a letter by Vincent van Gogh).

*

At first, I felt justified in leaving the following experiences out from the account of the many observations I have made while aboard the Nautilus. Still, I wished to preserve them in some way, so here they are, for my own personal records. This is what I saw. And, more importantly perhaps, this is what I felt. And I am not quite sure yet, but I think I shall want to remember it for a very long time...

*

Some time during the fourth or fifth month I had spent aboard the Nautilus, I had a series of odd, unexplainable experiences, which left me in a state of mild but persistent confusion, unsure of what was dream or waking world, or of what lay in that mysterious space between them both.

To be more accurate, I should have said that these events took place directly after the midnight walk where Captain Nemo had led me through Atlantis and all its wonders. The morning after, I overslept. My body, my brain and (I suppose) my soul were exhausted and overwhelmed by all this strange beauty—by something I could not fully explain yet.

My mind was still reeling, caught in the spell of this underwater journey, during which I had wondered about that wild, red flame I saw under the water, and if these distant depths might hide more men like him, men who had turned their backs on the world, breaking every tie to it, and who now led strange, unimaginable lives beneath the waves—men who had found their refuge and freedom there.

These ideas had seemed rather foolish and unreasonable to me then, and yet my brain was not in the least appeased. It seemed to long for some other explanation, for an attempt to grasp what was yet unseen—for something more.

*

Earlier that night, I had sat down to dinner, with Captain Nemo next to me, as the previous night, and the one before it. Indeed, it seemed to have become a habit, and I did not question it at all. Quite the opposite, in fact, I had began to look forward to it. After a fine meal of fish and oysters and turtle soup, we sat in the lounge, myself and the captain, in companionable silence, smoking the strange sea-weed tobacco with pleasure. Much to my amusement (and, I should say, to my unexpected delight), I was developing a real liking for its wild, exotic taste. If I were a poet and not a scientist, I might have explained this feeling as somehow drawing a small part of the ocean within me. And, had I shared this observation with Captain Nemo, he might have agreed with me. However, I did not (perhaps, I did not dare), and I saved it for this private account instead.

The comfortable silence of the smoky room we were in made me feel warm and sleepy. I could appreciate the perfect quiet of the night, with its velvet-like texture, only broken by the sound of the waves around us, and (as I wish to be honest in this account) by the beat of my heart. The Nautilus was moving slowly, a few metres beneath the water, and through the lounge's open panels, I could see many enchanting sea creatures—mainly several varieties of squid and octopi, some of them new to me—swimming next to it, and keeping it company, it seemed to me. In the edges of this brightly lit half-dream, I thought that they resembled a mysterious and devoted sea entourage, following us closely, wherever we might choose to go...

Almost crossing the threshold between vigil and sleep, with half-closed eyes, I looked at Captain Nemo. In the soft electrical light, I saw a curious pearl pin that held his very fine cravat neatly in place, near his throat. Its dark silk, exotic and luxuriously shaded, and finely enriched with golden and silver threads, caught my eye for a long moment, it is true—but it was the pearl that I could not stop looking at, as much as I tried. Very close to his pulse point, it seemed to beat and vibrate along with his heart, almost like a delicate, living thing. I did not wish to be rude or indiscreet, this still being relatively early in our acquaintance, but in my half-asleep state, I could not help myself from looking at it, so otherworldly and unique this pearl seemed—not unlike the ones I had seen in the captain's fine collection, or during one of our underwater walks, but a deep, bright red.

"I see your eyes are drawn to it, M. Aronnax," Captain Nemo said softly (and almost proudly, I fancied). His hand went up to it, and I followed it with my eyes as he stroked it like a rare, precious treasure—which, very likely, it was.

"This cravat was made in Italy—it is authentic Catania silk, I believe—and I got it there, many, many years ago, when I still dwelt in the continents of this world, and was not entirely averse to spending time there... and in the society of other people." He sighed, and paused for a moment. "As you have seen by now, sir, I can—and do—weave very fine and noble fabrics with the many gifts that the sea provides for me. So this is what some might call an indulgence, a beautiful thing of the past. A memory of another time, and, perhaps, of another life."

