All the fear has left me now.

I'm not frightened anymore.

It's my heart that pounds beneath my flesh.

It's my mouth that pushes out this breath.

And if I shed a tear I won't cage it...

And if I feel a rage I won't deny it...

Companion to our demons,

They will dance and we will play.

Sarah McLachlan: "Fumbling towards Ecstasy'

From the album "Fumbling towards Ecstasy"

 

CHAPTER NINETEEN

Red. Everything was red, and slow, as if a movie film had been tinted and played in slow motion. Glass fell, glittering and refracting crimson rain. The sour smell of fear and the copper-iron tang of blood filled her nostrils, heavy and thick. Everything was sharper, harsher. Instinctively the muscles of her upper lip tensed, drawing upwards to expose long, gleaming canines below wildly flashing eyes. The rough, ripping sensation in her chest resolved as a roar of challenge, strangely exciting, enervating.

Catherine lunged to the left as soon as her feet made contact with the cracked cement floor of the basement, avoiding the bullet that whined over her head to strike fragments from the concrete wall behind her. Lighting quick reflexes took over as adrenaline screamed across her nerves. Unwinding from a crouch, she leapt straight for the body closest to her.

A terrified howl began to rise from the man as for a moment he looked directly into the face of clawed and fanged death leaping for him. A second shot went wild, ricocheting with a whine off the wall. Extended steel-sharp claws speared into his throat, sinking deep. Catherine used the purchase that gave her to continue her momentum forward, tearing the vulnerable flesh loose in the process, muscle, tendons, and arteries giving way like paper.

A twist of her hips ensured she cleared the collapsing body of her first victim, and agilely she regained her footing. Senses screamed, and pinpointed without sight the location and movements of the other threats in the room. A new smell, the fumes of cordite, strengthened while gunshots roared through the basement. Pivoting, she flinched as a sharp sliver of exploding concrete from another bullet impact embedded itself into the left side of her face. A rolling vicious snarl escaped her in response as her eyes snapped to the second man, about three feet away.

The man's eyes were rounded, wide with uncomprehending terror. The creature before him, some unknown beast, bared its fangs and roared at him, like a lion! Fast as a snake, its right hand snapped out, grabbing his gun hand before he could squeeze off another shot, and twisting it. A muffled popping sound registered as the man heard as well as felt his wrist bones dislocate, and harsh claws sank into the ripping flesh at his wrist. The creature wrenched the gun from his hands and threw it across the room. An ululating scream was cut off as the other hand swept across his abdomen, shredding his jacket and shirt like cheap gauze, ripping deep gashes across his belly. His body slowly folded to the ground, and the creature dropped his now useless wrist. That inhuman face drew closer as the thing crouched over his body, fangs bared beneath a split lip, which was drawn back in a menacing growl. The last thing he ever saw was the blood-covered claws sweeping down toward his eyes.

A wild elation filled her, a hot, welling thrust of dark joy at the success of the hunt. Another roar, this one of triumph, ripped from her chest as she tilted her head back to announce her victory. A roar that was cut off in full-throat and changed to a screech of surprise and anger by the bark of a gun and the shaft of agony that pierced her. The impact rocked her back and she slid sideways off the body of her victim while turning to locate this new threat. From the floor above, Catherine's hyper-extended hearing caught Vincent's frantic roar, a bubbling choked scream, and the muffled thud of a body falling to the floor.

Joe's hands shook. The barrel of the gun he had retrieved from where the vicious creature had thrown it wavered slightly. He observed with horror the narrowed eyes and bared fangs of the nightmare apparition that crouched like a vulture over the dead man's body. A stuttering growl of warning rumbled through the room as it moved to get up, eyes meeting his in a blaze of rage. As he stared into the twisted, inhuman face, sudden recognition struck. Sucking in an uneven breath, he leveled the gun, taking aim at the other shoulder.

"Cathy?" It couldn't be. Catherine Chandler couldn't just slaughter two men with her bare hands, Joe thought in panic. At least, the old Cathy couldn't. Was more than just her face and hands changed? "Cathy! Cathy, don't. Please. Don't make me shoot you again." Joe watched as the wrinkled upper lip began to relax, and the burning enraged look in Catherine's eyes began to fade, to be replaced by puzzlement and confusion.

With a desperate roar, Vincent rushed through the basement entrance, every sense screaming in tandem with the waves of pain that flowed through the bond. Panicked, Joe switched targets, and shot blindly at the onrushing form.

"Joe, no!" Catherine yelled, the threat to her beloved Vincent completely snapping her back to herself. "Vincent, stop! Don't hurt him! It's Joe!"

