Nightprowl: Cathy's Night Out
Cathy's tail thumped impatiently on the couch. After all these years it still seemed to have a mind of its own, taking its cues from her subconscious rather than conscious mind. She glanced over her paperback novel at the phone as it rung for the fifth time; she knew it was Gerald. He had been calling her at the same time for the past four days but she wasn't speaking to him. The answering machine clicked on, and Cathy heard her voice: "Hi, this is Cathy. I'm not in right now, but you can leave a message after the beep and I'll try to get back to you... except for you Gerald. I'm not speaking to you." <beep>
"Cathy, pick up. Please." It was Gerald. Cathy returned to her novel, forgetting where she left off and angered that her thoughts were now on the answering machine rather than her book.
"Cathy, pick up the phone. I know you're there. You're acting like a spoiled child."
"That's it" she muttered to herself with a final thump of her tail, tossing her book aside and walking to the phone, getting ready to yell at Gerald. Cathy hesitated as she was about to pick up the phone, trying to think of how she should start yelling at him, when Gerald handed her the ammunition. "At least tell me why you're not speaking to me" he pleaded.
Cathy picked up the phone, and in an almost calm tone stated "You want to know why I'm angry at you? Lieutenant Hildebrandt. That's why I'm angry at you. You lied to me" then she hung up. The fire of emotion was getting the better of her and she didn't feel like talking to Gerald at the moment.
"Hello? Cathy? Are you still there?" No answer. Gerald sighed, grabbed a scrap piece of paper from beside his desk, and wrote down the name. "Well, I guess on the bright side she's talking to me again" he commented to himself. He turned to his computer and inside one minute he had brought up Lt. Hildebrandt's file. Presumed killed in action in September 2002, his status was recently changed to Prisoner of War and four days ago he was rescued from a Rikti lair by Nightprowl.
It took Gerald a few minutes to realize the connection, as his mind was rational and not blurred with emotion, but Gerald remembered back to the night five months ago when he had told Cathy that Trish Jackson, her best friend and emotional anchor during a troubled time in Cathy's life, was not killed in an industrial accident but was in fact a hero who was killed in the line of duty during the war against the Rikti. Her body was never recovered so Cathy clung to an irrational hope that she may still be alive. If one was to ignore several glaring differences and sort it down to 'people thought to have been killed during the Rikti War', Cathy was once again able to delude herself into believing Trish may still be alive because Lt. Hildebrandt was found alive and a Rikti prisoner. Gerald was the convenient scapegoat, as five months ago he looked Cathy square in the eyes and said "The Rikti don't take prisoners".
"Ah, man" Gerald sighed, dreading the call back to Cathy. There were so many differences between the two cases yet she still found reason in her mind to connect them. Gerald was considering pulling Cathy out of Paragon City, but she'd done some impressive work and his superiors would almost certainly overrule him. Cathy was smart enough to know that too, so it'd be useless even just as a bluff - he was in a no win situation. His only option was to somehow convince her that Trish couldn't possibly still be alive. He was going to have to tell her exactly why Trish was declared dead instead of missing.
Gerald hit the speed dial for Cathy's apartment and on the second ring she picked up the phone.
"See? You lied to me" she started, going on the offensive
"No I didn't - Trish's case is nothing like Lt. Hildebrandt's. Trish was a hero with super powers who disappeared four months into the war when the outcome was still in doubt. Lt. Hildebrandt was a common soldier who disappeared right at the end of the war after the Rikti knew they couldn't hold out for much longer."
"Well, I've got a guy here who thinks she's still alive and being held by the Rikti. He thinks he can track down where she's being held" Cathy stated in a proud boast, but Gerald knew too much about Trish's disappearance to be swayed by such a dubious declaration.
"How much are you paying him?" he replied.
"That's my business - why should you care? I was stupid to think that anything short of Trish knocking on your front door was going to get you to believe that she may still be alive." Her defensive reply only heightened the exchange
"Cathy, please." Gerald pleaded. "She's not alive. You have to trust me on this."
"I can't!" yelled Cathy, the anger in her voice trying to cling to any shred of hope. She was losing the argument; she needed to return to an offensive pose and use the trick she'd planned to maneuver Gerald into admitting Trish may still be alive. "Did you find Lt. Hildebrandt's body when he disappeared?" she added in a calmer, more composed voice.
"What?!? You're not making sense Cathy. Of course they didn't find his body!"
Cathy barely waited for Gerald to finish his sentence when she pounced again. "Did you find Trish's body?"
Now Gerald could see where she was taking this. "No they didn't find her body."
It was time for Cathy to finish him off so she could finally hear him agree that Trish may be alive. "You didn't find his body and he turned up alive after all this time, so why is it out of the realm of possibility that you didn't find Trish's body because she never died! For all we know she wasn't even with her teammates when they were ambushed!"
"Yes she was Cathy! I know it for a fact! Is that what you wanted to hear? You want the unsanitized version? You want the grim details?" It was time to end this, to shatter any doubt in Cathy's mind that her friend was still alive, so she wouldn't end up getting hurt or killed in a desperate effort to track down a shadow.
"Trish's dried blood was found on one of the bodies they recovered." Gerald's raised and emotional voice cut straight to her heart. "Her teammate was shot in the head and killed instantly, but she either couldn't or wouldn't accept that he was dead. It appears she propped him up against her body and tried to put the brain matter and bone fragments back into his skull as if that would somehow help him, but she was bleeding heavily so her blood was all over her teammate's body. It was only after they had run DNA tests that they discovered most of the blood on his costume wasn't his, it was hers. That's when she was declared dead. Even if she miraculously escaped from the Rikti, she was bleeding too heavily to have survived."
Seconds passed between them, the only sound on the line was Gerald's heavy breath slowing into silence as he regained his composure. "Cathy? Are you still there?" He felt ashamed at what he'd done, even though for the longest time he had tried to shield her from the gruesome speculation of how Trish's team of heroes was ambushed and slaughtered.
