Every moment marked
With apparitions of your soul.
However swiftly moving
I'm trying to escape this desire.
The yearning to be near you
I'll do what I have to do&
But I have the sense to recognize
That I don't know how to let you go."
Sarah McLachlan: 'Do What You Have To Do'
From the album: 'Surfacing'
By now you've probably already read the letter of resignation that this was folded into.
I want you to know that I'm OK. The medical problem cited as my reason for resignation is not life threatening, but does make continuing my job impossible. I know you don't understand; there's a lot I can't tell you. You'll just have to trust me on this.
It's been fun, Joe. Lots of hard work, frustration, and long hours, but rewarding as well. I met many wonderful people to offset the dregs of society. Your friendship was one of the best benefits of my employment. I will miss you.
Please don't worry about me (although you probably will). It isn't necessary. I really am going to be all right. Take care of yourself.
With a sigh, Catherine set down the pen and read over what she had written. A simple, tersely worded letter of resignation for the files, although necessary, was not what she needed to say to Joe. Even this wasn't what she really wanted to say.
Of all the things she had to give up, this was the worst. She would miss Nancy and Jenny desperately, of course. Even though they didn't manage to get together too often, knowing all possibility of another meeting was gone, that hurt. There were many things she would miss. But her job, the camaraderie she had found, that sense of accomplishment when some sleazeball got what he deserved, the thrill of putting her training to productive use, that loss hurt the most.
Giving herself a mental shake, Catherine folded the letter and tucked it into an envelope. Marking the envelope to the attention of Joe Maxwell, and adding a Personal and Confidential notation, she sealed it and inserted it into a large brown manila envelope. The contents were double checked one more time. Parking pass, District Attorney ID, desk keys, notes on her personal filing system for her replacement, and the ten dollars she owed Edie. It was all there. This was it. Resolutely ignoring the tear that slid down her cheek, she sealed the package. One of the children would be by to take it to Peter later on.
It took about ten minutes of a normal pace to walk from her chamber to Father's study. She could make it in a lot less of course, but Catherine felt very shy of exhibiting her new differences in this way. After the confrontation in Father's study yesterday, things had begun to settle down. However, at evening meal many had still looked upon her new features with some disquiet. To her mind, the less unnecessary notice she attracted right now, the better. Halfway to Father's study however, she veered away and took a different tunnel. She didn't really want to endure the stares right now. She wasn't in the mood to make idle conversation. All she really wanted was to be alone. To brood.
Catherine might have wandered for miles, she wasn't sure. This new body, now that it had recovered from its ordeal of change, had such stamina! What would have left her tired before was barely even felt now. The movement felt good, helped calm and order her thoughts. Absently, Catherine ran her right hand against the side of the tunnel wall, letting just the tip of one claw score against the rock, feeling the tug of unfamiliar muscles around the base. She could never have done this with her former manicured nails; it would have ruined them. Deliberately, she dug it in harder, until an audible screech resulted from the friction. A sound she had heard before, in the catacombs. When Vincent was sick.
They'd had a long talk last night. After he had returned and received an admonishment from Father, Vincent had accompanied her to evening meal. It hadn't been the easiest dinner she had ever struggled through, but Vincent's stalwart presence helped. The children, however, had been a joy. Unlike the adults, they thought her new features were "awesome." Still, neither she nor Vincent had been truly prepared to answer that one inevitable question. The question had come from, of all people, Eric.
"Why are you like this now?" Curious eyes peered through thick glasses. "Can I be like Vincent, too?" The second question brought a start of surprise from the man at her side. Never would he have believed that anyone would want to look like him. Somewhat at a loss, they had glanced at each other for help. A measure of silence fell across their section of the table as the other children, and many adults, waited for an answer.
"Well, Eric," Catherine had finally replied, "Dr. Alcott thinks that there is something in my body, something that has been a part of me since I was born, that has always wanted to be this way. Having Vincent around just finally showed it the way to make it real."
Kipper chimed in. "Can you switch back and forth?"
"Yeah, can you? That would be totally awesome." The group of children greeted this entire concept with great enthusiasm. Fragments of statements such as "neat, like a werewolf or something", "bet it would be gory", "Yeah, maybe like your lungs getting all ripped out n'stuff", "Eeewwwww!"
