That's What I Wanted to See
Note: A few days after "There Will Be No Virgin Birth".
"So? What do you think?"
Catherine posed the question, spinning around before her husband in the candlelit glow of their chamber. "My make-up could probably be better," she mused, pausing to check herself in the mirror. Vincent sat on the bed, alternately glancing between her and her reflection. He was pleased ... she could tell. No matter what he might say, she could already see the enjoyment on his face.
"Perhaps the skirt could be a bit longer?" he offered shyly.
She suppressed her laughter, trapping it behind a grin instead. She was already giddy with anticipation for the evening, and so might have laughed at just about anything. But he was probably right. The goal was not to attract undue attention -- especially of the masculine variety. Not that she'd be in much danger though ... not with such an intimidating husband at her side. But still ...
"Let me see what I can find," she replied, heading back to her wardrobe. "Lucky for you I happen to like black." \
When they finally emerged from a Central Park culvert half-an-hour later, her skirt was indeed a few inches longer. Still short and flared enough though, to form the bottom half of a Playboy Bunny outfit. Her Playboy Bunny outfit.
Vincent had known better than to critique the daringly low-cut bustier top, even if he didn't particularly approve of it. He'd seen pictures over the years, of that infamous troupe of ladies. Perhaps he should count himself lucky just to have achieved the skirt's replacement.
If any park wanderers noticed this odd couple slipping out from beneath the Earth's cover, they certainly didn't act it. It was an 'odd' night, after all. Halloween. The one night of the year Vincent could claim the same freedoms as those who lived above.
And tonight, that freedom would take him further into Catherine's world than ever before. Or, rather, her old world. The life she used to lead before fate had brought her to his Central Park doorstep. The law firm that her father had helped found, in celebration of its upcoming silver anniversary, was hosting a Halloween party near the top of the Empire State Building. And the late partner's daughter was invited.
Vincent had agreed to go -- surprisingly easily in fact -- expressing concern only that they take great care in whatever story they wove for his past. He realized these were people he may never see again, but they were important to Catherine's father. They had experienced the pleasure of watching Vincent's beloved grow from a child into the wonderful woman on his arm tonight. He didn't want to disappoint, even if his 'Halloween mask' was a bit of a fib.
He still, however, was not sure about that bustier.
Their trip through the city streets was predictable. The occasional wolf whistle for Catherine, followed by a well-placed glare from Vincent. Then the admirer would either bounce back in surprise and eventually slink away, or give the highest praise on Vincent's expertly accomplished 'cat make-up'.
As the years went by, he'd learned to take such compliments with a substantial grain of salt. If he could see past the inadvertent insults ... especially when they included words such as 'frightening' and 'scary' ... sometimes there was a buried compliment. 'Fierce' and 'magnificent' weren't always meant as barbs.
Either way, those cuts didn't run quite as deep anymore. Not with Catherine's hand held proudly in his own. And by the time they reached the sky-scraping Empire State, he was still nervous, but more than hopeful for their evening.
"So whatever did happen to Tom?" asked Elizabeth Coolidge, wife of Charles Chandler's former law partner, and dressed in a spectacularly red 1920's flapper dress. "He closed his accounts with us well over a year ago. I heard you two had split," ... her voice dropped carefully, hoping she wasn't being improper ... "but your father never gave us many details. He was always very protective of your privacy, Cathy."
At Catherine's side, Vincent bowed his head respectfully. Not just for his mate's lost father, but at the mention of her former paramour as well. He knew the vaguest details of this 'Tom'. ... That the man had disagreed with Catherine's decision to join the District Attorney's office. That he had mourned his loss of her. ... But Vincent had traditionally chosen to leave it at that.
"I think he's overseas now," Catherine replied. "Europe." Her drink in one hand, she reached for Vincent's fingers with the other, ensuring he would take note of the remainder of her answer. "I haven't heard from him in many months. It's a part of my life I've pretty much put behind me."
"Yes, of course," Elizabeth agreed, sympathy creasing her face. "That horrible attack. What you must have gone through to recover. Of course you'd want forget those days."
"Well, what led up to them, at least," Catherine corrected politely. She caught Vincent's knowing glance out of the corner of her eye. No, she could never relegate her recovery to the dark shadows of forgotten history. Even the attack itself, because if nothing else, it had helped her find her love. What she regretted, rather, was so many years, wasted away without the knowledge of what was literally just beneath her feet.
