Skin Deep
By Thomas Mc

Authors Note : David had twice before sensed a presence in the park whose spirit seemed to be overwhelmed by deep emotional pain. He couldn't help but feel the need to find and help this poor lost soul.

Chapter 1: Despair

December 2059

David paused and gazed up at the few stars that shown through the leafless trees on this cold moonless mid-December night. Then he scanned the area in front of him, searching for the presence that had drawn him out of the tunnels. It was somewhere to the north and not too far from his current position.

Twice before David had sensed this particular presence haunting the park at night. The emotions were so strong that he had sensed them even down in the tunnels. David was by far the most sensitive empath in his family. It had been said that even Jacob was not as sensitive, empathically, as David. Unlike the others, David had inherited his empathic ability from both his father and his mother. Yet even he shouldn't have been able to sense the presence from that far away. The emotions were so strong they overpowered any sense of gender so that he couldn't even tell whether the presence was male or female.

Deep inside that unknown person, there was a terrible crushing darkness that was overwhelming. It was almost more than David could handle. Even when damping down his empathic sense, it was still devastating in its intensity. So much deep emotional pain and anguish, mixed with a massive dose of sorrow, loss, fear, confusion and simple hopelessness. Overlaying it all was a sense of fatigue.

David had once heard his father use the phrase 'soul sick' when referring to a young man that had committed suicide several years ago. "Soul sick ..." It was as good a description of what he was sensing as any. Whoever this person was, he or she needed help desperately. But this person's pain was so strong and ran so deep that David was seriously doubtful if it was even possible for his tunnel community to help this particular lost soul. Still he had to try.

David stealthily closed in on the presence. Even on this moonless night David kept his hood pulled way forward to hide his features. He knew how a stranger might react to his appearance and he did not want to complicate this situation anymore than it already was by frightening the stranger half to death. Like his father and brothers, David's leonine appearance, clawed hands and sharp fangs mixed with the bright red fur he had inherited from his mother could be startling at best. But when his golden eyes caught and reflected the light of the park's streetlamps they appeared to be on fire giving him a downright demonic look, especially in the dim light of a moonless night in New York's Central Park.

Finally David spotted the source of the terrible emotional darkness that he had been sensing. He saw a hooded figure sitting on the park bench with its back to him. For a moment, his barriers slipped and his senses were overwhelmed leaving him reeling from the emotional impact. With great effort, David fought back the despair that threatened to drown him until he determinedly forced his protective barriers back into place.

For the first time in his young life, David truly understood deep down in his soul how easy suicide would be for someone being crushed by this kind of emotional despair. Yet this person had been carrying this terrible weight around for at least a couple of weeks, since he first felt this presence, without giving in to suicide. To David that indicated a remarkable strength of character. But how much longer would that last?

With a deep breath, David quickly checked his gloves and his hood then he began working his way around the stranger's position. All the time he kept to the deeper shadows of the trees until, finally, he had worked his way around to a spot more or less directly in front of the stranger.

Even though he was now able to see the stranger from the front, it did not really give him much to work with. The stranger was wearing a heavy red overcoat with an unusually deep hood. The hood and sleeves were trimmed in a dirty white fur. If not for the ragged torn condition of the coat and the emotions he was sensing, he might have thought it was someone dressed up for Christmas. The stranger's face was still hidden in the shadows under that deep hood. Long blond hair swept down covering half of the shadowed face and hung down the front to about an inch below the collarbone. Female? Maybe, still uncertain.

He stepped out of the shadows and spoke trying to sound as casual and unthreatening as possible. "Oh, hello."

The stranger looked up and the fear shot up so dramatically that David was momentarily afraid that his own hood had slipped but his peripheral vision quickly reassured him that it had not. He still was unable to positively identify gender. The common emotional responses to his voice that would have told him gender were not there, or they were buried under the crushing weight of the fear and despair.

David took a cautious step forward. He noticed that the stranger was wearing a mismatched pair of gloves and the shoes looked like they were falling apart. Homeless, most likely, but he did not feel that he or she was crazy. "Are you OK?" A subtle movement of the strangers head in response to his words allowed a small amount of light from a nearby street lamp to penetrate the darkness under the hood. He caught a glimpse of sweetly delicate pixie like features that strongly indicated female, He guessed her age at between eighteen and twenty, but the one dark brown eye that was visible, reflected a deep ageless sorrow that belied that youthful face. The visual effect combined with the hopeless sorrow he was sensing made his heart ache for her. "You seem to be so sad . . . so quiet." This time, he just barely detected a clear response to the effect of his voice. Definitely a female. But why was it immediately followed by an increase in the hopelessness?