"It can't be" she mumbled wearily, half to herself and half into the phone. All her anger had suddenly disappeared, replaced by a hollow uncertainty. "I know it was her - I just know it."
"You think you saw her?!? I thought you were just trying to link two unrelated disappearances, but if you have something else then please tell me - despite what you may think I'm on your side" exclaimed Gerald
"No, I didn't see her" replied Cathy, and in one unsure breath she revealed a bit more of how different she really was. "I smelled her. Since my mutation a person's scent has become just as recognizable to me as their appearance or voice. I thought I caught her scent in Crey's Folley, and then in Eden - I KNOW I caught her scent in Eden."
"Maybe you just smelled someone with a similar scent, or maybe you just smelled a perfume she wore. Was it exactly like her, or just really similar?"
"It was layered; different but the same - it's hard to explain. The core scent was her, I know it in my gut" she replied. "You believe me, right?". All she wanted was to hear Gerald to say Yes, I believe you
"I believe you when you say you think you smelled her scent, but I can't ignore the evidence I have."
More silence followed, both unsure of what to say. Gerald wished he could just reach through the phone lines and hold her and tell her everything's alright. "I need to ask a favor Cathy. Could you pick me up from the airport tomorrow? I'm flying to Paragon City."
"No Gerry, you don't need to come here. I'm fine, really. I just need some time to think."
"I've had this trip arranged for several days now but you weren't speaking to me. I've got some stuff to do for the GIFT headquarters in Paragon City. I forget what time the flight lands, the ticket's at home on top of my luggage, but I'll phone you tomorrow morning with the details, okay?"
"I have a thing tomorrow - a meet with a contact" Cathy lied. She wasn't sure if she was ready to face him. "If I can't make it I'll get someone to pick you up."
"Okay" Gerald replied with a touch of disappointment. "I'll phone you after I've checked into the hotel... if I don't see you at the airport" he added as an afterthought; he felt by her reply that she wasn't going to be picking him up. Gerald felt the tension between them but he hoped his trip to Paragon City would patch things up; Cathy had grown distant, colder, since moving to Paragon City. She wasn't the Cathy he'd known for four and a half years and she was changing for the worse. He then turned to his computer and started surfing the internet. He had a plane ticket to buy.
Cathy crouched on the ledge, lost in thought. Clad in her crimson and black bodysuit she was Nightprowl, her short blonde hair spilling up and over her mask like fine silk. Perched high in a canyon of steel and glass she glanced up at the buildings clawing their way into the clear blue sky and the sky clawing back through reflections off the windows. She peered down to the streets below where car horns and the occasional hero/villain skirmish penetrated her thoughts. Her thoughts of how Gerald's plane would be touching down soon. How she didn't want to face him. Excuses, Cathy. You're making excuses
. She knew she owed it to Gerald to meet him at the airport.
She keyed the receiver in her palm, part of a cellular unit integrated into her costume - latex bodysuits and pockets didn't mix well and this was an ingenious solution. "Call Jack" she spoke to her wrist, and with her command the bud in her ear sprung to life with a series of beeps replaced by two rings and a response. "Jack here."
Jack Scratch was a friend of Nightprowl, and he was a pirate. He didn't think
he was a pirate, he actually sailed the seven seas in the 18th century, plundering and pillaging (and 'wooing damsels' he always seemed to add when confronted with his pirate ways) when his ship was ravaged by an unnatural storm. While battling the fierce storm he lost consciousness only to wake up in the 21st century with no idea of how he got here. He found his expert skills with the sword useful in Paragon City, and the many damsels in distress waiting to be rescued sealed the deal; Jack Scratch the pirate became Jack Scratch the hero.
"Jack, it's Nightprowl."
"Hey kitten" Jack answered. "You checking up on me? You wanted me to pick up your boyfriend right?"
"He's not my boyfriend, and don't call me kitten. I'm free so I don't need you to pick up Gerald."
"Aw kitten, I don't get to have some fun with your boyfriend? Maybe I'll drop in on you two tomorrow and terrorize him a bit."
"He's just a good friend, and quit calling me kitten" she groused. "As for terrorizing him, he's a nice guy, so lay off him."
"Ah, mon petit chaton, I cannot help but abide by the wishes of a lovely lass such as yourself." Jack replied, bowing deeply in an 18th century conversational habit that didn't transfer well to the cellular world of the 21st century.
As usual, pouring on the charm
Cathy thought. "Well Casanova ain't got nothing on you, that's for sure."
"I should hope not!" he replied in all seriousness. "I taught Giovanni almost everything he knew. In fact, some of his writings weren't actually based on his
experiences, if you know what I mean"
Cathy just shook her head and couldn't help but smile. "You're incorrigible Jack. I have to go now - Gerry's plane will be arriving soon and I have to get home first."
"Au revoir, chaton"
"Bye. And don't call me kitten - in any
language" she added before hanging up
A quick waggle of her tail signaled her leap from the ledge and Cathy was soon bounding towards a tram line. She had to get home and change, then allow for the extra time it was going to take to drive to the airport instead of leaping there.
Gerald scanned the signs held up by the row of drivers, searching for his name, finding nothing. He scanned the crowd and it wasn't until Cathy was almost to him when he recognized her; her hands were stuffed in her jeans' pockets, she was wearing a dark green leather jacket, her lucky spiked collar, and mirrored wraparound sunglasses that hid her face. He dropped his bags and gave Cathy the hug he wanted to give her the day before, then leaned back to look at her. "You cut your hair!" he smiled. "It looks good."
"Yeah. I had a run-in with a pair of Freakshow Tank Swipers which left my hair a bit uneven, so I decided to go short."