"Enough!" Vincent rumbled loudly over the gleeful cacophony. "This is very new to all of us, especially to Catherine. Did you stop to think how your ghoulish comments might hurt her?" Instantly, several muttered apologies came from the repentant mob. "In answer to your question Kipper, neither of us can switch. This is what we are."
"I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings Catherine, I didn't mean to. But Vincent's always been totally cool, and now you're even cooler, don't you think?" Noting that dessert had begun to be served, Kipper had not waited for a reply but with a quick "excuse me" had led the pack to the serving table.
Catherine let out a relieved breath and dipped her head to hide the rather ominous looking bunching of her facial muscles, which passed for an irrepressible grin. Really, it was laugh or cry, and she was sick of crying. Daring a glimpse up, she was struck by Vincent's obvious woebegone expression. Instantly concerned, without thinking she had reached over to touch his arm. "Are you all right?"
"I don't truly know. It's puzzling." At Catherine's inquiring tilt of the head, he continued. "Only having just now discovered that all-unknowingly I had held the status of Most Awesome and Cool, that particular honor has been summarily snatched away by the new kid. I find my feelings quite grievously hurt."
For a moment, Catherine had thought he was serious, until a little poke of fun sneaked its way through the bond. Eyes widening, she had burst into helpless laughter. It had lightened up a rather tense mealtime.
In some cases, I suppose this could be considered cool, Catherine mused distractedly as she examined the nail she had run over the rock. It showed no sign of having been scraped across rough stone. Catherine stretched her fingers and rotated her hand speculatively as she came to a halt. 'I told Vincent that hands like these were beautiful, that they were my hands. Humph. They're mine now, all right, literally. But& are they beautiful? Now that they're truly my own?'
Since she had left her apartment, she had not allowed herself to really contemplate or discover her new body. Awareness had been restricted to what changes had occurred in her own outward appearance. Inwardly though, she hadn't let herself think about her new differences. A tensing of musculature in her fingertips, and her claws extended into inch and a half long razors. For as long as the muscles were kept contracted, the claws remained in extension. Experimentation revealed that the claws retracted once those muscles were allowed to relax. It was fascinating to watch.
The world appeared to be made of shades of gray. It was with reluctant pleasure that Catherine realized there were no torches in this area of the tunnels. A few weeks ago, this would have been stygian darkness to her. Whatever light was available here was being collected and magnified to a degree never experienced before. Closing her eyes, Catherine leaned against the tunnel wall and experimentally threw her newly acute senses wide open.
A barrage of information flooded through them to her. The faint plink of a drop of water falling. There was a musty smell of rodents, an unfortunate fact of life in the tunnels. Iron, a metallic tang she could almost taste, coming from all around. Perhaps the rock contained iron ore? Water, a clean pure smell, but faint. The sounds of wind from further ahead. Another sense sprang to her awareness, disorienting her momentarily. A sense of 'down' and 'this way'. It was& direction. Her limited knowledge of the tunnels coalesced into a three-dimensional image in her head as she concentrated, showing her exactly where she was in relation to the surface, and to the familiar areas. Amazing. The unexpected need to fill in those empty spots in her internal map was strong. The desire to know where Vincent was surfaced, and quite surprisingly, through this sense, she instantly knew. Exactly. The map in her head seemed to spin in order to display the most direct route to his location.
'Wow. No wonder he could always find me so fast when I was in trouble.' Curious and determined, Catherine set off to find out just how well this new sense worked.
Vincent sat on his favorite ledge on the far wall of the Chamber of the Falls. He never had to worry about being disturbed here. It was a virtually impossible climb for anyone not naturally equipped as he. Ever since his childhood he had always preferred being high up. It was one of the reasons he climbed skyscrapers to look over the city lights. From this vantage he could see almost the entire cavern, including the path from the entrance down to the several private overlooks.