The unknown female lowered her head and turned her face away from David so that all he could see was a bit of her tangled blond hair hanging down from the hood. Still she made no response.

He took a few steps toward her while studying her. "Won't you at least talk to me? Maybe tell me your name?" He asked her, using the most potent tool in his arsenal, his voice. Every Chandler-Wells had it. That deep silk over gravel voice that filled other males with respect and touched females all the way down to their very core. His mother once told him that it was a potent weapon in the war between the sexes that no woman could resist, and to always be careful how he used it.

She finally spoke. "Please, go away." Her voice had a very rough edge to it. It reminded him of Janice; one of the helpers whose voice had been ruined by a lifetime of chain smoking. But the glimpse he had gotten of her face had left him with a distinct impression of youth. Again he was struck by that indefinable dichotomy of apparent age.

"I can tell that you are in distress and I mean you no harm. I only wish to help you." He implored as he took a step closer. He could tell that his voice was getting through to her, he had felt the expected attraction flash through her, but the pain and fear remained the same. The despair, sorrow and hopelessness however had just increased significantly. How in the world could his voice cause a reaction like that? "Tell me what has you so sad and maybe I can help."

"No one can help me." She responded quietly in her rough raspy voice. She glanced in his direction and again he caught another glimpse of a very pretty elfin face half covered by long tangled golden blonde hair. His mother called it the Veronica Lake look and often wore her long strawberry blonde hair that same way, mostly to entice his father. The girl quickly looked away again. "Don't look at me."

"Why?" He asked. "From what I can see, you are very pretty."

The girl's depression and anguish jumped way up as she called out with an anguished cry. "Go away!" The cry ended in a heart rending sob as she turned away.

The blast of raw emotion hit him so hard that his knees buckled and he sat down rather suddenly on the cold hard ground stunned by the emotional assault. After a second, he tightened his control over his empathic sense, boosting his protective barriers then shook his head to clear it.

The girl had noticed his actions and was again looking at him. Her emotions now included surprise and concern. She had started to rise when David looked up at her and raised his hand to forestall her from coming too close. "I'm OK."

As she slowly sat back down on the park bench David again spoke. "I'm so sorry if I have upset and hurt you. It is not my intention to do so. I can feel that you are engulfed in so much pain, sorrow and despair. I know that I can help you, if you will let me." He was pushing the soothing power of his voice for all it was worth now.

"No one can help me." She declared as she again turned away from him with another heartbroken sob.

"I can help." He stood up from the ground in an impossibly fluid and graceful move. "I know a place, a refuge, where many wonderful people live. No matter what your problem, they can help you."

A burst of rage flared up in her as she reached up toward her concealing hood. "How can they help me with this?" She spat out her question as she grabbed a hand full of her golden hair and whipped it away.

The golden wig came away, causing her hood to fall back and revealing very short medium brown hair that only covered the right side of her head. The left side of her face and scalp was covered with a mottled scaring. Her left eye was cloudy white and sightless. All mute testimony to having once been terribly burned. She threw the wig at him and began sobbing into her glove covered hands.

David caught the wig without thinking about it as he stared in surprise at the sight that had been revealed. The appearance of her terribly disfigured features made him wince in shock, sorrow and sympathy. He realized in a flash that it probably also explained the roughness of her voice. Now things were beginning to make sense. He had just seen the beauty that must have once been hers and the terrible ruin that had transformed her. But he was sure that there was much more to it than that. He had encountered badly scared people before and this girl's emotional pain went far deeper than the burn scars could account for by themselves and there was that element of confusion that didn't quite fit in.

David shook off his shock and swiftly moved up sitting on the bench next to her. He tentatively put his arm around her and pulled her, despite her slight resistance, into his embrace. "It will be alright, I promise you."

After a few moments of resistance, she turned and buried her face in his chest. Then she was clinging to his vest with desperate strength as she cried out her anguish and despair into that strong warm chest. He began projecting sympathy at her. He didn't know if any of it got through to her but he was also crooning words of comfort using the power of his voice as well. Soon he began to sense the effect that he was having on her.

