A Happy Life
CREDITS: A special thank you to my beta readers Qupeydoll and Vicky.
AUTHORíS NOTE: This story picks up as Catherine is going to tell Vincent about the baby, with a different twist.
"Vincent, there are so many gifts waiting for you. You just need to open your arms to receive them," Catherine told him. After a pause, when he hesitated to do so, she urged again, "Just open your arms." As soon as he did, she planned to snuggle into his embrace and tell him that they were going to have a baby. It was the perfect opportunity she thought as she waited.
An opportunity that never came. Instead of opening his arms, Vincent crossed them and turned away from her, shaking his head. He walked across his chamber until he reached his bed and then slowly turned back to face her. "No Catherine, there are no gifts. You need to go back Above and find the life I stopped you from having."
She interrupted him, "No Vincent! Not after all weíve been through! Youíre not really trying to send me away again!"
"Catherine, it is because of all weíve been through. No one should have to endure what we have. You must go," he stated firmly.
"I wonít! You sent me away twice before and each time you promised that you would never do it again! Vincent, I love you! You are my life! And I have a gift for youÖ"
This time it was he that did the interrupting, "I donít want your gift Catherine. Find someone else to give it to." At her gasp of pain Vincent had to look away. This was tearing his heart out, but he knew that letting Catherine go was the best thing for her. "Please go now, Catherine," he begged.
When he said that he didnít want her gift, it was as if a knife had been plunged into her heart, but when he told her to find someone else to give it to, anger, black and virulent, boiled in her soul. How could he? Give his child to another? Oh granted he didnít know that the gift was a child, but still, to tell her to give HIS gift to someone else?! Catherine couldnít help it, the anger his careless words caused burst forth, "How dare you do this to me?! To US?! Vincent we belong together! There is no one else for me!"
"There must be, Catherine. You must leave here and find a happy life for yourself."
"There can be no happiness for me without you!"
"There can. You just need to look for it," he insisted. "You wonít find it here, Catherine."
Seeing the steely determination in his set face, her heart froze. He really meant to do this! He really was sending her away for good. Pleading was getting her nowhere. Her tears seemed to have no effect on him. The only thing she could do now was pray that he would change his mind. "All right Vincent, if thatís what you wantÖbut know this, the last two times it was me who came back to youÖthis time you will have to come to me. If I walk out of here now, I wonít be backÖyouíll have to come to me when you change your mind about this."
"I wonít change my mind. Good-bye Catherine. Have a happy life."
With her head held high and the tears drying on her face she said, "Good-bye, Vincent." She turned on her heel and left his chamber. Every step was excruciating because it took her farther away from him. For once she was glad he no longer felt their connection through the Bond because she could let her tears fall as soon as she was out of his sight. She had to hold back her sobs though; he hadnít lost any of his incredible hearing.
Glad that it was late enough that most of the tunnel residents were asleep, Catherine met no one on her way to the access point under her building. If the sentries did see that she was crying on her way out, at least none of them stopped her to inquire about it. That was one good thing about a group of people that respected privacy the way they did Below. As she climbed the ladder to the basement she wondered if Vincent would have this entrance sealed off.
Catherine couldnít separate her feelings of grief from Vincentís as she rode the elevator to her apartment. Both just came at her in waves threatening to knock her off her feet and never let her get up again. All she could do was concentrate on getting into her apartment before she collapsed.
Falling onto the couch, after giving the door a half hearted push closed, she wondered how Vincent would have reacted to knowing the Bond was far from dead on her side? Since that night in the cave, it had, in fact, blossomed fully in her. The only explanation she could come up with was that somehow Vincent had been shielding this side of the Bond from her all this time and then, with all of his defenses down as they had been that night, it had finally come flooding through. And since for him the Bond seemed dead, there was no reason to continue to block it from her.
She had kept this from him during his recovery because she thought it would hurt him to know she could fully feel the Bond now, while for some reason it was gone from him. But with what had just happened, she wouldnít have been human if she hadnít thought that hurting him with that knowledge as she left might not have been such a bad thing?
Now as she laid there on the couch the combination of her grief and his torment was almost more than she could bear. She could feel the resolve in him as he assured himself that what he had done was the best thing for her. She knew their relationship was truly over in his mind. He would not come to her as she had told him to. She was free of him. That knowledge was enough to get her to lift her head and look towards her balcony. If not for the tiny spark of life growing within her, a quick trip to the street below didnít sound like such a bad idea at all.
As that thought passed through her mind the phone rang. It caused her to jump, after all, it was after three in the morning! Who could be calling her at this hour? Her first wild thought was that it couldnít be Vincent because there were no phones Below. Her next thought was just not to answer it at all, but considering the hour, it might be an emergency. So she started to drag herself off of the couch. She was only halfway across the living room when the answering machine picked up the call.
The first words she heard after the beep shook her to her core. "Oh God, please Cathy, donít let me be too late! Please! Please pick up the phone!"
Catherine could hear the sobs of despair over the line as she snatched up the receiver and said, "Iím here Jen! Whatís wrong?!"
"Youíre asking me whatís wrong?!" Jenny Aronson demanded. "What happened to you to have you thinking of killing yourself?!"
Her gasp of surprise preceded Catherineís insistent question, "How did you know?"
"I had a dream! Now you just listen to me, Cathy Chandler, I want you to stay on this line talking to me until I get there. You are to do nothing but sit on your couch and talk to me! Is that understood?! Iím already in my car and on my way there. Cathy, do you hear me?!"
