"We waste time looking for the perfect lover, instead of creating the perfect love… to forward the thoughts of a certain someone."
Dumuzid, quoting Tom Robbins
The greek symbol for 'male' was blown up and set alight in neon red, angled imposingly over the Tower so that it bathed the climb in hell-fire. It was all you could see when you looked up. It was a looming, thrumming reminder to the desperate sheep as to why they were even there in the first place.
Vincent was lounging not-so-comfortably upon one of the metal torture devices dangling from the gloom, back supported by an enormous suspension chain and feet propped up on the empty shackles. The rusted scythe swung lazily. His slouch nursed every ache he suffered from Catherine's 'something crazy', and he prickled all over as the cool air slowly dried the sheen of sweat on his skin. The bell was ringing. It had been tolling for some time. Down below, the tower rumbled right on que to its internal clock. In a bizarre display of defiance, nothing happened afterwards. Vincent tapped the ash from his cigarette, nonplussed. He hadn't been here for long and his head was still foggy with the afterglow of sex, but if there was one thing that would always be solid and sure in his mind, it was this. Vincent knew this Tower like he knew the back of his own hand. When he was human, he knew its every edge and cheap-trick because studying it on the Landing was the only way to guarantee he'd wake up the next morning. Now that he was... something else, he understood the chaotic powers that drove it. He knew when those forces weren't functioning right.
The lone sheep a few levels down had been sitting there when Vincent had arrived. It didn't take a genius to see that he was resting. He had taken his respite on the edge of a standard block, black, bare feet swinging lazily against the stone as if he was enjoying the view. A red tie dangled unbound like a rope over his woolly shoulders.
"Don't you have somewhere else to be?" Vincent groused past his cigarette, not caring that the motion cast ash down onto his still sticky stomach. The sheep jumped.
"Who's there?" Paul demanded, not quite surprised enough to get up. His head turned to and fro in search.
"You're pretty close to the top, you know," Vincent deflected, annoyed. "Six... Seven steps and then you're done. Do you really have time to take a breather?" He peered downwards and counted silently to ten. The Tower trembled on time. Once more, nothing happened.
"That voice… you were in the confessional!" The scythe swung like a pendulum, neatly slicing the minutes into seconds. The single sheep finally twisted in the right direction; Paul clapped red, sinful eyes on Vincent and spent an insolent handful of heartbeats just staring. He then leapt to his feet. "Wait, that face-!"
Vincent let him gawp. Past Paul's defensive stance, the descent of blocks cut a vaguely familiar pattern into the gloom. It was harder than it should have been recognising the layout; Vincent had rarely looked down while he climbed, least of all when a nightmare was on his heels. Still, that particular set of unmovable blocks was tugging at his memory, and he continued to rake his eyes over the view even as the sheep below suddenly jabbed a black finger at him.
"You-You're that guy from Katherine's office!" Paul finally burst out, shoulders dropping in revelation. He struggled with the concept for a full minute before breaking out into a derisive snort. "She told me about you, you know," he continued. "You're her deadbeat ex, right? The moneyless slob that left her for some no-name broad he met in a bar." There was a pregnant pause. "So why the hell would you be here..? Wait, I get it. This is some kind of half-baked attempt at psychology, right?"
In an aggravatingly vain gesture, the sheep ran a black hand over his forehead to lift his drooping cowlick. Satisfied, he continued, "So some guy looking like Katherine's ex shows up to make me evaluate myself. Is this supposed to make me question my worthiness? Please, you could have done a little better than him."
Vincent let the scythe swing.
"…When I asked her, do you know what she said?" Paul asked quietly, long face tilted to the side. Bluntly, viciously, he added, "She said you were a disappointment. That's it, nothing more, like you were a cheap phone that broke. So nice try, asshole, but it's gonna take more than that to make me feel threatened. McBride is with me."
Vincent exhaled smoke into the air and it came out black and clotted and dangerous, spreading wide like contagion. The entire area was a sudden wash of red, and it wasn't until he glanced back to the male symbol overhead and found it unchanged that he realised where the new light had come from. His eyes had flared. When he shifted his gaze back, Paul's stance had gone stiff and his black skin was now the colour of dried blood.