Now, however, the incredible view of the falls went virtually unnoticed. Instead, it was replaced in his mind's eye by another view - a view of Catherine. Not as she had been, but as she appeared now. Exotic lion-like features, sinuous grace of movement, and a husky voice all added up to quite a package. 'Sexy!' that other side of him exclaimed insistently. Although Vincent shied away from it, he had to admit that, yes, he could not help but find her intensely attractive. Not that he hadn't before, but in hindsight, he acknowledged that something had never seemed quite, well& quite right to him. Now, however&
Vincent's reverie was broken as he saw the object of his speculative thoughts enter the huge chamber. Through the bond he could feel her attempting to locate him. Silently he watched her. It was good that she was trying out some of her more unusual senses. Unerringly she began to make her way down the correct side path. Vincent observed her as she moved carefully across the precarious footing. She wore a familiar pair of gray leggings, and a pink sweater, over which was a belted tunic of tunnel design. She looked& wonderful. And the way she moved! Like water over a smooth streambed. Vincent felt an unbidden rumble of appreciation vibrate soundlessly through his chest.
Catherine knew she was getting close. Deliberately, she had closed off her empathic sense of him and was trying to use the location sense only. A distasteful underlying scent below the clean rock/water/moss flavor of this cavern caught her attention, and she immediately attempted to discern its nature. All faculties extended, she became aware of movement ahead - lots of movement. Drawing closer, the scent grew stronger and she instinctively identified it – rat. Oh, how she hated rats! The rank smell brought instant pictures in her mind: furry dirty run root around steal eat garbage scurry squeal bite!
It was as if a hot fog descended from nowhere. Instinct rose in response to the feeling-pictures, flooding her mind with the knowledge of exactly what to do. Catherine dropped to a crouch and stealthily made her way to the protrusion of rock near the cliff wall, where the presence of rat was strongest. The world felt like it was in slow motion. The sound of the waterfalls receded as her entire being narrowed its focus to the prey, which she knew thronged behind the rock. Peripheral vision sharpened, the world seemed starker. Slipping silently over the top of the rock, she looked down.
All in a cluster, many prey. Feeling herself gather, she drew a breath and sprang!
Landing in their midst, her foot claws shot out and skewered a hapless rodent, not even allowing it to awaken from sleep. Immediately terror was felt. Tiny screaming non-voices projected feeling images of run! danger! big! A feminine roar of glee burst out as she swiped blinding fast at a large rat, impaled it on her claws, and followed through to fling it with a meaty splat against the cliff face. Two more bodies followed before the pack of rodents had scattered. Wild, instinct fully in control, she cast around for more.
There! Fifteen feet up the cliff face, a wriggling brown body of an escapee, scaling desperately upwards. Not even pausing to think, with a bubbling snarl of anticipation Catherine leapt upward. Unerringly, hard claws latched onto the cliff face, and the chase was on! Her light body, enhanced by incredibly strong musculature, made climbing easy, especially with built-in climbing spikes finding any crevice or protrusion in the rock for purchase. Finally, Catherine was almost upon the fleeing rat when it scrambled onto a ledge, only to die on the end of an even bigger menace's claws.
Catherine blinked. Vincent? He was here? On the ledge? Surprise almost made her lose her grip, and she grabbed Vincent's proffered hand to accept his assistance. Feeling dazed, she settled in beside him on the ledge. Gradually, the adrenaline from the chase dissipated.
"Father caught me hunting rats when I was a boy."
She felt her muscles relax further at the soothing, soft rasp of Vincent's voice and her claws retracted.
"That was one lecture I'll never forget. 'Diseases and unacceptable behavior' were the two major themes, I believe."
Acute embarrassment rolled over her at Vincent's words. Now she would get the same lecture. On the heels of that came mortification. How could she have done& that? And to be seen, in that state! She had behaved like an animal! What would people think?
"No! Never think that! That way lies madness, I know!"
Vincent paused until Catherine looked up at him, a smile pulling at his lips.
"Besides, it was fun, wasn't it?"
Catherine thought back, and once she got past the fact that she had actually voluntarily touched a rat, she had to admit he was right. "Yes& it really was fun. Have you&?"
"Hunted rats lately? Not in the last month or so. You know it always seemed strange to me that, living below the sewers, underground, this community has never realized it enjoys a distinct lack of pests. I don't bring the subject up."
Catherine couldn't suppress a snort of amusement. "So you're the Pied Piper of the Tunnels?"
Vincent chuckled. "I consider it a form of therapy. No one knows of it. No one but you."
Catherine glanced down at the cavern floor below.
"I can't believe I climbed up here. It was so easy! And I didn't even think about it, I just knew I could do it, and went for it! Just like how I found you. It's like there's this map in my head, and when I think of you I know just where you are. It's amazing!"