"Jenny you donít have to come over! I changed my mind almost as soon as I thought about it."
"I donít care Cathy! If something happened that has the strongest person that I know even thinking of ending it all, then at the very least you need someone there to talk to or hold your hand or something! Now promise me that you wonít hang up or do anything drastic until I get there!"
"Jenny this really isnít necessary! I wonít be very good company tonight. I just want to be alone," Catherine ended her comment with a very sad sigh.
"Cathy, if you hang up or donít promise me that you wonít do anything to yourself before I get there, then Iím going to hang up and call 911. Then I will call your super, Joe, and Peter, telling them to get to your place as fast as they can. So what shall it be?"
"Okay, okay! You win Jenny. Please donít get anyone else involved in this! Iíll sit here like a good girl waiting for you to get here."
"Good! Now pick up a book and start reading to me, we wonít talk about what happened until Iím there. Do you understand Cathy? Something nice and safeÖa good book, whatever you have handy," Jennyís voice said in her ear. Cathy nodded in agreement even though Jenny couldnít see her. She sat on the couch, tucked the phone between her shoulder and cheek and reached for the book on the coffee table. Without thinking she opened its front cover. There on the flyleaf was Vincentís message from the day he had given it to her: "With love's light wings did I o'er-perch these walls; For stony limits cannot hold love out" Vincent. Catherine gasped in pain, dropped both the book and the phone without even realizing it and curled up into a small ball on the couch sobbing her heart out.
Jenny had no idea what had just happened, but she could hear Cathyís sobs. She knew there was something desperately wrong, and her foot came down on the gas pedal. At this point she thought that a police escort might not be such a bad thing.
The two of them had long ago given each other keys to their places so that when one of them had to go out of town, plants would still get watered. Jenny used her key to Cathyís apartment when she flew off the elevator. Inside she could no longer hear her friend sobbing, this sent a chill through her heart. Had Cathy jumped? Would she find her dead or alive when she got inside?
As she threw the door open she saw Cathy laying in a huddle on the couch. Now all she had to do was find out if her friend was breathing or not. Rushing to Cathyís side, Jenny shook her shoulder. Cathy had fallen asleep from exhaustion after her crying bout. Her eyes opened and when she saw Jenny she began to cry again.
Throwing herself into Jennyís arms, Cathy sobbed until there were no tears left in her. Dawn was peeking through the French doors by that time. Jenny helped her into a sitting position and slowly got up from the couch. She stretched and said softly, "Iíll make some coffee or tea and maybe then you can tell me whatís going on."
She had taken only two steps towards the kitchen when Cathy cried, "Not TEA! Please Jenny, NOT tea!" Tears would have flowed again if Cathy hadnít been so dehydrated; instead her body was wracked with dry sobs.
Jenny ran back to her side and took Cathy into her arms. "My god, Cath! What has happened to you?!"
"Vincent sent me away! He broke up with me!" Cathy wailed.
"Who is this creep, and why havenít I heard about him before now?" Jenny demanded to know.
"Heís the love of my life, and he doesnít want me anymore!"
"Oh tell me where to find him and Iíll beat some sense into him!"
"You canít do that! I love him!"
"Alright then, Iíll only hurt him a little until he sees the error of his ways!"
"I canít let you hurt the father of my baby!"
"BABY!? Youíre pregnant, and he threw you out on the street knowing you are having his child?!"
"No, he doesnít know. I went to tell him, but he sent me away before I could."
"So why didnít you tell him then?"
"Because I want him to want me for me, not because of the baby," Catherine explained.
"Okay, that makes sense. So what are you going to do to get him back?"
"I said, Ďnothingí," Catherine answered her.
"I know. I heard you! I just couldnít believe it! May I ask why?"
"Because the last two times he sent me away, I was the one that went back. This time it has to be him."
"Heís done this to you before?!" Jenny demanded incredulously.
"Yes. Twice," Catherine replied dispiritedly.
"He doesnít believe that I belong in his world."
"Is he poor?"
"Not in the way you mean."
"Is he married?"
"Okay, sorry. I had to ask! Is he on the run from the law?"
"What does THAT mean!?"
"Nothing reallyÖforget it."
"Cathy I donít like the sound of this! Who is this Vincent?"
"He is the most special person in the world. Thereís no one else like him, and Iíll never see him again!"
"You sound so certain, how do you know that?"
"Because we have a Bond. I can feel what heís feeling, and I know heís not going to change his mind on this. It really is over, and if it werenít for the baby I would end it all right now!"
"Cath, NO!" Jenny protested. "No guy is worth that!"
"Vincent is. Jenny, he is the best part of me. Heís the one that made me strong. Without him I would never have gotten through these last two years. He was my world. Now the baby will have to be."
"Okay, hun, letís put Vincent aside for a bit and talk about the baby. How long have you known you were pregnant?"
Catherine took a deep breath and tried to do what Jenny suggested. However, putting Vincent out of her mind, even for a little while, was not very easy to do. ĎConcentrate on the baby!í she told herself. That she could do. Shifting her focus she placed her hand over her tummy and said, "I found out the day before yesterday when I gave blood at the hospital. The nurse came and told me I shouldnít have in my condition."
"Is the baby okay?"
"Yes, I made sure of that. They just told me giving blood wasnít a good idea."
