Tai Chee

Midnight Rose 1991

The vast subterranean gorge known as the Chamber of the Falls was a place of tranquility in the early morning hours. The rush of cascading water echoed off the bedrock walls as the underground river plunged from its towering height. It leaped down further in a series of giant steps and swirling pools as it continued on its twisting journey through the bowels of the earth. From around the next bend, the creaking of a tireless waterwheel could be heard; however, the low drone of the whirling turbine was lost in the hiss of the water to all but the most sensitive ear.

Shafts of sunlight penetrated the gloom high above the towering waterfall by some unexplained daylight miracle. The rays glistened off the water and the spray caught the light illuminating the damp rocks below in hues of gray and brown.

A lone silhouette stood perched on the highest outcrop of terraced stone back-dropped by the curtain of white water. A breeze sweeping off the cascade played with heavy golden locks and tugged at the fabric of a loose shirt. Hands and feet moved gracefully in a lyrical dance; every taunt muscle responded in fluid harmony to each precise and balanced step.

Magnificent! Catherine sighed as she watched from below the cliff; her vantage point a wide flat, rock spread with her husband’s cloak. She sat leaning back on her hands and absently swinging her feet, crossed at the ankles. She was continually awestruck by the power and grace Vincent possessed. To watch her new husband in motion was a sight to behold.

Her Vincent was a mythical creature, almost god-like as if he had materialized out of some Greek legend. Tall and tawny, he carried himself straight and proud. A crown of red-gold framed his noble leonine features, the full weight of his thick mane falling across broad shoulders and half way down his straight back. Beneath that concealing cream cotton shirt moved a powerful symphony of well-defined, taut muscles. His barrel chest and torso slimed at the waist, then flared into long powerful legs that balanced his height and weight and propelled him with graceful strides. There was a barely contained wildness in him; an animal spirit that was the under-current for Vincent’s every movement, coloring every thing he did, disciplined, but never tamed.

His morning ritual of exercise complete, Vincent descended the rocky terrain with the nimbleness of a mountain goat. He landed a lofty jump deep in the knees as he came to the spot where his adoring wife had come to sit and watch him.

Vincent’s brilliant sapphire orbs flashed with shy passion when he saw the look of ardor in hers. Standing before his mate, Vincent placed his huge hands on either side of Catherine’s seat atop the flat rock, imprisoning her. He leaned into a lover’s kiss.

“I did not know a morning stretch could be so arousing,” he breathed upon her rosy lips. The sexual tension between them charged the air and stirred the Bond.

“Your body in motion, Vincent…makes my heart pound.” Catherine cooed breathlessly as she sat up straighter and cupped his strong, square jaw covered in gold velvet. “You are so…”

Vincent kissed her.

“…Powerful.” Another. “So graceful.”

Vincent’s bronze skin glistened with the coolness of perspiration. Catherine could smell the salty scent of sweat and musk, a heady fragrance unique to her soulmate alone. Vincent drew back after another kiss and grabbed a nearby towel to dab at his damp brow. Catherine leaned back on her hands again and regarded her husband with a lover’s critical eye.

“What were you doing up there? It had an Oriental flavor.”

“It is called Tai Chee. You may have seen it practiced in the gardens near Chinatown,” Vincent said. Catherine nodded; she had. “I use it to stretch and keep my muscles supple and flexible.”

“I would think that you would be the last person who would have to worry about staying nimble.” Catherine mused, speaking of his natural feline tendencies.

Vincent cocked his gilt head to one side, a gesture Catherine adored. “Ah, my love, there are still some things you do not know about me.”

His beauty raised an inquisitive brow. “Name one, my sweet.” She playfully challenged.

Vincent sat down beside her. His blue eyes danced, “Do you know that you have married a hunchback?”

Catherine’s mouth came open. She would have disbelieved him but knew he never lied or joked about physical aspects of himself. “It is true,” Vincent affirmed. “The bone structure and muscle tissue in my shoulders allows my head and neck to naturally fall forward as if I am meant to walk on all fours.”

Catherine grinned. “The Hunchback of New York, Vincent?” She could not resist the peevish thought and immediately apologized for it. “I’m sorry. I have a hard time picturing you hunched over like an old man.”