He looked at me then, keenly and sharply, in that way I had grown accustomed to in such a short while—that deep way where he seemed to see straight into my secret self, and know exactly what I was thinking, or even feeling. "But never mind this. After all, it is this pearl, and not the cravat, which draws your eyes so. Is it not?" he asked me, his fingers still close to that place I could not remove my gaze from.

He saw right through me, then. Silently, I nodded. In all honesty, I could not do anything else. It seemed odd, but I could not speak, could not look away, and indeed, could not say why I was so captivated by it—by him. Perhaps, it was this half-dreamy state I was in, making me bold, but I felt my sense of decorum slowly deserting me. And, perhaps, I should have been ashamed—but I was not. And, indeed, Captain Nemo did not seem to find it odd at all—nor shameful either. Quite the opposite, he looked at me knowingly, with something that felt almost like understanding, as if there was an unspoken secret, held safe, between the both of us, which needed the veil of sleep to show itself.

(Perhaps, there truly was.)

"This pearl, M. Aronnax, has a story you shall now hear. It is a story I have never told to another soul, until tonight—a story that might test the limits of your belief. But I have said to you before that there can be no secrets between men who will never leave each other, and I meant it. And I shall prove it to you."

I felt the suggestive weight of his words, but still said nothing. I waited for him to go on, not bothering to hide my anticipation from myself, and not even trying to do so. There was, I noticed, a strange heat within me, not unlike the one I had felt when we had passed through the fiery island of Santorini. Indeed, my heart itself felt white and red, brightly kindled, almost volcanic, any moment now bursting into flame. I let out a sharp breath, and loosened my tie, never allowing my gaze to stray away from his. Truthfully, I could not have, even if I had wanted to, so strongly did he hold my eyes captive with his own, as he began his story.

"Some years ago, I was in Whitby, where my travels had taken me, as I painstakingly finalised the great task of the building of the Nautilus. You might recall me telling you before about how my ship, for the sake of secrecy and safety, had her parts forged in several places: Paris, Glasgow, New York, Liverpool... It was while in this last city where I was wisely advised by the builders that I would find better, sturdier iron plates for its hull in Whitby, so it was there I set out towards.

"One night, in a small traveller's inn near Robin Hood’s Bay, I made the acquaintance of a stranger—a foreign gentleman. He, too, was passing through this place, and had just arrived that evening on a steamer called the Demeter, as he explained. I distinctly remember that, outside the inn, the evening was cold and rainy, and there was a thick sea-fog drifting inland, which obscured the view of the harbour and the bay and the cliffs and the twin lighthouses of this place. It was a gloomy sight, sir, but such evenings, full of shades and shadows, are good when a man wishes to be alone with his thoughts, and I must confess that I found this desolation comforting. Somehow, I do not think this will surprise you at all.

"And so, this gentleman and I sat down to a very fine dinner of mutton and potatoes, as I recall, but that is not really important. What I most remember is that, despite my gloomy mood, we got to talking, and I discovered that we had a similar view of humanity. Mine was slightly more cynical than his own, perhaps, but we still were of one mind in many, many topics and opinions. Time passed in such a way—he and I sat talking some more, and after a while, I felt drawn to disclose several things about my vessel and its inner workings."

He paused again, his intense gaze still never leaving mine. "You are surprised, sir, this much I see. And I understand why. I held everything regarding the Nautilus as a secret, as you know, and, therefore, it might have been reckless of me, but at the time it seemed right. For some unknown reason, I could not have acted otherwise. And I was not mistaken. This gentleman became extremely interested in everything related to my project, and asked me a myriad questions, and had then much to say about it. Indeed, we discussed plans and figures of all sorts, and, like you, professor, he seemed to perfectly understand my vision of the sea having a pulse and a heartbeat, arteries and veins running through it—that is, a circulatory system of sorts, as Commander Maury has put it, with all its living creatures very much a part of it. And, as such, this gentleman saw, just as I did, my vessel as being a part of that fine and delicate bond.

