The Rush of PossibilitiesRated - Adult
An episode expansion and AU of “The Watcher” written for the Winterfest 2020
I have always wanted to write a Cinderella story (or Sapsorrow, or Ye Xian, or Tigg Tag story).
3 is a magical number in many fairy tales–3 days, 3 daughters, 3 wishes, 3 tasks, 3 colors on a Winterfest candle…
3 days is magical in this tale too, but it isn’t dressing up that wins the prince, it’s dressing down.
Thank you for reading!
For Carole, who reminds me that fairytales can be always be found, if sought.
And for Vicky and JoAnn, who reminded me of what was staring me smack in the face.
“The wound is the place where the Light enters you” – Rumi
Before Father asks her to come, Catherine knows something is wrong. In the weeks after their deferred anniversary, after the stalker, Vincent’s visits have become less—less enthusiastic, less talking, less often. Every time she does see him, only weary eyes meet hers.
Her plan had been to contact him for a weekend visit, but accidents don’t wait until the end of the work week.
“A sprain, a few cuts, nothing more,” Father tells her on their way to Vincent’s chamber. “A wall collapsed in one of the culverts. Not terrible, but something Vincent would usually sidestep without injury.”
For a few moments there’s only the swish of the cane on the sandy ground and the far-off notes of the pipes in the air as Father comes to his point.
“Vincent has been… distracted. He, uh… confessed he hasn’t been sleeping well, but wouldn’t speak of it further. Only that it’s been since… since the man that took you…” Father doesn’t find the words right away. “… since Vincent rescued you.”
It hadn’t been just a rescue, but she and Vincent hadn’t talked about that yet. They’d put on brave faces and good clothes and celebrated their anniversary on the balcony anyway, despite the worry that someone else could be watching. Vincent had asked her then if she was still afraid. “Grateful,” she’d replied. However, a man who magically perceived her emotions must have known her insistence that they would endure wasn’t only feeling gratitude.
“If there is anything you can do or say to help him, please…” Father begs, as he leaves her at the last turn before Vincent’s rooms. “I’m out of ideas.”
He’s here, in his chamber, laying prone and silent on his bed. There is no blanket covering him. No comfort. The bandage Father wrapped around his ankle glares up at her.
“Vincent?” she asks again. “Father said you’re hurt.”
Vincent doesn’t acknowledge her presence, continuing to stare up at ceiling.
Perhaps it’s the bond, because she senses his exhaustion, the headache behind the eyes, the heavy weight of his body—or it could simply be her own.
She hasn’t slept well since their anniversary either.
Slowly and quietly to keep with the atmosphere of the room, she pulls off her coat, draping it over the back of his chair.
Vincent doesn’t move.
After a day of non-stop, anxiety- producing effort, she’d barely changed into Tunnel-ready clothes, sensing the possible need before the doorman brought her the note. She’d run to meet Zach at the Central Park entrance—closer to the main Tunnels than her building, with what she hoped was less chance of being noticed.
One good thing—she’s glad for her sweats now. Her work clothes may have made her hesitate to do what instinct says he requires. She toes off her sneakers and pulls herself onto the bed between Vincent’s large body and the wall.
He’d jumped in a lake to save her, clothes and all—given her his cloak while he traveled home vulnerable and undisguised. She doesn’t know why she thinks of that as she scrutinizes him for any reaction.
If he has any response, he doesn’t let on. In fact, he doesn’t seem to care—no encouragement or complaint. Almost like he’s given up.
Afraid he is hurt more than Father has said, she scrunches her body away from his, the cool stones rough on her back, but places a palm on his shoulder.
She struggles to slow her breathing and think what next to say.
“I don’t wish to talk about it,” he states, stopping her efforts.
“Ok,” she replies, the distress plain.
She begins to draw away, but he reaches out to pull her hand back, placing where it was earlier in what she hopes is approval. Tentatively, she places her head on his shoulder. For a blessed, fleeting moment he kisses her forehead.
It’s the smallest step forward, but it is a step.
He wants her to stay.
Black, putrid, choking water. The darkness, then the light.
She bolts from slumber, for an instant, disoriented. She’s in Vincent’s bed, and he’s sitting in the chair next to it, watching her.
“Vincent, did I wake you? I’m sorry—” she begins, but he shakes his head.
“Don’t be, Catherine. It was… good, to have you here through the night, sleeping beside me.” His gaze falls, as if he’s said too much.
“But you didn’t sleep,” she protests, with the hope he hears concern not a complaint. Tell me what to do to help.
“I did sleep… a little,” he answers, raising his eyes to hers again. “More than many other nights. But you must leave for work now. It’s nearly morning.”