"With you?" Vincent wondered in a low voice. As one, every blade in the Torture Chamber screamed from one junction to the next with a collective shrank. And with his eyes driving even the black shadows into hiding, he saw everything this final step of the Torture chamber offered. He saw the bead of sweat roll down Paul Lane's black temple. He saw the defused bomb blocks. He caught the distant shape of the nightmare door that should have vanished up in smoke when the climb began. Most importantly, he saw the strange set of scaffolding overlaying the old network in the background. Someone had hastily welded the girders into place and used neon signs to seal the major junctions.
They shouldn't have been there. Vincent's eyes narrowed when he stood up on the swinging scythe.
"You? Don't make me laugh; you don't even know where she is," he muttered angrily. "... Ah, screw it. I don't have time for this. Have fun surviving the night, buddy."
For all the calm, accommodating words, Vincent was so murderous that when he swung his eyes back to the misplaced neon lights, they buckled and began to contort under his red glare alone. The glowing pink signs screamed, shuddered, then popped. One by one they exploded in a violent shower of sparks, and the force of it rocked the Tower and sent Paul shoulder-first into a wall. With an ear splitting screech, the new scaffolding bent free and fell away into the black smog. The darkness grew darker without the pink glow.
"Hey, I'm talking to you!" Paul snapped. "What do you mean 'where she is'? Hey! Answer me!"
The tower heaved to its internal heartbeat and, for the first time since Vincent had arrived, did its job and shed the entire lower level of blocks. The nightmare door spiralled away with them into the gloom like a lost memory. Paul had finally followed Vincent's gaze downward. He froze at the sight of so much precious platform dropping away. The silence afterwards folded them up.
And then the blackness condensed and chuckled throatily.
"What the fuck..?" Paul breathed, then abruptly threw himself backwards. His voice had cracked. His next gasp was a wheeze when he scrabbled like a cockroach out of the way; a blue hand the size of a man suddenly surged up out of the fog and slapped down on a lower platform.
"Shhhhh." The sound rolled past them like an autumn mist. A second cadaverous hand rose up to grip the other side of the Tower. Impossibly, a third, fourth and then fifth emerged to clamp on as well. Vincent watched impassively as the Nightmare, finally unshackled, winched itself higher in a shift of shadow and whispers.
The almost-woman may have been the size of a four story building, but her torso was as thin as her six insectile arms that bent and moved mechanically. Every inch of skin was a deep navy blue, lined by pin-stripes like an expensive suit. Her sixth and final hand hovered by a face with no eyes or nose. One bony finger was pressed to blue pouting lips.
"Shhhh, it's our little secret," Trudy sang huskily.
"H-Holy hell," Paul warbled, inching along the trembling platform with wobbling knees. Below him, the Nightmare began to shuffle the blocks of the Tower like a card-shark would cut a deck, limbs weaving in intricate patterns. Vincent scoffed when the lawyer suddenly turned and threw himself against the nearest edge and began to climb upwards. "Help me!" Paul burst out, partly furious, mostly terrified for his life.
"... Well, maybe one piece of advice – don't look down," Vincent tossed back calmly, then opened up a black portal to his left. Paul was spitting vile threats and insults at him, but the attorney was no longer Vincent's concern. He left him there to face his personal demons, just like every other schmuck that had been tossed down into Babel. Just like every other sinner that didn't want to know or face their weaknesses. Vincent discarded the butt of his cigarette over his shoulder as he exited, the portal snapping shut on one final "shhhhh" before he left Paul to face the ugly underside of his soul.
One miserable hour of searching later, and Catherine was nowhere to be found. That meant she was bored with Vincent, but he didn't take it personally; her moods were chaos itself, and learning to accept the unpredictable roller-coaster of her affections and grudges had been the first hurdle in loving her. Vincent lingered, frustrated that she had chosen now to lose interest, then left the throne room to find somewhere else to brood.