Gerald scanned Cathy and realized something else was missing - her tail. With the baggy jacket she was wearing he concluded she had it wrapped around her waist like she usually did when she was trying to hide her mutation. Cathy had once told Gerald that when she opened The Nightprowler, her fitness club for mutants, freaks, and nightowls, that she wasn't going to hide her mutation any longer. "It's a bit warm for a jacket" Gerald noted; Cathy knew what he meant.
"Please don't start Gerald. I'm not Nightprowl right now, I'm just Cathy Watts picking up a friend from the airport."
"Last time I checked Cathy had a tail too. And she stopped hiding it when she opened The Nightprowler."
Cathy didn't want to argue in the terminal, especially since Gerald was right. "Well, things change" she said, grabbing the larger of Gerald's bags and turning for the exit.
They exited the terminal in relative silence, save for small talk which never segued past Gerald's surprise at the high quality of the in-flight meal. Gerald's first attempt of "How are you doing, Cathy?" was was dismissed with a simple "Fine."
Gerald knew when Cathy moved to Paragon City she didn't fly, she drove cross-country because she didn't want to sell her car, so he wasn't surprised to see Cathy's silver Porsche Boxster in the airport parking lot. Cathy popped the trunk and they both shuffled Gerald's bags into it, Cathy casually moving one of her spare Nightprowl costumes out of the way. "Be careful not to crush the costume," she mentioned "there are some electronics sewn into it."
After closing the trunk Gerald got in the passenger seat while Cathy lifted up her jacket and slipped out her tail, then slid into the driver's seat. Her tail found its way across the seat and into Gerald's lap. He lightly trapped it against his thigh with his hand.
"Oh, sorry" Cathy replied. "I usually just let my tail lie in the passenger seat - I'll find another place for it"
"It's okay. I don't mind" Gerald replied, closing his hand lightly around her tail and smiling sincerely. His soft touch was comforting to Cathy, a welcome change of pace from children pulling on Nightprowl's tail and asking if it was real.
Cathy weaved the Boxster deftly through the airport parking lot, paid at the gate, and sped off to the city centre. The Porsche sung through its gears to Alanis Morissette's 'Eight Easy Steps', the tune in Cathy's mind and on the car stereo. Gerald gazed out the passenger window at the buildings passing by, absentmindedly stroking Cathy's tail with his thumb as if it were an inanimate object, unaware that it was just as sensitive as any other part of her body; her shoulder, her neck, her lips. Hidden under her sunglasses, Cathy's eyes narrowed and a small "Mmmmm" escaped from her mouth in response to Gerald's pleasant touch.
"Pardon?" Gerald replied, thinking he'd zoned out and missed a question.
Cathy was pulled back to her full senses. "The Nightprowler" she responded, her friends at her business back home being the first thing that came to mind. "How is The Nightprowler? I haven't been back in a couple months."
"You haven't been back in four months" Gerald replied in a disappointed tone. "Don't you use your computer here to log into The Nightprowler's computer on occasion? You should have access to all the financials."
"I meant... Nevermind." Cathy sighed, slipping her tail from Gerald's grasp and sliding it up beside the gear shift lever.
They pulled up to the hotel's unloading area and Cathy popped the trunk and they both got out. Gerald gave a big stretch while Cathy opened the trunk and began lifting out Gerald's bags. When Gerald moved to help her he got his first glimpse of Cathy standing upright with her tail unhidden, and his first glimpse of Cathy's emotional state.
While Gerald was a mutant who could skim over people's foremost thoughts without them noticing, he preferred using body language; it was more 'polite', and Gerald had decided at an early age that using his powers on people without their consent was unacceptable unless the situation absolutely demanded it. Gerald found he could tell Cathy's mood simply by watching her tail for a few seconds - Cathy's tail was a window into her subconscious. If it was active and held high it meant she was happy and excited. Today Cathy's tail was hung low and lethargic, and as he was inspecting her she turned her head to look back.
Cathy felt naked. She knew her tail would betray her, and when she spotted Gerald staring at it she knew she may as well have just yelled out to the world how she felt. With a tightness in her chest she stopped unloading Gerald's bags and reached back for her tail in an attempt to re-hide it under her jacket, as if closing Pandora's Box would simply be enough. She looked down to finish looping her tail around her waist when she noticed Gerald's feet next to hers.
"Oh Cathy" he sighed, raising her chin with his fingers then carefully removing her sunglasses. Their eyes met and with Cathy's sad and glassy blue eyes the truth was confirmed. He held up the sunglasses. "No hiding behind masks. Not with me, ever. I'm your friend."
For a moment their eyes locked, and Gerald experienced something he didn't think possible. Cathy's eyes seemed to grow cold and dim and the sadness left, replaced by an icy stare. She took her glasses back and said "We'll talk about this later. Call me tomorrow", stating a fact not open for discussion. She slipped her sunglasses back on, then placed Gerald's bags on the curb and slammed the trunk with more force than necessary. She walked to the driver's door, looked over at Gerald, and in a monotone voice said goodbye then slipped into the driver's seat. As the Porsche chirped its tires and quickly disappeared around the corner Gerald was puzzled by the sudden change in Cathy's demeanor; he had yet to understand that he had just met Paragon City's Nightprowl for the first time.
After getting settled into his hotel room Gerald walked across the street to City Hall. So many new heroes
he thought to himself as he looked over towards Ms. Liberty, watching her offering pointers and suggestions to a crowd of new heroes. We will win eventually, it's just a matter of time and continued hard work by all these heroes.
Gerald entered City Hall and made his way down to the GIFT offices to check in. The night before he was able to arrange for an impromptu workshop to help new mutants who were having trouble controlling their powers. That was the pretense used to justify flying across the country so he could check up on Cathy. He confirmed the workshop's start time then used the remaining time to dive into Nightprowl's personnel file. Pages of rescue after heroic rescue, handing villains defeat after defeat. "That's my Cathy" he proudly whispered to himself, seeing that her drive to be a success in business had transferred equally well into the world of crime fighting. It was then when Gerald noticed that the last couple weeks showed a trend in her patrol locations: Founder's Falls, Crey's Folley, Eden, Crey's Folley, Eden, Eden, Eden.
