Winterfest logo

Classic Round Robin

Chapter 3
Lea


As she slipped into bed, Catherine purposely tried to keep thoughts from both the Brewster case and the mysterious blue-eyed woman from crowding her mind. Vincent was right, she was tired and badly needed a good night’s sleep. For the same reason, she resisted the urge to look further into the book. She just switched off the light and snuggled under the covers, willfully filling her mind with happy thoughts to lull herself into sleep.

Vincent. What happier thought could there be?

Over the last months, they had been steadily growing closer to a commitment they both longed for, but that she felt him still reluctant to make, for he knew, as she did, that there would, could be no turning back. Yet, however slowly and hesitantly, he was moving toward love. Small steps, little changes, but, all put together, they clearly showed a progression in their relationship.

For one, he had several times accepted to enter her apartment, when the weather was too cold, instead of taking her first shiver as a pretext to leave. They had shared tea in her living-room and quietly talked or listened to music together, cozily ensconced near the fire. Though Vincent had seemed uneasy about it at first, he had relaxed after a while, and enjoyed their comfortable intimacy as much as she did.

Their embraces, too, had become more intimate, more sensual, as Vincent gradually let his guard down and allowed some of the desire he felt for her to show in the way he held her body against his. She had responded in kind, careful not to crowd him or push him further than he was willing to go, but they now shared more physical closeness than they ever had.

Changes. Transition. Yes, that had to be what her dream meant. No! I’m not thinking of that dream. I have to think of something else.

Winterfest. Yes, that was another happy thought. In the dim light of the never-dark New York night, Catherine could make out the shape of the Winterfest candle she had carefully put on her nightstand before going to bed.

In a few days now, she would put on the lovely dress she had bought especially for the occasion, take her candle and go Below. Vincent would be there to welcome her, golden and magnificent in his best finery, hopefully including that utterly romantic ruffled shirt… and those utterly sexy thigh-high boots.

Together, they would share in the heart-warming ceremony and watch dozens of candles push away the darkness until the whole Great Hall, gaily decorated for the feast, was inundated with their light.

Together, they would mingle with friends from both their worlds, talk, laugh and sample William’s tasty buffet.

And they would dance. Catherine was determined. This year, hopefully, nothing would prevent them from dancing their waltz to real music, in full light, under the eyes of all their friends.

Much later, after silence and darkness had reclaimed the Great Hall, Vincent would walk her home. And then, on their threshold, with adequate enticement from her (and she was ready to provide all the hints needed!) maybe he would kiss her, at last. Well, she hoped he would, because if he didn’t, she would!

The thought of kissing an unwary (but hopefully not unwilling) Vincent made her smile. Yes, she definitely would. She could already imagine the softness of his lips, the warmth of his arms closing around her.

Catherine was still smiling when sleep claimed her.

***

Late! She was late for Winterfest. She had to hurry! Catherine was running through the deserted tunnels, clutching her candle. Darn, why had she bought those stupid mile-high shoes to wear with her dress? If she made it to the Great Hall without breaking an ankle, she’d be lucky!

Suddenly, she stopped and looked around her. Those tunnels weren’t familiar. She must have taken a wrong turn. Oh, perfect! Late for Winterfest, and now lost in the tunnels! It was dark, very dark, but she saw lights ahead and started running again in their direction. On approaching, she saw that they were candles, Winterfest candles in silver candlesticks held by silver… arms, just arms that seemed to jut from the stone walls. Those arms moved as she passed them, pointing her ahead. Yes! The door to the Great Hall was there, at the end of the tunnel, and as she headed toward it, she had a strange impression of lightness, as if she were floating in slow motion.

Finally, she found herself near the door. But it was closed, the huge wooden bar firmly in place. How was she going to enter? Before she had time to think, the bar removed itself, as if lifted by invisible hands, and the huge doors flew open.

The Great Hall was full of light and music, of people and happy chatter, but all she could see was Vincent, alone in the middle of the huge chamber, waiting for her. He was wearing his ruffled shirt and thigh-high boots, along with a vest she had never seen, made of deep blue velvet that matched his eyes and made his mane shine like spun gold.

He was smiling at her, arms extended in welcome. She had arrived just in time for their waltz.

Catherine wanted to run, to throw herself into Vincent’s open, waiting arms, but found that she couldn’t. Her movements were slow, sluggish, as if she was swimming in glue.

Vincent! She tried to call him but her voice did not carry. And suddenly, another silhouette appeared beside Vincent. It was the dark-haired, blue-eyed woman. She was wearing a beautiful dress of blue velvet that matched Vincent’s vest.

Helpless, Catherine watched as the woman grabbed Vincent’s arms and took him into a waltz that led them further and further away from her, until they disappeared from her view, while the candles flickered off, and the doors to the now deserted Great Hall started to close.

Vincent! No, Vincent, come back! Vincent! VINCENT!

Catherine sat up in her bed, eyes wide open, screaming. “Vincent!”

The anguished response sounded in her mind: “Catherine?”

Vincent?

What happened? Catherine, are you well?”

She looked around her, took a deep breath. “Yes, I’m fine, don’t worry. It was… just another dream.”

I’m coming!”

Vincent, you don’t need to, I’m fine, really!”

There was no answer. Their capricious telepathic connection had probably stopped functioning once again. It would be really handy if it wasn’t so darn unreliable! “Give me a good old phone anytime!” grumbled Catherine, getting out of bed. If Vincent was going to come, she could just as well make tea and add a couple of logs on the dying fire. Talking that one out was likely to take time. Besides, she needed something to do, to occupy her mind and hands while the lingering despair and terror from the dream seeped out of her.