Her thoughts struggle out of the fog. Yes, work; she’d have to go. But if he actually slept… she’d need to be here with him again, tonight.
Father would want her to, right?
“Forgive me, I cannot walk you home—” Vincent begins.
“I want to see you this evening, Vincent,” she blurts out. “What’s a good entrance near the D.A.’s office?”
When she sees him hesitate, she persists, “It’s near Chinatown,” knowing he must be well aware, and it’s probably not the reason he hesitates.
“It’ll be late, before I leave, and I don’t think it’s good to go into the park if you can’t be there,” she presses.
In between a sough and chuff he echoes, “… not good to go into the park…”
His gaze travels to his foot. He raises it, testing it. The grimace tells her what she needs to know.
“Yes,” she declares, defiant. He isn’t going shut her out, not like when Lisa was here.
There’s a lengthy silence before he speaks again.
“Go to The Hin Yuen Hong Chinese Herb Company, on Henry Street, near Market.”
“I remember,” she assures him, but his response is only resigned.
“Dr. Wong will show you the way from there.”
She escapes work after finishing around sixty percent of what needs accomplished. At least they’re ready for tomorrow’s trial. It took her months at the D.A. to reconcile to the grim reality that clearing her desk was never a possibility. She could knuckle down for an entire week straight, no eating or sleeping, and still have an arm’s length to-do list at the end of it.
Dr. Wong insists on three things when she arrives at his shop around 8—that she eat soup and dumplings, which she scarfs down in both hunger and impatience to get Below, that she carry a box of herbs and a jar of salve, (“My own Dit Da Jow… for healing Vincent,” he discloses with a wink and a pat on her arm that reminds her so much of her own father she bites back tears,) along with instructions, and, finally, that she accepts a key to the beneath street level apartment attached to the store that includes an entrance straight to the Tunnels. Dr. Wong is not a rich man. He could rent the place if the housing authority didn’t get a whiff and judging by how many victims she’d interviewed in windowless basement apartments, the NYHA’s ability to sniff either never existed or was lost, perhaps deliberately, long ago.
Less than an hour after she leaves work, she’s brewing Dr. Wong’s tea in Vincent’s chamber.
He’s still confined to his bed, quiet, looking into distant thoughts.
She wants to pull him into conversation, but his answers are brief, almost to the point of uncivil.
“Are you feeling better?”
“Did you do anything special today?”
“Did you get any rest?”
He’s tolerating her presence, exactly as he seems to have done for all his other visitors, according to Father.
No iron door needed this time. There’s more than one way to shut people out.
After reading all of Dr. Wong’s directions twice, she decides the three herbs he means for her to brew tonight must be in the first three compartments of the wooden box. There are a bewildering seven. (Ginger is easy to recognize, but how is she to know what ‘Sour Jujube Seed’ or ‘Ling Zhi’ is supposed to look like?) She hopes she has it right, and she isn’t poisoning Vincent somehow. The capsule of red powder she’s to break open into the tea—Yunnan Baiyao, so reads the paper—is at least simple to identify. [i]
After a few minutes steeping, he finally speaks.
“It smells… earthy.”
Three words—well, three are better than one… or none.
“You’re right. The honey should help, I think,” she answers, twirling the spoon a few more circles, then sniffing the brew before handing it over. “Let me know if you need more.”
He sips the tea without comment, but without keeling over dead.
Now that’s done, she scrutinizes the jar of liniment. The concoction brings her some worry and not solely because of the possible smell.
She situates herself at the edge of the mattress, studying the bandaged leg she’s meant to tend. A light touch to the foot and she lifts her eyes to his. “Can I?” she asks, lifting the jar. “I have very explicit instructions to rub this in.”
Vincent considers his injury and then her.
She gingerly places his calf on her thigh. Halfway through unwrapping the dressing she realizes the bandage is so much like the one Father used on her face, it could be the same cloth—washed and sterilized, and used again. Nothing is wasted here. Everything comes around, making a second (or third, or fourth) appearance.
She unscrews the top of the jar and is surprised by the heavy, but not unpleasant, scent.
She’s trying not to study him too hard so as not to embarrass him, but she notices his foot is much like his hands. The nails (claws, her baser thoughts insist) are not proportionally as long as those on his fingers, but the fur is about the same length. She encircles the high graceful arch with her fingers while she places some drops on the ankle.
He strains to keep his leg’s weight from her.
“It might be too late for this—” He tries to resist her treatment. “Too long after the injury,” he argues, about to pull away, but she stills him with a firm hold.