"I have to tell you, Cathy," the woman continued, "we all have nothing but admiration for your courage. The strength you've found these last years. Your determination. Your father would sometimes tell us of the cases you've had to try." Leaning forward secretively, she added, "Personally, I suspect your skills have far surpassed anything they ever could have become here. Even the skills of the illustrious partners. But don't tell Jay I said that."
"Don't tell Jay you said what?" quipped her husband, Jay Coolidge as he walked up behind his wife. He was a bit too tall for his Charlie Chaplin costume, but somehow it added to the character's quirkiness. "Catherine," he nodded, then found himself introduced to the large man at Catherine's side.
"Vincent." Jay said the name pensively. "Isn't that Italian?"
"It's used in many cultures," Vincent answered mysteriously. "But I believe its root is Latin, yes."
"Bit of a linguist, are you?" the older man theorized. "Well I always did tell Charles his daughter required someone of intelligence."
"I often fear I'm the eternal student," Vincent demurred modestly.
"He's a poet," Catherine interrupted with a proud smile. "A writer. He can compose things that would put even the best lawyers to shame."
"Ohhhh!" drew Elizabeth, clearly impressed by Catherine's adamancy. "Are you with Columbia? Or maybe City University?"
"He's actually selecting his next position at the moment." Catherine answered quickly, realizing it was ambiguous, but wary of getting onto any topic too traceable. "Say, is there any chance that the observation deck might be open tonight? It's so warm this year, I'd love to get a nighttime view of the city."
"Oh I'm sorry Cathy," Elizabeth apologized. Organization of the night's party had fallen primarily to her, and that was one perk she hadn't been able to swing. "They were pretty determined to keep us in here. Maybe they think they're protecting us from all the Halloween ghoulies and flying witches."
The group shared a laugh at the idea, before Catherine made her polite goodbyes and began coaxing her mate away. She was more determined than that ... especially this one night that Vincent could walk so freely above. They would see the city from the observation deck, one way or another.
"Catherine, are you sure this is wise?" Vincent asked in concern, as his wife prepared to leave him on his own at the party.
"I'll be right back," she promised, pulling him toward a corner in order to speak privately. "Just don't use words like 'shark' or 'barracuda' around these people and you'll be fine."
Dismissing her little joke, he instead reminded her that this was not necessary. "Our night has already been more wonderful than I could ever have imagined, love. A cold, windy observation deck is nothing compared to the luxury of meeting others who've shared your life."
"I said we'd go up there," she argued gently, "and we will. And not by you scaling some wall either." Squeezing his hands, she leaned closer. "Just let me talk to one of the security guards. You'd be surprised what a little flash of leg can earn you."
"A jealous husband?" he quipped sarcastically. Although he couldn't pretend he wasn't touched by her determination.
"Don't be like that." she laughed, scolding him with a playful kiss. "You know the Playboy Bunny is yours as soon as we get home. In the meantime, let's just hope the skirt is still short enough."
Minutes later, after his mate had disappeared through a distant pair of elevator doors, Vincent busied himself with a large picture displayed on the wall behind him. It was a framed enlargement of the view from the Empire's top. A sea of buildings retreated off into the horizon, while angled streets criss-crossed with the most detailed precision.
He was already jittery enough, hoping Catherine would return soon. Imagine how high his adrenaline pumped when he heard a new voice beside him.
"So, are you having a good time?" it asked from behind a white beard and moustache. Completely unannounced, and completely without drawing attention, Santa Claus had sidled up beside the tall man in the remarkably good leonine make-up.
Vincent turned abruptly, his chin bobbing once as he tried to compose a calm greeting. "It's a wonderful party. With a beautiful view of the city." His furred hand rose, making note of the extravagantly large windows that lined one wall of the elegant room. Lights shone like distant stars as far as the eye could see.
"It never grows old, does it," the stranger agreed wistfully. "Even after years. This city just never loses its hold on you. ... Did you grow up here?"
It was a tricky question, but Vincent nodded politely. "Near here. Very near Manhattan." He must not have sounded convincing though, because Santa nodded as if he knew it was only a partial truth.
"Are you all right, friend?" Santa asked. "You look a bit lost."
"My," ... Vincent began, catching himself before the word 'wife' slipped out. It was a label he'd begun using with significant pride below. But up here, obviously it was impossible. ... "My companion will return shortly. She had to step away in search of something."