As she cried herself out onto the front of his shirt, some of the despair within her began to ease up just a little. Then buried deep under all that pain, hopelessness and sorrow he began to barely sense a sweet gentleness that was still holding on and had not yet been crushed. He could also sense the strength of spirit that he had previously suspected was there. Just maybe, with a lot of help, this soul could still be salvaged. He felt that what he could sense buried there was well worth the effort to save her.

For a long time they sat there together on that lonely isolated park bench. He held her as she continued to cry out her despair into his shirt and vest while he continued to speak soothingly to her using his voice to its best advantage.

"Do you have a place to stay?" He asked her once she had been reduced to sniffles and soft sobs. Between the soft sobs, she barely shook her head without lifting it from his chest. He nodded to himself. "I'm going to take you someplace safe where you can stay for as long as you need or want."

Her only response was a very slight tightening of her grip on his vest. David suspected that she was beyond caring what happened to her and he was probably the only one to have shown her any true kindness for quite some time. He could also feel the results of the fatigue, he had sensed earlier, seeping through her.

Leaving his arm behind her back, he slipped his other arm under her knees. He stood up in one swift movement; her face remained buried in his chest. He shifted his arms slightly to get a more secure hold on her then glanced down at the blond wig where it had ended up laying on the bench. It was an old ratty tangled mop. It looked like something she must have found in the trash. He shrugged. He was sure he could find her something better later.

David took off heading across the dark park. He bypassed the tunnel access near the band shell because there was a group of teenagers hanging around near it. He headed instead for the access over on the north side of the lake. When he reached the tunnel entrance, the fatigue had caught up to her and she had retreated into an emotionally exhausted sleep.

~ o ~

By the time David reached the infirmary the pipes had already announced his approach and Cari was there waiting for him. As he set his burden on the examining table Cari leaned back in surprise. "My god, what happened to her?"

"I don't know for sure but I know that she's been haunting the park for about two weeks." He looked down into the stranger's ravaged face. "I was bringing her down here for refuge but I noticed that she was feeling very tired and now I think she may be running a fever and she seems to be having trouble breathing."

Doctor Cari Brown, daughter of Doctor Robin Alcott Brown, quickly pulled out her instruments. First she wrapped the medical analyzer around the unconscious girl's upper arm and, after ten seconds, read the display. "Her pulse and blood pressure are OK but her blood oxygen and blood sugar levels are a bit low and she is also definitely running a fever of a hundred and two." Cari took out a stethoscope and listened to the girl's chest. "Heart sounds good but I hear fluid in her lungs." She glanced over at David. "Did she have a raspy sounding voice?"

David nodded. "Yes, her voice was very rough sounding, kinda like Janice."

Cari put away her instruments then gave the girl an injection. During this entire time the girl had not awoken from her deep sleep and David was worried.

"What's the verdict Doctor?" David inquired.

Cari turned and faced David. "She has a mild case of pneumonia. It's a common problem for someone whose lungs have been damaged by smoke inhalation. I gave her a fairly strong antibiotic so she should start improving almost immediately. The air down here in the tunnels is very bad for her lungs in their current condition. You need to get her back above immediately."

"Where can I take her? I suspect that she has had more than her fill of hospitals and would probably not want to wake up in one." David shrugged.

Cari looked down at the girl for a moment. "Take her up to the brownstone for the time being. I'm sure Charles and Elizabeth won't mind. I'll send a message to Doctor Peterson. Either my sister Coni or Doctor Peterson can stop by and check on her condition tomorrow evening."

David picked up the unconscious girl and headed off toward the family brownstone. Within seconds after he left the infirmary, he heard messages from Doctor Cari racing along the pipes. David knew that by the time he reached the brownstone his grandparents would be expecting him.

As David approached the secret underground entrance to the family brownstone he spotted Charles, his salt and pepper mane a bit more tousled than normal. When Charles got a good look at David's burden his eyebrows climbed nearly into his hairline. Without a word, Charles led David up into the house and to one of the second story guest rooms.

Elizabeth was there waiting. "Oh, my lord, the poor child." She fussed over the girl making sure she was properly tucked into bed then shooed Charles and David into the common area and closed the bedroom door. Then she turned to David and asked him. "What is going on here? What happened to that poor girl?"

David told them everything that he knew. Elizabeth thought about what he had said for a few minutes before responding. "So you don't even know her name?"

"No grandmother I never even got that far, all I know is that she is in great emotional pain and she really needs our help." David replied. "That was all I cared about."