"So if you didnít know, you canít be very far along."
"Forty four days."
Jenny gave a short little laugh and asked, "How do you know that so exactly?"
"Because Vincent and I were only together once."
"And thereís no way it could be anyone elseís?"
"Jen!" Cathy protested.
"Okay! I had to ask!"
"Thereís been no one else in my life for two and a half years."
"Okay then. So are we happy about the baby? Is this a good thing?"
Catherine smiled for the first time since this awful night began. A dreamy look came over her face, and Jenny had her answer even before Cathy spoke. "This is a miracle! And no matter what happens between Vincent and I, this baby is worth living for!"
"Good, now thatís settled. Why donít I make some coffee and we can talk about what to do next."
"Thanks Jenny, I donít know what I would have done without you tonight."
"You would have made it Cathy. Remember, I know you, and Iíve seen what you can do. Things will all work out, just you wait and see; but we should call your office and tell them you wonít be in to work today. Just tell them youíre sick."
"I donít have to. As soon as I found out I was pregnant I quit. I had so much unused vacation time on the books that I just took that in lieu of notice."
"You quit work? Why? I thought you loved that job!"
"I do, but it was much too dangerous for someone carrying a child, on top of that, no one can know Iím pregnant; so I have a lot of planning to do before I start showing."
"Planning? What do you mean planning? And why canít anyone know youíre pregnant?"
"Well, if everything had worked out as I hoped, Iíd be with Vincent and there wouldnít need to be arrangements made; but since thatís not going to happen," Catherine said with a catch in her voice. "I will need to make contingency plans."
"And that part about no one knowing youíre pregnant? Donít tell me you have to kill me cuz I know!" Jenny tried to laugh off her very real concern for whatever it was her friend was involved in.
"Oh Jenny itís so very complicated!" Cathy sighed.
"It always seems to be with you, Cathy. Come on, tell Aunt Jenny and maybe together we can figure out a way to make it less complicated!"
"Thereís usually a long process that someone has to go through before the secret is told, but Iím guessing youíre going to want to be around when I have the babyÖ" she didnít have long to wait for Jennyís response.
"Youíre damn straight I am!" Jenny insisted.
"Well then, in case the baby looks like Vincent, you should probably be prepared."
"Oh come on, Cath! It might still be unheard of in your social circle, but among us common folk, itís not that unusual anymore!"
Totally confused because she was absolutely sure Jenny had no real idea what she was talking about, Catherine demanded, "Jenny what are you talking about?"
"Youíre trying to find a tactful way to tell me about Vincent! Well you donít have to Cath! Geesh! What kind of friend would I be if I were to judge you because of this! I mean, Ďhelloí, remember Iím Jewish! I know all about discrimination and persecution! Just because Vincent is blackÖ"
Cathyís shout of laughter almost bordered in the hysterical, and Jenny worried as her friend had a hard time controlling herself. "Okay! So heís not blackÖwhat is he then, green?" Jenny grumbled at being obviously wrong.
Gasping out, "Thatís closer to the truth than black anyway!" Cathy took a few deep breaths and continued, "No, Jenny, Vincent is very special, thereís no one else like him. I will tell you the whole story, but you have to swear that it goes no farther than this room."
Jenny eyed her friend and saw how vitally important this was. She solemnly vowed, "You can count on me Cathy. No one will ever learn from me what youíre going to tell me."
"I knew I could trust you, Jenny; but you have to understand this hasnít really been my secret until now, when it could become the babyís secret." Jenny nodded and Catherine went on, "He comes from a secret place, hiding his face from those that wouldnít understand. It was Vincent that found me in the park when I was attacked and he took me to his world, to his Father, who was a doctor to save my life. I was with him in his world for those ten days that I told everyone I couldnít remember. Vincent cared for me and I started to fall in love with him. I didnít realize it until later, but it did start back then."
Catherine paused to take a sip of the coffee that was finally ready and then said, "Vincent was found abandoned as a baby and taken to the man that raised him. Heíd been left in a dumpster wrapped in only rags in the middle of JanuaryÖ"
"How awful!" Jenny interrupted. "Who would do such a thing?!"
"No one knows, but everyone guesses that it was because of how he looks."
"Go on!" Jenny urged when Cathy once again stopped for a sip of coffee. This time it was because of nerves of finally saying it out loud rather than because her throat was dry; but the moment had come and she had to come out with it.
"Vincentís features are more feline than human," Catherine said softly.
"A cat?! Youíre trying to tell me that Vincent looks like a CAT?!"
"Actually more like a lion, but yes, thatís it. Heís so beautiful Jen! Heís kind and caring, gentle and good. Heís a scholar and poet, and everyone in his world loves him fiercely!"
"Yeah, but this kind, caring, gentle, scholarly-poet threw you out! That doesnít sound very good to me! You never did say why he broke it off with you."
"Itís always the same old story with him. He believes that I wouldnít be happy Below and that I have to find someone Above to be with."
"Below? I donít get that."
"Vincent lives below the city streets. There are miles of caverns, caves, and tunnels there, and a community of people that love and care for one another. The world has forgotten or thrown away most of them, so they go there to heal and hide. When they are well, some return to the world Above, but others choose to stay and create a life there. There are adults that were born there and have never known another home."
"Underground? It sounds dark and creepy!"
