By Thomas Mc

Chapter 1 : Melancholy

Vincent awoke to a disorienting complex jumble of emotions with a hint of melancholy overlaying the gestalt. He quickly realized that it was coming from Catherine. He had felt this combination from her before and he knew the cause. Being able to sense the emotions of those around him and blessed with a very keen sense of smell and hearing, he had been aware of this particular aspect of the human condition from childhood. He had often heard Father euphemistically refer to it as 'that time of the month', and most of the females in the tunnels, above a certain age, suffered from it.

Vincent figured that he would have to come up with some plausible excuse to visit her balcony tonight so that he could be there for her. Though her moods could be highly mercurial and, once in a while, just plane unpleasant, during these times, his visits always seemed to make her feel better. He sometimes wondered if she was aware of his peculiarly convenient timing on these occasions. With a sigh, he rolled out of bed and began preparing for another day.

Vincent stared for a moment into the mirror at his peculiarly unique leonine visage. For most of his life, his appearance had been a source of pain and sorrow. The beast, the creature, the fearsome monster, the half lion, less than a man. Only down here in the tunnels was he accepted, mostly by ignoring his differences. Then Catherine had come along and changed his world. She had seen him for what he was, all of him, the good and the bad, and had accepted, even loved him. He turned away from the small mirror and began getting dressed.

While he had been dressing, he had sensed another familiar presence just outside his chamber and smiled. Once he was ready to face the day, Vincent pulled back the tapestry covering his doorway to find little five year old Naomi sitting on the tunnel floor near his chamber looking down at the children's picture book in her lap. Catherine had given her that book a couple of weeks after she had come to live in the tunnels. It was the only thing Naomi had that she could truly call her own. Everything else had been lost when the rest of her family had been killed.

That was six weeks ago and she had just gotten out of her temporary cast last week. In the last four weeks since she had become able to get around on her own, Vincent often found her waiting outside his chamber to have breakfast with her favorite guardian monster (her own description). She was the only one who could make Vincent smile by calling him her monster. He remembered how Catherine had cringed the first time she heard it. It was only after hearing Vincent's laughter at Naomi's bestowed title that she had relaxed to it.

Closing her book, Naomi looked up and her face lit up with a smile that put the sun to shame. Vincent grinned wide enough to show his fangs (something he very rarely did) reached down and picked her up. Already his mood was much improved. This little girl had touched his heart in a way that he could not define. Only Catherine could touch him as deeply as Naomi had. He gazed into her blue-gray eyes as he spoke. "I'm hungry and you are just too scrawny to eat. What do you say we see what William has for us, maybe fatten you up?"

Naomi giggled at their morning ritual as she threw her arms around his neck in a hug. Vincent started off toward the dining chamber at a brisk walk. It was nearly impossible for him to feel down when Naomi was around. Father often joked that Vincent was awfully big to be so tightly wrapped around such a tiny little finger.

~ o ~

The morning Literature class had gone well and Vincent had been pleased at how Naomi had been fully engaged with the class. After class, Naomi had gone off to play with the other children and Vincent had ended up in Father's study playing a game of chess. For once, there were no emergencies, no unfinished chores, and no important issues to be resolved. The rest of the day was free.

"You seem to be a bit distracted." Father interrupted Vincent's train of thought.

Vincent looked up at father then down at the chessboard. How had he gotten himself into this predicament? Father had his king trapped with very few options left open for him. Father was right; he was distracted. All day long, he had felt the melancholy growing in Catherine and it worried him. What could be causing it? Somewhere in the back of his mind, a little voice told him that there was something oddly familiar about Catherine's current state of mind, and it was not due to the other cause that he had sensed this morning. There was defiantly some other factor at work here.

Shaking his head, Vincent forced himself to concentrate on the game. After a minute, he shifted his rook. It was a sacrifice but it would open up some more options for him in two or three moves if he planned this right.

~ o ~

About twenty hard fought moves later, the game ended in a stalemate. Father was very pleased with himself. Vincent merely smiled. It was so rare that Father was able to beat him at this game.

Vincent stretched then frowned. He had been concentrating so hard on the game that he had almost blocked out his sense of the bond. Now the link had reasserted itself in his awareness and the melancholy that he felt from Catherine was much stronger. There was also a strong streak of deep sorrow mixed in with it. What could possibly be wrong?

Several of the tunnel kids entered the library at that point. Geoffrey seemed to be the leader and spoke for them. "Father, we were wondering if we can go to the new 'Shakespeare in the Park' play his weekend?"

Father looked at them in surprise. "Is it time for that again already?" Then he glanced over at a battered calendar that was hanging off one of the shelves. "Well, well, it seems that it is that time again." He appeared to be deep in thought as he scowled at the children. "I don't believe there are any pressing chores or projects tomorrow. I supposed that it can be allowed."

Vincent glanced at the calendar as the children cheered. After a moment, the date fairly leaped out at him and he knew what was wrong with Catherine and why it had seemed so familiar. "Father I have to go." He remarked as he practically bolted from the library chamber.

Father looked again at the calendar, trying to discern what it was that had galvanized Vincent like that. Whatever Vincent had seen, eluded him. He finally shrugged his shoulders and turned his attention to the children.

