THE BEAST, THE HUNTER, AND THE HUNTRESS By Diana Garcia Edited by Rhonda Collins It was ten minutes to four in the morning and the city of New York lay stagnant, hot and seeminly inert. Even the traffic was slow. Most of its residents tossed in their beds; there was no breeze to lift the stifling effects of the hot and humid night. There was a quarter moon sending slips of silvery lights onto the street below which shed an odd glare on the main business areas and made hard shadows against the isolated closed stores, dimly lit cafes and silent apartment buildings. The steady throbbing of the apartment building's air conditioners echoed over the silence of the night and intermittently clashed with police and emergency vehicle's sirens. A lonely sentinel stood in the shadows. Vincent saw the shadow move forward: Diana, her long red hair pulled back into a loose ponytail was deep in thought, her gaze focused on another realm. She was totally unconscious of the world around her. She was lovely in the pale light, her body tall and statuesque despite her baggy tee shirt, sweatpants and socks. The only thing marring her perfect innocent beauty was the tension visible in her stance and the coppery scent of blood as her hand cluched a note so hard her nails broke the skin of her palm. Hidden, engulfed in the dark shadows of her rooftop, Vincent watched her....Diana drew him here more and more often, her friendship and beauty a beacon--a slight, bright candle in the destitute existence of the upper world and the darkness that filled the empiness of his heart. Gently, Vincent called to her. "Diana?" When she didn't answer--obviously so absorbed in her own thoughts that she hadn't heard, Vincent's concern grew. ******* Diana relaxed under his touch, opening her hand to release the crumpled, blood-stained note--letting it drift to the rooftop. Gently, Vincent squeezed her hand, and though Diana remained silent, Vincent couldn't help wondering if she shared the peace and wonder of the moment. Her voice shattered the Stepping quietly out of the concealing shadows, Vincent pulled his hood back to expose himself more fully. Only the slight tilt of her head indicated he'd penetrated whatever nightmares occupied Diana's thoughts. "Vincent?" Diana's voice seemed distant, slowly drifting back to him. She seemed unsteady and Vincent quickly stepped behind her to place his arm around her waist. That near, her scent and the scent of blood were very strong. He was surprised to find her gently leaning back into him, relaxing under his touch. Hesitantly, he took her slim hand, closing his own huge, clawed one around it. Diana relaxed under his touch, opening her hand to release the crumpled, blood-stained note--letting it drift to the rooftop. Gently, Vincent squeezed her hand, and though Diana remained silent, Vincent couldn't help wondering if she shared the peace and wonder of the moment. Her voice shattered the magic. "He's back. The Hunter." Diana's voice sounded stronger, as though she'd absorbed Vincent's strength. He could physically feel the undercurrent of that gathering. Then, Diana pulled away and he allowed his arm to fall away from her waist. He released her hand. When she turned to face him, Vincent could see the flood of crimson that colored her face, and a flicker of embarrassment over their embrace. "Vincent, I'm sorry." She cast her eyes downward, then lifted them to his. "What can I do for you?" Now it was Vincent's turn to look away, reminded of all that Diana had already done for him. "I only wanted to see how you were doing," he explained. "I care for you. It's more appropriate if I ask you, I know...but I really don't have to, do I, Diana?" He knew his voice was challenging, almost accusatory. He appraised Diana's face as she measured her response. "It's just work, Vincent. Nothing else." She managed a smile, but her eyes betrayed her. Vincent studied her, weighing every nuance of Diana's movements and words. Before he spoke he caught Diana's hand, and easing her clutched fingers open, he exposed the bloody imprints of her nails. "Diana, how many times have you been there for me? There were so many times when you helped...and without a touch, a word, or an outward sign of what it cost you. When my world shattered, burying me in pain and madness, it was you who gave me back my son, my father. It was you who drew me back into the light and brought me back from the madness that consumed me. You gave me hope when there was none. I trust you utterly. Let me share your pain. It's not a sign of weakness but strength. Let me help." Diana looked up at Vincent with such pain in her eyes. He wished he could read more than her emotions...know what she was thinking. "Vincent...I