"We understand." Charles remarked as he squeezed his grandson's shoulder. Even among a family of empaths, his grandson was particularly sensitive. His quiet caring nature reminded Charles a lot of himself. "I know that she is unconscious yet I can still sense her pain all the way out here but I'm surprised you could sense her all the way from the tunnels."

"I can't explain it either, but I was able to sense her." He glanced back at the closed bedroom door. "I'll stay here and watch over her."

"I know you will dear." Elizabeth patted his cheek. "I would expect nothing less from one of my grandchildren. I'll set up the bedroom next to hers for you. I take it you didn't retrieve her wig." Elizabeth remarked. "Never mind, it probably wasn't worth keeping. I'll take care of that little detail; you just go take care of your new friend."

~ x x x x x ~

The clock on the wall showed that it was another two hours till sunrise. It had been just over two days since he had found her. David was just beginning to doze off in one of the two chairs in the guest bedroom when the young woman began tossing and turning restlessly in her bed. The last forty-eight hours had been punctuated with such fever dreams and as before he reacted instantly. He sprang from the chair and rushed over to her bedside. Like before, he took her hand in his and spoke to her in his most soothing voice but this time it didn't seem to be working.

David could sense fear and pain radiating from her like a heat lamp. Her sleep kept getting more and more restless. Finally he took her into his arms and tried to help her break free of whatever nightmare had her in its grip by gently shaking her while he called to her verbally and mentally.

~ o ~

She was trapped in a burning building with the flames that were licking at her clothing and hair, burning her skin and her eye. Her lungs stung from the thick hot smoke. Her ears were assaulted by the roar of the fire and the terrible screams of a child. At the edge of her vision a shadowy almost familiar figure morphed into a wild eyed demon as her own painful screams joined the general chaos around her. Suddenly she woke up screaming her nerves jangling with remembered pain. Someone was holding her close; rocking her in his embrace as his beautiful soothing his voice began comforting her. She began to respond to the warmth of his arms and his voice as her violent tremors and sobbing began to slowly ease-up. She felt his strong embrace begin to ease up as the nightmare began fading from her mind and she opened her eyes.

In the dim light from the low level nightlight the first thing she saw was a hand, covered in thick fur and ending in long sharp claws. She looked down, puzzled, at the clawed hand for several seconds. Her numbed and still sleep befuddled mind was simply unable to comprehend what it was that she was looking at.

Suddenly her mind snapped into focus and the image finally registered. With a violent jerk, she exploded away from whatever was attached to those claws, kicking out with her bare feet, knocking him backwards off the bed and causing his hood to fall back away from his head. Pieces of the fiery dream still swirling in her mind, she stared in horror at the thing that had been holding her. It stood there close enough to touch. Its lion-like visage and bright red mane, combined with the glowing reddish gold fire burning in his eyes, sent her nightmare befuddled imagination spinning out of control.

She found herself backed into the corner of the bed against the wall as she cried out in her despair. "You're a demon! I'm in hell!" With a whimper she curled in upon herself and shivered in fear as her nightmares of hell seemed to have materialized into an even more terrifying reality right before her eyes.

~ o ~

David looked at the pitiful sight of the badly scarred and frightened girl huddling in the far corner of the bed against the wall. She was nearly curled up into a fetal position, fear and despair radiating from her in waves. David responded with some heat. "I am not a demon!" After a moment he stepped back up to the edge of the bed and finished more softly. "At least I don't think I am." He sat down on the edge of the bed a couple of feet from her and his voice shifted into his most persuasive tones. "And you are definitely not in hell. You are currently in a guest bedroom in my grandparent's home." He cocked his head letting his sense of humor seep into his voice as she timidly raised her head, not quite looking directly at him. "What I am is the result of a madman's genetic experiment, three generations removed." He paused and shrugged. "Or at least that's what my family tells me and I have no reason to doubt them."

David could sense that he was getting through to her as her shivering lessened and she finally looked up at him in confusion. He slowly reached out and gently patted one of her tightly closed fists that clutched at the bed sheets as he continued. "You are safe here. No one here will harm you. You are welcome to stay here as long as you need to or go whenever you want to."

He stood up. "I'll leave you alone now. There is a bathroom two doors down to your left. If you need me for anything I will be either, in the guestroom next door, or downstairs. You are welcome to look around the house if you wish. There is a nice garden on the roof and Central park is directly across the street if you get the urge to go outside." He exited the room, closing the door behind him. Though he would never admit it to anyone, her initial outburst when she got her first look at him had definitely hurt.

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.