She was just pouring water on the tea leaves when she heard the familiar tapping, but before she could get to the French doors, Vincent was already inside and she threw herself in his arms for a much needed embrace.

“Oh, Vincent!” she whimpered, shaking as the dream came back vividly to her.

“Shh, Catherine, shh,” he said softly in her hair. “I’m here, now. I’m here, with you. I heard you call my name, several times, and you sounded so desperate! I just had to come”

“I’m sorry, Vincent, for dragging you here once more,” she managed after a while. “You have so much to do already, with Winterfest so close, without me adding to your burden.”

He pushed her slightly back to look into her eyes. “You are never a burden, Catherine, never. And there’s nowhere I’d rather be than with you.”

She snuggled back against him with a grateful smile. “Same for me,” she whispered, “but we both have responsibilities, and I’m keeping you from yours. “Thank you for coming, Vincent. May I offer you a cup of tea?” she added in a lighter tone, gesturing toward the sofa. Sit down, I’ll get it.

He let her go, sensing she needed a little time and space to calm herself before broaching the reason of his visit.

When they were both settled in front of the now blazing fire, cup in hand, he gently prompted: “Tell me.”

In a calm, almost businesslike way, Catherine recounted her dream, with all the weird details she could remember. Vincent listened in silence, frowning a few times. When she arrived at the end of her dream, Catherine’s voice faltered and he took her cup from her hand to pull her closer to him.

“It’s all right, Catherine, It was only a dream, and it’s over, now. At least, this time, the mysterious woman didn’t murder you!”

“No, she did even worse!”

“Worse?”

“She took you away from me!” Catherine said forcefully.

Vincent looked at her sharply and she held his gaze. No telepathy was necessary to convey the silent message their eyes exchanged. For each of them, losing the other would be worse than death, and they both knew it.

“Oh, Vincent, I’ve never felt so desperate, so powerless. She was taking you away, forever, and there was nothing I could do!”

Vincent silently nodded. He knew exactly how it felt.

“In fact,” Catherine finally said to lighten the atmosphere, “it was not really a bad dream until that woman appeared. Strange, of course, but fascinating and beautiful, as well.

Those arms holding the candlesticks, they seemed familiar…I know I saw them before… oh yes! It was in an old black-and-white movie, French I think. A fairytale. It was…” she stopped short, realizing what she was about to say.

“…Cocteau’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’,” Vincent quietly finished for her.

“Yes,” she whispered with an apologetic smile. “Did you…”

“No, I never watched it, but I saw quite a few pictures in a book about cinema classics. They were beautiful. Movies are a rare treat, Below, and I doubt Father would have allowed that particular one to be showed with that old projector Mouse keeps taking apart. Thinking on it, I never heard that particular fairytale told to the children, either, though I did read it. I suppose,” he added with a wry smile “that Father didn’t want to give me false hopes of ever changing into a handsome prince…”

“But you are a handsome prince,” Catherine protested. “My handsome prince! You know,” she went on, seeing the incredulous gleam in his eyes. “I was, what, twelve or so when I saw that movie, and I distinctly remember how mad I was at the end, when the beautiful Beast changed into that silly, supposedly ‘handsome’, ordinary guy.”

That got her a smile. “Were you, really?”

“Positively furious. I wanted the Beast to stay. I loved him.” Catherine said with a little laugh that soon died under the intensity of the look Vincent gave her. They gazed at each other for a long time, and she found herself wondering if the moment had come, if he was going to kiss her, but he finally pulled her against him, crushing her in a fierce embrace.

“Oh, Catherine!” he husked, nuzzling in her hair. She snuggled against him, not trusting herself to say anything but ‘I love you.’, and the time was not right, yet.

After a long moment of silence, Catherine felt Vincent’s breathing slow, his embrace loosen, and realized he had fallen asleep. It filled her with an overwhelming tenderness, tainted with remorse. Poor darling, he must be so tired! She had to wake him, send him back Below to his bed, but it felt so good to be in his arms that she decided to indulge herself a few more minutes… Next thing she knew, she was being carried in Vincent’s arms.

“Vincent?”

“Shh, go back to sleep, Catherine. It will soon be dawn; I have to go.”

With careful, tender gestures, he laid her down on her bed and pulled up the covers. She was asleep as soon as her head touched the pillow.

“Sleep well, my Beauty,” he said softly, and was gone.

***

“Chandler! You finally decided to come to the office?”

“Come on, Joe. I’m not late. Just on time, for once.”

“I’m joking, Kiddo. You obviously needed some sleep. You look a lot better, this morning.”

“Thanks, Boss.” Catherine retorted with a crooked smile. She did feel rested, despite having spent more than half her night on a couch. Must be the effect of sleeping in Vincent’s arms!”

“There’s someone waiting for you in my office. NYPD police officer. She says they’re re-opening some old, unsolved cases, after receiving some anonymous information…cases that seem to be related to you in some way,” Joe added with a strange, guarded look. “I tried to tell her that those cold cases will keep a little longer, while the Brewster case is hot and I need you on the job; but she insisted. Try to move her along as fast as possible, Radcliffe. We’ve got work, here!”

Catherine felt a shiver run up her spine. Unsolved cases? Related to her? Oh, no!

“Here she is,” Joe said, opening the door of his office. “Cathy, this is Lieutenant Hunter.”

Catherine’s mouth opened wide in shock as she met the woman’s blue eyes, and a second later she heard Vincent’s voice in her mind.

Catherine?”

Vincent, she’s here! She’s here, right in front of me!”