Gerald thought back to his conversation with Cathy. "I caught her scent in Crey's Folley, and then in Eden - I KNOW I caught her scent in Eden."
"Dammit, she's looking for Trish."
Gerald was a little late to the workshop and a bit distracted, but when one of the new mutants accidentally blew out a couple windows in the classroom Gerald decided he would have to wait on the problem with Cathy and turn his full attention to his students. After a few hours he had made some decent progress, and hoped a full session the following day would help cut collateral damage to a minimum. The rest of the day was now free, so he decided to go and check up on Cathy. "She said to call her tomorrow, but she didn't say I couldn't go over to her apartment to talk to her." Gerald reasoned. He knew it was a lame excuse but he felt it really couldn't wait.
Nightprowl looked down from a ledge and noticed Gerald walking through Steel Canyon, and as he made his way north towards the tram line she had a feeling where he was heading. "Gerry, you're going to get hurt; it's not safe to walk there from here" she muttered, deciding that she'd better tail him and make sure he reached her place in one piece. She moved in closer but was puzzled when she lost him. "He was right there!" she muttered to herself, but after a couple seconds Gerald re-appeared a short distance away, walking along the sidewalk at a constant pace. Confused, Nightprowl took a quick leap with her eyes trained on Gerald. Half way through the leap he disappeared, and she judged the distance then looked further down the sidewalk. Sure enough, after a few seconds Gerald re-appeared, walking casually at the same constant pace.
"Well I'll be damned" she marvelled. "Gerry does have a trick or two up his sleeve. It's like an invisibility bubble or something - anyone within a certain distance of him can't see him." Nightprowl simply kept just out of the invisibility bubble's range and Gerald casually walked through Steel Canyon, the Outcasts and 5th Column oblivious to him and he oblivious to Nightprowl shadowing him from behind and above.
After walking a few blocks from the Talos Station, Gerald arrived at Cathy's apartment building. "Okay, apartment 2204" he read his note aloud and scanned the listing. For apartment 2204 it listed a 'C. Watts'. Gerald buzzed Cathy's apartment and waited. Nothing. He buzzed again.
"I'm not home" she spoke up from behind.
Gerald spun around to find Nightprowl standing behind him. "Geeze Cathy, don't sneak up on me like that. I ought to put a bell on you!"
Her voice was flat and serious. "When I'm wearing this costume I'm Nightprowl. I'm on patrol right now." Gerald focused on her cold grim eyes staring back at him, the same eyes he first saw in front of his hotel.
"I don't want to talk to Nightprowl, I want to talk to Cathy. You know, the woman who I thought was my friend. What's happened to you? You used to be happy." Cathy's eyes went glossy and she looked away. "Not now Gerry, please" she replied in a softer tone. "I have to work. You can wait for me in my apartment; I'll be back in a few hours. Help yourself to whatever's in the fridge." She reached into her costume and pulled out her keys from a hidden pocket. "Here. Apartment 2204. Leave a window unlocked and I'll get in through there."
Without another word Nightprowl lept away to resume her patrol. "Be careful, Cathy" Gerald whispered as she left.
Gerald opened the door to Cathy's apartment unsure of what to expect. He walked into a spartan living room devoid of the 'feminine touch' he had hoped to see, something to show that Cathy was still Cathy. This was Nightprowl's room. A display case off to one side further confirmed Gerald's view that this room belonged to Nightprowl, as it held several trophies from her missions. A tsoo dagger, a police badge, a book titled 'Rites of the Dark', and several other souvenirs were on display. Gerald continued on to the kitchen, and initially he thought Nightprowl had completely taken over this room as well. It was cold and plain; almost sterile. He then noticed that Cathy was hanging onto this room in the form of a child's crayon drawing posted on the fridge. It was a drawing of Cathy, presumably from one of her visits to an elementary school or the children's ward at a hospital.
Gerald walked back through the living room, past the front door, and down the hall towards Cathy's bedroom. He peered into the den to find it awash in Nightprowl photographs and news clippings. Nightprowl posing with other heroes, Nightprowl posing with city officials, and even a few 'action shots'. Her sewing machine was out on the desk and it appears she had just finished a patch job on one of her backup suits. She's becoming Nightprowl
Gerald thought to himself. He continued to the door to Cathy's bedroom. He knew it was a violation of her privacy, but he felt it needed to be done. He had to determine how far Cathy's hero persona had invaded her private life. He opened the door and was greeted with a warm, flowery scent. He took a step into the bedroom.
"This is Cathy" he stated, happy to see her bed sporting ruffled bedskirt, a flowery duvet, and matching pillows. On her dresser there were a few framed pictures, one of the whole gang from The Nightprowler, one of Cathy and Trish, and one of a little girl holding a stuffed animal almost as big as herself and posing with her mother and father. Gerald glanced over at a chair in the corner and noticed the same stuffed animal, a dog with long legs and big floppy ears, staring back at him. "Hello there" Gerald greeted the stuffed animal. "You look good for your age - you must be almost 25 years old. I see you're taking care of Cathy in here, but I think the other rooms need some work. Let's go out to the living room to watch some TV and wait for her to come home." Gerald carried the stuffed animal into the living room, where they turned on the TV and waited for Cathy.
About 45 minutes later while he was in the kitchen to get something to drink, Gerald heard the living room window slide open. "Cathy is that you? Is something wrong?" Gerald called out.
"Yeah, it's me. I was... distracted today. I thought I should end my patrol early."
"You were distracted because of me. I'm sorry, but we need to talk. We've needed to talk for a long time now but we've always put it off."
"Yeah. I know."