He listlessly roamed the darker stretches of his realm for something to do. He wore his mood on his skin, so the few demons and succubii that saw him hastily retreated, skulking into the shadows as if that would shield them. At some point, he stretched his power experimentally, breaking down the ancient scenery and rebuilding whole areas on a whim. Not even defying time, space and the laws of physics scrubbed away the feeling of inadequacy that clung to Vincent's heart. He was stacking the fallen blocks in the Pit for lack of something better to do when the words bouncing around in his skull finally collided with the memory they belonged to.
'You're such a disappointment.'
… She was leaving him. She scuffed at the floor of his apartment with her heels, hands on her hips and face lowered so that he couldn't see her expression. His skin had gone cold. The muscles across his stomach clenched over the leaden weight within, and eventually the shock recoiled to make way for the hurt. They were just words. She wouldn't even look at him when she said them. But despite that... Those words had hurt more than the knife Catherine had sunk into his side. It had hurt more than the blonde's teeth breaking the skin on his shoulder.
She was leaving him.
The black energy that held the stacked blocks together evaporated. They toppled without its support and sank into the decomposed sludge at the base. Vincent watched as they were sucked under.
He knew damn well that he wasn't a great guy. He had run from the ugly truth of that for most of his climb. But he'd faced his own lies, his cowardice, his selfishness... and he'd done the right thing despite it all. He'd turned away Catherine, was going to propose, marry, then raise the child he wasn't ready to have. It hadn't been enough.
Vincent stood. A portal was already open and waiting for him, but he didn't remember summoning it. He stepped through anyway.
When Katherine had ended their relationship, she'd broken his heart. So completely that he'd barely recognised the town he'd stumbled through. So thoroughly that he couldn't sleep despite the freedom from his nightmares. He'd called and messaged and begged her to come back, but Katherine had always been stronger than he was. She left him at the mercy of his own inadequacy. He still remembered the pure relief of seeing Catherine again; he was uglier when he was with her, a far worse person who was weaker to his flaws... But the worse he got, the more she rewarded him, and he couldn't have adored her more for it.
Here and now, the bedroom he had stepped into was quiet and sanctified. Vincent's eyes slid half closed to bank a little of the red glow.
… She had folded her clothes into a neat stack and placed the bundle on the edge of the bed. It was so organised, so sensible… so very Katherine, that Vincent spent long moments staring at it. And when the ache in his chest had become uncomfortable, he pressed a hand down on the pile, pinning and possessive. The strange moment passed, and he took the sound in the room and denied it for the moment it took to circle the bedstead to where she slept. She favoured one side of it as if she wasn't aware of its size and the hollow space on her left was heavy with shadows. Her hair and skin had painted an artful scene in white against the darkness. One bare shoulder had emerged from the bunched cloth in an enticing curve. Vincent hunkered down beside the mattress and exhaled.
She had always looked angelic when she slept. He'd never told her that. It made her look out of place in the deepest pits of the Underworld. Vincent watched. After a series of heavy heartbeats, he reached forward and carefully brushed the hair from her brow and cheeks; unsurprisingly, her forehead was creased ever so slightly into a frown, features tight. He touched the pinch at the corner of her eyes, the slight clench under the line of her jaw, the rise of her hunched and bare shoulder. The backs of his fingers lingered there and, knuckles a whisper against her white skin, he could see the darkness and sin shifting like shadows over his own.
"... Am I still a disappointment?" he wondered softly, sullied hand turning over to lay its darkness against snowy flesh. He stared at the effect for a moment, not satisfied at all. She shifted then, and the brush of her skin under his palm was soft, not slick like he'd grown accustomed to. Vincent lingered longer than he should have, reacquainting himself with an unguarded face that he never thought he'd see again.
Impulse won. He didn't even hesitate to move his mouth to hers, but a million excuses chased the reason for it around in circles. He let them spin. Katherine stirred lightly under the kiss, lips parting for a soft sigh that he swallowed and savoured. Even with her pliant and unresponsive under him, the lightest brush of skin caused such perfect friction that it made every inch of him prickle. He pretended that the kiss wasn't just another of his lies. He convinced himself so effortlessly that it wasn't long before she hummed a note of discord against the full press of his mouth, against the edge of his tongue that had already moved to taste her. Vincent pulled back instantly. Katherine tossed irritably against the satin but slept on.
