Cat and Mouse by Rachel Collier Tristan strummed his guitar, quietly singing 'Hotel California' as Faline and Father finished a game of chess. Father's face was a scowl of concentration, Faline was not the best chess player Below, but she was clever. "Checkmate." Murmured Father, moving his bishop. Faline nodded as though she had seen it coming. "Well played." He complemented. Faline smiled and stood, stretching. "Good game." She replied, placing a hand on Tristan's shoulder. Father eyed the pair thoughtfully. Ever since that play, Much Ado About Nothing, he had been a bit suspicious of the two. They had done an excellent job portraying Benedick and Beatrice, especially the last kiss. The kiss had been innocent enough in and of itself, but the temperature in the room seemed to rise. The tension and desire was almost tangible. Father had to wonder what the two were like when they were alone. "I have errands to run." Faline apologized, giving Tristan's shoulder the slightest of squeezes. "I look forward to our next game." Faline grinned, nodded and disappeared. Father regarded Tristan for a moment. "You want to read." Tristan said, with an easy grin. "I'll go somewhere else." Father nodded. "Thank you, Tristan." He watched as the muscular young man moved toward the door. "And, Tristan." He turned back. "Behave." Tristan grinned broadly. "Of course, Father." There was no warning. Powerful arms grabbed Faline from behind, she struggled, but was forced to the floor before she could defend herself. She ended up on her back, strong hands pinning her arms, muscular legs holding her own down. "Tag." Purred Tristan, looking down at her. Faline blew hair out of her face and tried to wriggle free. They had been playing this game for weeks. Cat and Mouse. Tristan rarely caught her, though she had become skillful at surprising him. Crouching in the shadows, she would strike like a jungle cat, using his superior build against him. "Now," He said, thoughtfully, holding her easily as she struggled. "Why don't I claim my prize?" She stopped resisting long enough for him to kiss her. At times, Mouse, excited by the prospect of a game named after him, joined the hunt. Those games were much more innocent. Tristan let her up, placing an arm around her waist. "Luck." Commented Faline. "How so?" "I was distracted." Tristan laughed. "All's fair in love and war, my kitten." They walked back to Faline's room. It was early evening, and delicious smells wafted from the kitchens, even an hour after dinner. Tristan plucked at his guitar, idly. The Minstrel of the Tunnels, Faline had nicknamed him, teasing gently. He was skilled with the instrument, and much in demand, especially by the children. Faline often joined him, singing. "I promised Mouse I'd help him fix that doorway that's been acting up lately." Sighed Tristan, standing up from where he reclined across Faline's bed. He laid his guitar on the leopard- spotted bedspread. "It needs it." Faline responded. "It's been a pain lately." She grinned, her full lips parting to reveal white teeth. Tristan eyed her, an auburn-haired nymph, with a whitening scar across her flat stomach . . . a souvenir from her life Above, as were the scars across his wrists. "Want to come?" "I'll catch up." She grinned, green eyes sparking. "Will you now?" He asked, one eyebrow raised. "Perhaps." There was mischief in her eyes. He leaned down, his face inches from hers. "What if Mouse sees us?" She gave a low laugh. "He gets a lesson on the facts of life." There was no warning. The tunnel was dark, perfect cover as Faline slipped silently after Tristan. It was a little-used side tunnel, but Faline felt confident that Tristan had gone in, though she had no intention of following him through to the labyrinth of dark passageways which were completely uninhabited. Tristan wouldn't lead her that deeply, not to the bowels of the Earth, where the omnipresent tapping of pipes was barely audible, no matter what sort of activity he had in mind . . . She suddenly found herself trapped, muscular, solid arms around her, pinning her as she struggled. She was about to laugh and cry foul, it was her turn to catch him, when the lock of hair brushed her forehead. Long, yes, and black, but it wasn't Tristan's silky, well-groomed hair she had run her fingers through only a short time before. The hair that brushed her was matted, dull. In an instant, Faline realized she was held by a stranger. Cold fear ran like ice water in her stomach. The person holding her was huge, bigger by far than Tristan, and when she caught her breath to scream, a hand nearly as large as her head clamped over her mouth. She bit, the taste of iron, blood, in her mouth, but the hand only gripped harder. She smelled leather, and flesh, whereas Tristan smelled of woods and musk. She struggled wildly, thrashing, scratching, kicking, but it was like struggling against a statue . . . or the embrace of Death, as pinpricks of pain