Not a Great Star
This story originally appeared in the now out-of-print fanzine Heart of the Minstrel I, in 1990. Beauty and the Beast and its characters are owned by Witt-Thomas Productions and Republic Pictures. This rather silly little second-season story is presented merely for the enjoyment of fans.
Father would definitely not approve, Vincent thought. Crouched in the alley behind Catherine's building, he hugged the brick wall and tried to think himself invisible. It was barely twilight, the purple shadows not yet deep enough to hide him completely. Humid spring air caressed what little of his skin was exposed. His cloak, necessary for concealment, was stifling. He could no longer resist the lure of Catherine's cool, plant-lined balcony; of Catherine's lemony iced tea . . . of Catherine herself.
He glanced around furtively for observers. Finding none, he tensed powerful muscles and leapt upward. His hands closed around the rungs of the fire escape and he pulled himself up. This was the most dangerous part; while still in sight of street level he could be spotted--
Vincent froze in the act of swinging his legs onto the fire escape. He looked down and felt his heart sink. Below him, looking upward with wide, coffee-colored eyes, stood a child of about four or five.
The little boy took his fingers out of his mouth and wiped them on his shirt, shifting from foot to foot. "Whatcha doin', Batman?" he piped.
Vincent gulped, whirled around and continued to climb. Batman? he wondered. The name was unfamiliar, but he'd gladly answer to it if it kept the child from screaming in fright.
"'Bye, Batman!" came the wistful farewell from below. Farther away, an exasperated female voice reached his ears.
"Rico! Rico, so help me--come back here!"
Vincent, though he shuddered at the close call, had to smile at the universal antics of little boys. He made a mental note to ask Catherine who--or what--"Batman" was.
As he climbed, he felt rising in him the familiar anticipation, the wonder that Catherine actually welcomed him into her world, and wished to share his. Later tonight they would go Below to attend a Mozart recital by some of the tunnel residents. He could have asked her to meet him Below, but he wanted a few precious minutes with her, alone, before the ebb and flow of his world absorbed them both. How badly he needed her. . . .
He moved rapidly, with the ease of repetition; he could not count the times he'd made this ascent in the past two years. At the top of the fire escape he jumped upward to catch the edge of the tiled roof and dug in his claws for purchase. With a grunt he pulled himself onto the roof, using small cavities and cracks in the surface as finger-holds. He began to move, spider-like, toward the ridgepole.
Catherine was late. Really late. Dashing into her apartment, she dumped purse, shopping bag and briefcase willy-nilly on the sofa and hit the shower running. Vincent had said seven o'clock. She wondered if he meant seven o'clock, or seven-fifteen, seven-thirty . . . she sighed as she lathered her hair. Vincent was nothing if not punctual, especially when he came to visit her. Hurry, hurry, she chanted to herself.
Faster. Go faster. But Vincent had to restrain himself. Slow and easy was the way to cross a roof several hundred feet off the ground. The downward slope made him more nervous than the upward. Carefully he inched closer to the lip of the roof that slanted over Catherine's balcony. He eased his long frame over the edge and hung there a moment before dropping soundlessly to the floor. His legs absorbed the impact and he landed perfectly balanced, like a cat.
Feeling his heart quicken, he approached the French doors and peered inside. Usually Catherine left the doors ajar on warm evenings, but tonight they were closed. He could see lights shining in the living room and bedroom. With the tips of his claws he tapped gently on the glass.
Catherine was learning to interpret the bond that linked her to Vincent. As he drew near, it thrummed to life within her, growing from an almost subliminal touch to a warm, joyful sense of him. Quickly she finished rinsing her hair and turned off the shower.
"Out in a minute, Vincent," she called, hoping his preternaturally acute hearing would pick up her words. She dried herself and slipped into a light cotton robe before she left the bathroom, still towelling her hair. She crossed to the doors and pulled them wide with a welcoming smile.
Vincent's eyes grew round as he took in her appearance. He had automatically stepped forward when she opened the doors and now took a step back, stumbling on the single stair. "I'll go--come back later--" he stammered. If his unique physiology had permitted it, he'd have blushed hotly.
But Catherine was smiling, tugging on his arm to draw him inside and closing the doors behind him. Almost panicked, he fixed pleading blue eyes on hers. He found only impish deviltry in her gaze.
"Nonsense, Vincent. Though you are a little early--" She tried to sound aggrieved.
"Seven minutes," he tossed back, after a glance at the clock on the mantel. His pointed stare set her giggling.
