Faline paced in front of Vincent, delivering the Lady Beatrice's impassioned speech so flawlessly that he wondered briefly if the Bard had not had one of her ancestors in mind when he penned "Much Ado About Nothing." Faline seemed born to play the feisty Italian noblewoman.
Nearly a month had passed since the night he had found her, crumpled, dying in the park, covered in blood from a stab wound. Her powerful voice echoed over the falls, and she gestured expansively, her tank top moving every once in awhile to reveal the still-red scar across her stomach. Vincent tried hard not to look at it, for it brought back memories of late nights, nightmares, and a slight form sobbing on his shoulder, grasping him and shivering until he had thought she might fly apart. She was only now beginning to recover from the mental scars.
Faline completed her speech, and stopped pacing. Auburn hair fell around her shoulders in waves, Vincent was nearly inclined to call it a mane. She had gained weight as well. No longer emaciated and thin, her figure had rounded subtly into a pleasing, feminine shape. She dropped unceremoniously next to him, staring deep into the cavern.
"How was it?" She asked, staring introspectively into the darkness.
"Excellent" He replied. Something was troubling her. "You're a firebrand."
She smiled at the complement. "I try." She said quietly. "Why do Beatrice and Benedick spend so much time insulting each other?"
"What?" The question startled him. Faline was nothing if not direct. She turned her head, and fixed him with an emerald gaze.
"In the play . . . they love each other, but it takes trickery to bring them together. Life is so short . . . why do they waste time? Why do we all waste so much time?" Her eyes were troubled, Vincent knew there was something more on her mind than the romantic comedy some of the tunnel dwellers were planning as a surprise for Father.
"Well . . . " He sighed. It was not an easy question. "Beatrice said they had been in love once, but they were hurt . . . perhaps they were afraid of being hurt again. They pretend . . . they try desperately to act like they don't care for each other, and defend themselves with their insults and wit."
"It seems such a waste." She was staring into the blackness of the cavern again, her eyes searching for something just beyond her. "Benedick could have been killed in the war . . . or Beatrice could have been married to another man." She hugged her knees to her chest. "And they would have never had the chance to tell each other how they felt . . . but it's so hard to say how you feel, isn't it?" Her expression clouded. "Then someone dies, and you wish you had said something . . ." She trailed off.
"Most people never think of that." He replied, quietly, placing a gentle arm around her shoulders. "Not until it happens, anyway . . . but after your . . . attack . . . " He shuddered involuntarily with the memory, a too cold night, and hot blood . . . "I'm not surprised you're thinking this way." She leaned against him, ever so slightly. "Carpe diem." He said, smiling. She gave him a questioning look. "Seize the day." He translated.
She nodded. "I see." She said, gravely, but there was a mischievous twinkle in her eye. Vincent wondered suddenly what he had just encouraged her to do.
"Within reason." He amended, with quiet amusement.
She smirked, the twinkle sparking even more. "Of course." She grinned. Somehow, Vincent wasn't reassured.
Deciding a subject change might be in order, he said "Has the entire cast practiced to such perfection?"
"Almost." She grinned. "Arvid is playing Dogberry, and the syntax is driving him nuts."
Vincent gave a low laugh. "I have had opportunity to see Tristan practicing Benedick's part . . ." He trailed off. Why on Earth was Faline turning so pink? He suddenly realized what he had said. Tristan. The tall, muscular young man had come Below nearly a year before Faline, a homeless 20-year-old who had been literally thrown out of his home when he had hit his stepfather to keep him from beating his mother. His mother had been the one to throw him out, something Tristan was still bitter about. After living on the streets for a few months, he was belligerent, cold . . . one of the Helpers had found him in an alley, where he had passed out after cutting open his wrists. After coming Below, and being carefully nursed back to health (physically and mentally), he became a "thing of beauty" as Mary had once put it. His wavy, black hair trailed his shoulders, and his deep, brown eyes had softened. He was a different person, intelligent, helpful, and gentle. Vincent barely stifled a chuckle. It was no wonder Faline had become infatuated . . . obviously, Tristan was what she had on her mind.