sparked where the fingertips held her arm. There was a hard blow to her head, and she staggered, confused and reeling, unable to scream or run, despite the fact that the stranger had released her. The second blow took her to unconsciousness, and she collapsed on the cold, moist stones of the floor. "That's lovely, Vincent." Smiled Catherine, as Vincent closed the huge, leather-bound volume of poetry he had been reading. They were in Father's library, enjoying the warm evening. Catherine's perfume scented the room, a pleasant scent, mingled sandalwood and flowers. Vincent's sapphire eyes smiled, candle light sparking in his gaze, and shining on the warm honey of his hair. Catherine leaned forward, green eyes dancing . . . "Father! Vincent!" Tristan called from the hallway. Catherine sat back. Even before Tristan entered, Vincent could hear the tension in his voice, he was barely able to suppress it. Vincent stood as Tristan entered. Tristan's dark brown eyes were troubled, his long, black hair in disarray. Father, hearing his name called, entered behind him. "Tristan, what is it?" Vincent asked. "Have you seen Faline . . . hello, Catherine, sorry to interrupt." The words spilled from him, a sure sign of tension. "Is she missing?" Asked Father, concerned. Unbidden, visions of cave-ins, snagged clothing in the water, and poisonous spiders came to him. Faline hated spiders. "I expected her to catch me hours ago." "Catch?" Father asked, curious despite the situation. Tristan looked slightly sheepish. "Uh . . . " He said. "Was she supposed to be going anywhere else?" Asked Catherine. "We were supposed to sing and tell stories for the children, she wasn't there." Vincent's eyes widened. He had never known Faline to miss something like that. "Where was the last place you saw her?" Tristan cast a glance over at Father. "Her room." He replied. Father gave a small grunt. "I went with Mouse to repair that gate, she said she'd catch up later." "We'll start at the gate." Vincent decided. "I'll stay here in case she comes back." Said Father. "I'll be here too. You may need something from Above." Said Catherine, careful not to voice the fear that they would need medical supplies. Not in front of Tristan. Faline moaned softly, her head was pounding, and she was lying on the cold stone floor. She started to move, then remembered what had happened and froze. The tapping of pipes was faint, she had to strain to hear it. The scent of water, and burning wood was in the air. It was cold, especially in Tristan's sweatshirt, which she had cut off at the bottom, collar and sleeves, making a short tee shirt which hung off one shoulder. Her shorts provided little enough protection for her legs, and she wore no socks under her sneakers. Her leg started cramping from the rigid position, and she moved it, accompanied by the sound and heaviness of a chain. Her eyes snapped open, and she sat up, reeling slightly at a wave of dizziness and nausea. The cave was dark, the only light came from a small fire several feet away, and a few candles on what looked like a table, it was hard to tell in the dim light. A few metallic objects in the corner reflected the candlelight, it took her a long time to identify them as antique trinkets of gold and silver, rings, necklaces, bracelets . . . pretty, feminine things. Deeper in shadows was a sheer cliff, a drop of a hundred feet at least, to a floor of sharp stalagmites. As for Faline, she was chained to the floor, a shackle on one slim ankle, a foot or so of heavy, blackened metal chain, and a ring set in the floor. There was simply no way to reach the one pipe in evidence. No way to tap out a message. No way for anyone to determine where she was. Faline shivered, but not with cold. Movement in the dark. Faline stared, trying hard to see what was there. A form stepped out from the shadows, massive, cloaked in black. Huge hands reached up to pull back the hood, and Faline stared at the face revealed underneath. She was too afraid to scream. Vincent crouched, candle in hand, searching for tracks, anything that might tell him where Faline had gone. Tristan hovered above him. The side tunnel was rarely frequented by the tunnel folk, for safety, among other reasons. Tristan had suggested they check there, though he didn't know any reason for Faline's going in. The tunnel continued for another fifty yards or so, and branched. One branch was partially closed by a cave- in, though still accessible. The other led to a shallow pit of quicksand. A spot of color on the floor attracted Vincent's attention, and he moved forward. He touched two fingers to the spot, and stood, staring at his fingertips. "What is it? What did you find?" Tristan fairly demanded. Vincent took a deep breath. "Blood." He turned to face his companion. Tristan's eyes were wide. "Oh, God." His voice was strangled. "There's very little." Vincent was quick to point out. "A scraped knee, a scratch could spill