trust you more then you'll ever know. But I've always worked alone. I don't like getting close to anyone." Diana paused and took a deep breath."I don't want you in harms' way." Diana looked down at the crumpled note and seemed to make a decision. "About five years ago, a serial killer who called himself 'the Hunter' tortured and killed several innocent people. Including my sister. I tracked him down. He was just released from the state mental ward." Diana's voice cracked. "Diana." Vincent understood why this sensitive woman encased herself in a protective barrier from the world. But this was more than anyone should have to endure. "He called me 'the Huntress'. Said I was a worthy oppenent. And he's out there somewhere." Diana added knowingly. "Diana, you must be careful! Remember there's always a room for you in the tunnels. Always a light kept lit for you." As he spoke, he edged closer to Diana. For the first time her vulnerabity was clear to him. They stood for several moments looking into each others eyes before Diana broke the spell. She bent and picked up the fallen note, then stood tall and proud. He marveled at her strength. Her courage. But she confused him, too. This fragile-seeming woman who'd only moments ago leaned into him seeking his warmth and strength had now returned to her cocoon, put up her shield, and now showed nothing but the abundant confidence in her own ability to meet whatever challenges that were thrown at her. He knew that dedication to her work swept away any personnel or painful obstacles as through they never existed. Vincent knew instinctively that Diana would track down every lead in a case until she solved it or the trail was too cold for anyone to follow...and no one would dare question her while she was in the process. In amazement, Vincent watched Diana push her emotional side away, and before he could say another word Diana turned and walked back into the shadows. He could hear the sound of her bare feet and then the rooftop door closing softly behind her. Turning away, Vincent leaned on the low wall around the edge of the rooftop, peering down at the city below him and made a silent vow that he would not let any harm come to Diana, no matter what the cost. More and more often of late, he'd found himself drawn to her loft. Closing his eyes, he could still see her: he recalled the tilt of her chin, the warmth of her body, her scent, and her eyes--always gazing tantalizingly, knowingly into his. He was shocked at the enormous loneliness that overwhelmed him when he thought of life without her, and his growl of pain was all too familiar to him. He'd just begun to realize how much he'd come to care for Diana. She'd understood him, fought for and protected him from the world around him when no one else could. When no one else could understand the beast, or the madness...it was Diana's hand that had always reached out to his. And now...she could be in trouble and there was no way he could help if she wouldn't let him. Vincent sighed deeply, musing over the irony. Recently, even hearing a female voice brought Diana immediately to mind. Seeing Mary holding the baby, it reminded him of how Diana held Jacob, touching his cheek with soft fingertips... and how when she lifted her face to look at him, how intimate the experience was...how deep the wordless understanding. He still loved Catherine--he always would--but he knew the bond he was forging with Diana was of a stronger substance than friendship. It, too, was love. **** Diana and Vincent weren't the only ones out in the cover of night. A predatory killing machine stalked Diana's every move, watching and waiting for his prey to make a mistake. To kill her wasn't enough: he wanted to make her suffer, as he had, confined all those years. He'd learned over time how to tell them what they wanted to hear, and eventually they set him free...supposedly no longer a danger to society. The Hunter smiled. He switched on the light in the small, darkroom he'd made out of his tiny bathroom, and roaches scurried for their hiding places. Every inch of wall space was covered by photos of Diana Bennett..all a part of the hunt. But tonight he'd hit the jackpot. At first he couldn't believe his eyes, but eventually he had to accept the evidence the photos showed: Detective Diana Bennett's body resting--taking solace--from a beast. A monster. Jack Warmer AKA the Hunter looked out his window onto the old theater across the street. The marquis read, "Beauty and the Beast." =How appropriate,= he thought with a smile. =An true test of my skills.