"Y-yes, he's quite an actor." Faline managed. Again, Vincent had to stifle a laugh. Faline and Tristan . . . he privately compared the match to the mating of a dragon and lamb. It was an exaggeration, of course, but . . . once he thought about it, they each had something the other needed. Tristan still suffered from dark moods, despite their past, he worried about his mother. Otherwise, he was fairly calm, and level-headed. Faline was a firebrand, pure and simple. Often energetic, and sometimes irrational. She also had an uncanny ability to surmise peoples moods, and react accordingly.
Vincent stood, an unusually crafty plan forming. "I'd love to hear more, Faline, but I have other duties."
Faline nodded, smiling. "I understand. I think I'll stay here for awhile and go over my part."
Perfect! "I'll see you later." He said, smiling, not really caring if Faline saw his fangs, which he normally tried to keep hidden. He strode out, leaving the sound of the waterfall behind him. He needed to find Tristan.
It was a plan worthy of the Bard himself. Trickery was needed to bring Beatrice and Benedick together because they had once been burned. Likewise, to bring Tristan and Faline together would require a trap or two, simply because both of them were too shy to bring themselves together. Vincent felt an uncharacteristic smugness. He would have to tell Catherine about this.
Vincent finally found Tristan in a quiet side tunnel, murmuring his lines to himself. He was wearing his costume, a billowy white shirt, tight blue pants, tall black boots, and a swordbelt. His hair was pulled back from his angular face. He glanced up at Vincent's approach.
"Ah, greetings, Vincent." He said with an easy grin, bearing straight, white teeth.
"Good evening, Tristan. Practicing?"
Tristan gave him a lopsided grin. "I had to hide, I'd just been fitted for my costume, and along comes Father. I figured I'd better retreat before he notices that there's an Italian soldier running the tunnels. He'd think I'm nuts."
"Or delirious with fever." Rumbled Vincent, dryly.
"Exactly. So, I decided that as long as I'm skulking around in the shadows, I might as well get in some practice while no one's around to distract me."
"There isn't much light here."
Again the lopsided grin. "Haven't you heard, Vincent? To be a true actor you have to suffer for your art."
Vincent chuckled quietly. "Do you think you could suffer at the Falls? Father is in his office, so you could sneak over there."
Tristan considered. "Sure, it's warm tonight. I could go for a swim and suffer by being wet." He grinned. "Thanks, Vincent."
Vincent smiled to himself as he watched Tristan make his way down the corridor. His plan was working beautifully.
Faline had her back to the entrance, and was watching the falls, so the voice behind her made her jump.
"Hello, Faline. Practicing your lines?" She spun, jumping to her feet at the same time. Tristan leaned against the wall, casually. If she had looked closely, Faline might have noticed a stiffness in his posture, a slight tension. She did not.
"Tristan! What are you doing?"
He pushed off the wall, and walked in, arms folded. "Being fitted for my costume." He said, raising his arms and turning to display the costume. Faline ran her eyes over his body, appreciatively. She wondered if he felt as solid as he looked. She licked her lips as she took in the tight pants.
"Nice." She said.
"When do we get to see yours?" He asked, coming a bit closer, a roguish twinkle sparking and dying in his eye.
"Soon." She replied, turning away to look over the water. "I hope, anyway. It's the prettiest material . . ." Tristan moved closer. He stood behind her, so close she could feel his body heat.
"I'd like to see it." He said. She glanced back at him. His Cupid's bow mouth curled in a slight smile. God, his lips looked inviting! She turned back to the water.
"I'll show it to you once it's done." She promised. What was going on? She was so . . . nervous! It made no sense at all. She had been stabbed, she knew what it was like to lay dying on the ground, why on Earth should this make her nervous?