"Okay, okay--I'm late," she admitted with an unrepentant grin. She took his cloak and draped it over a chair before she crossed to the kitchen. "Would you like something to drink?"
At his nod, she poured him a glass of the longed-for iced tea.
He took a grateful sip, letting his eyes roam anywhere but at her thinly-clothed figure. What a traitor his mind was, painting instant pictures of what that damp robe must hide. . . . He cringed in mortification.
"Come and sit on the bed while I dry my hair. We can talk," Catherine invited, taking one hand to pull him with her. Her eyes, on his for an instant, were just a little wicked.
"Catherine--I can wait--a book, I'll read a book," he protested frantically. But with one hand captured in hers and the other occupied with iced tea, he couldn't stop her from pulling him into the bedroom--not without balking like a skittish horse.
With a smile, Catherine seated herself at the vanity and gestured for him to sit on the edge of her bed.
"This won't take long. I just have to do my hair and put my face on."
"Put your--" Defeated, Vincent sat uneasily on the bed, feeling completely alien to this airy, pastel place. "What?!"
Catherine laughed as she bent to plug in her hair dryer. "Put my face on. You know, makeup."
Unwillingly fascinated, Vincent watched as Catherine rubbed some sort of lotion between her hands and smoothed it into her wet hair. With a round brush in one hand and the dryer in the other, she began to style it into smooth waves around her face. When it was dry she drew one side behind her ear, securing the gleaming mass with an ornate silver clasp. She fluffed her bangs around her forehead and darted a mischievous glance in his direction.
"It's beautiful," Vincent offered shyly. She smiled at him as she reached for a tube of makeup.
A perplexed frown creased his brow as he watched. What he knew of women's grooming practices was laughable--especially women from Above. Catherine took a slender wand from the tube of skin-toned paste and began to dab it here and there on her face. She blended the makeup into her skin with a fingertip, covering tiny imperfections he couldn't even see. Amazed, he watched her smooth the stuff under her eyes, erasing faint purple smudges.
Next she added a thin lotion of the same color all over her face, and patted powder on top of that--this he had seen done by those who put on plays Below, though he'd never worn stage makeup himself.
Catherine next dusted rosy powder over her cheekbones. She applied a light violet color to her eyelids and blended it with a touch of grey at the inside corners. Then she bent forward to outline her eyes in charcoal green. Vincent gasped, watching her stroke a dark substance over her eyelashes with a tiny brush. Wasn't she afraid she'd hurt her eyes? And had his Catherine really been wearing all this on her face each time he'd seen her after her healing Below? He hadn't noticed. He couldn't imagine putting himself through such a procedure every day, and for what?
Catherine had been watching Vincent's expression in the mirror and had had to stifle her chuckles. "Voilà," she said with a smile, as she capped the mascara and glanced over at him.
Amusement fled as she took in Vincent's solemn, almost sad expression. She had meant this as a lark, knowing Vincent's insatiable curiosity about the ways of the world Above. Now it seemed that somehow she had upset him.
"Vincent, what's wrong?"
He reached out a hand to cup her face. "Catherine, why?" he murmured. "You are so beautiful....." His voice trailed off helplessly.
Catherine tilted her head to one side, taking in the confusion written so plainly on his face. The powerful tide of his feelings surged through their bond, and her heart warmed as she realized that he would love her and find her beautiful in sackcloth and ashes. She moved to sit beside him on the bed, her knee not quite touching his.
"Thank you, Vincent. I'm . . . glad you feel that way." Still she groped for words, sensing that he wanted her to explain. But how to explain the concept of enhancing one's looks to a man who, when he chose to meet the word at all, did so without compromise, bare of face?
"Why do I wear makeup?" Catherine smiled thinly. "You know, Vincent, after I met you--after my face was slashed--I did a lot of thinking about appearances. Makeup, clothes, the whole rigmarole. Once, I was a very vain creature."
She silenced his quickly gathered protest with a touch to his lips. "I mean it. I used to spend hours in front of this mirror, or at the hairdresser, or shopping--hours, Vincent! Hours of perfectly good time devoted to the beautification of Catherine Chandler." Her voice dripped scorn for the woman she had been.
"Don't speak so of yourself, Catherine." Vincent reached for one of her hands and enfolded it in his, stroking her fingers to comfort her.
She smiled at him, this dear man who would protect her even from her own censure. "You know, I've often thought back to that first moment when both our faces were reflected side by side. I think my own image was the more frightening--and I don't mean the cuts." Catherine fingered the one remaining scar near her ear. "I saw in that mirror a woman so scared of facing what was inside herself that she slaved to create a perfect mask," she whispered. After one searing glance, she was unable to meet his eyes.