= The others had been too easy to take, to skin and kill. Jack reached over to his old 45 record and turned on the phonograph. "Oh please stay by me, Diana. Thrills I get when you hold me close, oh my darling...you're the most," Jack sang in time with the old record, and half way through the song he stopped in front of the picture of the beast standing alone on Diana's roof. THIS was going to be the test of his skills as a hunter--not Diana. He had other plans for her. =Every good hunter needs the right bait,= he thought with a smile. Especially when the bait itself was a worthy apponent. He thought of Diana, entombed with the decaying bones and moldering flesh of his prior victims. So many they hadn't found.... That was suitable as her punishment. But suddenly she didn't interest him any longer as a test of his skill: she was still only a woman. Like her sister... like all the others. The beast, on the other hand, intrigued him. Lying back on filthy bedsheets Warner closed his eyes and made his plans, because for tomorrow the games would begin. Maybe he'd kill a policeman first just to get the edge off, then toy with Diana. He'd let her play hunter for a few days, then take her...trap her to bring the beast. A more enraged and dangerous prey Warmer couldn't imagine. Glad now, that he'd watched his red-haired huntress so far into the night, Warmer closed his eyes and fell into delicious dreams of blood and death. ****** As soon as Diana turned her back and walked away from Vincent, she felt empty. How could she tell him or even admit to herself that she needed something more from him than just words. The hard length of his body pressed against hers had awakened the need for more physical contact--a need to forget the past and dwell instead in his love. She constantly tried to push the feelings growing inside her out of her mind, but each step away from him only became more difficult. An aching desire and the need to lose herself in him was overwhelming. But she knew he still loved Catherine. =I have to concentrate on my work and not on outraged hormones,= she told herself sternly. =Not on fantasies that can't ever belong to me.= She slept uneasily that night, then the following day she began her work. Booting up her computer, she pulled up the files on Jack Warmer....why, she didn't know: she knew them by heart--every entry. Her young sister, Jenny's, death...all the horrid details. Flashes of unbearable pain hit Diana with the impact of a bullet...and richocheted throughout her entire body. She felt the pain of each victim--not just Jenny's... heard the Hunter's insane laughter as he was led away...a deadly promise of the future in his eyes. Enough!= Diana leaned back in her chair and rubbed her eyes. Stiff with pain from sitting too long, she hobbled over to the small kitchen and made herself some hot coffee and drank it slowly as she made her way back to the computer. She peered past the steam from the cup to see the wall clock...astonished at the time. "Oh, shit...." she murmured to herself. It was already past 5:00pm. She hurriedly gulped down the hot coffee and ran into the bedroom to start pushing things aside. Grabbing her grey sweater and white tennis shoes, she dug in the sweater's pocket and touched the familiar leather of her wallet and keyring. It didn't take Diana long to hail a cab. She went immediately to the state institution that had freed Jack Warmer. The institution for the criminally insane was a stark grey building surrounded by an imposing wire fence. "Are you sure this is where you want me to leave you off lady?" the cabby questioned her. "Yeah. Can you wait for me, though?" Diana asked. "Why not?" the cabbie commented. "The meter's running, though, lady" he reminded her in a yell as she dashed up the steps. The interior of the building was white, and interns mixed freely with the guards...and past them were rows of offices. Diana flashed her ID at one of the guards. "I'm looking for Dr. Collins office. I believed he handled the Jack Warmer case?" "Sure lady. His office is the second door on the left." he answered as he directed Diana down the hallway. "Thanks ."Diana murmured gratefully. She'd expected more questions. She didn't bother to knock as she slammed the door open only to the surprise of the young man behind the desk. "What's the meaning of this!" the young doctor demanded loudly, his voice bolstered by official authority. "Business. Jack Warmer." Diana stated, tossing her ID on his desk in front of him. "Oh." He said, momentarily taken aback. Then he snapped defensively, "That was the boards' decision, not mine. He still harbors anti-social behavioral problems. It was my opinion that he didn't belong back out there." "Then why =is= he out? "Diana's voice was as cold as ice. "He skinned people alive." "He was tried on only one murder, you know. Listen... basically