Dr. Wong showed her how to massage the joint in the opposite direction to the original damage. She scans the bruise under the short fur at the juncture between leg and foot. The liniment sinks in while she rubs. He scowls when she touches the hurt, but the tension under her fingers dissipates, his foot relaxing under her ministrations. The limb finally feels heavy in her lap.
He is so tired. Will he fight sleep? He said he got more rest last night, but that doesn’t mean he slept well, and she thinks Father may be right, that is has to do with what happened weeks ago.
But she’ll wait. She will be here. He won’t talk about what transpired, not yet, and she isn’t ready to push it, but she has a change of clothes in her bag—a sweatshirt and pajama pants. She hopes he will allow her to stay again tonight.
“I know the hurt’s still there, Vincent, but I don’t think it’s too late.”
They sleep together for a second night, although sleep is a strong word.
Sometime in the dark hours Catherine wakes to Vincent shaking. She’s facing the wall while he spoons her from behind, holding her painfully tight.
He startles and then draws back, a slow embarrassed unwrapping of his arms that says he’s trying to not jostle or disturb her. He banishes himself to the farthest side away from her.
Neither of them gets much rest after that.
It isn’t until their third night together, lying face to face, that she brings up the dreams.
“You’ve been having nightmares, recently, Father said.”
Father is afraid. Vincent isn’t getting better. Three days since his injury and Vincent is still hurting, still closed off from her and the rest of the Tunnels. And still not sleeping, judging from how she woke that morning from the little rest she could find to his red rimmed gaze and images biting the edges of her groggy mind.
Vincent shuts his eyes.
She rubs the white, textured fabric of his sleep shirt, discerning the fur and warm arm beneath.
The words catch in her throat, but she has to know.
“Am I keeping you awake, Vincent? Am I hurting you more by being here?”
A curt shake, and he turns away.
She wants to, but can’t quite believe him.
“Are your nightmares mine?” she whispers, the question tumbling out, the fear that her emotions, once again, threaten him.
The dreams started a week after the incident—after the bruises faded and the candles for their anniversary had been put away, when the smell of chloroform could almost be forgotten. Long enough to conclude she’d made it through unscathed. No such luck.
Falling into comforting light.
“No, not yours.” His reply’s severe. Not angry, not yet, although the possibility is there if she pushes too hard. His answer is surprising, pulling her up short, but before her mind can create the images that would keep him from rest—
His voice is flat.
“I felt you go.”
He said that before, but it was never the accusation this clearly is.
You left me.
She did. She can’t deny it.
She’d stopped fighting for breath and against the water and the cold, and when she let go, as cliché as it was, she saw a light. It was warm; her parents were there. It was relief and safety after so much pain and torment.
Vincent brought her back. He saved her… But he knows—and now she cannot escape that he knows—a part of her didn’t want to come back. Only the force of his will, of his love, could make her leave that place of peace.
He is the only reason she returned to the land of the living—no surviving family, no obligations to tie her tightly to the world, not even her friends, only the man next to her.
So why are they as so separate now, despite being inches away from each other? Is it some crazy karma? Some payback? On the night she was kidnapped, worry about the stalker and what he had on Vincent, along with the fear of losing what little autonomy life had ever offered her, kept her from following Vincent Below… until it was too late.
What’s keeping Vincent away now?
Is it too late? He’s hurting, weary, and despite Father’s hopes, she doesn’t seem able to help him.
Vincent might as well be on the other side of the world.
She almost responds with, I’m sorry, except for an upbringing that taught her to never apologize for what was out of her control. And yet, she wants to say something. What should it be? Thanks for killing the man who kidnapped me? Thank you for bringing me back to life?
She didn’t stay when the Vincent had killed the outsiders. He’d asked her to leave. At least he hasn’t done that these last few nights. And he wouldn’t let her touch him or even talk with him when she’d first asked about Lisa.
She draws his left hand into hers.
He sighs, saying nothing, but doesn’t stop her.
He doesn’t condone her presence or rebel against it, but even if he did, it wouldn’t matter.
She entwines her fingers into his.
This time she isn’t leaving.
They both drift off, fitful and encumbered, the deepening night allowing weariness to win, because, for all their declarations, they can only endure so long.
Her dream, when it starts, is a familiar one—her apartment, in sense more than mapped truth. The experience of home is here, but there are twists—a larger balcony, unusual furniture, and a new door past her closet. Different, but also expected somehow—a door she knows, as one knows in a dream, leads to Dr. Wong’s—a safe and straight entrance to the Tunnels.