"After a while, he suggested a little refreshment, to reward our exertions of the day, as I believe he put it. As he spoke these last words, I noticed that he had not touched his dinner at all. I did not understand at first, and so I ought to have found it odd, sir, but I did not—such was his magnetism! That was, I realised, the reason why I felt so drawn to him, to tell him my vision. Somehow, I knew who he was. A stranger, and yet, someone I had heard of, or seen in dreams before, or, somehow, simply knew. And, you see, sir, in his eyes, I could see something else, something of a different sort. It was a hunger for something rare and extraordinary—for a blood bond, one could say. For something more. There are simply no other words to describe it."

(Something more! Could he have known how those words echoed and trembled within me?)

Captain Nemo had made another pause, as if judging my sense of belief, or lack thereof. I did not tear my eyes away from him (I simply did not dare), and he went on. "And that, sir, is all I remember from that night. The next morning, however, I woke up with a strange, yet fully logical idea that had taken root in my head—that, somehow, this gentleman and I had made an agreement—a covenant, if you will. And so, you see, when I found this pearl in my possession, this rare jewel coming from the heart of the sea, the place where I meant to make my home, it seemed like the only logical conclusion to think that he had gifted it to me for that reason precisely—to honour that pledge, to feed that bond."

He paused again, seemingly caught in a reverie, and, again, his hand went to his throat, in an odd, perhaps unconscious, gesture. In the secretive half-darkness of the lounge, the sea shone bright, and his eyes sought it—like a balm for a wounded heart, it seemed to me. A moment passed, and again he looked at me, and again his eyes were deep with that strange, wordless understanding. I had not said a thing, but I do not think that he expected (or needed) me to do so. Perhaps, he was realising that we were slowly starting to see one another as we truly were.

And, truth be told, so was I.

"And so, sir," he went on, "this pearl is not a relic of the past, but rather a reminder of possibility, of wonder. I do consider it an interesting parallel to my life here aboard the Nautilus, you see. And this is why I wear this precious gift of his, on occasion, when I particularly want to remember."

I was completely caught and enraptured by his story, but I still could not separate the dream from the reality, and my confusion must have shown plainly upon my face. Captain Nemo did not quite laugh, but still, I believe I saw a flicker of amusement in his eyes. "I see that you do not understand yet, sir, and this is perfectly fine. It is as it should be. But soon, you will. And perhaps, after tonight, you will remember as well," he said, his mouth sharp in the half-light.

He then stood, bowed, and bid me goodnight.

After he had left me, I sat there for some time, still not knowing if I was awake or asleep, or something in between, and still feeling the heat of his gaze—that gaze I could not and did not want to avoid, that gaze with its silent secrets within. I stayed there, in a quiet, comfortable darkness only pierced by a remote, melancholy music coming from his drawing-room—and, indeed, by a strange, yet perfectly logical desire to understand.

The night was dark, and the Nautilus slept, in its deserted ocean bed. I slept too, then, and dreamt of questions, of answers, of unknown, mysterious longings. When I awoke and opened my eyes, I still could not be sure if this had been a dream, or simply the previous events of the night—the fine dinner and intriguing, stimulating conversation I had (slowly but surely) grown used to. The Nautilus was a thing of wonder and curiosity (and so was Captain Nemo himself, if I dared to be honest), and, in my half-waking, half-dreaming state, I therefore put this down as a curiosity among other curiosities. I did not fully understand it, and I could not fully trust my senses, half-muddled by the feeling of clinging dreams as they were. I felt as if I was still seeing only faint glimpses and glimmers in the dark, barely grasping their meaning. But I was willing to be patient. It was, a part of myself thought, as if understood already, deep down, and, if not, then I would surely do very soon. Precisely, I realised, as Captain Nemo had said.

*

Some days later, after passing through the peacefully lush and exuberant Sargasso Sea, the Nautilus was heading towards the south Atlantic at a steady speed, winding through one wide and wondrous marine passageway after another, as it undeviatingly followed its course.