Gerald walked out into the living room and looked at Cathy. "You're still trying to find Trish, aren't you? I've read the logs - you've been constantly patrolling either Crey's Folley or Eden for the past couple weeks."
"I patrol where I think I'm needed" Cathy replied, evading the question. "I'm needed in Eden and Crey's Folley, so that's where I patrol."
Gerald wasn't buying it, but he offered an olive branch. "Cathy, I can't force you to patrol only certain places, but just promise me one thing: If you get a tip, catch a scent, or have a hunch that may involve Trish, all I ask is that you bring someone along with you when you investigate. You need someone who can see something for what it is instead of what you want it to be."
"If I agree to this you won't say another word about me looking for Trish?" Cathy asked, and Gerald confirmed with a nod. "Okay. I can live with that."
Cathy then noticed her stuffed animal sitting on the couch. "What were you doing in my room?" she said defensively, walking over to the couch to pick him up and clearly upset of Gerald's violation of her privacy.
"I was trying to find Cathy." Gerald stated. "Look around. This room is Nightprowl's. The kitchen is Nightprowl's. The den is Nightprowl's. Only your room is Cathy's, and I figured your dog had something to do with it so I brought him out here in hopes that he could do something about the living room."
"His name is Foofer." Cathy replied, brushing off a piece of lint from his fur and holding him just like she had done for the picture. Minus the mask Cathy was still in her full Nightprowl costume, and with the stuffed animal in one arm it made for quite an unusual sight. "My bedroom will always be mine, but I have to give my hero persona some of my space. Nightprowl is a part of who I am now."
"Nightprowl has the whole of Paragon City as her own - this apartment should be yours, not hers. I'm worried about you Cathy. You're cold. Colder than I've ever seen you. I've seen all the reports. I've read what you've done since coming to Paragon City. You've done so much good! You should be happy at what you've accomplished."
"It's just... hard sometimes." Cathy replied. "There's so much pain here. As Nightprowl I'm supposed to be tough, and I am, but there's so much trouble here it makes you think there's no end in sight. I never imagined that it was this bad. You know that you're fighting for a just cause, but it's hard to tell if you're making any progress when you can't see the light at the end of the tunnel. I feel like Sisyphus, forever rolling the boulder up the hill."
"I've got an idea. How about we go out for dinner, then do whatever you want: dancing, movie, whatever. Forget about the bad guys, forget about Trish, forget about Nightprowl, forget about everything except smiling and having fun. Just for tonight your mission is to have fun."
"I guess I could use a bit of fun right now."
"It's settled - go get changed, I'm taking you out tonight."
It was after Cathy had showered and as she was deciding what she wanted to wear that it dawned on her. Is this just two friends having dinner, or are we going out on a date?
"Um, Gerry?" she yelled from her closet. "What should I wear? Are we going some place fancy, or just for a bite to eat?"
"I'm not taking you to a fast food joint, if that's what you're asking" Gerald answered back. "We're going someplace nice. How about you just think of what Nightprowl would wear, then wear the opposite - your only job tonight is to be Cathy."
It had been so long since she hadn't used her Nightprowl persona to protect her from all the bad things Paragon City had to offer, but she remembered a few weeks ago when she went shopping. On a whim she bought a little red dress. That day Nightprowl's thoughts of "How are you going to fight off a wave of Rikti in that thing?!" had lost out to Cathy's thoughts of "It looks pretty, it's on sale, and I've already got the perfect shoes and purse to go with it".
Cathy felt herself getting strangely excited about this simple pleasure; tonight she was just a woman, going out with a guy. No fighting bad guys, no exploring run down buildings or damp caves for illegal activities, just dinner and a movie, or dancing, or whatever the night may hold.
Cathy walked into the living room in her little red dress. Gerald was reading through the newspaper, looking for something for them to do. "Can you buy tickets to a play on the same night, or are you supposed to order ahead?" Gerald called out, unaware that Cathy was in the same room.
"It depends which play, but I don't feel like a play tonight" Cathy replied, and Gerald looked over at her. He couldn't help but stare for a second, both of them catching him staring and both giving a chuckle. "So it looks nice I take it?" Cathy asked
You look stunningly beautiful, Cathy
was the first thing that went through Gerald's mind. "Yes, you look very nice."
After another moment of silence which was more awkward for Gerald than Cathy, Gerald cleared his throat. "So where's a good place to eat around here?" he asked.
"Oh, how about 'The Dirty Duck'? It's one of those hole-in-the-wall bar and grills. Great food, a nice, cozy atmosphere, and it's usually not that crowded."
Duck? I guess every place has to be named something, but I doubt it's a terribly wise idea to use 'dirty' in the name of any place that serves food."
"That's how they keep out the prim and proper. Luckily you have me to drag you to all these 'lesser establishments', Mister Prim-and-Proper." ribbed Cathy.
"Smile number one; we're off to a good start" Gerald ribbed back, happy to finally see her starting to act like Cathy, and not like a hero burdened with the weight of so many others.
Cathy blushed. "You're not keeping score tonight... are you?"
"Maybe. You could always wear me out by smiling as often as you can until I lose count. Ah, smile number two!" Gerald added as he saw Cathy's response to his suggestion.
"Let's go, chuckles" Cathy replied, turning away from him to hide smile number three
Cathy and Gerald walked the couple blocks to The Dirty Duck in relative silence, both wondering if this was their official 'first date', and neither wanting to bring up the subject for fear of hurting their friendship. When they arrived at the door, Cathy pointed out into the distance. "See over there? That's Talos. They say that during his last battle the ocean floor was ripped open and lava spewed out, creating this island and sealing Talos himself in rock."
Cathy was right about the The Dirty Duck; it was busy but not crowded, and Cathy found an empty booth at the window. They looked out the restaurant window towards the statue of Talos standing in the distance, a monument to a great hero who sacrificed himself to save Paragon City. "The first time I saw him I knew I had to get up onto his shoulder to check it out" Cathy mentioned. "It's such a beautiful view, and it's so quiet. It's a good place to sit and think. I sometimes walk out onto one of his horns - it almost feels like I'm flying."