more." He was loathe to mention the footprint he had just caught sight of. A moist print, heading in the direction of the partially closed off cave, toward the labyrinth beyond even Vincent's exploration. The print was huge. Too large for any normal man. "Tristan, you go back and . . . " "The hell I will." "Tristan . . . " "I'm coming with you." Vincent was about to refuse, when he saw Tristan's eyes. Had it been Catherine, Vincent would have stopped at nothing to find her. Tristan felt the same way about Faline. "All right. Come on." The face Faline stared into was by no means human. Vincent, while leonine in features, had eyes that were human. This man's eyes were the eyes of a beast. Feline features, that might have almost been familiar, but much more pronounced than Vincent's. Short, tawny orange fur covered his face, his chin was white. Black stripes lined his forehead. His hands were likewise covered with striped fur, and on each fingertip was a long, curved claw. All this, Faline could have accepted, except for the eyes. His eyes were liquid amber, beautiful, but fierce, cold, vicious, and not altogether sane. "How . . . " She managed, her voice small. "How? On purpose, if you're asking what made me the creature you see before you." The voice was deep, cultured, though with a metallic rasp that indicated that he had not spoken in some time. His accent was British, upper-class, and light. "If you're asking how you got here, I must have hit you harder than I suspected." A rather unpleasant chuckle. "I don't know my own strength sometimes." He threw back his head and laughed, a horrifying sound that echoed around the chamber. Unlike Vincent, he had no qualms about showing his fangs. "Who . . . " She began, her voice stronger. The stranger cut her off. "I, my dear, am Sheridan. At least, I was. That's what they named me. It means 'wild man.' Perhaps a premonition?" He laughed again, sharp teeth flashing in the firelight. "Ah, and you, my lamb? Do you perhaps have a name?" "Faline." She was still frightened, but didn't allow her voice to advertise it. She didn't at all trust the way he was looking at her. "Faline." He rumbled, testing the name. "Very good. A lovely name for a beauty such as yourself." He stared at her, his eyes hungry. "Why . . . " Again, Sheridan cut her off. "We are full of questions, aren't we? Are you certain you aren't a journalist?" He chuckled. "Why . . . ah, what a loaded question. Well, why I am what I am is because of an experiment, conducted on me at a very early age." He laughed heartily, his laughter bereft of mirth, or sanity. "As a smudge of tissue, actually. All those scientists in their laboratory, so anxious to muck about with genetics and such." His eyes flashed. "They tried to terminate the experiment later on. Too dangerous. They had no idea." Faline had to avert her eyes. "I was fifteen, bloodsoaked, alone . . . but with a newfound world, and a taste for what I discovered I could do with my claws." That was a warning. Faline felt the caveat in his voice, and look. "But, I suspect you were referring to why I took you, yes?" Faline nodded, nervously. "I've been alone for a long time, my lamb." Faline couldn't help thinking of what a tiger would do to a lamb. A sacrificial lamb? "I long for companionship . . . female companionship." Cold terror struck her to the heart. "No!" Mistake! "I mean . . . " By then it was too late. A low growl, a lightning approach, and she found herself standing, back to the wall, struggling futilely, a mouse against the giant cat pressing her to the wall. One arm circled her waist, yanking her close. His other hand grabbed her hair, yanking her head backward. Exposing her throat. Four fangs poised, just touching the soft skin of her unprotected throat. Faline squeezed her eyes shut, and waited for death. Would Tristan ever know what happened? Would death come quickly or slow? Would he tear her, maul her with his claws? Was Tristan worried? How would he kill her? Bite down quick, crushing the windpipe? Bite slowly, savoring the flow of blood and her strangled scream? Tear her throat out, splashing blood across the cavern? Was Tristan looking for her? Vincent? Was Father worried? Would Tristan ever find her? Hold her cold, bloody body and mourn? Would Sheridan get away? Might Vincent kill him? Or Tristan? How? Would he bite down and shake and shake and shake until she lost consciousness (mercifully) and shake and shake until she no longer lived? Would there be much blood? Would death come instantly, or would she see him looming over her, claws unsheathed, preparing to maul her corpse into nonexistence, as the world faded? Would it be painful, or would she pass out? Would she have time to scream? It seemed an eternity she waited, thoughts flitting through her head, though actually it had been seconds. Sheridan didn't move, his fangs still poised over her throat, unsheathed claws pricking her back, ready to tear her to