Santa looked toward the elevator doors through which the Playboy Bunny had passed not long ago. "Yeah, she sure knows how to get what she wants. She's always been like that. As long as I've known her."
A faint smile finally crept across Vincent's face. "You know Catherine?"
Laughter came next, muffled behind Santa's beard. And the look he gave the tall leonine man was almost sparkling with humor. It was the beginning of an answer that Vincent already liked, but could never have predicted. Black gloved hands rose, and Santa pulled down his beard and moustache ... ... presenting Vincent with a disturbingly recognizable face.
Two syllables were all Vincent could force out before his lungs failed. -- -- "Mister ..."
Santa smiled. Quite widely, in fact. "Chandler," he completed the hanging thought. "Charles Chandler. The name doesn't change, even if the form does. I'm afraid you and I developed a habit of missing each other in the past. It's a pleasure to finally meet you a bit more ... well ... face to face."
Vincent took a puff, followed by an instinctual step backwards. The nervousness that had plagued his demeanor for hours was replaced with utter shock. "You're here." he stammered quite dumbly.
"Nice trick, isn't it," Catherine's father grinned proudly. "As for dear old Santa," ... he glanced down at his bright red coat ... "I used to do this for Christmas when she was very little. Thought I'd indulge myself once more. And after all, you could call this party either an early Christmas gift, or a late wedding gift. Your choice."
... ... "The party?" Vincent asked in disbelief.
"Well you don't think they came up with this idea entirely on their own, do you? Even Elizabeth needs some creative help once in a while. I had the feeling you'd be willing to make an appearance. ... Tonight of all nights." His expression softening, he explicitly clarified, "I know it's not a mask, Vincent."
Silence, as Vincent closed his mouth, suddenly self-conscious of the very real canines peeking out from behind his lips.
"That's not necessary," Charles replied, as if he magically understood even the smallest of Vincent's moves.
Magic. ... ... Well, it was the appropriate night for it, wasn't it?
Leaning toward the remarkable son-in-law he would have never believed until the final moments of his life, Charles tried to sound as reassuring as a ghost can be. "You just be you tonight. That's part of the gift. That's what I wanted to see." ... He smiled affectionately, adding one more thought ... "That's what a father does."
Vincent might have replied, if it weren't another familiar sensation that suddenly filled his being. Instinctively, he glanced toward the elevator doors. Catherine was returning.
The troubling thing, of course, was that her father likewise glanced at those doors, sending a chill down Vincent's spine. A shared experience. -- -- At this moment, both of these men could sense the well-loved woman's approach.
"I'd appreciate it," Charles spoke solemnly, "if you didn't tell her I was here."
"You don't want to see your daughter?" Vincent asked in surprise.
"I've seen her," Charles assured. "And she's happy again. Happier than she's been in a long time." His attention returning to his son-in-law, the look on his face implied quite clearly that he knew Vincent to be the reason behind that swell in Catherine's spirit. "I don't want to throw her back into mourning. ... ... And I know she's in good hands."
Vincent's eyes grew wide, thoroughly amazed at such a statement of confidence. Again he glanced toward the elevator doors ... smiling ... knowing that they were about to open, and his beloved would carry his world again when she stepped back into the room.
It was barely more than a second. Two at most. But by the time Vincent's attention returned to the conversation, he found himself completely alone.
'Santa' was gone.
"Do I wish to know how much leg you had to 'flash'?" Vincent asked with an odd mix of chagrin and humor, as he and Catherine rode the elevator up the last few flights to the observation deck.
She gave him a look, surprised he would even broach the subject. What had happened to the shy wallflower she'd left alone at the party moments earlier? Perhaps she should make a mental note to inquire later as to what, exactly, had transpired during her absence. In the meantime, she would more than willingly play along. -- -- "Only a couple inches," she teased precociously. "No more so than if I'd worn the original skirt."
He nodded, trying to block out the image of black fabric rising to tantalize another ... even if at heart he knew she was just kidding. Well, at least she'd accomplished her goal, and he took his wife's hand as they walked out through the final doors onto the observation deck.
His earlier prediction was correct ... it was indeed both cold and windy at this altitude. So once they reached the edge of the lookout, he positioned himself behind her, pulling her back into his arms and spanning his cloak to protect them both. And those bunny ears had to go, the headband soon hooked safely around his belt so he could tuck her head into the warmth of his neck.