we needed the space. Sometimes--no--in this case, it was more a prescription and a prayer, not a decision of choice." Dr. Collins sounded defeated. "The board concluded that with his meds he was safe to let back into society." "Can I see his room?" Diana asked, trying to disguise the disgust she felt at the system. "I don't see why not." he anwered with a shrug. "I'll show it to you myself." The young doctor tossed the papers he'd been shuffling to the side and escorted Diana up to the third floor and the High Risk ward. They passed two armed guards stationed at the locked doors, and the interns and nurses in lock down had a grim determination about them. "You probably won't find much," the doctor told her. "The room was cleaned out after he left." He opened the door and showed Diana a room with a small single bed, a writing table and a toilet. The guard, who had accompanied them, added: "Warmer spent most of his time in here." "Thanks Mike," the doctor commented, dismissing the guard. "That's all we need. I'll call you when we're done." When the guard left, Dr. Collins glanced curiously at Diana. "I don't know what you hope to find in here." "Maybe nothing." Diana admitted, trying to close off everything as with her mind's eye she tried to see through Jack Warmers point of view. She went over to the desk and examined the surface. There, etched in the wooden desktop was a cage. Diana started to whisper to herself. "You're caged. You're the hunter--you're not to be caged--only your prey is. You're not the hunter anymore." Diana straightened, blinking quickly...the room came back into focus as the startling information gathered in her mind. "Doctor, is there an address for Warmer? When he left here, did you have a record of where he'd be?" "I can check that for you, if you don't mind waiting here a minute." "Sure," she said with a smile. "I'll be fine." After a few minutes Dr Collins returned with an address and handed it to Diana. "I hope this helps you, Detective Bennet. I'm sorry about your sister," he added softly. Diana brushed past him, not allowing him to see the her pain. She knew she was being rude, but she couldn't help herself. After taking a few steps, she turned back, nodded, and said quietly, "Thanks." The cabby was outside in his taxi, smoking, as she came down the steps. Stamping out his cigarette, he commented, "I'm glad we're leaving here. This place gives me the creeps. Where to, now?" he asked quickly. "401 Lane Ave," Diana said absently. She wasn't going to find anything at that address: she already knew that. But if Warmer picked that area--which was different from the killing spots--it was because he have some kind of connection to it. She figured that perhaps if she checked the neighborhood drug stores and mental clinics, where he had to go for his meds, she might just track him down. =Assuming he's even still taking them,= she thought. As she stared out the window at the passing city, she thought, =He'll kill again. But this time, I'll be there to stop him.= As the taxi pulled up to the address, Diana paid the driver and got out. As he drove away, she scanned the street to see if there was a drug store nearby. Sweetie's drug store was just up the street. Diana glanced at her watch. =Damn!= she thought. =I hadn't intended to be out here this late.= It was 10:35pm. The sun was down, and most of the streets where alive with both the homeless and the predators that hunted the streets after dark. Diana began walking, scanning her surroundings. She wasn't tired, and all she could think about was her sister...and how she had to find someplace... something to connect to Warmer. =Just a little longer. One drug store, then home,= she thought. =I'll pick it up tomorrow in the daylight.= **** Jack Warner stared in surprise at Diana as she walked down Lane Ave. He smiled in delight. She'd come to him, tracked =him=. He'd only been awake some twenty-five minutes. Nght was his stalking time. He'd been making plans to set out and find his prey...he'd planned on killing a police officer tonight, but as any good hunter knows, plans change. He watched Diana closely. If she continued in the same direction, she'd be very close to the alley, and if all went well, she'd be his. Heading down the back stairs and into the alley, Jack kept to the shadows. A couple of turns down the dimly lit back alley brought him directly into Diana's path--right where he wanted to be. He could see from her wary look that she knew she was being watched. Reaching into his jacket, he pulled out his hunting knife. He knew through long experience where to hit his victim. Diana was drawing ever closer to him. He waited in the shadows in the corner of the alley between two