"I bet it's a very nice view" Gerald agreed.
Something had been niggling at Cathy since the afternoon. "I followed you to my place today. How did you do it?" Cathy asked, leaning in closer and offering a curious look.
"Well, one step at a time I guess." Gerald replied, a bit puzzled. "I can't leap tall buildings in a single bound like you, but I can still get around just fine."
"No, I mean the invisibility thing. I was tailing you from a distance but when I got anywhere near you I couldn't see you."
"Oh. It's nothing fancy, really" Gerald remarked, trying to downplay his mutant abilities. "I just kind of emit a signal of mental energy which tells anyone looking my way to disregard my physical appearance. It doesn't register in their brains, so it's like I wasn't there. Since we're asking about each other, I've always wondered Cathy - why do you wear that collar?"
"It's my lucky collar" Cathy stated, but Gerald could tell her mood suddenly went somber.
"I'm sorry if it's too personal" Gerald replied. "I was just curious."
"No, it's just..." Cathy hesitated then reached up and unbuckled the collar. Gerald noticed the tan line around her neck when she took it off. She handed it across to him and he saw writing embroidered on the inside: 'Cathy & Trish, friends forever'
"She gave that to me in high school. I'd get upset, I'd sometimes cry hysterically at the names my classmates would call me. There was always the standard 'Hey, freak', but usually the names would have a cat theme: 'Catgirl', 'Cat-thy', 'Catty', 'Cathy the kitty'. They even came up with a chant after some of them caught me coughing one day because I was sick. 'Cathy the kitty, coughin' up a hairball'. They just repeated it over and over until I couldn't take it anymore and ran away in tears." Gerald shifted uneasily in his chair, watching Cathy solemnly reliving a bad memory. "Trish encouraged me to turn it around on them - I was different, but it was good that I was different. That collar was my security blanket. The fact that I was going out of my way to appear more catlike by wearing the collar also diffused the jokes and cracks about my tail. High school became bearable after that, so it became my lucky collar - a reminder of who I am, and a reminder that Trish will always be with me."
"Wow" Cathy marvelled. "I never told anyone that before. I'd just say 'it's my lucky collar' and leave it at that. It feels good to have that off my chest."
Cathy looked at Gerald and in a serious tone added "Now do you understand why I can't stop looking for her until I find out one way or another what happened to her?" Gerald nodded, understanding that in Cathy's mind the roles were reversed - she was the strong one and Trish needed her help. And when Cathy finally finds Trish's body, she's going to be shattered. She's going to need all the support I can give her
he thought to himself.
The food was excellent, the atmosphere friendly, and Cathy was enjoying herself for the first time in a while. As they ordered desert the conversation turned to what they should do next.
"I don't really feel like a movie. Is there anything you want to do Gerry?"
"This is your night Cathy - you get to choose. Besides I don't know what's around here."
An idea crossed her mind. "Well, there is one place that I think would be fun, but I'm not exactly dressed for it. I'll watch you though... I'm sure it'll be right up your alley."
After desert they walked down towards New Troy and came to the place. The large sign read 'Super Lanes: 10 Lanes, 2 Arcades, 1 Bar, Unlimited Fun!'
"Bowling? Heh, I haven't bowled since college" said Gerald, who was greeted by an amused look from Cathy. "You bowled in college?"
"I said too much, didn't I?" Gerald winced.
Cathy just smiled mischievously and beckoned him through the doorway to the sound of crashing pins.
At first glance it looked like your standard bowling alley, until Gerald noticed a huge blue energy blast fire down a far lane and smash into the pins, followed by a big hoot from a blue and white clad hero who presumably fired the shot.
"What the?!" Gerald remarked. Cathy just smiled back and said "Your college league isn't going to prepare you for this kind of bowling."
As they approached the far lanes Gerald noticed a very different construction to these last few lanes. Instead of wood flooring and gutters, they were constructed from sheets of metal and had a foul line at the normal spot and a second line down by the pins. The pins themselves appeared to be made of solid steel.
"Okay Gerry," stated Cathy "here are the rules. You can't cross the foul line, and for those of us without any ranged attacks we must clear the gap and land past that far foul line, in amongst the pins. One attack is one 'ball'. You knock down all the pins on your first attack, it's a strike - take two attacks and it's a spare."
The hero in blue and white fired another blast down the lane and pins flew into the air. When the pins stopped rattling about, only one remained standing.
"Damn. I had a perfect game going." He looked over at Cathy." Hey, Night! How's it going? Care to pick up my spare?"
"And ruin my dress? No thanks Contrail, I'll just keep score. I did bring a ringer though - maybe he'd like to pick up your spare. He even bowled in college!" she added in mock awe, and with that Gerald knew he shouldn't have mentioned it.
Cathy gave him a nudge. "Think you can pick up his spare from here?"
"I'll see what I can do" Gerald replied, then turned his thoughts to the lone pin. It raised off the ground, turned horizontal, then lowered to the ground without so much as a sound.
"Is that okay?" Gerald replied.
Contrail broke out laughing. "Night, your boyfriend seems to be the overly polite type. You should teach him to loosen up" he said, still choking down his laughter.
"I figure if anyone will get him to unleash his wild side it'll be you." replied Cathy, and instead of Gerald being put off by being laughed at, all he could think was 'the guy called me her boyfriend and she didn't correct him.'
He fought it into the back of his mind. 'She just didn't want to be impolite. Cathy's a hero now. She's Nightprowl. She doesn't have time for a boyfriend. And I'm responsible for her actions here - I recruited her. I'm her friend, and it can't go any further.'
As he shoved his thoughts away a simple 'Why not? You love her'
came to the forefront and was shoved back with the rest, resonating loudly in his heart.