"Oh no Jen! Itís a magical place, filled with wonder and beauty that you couldnít even imagine! Thereís the Crystal Caverns, the Mirror Pool, the Chamber of the Winds, and the Whispering Gallery! All of it is lit with candles and torches that give everything a warm glow."
"So if itís so great, why doesnít Vincent think youíll be happy there?"
"I guess itís because he has no other choice. Even though it is his home, itís also his prison in a way, because he canít live Above. What he doesnít see is that everyone else who lives there does have that choice and they choose to live Below!"
"So what can we do to get his head set on straight?" Jenny wanted to know.
Amazed that this was Jennyís only reaction to all she had just told her, Cathy nonetheless gave her a sad smile. "Nothing, Jenny. Iíve told him over and over again that I love him and would gladly give up everything Above to be with him in his world. He either canít or wonít believe me. So now I just have to leave him to come to the realization of what life apart will be like; but Iím pretty sure no matter how much heís suffering over this, he wonít come to me because he thinks Iím better off Above."
"But if he knew about the baby!"
"No! And thatís final!" Cathy insisted. "If he doesnít want me or this gift, then the baby and I will get along just fine without him."
"YeahÖthatís why you were going to toss yourself headfirst off your balcony!" Jenny snorted.
"I told you that I changed my mind even before I finished the thought!" Cathy protested. "This baby is too precious! Thereís no way I will harm him or her."
"Okay, so letís focus on the baby for a moment. Iím guessing that if the kid looks like daddy, youíre going to have to hide the little tyke. Thatís what you meant about plans, right?"
"Yes, and I know just where weíll go. I still have a cabin at the lake in Connecticut; itís very quiet and isolated there. Iíll be able to raise the baby there, but Iíll stay here in town until itís born so Peter can deliver it."
"You canít have a baby like that in a hospital can you?"
"No, Iíll talk to Peter about a home birth. Do you want to be my labor coach?"
"Oh, I wouldnít miss this for all the world!" Jenny assured her.
"I knew I could count on you Jenny!" Cathy said, hugging her friend.
"Okay, so if youíre a month and a half along, that means you should be due around the end of June or the beginning of July."
"That sounds about right, but Iím sure as soon as Iíve seen Peter, heíll be able to give me a more exact date."
"Well, we have a lot of time to get ready, but it will go faster than you think. I think you should do a lot of your shopping on line. Buying a lot of baby stuff might be noticed."
"Good idea," Cathy encouraged her and then added, "What about some breakfast? After all, Iím eating for two now."
"Sure! What have you got?"
"I picked up some bagels yesterdayÖ" Cathy trailed off as she searched the almost empty fridge for the cream cheese sheíd gotten to go with them. Finding it, she emerged triumphantly only to see Jenny shaking her head at her. "What?"
"You do know youíre going to have to start eating better now that youíre expecting!?" Jenny admonished.
"Hey! I got the vegetable and herb cream cheese!" Cathy protested with the first real laugh she had uttered since the whole mess began.
Jenny joined in and the two of them sat down to eat and make plans.
As predicted, in some ways the time moved very quickly as the two of them prepared for the coming baby. It was mainly during the times that she spent alone that the hours, minutes, and seconds seemed to crawl by. It was then that she was able to tune in on Vincentís feelings, and she knew there was something very wrong. Not only was there the sadness and grief over their parting, but there was something else going on as well. There was a deep abiding feeling of aloneness. This was something she hadnít felt at the beginning of their time apart, so she could only guess that something had happened later. But since Vincent had told her that it should be a clean break between them and that she shouldnít return Below, there was no way she could know what it was. She prayed that there hadnít been a death Below. From the feelings of aloneness she was getting from Vincent, Catherine worried that it was Father or maybe Mouse.
Peter was no help at all in discovering what was going on, because after her first appointment with him, when she told him what had happened between Vincent and her, he had refused to go Below again. That had been a very interesting visit.
Jenny had taken some time off work to stay with her friend through those first awful days. She had stayed by Cathyís side, never leaving her alone. The only minutes Cathy had to herself was when she or Jenny was in the shower, or very late at night once Jenny had fallen asleep out of sheer exhaustion. She tried to stay awake to be there for Cathy every minute, but Catherineís sadness was so overwhelming that she was hardly sleeping at all.
It was mid-week before Cathy felt up to trying to get out, and when she called Peter to explain it was important she see him, he told her to come to the office on his lunch break. Catherine arrived at Peterís and he knew at once something was up. He had, after all, delivered her, so after her fatherís death he was the one person who had known her the longest in the world.
"Cathy, what is it?" was his greeting rather than the normal Ďhelloí she usually got.
"Hello to you too!" she said with a half grin.
"Okay Cathy, I know you well enough by now to know when somethingís wrong. Youíve lost weight and your eyes are so bloodshot that they look like road maps!"
"I guess Iíll get right to the point then. Iím pregnant and Vincent has ended our relationship."
Peter blinked once as he quickly processed that information and then asked, "Is that because the child is, or isnít, his?"
Catherine frowned at him and replied, "Vincent is the father, but he doesnít know it. He doesnít even remember the night it happened."
"I see, so why did he end things between you? I take it that it wasnít what you wanted?"
"No. The night I went to tell him about the baby he told me that I deserved a better life than he could give me, and he sent me away."
"And because of that you didnít tell him about the baby."
"Peter! I want him to want us to be together because he loves me, not because Iím pregnant!"