huge apartment buildings. Diana was almost within reach of him when she stopped dead in her tracks, her chin lifted as she tested the air, reminding Jack of a deer who had scented a wolf. She seemed to shiver, drawing her sweater closer as though she were cold. She stepped a bit closer and Jack struck.... *** Diana was suddenly intensely aware of danger and was about to turn to head back the way she'd come. She wasn't armed, and hadn't anticipated being caught out like this. But despite her sense of danger, despite her caution, she wasn't quick enough. She staggered as a searing pain struck her: her shoulder felt as if it were on fire! Lurching sideways, she steadied herself as her assailant approached her again, and when he came close enough, she recognized him. Taking aim, she kicked, sending him flying backward into the brick wall. With her shoulder virtually useless, she knew she was at a disadvantage. Frantically she looked around, trying to judge her options. She decided the apartment buildings were her best chance, and she sprinted in a lurching run toward them, praying the door was unlocked. Jack was on his knees behind her, cursing at her as she reached the door and yanked it open. She didn't stop, but forced herself up the stairs. Her mouth tasted of copper and bile--blood and fear. =Damn!= she thought, =I should have been prepared...I should've waited 'til daylight, should've...= All her thoughts of =should have= faded away as she tried each door until one finally opened...to an empty apartment. Empty! She didn't deserve such luck, but she knew better than to look a gift horse in the mouth. Her shoulder throbbed, and a wave of dizziness reminded her of her need for haste. There was a broken lamp on the floor, and she sat it upright, then groaned as she removed her sweater, digging for her wallet and keys. Picking the lamp up, she tossed the cord over the door. She found a hanger and draped her sweater over it and hung it on the lamp. Then, tying the cord onto another hanger, in the dark, it could look like someone just her height hiding in the closet. She could hear Jack banging on the apartment doors, now, and she opened the window and climbed out onto the fire escape...closed the window carefullly and headed down to the street. **** Jack tried each apartment as he went, frustrated and furious. One door finally opened to his attempt, and he could see a figure in the dark...and knew it had to be Diana. Fury and madness driving him, he lunged for the figure, which came apart and fell to pieces in his hand. With a roar of frustrated rage at being duped, Jack plunged knife repeatedly into the blood-soaked sweater. Then, lunging for the window, he yanked it open, but the darkness below revealed nothing to him...only the flashes of the flourescent lights of the bar across the street. The Huntress had escaped him for now. Jack focused on the blood soaked sweater and he smiled, humming the words, "Stay by me Diana." Jack knew Diana could have gone anywhere--he'd deliberately only wounded her shoulder...he hadn't meant to kill, but to incapacitate...he'd only wanted to slow her down. Frighten her. But Diana wasn't like his other victims. She didn't freeze when frightened or become dazed and confused when wounded: she was a hunter herself. But Warmer knew if he wanted the Beast he had only to think of Beauty as the lure. =I may not know where the Huntress will be,= he thought gleefully. =But I know where the Beast will be very soon.= Still smiling, Jack strolled steadily down Lane Ave., still carrying Diana's blood-soaked sweater. **** "Vincent are you going back out tonight?" Father asked as he watched Vincent sling his cloak over his shoulders. "Yes, Father. I've had some of the helpers check to see if Diana was home, and she's been gone all day. It's getting late,and that man...the "Hunter" he calls himself, is out there watching her. I need to see if I can help...if I can find her." Vincent was frustrated and anxious...and in a hurry to leave. Father placed a hand softly on Vincent's arm. "And if she's not there? If you =can't= find her? What then, Vincent?" Pain and fury warred in Vincent. "Then I'll go back tomorrow night and the next and the next until I find her! Don't you understand, Father? After Catherine, I thought I'd never be able to love or care for anyone again. I told you once that Catherine was each beat of my heart,but Diana is the stillness between each beat,every breath. She's brought back everything I loved. You, my son...and my heart. I cannot simply =forget her=, Father. It's her strength, her intelligence and her love for me that brought me back from death itself. When I lost Catherine, =I= was lost as well. Diana found me. Can I not love such a gift father?" Looking away, Father finally said quietly, "Yes, I suppose you must go to her,and I pray that you find her. But Vincent...." Vincent touched Father's shoulder, then met his eyes when he looked up. "Thank you, Father. I'll be careful...try not to worry." *** Diana was feeling dazed and sleepy...a bit as though she were running on remote control...traveling by instinct. People stared at her, like eyes of the night. She vaguely remembered someone handing or placing an old coat over her, then walking away. =Home,= she thought groggily. =Thats where I gotta go...gotta plan my next move.