Pulse thudding and chest aching, Vincent rocked back onto his heels and fought for a full breath, eyes wide. As if to hammer the reality of the situation home, the expression on Katherine's slumbering face was unmistakable; guilt washed over him instantly despite there being no words to go along with her reproachful frown.
Vincent was still a liar. He may have owned the Underworld and every chaotic creature and power within it, but he was still the same flawed man he had been before that. He was still a cheater, a sinner and a disappointment...
And just like the last time, he couldn't for the life of him stop.
When Katherine eventually woke up, she did so badly.
A headache greeted her. It pressed painfully against the backs of her eyeballs, made her uncomfortable thoughts agony and turned her pillow to stone.
The dreams still on the cusp of her mind had been vivid. When they hadn't been poignant memories returning from the sands of time, they had been bizarre scenes of delusion. Either way, each and every one had centred around Vincent. He was so very fresh in her mind that when she licked her lips, she could have sworn that her tongue came away tasting faintly of ash.
Katherine cracked an eyelid as she did every morning, just to prove to herself that he was gone. Satisfied, she delicately turned over and tried to go back to sleep. It took long moments for her hurting brain to catch up.
She shot up so quickly that she slid a little on the black satin sheets.
The room was like a dark and twisted parody of her bedroom. It was larger than hers, and it extended beyond where her own back wall would have been to create a large amphitheatre around the needlessly massive bed. But the window was hers, as was the strangely reminiscent vanity table to the left. The few similarities just put everything bizarre about the scene into greater focus. Her disturbing dreams hadn't been dreams at all. She'd woken up exactly where she'd wearily fallen asleep; in the remodelled office of a 10-foot monster, the unwilling tourist in a chaotic and demonic realm. Vincent's special guest.
No wonder she had a headache.
The room was thankfully empty, so Katherine was able to have her minor breakdown in blissful privacy. No one was there to see or hear it, and no one complicated matters by trying to explain away the organic floors or walls. She just had the toxic view to come to terms with. It was hard enough accepting the scenery and the dark doppelganger of her room, but realising that she was a prisoner there because of Vincent was harder again.
What was he? Was he even human any more, or was he simply a monster? Worse still, was he the king of monsters?
Katherine slid herself out of the sumptuous bed and shivered. It wasn't cold – quite the opposite – but there was something about the supercharged air that made her skin prickle constantly, as if at any moment fingers would caress a lurid path over her flesh. Instantly, she wrapped her hands around her middle and tried to find her clothes. Ten minutes of frantic searching later, and she had to admit they were gone. She had stripped to her underwear before sleep because she had hated the idea of waking up in yesterday's worn, funky clothes. The folded, aired bundle had been placed deliberately at the foot of her bed so she could easily find them again when she woke up. They were not there now. Stripping the satin sheets away revealed nothing. There was no underside of the bed for them to have fallen under because the furniture appeared to have grown up out of the floor like an organic black cube.
The room remained private and empty, but Katherine refused to remain a second longer in nothing but her mismatched bra and panties. With only a little deliberation, she crept her way over to the barred window and tore the cheap lacy curtains down. They made a terrible toga, but it was better than nothing. As clothed as she'd be, Katherine strode her way over to the door. The handle rattled loudly in her hand but not much more; she was locked in. With one final half-hearted tug, Katherine let go and rubbed at her face in frustration. She winced and swore.
One eye stung from the displaced contact and the other went blurry. She didn't need to check to know that the other contact had fallen free. She blinked the remaining one back in place and squinted at the floor blearily. Half a moment later and she knew that finding it on the dark and glistening floor was a lost cause. Rather than exasperating her headache with mismatched vision, Katherine delicately removed the remaining contact and let it fall by the bed; short-sighted, all-but-naked and alone in a luxurious prison, she leant against one of the twisting banisters and tried to calm down.
Tap-tap-tap. Her nails began drumming out an irate tempo on their own.
"I'm going to kill him," Katherine heard herself declare.