"You misunderstood me Cathy. I respect and applaud your not telling him at that point. Many women would have used that as leverage against a break up they didnít want. So I need to ask you a few questions." At her nod he went on, "You do want to keep the baby, right?"
"Okay, and from the sound of what you said about Vincent not remembering Ďthe nightí it happened, Iím guessing you have a pretty accurate conception date?"
"Fifty-two days ago."
Checking his calendar Peter told her, "That should put your due date somewhere around June 28th. But remember, with Vincentís unique DNA that could be off in either direction. Iíll want to keep a close eye on your progress. Have you thought about what youíll do if you and he arenít back together by your delivery time?"
"The baby canít be born Below, if thatís what you mean. Vincent told me Iím not to return to his world."
"WHAT?! Does the Council know about this?" Peter demanded.
"I have no idea what Vincent has said. It was very late when he sent me away and I didnít see anyone on my way Above, so I donít know what theyíve been told," Catherine responded.
Seeing how much pain the topic was causing his favorite patient, Peter decided to deal with all of that later. "Well, women have been having babies for a lot of years, so I donít think thereís any reason why you couldnít deliver the baby at your apartment. But how will you raise the baby in the city if he or she looks like Vincent?"
"If the baby looks like me it wonít be a problem, but if not, as soon as we are both able to travel after the birth, Iím going to move up to the cabin in Connecticut."
"What about your job, Cathy?"
"Iíve already quit so there is not problem there. No one can know about the pregnancy in case the baby does look like Vincent, or it would be hard to explain what happened to the child that everyone knew I had."
"Okay then, Iím going to want you to take a pre-natal vitamin, but since I agree with you about no one knowing, I can provide you with the samples that we get here in the office. Also you are going to have to start eating and sleeping better young lady!" When she started to defend herself on that score he raised his hand to forestall her protest, "I know that this is a rough time Cathy, but you need to be thinking about the baby right now. Do whatís best for him or her!"
"Iíll try Peter, I promise."
"Okay then, let me recommend a couple of good books for you to read and weíll make an appointment to see you in six weeks to do an ultrasound." Cathy started to contradict him and he interjected, "Weíll make the appointment for after hours when we can be alone here. No one else will know. At that time we might be able to see the sex of the baby. Will you want me to tell you, or do you want it to be a surprise?"
"I donít know!" she said in a wondering tone of voice. "Iíll have to think about it Peter."
"Okay, you can tell me before we get started that night."
They set up the night for the appointment and Peter wrote in his book that he was taking that night off. Everything was as carefully planned as it could be. Peter hugged her as she got ready to leave and told her that if she needed someone to talk to, he was available to her."
"Thank you Peter, but Jenny has been staying with me lately, and honestly, what I could use is some Ďalone timeí."
"So you can sit and cry?" he asked.
"Well yes, that among other things," she replied defensively.
"Okay, that is understandable. Just remember, your mood also affects the baby, so try and balance that with happy times too!"
"Iíll try," she gave him a weak smile for the understanding he showed her.
Below, Father couldnít understand why they hadnít seen Catherine in two days. Since Vincentís illness she hadnít let a day go by that she didnít spend part or all of it at his side. He did however notice how depressed his son was, and thinking that her absence was the reason, thought better of asking where she was in case it would make Vincent feel worse. But when the third day passed into evening and Catherine wasnít there at dinnertime, Father did become concerned. Right after the meal, the children were giving a concert of some of Catherineís favorite songs to thank her for bringing Vincent back from the darkness.
It couldnít be helped. He had to find out if Vincent had any word on when the guest of honor would arrive. The children would be beyond disappointed if for some reason she couldnít be there. He pulled Vincent to the side so no one could overhear in case it was bad news. "Vincent?"
"Yes Father?" his son questioned listlessly.
"Do you know when Catherine will arrive? The children planned to start right after desert."
"She wonít be coming, Father."
"Oh dear! Has something kept her at work?"
"No, Father, Catherine will no longer be coming Below. We have ended our relationship," Vincent answered and started to move away.
Catching his son by the arm Father demanded, "What do you mean!? Catherine loves you, and you her! What has happened?"
"Catherine is better off Above. She has a life waiting to be led there, and Iíve set her free to do so."
"Vincent! Catherine wants a life with you! Surely you know that by now! I know I was against a relationship between the two of you at first, but even I have come to see how totally devoted to you she is!"
"Father, please! Itís over, and thatís all there is to it!" Vincent exclaimed.
"Well I donít believe it! When she comes down next, I will ask her!"
"She wonít be coming Below any longer, Father. We both thought it too painful to continue to see each other that way."
"If itís still painful, then there is hope that the wounds can heal. Maybe all the two of you need is a neutral third party to help you communicate with each other. I can go to her and set up a meeting where we all can talk things out!" he offered.
"No Father! Catherine is to be left alone! She would only be hurt by the reminders of my family here."
"But she is family too, Vincent!"
"No longer, Father! Please respect our wishes on this!" Vincent insisted firmly.
Seeing how agitated his son was becoming, and not wanting to take the chance of a relapse, Father decided to let it go for the moment and bring it up at a later date when Vincent was calmer. Now, though, he had to find a way to break the bad news to the children who had worked so hard. "All right Vincent, I will respect your wishes. Do you have any suggestions on what I should tell the children?"
"The truth, Father," Vincent declared as he turned and strode from the room.