bits. Her lungs were screaming, Faline realized she had been holding her breath, and let it out, slowly. Sheridan's tongue caressed her throat momentarily, then he released her, shoving her backward. Faline collapsed, shivering violently, on the cold stones. Sheridan stared down at her. "Never defy me, girl." His voice was quiet, intense. "I give no more warnings. I won't kill you next time, but you will be severely punished." He slashed his claws through the air to leave no doubt as to what that would entail. "Challenge me a third time and I promise you, you will not die quickly." He turned and stalked away into the shadows, leaving Faline huddling on the ground, terrified, a single tear sliding down her cheek. "We've pretty much narrowed it down as far as the first few turns, but after that, I'm not sure. Hopefully we'll find some more clues." Vincent told Father as he packed a few more candles, along with some rope, food, and other supplies. Tristan was strapping a knife to his belt, his face grim. Father stroked his beard. "Do you have any idea who . . . or what . . . we're dealing with?" Vincent shook his head. "I saw some tracks, huge, booted, soft-soled. Bigger than mine." "Was there anything else?" Catherine asked. "Clothing scraps . . . " She glanced at Tristan. "Blood?" Vincent nodded. "Blood." Tristan closed his eyes for a moment before continuing his gathering. "How much?" Asked Father, with obvious concern. "Not much." Father nodded. Tristan and Vincent completed their packing and headed toward the door. "Catherine, if we aren't back soon, go home. We'll be fine. You have obligations Above." Vincent said. Catherine nodded. "Bring her back." Said Father, not wanting to add 'whatever you find.' Vincent bowed his head, knowingly. "Stand up." Sheridan had been gone quite some time, leaving Faline alone with her thoughts, and nursing the scratches she had gotten hitting the floor when she was attacked. He returned acting as though nothing had happened, though the atmosphere had cooled slightly. From freezing to subzero. Faline obeyed as quickly as she could, though the cold made her joints a bit stiff. She stood, rigidly upright, as Sheridan prowled around her. Finally he stopped in front of her, lifting the shirt to expose her stomach, and the scar. She stiffened even more, waiting for him to tear her clothing off, ravish her . . . perhaps kill her when he finished. If she were lucky he would kill her, to Faline's way of thinking. "Where did you get this?" He asked. His voice was somewhat calm, a bit more rational, but there was no emotion in it, not even the anger he had displayed before. "I was attacked, and stabbed when I fought back." She kept her voice quiet. Faline thought for a moment of mentioning that her attacker had tried to rape her, but that would likely earn her some form of punishment. She feared his claws in a way she had never known with Vincent. She had seen what Vincent's claws could do, yet when he touched her she felt no fear. She had to fight against flinching as Sheridan ran a fingertip over the scar. "Brave little lamb." She couldn't tell if his voice was sarcastic or not. "Tell me, were you afraid?" "When?" "Oh, at any time, love. When you were stabbed, when you woke, when I came for you, when I had my teeth at your throat." He looked thoughtful. "So very much fear in your life, Faline. So much fear in such a short time . . . or potential for it, I should say, as you haven't answered my question." She thought for a long moment. "Yes to all." "I see. You're honest at least. Which was the worst?" "I can't say." He grunted. "I see." His manner changed abruptly. "But do remember that fear when I ask you to do something from now on. It could easily save you from unnecessary suffering later." Faline knew then that he planned to kill her. "You should go, Catherine." Said Father. It had been nearly an hour since Vincent and Tristan had gone, it was getting late. "We'll contact you if we need anything." "Please do." Said Catherine, softly. She was tired, and wanted very much to rest. On the other hand, she hated to leave when Faline was missing, and Vincent could be in danger . . . "Go." Father said, softly but firmly. "You'll be contacted, I promise." Catherine made her way down the tunnel, somewhat groggy, but worried about Vincent, Tristan, and poor Faline . . . was she still even alive? What would Vincent find? She was so preoccupied she didn't see the shadow behind her. The shadow that should not have been there. "Catherine!" Vincent stopped in his tracks. A brief flash of pain, then, nothing. "What is it?" Tristan asked, at his elbow. "Catherine . . . something's happened to her! She . . . " He reeled, grasping Tristan's shoulder for support. "There's another way into this chamber. He has her." Tristan didn't have to ask who Vincent meant. Sheridan came and went as he pleased, saying very little. Faline spoke only when spoken to, and was glad when