"I& what are the differences you notice? Can you tell me?"
"How do you mean?"
"Our differences. To me, they are just what I am, all that I have ever known. It took a long time for me to figure out what other people could sense. You have a clearer perspective. How different are the senses you have now compared to before? Forgive me if I seem eager, but this is a question that has plagued me for years."
"Everything seems sharper. Clearer. Hearing and smell are a lot more sensitive. A lot! Some reactions are different, they take me by surprise sometimes." Both of their minds replayed the recent rat ambush. "Plus the bond, that's new to me, at least the way it is now. I discovered the direction sense, that's what I was doing just now, finding you by using it. I can sense people's feelings as well, but not as strongly as you can, I believe. And if those rats are any indication, animals are possible as well." Catherine looked out over the magnificent view. "This is a wonderful spot. I bet you've never had to share it before."
Vincent nodded in agreement. "No one knows I come here. Catherine, we have to be careful. I have always walked a fine line in this community, and now that path must be yours as well. Our friends, our family Below, they know us to be different. However, I've always attempted to hide the majority of my abilities, for the sake of their comfort with me." Vincent gave a rough 'humph' and shook his mane out of his eyes, focusing on the distant waterfall. "No, let me be truthful. I've been ashamed of my abilities mostly, feeling they kept me from being human. When I could stand it no longer, I would travel to the nameless river, or explore the catacombs, alone, to find some release from the harsh control I enforced. A blessing, and a curse. It would feel so good to loose the reins, and yet, it would once again prove I wasn't a normal man."
"We're not though, are we? Not quite human?" Catherine turned to watch his beloved profile, expecting a look of pain. What she saw, and felt, instead was acceptance.
"No. We're not completely human. That was my struggle last week, and now it's yours. But we're not less than human, nor are we more."
"Then& what are we?"
"Ourselves. I told you once, in this cavern, that we are something that has never been. We must find our own way. That's what we both must accept. It's not& the easiest path."
"This fine line you spoke about. It's hiding our differences, isn't it? Keeping that full knowledge from people. You must have been holding back so much."
Vincent sighed. How he wished he had answers to give her. She was as lost as he. "It was difficult. I had always suppressed everything I was, to be accepted as human. I'd done it so well, I sometimes even convinced myself. But I think that path is not the healthiest one. We must accept what we are, and so must our family. Now, I don't think we should flaunt our differences to them, simply that we must no longer repress and refuse to acknowledge them. For example, the only person Below who knows I can extend my claws is Father. I have hidden the fact, even during a work detail when extension would have made a job easier. I've been afraid to show those differences. That must end. We are who we are. We must not be ashamed of that. Even so, we don't need to advertise either. It is indeed a fine line we must walk." Vincent let out a huff of sarcasm. "Listen to me. I sound like a wise sage, with all the answers. Such is not the case. I'm wandering in the dark, just as you are."
"Not alone, Vincent. Neither of us is alone. We have each other now."
Vincent stiffened as he felt Catherine take his hand. Compelled, he looked down as he curled his own around hers. Two hands, similar yet one obviously feminine. Not quite as work roughened as his. Fascinated, Vincent raised her hand to examine it closely. Delicate ivory claws, strong as steel, were buried in the reddish fur which crowned the back of his own hand. He tested the sharp points with his thumb. That part of him he had always thought of as the dark half engendered another rumble of appreciation. 'Sexy'. An unbidden fantasy slid into his mind, the imagined feel of those claws buried in the mane on his spine, sliding down through the thick waves with delicious friction to cup&
A gasp from Catherine broke through, and he looked up automatically to meet her shocked stare. She had felt that! Acutely embarrassed, Vincent dropped his eyes to observe the path below.
Catherine sat immobile with shock. 'He thinks I'm& attractive this way.' Surprise gradually fell under a tide of relief. All fears that he had found her new strangeness repulsive were washed away. Gradually, she began to review her opinion regarding her appearance. She felt attractive, now.
Mundane matters have a tendency to interrupt even the most esoteric of thoughts, however, and she was no exception. A loud rumble came from her stomach, the same kind of rumble that she had experienced during her former life.
Vincent tilted his head at her inquiringly.