How much better, she concludes as she walks the convenient passage, bypassing the floors and distance to Vincent’s home. No more trying to get to the basement (to sneak past the man with the mundane face who wants to take me, kill me.)
Once her journey jumps to the Tunnels, she finds her father sitting at Vincent’s table, sipping the earthy Chinese tea she made.
He turns to her. He grabs her hand.
“… the rush of possibilities…” he proclaims with a smile.
She’s pulled backwards, and he lets go.
She falls. Water engulfs her. Her mind fills in the logic. Into a pool? A pond? She pounds on metal to get out.
Catherine startles awake.
Vincent is thrashing next to her on the bed. She reaches out. Images of limp, cold flesh flash through her brain while she strives to grab hold of him.
He sits up, but his foot keeps him from bolting out. His eyes find hers, but she isn’t sure he actually sees her.
“Vincent, I’m here!” she tries again.
“You’re… here.” The confusion starts to dissipate.
He inches back into the bed, not relaxed, more defeated. Catherine reaches around his chest and rests on his arm.
“I’m here,” she repeats
She shuts her eyes again, and the images are there.
Floating, hair fanned, waving in the current of his violence to get to her… streaming frigid water falls from her lifted body. Pushing away from the car, legs pumping, struggling to land, liquid thrust out of her by the movement. First hope? On shore… lay flat, lift chin, breath in, lips over hers, give breath… again… breath in, give, pump chest, (be careful, fragile,) 1-2-3, breathe, breathe, pump harder 1-2-3….
In his dream, he doesn’t bring her back. He can’t reach her in time. Only darkness in return for all his efforts.
“Oh Vincent… I’m here,” she struggles reassure. “I’ll be here as long as you want me.”
The dreams meld in her mind as Vincent’s shakes beneath her anchoring arm.
Her father had endured the death of the one he loved, and like Vincent’s dream, he could do nothing to stop it.
“All real love ends in tears, my darling,” her dad had told her once, when she’d caught him crying over a picture of her mother. He’d pulled her preteen self into his lap so they could see the photo together. “I’m sad for what I lost.” He smiled through the tears. “But that’s only one part. Your mother and I had a beginning and an end, and every day in between. Those were some of the best years of my life. I can endure the sadness because of the memory of what we had.”
Her parents filled those – what Catherine now recognizes as brief – years between meeting and parting with laughter and joy, togetherness and ease, and something that spoke of their love after the dark claimed them… their child.
If she and Vincent died today—and nothing about their lives said that’s an unlikely possibility—what had they filled their time together with? Love, certainly. Stolen moments of affection and friendship, yes. But not enough joy, not enough comfort, or delight, or intimacy.
He needs those. They need them to fight the dark. Every chasm of her fears he has tried to fill with love and hope. She must offer that in return.
She knows what to try. It is either the smartest or stupidest thing she’ll ever do.
Her pants and underwear are off in an instant and she straddles him, carefully, swiftly, minding his hurt leg. His eyes go wide, caught, but he is either too tired, or too surprised to shove her off. He only watches as she wrenches off her top, leaving her only a bra to cover herself, then places her hands on the waistband of his sleep pants.
Will you let me? she asks with her silence.
He grips her hips in answer.
She holds her breath.
He could push her off. That would be understandable. She would understand. She would still be with him. She would make it work.
He doesn’t move, just gaping at her mostly naked body.
Yes, she’s pretty sure he wants this as much as she does.
This is the opposite of letting go. This is choosing to stay, choosing to live. For both of them, this is the opposite of dying.
He doesn’t shift her body from above his or his hands from her hips.
They just breathe for a moment, watching each other’s faces.
And then, the smallest nod from him.
She guides his pants down and him out.
He gasps when she clutches him.
Her gaze returns to his.
Do you trust me?
“Yes,” he answers out loud, close to a plea.
She maneuvers over top of him while assisting him out of his shirt. He inhales, loudly, when she tosses it to the floor, and starts to move. Up and down his length, she skims delicious spots for both, judging by the sounds he makes.
She bends, her mouth near his while still grinding, sliding.
He must know. She must show him. They are unconventional, certainly, but doing this without kissing him seems practically immoral. Cradling his face, she captures his lips, ecstatic when he returns her kisses.
In less time than she thinks is possible, proof of what she wants, of what he does to her, leaks all over him.
She rises after long moments focused on his mouth. Pupils wide, he watches as she wrestles out of her bra. Her hands brace on his silky fur and hard chest, trying to rein in the instinct to consume him. His hand reaches for her naked breast, and it is with an unparalleled joy that she senses him taking control. A shift of his body, an insistent press, and he’s breaching her. She revels in the possessiveness of the act, of the claim she feels for him and in being claimed in return.