Vincent halted his advance abruptly. Before him, Joe crouched against the cement wall, a gun trained rather unsteadily on him. Another wave of pain welled to him from Catherine, a wave of agony so familiar that for a moment he thought it his own. He knew this pain too well. Understanding eyes found her and looked on with grief as she stumbled backwards against the wall for support. Great heaving gasps wrenched her chest as her eyes, wide with horror, flicked from one mutilated body to another in disbelief. Tears traced their silent way down her cheeks. Trembling arms brought her hands, encrusted with gore, into her line of sight, and she turned them repeatedly, as though unable to understand what they signified. Abruptly, Catherine turned away from them both and vomited repeatedly, retching until there was nothing left.

"Catherine?" Vincent's warm voice was a blanket of comfort, and blindly she turned and clutched his vest, sobbing her horror, fear and grief. Through the bond he could feel his own emotions in perfect tandem with hers. Minutes later, the burning pain from her shoulder reminded them both that not all of the blood came from her victims. Vincent started and sat back, carefully locating the bullet hole through her sweater and shirt, a slowly spreading rim of crimson surrounding it.

Across the room, Joe had gotten to his feet, although granted rather shakily at best. Two days of deprivation combined with shock were taking their toll. Still, he did not drop the gun. "Is she OK?"

"I think it's all right. Father can patch it up." Catherine still shook in violent spasms, as the adrenaline leaked from her system, and her breathing was ragged. Her eyes widened, as a frightening thought occurred. "I don't think I can ride the subway!"

Vincent spared a quick glance out the basement window. The level of light told him sunrise was minutes away. Taking the subway home was not a viable option, now. Neither could they stay here, surely a neighbor would have reported the shots and the police would arrive at any minute. They must get out of here! But& he was not at all familiar with this part of the city. Where could they go?

"The car outside. Can you drive?"

"I think so. I have to. We can't stay here!"

Joe stared at the couple in confusion. Only moments ago they had been roaring monsters. Christ, he hadn't even recognized Cathy! Now they stood talking in normal voices, acting normal. Well, as normal as could be expected. And they were scared&

"I'll drive the car. She's right, you've both got to get away from here; the police will show up pretty damned soon, I'm certain of it. I'm going to need some help, though." Joe swayed precariously and leaned against the wall, eyeing the two with unease. By all rights he should turn them in to the authorities. Hadn't he just watched Cathy murder two people in front of his eyes? But& he owed them his life. If not for their action, both he and Sandra would be dead. Sandra! Oh, God! He had to get her to a hospital!

Following Joe's gaze, Vincent realized that a fourth person was in the basement; a woman, obviously unconscious, still bleeding through the remnants of her ruined knee. "Joe, your belt. Use it as a tourniquet. Hurry." Quickly, Joe removed the belt of his overcoat and knotted it tightly above Sandra's knee, while Vincent untied the ropes binding her to the chair. A muffled moan was the woman's only response as Vincent easily lifted her and carried her up the stairs.

Joe eyed Catherine warily. No matter how he tried, he could not put out of his mind the sight of her face, snarling at him like a rabid beast. He could not suppress his flinch away from her as she moved to lend him her support to ascend the stairs. A catch in her breath was the only outward sign she had noticed his fear as she patiently waited for him to lean on her. Joe felt a surprising sense of guilt at this. "Come on. Let's get out of here."

* * * * *

The soapsuds were a rusty brown and had almost disappeared before Catherine felt that her hands were clean. Not that they would ever be totally clean again. Not really. She had shot a person before, in self-defense. But that didn't even compare to what she had done only hours earlier. Her stomach lurched as she recalled the sensation of flesh tearing beneath her sharp claws. It hadn't even been difficult, to kill someone like that. Not physically, anyway.

Joe had paled visibly when they'd been forced to step over Downy's slashed body at the top of the stairs. After a pause to telephone for an ambulance, she and Joe had left the house. Outside the chauffeur, and what she presumed was Dr. Brighton, lay crumpled on the grass. Vincent's work. Sandra had been left on the front step of the house for the ambulance to find. The Mercedes in the drive had tinted windows, allowing travel in relative obscurity. It had been a silent trip back to the city proper, except for necessary questions and answers. Joe had been unable to even look at her&

They had driven to a rough area of town and left the Mercedes, with the keys in the ignition and the doors unlocked. The place they had agreed upon was near not only a seldom used but serviceable tunnel entrance, but a subway station as well. The old Belmont Hotel to be exact. Both she and Vincent had watched from the shelter of the abandoned hotel to ensure he reached the subway entrance safely.

Father had been both relieved and upset when they had finally arrived safely home at approximately ten o'clock. He had been even more upset when he had to take care of Catherine's shoulder. Vincent had held her hand as Father dug out the bullet, cleansed, sutured and bandaged the wound. Of course, through it all was the inevitable lecture.