It was typically Vincent to blunder head-first into a situation without thinking about the consequences. It was so very true-to-form that Katherine was the one to wear his bad judgement. For the very first time, however, she wasn't in a position to take control of his mess. She wasn't able to right his wrongs, to fix what he had broken or to rebuke him for his carelessness. She was angry. Considering how powerless she felt, angry was a great deal better than being scared, so she fed her fury until it burned.
Sometime later, the only door into the room gave a resounding chonk. Unlocked, the silver handle dipped and something blue moved up to the widening crack in the door; it took Katherine a few moments of short-sighted blinking before she realised that one round, red eye was pressed to the gap, blinking curiously back at her.
"Erm, excuse me." The door swung partially open and the colossal demon from yesterday stood there. His shoulders were so broad and he seemed so determined to slip into the room that he had to turn to step in sideways, thereafter lingering on the threshold as if he was waiting for something. Katherine glared blearily at him. The moment stretched out long and torturous.
"Well. Here we are," he finally said with forced cheer. When the silence grew even more uncomfortable, he added, "…and did you sleep well?"
"Where are my clothes?" Katherine demanded curtly.
The demon stared at her. Horribly, his eyes slid downwards to take in her impromptu robe, and Katherine was all too aware that she'd had to fold it several times to counter its translucency. She crossed her arms over her chest and set her shoulders.
"Hrm," was all he said.
"Are you deaf?" she shot back. "My clothes! They were on the bed. Now they are not."
"I wouldn't know about any clothes," the enormous creature said with a snort. His nose had scrunched in almost amusement, but the expression went stiff when Katherine's eyes narrowed. "That is to say, no one wears any clothes around here, miss. I'd have remembered seeing them."
"Well, I can't find them and you're sorely mistaken if you think I'm going to flounce around in a curtain!"
The demon called Nergal opened his mouth to respond, but it snapped shut almost instantly and he was left looking carefully blank. He appeared to struggle for words for a moment, then weakly attempted to change the subject.
"I'm told humans eat. Are you hungry?"
"I can't believe this! Does that mean someone stole them? Was someone in here while I was sleeping?" Katherine burst out, furious. In a quieter part of her mind, she was aware that she was shouting at a ten-foot demon. The rage cauterised that observation away.
"I wouldn't know anything about that," Nergal responded stiffly.
"Well, where the hell is Vincent? He has some explaining to do!"
"I have no idea. He doesn't see fit to tell me where he is half the ti-"
"Oh, for crying out loud, what do you know?"
Nergal tugged at his cravat.
"... How to make Eggs Benedict? I have this recipe for a low-fat hollandaise sauce, and I don't like to brag, but I'm told it's to die for-"
Katherine threw her hands up and spun away from him mid sentence. The only remaining piece of her outfit from yesterday was her pair of black work shoes; she stamped over to them and shuffled her feet into the shiny heels. She tapped the toes against the floor a few times to settle them and ignored the fascinated stare that received from Nergal. Regardless of the avid audience, she tossed a trailing corner of her curtain over her shoulder haughtily, then strode towards the door. She was almost through it by the time her gaoler roused and threw himself in her way.
"W-where do you think you're going?" he managed, horrified.
"I'm going home, isn't it obvious?" Katherine snapped. The demon was so massive that he blocked every inch of doorway, but that still didn't stop him from weaving in front of her like a goal-keeper.
"You can't leave! That's… It's not allowed!"
"Him," Nergal replied emphatically, the word painting a grimace across his face. Katherine felt herself swell with fury.
"Vincent?" She bristled, outraged. "Vincent? Who says he decides where I go? If he thinks I'm going to stay here, he can damn well come and say it that to my face!" She had been jabbing her point home with a finger into the demon's chest. Each irate stab made him flinch and retreat a little into the doorway, and it wasn't long before she was able to peer past him and see the empty, gloomy world beyond. Nergal nervously twisted to block her line of sight; with all the reluctance and care of someone dealing with a diseased lunatic, he placed on enormous hand on her forearm and steered her pointing finger away from his chest. He was so huge that his grip engulfed and circled her entire arm with ease, and his fingers were both hotter and rougher than she was expecting.