Sinking into the stretch that threatens to overwhelm her, the friction too good, hunger and satisfaction all at once, she gives in to instinct and to him. He works himself inside, each slow plunge more than she’s ever had, more than she thought possible. In between, he teases her breast with his fingers, both of them trembling at his touch.
“Don’t leave me,” he murmurs, he cajoles.
As if she would. As if she could deny this.
“I promise. I’m here.”
His thrusts escalate, arching, rapid and uncoordinated. He won’t last much longer and she knows what he will feel if she doesn’t follow. She takes his hand on her hip and places his fingers to her sex, showing him what she requires.
“We can have this, Vincent.”
Elation—from her—from him, when he traces into her folds and finds what she wants.
“Please… please,” she pleads for him to keep doing… everything.
More, more, more.
Power, friction, need, breath, all draw in, a skein of desire entwining them with each grazing movement, each rocking, nothing restrained, nothing held back.
Suddenly, she’s crashing, her climax shattering around him.
“Vincent,” she keens.
He answers by flooding into her, clutching, holding her close and crying her own name into her hair.
They stay there, shaking with a better kind of exhaustion, breathing deep the scent of each other.
“I love you,” she says simply, gasping out the only words that seem necessary.
“I love you, Catherine,” he pants in return. Even after what they’ve just done, it seems gorgeously daring.
After a moment there, she feels him slip from her and she starts to climb off, not quite as careful as when she straddled him, causing a hiss when she bumps his sore ankle.
“Oh Vincent! I’m so sorry!”
“Don’t be, Catherine” he insists, helping her into the crook of his arm. “I can very safely say, it was worth it.” A kiss emphasizes his point.
“Do you believe me now?” she asks, grinning up from her place beside him..
“What, my Catherine?” A clawed finger tucks her stray lock behind her ear.
She catches his hand. “That I’ll always be here for you, after every nightmare.” She kisses his fingers. “For every dream.” Another kiss. “We will find a way.” She raises her gaze to his again. “That I’m with you, Vincent. Do you believe me?”
He beams. After days without it, it appears like a welcome sunrise.
“I do. I do.” he says, wistful, and kisses her. “But please forgive my naiveté in such matters. I am trying to understand, Catherine… this was to prove a point?” A playful tone belying the question.
“Maybe,” she teases, nipping at his jaw. “I mean, Father did ask for my help to—”
“Catherine…” he interrupts shaking his head. “You must be lethal in court,” he chortes, and stops her with a kiss.
She whispers into his mouth. “Well, I promise I keep my best arguments for you.”
“You do that,” he answers a little more seriously, and then intones
“But when a soul, by choice and conscience, doth
Throw out her full force on another soul,
The conscience and the concentration both make
mere life, Love …”[i]
and trails across her cheek towards her ear.
“Yes,” she breathes. Never has his recitations been more gratefully received. He has come back to her, no longer caught in a land of nightmares and unfulfilled dreams. “… the rush of possibilities,” she offers in reply, the words bubbling out of her happiness.
He rises from her where he’s been caressing her throat with his mouth.
“Where do you know that from?”
“I don’t know,” she confesses, confused. “From a dream, I think.”
He pauses, his stare full of amazement and adoration.
“Remind me to show you my journal, later, from the day of our Anniversary,” he says with a grin. “I believe you’ll be surprised.”
“Much later,” she orders, trying to be stern. “You need more rest.”
“Much later,” he agrees, continuing in on her neck.
Oh well, since I failed at the stern thing…
“Do you need more help falling asleep?” she asks, arching into his attentions.
“Perhaps, Catherine,” he murmurs, drawing her even closer, leaving her breathless. Like an invitation and promise all at once, “Yes, that is a definite possibility.”
 There are many Traditional Chinese Medicine herbs for healing. Dit Da Jow is an herbal blend with a base of myrrh and ginseng. Yunnan Baiyao is well known medicine used by traditional health practitioners both externally or ingested to stop bleeding and bruising.
https://www.theworldofchinese.com/2013/03/tcm-for-sprains-and-strains/ & https://www.activeherb.com/blog/sleep.html
 “Love”, Elizabeth Barrett Browning
I’ve read this several times now, and each time I’m struck with how real the story feels. Your ability to create their world, their inner lives … to mingle anguish with hope, to marry hope to possibility … I’m speechless (as usual). Thank you for this!
And thank you for the dedication. We’re linked-arm companions on this journey and I’m grateful for you.
Carole – I hope you know I couldn’t do this without you and love taking this journey with you. Thank you so much, my friend. <3