Hoping that the situation between Vincent and Catherine would resolve itself given time, Father chose not to announce that they had broken up, but only said something unavoidable had come up at her work and she couldnít get away. The children were, of course disappointed, but not devastated as they would have been if he had told them the truth as Vincent had said to.
It was another two days before Father received an angrily worded note from Dr. Peter Alcott asking for some kind of explanation for what Vincent had done to Catherine. He, of course, had left out the bit about her being with child.
Going to his sonís chamber to discover what the story was, Father was surprised to find Vincent sitting staring off into nothingness in the middle of the day. He knew of at least two work crews that could have greatly benefited from Vincentís help. This wasnít like his son at all to shirk his duties in such a way. "Vincent?"
It was as if he hadnít spoken, there was no response from his son at all. Trying again as he came farther into the chamber, he still got no answer. It wasnít until he placed his hand on Vincentís shoulder that the younger man started as if just realizing Father was there. "Vincent, is everything alright?"
With a weary sigh Vincent gave an unconvincing answer of, "Yes Father."
"And now, may I have the truth?" his parent requested.
"As right as it ever will be then!" Vincent snapped.
"I see. Well then I will come to the point of my visit. I just received a note from Peter demanding to know what you have done to Catherine. It seems she is unwell. Not eating or sleeping properly, and he added that she told him she was no longer Ďallowedí to come Below! Vincent, you led us to believe that not coming Below was Catherineís choice. From this note, Peter believes that you instructed her not to come!"
"What does it matter Father? The result is the same! Catherine will no longer be coming Below!"
"There is a great deal of difference if this is true Vincent! Is it?" Father waved the note in the air in front of his sonís face.
"What if it is? What will it change? Catherine is still out of my life!" Vincent declared as he rose from his chair and began to pace about the chamber.
"Because Catherine is a loved and trusted member of this community now! That is why I always advise caution in relationships; because if they do end, there is always a disruption or rift in our community. Catherine is not only a Helper these days, she is a loved and respected part of our family! You, as one person, cannot tell her she is not allowed down here any longer! In essence, you have banished her! This must be corrected Vincent!"
"No, Father! Catherine does not belong down here! Let her live her life Above where she does belong!"
"Is that your final word on the subject?" Father asked grimly.
"It is!" his son replied firmly.
Shaking his head in disbelief, Father slowly made his way out of Vincentís chamber and back to his study. He sent word over the pipes that there would be a general meeting that evening right after dinner and everyone was to be present.
When their meal was over and everyone was sitting around speculating on what the meeting was about, Father reluctantly got to his feet and called for silence. As they all settled down Father began to speak, "It has come to my attention that a great wrong has been committed against one of our dearest Helpers and friends."
Vincent stiffened in his seat as Father talked and frowned at him as if daring him to continue. Looking directly into his sonís eyes, Father continued, "Vincent and Catherine have broken off their relationship. However while I consider that a tragedy in itself, the wrong occurred after that."
As Father paused before announcing what Vincent had done, the whispers in the community had grown to almost a roar. They were all speculating on the reason for the break-up. Father held up his hands and said, "Please everyone! There will be time enough for gossip later if that is how you choose to waste your time! I have called you here for a grave purpose! While it is a coupleís right to begin or end a relationship, it is also a matter of privacy among them if they do not wish to share the reasons. Unfortunately, what Vincent has done is not such a matter. I received a note from Peter Alcott telling me that Catherine had been asked not to return Below!"
A collective gasp circled the room and all eyes turned to Vincent. Some were sad, some worried or concerned. There were also accusatory glances, and some were outright angry. Once again the volume from the group rose as everyone had a thought or comment to share.
As anyone with children, or someone who has been around them a lot knows, the voice of a child, or in this case a child-like voice can rise above any level of noise in a room. "Why, Vincent? We love Catherine too!" Mouse was heard to say.
Vincent quietly answered, "Catherine doesnít belong down here, she belongs Above, where she can have a bright and promising future."
"Whatís wrong with the future she could have down here Vincent?" Jamie demanded.
"Catherine is a woman of the light. She shouldnít be here," he answered.
"Did you ever ask her if she wanted to be here?" William questioned.
It was at that point that Father stepped in, "While all your questions have validity, they are not the reason that you were all asked to stay after dinner this evening. Vincent has taken it upon himself to tell one of our Helpers that she is no longer welcome here Below. That is something no one person can do! Something like that must be put to a vote of the Council. Since that has not happened, nor do I have any reason for bringing such a vote, there is only one option," he paused and looked around the room before letting his eyes once again come to rest on his son.
"Vincent, you must go to Catherine and tell her that she is welcome here Below any time she wishes to be here," Father insisted.
Looking at his father as if the man had lost his mind, Vincent said quite clearly, "I will not!"
"You must! You were the one to tell her that she could not come Below, and you shall be the one to tell her that she is welcome!"
"I shall not!" his son replied.
"Vincent!" Father admonished.
"Father, it is over! Leave it be!"
"Your relationship with Catherine has nothing to do with this, Vincent! You banished Catherine from our world! Even Paracelsus wasnít treated so without a vote of the Council!"
At those words, Vincent paled and his defiant gaze dropped. The whispering among the community started again but quieted when Father spoke, "If you do not do this Vincent, you know there will be dire consequences!"
"Do what you will, Father! I will not go to Catherine!"