"Pardon me, but I skipped breakfast. It must be almost time for evening meal by now. I'm starving!"
"Perhaps it's time to head back."
Catherine felt a spurt of fun. Well, why not? "Vincent?"
"Wanna race? Bet I can beat you back to your chamber!"
"Surely, Catherine, you can't be so misguided. There's no way you could possibly outrun me."
"You're very sure of yourself," Catherine replied archly. "I think you're mistaken."
"Yes. I think you've met your match. I used to run track, you know. Now I'm equipped to meet you on your own terms."
Vincent pondered her request. Through the bond he could feel the anticipation that rippled through her. She needed this, to enjoy her new abilities, to help her accept herself. "Then by all means, you're welcome to make the attempt."
Eye to eye, crouched on the ledge in preparation for the climb down, the two contestants stared at each other, each waiting for the other to make a break. Catherine felt a light rumbling ripple through her chest, and started in surprise. Eyebrows raised, Vincent responded with an answering deep growl as his voice rose to meet her challenge. Muscles tensed, claws sprang out.
Father limped wearily down the tunnel. Every year it seemed like this corridor became longer. But when someone needed his expertise, there wasn't much choice but to respond. Pausing to resettle his medical bag, he rubbed his bad hip. Damned thing. The last medical journals Peter had brought down spoke about something called hip replacement surgery. Right now that sounded awfully tempting. Oh, well, there was no help for it now, just one more turn and he would reach his study. Then he-
A flash swept by him, almost bowling him over. Catherine! Hair wild, running faster than he had seen anyone move. Directly behind her, a bone chilling growl preceding him, his son followed in hot pursuit, long claws flashing in the torchlight.
"What the devil? Vincent! Vincent!" In mere seconds, the two had sped around the corner. Heart in his mouth, Father set off after them.
Almost there! Peter had been right, being smaller and lighter than Vincent gave her an advantage in a long race. Just outside the Chamber of the Falls, however, Vincent had split off in a different direction. Mentally cursing those holes in her internal map, she just knew he was taking a shortcut. And she had been right. Approaching the home tunnels he had been ahead of her. But not for long. They were neck and neck. From this direction, she knew she could cut through the upper level of Father's study and go through the high tunnel to the ladder, which led down to Vincent's chamber. A burst of speed sent her just ahead of Vincent, and she ignored his prohibitive growl. Was that Father she had just passed by? No matter, she was almost there. Bursting into Father's study, she gathered herself and leapt, catching the upper rail of the balcony, claws gouging in the old wood for purchase. In a vault maneuver, she was over the rail, hurdled a carelessly stacked pile of encyclopedias and was pelting through the rough stone corridor.
Vincent skidded through Father's study, blunted claws scrabbling on the stone, and made the sharp left to bound up the three steps. The lower route to his chamber was longer, but the footing was flat and sure. Heart pounding in his chest, he burst into his chamber, just as the lithe form of Catherine leapt from the ladder to land lightly and balanced on her feet before him.
"I won!" Catherine crowed through rough drags of desperately needed air.
"You certainly did not, my feet touched the chamber floor before yours." Vincent, too, was struggling for breath, the long run having taken its toll on his greater mass.
Catherine did a little shuffle of a victory dance. "Yes, but I entered the actual chamber first. You're just a sore loser."
"Me? A sore loser? It's you who can't bear to admit defeat!"
"Hah! Typical male!" Eyes flashing, adrenaline surging, Catherine could not prevent a gleeful pirouette of joy. "That was so much fun! I've never run so fast."
Chest heaving, Vincent had to agree. It had been fun. More than fun. Impulsively, he caught Catherine as she spun, grabbing her at the waist and lifting her up. "Admit that I'm the victor."
"You?! Never! I made it here first!"
"I won't put you down until you've acknowledged the truth."
Catherine looked down into Vincent's eyes, snapping with laughter. He was playing!
"Never! And you will set me down this instant!"
"I will not, Catherine. And I can hold you like this for a very long time."
"Can you now? I think not!" Determinedly, Catherine began to struggle. Hands going down to try to pry his own off her waist, she braced her feet against his thighs and pushed. Irrepressible, the giggling growls of laughter burst out of her in gusts as she fought to be free. Her strength surprised him, and he turned to brace her against the chamber wall in order to contain her writhing body. A surprise wrap from her right leg however, tripped him and sent him to his knees.