= As she walked, deliberately putting one foot in front of the other, there was one constant thought in the back of her mind: she'd been lucky tonight. Her thoughts turned to Vincent. She could feel his presence in her mind, almost feel the solid muscles and soft fur under her hands...sense his light touch on her skin. He needed her: she could feel that need need calling to her. =I'm coming,= she thought as she dream-walked toward home. *** Vincent was startled to find Diana's lights on when he reached her loft. His heart swelled with joy and relief and his his need to be with her--to see her and know her to be well--was almost physical pain. When he reached the door to the apartment, he found it open, and as he went inside, he was assaulted by the coppery smell of blood. Every nerve in his body tensed. His mind swam in a red haze of rage as his eyes found the source of the smell: Diana's grey sweater--soaked in her blood. A roar of pure pain tore through him as he read the note pinned to the sweater: Beast, Is your beauty still alive or is her skin hanging on a tree? Or will she scream in pleasure at my knife,so like her lovers claws caressing her naked flesh? Come to central park where the oak tree bends, and the stream is called the falcon. the HUNTER Vincent ripped the note from Diana's sweater and let it fall to the floor, just as Diana had only the night before. He held the soft sweater to his face, drawing in Diana's scent...and the smell of her blood...and suddenly he knew that death was preferable to losing love yet again. With a low, furious growl, he began his descent to the street.... *** Diana found herself standing in the debris of her life. Her apartment had been ransacked: papers were tossed across the floor, furniture upset, her computer lying in pieces on the floor...her couch had been sliced and torn, the stuffing pulled through the rent fabric. Even the window was broken. More dazed than before, Diana fell back onto the couch, and watched the tiny particles of fluff from the stuffing fill the air around her. She'd managed to keep going so far, but shock and blood loss was beginning to take their toll on her. Distantly, she could feel Vincent's rage and drew on it to give her strength. Forcing herself to her feet, she managed to get to the bathroom and pull off her blouse. Using an elastic bandage and some gauze, she managed to bandage her shoulder and give it some support, the pulled on a tee shirt. Diana took one look at her phone--which had been ripped from the wall--and decided that calling Joe was a lost cause. Then she saw the knife standing upright in her mattress, and pinning the note in place: Beauty and the Beast, one lives, one dies. You're next, Huntress. Then we'll know who's the best. Hunter. Diana backed away from the bed, slowly glancing nervously around her room. =Beauty and the Beast--Vincent!= The Hunter knew about Vincent. "Oh God...No!" Diana flew to her closet and tore through it for her gun. The pain of her shoulder and her weakness was forgotten in the rush of adrenaline and fear. Diana checked her .38 and placed it in the waistband of her pants. =If I were the Hunter,= she thought, =where would I go? I'd go someplace quiet, so no one could hear. Someplace remote...so no one would hear the screams, or if they did, they wouldn't care. Where? The park. As Diana headed for the park, she only had room for one thought in her dazed mind: finding the Hunter and stopping him before he found Vincent. **** When Vincent reached the park and found the place the Hunter had mentioned, he was relieved to see that Diana wasn't there. But he knew the Hunter was. From behind him, the Hunter's voice taunted: "So,you've come. I figured you would, though you seem to have missed Diana." Vincent spun quickly, almost catching Jack, but the man was ready for him and had already moved back, and Vincent was staring down the barrel of a shotgun. Vincent's low growl became more menacing as he warily eyed the man. He could smell Diana's blood on the Hunter and was having difficulty keeping the beast in. The Hunter smiled and said