I had spent a most productive and stimulating day, lost in the fascinating observation and study of these beautiful and surprising new regions. That night, after dinner, I was in my cabin, getting ready for sleep. I arranged the blankets in my bed, and, comfortable among their warmth, read for a while, until the calm and constant glide of the Nautilus, as it floated upon the waves, began to rock me in its arms. As I closed my eyes, the darkly-hued sea outside sang and, in no time at all, lulled me to a profound rest.

For a moment, before I fully fell into the wide, open arms of sleep, I floated in a dream within a dream—how else could I explain it? I thought of the blood red pearl, of the wild Italian silk, of the delicate, smooth skin of the captain's throat, so close to his pulse, so close that it did not matter if it had been dream or reality or both, so close that I could almost hear it and feel it...

I slept then, and another dream claimed me. It was, again, a curious thing. I dreamt of the world, covered in shadows. It was dark, but not completely so, and I could see the water outside, itself dark and shadowy, like this dream it was shaping itself in. For me alone, I thought. It was dizzying and exhilarating, not unlike falling overboard, and into the sea. And I knew just how that felt, for I had been there before. It was, after all, precisely how I had come to be here on the Nautilus. I knew it was cold at first, dark and unknown, and then suddenly warm and bright, pushing into my brain and my eyes and my whole being, making me look and feel and see...

The dream was taking over me, and I was, once again, stunned, sinking, suffocating. A strange heaviness weighed me down, my head was buzzing, and my mind was in a daze, part reality and part hallucination. Drawn into the abyss, I lost all sense of time and place. I felt as if I could not take a deep breath, but I tried, and I did anyway. I breathed it in—this sea, this intense azure darkness, this whole underwater world, unknown and unexplained...

In the copper twilight of this dream, I could almost make out the clear line of the horizon. And I could see the white, wild kindness of the moon, mirrored underwater. This made perfect sense in my dream, and so I wished for a small island, a rock, a reef, so I might stop and rest and watch its milky, hazy glow.

(I wished for a harbour—that is what the dream, and the longing within my heart, said.)

And, suddenly, I was no longer drowning. I was floating, and breathing easily, as if with the aid of the Nautilus's clever diving apparatus. As if this infinite ocean world was letting me breathe, to show itself to me, more beautiful and magnificent than I had ever been allowed to see it before. It pulled me down, into its unknown sights and nearly impossible wonders, into its soft and quiet currents, into its precious spell of phosphorescent colours and shapes, into wild textures and kaleidoscopes of feeling which made my heart swell so, that I almost feared it might burst.

How to express the intensity of my amazement? And how to describe all the beauty laid before my eyes? I fear I shall forget otherwise, so I will try. Black seals and octopi and corals and algae, olive shells and pearls and molluscs and mussels, squid and serpents and salmon and sea-stars, Midas-ears and porpoises and swordfish and wolf-thorn-tails..... yes, all the creatures of the deep blue sea enchanted me with the poetry of their movements, their endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful, as Mr Darwin had so perfectly described it. (And how very fitting it seemed to me, that my dream mind should be as deeply enamoured of science as my waking one!) In a flurry of fins and webs and tentacles, they danced in marvellous shapes and combinations, among the delicate lace of the foam and the salt water and the tender arabesques of light. The immense expanse of the sea and all things within it, beating and bursting with colour and life, quivering, vibrating and shining, speaking a secret language of their own creation, and perfectly embroidering the threads of this luminous, rich and voluptuous tapestry of life.

Among light and shadow, among azure and golden water, this otherworldly, magical scene fully revealed itself to me. But this was no fable nor fancy, no apparition, no tall tale of whales or krakens or sea-unicorns or narwhals, no illusion, no hallucination, no fevered haze. A dream it may be, yes, but still, it held its own truth and its own reality, and so entangled me, like a captivating adventure story. This strange underwater power, hiding like a secret among foam and bubble and salt, suddenly unveiled itself, giving away that perfect secret of life. It brought to my ears a vague, irresistible sound—the music of this luminous sea, a beautiful melody of night, of eternity, of enchanting, never-ending submarine paths...