She gaped at how tiny her own limb looked in that fist, and she didn't realise he was leading her away from the door before her feet hit the discarded sheets.
"I told you," Nergal hissed conspiratorially. "I don't know where he is. I just have my orders, mortal, and those are to make sure you stay put. So here you'll stay. Believe you me, young lady, if I was still in charge no human would ever have set foot in this realm, let alone get such… such special treatment. It's outrageous! If you want to blame someone, blame that moronic son-in-law of mine! I can't keep cleaning up his damn messes forever!"
It was a strange thing to hear from someone else's lips. Stranger still was to share that exasperation with something like Nergal.
"But for now," the huge creature had continued gruffly, "I don't have a choice, do you understand? I expect you to sit tight and do as you're told, or we'll both be in trouble. Maybe now people will see what bloody mess he's making of… all…"
His desperate tirade very slowly stumbled to a halt. Silence slid into its place. Katherine waited for a breathless moment but no more was said; she gave her arm a belated tug. His grip had frozen over it as if his fingers had been set in stone. Nergal simply continued to stand there, face very still and his eyes ever so slowly drifting up and away. He looked like he was listening to something that no one else could hear. Whatever it was, it drew his brows down into the most harried frown Katherine had ever seen. She roused herself from her surprise.
"Hey, you can't keep me here forever, you know. This is kidnapping," she said sharply, pulling once more at her arm. Her voice obviously never reached him. Nergal blinked once more, then glanced over his shoulder.
"Hey!" she tried again. He continued to listen, continued to grow more and more nervous. Around the time his grip began to get painful was when Katherine's patience broke.
"Unhand me!" she snapped loudly, then kicked him in the furry ankle. Nergal gave a short yelp and spun back. As if for the first time, he noticed his own firm grip on her arm and the way he'd almost lifted her from the floor with it. He blinked those strangely long lashes. Half a second later and he abruptly flushed a very deep and embarrassed purple.
"A-apologies," he grumbled, releasing her and lumbering back a few steps. He fumbled bashfully at his beard as Katherine eyed him warily. She examined her skin, expecting to find bruises and seeing only goose bumps instead.
"Were you evening listening to me?" she demanded angrily. Surprisingly, Nergal barely met her eyes when he began to shuffle a little further back. Once more, he glanced over his shoulder.
"Uh, certainly," he lied. "A-actually, as much as I'd love to discuss your detainment, there's… somewhere I need to be right now. Perhaps later. Yes. Some other time."
"Are... Are you serious?" Katherine managed.
"Remember what I said, sit tight, stay put and do as you're told or else all Hell will break loose and nobody would want that!" Nergal babbled, and he was now all but stumbling over himself to leave. Katherine gaped at him, not sure what to say to the sudden change of tack.
"That's it?" she burst out.
"Sorry-can't talk-gotta go!" Nergal erupted, and then suddenly a chaos portal leapt up behind him and he all but threw himself through it. Within a heartbeat it had snapped closed over him, and Katherine was left alone and very confused in her vacant cell. She simply stared short-sighted at the space where he had been standing, wondering what on earth had happened and where her quest for answers and retribution had gone wrong. It occurred to her belatedly that she had no idea when Vincent would remember to 'check up' on her, and she would have to eat eventually. All of the anger that had been stewing away underneath her skin fizzled and went out. For all her bluster, she was still a prisoner. She was still dependant.
She was still trying to wrap her head around it when she noticed, with a small thrill in the pit of her stomach, that the door to her room was still very open.
She slid a finger up the bridge of her nose as if her glasses were still there, then cursed herself for the forgetful gesture. She blinked her blurred vision a few times and rubbed at her temples, resigning herself to the headache and the inconvenience of bad eyesight. Nothing she could do about that. She'd just have to deal with it. And so, with all the decorum of a soldier tightening their belt, Katherine winched her curtain higher over her chest and tugged on the knot.
"Sit tight? Nobody tells me where I can and can't go."