For minute upon minute, they just savored the view. The city lay before them, twinkling in the autumn night. One or two lights even winked at them knowingly, as if in private acknowledgement that the couple had finally achieved such a lofty perch. And on this night especially, the city was alive with sounds, filtering up to be blended and softened by the breeze.
"I don't think I've ever stood at so great a height before," Vincent commented after a while, rubbing his cheek to his mate's head, incomparably happy.
"It's like soaring," she agreed, still a little awe-struck herself despite having been up here a few times in her youth. "When the wind comes at you, and if you try not to look down. Almost like a bird."
"Are we soaring, Catherine?" he asked wistfully, breathing the question into the dancing wisps of her hair.
"Maybe. On memories if nothing else. ... ... I haven't seen the city like this in years. It feels good."
At first, he wasn't sure how to interpret that. It could have been simple nostalgia. Or just musings at the impressive view. Or ... it could have been regret. Either way, he would reply with the basic truth as he knew it. -- -- "You see the city from the bottom up now. Like the bird whose wings were clipped."
"Not clipped," she countered. "A bird who landed because she finally found her home. And besides, if I'd been clipped, how would we be soaring together now?" She glanced up at him, proud of her own immutable logic, and received his gentle kiss to her forehead.
"I wish I could have told them though," she murmured as she looked out over the city again. "That we were married. That you're not 'just' the scholar who has my interest, but the husband who has my heart."
"Perhaps, Catherine, the ones that should know, do. Perhaps everyone finds a way to see that which they ought," he replied. The answer was cryptic at best, he knew. But he could still see Charles Chandler's expression ... ... no fear ... no unease ... just love for his daughter and welcoming approval of her chosen mate.
"Now you're talking in riddles," she laughed. "I mean actually tell them."
And she was serious. Her desire to do exactly that was growing, to a degree she could barely resist. Up here, standing proudly, with the entire city at her feet and the man she loved more than life at her back. It was an overwhelming joy that swept her away at last. Straining against Vincent's arms, she stretched forward and shouted her news to the masses below. -- -- "We're married, New York! We're married!"
"Catherine!" he laughed, delighted -- but knowing full well he should stop her. One hand pulled her back, squeezing affectionately on her abdomen. The other rose to her lips, a forefinger's pad gently quieting her. And behind her ear was buried the most fervent kiss. He could never pretend that such an impetuous declaration of their union didn't stir his blood with exhilaration, and buckle his knees with love for this woman. But even on Halloween, they had to remain careful.
"I just wish I could tell them," she sighed. accepting defeat reluctantly. Her hands rose to cup around his, shifting his fingers one by one for blessed brushes of her lips.
"I know," he agreed softly. "And hearing you proclaim it fills me with more happiness than you could ever imagine. But truly, Catherine," ... his cheek slid down along hers, his arms drawing her back into his warm embrace. "Those that love you -- those that invest in your life -- they see your joy. They know, and I promise you, they rejoice in what they see. For you, and with us, regardless of the finer details."
Oh how he wished he could reveal her father's visit. Reassure her that her husband was not the only man who still watched over her so vigilantly. But he would keep his word. And she would have to simply believe him on faith.
"I have never been happier," she began, tilting her head to find his eyes, "or more thankful for the path of my life, than I have these last two years. And now, being below with you ... ..." Her voice faltered, unshed tears crystallizing the vision of her mate's face where it hung low above hers. "The words don't even exist."
"Then perhaps, love, they aren't required," he suggested, proving his point when his lips found hers.
Were they soaring now? He was almost tempted to repeat his question of earlier. How easily he fell into the kiss. How easily he fell into her. They just might be flying after all.
And if they could have stayed like that for hours, they just might have done that too -- tonight, of all nights, when the world lay before them. Reality interfered, however, when his fingers caressed her cheek. Such cool skin met his touch.
"You're getting chilled," he whispered, his kiss shifting to her other cheek. It too was cool.
"Shall we go back to the party, or out into the city?" she asked, her eyes closed as she reveled in the path his lips were forging toward her ear. Only when she felt his canines on the lobe did she giggle and pinch her neck against the tickle.
"Whichever you prefer," he replied, coaxing her head back into the warmth of his neck. One more moment. Long enough to take in the city lights one last time. "Those who know us ... those who don't ... those who love us ... and even those you've just told, ... ..." He smiled again over her joyous exclamation, shouted out into the dark, breezy night. It was rivaled only by the expression on her father's caring face. "Tonight, Catherine, I suspect they're all smiling for us."