A nudge against her arm brought her attention back to the present as Vincent passed her a hand towel. Catherine avoided looking up as she took the worn cloth. A surprise claw beneath her chin urged her face upwards, and she raised her eyes to meet Vincent's. Eyes that glowed with sympathy, and with understanding - perhaps with too much understanding. Catherine felt tears well up again as she experienced a flash of that agonizing heart-sinking feeling of knowing exactly what she was. And, more telling, what she was not.

"Yes. Now you truly understand. All those times&" Vincent looked above her at the statue of Justice.

"All those times, you had to bear this by yourself. It hurts so much. At least I have you, though. How did you ever manage this alone?" Catherine's voice constricted as she felt his pain overlying her own.

"By attempting to disprove it. Each time, Catherine, each time, I was forced to confront the reality of who and what I was, I pushed it away and tried even harder to reject it. Reject that entire side of myself. Try to be more human. By locking away all that I considered to be the province of the beast, folding it all into an iron box in my mind. A box that would hold everything sealed away. Until&"

"Until you had to protect again. When you needed the strength and anger of that part of what we are to defend what you loved. And each time you let it out of that box, the seal was weaker. That's why you were sick."

"Yes. That was a good part of it."

Catherine dropped her head and moved away as the knowledge of the other part of it swept through her, remembered and feared. Vincent looked away as he felt her realization of his meaning. Wordlessly, he sent acknowledgement and support through the bond.

Catherine turned and sank down into the worn velvet chair behind her, resting her head in her hands. "It's the joy, that's the worst part, isn't it? The fact that, as much as I know I should be drowning in guilt, I'm not. It had to be done, and I'd do it again, in a heartbeat. But a part of me, a part of me took joy in the fact that I could defeat my enemies, that I could defend my friends and myself. How can I live with that?"

"I couldn't. For a long time, that tormented me more than all the rest, the fact that in releasing that inner demon, there was a part of me that reveled in its strength and power, a part that rejoiced in the fact that I no longer was hiding in shadows, allowing others to protect me. For that brief time, I could be all that I was, and in it I did find a savage joy. But, Catherine, we must learn to accept this."

Catherine raised her eyes in horror. "No!"

Slowly Vincent approached and sank to his knees before her chair. Taking her fingers in his own he raised her still damp hands, examining them with a contemplative air. "Listen to me. If we don't lock away everything that we are, then that part loses its power. We will never shed our instinct to protect, but perhaps the rage will no longer rule us in these moments. Perhaps by not controlling our instincts so rigidly, we can learn to guide them. It will work, I felt it."

"How do you mean? I don't think I've been locking anything away, and I was& lost." Through the bond, Catherine felt his reluctant tingle of hope.

"But it was the first time you had ever experienced this, and hopefully, but not likely, the last. Control takes familiarity, and time. You know what to expect now."

Catherine closed her eyes. Please, not again. She never wanted to experience that again. Through the bond she could feel his understanding, and his sympathy. But, he was right. Although it may never be needed again, the very precariousness of their existence almost guaranteed that, at some point, they would need to defend themselves or their home. Her attention was brought back by the hopeful tone in Vincent's voice.

"This night, it was only when you were hurt that I was swept up in the rage. Before that, even though I knew you were in danger, I controlled the loss of myself. I could think, take precautions. The chauffeur, the other man outside, instead of killing them, I knocked them unconscious. Ever since I have begun to accept that other side, make it a friend instead of an enemy, I have felt a different kind of control. Not that of suppression, but that of understanding. It didn't use me, I used it."

Catherine sighed and slipped her hands from his to cup his face. Her clawed hands slid across the short masculine fur on his face, ruffling it delicately. "We are something that has never been. I guess we have to find our own way, both individually and together."

Vincent tilted his head to rub against her palms, closing his eyes in pleasure. She was so warm, so soft. Unable to resist longer, he gathered her against his heart, taking great care not to jar her injury. Relaxing at last, she laid her head against his shoulder, and closed her eyes to drink in his warmth.

As her breathing slowed, Vincent carefully picked her up from the chair to tuck her into bed. He smiled as, with a little grunt of contentment, she snuggled down under the warm quilts. He understood. After being hurt, all his body wanted to do was sleep. She shared his remarkable healing powers now, and so would feel that deep need for rest. Which wasn't exactly what his body was craving right now, but they had a lifetime to indulge in that particular pleasure.

Unwilling to leave her, he curled under the covers beside her, tucking her head under his chin and drifting into waking dreams - dreams that no longer lived within the realms of fantasy, but had dropped from the unattainable to the level of real possibility.
"So close no matter how far.

Couldn't be much more from the heart.

Forever trusting who we are.