Fear existed somewhere in the back of her mind, and Katherine made sure it was wrapped up and choked by a layer of righteous anger at all times. The feeling struggled to rise up her throat when she approached the door and the monochrome slither of alien scenery beyond, but she swallowed it down and flung the door fully open with a bang.
If Vincent and his new legion of cronies thought she'd sit idle and just take this sort of treatment, they had another thing coming. Katherine didn't like being dependent, and she didn't like not being the one in charge.
It was time to take control again.
A perfectly long and slender leg stretched out straight and high. One by one, padded toes wiggled luxuriously in the dim light. The boy-crush-blush nail polish (a particularly flirtatious shade of pink) slowly faded into the inky black markings on her skin until there was no trace left. She admired her feet as if the colour was as clear as day. With a pleased little hum, Catherine dipped more polish onto the brush and started on her other sinfully dark set of toes.
The couch she had curled up on was ridiculously plush, and it was laden with as many stuffed toys as there were heart shaped cushions. An ancient and drooping teddy-bear was tucked under her elbow, an equally ancient game console set reverently on the nearby coffee table. When Catherine blew on her splayed toes, her eyes moved around the little room in mild irritation. She wasn't a complicated creature. She didn't understand restraint, so when drinking, sex and adventure stopped being exciting and became a little too mundane to be fun... Catherine came here. It was her space, made by her Daddy specifically to remind her that she was his special little girl. The other demons had never seen its interior. Vincent didn't even know it existed.
Catherine finished her perfect feet and admired them with her chin on her folded knees, wriggling her toes until the cotton buds between them fell free. Meaningless time passed. For lack of something better to do, she idly bumped the nail-polish off the couch and watched blandly as it emptied itself onto the woolly throw rug. No one swooped down to clean it up, so the splotch of flirty pink eventually dried and hardened there. Catherine irritably puffed her tickling fringe of hair from her eyes.
She was slowly pulling out the stitching that held one of the droopy teddy-bear's button eyes in place when her patience finally broke. She leapt to her feet and threw the stuffed animal to the ground with an acrimonious whump.
"Daddy, where are you?"
He burst into the room instantly, tripping out of his chaos portal in his haste.
"Here! I'm here! A-Am I late? What did I miss?"
Nergal barely gave himself time to right himself. He banged his shin against the coffee table and fell awkwardly to the couch in a cascade of plushies; he snatched up the game controller and had started pressing buttons before he even realised that the console wasn't on. The desperate clicking began to slow. He guiltily turned his big red eyes up to his daughter.
"Daddy," Catherine said warningly, a blanket complaint.
"Y-Yes, Sweetums?" Nergal replied nervously.
"Did you forget about me?"
"How could I forget about my Princess?" Nergal consoled, but he was already squirming between the miniature mountain of teddy-bears. "I... I was just very busy, that's all. My work is very important - you know that, Pumpkin."
"Important?" She raised her eyebrows. "But doesn't Vince have your job now? Remember that, Daddy? That makes you unemployed. You can't be too busy to see me, and I was waiting forever and I didn't have anyone to help me with my nails!"
Guilt, wrath, sarcasm and pride warred across her father's face; Catherine let him stew on it while she brushed and twisted her hair into order. And while Nergal grumbled and groused out what may have been an excuse, that's when it struck her.
Her father smelled of the same subtle perfume that had lingered on Vincent's skin.
The controller was comically tiny in his enormous hands, and he probably didn't even know that he was continually pressing the 'x' button over and over as if to distract himself from whatever excuse he was babbling. Catherine stood over him, bare feet planted firmly on either side of his cloven hooves, eyes slowly narrowing. She had stopped twisting and twirling her hair. The blonde-to-black spiral remained coiled tight around her finger, and Nergal's tirade stumbled to a halt shortly after her motion did. He began to sweat.
"M-Muffin?" he attempted.
"Daddy, were you late... because of a girl?" Catherine wondered, allowing her hair to peel free like a dying vine. It curdled like chaos in the air before she forced it back into a spiral. The small loss of control was not lost on her father.
"Catherine, Sweety," he began. Catherine lifted a leg and put her foot firmly on the couch edge between her father's knees. He jumped and then very wisely went still.