with a laugh: "Anyone can get a gun here. Don't you love America." With a snarl, Vincent told him, "Evil men are never unarmed." He took a step toward Jack. Jack lifted the barrel of the gun and said quickly, "If you want Diana back you'll do what I say." "What have you done to her!" Vincent roared. "Where =is= she?" Vincent was about to lose control when, suddenly there was a gossamer touch...the barest fleeting feeling: Diana. She was alive. The rage died and reason returned. Backing away a step, Vincent smiled softly as he told the Hunter, "Diana is alive. She escaped you, didn't she?" Vincent's sudden change of tactics caught Jack off guard. He'd obviously hoped to have his opponent off balance with rage, but now it was =him= who was off balance. "So the bitch got away! But =you= won't!" The click of the shotgun trigger alerted Vincent and he threw himself aside instinctively, missing the shot by a hair, and he moved into the shadows. Jack also dodged and moved behind a tree. "Tell me beast," Jack asked in a raised, tense voice, "how was it to feel her soft skin against you? Feeling it part under your claws?" When Vincent didn't react, Jack tried again. "I know her body felt delicious and warm under my blade." Vincent was angry, but under control. He knew Jack was taunting him with lies. Diana was alive, and knowing that, he could remain rational. Jack was too intent upon Vincent to hear the movement behind him, but Vincent did. And at the same time, the sweet song of Diana's presence surrounded him. Vincent knew he needed to distract the man to allow Diana to do what she needed to do. "Somehow, I doubt that Diana would enjoy your attentions," he told the Hunter dryly. Diana's level voice came from the darkness. "It was a great hunt." The Hunter spun, aiming the shotgun with his final shell, but Diana fired first. Vincent reached Diana's side just as the Hunter looked up at them. Diana was shaking and obviously weak, but she glared down at the dying man. "But the Huntress wins." Jack Warmer gasped, and died, and Diana dropped her gun. The clouds that had been covering the moon parted and Vincent gasped as Diana was illuminated by the silvery light. Goddess of the moon--Huntress of old--she turned to him and her eyes met his. "Are you hurt?" she asked, her voice faint. It was then that Vincent saw the blood spreading down her shirt...realized that the tremors that shook her were of weakness, not reaction. He lunged toward her and caught her as she fell. "Diana?" Her eyes opened, but when he took her pulse, it was weak, thready. Diana's voice was weak, but she smiled up at him. "I love you Vincent,"Diana murmured. Her eyes closed. "Gotta tell you...." Vincent's throat was tight and tears blurred his vision, but he refused to allow her to die. "Diana, hold on. Don't leave me. I love you, too. Stay with me...please. I won't let anything happen to you...." Diana managed to open her eyes. She smiled again and muttered: "Don't make promises...can't keep." She closed her eyes again and Vincent knew she'd lost consciousness. Vincent picked up Diana's gun, knowing she'd not want to leave it, then he picked up her limp body and headed for the tunnels and Father. **** Vincent watched anxiously as Father and Mary worked over Diana. He couldn't see what was being done, but he knew the wound was serious. Eventually, Father turned away and pulled off his mask. Sighing heavily, Father told him, "She'll be fine, Vincent...if infection doesn't set in. She needed stitches and she's lost a considerable amount of blood, but she's strong. Why don't you move her into your chamber so you can watch her tonight--but be careful--she's in pain." Relief flooded through Vincent as he looked down at her. Diana moved ever so slightly and half opened her eyes. "Vincent?" she murmured drowsily. "I'm here, Diana," he told her tenderly as he held her hand. She smiled weakly. "Next time, we should...you know...just go on a date. These meetings we've been havin' are so damned =exhausting=. She closed her eyes and went back to sleep. Vincent smiled and chuckled a little as he ran his fingers down Diana's cheek and through her hair. Then he very carefully picked her up and carried her to his chamber. End ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ About the Author Diana Garcia (Dee) is new to fandom, having found Beauty and the Beast in syndication--and while they were running third season. She fell in love with the Vincent/Diana relationship and was very sorry they never did anything more with it. She's a nurse with two cats, one dog, a husband and an in-house mother-in-law. This is her first venture into fan writing. Dee would love your comments! E-mail her at: email@example.com.