Low, low, close to these sea beds, I felt that the water was going still, waiting, wanting, making new doors to this new world. And I opened my eyes. I seemed to be in a vast marine desert, or an underwater forest, or a place that no longer belonged to earth or sea or sky, and yet was part of all three—and part of myself as well. In the deep blue silence of my dream, I knew this much.

Time passed in strange ways. It felt like hours, and yet like seconds. And then, I saw him. He was here, and this, too, made sense. Even in a dream, I could tell, I knew that he was so—sea-born, sea-wed, bound to everything that lay there in the depths. He closed his eyes, so naturally, I closed my own. Still, I saw him. I saw him thus, like in our underwater walks, a man of the waters, a spirit of the seas, a wild figure against the horizon, one who had travelled the dark path and knew it well. I saw him, veiled in foam and waves and shadows, and then, for a moment, clearly reflected, clearly there. I saw him, his open hands and his open arms, reaching out to something—or someone.

And I wished to follow.

The details of this dream, exquisitely vivid, let me get the sense of experiencing a deep and intimate thing, a meeting of sorts. I somehow felt I was not meant to see it, not yet ready for it, perhaps, but I could not help myself. Beside, there had to be a reason to it, I thought, still clinging to a logic of sorts. There had to be a message for me here.

And then, I felt the brilliant glow of the waves, and the swelling, roaring voice of the sea, and I knew then that there was something I was supposed to remember, to understand. Try as I did, I could not—but I was not troubled. I sensed that this was right, and I focussed on the moment instead. I focussed on the sea, touching me, its wild current singing to the one hiding deep within me. I focussed on this dream I did not wish to wake up from.

This dreamlike breathing and walking, light and weightless, felt natural and perfect, like forever stretching in front of me. Like living infinite. I did not know why these words, these words that Captain Nemo had once used to refer to his love of the sea, came into my head and my heart. I only knew that here, in my dream, in these breathtaking indigo and green depths, they, too, made perfect sense.

I opened my eyes again. The brilliant, salt water made everything sharp and unreal, but he was still there. All around him, dark squid and octopi swam slowly, like a flock of black, underwater birds, back and forth in the softly lit sea, and their marine dance seemed like a message somehow. And again, this felt odd—but, in a dream like this, why not look for messages anywhere they might appear? In a dream like this, why not suspend disbelief, why not let go?

And perhaps this was only a trick of the light, but I did not mind, for it was a beautiful one. In the depths of the sea, his black eyes, strange and sublime, intense and extraordinary, were like jewels too. Exquisite, like obsidian, like onyx, like golden shell dust, like volcanic fire—like some unknown natural wonder I could not possibly begin to imagine or describe or even dare to classify, not even within my most secret thoughts. And I longed to have these rare gems, to add them to my treasures. Perhaps, I longed to keep them for my very own.

And, not muted by metal and glass, this dream walk let me share my feelings. In fact, it seemed to encourage me—and so, I did. I thought of how I longed for rest. For a breath of fresh night air. For awakenings. For freedom. For an infinite dive into the depths, to find myself.

Here, so deep, I thought, or rather, I felt.

And, in my dream, he turned to me, and spoke without words. You do not know all—you have not seen all, he said. And I knew I did not—not yet. But oh, how I wanted to! I was drawn to the abyss, to the mystery, to the irresistible attraction of it all, bright like the electric reflector that lights up the sea...

And I reached out my hand, and the water drew me close, and I saw infinite starfish, like guiding lights in this submarine sky. And I thought I saw an underwater city, an island, at last, but when I looked closer, the island was not there anymore. But it was no matter, for he still was. I saw him, reflected in the water. I saw him fade, and I saw him become whole again. I saw the man he had been, the one he had become, the one he would be. I saw his story, his pain, his true name, his secret heart and soul, whispered in the depths. I saw his true self.

I saw him.