Shaking his head in sad disbelief, Father made his announcement. "The only punishment suitable for a transgression of this magnitude is The Silence. I will call for a vote. All those in favor of enforcing this punishment, please signify so in the traditional manner."
Father watched as some quickly turned away from Vincent, those were mostly the children, who despite their love for Vincent, didnít realize the ramifications of this severe punishment. Others turned slowly as if reluctant to do so. These were the adults that had known Vincent for quite some time, if not all of his life. They understood what they were doing and almost how much it was going to hurt him. Still others waited until the last moment, hoping maybe for some kind of reprieve, but then, with tears in their eyes they also turned away from their beloved Vincent. In that group were Mary, William, Rebecca, Pascal, Jamie, and Mouse; these were the ones that understood the most what this sentence was going to mean to their friend.
Having to make clear his own vote, Father also turned his back on his son before turning again to face the group, "So be it. For one month, no man, woman, or child will speak to you Vincent. The sentenceÖ"
"Wait! What about work details?" Pascal asked.
"Anything that must be communicated can be done through notes," Father answered.
"What about our reading class?" Samantha spoke up.
A look of consternation came over Fatherís face as he realized what the silence would mean to the classes Vincent taught. With a heavy sigh and a heavier heart, he said, "Vincentís classes will have to be reassigned for the time being."
The look of sorrow that came over Vincentís face as this final blow was delivered was painful for all to see. He quietly announced, "I will be going to the lower levels."
"Vincent!" Father called out after his son as he started to leave the dining hall. The thirty days of silence are only counted when you are here among us. If you go away for any number of days, those will not be considered a part of the thirty. It is not a punishment if you are not here to be affected by it."
Vincent took one more look at the grim and sad faces of the people he had considered family for all of his life and with a curt nod, he left them.
As he walked out of the room, Father said loudly, "The sentence will begin, now."
The occupants of the room burst forth into wild conversation.
Father couldnít take it, this had all been too much for him, and he needed to be alone. He quietly left the room and headed for his study. Only Mary noticed him go and quietly followed him.
Jacob slumped into a chair, not even realizing that heíd been followed until Mary leaned over his shoulder and placed a hot cup of tea into his hand. She told him, "You looked like you could use this."
Looking up at her he said sadly, "Thank you Mary."
"You did what you had to do."
"Yes, I know, but it doesnít make it hurt any less," he answered her.
"I know, but at the end of the month heíll go to her and things will get back to normal."
"We can only hope that is so."
"Unless you are planning on going to see Catherine before the month is up?"
"No, this has to come from Vincent. Heís the one that sent her away."
"Will you tell Peter what has happened?"
"Iím not sure, Mary. Iíll have to think on that."
"All right, Father. If you need me Iíll be in my chamber," she told him and left him alone after he nodded.
Father did think about what to tell Peter that night and the next morning he sent a note via one of the children to his friendís office. He couldnít help that it would leave Peter wondering what had happened. Father would just have to give him more details the next time Peter came down. He had no way of knowing that from that point on, Peter would only send supplies down, but no longer come himself.
The note simply said: Peter, thank you for alerting me to what happened. The matter has been taken care of. Unfortunately, Vincent and Catherine will have to resolve their personal lives on their own.
Days passed with agonizing slowness, but for both Catherine and Vincent the nights were even worse, for their lives had been made up of the nights they spent together. Sometimes it was merely stolen moments, other times the entire night until dawn itself crept across the sky. Catherine felt it every time Vincent stood at the edge of the Abyss thinking of ending it all. Those were the times she reached out to him, trying to pull him back with every drop of love she could send his way. Always exhausted after such an encounter, she couldnít find a way to tell Jenny why she sometimes slept for hours in the middle of the day when she couldnít sleep at all at night.
Catherine was grateful when Jenny reluctantly told her that it was time that she returned to work. She loved her friend, but she really needed some time alone. She did, just barely, manage to keep her sigh unheard when Jenny announced that she would be back to spend the weekend with Cathy.
Vincent had thought the thirty days would never be over. Not even waiting for Winterfest as a child had been as difficult as living through this time. All he knew is that he NEVER wanted to go through anything like it again! Children would see him in the passageways and their eyes would light up as they opened their mouths eager to share some bit of news, and then they would remember they werenít to speak to him and turn away from him with tears in their eyes. There was communication with the adults of the community. But those were notes that were purely business.
No one asked how he was, no one stopped to pass the time of day. He was truly and utterly alone, even though he was surrounded with people all day long. The world was not silent; he heard voices all the time. It was just that none of them were directed at him. He was still welcome to attend all the functions of their world, but even then his family made their reaction to Catherineís absence felt. There was always a spot next to him left empty no matter how crowded the event was. They were letting him know that sitting or standing, they felt that her place should have been there by his side.
There had been several concerts in the Park during that month as well, but after attending the first one without Catherine, he couldnít return. Even though that place had been his boyhood haunt, after the first time he had shared it with Catherine, it had become Ďtheirí place and now it just wasnít the same without her at his side. It was actually painful to be there listening to the music they both loved without her.
After dinner on the thirtieth day, Father stood and Vincent thanked God that the worst time of his life was almost over. He knew that Father was about to lift the silence, and although he would still be without Catherine, at least he would once again have is family to talk with instead of being constantly alone with his own thoughts of her loss. However, Vincent sat there shaken to the core at Fatherís words, "Vincent, we hope that our silence has shown you the error of your action. Are you now ready to go to Catherine and tell her she is still considered one of our family and is welcome here at any time?"