"You had no need for masks," Vincent said softly. He ran a finger down the firm line of her jaw, gently tilting her chin until she looked at him. "You have always been beautiful, within and without."
Catherine felt tears sting the insides of her eyelids. "It took you to show me the beauty inside, Vincent. Not," she added meaningfully, "that you don't have both."
Vincent dropped his eyes and gave a tiny shake of his tousled head. Unaccountably, this sent a dart of pain through Catherine's heart. She reached out to ruffle his hair. "In any case, I've given a lot of it up. No more shopping marathons or once-a-week salon visits. But I still wear makeup. It's part of the Cathy I show the world. Some women don't think it's necessary to wear makeup, but I would feel uncomfortable without it. Sort of--naked."
Vincent was silent a moment, assimilating this. "You do that"--he waved his hand at the clutter on the vanity--"every day?"
"No. I get weekends off," she told him, endeavoring to keep a straight face. She failed utterly as soon as she met his stare, which frankly questioned her sanity. Giggling, she decided not to mention the horrors of eyebrow tweezing and hot-wax treatments.
She started to rise from the bed, but his hand on her shoulder stopped her.
"I have to wonder," he said softly, slipping his hand into the warm space between her hair and neck, "at a world that demands a veil for such beauty." His elegant fingers stroked her skin, sending shivers down her spine.
Catherine caught her breath. Her playful mood evaporated as she reached up to take his hand, bringing it to her lips before she spoke. "I have often felt that wonder myself, Vincent," she whispered, eyes caressing his beloved golden features.
She hoped her emotions, thrumming through the bond, told him how stirringly beautiful he was to her--a strange and awful beauty, she thought, like the face of an angel.
Vincent bowed his head beneath the weight of her feelings, and Catherine abruptly reached for his chin, forcing him to meet her eyes. She was trembling as love and desire twisted inside her until she could barely speak.
"Vincent, know this," she said, her voice low and riveting. "Know how beautiful I find you. Feel it."
He did. The power of it was exhilarating, terrifying in its possibilities. But he could not help but remember, as she did, her first reaction to his harsh form. She had thought him horrifying before she had come to know him, to love the spirit that was invisible to the eye. It was love that led her to tame the beast, but beast he was. And beast he would remain. He must make her believe it, for her sake.
"Catherine, even you, when you first saw me--"
Instant irritation sparked in the green eyes that had been so tender. "Oh, we're back to that, are we?" she snapped, pulling her hand away. It curled into a fist in her lap.
"Vincent, you know perfectly well how shattered I was at that moment. Anyone who came up behind me would have startled me! I said I was sorry later, that I didn't mean it. Didn't you believe me?"
"`Yes, but,'" Catherine mimicked, exasperated. "Vincent, do you truly think I'm that shallow? You've just told me I would be beautiful to you with or without makeup. With or without my `mask!' Can't you credit me with the same sensitivity?"
"If I hadn't had the surgery, if I had remained scarred, would you not have loved me?"
"Vincent," she gritted, desperate to make him see. She reached to take his face between her hands, none too gently. "Face. Fur. Eyes. Lips. Teeth. These--are--beautiful!"
Dumbfounded by her vehemence, Vincent could only stare, horrified, as his beloved's eyes filled with tears. "Please," he whispered, reaching to wipe away one crystal drop as it spilled. "Please don't, Catherine."
Perilously close to bursting out in sobs or tackling him to the bed to have her way with him--one or the other--Catherine gave a frustrated sigh and scrubbed at her eyes with the back of her hand. "Dammit, I've ruined my mascara."
She sent him a venomous look, daring him to smile, but the eyes that met hers were concerned, questioning. "Vincent, I'm crying for you. Not because of the way you look, but because of the way you feel about how you look. Because you can't accept yourself. And won't let me accept you."
Vincent shook his tawny head. "But I do accept myself, Catherine. As I told you before, I've never regretted what I am--or only for that one moment. I have learned, though, to be wary of others' reactions."
After a long, hopeless stare, Catherine sighed again, and reached to stroke his face. Her fingers were tender and loving as they traced one prominent cheekbone and tangled in his hair. This was one argument she wasn't going to win. At least, not today. He's hiding, she realized suddenly. Hiding behind the image he sees in the mirror, just as I used to hide within Dad's idea of me as his darling corporate princess. Oh, Vincent. Are you so afraid of our intimacy?