“Neither can I,” the leonine man chuckled.

Vincent’s mood turned reflective. “When I was just learning to walk, Father made a brace to keep my shoulders pulled back. It was made of a wide piece of elastic that looped through my arms. Through the years, I have kept up a vigorous regiment of exercise to keep the muscles in my back and shoulders toned to counter the natural slump forward.”

Catherine slid her hand beneath Vincent’s loose shirt to run her fingers up his damp back and over the taut muscles she found there, harden panes her fingers knew by heart and yet discovered anew. “I would have never guessed, Vincent. You have always stood straight and tall with perfect posture.”

“And great discipline,” he added.

This explanation answered a curiosity on Catherine’s part. She had often noticed that Vincent’s shoulder blades almost touched when he was on hands and knees. The differences in his body structure were very subtle, the perfect blend of man and beast.

“I was not always graceful either,” Vincent revealed.

“Impossible.” Catherine grinned. Every word would be true.

“I was sixteen when a growth spurt gave me all height,” he remembered. “I was all arms and legs. Although very quick and agile, the new height caught me off-balance giving me an awkward, looping gait.”

Catherine lazily caressed her husband’s back as she listened. It was a rare treat to hear Vincent talk of the past and his childhood.

“An elderly Japanese gentleman lived in the Tunnels when I was a boy. Master Chin was a quiet, solitary man, ancient as the sun and very wise. All who knew him revered him. It was even rumored he had been a ninja master in his homeland.”

“Don’t tell me you know karate too, Vincent.” Catherine interrupted.

Vincent’s blue eyes twinkled beneath his deep bristling brow and heavy damp bangs. A sheepish grin sneaked across his leonine features. “My love, you are getting ahead of my story,” he gently admonished and playfully leaned into her. Catherine stilled.

“One afternoon Master Chin called me aside and said, Vincent-san, you move like clumsy ox. Come, I teach you to leap like gazelle.” Vincent recalled, speaking with an effective Japanese accent.

This began young Vincent’s schooling in the martial arts. Master Chin stressed the aspects of concentration, mental strength, self-discipline, physical grace, and inner balance rather then combat or self-defense. He taught Vincent how to enhance his own natural animal instincts and how to focus his acute feline senses. The apt pupil perfected the art of invisibility and learned to safely journey into the world Above. Vincent became a shadow.

“What is natural ability and what is learned technique has blended into one and can no longer be determined or defined as one or the other. Chin’s teachings have become second nature,” Vincent finished.

His eyes and a hand swept upward to the ledge upon which he had perched. “Every morning, Master Chin and I would greet the morning with Tai Chee.” Vincent smiled. “I owe him much. He not only helped me regain physical balance; he taught me how to center myself, to find a mental and emotional balance to deal with the duality of my nature. Helped me tame my darker side…as best we knew how… ”

Vincent’s voice trailed off as Catherine felt the deep emotion and affection for this special friend well up inside him. This one man had profoundly shaped his adolescent body and the mind.

“Is he still alive?” Catherine whispered after a moment of silence.

“Not in body…” Vincent replied. He reverently placed both of his hands over his heart and turned to face Catherine. “…But in and through me his spirit lives on.” His resonant voice lowered even more, silky and velvet. “On his deathbed he blessed me and called me, his son.”

“He must have loved you very much to bestow such an honor.”

Vincent smiled, dipping his golden head. “Master Chin often said it was he who was honored to teach a student as gifted as I. He said he learned as much from me as I did from him, perhaps more.”

Vincent rose and pulled Catherine to her feet, catching her in the circle of his arms. He looked deep into the bright emeralds of his beloved wife.

“Of all the things he taught me about myself and life,” Vincent said, “The one thing he could not prepare me for…was your love. Daring to love you and being convinced it was an impossible dream threw my life into imbalance for a time and yet...” He kissed her, not letting the shadow of a darker time cloud the joy he now possessed. “…It has brought my life back into perfect harmony. ”

Catherine smiled and wrapped her arms around her husband, initiating another kiss, this one deep and passionate. “Perfect balance,” she agreed.