he left . . . until he returned carrying a limp bundle, a human figure. He placed Catherine on the floor next to Faline and chained her there. Faline knew better than to speak. Catherine was alive, but unconscious. "In with the new." Sheridan growled softly, turning away to something on the table. Faline shivered as she remembered the rest of that saying: Out with the old. Knowing it was likely her last hour (or less) of life, Faline saw no reason not to question Sheridan. Certainly, he might kill her, but he would probably do that anyway. Besides, if her questions enraged him, with those reflexes death would be quick enough. "Why did you bring me here?" Sheridan, his back to her, sounded a bit impatient. "We've been over this." "Not really. You basically said you were lonely. I don't buy that." She was feeling braver, her system flooded with adrenaline. "I never said I was lonly, lamb." Low, that, and dangerous. "You never really explained where you came from either. Why are you here?" He gave a heavy sigh. "I was an experiment. Not like your Vincent . . . oh, yes, I know about him. I've been around for quite some time . . . " He turned, fixing her with an amber stare that flickered and glowed in the firelight. "My intelligence was much more than what the twits at the laboratory thought. I found out that they planned to 'terminate' the experiment, a fancy way of saying they were going to slip something lethal into my food. I didn't eat the food they gave me." His eyes flashed dangerously. Faline shivered, suspecting she knew what he had eaten instead. "How I got here to the tunnels, Below as you call it, is a rather long story, which I have neither time nor inclination to tell. Suffice to say I've been around for quite some time, lurking in the everlasting twilight." Catherine moaned softly and stirred. Sheridan glanced at her. "Why have you kidnapped Catherine?" Her heart was racing. "A dual purpose, my lamb. To lure your Vincent here . . . he was bound to find me sooner or later, it may as well be now, so I can dispose of the difficulty." He nodded toward the cliff. "And the other reason?" She fought to keep the tremor out of her voice. "That, lamb, is not for you to know . . . quite yet, at any rate." He flashed his fangs at her. "You're going to kill me." It was no question. Sheridan's eyes widened, he seemed surprised, then, he smiled, his eyes flashing with perverse pleasure. "Ah, but how will you die, child?" His voice was low, smooth as silk. He stepped closer, slowly, slowly. "I could break your neck with one hand." He crouched before her, and she inched back. He was toying with her, a cat tormenting a mouse before tearing it. "Or I could tear out your throat with my teeth. I could claw you across the stomach . . . right where that scar is. That would take some time to kill you. Shall I maul you? Toss you over that cliff? Such a slim neck . . . I could tear your head off. Choose. How will you die?" "Does it matter?" She could no longer keep the fear from her voice. "I should think it would. I imagine you'd like it over quickly, with minimal pain." He stood. Faline moved as far back as she could, the cuff around her ankle bit into her skin. A trickle of blood ran down her ankle. Sheridan looked down at the small wound, and for a moment something like regret passed through his eyes, and was gone just as quickly. He turned away. "Think it over. Choose or I will." His voice promised no quick end. But why, if he were the monster he seemed, had he not raped her? "Catherine . . . she's awake . . . in pain." Vincent's voice was low. Tristan looked up at him, dark eyes shining in the light of his candle. "Where?" Vincent stared into the dark, a rage familiar yet frightening building inside him. "Lower." His voice grated. If either of the women were harmed in any way, there would be hell to pay. "Where are we?" Catherine asked, staring around as her eyes adjusted to the dark. Sheridan had wandered off again. He was growing increasingly restless, waiting for Vincent. Faline prayed he didn't decide to amuse himself. "I'm not sure . . . deep, I think. It's so cold down here, and I can barely hear the pipes." Faline replied, shivering and trying not to seem too envious of Catherine's jacket. "What does he want?" Catherine's voice was barely above a whisper. Faline took a deep breath, and decided to tell Catherine the truth. "He said . . . female companionship." Catherine closed her eyes briefly. "He wants to kill Vincent." "What?" Catherine was aghast. Faline nodded. "He knows about Vincent . . . He needs you to lure him. He's going to kill me." It surprised Faline how even her voice was. "Vincent is coming for us." Catherine's voice was stronger now. Faline nodded, reassured somewhat. The situation was strange enough, two women, with the strength of survivors, both attacked at one time, both saved. Now helpless. Two strong women huddled together on the floor, waiting for whatever