Catherine abruptly smiled at Vincent, a smile worthy of the Mona Lisa. You're mine, Vincent, she told him silently. You can run, but you can't hide forever. Not from me. Never from me.
Vincent felt Catherine's chaotic emotions calm as her fingers smoothed his hair back, and though he did not know why it was so, he was grateful. Seeking to lighten the mood, he groped for a bit of verse he remembered. "Perhaps this will help, Catherine," he said, and began to recite.
" 'As a beauty I'm not a great star. There are others more handsome, by far. But my face--I don't mind it, for I am behind it; it's the people in front get the jar.' "
Catherine stared a moment, then rolled her eyes. "Oh, my God. I don't believe it. The day I catch you without an appropriate quotation, Vincent, I'll be a satisfied woman."
Vincent only smiled, his gleaming eyes saying silently, Never.
Catherine abruptly stood, drawing in a deep, cleansing breath.
"I have to dress, Vincent," she told him.
"Oh." He blinked; then electric shock flashed in the blue eyes. He had gotten so involved with their discussion that he had forgotten where he was. In her room, on her bed. Sitting there as though he wanted to--"Oh!"
He bolted from the room, leaving her shaking with suppressed laughter even as she rushed to the closet. They would have to hurry, or face one of Father's scoldings, delivered liberally to adult and child alike.
She glanced down at the dent Vincent had made in the smooth bedspread. "First on it . . .then maybe, in it?" she mused. Her lips twitched as she glanced at her own image in the mirror. She gave that laughing Catherine a stern look. "Bad girl, Cathy. For shame!"
Loving Catherine, Vincent decided, must be like the roller coaster rides Kipper had described to him--all swoops and speed and exultation, and one had to hold on for dear life. He shivered as the conversation replayed itself in his mind. Makeup, bathrobes that clung, the enticing scent of her shower-damp skin. . . . As he waited for her, drawing deep breaths to calm his thudding heart, the whimsical thought floated to him, What would Devin do?
Vincent thought he knew.
He had composed himself by the time Catherine joined him in the living room. He drew her into a restrained hug, mindful of mussing such careful elegance. She wore black silk pants that moved with her, subtly outlining her slim hips, topped by a filmy blue blouse. Delicate patent leather flats and chunky silver jewelry completed the outfit.
"Well?" she asked, brows lifting.
Her perfume wafted toward him, seeming to seep into his pores. Lovely, he wanted to say. Intoxicating. However. . . .
"Not bad," he pronounced, eying her up and down. "But I rather liked the robe, as well." His grin showed a trace of fang.
Catherine gaped at him. "Who's been teaching you to flirt, Vincent?"
He preserved a discreet silence, but his sparkling eyes told her he was going to get a little of his own back when it came to teasing. She pretended to pout.
"Be nice, or I won't give you your present."
The little-boy eagerness in his voice drew a rich laugh from Catherine as she crossed to the sofa to pick up the shopping bag.
"Open it after we're in the tunnels. Father will skin us alive if we're late."
" `Us?' He'll know whose fault it was," Vincent snorted. Catherine shot him a baleful look as he handed her the fluffy black shawl he found draped over a chair. He opened the apartment door, standing behind it to avoid being seen.
"I will meet you Below, Catherine."
When Catherine arrived, breathless and fuming, Vincent was already waiting for her. It was an unspoken challenge between them--any time they traveled separate paths between their worlds, they raced. Vincent nearly always won, and Catherine knew he would make no allowances for aggravatingly slow elevators. She decided that this time, she'd be a good sport.
She grinned at him. "Outrun again. Well, hurry up. Open it!"
He glanced down at the forgotten bag in his hands. He reached inside, pushing aside layers of tissue paper to reveal a blue garment of some sort. He pulled it from the bag and shook it out. Bold white lettering cheerfully labelled the wearer, "Mostly Mozart." It was his size--XXL.
Catherine watched him, a speculative gleam in her eyes. "Vincent," she drawled, folding her arms across her chest, "I dare you."
Vincent hesitated, then bowed slightly. Once again he was reminded of Devin. And he had never, ever turned down one of Devin's dares.
"Thank you, Catherine. When I wear it, I shall think of you. And, of course, Mozart." He proferred his arm with a flourish.
Catherine laughed with delight as she accepted his arm, hugging it against her. Vincent looked down at her fondly, blue eyes lit with love. He wondered whether she'd masterminded the whole thing just to set him on his ear, to make him take her off the pedestal . . . to make him see her as less goddess, more woman. And to show him that even one as fair as she did not always show her naked face to the world.
He wouldn't put it past her.