And, with that clarity we sometimes get in dreams, I understood—I saw through what had been previously veiled. Before, I had known that the sea was the place where he had sought (and found!) the freedom and the peace that the world had denied him. Now, I knew exactly how. Under the wild waves of the ocean, where almost none could go, I saw an adopted country, a home, a truly living light, a cradle of everlasting life. And it felt like recognition—and yes, how I wished to follow!

I still did not know how much time had passed. But then, he said my name, which I felt like a whisper within my mind, and I knew for certain that I had been dreaming. But I did not care. Real or imagined, either way, I knew it did not matter. Again, I reached out my hand. And, again, the water drew me close, and closer, closer still...

And I saw the hypnotic, delicate pulse at his throat beating out, like a beacon, like a telegraph. And I saw the blood red pearl, bright like unbounded longing, like a precious droplet, floating softly in the water, as if it could dissolve into it—an impossible tear coming from the wounded heart of the sea, fading into its greater mystery, letting it heal. And, here, free from the confinements of the breathing, waking world, I longed for more than just to satisfy my insatiable curiosity, my grand passion for the unknown. I longed to bare my heart to his, and to answer its call, to discover new wonders, to face every storm, head-on and side by side, to say—

I turned in my sleep, but did not wake, and the rest of the night passed dreamlessly after that. I slept the sleep of the deeply tethered, the deeply caught—the deeply loved by this swelling, surging and raging sea.

Was that curious? If it was so, I did not care.

*

I woke, with the gentle roar of the water in my ears and in my heart. I opened my eyes, rising from my sleep as if from the embrace of the depths of the sea, and found myself still in the Nautilus, cradled in the belly of this steel fish, in this rare, priceless shell, this breathtaking submarine world. I sat up in my bed, and thought back over my dream, my scientist's mind trying to make sense of something which, I suspected, went far beyond the realms and limits of understanding. At first, there was no rhyme nor reason, no logic nor scheme to it. But logic itself told me that, as a reflection of my waking life, my dream probably pointed to my desire to stay aboard the Nautilus, to continue my research, to observe the ocean's beauty—and to my stoic acceptance of every beginning, no matter how wondrous, inevitably coming to its end.

And yet, in this half-dreamy state, a part of me, a part that refused to listen to any logic or reason, still clung to the memories of these wonders and these discoveries, and did not wish to let go. Somehow, I felt I was in a place that was now my adopted country, and a true part of myself. I felt my breast falling and rising, along with the currents that made up the sea's true breath, and, for a moment, it seemed to me that I could nearly understand its secret language. This, I must admit, greatly comforted me, and, as my heart filled with love and emotion, I longed for this underwater adventure to go on and on..... yes, I longed for more.

I lay back, once again caught up in the dream, in the water, in the ruby-red droplets. With my mind still fogged by sleep, I could almost feel my own—the jewels hiding within me, the ones I would give gladly...

I felt my face burning, and shook my head. In the half-light, I found my journal, its seagrass pages full of fact—and full of longing as well. Perhaps, this was curious too. My hands felt feverish now, but my head was clear, and I had possession of all my senses (at least, I thought I did!), sharp and alight and aflame and right here...

And this too made sense. However, I did not wish to write it.

I did not have to.

I brought my fingers to my throat, and remembered Captain Nemo making a similar gesture. I did not know precisely why, but I felt that my heart did. Here, caught in the motion of this submarine world, it surged and leaped and moved forward—moved within the moving element! At last, I understood these words that made up so much of the Nautilus's true essence. And so, loud and clear, my heart beat out a message, sending out an answer to the call I had heard in my dream. Yes. In that dream, resembling the waking world, at first, and then becoming something more, I had felt a sharp, deep longing, strange but right. Come with me! Come higher! Captain Nemo had said then, in our midnight walk. Now, at last, I think I understood. Now, I think I knew it for certain.

I left my room, and walked briefly through dimly-lit passages and corridors. Perhaps, I was still in the grip of my dream, because it seemed to me that the Nautilus moved almost like magic, with a nearly otherworldly glide, and saw the secret hunger within me, and, again, guided me to where I wanted (and needed) to go.