would happen next. Sheridan returned from who knew where, and Catherine stared. Faline had tried to prepare her, told her what Sheridan had said about his past, and what she felt was his mental condition, what he looked like. Still, Catherine stared at him, startled. "Ah, you're awake." He said, glancing at Catherine. He stared at Faline, who was shivering from the cold. He tossed her his cloak. "Why give me this? You're just going to kill me. Why do you care if I'm cold?" She was baiting him. He gave an impatient sigh. "Just shut up, will you, love? You are beginning to become tiresome." "And why is that? Because I make you think of things you feel badly about? What did you feel when you mauled the people you'd known all your life? What did it feel like, covered in their blood, alone and . . . " Sheridan roared. Pure rage flashed in his eyes. Faline bowed her head, waiting for his claws to strike. Waited for him to vent his rage at the world on her. One hand, claws unsheathed, circled her neck. His face was inches from hers. "You talk too much, girl." His voice was low, strained with barely contained rage. "If I were you, I would be quiet . . . before you get hurt." He gave her a little shake and shoved her back to the floor. He left the cloak. There was a sound like no other in the tunnel. A thunderous roar that echoed around the chamber. Tristan gasped. Catherine was terrified. But she was alive. Something in the empathetic link told him that the rage in that roar was not directed at her. That left one person. "Faline . . . " Tristan's voice was a whisper. Vincent didn't know if he wanted to see what they found when they got to her. "Tristan . . . go back." He said, quietly. "No, Vincent. I can't." Tristan's voice was grim. "I have to find her . . . no matter what." Vincent squeezed his shoulder and they continued on at a much quicker pace. Vincent's night-sighted eyes picked out footprints, scrapes in the walls, anything that pointed the way his quarry had gone. He was the hunter, the cat tracking the mouse . . . except that this mouse weighed close to 300 pounds, by the looks of things. Grimly, he considered the thought that Faline, Tristan's pretty firebrand, was dead. Surely that roar had been the sound of rage. Faline, poor sweet child . . . Vincent blinked against the moisture in his eyes. If she were gone, the time for mourning would be later. He knew, however, that if Tristan lost Faline, the tunnel dwellers would be mourning the loss of their Minstrel as well. Sheridan sat in the corner, his back to his two captives. Damn that little Faline. Her last comments had been scathing. He toyed with gold rings, necklaces . . . She had been right, that was the worst of it. Something gnawed at him, whenever he thought of that night he escaped. The first night he had discovered his taste for blood. Why should he care? He wasn't human, that much was certain. If he went Above they'd do the same to him. Or worse, lock him up in another lab . . . run endless tests, show him off to other scientist twits, muck about with his body, exactly as they had in London. He had hoped, though, that the little elf might become his . . . friend? Lover? Well, he had hoped for something, but it never happened. She was afraid of him. Perhaps she hated him. Why did she love Vincent so? Sheridan and Vincent . . . two of a kind. Practically cousins. He hated the way she made him feel. At least that Catherine kept her mouth shut . . . and why had he given Faline his cloak? He couldn't care less if she froze . . . could he? Well, it was clear that she was his largest problem at the moment. He didn't need her. The world was full of pretty young things like her, probably with more sense as well. Less tongue at least. It was decided then. He would simply go over to her without a word, she would have no time to struggle. He would just kill her. When Sheridan stood, Faline felt her stomach drop. She knew instinctively what he was planning. She let the cloak fall from her shoulders and squeezed Catherine's hand. Sheridan walked over, silently, grasped her arms, and pulled her up. Faline let her head fall backwards, leaving her throat unprotected. There was no point in struggling. She dimly heard Catherine shout "No!" as Sheridan opened his jaws, and took her throat in his mouth. She shut her eyes as his jaw tensed. Sheridan paused, telling himself it would frighten her more if he waited. Faline seemed strangely calm. Just snap your jaws closed, tear. Quicker than she deserves, just do it and be done with her. But he couldn't seem to bring himself to bite. He steeled himself, trying to reduce her to an object, a deer. Game. Insignificant . . . Then he heard the roar. It was a nightmare scene. Catherine, on the ground in the shadows, firelight flickering on her face, giving her a ghoulish appearance, Faline, embraced by Death, his teeth on her throat. Vincent roared. The figure holding Faline looked up