"Gerry" Cathy called out, and Gerald was shaken back from his thoughts. "I said 'Are you okay?' You look pale."
Gerald composed himself. "I think it was just something I ate. I'll be fine." He turned to Contrail and asked "Five bucks a point?"
"I like a man willing to lose big!" Contrail grinned
Little did he know that Cathy was actually quite right in calling Gerald a ringer; after five frames he was still working on a perfect game and Contrail was $50 in the hole. Gerald enjoyed the smile and cheer Cathy would give after every strike and had little doubt that he could bowl a perfect game until Cathy pulled him aside for a talk.
"Gerry, do you think you could keep it close? I mean you don't have to throw the game or anything, but I just don't want him owing you like $300. Try to keep it under $100. Please?"
"I'll see what I can do" Gerald whispered. He then turned to the lane and scored a spare for his 6th frame. Cathy mouthed a 'thank you', and Gerald just shrugged then stated to Contrail "Oh well, nobody's perfect."
He's such a good guy
thought Cathy. She began remembering all the good times they'd had together, and how he'd always been there when she needed him. How five months ago their relationship changed when they were both abducted by Samuel Roeper and very nearly separated forever. I like him. I like him a lot. But do I love him?
her thoughts then turned to practicality. I'm a hero. I can't have my enemies knowing there's someone I care about - someone who can be used to get to me through harming them.
"Hey space cadet!" ribbed Gerald. "I just got another strike but I don't see it up on the board"
Cathy playfully stuck out her tongue, then marked up a strike for Gerald. "Happy now? Go Contrail! Get a strike!" she cheered.
Gerald laughed, then remarked "Cathy, I think I have a dagger stuck in my back - do you think you could pull it out for me?"
"Only if I can twist it first". The pins erupted and Contrail scored a strike. "Yay Contrail - way to go!"
Contrail bowed his head and gave a thumbs up, but since the fourth set he knew he was the third wheel, watching Nightprowl and her friend flirting back and forth. No, she isn't Nightprowl tonight
Contrail decided; Nightprowl was hard and serious, even a touch cold. Tonight she was just Cathy. She was smiling and having fun, showing a side that he'd never really seen.
A spare by Contrail in the 8th put him well back until Gerald scored another intentional spare in the 9th, and while Contrail finished with a respectable score of 239 Gerald ended up at 258 and $95 richer.
"Cathy, Contrail, you want a beer?" Gerald offered as they found an empty table overlooking the lanes
"A Dr. Pepper or Coke would be great" replied Contrail "I'm doing my crime fighting gig later tonight so no alcohol."
"I'll have a beer" replied Cathy. "Whatever you're having will be fine."
Gerald headed off to the bar and Contrail turned to Cathy "So how long have you two been together?"
"What, me and Gerry? Well I've known him for about four and a half years but..." Cathy was unsure of how to finish her answer. "Well, if you'd asked me this morning if he was my boyfriend I'd have said 'No', but now I'm not sure. He's a really nice guy - he's my best friend, but you know what we do... we're heroes."
"Yeah. We wouldn't want to end off a hard day fighting bad guys and saving the world by going home to someone we love. That'd be terrible."
Cathy frowned. "You know what I mean. What we do is dangerous, and it puts everyone in our lives at risk. I don't want them getting to me through Gerry."
"Then they win without ever lifting a finger, Night. They win because they prevented you from getting something you want, and they didn't have to do anything. I used to think the way you do and it cost me a relationship that I'd move heaven and earth to get back. I saw how he looks at you - he loves you. You must know that."
"Gerry? No... I mean I think he likes me, but love?"
"Night, you two were flirting back and forth through the entire game. Heck, he even ruined his perfect game, not to mention a couple hundred bucks in winnings, just because you asked him to. That was why you pulled him aside, right? I mean thanks and all, but I wouldn't have done it if the roles were reversed. The real question is 'Do you love him?'. And I don't mean whether you can make it work between you two; that's a whole different question. I mean 'Do you love him enough to try?'"
Cathy didn't have time to consider an answer when Contrail added in an overly loud voice "...so I'm yelling at my partner 'Where is he?! Where is he?!' and he fires a blast inches past my ear - that sorcerer teleported right behind me! And then he looks at me and says in a deadpan voice 'There he is - I mean, there he was'." Contrail looked over Cathy's shoulder "Hey Gerry. Did they have Dr. Pepper?"
"Yup. One Doctor, two Buds, and a heapin' platter o' nachos" Gerald replied, putting the drinks and food on the table.
Cathy felt her face would betray her if Gerald caught a good look; she was still trying to wrap her brain around Contrail's question. "I have to go freshen up. Be back in a bit" she hurriedly announced, making sure to turn away from Gerald before quickly walking to the restroom.
Cathy splashed water on her face and stared at her reflection in the mirror. She thought back over the years, how she had been so focused on starting her gym, struggling to keep it afloat, then growing it into a successful business that she hadn't given any time for herself. She then thought about how she put the same focus into becoming a hero. A monotonous drive to defeat as many villains as possible. And it was only now she realized Gerry had been there almost every step of the way, lending support whenever he could. Gerry works on the west coast and I work on the east coast now
Cathy thought to herself. Can a long distance relationship work?
Fear and doubt swarmed through Cathy's mind. "Do you love him enough to try?" she heard Contrail ask again.
Cathy stared into her own blue eyes and answered in a whisper. "Yes"
Contrail was gone by the time Cathy returned to the table and in Cathy's eyes Gerald somehow looked different. More masculine, more handsome. A gentle whiff and Cathy decided he also smelled a bit different too. She remembered the last time she felt this way, it was in high school. Mr. Robertson. She couldn't help but chuckle at the thought of the crush she had on her grade nine english teacher. Gerald gave her a puzzled look.