About eight minutes later an urgent message from one of the sentries raced along the pipes. Vincent had been seen heading towards the surface near Catherine's building at a dead run. Father glanced at the ancient pendulum clock that sat on one of the shelves in his library. It was one of the very few things that he had been able to retain from happier times, before he had been driven below. It had once belonged to his father and had been given to him by a helper that owned a pawnshop and had recognized the name, that still remained engraved, in the bottom of the clock.

It was fifteen after seven; over an hour and a half until sundown. Father felt his blood run cold at the thought of the danger to Vincent. What could be driving that boy to do something so foolish as going above well before dark, and why Catherine's place. Father looked again at the calendar, then understanding dawned and suddenly his heart went out to both of them as he remembered what had happened a year ago. Today was the anniversary of her mother's death and this time she didn't even have her father to turn to.

~ o ~

Vincent crouched on the edge of the roof of Catherine's building, feeling dangerously exposed in the still bright western sun. He had grabbed the light gray cloak, which was a close match to the stone sides of the building. The side of the building facing the park was now in shadow, but anyone really looking would still be able to see him when he started down. With a deep breath, he slipped over the side and rapidly made his way down to the eighteenth floor.

Vincent landed lightly on Catherine's balcony. His keen sense of hearing detected no hue and cry and he felt the attention of no presences. So far so good. He had dared to push his luck beyond reasonable odds and so far had won. Through the glass doors, he could hear the music coming from her stereo. The music sounded almost as melancholy as the emotions coming from her. This was more serious than he had realized.

With cat like grace, he moved along her balcony past the bedroom doors to the parlor doors and peered in through the sheer curtains that covered the glass French doors. He spotted Catherine over by the parlor fireplace, where their bond had told him she would be. Catherine was sitting on the floor before her fireplace, her back to the balcony with her legs tucked beneath her. There were several photo albums scattered on the floor in front of her, and he could feel the sorrow rolling off of her in waves.

Vincent reached up to tap on the glass then, without understanding why, he hesitated. Almost without conscious choice, he grabbed the door handle and, testing it, felt it turn. Without even being aware of what he was doing, he quietly opened the French doors and soon found himself standing indecisively in the open doorway. Why had he done that? Only once before had he let himself into her apartment and that had been under very unusual circumstances. Catherine was still unaware of his presence as he heard a deep sigh followed by a half sob and a sniffle escape from her.

He was frozen by his own conflicting emotions. He had never been able to bring himself to actually enter her apartment except for that one time of great need when those rogue cops had beaten her up. He had always felt that entering the privacy of her home would be the equivalent of crossing a threshold in their relationship that he did not feel himself worthy of crossing. But he could feel her need and it was great. The sorrow and pain radiating from her was almost overwhelming.

With great effort, he worked himself up to the task and forced himself to pass through the doorway. As he approached her, unmoving and still unaware body, his sense of smell confirmed this morning's diagnoses of her physical state, as his sense of her emotions confirmed her desperate need for comfort.

He draped his cloak across the nearest chair then he quietly moved up behind her and stood looking down on her small sad form for a few seconds. She had her arms crossed as though trying to hold herself together. She was dressed in a simple pale blue satin nightgown and a yellow light cotton bathrobe. Vincent knew, from the time he had tended to her after the rogue cops attacked, that both items had once belonged to her mother. The photo albums were all displaying pictures of a pretty little girl with a woman that bore a very strong resemblance to Catherine.

His need to comfort her rose up to meet the need for comfort that he sensed in her as Vincent finally knelt down behind her placing one hand on her upper arm, just above where her own hand rested, while he softly said her name. "Catherine?"

Without a word, she grabbed his hand and pulled his arm across her chest while leaning back into his warm chest. Then with another sob, the tears began to flow freely. He put his other arm around her waist and, for over an hour, he quietly held her as the sorrow flowed out of her with her tears to soak into the sleeves of his shirt and into the compassionate recesses of his heart. He caressed the top of her head with his cheek as he drew her sadness out of her and into himself.

Finally, she drifted off to sleep. For another half-hour, he held her sleeping form. He knew what he needed to do, but it would mean crossing another threshold; breaking another self-imposed barrier. Finally, he stood up carrying her sleeping form and he reluctantly passed through the doorway and entered her bedroom. There he gently laid her down on her bed.

Vincent brushed back her hair and gazed a moment at her sleeping face then with a sigh turned to leave. He paused as he felt the gentle touch of her hand on his forearm. "Please, don't go." She begged.

He turned back around and as she pulled at him, he reluctantly sat down on her bed. Her shimmering eyes looked up at him; the need in them was just as strong as the need he felt from her over the bond. "Hold me?"

He was unable to deny her request so he stretched out into a more comfortable position and wrapped his arms around her. He was acutely aware that he was now lying beside Catherine in her own bed. An invasion of her barriers that he had felt he could never do. With a contented sigh, she snuggled in close against him and wrapped her arm across his chest.

Vincent felt the melancholy within her beginning to melt away as an embarrassed warmth spread through him. He could still feel the need for his comfort coursing through her over their bond, so he allowed himself to relax and grant her his physical presence that she so desperately needed right now.

Continued in Part 2

'Beauty and the Beast' and its characters are owned by Witt-Thomas Productions and Republic Pictures. No infringement on copyrights is intended. This story is presented merely for the enjoyment of fans. Original concepts and story elements may be used by other authors as long as appropriate credit is given.