sharply, and grinned, tiger-like face half in shadows, inhuman eyes glowing. He kept a tight hold on Faline, who was struggling now, but ineffectively. Catherine stared at Vincent, standing in the tunnel entrance. His mane was wild, his azure eyes flashed, his lips parted in a snarl, fangs white. Behind him, Tristan watched, a knife in his hand, dark eyes fierce. Both were worn, sweaty, streaked with dirt. Knights of vengeance. If Faline were harmed, there was no way Sheridan would live. Sheridan spun Faline, pulling her back to his chest. Claws drummed on her windpipe. "Come no closer, Vincent." He boomed. Vincent's eyes narrowed. "Oh, yes, I know about you. By way of introduction, I am Sheridan, the man holding all the cards, it would seem." "Let her go." Vincent snarled. He was in no mood for games. "Oh, I think not. Not yet anyway." "Faline, are you all right?" Tristan shouted, his voice betraying all of his feelings. The grip on her throat tightened slightly, warning her not to speak. "She's fine for the time being." Sheridan called back. "I didn't ask you!" Tristan's eyes roiled. Vincent held up a warning hand. "Who are you, anyway? I only expected Vincent." "Let the women go, Sheridan." Vincent snarled, creeping closer. "I like them." He laughed back. "What do you want?" Yelled Tristan, at the end of his patience and frayed nerves. "Ah! Now we're getting somewhere. You, Vincent. Oh, yes. You are who I want. My only obstacle, with you dead I can begin to live below the city in peace." Vincent looked shocked. "You could have asked to belong to our community . . . " "Not when you know what I know." His reply was quiet, pensive. Vincent stepped closer. "You don't have to hurt Faline." Vincent's voice was softer, appealing to feelings he understood . . . feelings he had controlled, dealt with. Sheridan's head drooped. He simply could not continue. "I couldn't kill you." He whispered to Faline. "You were right, my lamb. About everything. Please forgive me." "I forgive you." She whispered, feeling the claws drop away. Sheridan backed away, dropping a metal key to the floor. "For the chains." He said, softly. Vincent moved closer, and Sheridan took several rapid steps, until he stood at the edge of the precipice. He turned to face the group. "Sheridan . . . " Vincent began, premonition eating at him. "Sheridan, we could make a place for you . . . you can still live Below." "After my past . . . and this?" Sheridan laughed mirthlessly. "We could learn to trust one another . . . " "I'm a beast, Vincent. I have the soul of a killer. Perhaps you could trust me . . . but I could never trust myself." For a moment, human sorrow touched the eyes of a beast. Then Sheridan stepped backwards, plummeting off the cliff without a sound. The walk back was silent, Tristan trembled as he held Faline. They arrived to a dozen happy faces, but the sober expressions of the group soon calmed things. Tristan took Faline back to his room. It would take a long time for her to recover, and she desperately needed someone by her side. Vincent took Catherine back to her apartment, and waited until she was safely asleep before returning to tell the tale to Father. "Faline . . . said he was a monster at times . . . an animal. I've worked so hard to suppress those feelings in myself . . . the bestial side of my soul. My greatest fear is that I won't be able to control it . . . that I may hurt someone I love." "Vincent, you've always had the love and understanding of those around you. That . . . strengthened you, tempered your darker side. You can control it. Sheridan . . . never had that. He was never loved, never truly cared for. That is what drove him mad, and to kill. You, Vincent, can trust your own nature in a way he could never have done. You have killed, yes. And hurt others, but it was only to save those you love, and the home we have made here. You will never let your bestial nature lead you to harm those you care about." Father stood, and kissed his son's cheek. "Get some rest, Vincent." He said, walking out. He paused in the doorway. "I love you." "And I you, Father." And Tristan loved Faline . . . As Father loved them both, and Vincent loved them . . . and Catherine loved him, and he loved Catherine . . . Somehow, Vincent knew that they would all be fine. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ About the Author Rachel Collier is a college student from Virginia studying to be a psych nurse. She has been a fan of Beauty and the Beast since the first season. Aside from wanting to marry Adrian Paul (after dumping Brad Pitt!), Rachel would like to visit the United Kingdom some day and when she is not writing or going to school, she is a gourmet cook. "Cat and Mouse" is the third in a continuing series of stories, the first being "First Friend" which was written one night in a burst of creativity specifically for Father's Online Library. You can send your comments to Rachel at Pharangese@juno.com.