Tristan wondered what he was doing. Cognitively, at least. Being this close to Faline felt so . . . he couldn't put a name to it. Certainly, she was beautiful, a red-headed, green-eyed elf of eighteen, shorter than he by nearly a head. He could almost rest his chin on the top of her head. She had fine, sculpted features . . . and a very pleasing shape to her body as well. Her real beauty was her eyes. Huge, expressive eyes that she seemed to read minds with. And she was so full of energy, and intelligent, and . . . blushing? Why was she blushing? Tristan smiled slowly. Her hair smelled wonderful . . . sandalwood and jasmine. Some of the Helpers in Chinatown at times gave away scented soaps to the ladies of the tunnels. He moved closer, wanting to bury his nose in the scent of her soft hair. She stiffened slightly, and her breathing quickened.
It was silent a moment, and Faline was painfully aware that she was blushing deeply. She felt Tristan's breath on her neck. It was he who broke the silence.
"Are you hot?" The question confused her. She started to turn back to him.
"Wha--" She began, then felt herself lifted in arms that were solid indeed. That would have been fine, but a second later, Tristan tossed her, shrieking with surprise, in the water. She came up sputtering, feigning anger.
Tristan laughed quietly, as Faline splashed around, righting herself. Finally she managed to find her feet and stood, dripping and glaring at him. He noted with mingled pleasure and embarrassment that she wasn't wearing anything under her shirt.
"Tristan!" She yelled, sloshing through the water toward him, her eyes alight with mischievous glee. "Don't even think you're coming out of this dry!"
"Of course not." He replied, stripping off the shirt, swordbelt and boots.
Faline licked her lips. Tristan was indeed a thing of beauty. Muscular, tall, his chest and stomach perfectly formed . . . He let his hair loose and tossed his head, tousling the long, black waves, and framing his face. He was cleanshaven, but his beard had grown slightly, giving him a rugged, rakishly handsome look. What was it Vincent had said? Carpe diem? Faline grinned impishly as Tristan dove into the water with her. Carpe Tristan.
Tristan came up behind her, snatched her around the waist, and dunked her under the water. Faline struggled briefly, but in the end just enjoyed the feeling of his arms around her. They stood like that for a long moment, watching the falls. Tristan nuzzled her neck, and one hand gently stroked her stomach, a finger tracing the scar. Faline took his other hand, running a finger over the scar across his wrist, then reaching up to stroke his cheek, warm and slightly rough. She turned her head to look up at him, and he kissed her, pressing his warm, soft lips against hers, his tongue feeling just as wonderful as he gently slid it into her mouth. Tristan let his hand wander under her shirt.
Cathy thought Vincent seemed in particularly good humor that evening, but his large grin took her completely by surprise.
"What is it?" She asked, feeling his joy through their bond.
"It's . . . " He had been debating for a week whether or not to ask Catherine to the play. The implications . . . the looks . . . Ah, well. Carpe Diem. "Some of the tunnel dwellers are performing a play . . . Much Ado About Nothing . . . next week. Would you come, Catherine?"
Catherine smiled broadly. "Of course!" She said. Vincent smiled down at her, and enfolded her in a warm embrace.
It was quiet when Vincent returned, most of the tunnel dwellers had gone to bed hours ago. He stopped briefly by Faline's bedroom. She wasn't there. Curious despite himself, he made it a point to pass by Tristan's room. The door was slightly ajar. As he walked past, he caught a glimpse of Faline, her head resting on Tristan's chest. They were wet, both wearing articles of Tristan's clothing, his costume and her outfit hanging, still dripping, in the corner. Tristan read in a soft voice, and Faline slept, a very slight smile on her lips.
About the Author
Rachel Collier is a college student from Virginia studying nursing but is hoping (and praying!) for a bestseller BEFORE she ends up as an RN! She has been a fan of Beauty and the Beast since the first season. Aside from wanting to marry Brad Pitt, Rachel would like to visit the United Kingdom some day and when she is not writing or going to school. She is also a gourmet cook. The first story in this series, "First Friend" was written one night in a burst of creativity specifically for Father's Online Library although it had been on her mind for some time and you can consider these continuing stories. You can send your comments to Rachel at Hexidex@aol.com.