'Thank you, Isaac,' Catherine thought gleefully as Vincent's grip loosened. An eel-like twist and a surprised Vincent hit the floor. Dropping on top of him, she let out a wolfish snarl, which melted to a surprised yip as his hands gripped hers and he rolled, straddling her and pinning her underneath him. Dark blue eyes bored into hers, as a low dominant rumble shivered through his chest, physically felt by her in the places their bodies were pressed together.
In an instant, all laughter disappeared. This was Vincent, his weight draped over her, his eyes caressing her, his breath gusting in labored pants, not all of which was now from exertion. He felt so good, pressing down against her body. A blanket of hot and heavy male scent settled over her senses, and Catherine drew a heady gasp of appreciation. Her hands clutched around his, where he held them fast at her sides. Deep within, a curl of helpless arousal pierced its way downward, swirling around itself in that most feminine place.
She wanted him. She was as aroused as he. He could feel it through the bond, and scent its presence as well as her body readied itself for his possession. A submissive purr tickled his awareness. It broadcast her willingness. She was his. His rumbling growl, wordless yet eloquent, increased in intensity and signaled his understanding; communicating his intent. Nostrils flared as he absorbed that drugging, intoxicating scent that confirmed his attentions were welcomed. Desired. Craved. Glazed green eyes met his own, and then closed in hazy anticipation as he lowered his head.
"Vincent – no! Don't hurt her! Let her up now!"
The voice! And the emotional flare of fear, for her, for them! It was like a splash of cold water. Catherine's eyes snapped open in shock as Vincent threw himself off her, hitting the side of the bed. Through the bond she felt his mortification, and his frustration.
Struggling to focus, and to diffuse the situation, Catherine sat up and swept a trembling hand through her hair. "It's all right, Father. I'm not hurt. Everything's& fine."
Father stood frozen, feeling his own stirrings of mortification. Was it possible he had misread the situation? When Vincent has rushed by him in snarling pursuit, he had feared the worst. The vicious sounding bestial noises he had overheard from them both as he rushed in panic to this chamber had only confirmed his fears, as had the sight that greeted his arrival - Catherine, pinned down by his son who loomed above her, snarling. He had been so frightened for them both. The last thing they had needed was another incident like Lisa, like the catacombs. But& could he have been wrong? They now looked like two teenagers caught necking. "I'm sorry. I think I& Please accept my apologies. Vincent, shall I see you two in the dining hall later?"
"Yes& yes, we will be there shortly."
Catherine felt a bit sorry for the obviously embarrassed man, as he hurriedly departed.
After a few minutes of strained silence, Vincent let out a huff of reluctant amusement.
Relieved, Catherine began to relax. For the last several minutes she had agonized about Vincent disappearing again. "I feel like I've just been caught by Dad. Aren't we a bit old to feel that way?"
"Obviously not. Regardless, I think Father just learned a lesson about jumping to conclusions he won't forget for quite some time." Rising from the cold stone floor, he held out his hand to help Catherine up. "Was there any truth in his concern? Did I hurt you?"
Not wanting to dismiss his fears out of hand, Catherine did a quick mental check. She was fine. "No. Nothing you did harmed me in the slightest."
The mood was broken, however, and Vincent seemed to withdraw mentally. It was after both washed their hands and set out for the dining hall for a very welcome evening meal, that Vincent posed that question again. "Are you sure I didn't hurt you? I can feel you have some pain on your left side."
"Oh that. That's kind of embarrassing. Ms. Proud and Free here wasn't careful enough during our race, that's all. I took a corner too fast and bumped an outcrop."
"Yes, truly. Why? What has you so concerned?"
Vincent ducked his head and was silent for some time. Just when she had given up on receiving an answer, the lightest of murmurs reached her ears. "I didn't hold back."
"Pardon? How do you mean?"
"Catherine. My strength. When we were& playing. Wrestling." His voice was quiet, full of wonder. "I didn't hold back. I didn't even think of it. And later& that, too. My grip& I held nothing back. And& you were not harmed."
Catherine met his shy gaze as he glanced down at her from beneath his shaggy mane and couldn't help but smile, for the light of relief in his eyes, and the coursing release of his joy through the bond, could have lit the entire world Below.