"I was just remembering something funny from when I was young and foolish" she smiled, taking a sip of her beer and reaching for the plate of nachos. "You're quite the bowler" she added. "If I didn't know any better I'd say you've been honing your powers for a while"
If she only knew
Gerald thought to himself. "I gained my mutant powers at a very early age. I've had a lot of time to work on them." Gerald didn't like lying to Cathy, but he convinced himself a lie of omission wasn't the same as an outright lie. He did gain his powers at an early age. And he did have a lot of time to work them; the government facility in which he was poked and prodded and tested and analyzed throughout most of his childhood had made sure of that. Gerald promised himself that one day he would tell Cathy about his childhood, but not right now; it wasn't the right time.
The conversation led towards Cathy's exploits in Paragon City as Nightprowl, how The Nightprowler was doing (this time Gerald realized she was asking about the people, not the business itself) and they talked earnestly for hours about everything and anything that came up. They left the bowling alley with Cathy locked around Gerald's arm and continued talking and walking, as if they were the only two people in Paragon City.
"Well, here we are." Cathy remarked, and it took a second for Gerald to realize that they were standing outside his hotel.
Gerald didn't want the night to end. Don't screw it up now; don't get greedy
the voice in his head was telling him. Just play it safe. If she wants to come up she'll ask. If you push too hard you'll lose her.
The last thought cut to the bone. He didn't want to lose her. "I had a great time tonight Cathy."
Ask me up for coffee. Or a nightcap. Or breakfast
Cathy's mind raced, but she knew Gerald. He wouldn't ask because he was 'nice'; sometimes too nice. I'll have to fix him of that
she thought, and that made her smile. "I had a great time too. We should do it again. Soon."
"I'd like that" Gerald replied. "I'll call you tomorrow morning. Or I guess later this morning, since it's after one o'clock." Should I just wave goodbye? Hug her? Kiss her?
Gerald began considering his options but froze as Cathy moved closer. She leaned in towards him, her eyes locking on his then narrowing into slits as she tilted her head, and when their lips touched it was electric. After a moment Cathy pulled away and their eyes met again. "I'll be waiting by the phone" she said with a sultry smile before giving him a quick wave goodbye and leaping off into darkness.
"You should've asked her in - she may be a hero, but she's also a normal person just like you and me" said a voice behind Gerald. He turned around to see the hotel doorman nodding his cap.
"First date" Gerald replied. "I don't put out on a first date" he said half jokingly, though in his heart he was both elated and terrified at the new direction their relationship had just taken.
Cathy had the best night's sleep she'd ever had since moving to Paragon City, and when her alarm rang she sprung out of bed. She slipped into a comfortable pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt, laid her Nightprowl costume on the bed, then debated whether she should call Gerald. First I'll make breakfast, then morning exercise, then call Gerry. No, he said he'll call this morning so let him call. If he doesn't call by noon then I'll call him. No, I'll call him after ten. No, noon. He said morning and eleven thirty is still morning.
"Cathy, you're acting like a little girl" she told herself aloud, though she then wondered if she should have also given Gerald the number to the cell phone in her Nightprowl costume. "Ah, he's got his workshop seminar thing today, so he'll probably call early" Cathy remembered, and that thought appeased her enough to not worry about when Gerald was going to call.
Cathy had just gotten the milk out of the fridge and was about to pour it on her cereal when her doorbell rang. She was puzzled since she didn't buzz anyone up, but went to take a look. Peering through the peephole she saw a young man holding a large bouquet of red roses and she lit up with excitement. She opened the door and offered a cheerful hello.
"Hi, are you Cathy? I've got a delivery from.. uhm.. 'Jerry'." He handed the bouquet to Cathy and she took a long, slow sniff to savour the scent's beautiful textures.
"I'll go find a vase - be right back" she remarked with a smile, turning away to find a vase and get the man a tip. As she walked towards the kitchen she heard a noise and was shocked by a pain in her left buttock. "Ow. What the hell was that?!" she exclaimed, though she quickly became aware that the young man was striding towards her and closing fast, with a gun in his hand. Cathy moved with lightning speed, grabbing the gun with her free hand and twisting it until the gun popped free. She shoved her other palm into his face, breaking his nose and showering their feet in roses. As she tossed the gun aside she swept his legs out from under him, straddled her attacker, and twisted his arm to subdue him.
"Son of a bitch!" the man exclaimed, grabbing his nose with his free hand "You broke my nose!"
Cathy unsympathetically twisted harder on his arm causing him to yell in pain, but she was noticing something wasn't right. She didn't feel right. Her eyes were beginning to lose focus and her balance was faltering. She reached back to where she had been struck and pulled out an object - she brought it in front of her face, trying to focus on it, her mind moving slowly, struggling to grasp what she was seeing. It finally caught in her mind... a tranquilizer dart. She tossed it away and looked down on the delivery man. She knew she couldn't stay like this but she couldn't think of what to do next. Her razor sharp senses were dulling by the second, and as she turned her head to look at the door she was surprised that another man had snuck up on her. The last thing she saw was the butt end of a sledgehammer before she was helped into unconsciousness.
"Dammit, I'm dripping blood. We need to clean it up." the delivery man said to his accomplice, pushing Cathy off of him, getting up from the ground, and trying to keep from bleeding all over the place.
"That's your problem, buddy. You paid me to be your backup, not your maid. We carry her up to your place, you pay me, then I'm out of here."
Delivery Man went into the bathroom and came back with tissue paper stuck up his nostrils. "Fine" he angrily stated, walking over to Cathy. The young man knelt down beside Cathy and delivered a sharp backhand to the side of her unconscious face. "You stupid old cow" he fumed. "Not so heroic now, are you?"
He regained his composure and fished a cell phone out of his pocket. It was time to act polite for the boss. "I have her sir. Yes sir. We'll be out of the country before anyone knows she's gone."
*** To Be Continued*** Edit: Episode 2 continues in Part 2, Gerald's Search