And nothing else matters.

Never opened myself this way.

Life is ours, we live it our way.

All these words I don't just say.

And nothing else matters.

Trust I seek and I find in you.

Every day for us something new.

Open mind for a different view.

And nothing else matters."

Metallica: 'Nothing Else Matters'

From the album: 'Metallica'

<![if !supportEmptyParas]> <![endif]>

EPILOGUE

Catherine jumped as another stack of files landed on her desk in front of her. Preparations for the Meronski trial had her so preoccupied that she hadn't even heard Joe approach.

"Oh, come on, Joe! You've got to be kidding! I'm swamped! The Meronski trial is next week and I still-"

"Whine, whine, whine. Some things never change, hey, Radcliffe? Wouldn't want you to get bored on me and start looking for a new job, one with more challenge." Joe perched a hip on the side of her desk casually, and ignored Catherine's exasperated roll of her eyes to snatch up a rubber band and twiddle it around his fingers.

Observing this, Catherine felt a warm current of relief. It had taken quite a while for Joe to get over the events of last year. For months he was on edge in her presence. They had had several long talks and she had been very careful around him, very calm, moving slowly, speaking quietly. Patience was rewarded however, and very gradually they had returned to their former level of comfort with each other. In fact, last visit Joe had actually flipped a rubber band at her, snapping her right in the back as she hunted through a filing cabinet. Yes, things were back to normal. At least, some things.

Last month, Dr. Steven Carson had been stripped of his medical license and put behind bars for his part in the transplant organ black market operation. A few months before, both Dr. Malcolm Brighton, the vet, and his sister, Stephanie Brighton, had suffered the same fate. Stephanie had been the lure for the victims, a lifetime hobby of amateur theater giving her the necessary acting ability. She was also an administrator at a large life insurance underwriters firm, and it was her access to medical data that allowed Dr. Brighton to choose appropriate tissue matches for their thefts. All in all, the three had been a very effective team.

"So, how's the computer working out?"

"Better than I thought. I just need to make sure Mouse doesn't get access to it. But, after the photocopier incident, I don't think we'll have a problem." The insatiably curious Mouse had been dying to figure out the "picture machine" and had managed to sneak into her office one night to "see the innards." The resultant spill from the toner cartridge had coated him with black ink powder, and it had taken him days to rid himself of the mess completely, let alone clean the office, a job that had been assigned as punishment.

Catherine tilted her head as she overheard approaching footsteps coming down the long tunnel to her office. Vincent. She owed this, all of it, to him.

She had felt like such a failure at first. She had tried so hard to be content with a normal tunnel life. Never the type to quilt, bake, or sew, however, she had felt useless in the much more down to earth and practical tunnel world. The only piece of sewing she had attempted since Junior High Home Economics class had been the pouch that held Vincent's rose. That had been a labor of love, and his expression had made all the bandaged fingertips worthwhile, but needlework was definitely not her forte.

Understanding this, Vincent had encouraged her not to give up on Joe. Heeding his voice of experience, and taking his advice, had made mending their relationship possible. Vincent himself had been the one to re-broach the possibility of Catherine working for Joe on a part-time basis

Vincent had arranged to meet and speak with Joe privately. He had introduced him to the tunnels, and more particularly to one that ran quite close to the basement of the DA's office. Many days of work resulted in a new chamber approximately twenty feet from the building's foundation; close enough to tap into cables for telephone, fax, and most recently a computer. Also, Mouse had engineered a cleverly hidden entrance to the basement, allowing Catherine after-hours access to the law library and archive files. Joe used it occasionally as well to bring her current documents when necessary. Together, she and Joe had engineered an off-site consultant role, doing research, background legal work, and trial preparations. Catherine divided her time between the legal work that she loved, and more mundane tunnel labors which her new strength and stamina so suited her for. So far, the compromise was working well.

Of course, there were days when all this convenience was extremely inconvenient. Like this morning.

Ducking slightly, Vincent came through the entrance bearing a basket. He had known Joe was here before the last turn, more from the bond than anything. Setting the basket on the corner of the crowded desk, he bent down to give his wife a light kiss before addressing her visitor. "Good morning."

"Hey, Vincent. Whatever's in there sure smells great. Lunch?"

"Breakfast. Catherine had a bit of a... late start this morning." Two pairs of eyes met, twinkling at the erotic memories that were the exact reason for that late start.

"Oh, no! Radcliffe? You slacking off again?" Joe shook his head mournfully. "Back to her old habits. It's sad, you know. You just can't get reliable help these days, I – hey!" The rubber band pinged off the center of his chest to bounce onto the floor. Catherine didn't even bother to conceal her crow of triumph.

"Gotcha!"

Revenge was sweet.