"You forgot Father Daughter Night, didn't you?" was the next query.
"Y-You know I would never-" was the strained reply.
"Was she fun?"
"Sugarplum, I really don't thi-"
"More fun than me?"
He was sweating fully now, shoulders hunched and knees knocked together as far as they could go with her foot lodged just beneath them. He wore guilt like he wore his striping, skin-deep and clear as day. He gave a comical squeak when she leant forward on her raised leg; he swallowed loudly.
"Who is she, Daddy?" Catherine asked in a low voice. He paused, and that was more telling than any number of excuses.
Letting Vincent hang himself with his lies was fine by Catherine. Their No-Strings-Attached relationship was a mine-field of loyalty and betrayal that was the only way to make their commitment fun. But her father? There was only one soul in existence that Catherine allowed herself to be fully bound to. There was only one heart, one relationship that would remain unchanged throughout the aeons, and having a stranger weasel in on that was deeply, deeply disturbing.
She didn't like it.
Catherine lifted her foot. Her father let out a relieved sigh. And then, vengefully, she drove her heel down on target and subsequently knocked the couch on its back, upending Nergal completely and burying him in a small avalanche of stuffed toys. Catherine pressed her bare, black foot down on her father's vulnerables and ground her ire out. She let him thrash until her point had been made, then picked up the teddy-bear that had been smothering his face and pouted down at him.
"Daddy," she chided. Nergal clutched himself and grimaced.
"I'm going to count to five."
As it was, she only needed to count to four. Her father lurched up and waved his big hands at her, defensive and desperate and eyes darting worriedly to her hovering foot. She relented.
"Now, let's not be hasty, Princess! Daddy can explain!" he began, enormous blue shoulders shifting as he picked himself up. He was half shielding his crotch when he found the words to continue. "I-I was just finishing up my work, is all! These new demonesses, they're pretty unsure about how it's done around here – they don't hold a candle to you, darling - so I had to supervise! Your husband forgets that it's one of his duties, you know. And like all of his messes, it's one I have to clean up."
Remembering Vincent and all his failings overrode her father's nervousness. Nergal finally stooped to right the fallen couch and it groaned when it settled back in place. He gave the cushions a distracted pat before he began stacking the teddy-bears in their places as if he'd done this many times before.
"That was it," he continued, waving a hand and erasing the nail polish stain from the rug as if it had never been. "I was just settling the new girl in, that's all. I would never forget my little Lambchop, never ever."
Catherine tapped her pouting lips with a fingertip, contemplative.
"Hmmm, so long as it doesn't happen again," she eventually conceeded.
Nergal's face was a picture of pure relief when he took his seat again, and Catherine settled herself in beside him and propped her feet up on the coffee table, wiggling her toes for him to admire. And while he simpered approval at the invisible pink, she thought a little more about the guilty edge to her father's voice. There was no forgetting that strangely subtle perfume that still tickled at her nostrils: this new girl was a mystery. Catherine puffed her hair from her eyes once more and nodded to herself.
Despite what Vincent or her father thought, there wasn't much new or exciting that arrived in the Underworld that escaped her or her critical evaluation. Her lips curled into a feline smile. She was excited for the first time in what felt like an eternity.
Catherine would find this newcomer that had caused such a fuss. She really, really looked forward to introducing herself.
A/N: An update, finally! To be truthful, for a while there I thought I HAD dropped off the face of the planet. I got a chapter out eventually, sorry for the delay.
I think the kind of love Vince has for his Chaotic family and fun-filled life is a unique one. It made a lot of sense to me looking through the Chaos confessional answers, but transferring that understanding to the characters was a bit challenging... and a lot of fun. Who am I kidding, Catherine and her attention deficits amuse me greatly.
Also apologies for what may be a choppy, undirected chapter. I feel all out-of-practice and awkward with words. :( Hopefully wasn't too bad!
Anyhue, a big thanks to all your continued support! Updates look like they'll be a little erratic, but I'm always chipping away and hopefully 6 won't take too long! Stay Tuned and Stay Golden!