As I knew I would, I found Captain Nemo in the drawing-room. He did not turn or acknowledge my presence at all, and I did not wish to disturb him. But still, I wanted him to know I was there. And he did. I knew that he had seen me, oh, in so many ways, that I could not count them—but I did not need to.

He was there, by the glass, and the blushing morning light, coming from the sea, bathed him in a scarlet glow. And, standing motionless, with his arms crossed, he appeared to me as both flesh and reflection, both dream and reality. He was looking out at the water, lost in a reverie, with a half-smile upon his mouth, still reading something hidden there in the depths. His eyes, soft and calm, deep and quiet, like the caress of the waves, took on a strange quality. They seemed to become wider and brighter somehow, as if they were transformed and transported by the oceanic ecstasy of what they saw. Perhaps, that was so.

There were some creatures swimming by, very much like the squid and the octopi in my dream, and he followed them with his gaze, which also held a smile within it. "Look at them. Beautiful, are they not?" he said, coming over to me, and resting his hand on my shoulder. "If you listen very carefully, my dear professor, you can hear their song."

And I did. I looked, and I listened, with all my senses at once. And, for a moment, I felt that the outside was now inside, and the sea and all its inhabitants were within the room, and I was drowning again. But I was not afraid, for the water felt warm and inviting, the creatures, with their bright, sharp eyes, swam all around in its radiant glow, and I, caught up in the perfect rhythm of their dance, and swept away, in a wild maelstrom that drew me, irresistibly and inevitably, far and beyond the bounds of this world, felt that I would never again wish to be anywhere else.

This was why—he was here too. Before, I had longed to close the distance between us, to know his thoughts, to share them, to understand them, yes, to fathom and decipher those faraway, soundless depths hiding within his heart. Now, I think I did. I was so close to him that I could see the pearl, sharp and ruby-red, and the skin of his throat, where his cravat had slipped—or had he let it fall open, like a gift? And, keenly aware of his touch, I felt that there was nothing else, no sea or air or sky. Only him, and the pulse of his blood (the pulse of the dark water and the night!) calling, calling... and my own, calling back.

For a moment, I felt like I was asleep, dreaming again. But I knew that I could not blame my dream for this, and I did not wish to. Why would I, when this reality was more than I could have ever secretly wished for?

"One of the most peculiar things about being underwater," Captain Nemo said softly, almost to himself, "is not knowing exactly what is a dream and what is reality, if one is awake or still asleep. It is one of the most precious things about it as well—do you not think so?"

It was exactly as if he could read my every thought, and look right into my heart, that secret core within me that was all alight with liquid fire. He looked at me then, and in his eyes was that look that he reserved for the sea alone, a look that held wonder and fondness, reverence and emotion, deep love and long poems full of fire. That look, now directed at myself, seemed to find new, unexplored depths within me as well, and aroused a strange, wonderful current of pride and desire in me, nearly overflowing my heart. In a turmoil of sensation, my blood sang out. My whole body and soul were aflame, and I felt caught by a rough sea. It was, I realised, the pulse and the heartbeat, the strength and the force of my longing, breaking and crashing, like tender, steadfast waves lapping at the shore, slowly but surely claiming it for their own. I was completely bound and surrendered to it. Oh, how my heart beat for this sea—for him!

And, perhaps, a small fragment of my mind still whispered that I was a prisoner here, but I found that I truly did not care anymore. My blood was ebbing and flowing within me, and I felt a burning desire, deep in my heart. It ran unbridled to meet him, as if he was that shore I wanted to reach, as if he was that home. And he was. Oh, he was.

I would have swooned then, had he not caught me in his arms and brought me close to his breast. I took a deep breath, and tried to still the wild beating of my heart with my hand (or, perhaps, it was his own?) I felt then, as in my dream, the touch of unspoken words in my head, like softly murmuring waves. Will you go where I go?, he said, very quietly.

And I heard the sea laughing, but not unkindly—such are its fiery tempers, its gentle moods! I felt it saying At last! At last you know! I breathed in its air, pure and salty and sharp, not unlike those deep red jewels in the sea. And it should have been odd, but it was not, that I could almost feel them in my mouth, in my tongue, and could almost touch them, warm and alive, like little sparks of fire, like brilliant lanterns dancing in the everlasting night, and giving light to see, and guiding home...

I felt the beat of my heart grow louder, its sound like an upcoming storm. Yes, it said, in reply. And I felt the pulse at my throat flutter at his touch, and jump in longing, in recognition, in welcome. And here, in these dark, unknown waters, I remembered. Just like he had said. Deep within me, I knew that Nature still held its secrets, and the sea (with all its colours, all its shadows) always endured, always prevailed. Down here, flowers and fish and waves and stones and sand beat along with its rhythm, like blood, like life. All this he showed to me, and all this I read. I read him like an open book then, and felt what was in his mind. I let him reach into mine, and I felt the pull of it, slow and sweet, luxurious and intoxicating. And it felt like falling, like an abyss above and below. Like finding myself, at last. Like everything.

And yet, I wanted more. Yes, more and more, I felt this longing, this calling, and I bared my throat, and closed my eyes. I waited in anticipation, with my heart beating wildly. I could not help my thoughts from running unbridled. Would he love me, like he loved the sea, this prodigious and unearthly heartland, this be all and end all that was his home, his life, his freedom, his everything? And would his mouth be sharp? Or would it be soft? Oh, I should have known it would be both—tingling like salt water, like white sand on the ocean floor, like fine, rare shells, like the unknown, wondrous depths that were now above and around and beyond us. That ultramarine wonder, that endless, dark mystery, with its joys and its sorrows, its shining, fiery tongues of water, its deep, impenetrable heart... how it whispered, and how it sang! How it tenderly claimed me, how it owned my heartbeat now!

There shall be no secrets, I thought.

"Just so," Captain Nemo said, exactly as if he had read my mind—and yes, by then I knew that he could. "And we shall never leave each other."

I listened to his words, and I felt my heartstrings calling, yearning, like outstretched arms held out towards the sea, and my blood flowing, going home. And, in silent ecstasy, I gave into my longing—I lost myself in the voluptuousness of it. He claimed me so, like an unknown land, and I let myself be conquered and pierced by that sharp, soft mouth and its intoxicating mixture of pain and pleasure, everlasting love and life! There was nothing else now, nothing but us, in the perfect immenseness of the sea—and, with it as my witness, I gave myself to the bond between our souls. I threaded, like endless, infinite bloodlines, like gladly given jewels, my entire life to his own. I became nothing—I became everything. And I knew it then. Of all the wonders I had seen here, under the sea, he truly was the most perfect one. And, as his hands found my own, I knew I was his already—I knew I belonged here, forever. And I knew he did as well.

I opened my eyes, and I looked into his own, both sacred and profane, both dark and bright, and I saw something unnamed—the maelstrom within that so caught me. I saw the paths and currents and depths of the uncharted sea, the infinite sunsets and sunrises, the moon mirrored underwater, the blood red pearl. And I saw not my reflection, but a sort of secreted spark, coming from within myself. And, at last, I saw, unveiled, what was in his fierce, fiery heart, and, in perfect unison, my own beat along with it. Aflame and awakened, all wrapped up in the sharp, salty arms of the water, in night music and liquid light, it sang out its answer.

Together, we looked out. The Nautilus had risen nearly to the surface, and we could see a cold and rainy morning, with a thick sea-fog almost obscuring the view. I felt as this was something I might have seen before in dreams—a strange, yet familiar harbour, a bay like homecoming, twin lighthouses leading the way. And this, too, made sense, in this world that now owned me, let me see it, and showed me its truest shape. This place, both dream world and living wonder, held all the depths of his soul within its own heart, and, at last, spoke to my own. Wild and wide open, sharp and sweet-mouthed, bright and electric, intense blue and green, like an underwater land of fire—yes, living infinite, it showed me this otherworldly existence, so that we might both share it, so that we might both know. With its bloodstream bound within me (within us!), it told me its secret—and yes, I think I shall remember it for a very long time.