Even knowing the horrific consequences that his answer would bring, Vincent couldnít do that! He simply replied, "No Father, I am not."
"Then The Silence shall be enforced for another thirty days," Father sadly pronounced and walked from the room.
Vincent watched in stunned amazement as this time, unlike the last, there was no buzz of conversation or speculation by the community, they just slowly and oh so quietly followed Father from the room.
Catherine had just finished ordering some baby clothes on line that night when she felt a jolt of overwhelming despair coming through the Bond from Vincent. Her gasp was instinctive, just as placing her hand over her tummy was. What she hadnít expected though was what seemed like an answering movement of feeling from the baby! She wasnít quite three months along yet, and the books Peter had recommended said she shouldnít start feeling the baby move until the forth month. They also said she wouldnít start showing until then. Wondering if that was also wrong, Catherine went into the bedroom where there was a full length mirror and stripped off her clothes.
As she did that, she once again felt mental anguish from Vincent. He was going through something that was causing him a great deal of pain. Could it be about her? Was she full of herself to even think that? She could only pray that it wasnít an illness or death of someone Below. Catherine sent her loving support through the Bond, not knowing if he received it or not, but it seemed to be all she could do.
She had felt the continuing grief the end of their relationship was bringing him. It was so clear to her through the Bond that he still loved her, but his stubborn belief that she deserved a life Above would not let him come to her. Catherine also knew when he rejected attending concerts at their special place below the Park. She knew that she wouldnít have been able to sit there in that place without him either.
Bringing her thoughts back to the naked form staring at her from the mirror, she turned sideways and ran her hand over her tummy. It was slight, but she could tell that she was already starting to show. It was still a week before her appointment with Peter, so she called him at home instead.
He told her that he wasnít extremely surprised that she was showing early, since she was so small and Vincent so large, it was to be expected. However, he was surprised when she told him that she thought sheíd felt the baby move. He was not concerned by it, so told her he would see her in a week as planned for the ultrasound.
Catherine had thought long and hard about whether she wanted to know the sex of the baby or not, and her conclusion was that it just didnít feel right as long as Vincent still didnít know about the baby. However, she did wonder that if the sex of the baby could be seen that night, would it also be apparent if the baby would look like Vincent? She had already decided that if that were the case, she would make a trip out to the cabin to make sure that it didnít need any repairs to be ready for her and her child.
Jenny brought up the subject of names almost every time she stopped by. Cathy was pretty sure her friendís wild suggestions were just a way to get her to tell her what she had chosen. Or at least she hoped that Jenny wasnít serious about Chaucer Clarence Chandler or Cleopatra Clementine Chandler! However, every time Catherine even thought about names for the baby, she thought of Vincent and how he didnít know. She also remembered the beautiful Naming Ceremony that Lena had for little Cathy and was saddened that Vincentís and her child wouldnít have that.
Their child wouldnít be blessed with a hand crocheted blanket from Mary, or a hand carved cradle from Kanin, or any of a number of sweet gifts from the children, not even a wild and outlandish gizmo from Mouse. But most of all, her child would not be blessed with an extraordinary father in his or her life. That last thought always brought her to tears and the subject of names was once more shelved for another time.
The day of the ultrasound was unseasonably warm in New York, so Catherine donned an over blouse as well as a jacket instead of a coat to cover the barely-there bulge of her child. Knowing that soon she would be trapped in her apartment just the way Vincent was Below, she decided to take a long walk before her appointment.
Her walk led her by Mr. Smythís bookstore and she couldnít resist going in. Staying far away from the Ďbabyí section, Catherine quickly found two books that she just knew Vincent would love. With a sigh she left them on the shelf and continued to browse. She couldnít send them to him with what was happening between them. Then defiantly, because after all what was happening between them was his doing and not hers, she picked up those books as well as a couple that she knew Father would love and added a thick tome of knit and crochet patterns that would thrill Mary to no end. She kept hers with her but asked that he hold the others till they were picked up. She wrote a note that just a said: Enjoy, but with no signature. Mr. Smyth assured her that he would hold them until Benny the bike messenger came by. Catherine would arrange for him to drop by the store sometime that day and then deliver them to the tunnels. With that gentle smile of his, Smythe invited her to come back and not be a stranger. Catherine promised even though she knew she couldnít keep that promise for long.
She made her way to Peterís office just minutes before she was supposed to be there. He greeted her with a hug and asked how she was. Trying to give him a smile that he would believe, she admitted that she had both good and bad days.
"Cathy dear, if you think it would help, Iíll go down there and have a talk with that stubborn young man!"
"Oh Peter! Thank you, but if he wouldnít listen to me, I doubt that heíd listen to anyone else."
"I could go and rough him up a bit!" he offered and was rewarded with an honest laugh from Cathy.
"You and Jenny both! What is it with the two of you wanting to beat up Vincent?"
"Heís made the one we love hurt, my dear. But letís talk about happier things! Did you decide if you want to know the sex of the baby, supposing I can determine that tonight?"
"No, I donít want to know," she informed him as they walked into the exam room together. She climbed up on the table as he prepared the machine.
Turning to her with a wicked grin he asked, "So should I use the warm gel or not?"
Pretending to pull her shirt back over her tummy she said, "I can always find a different doctor!"
He laughed at her empty threat and reached for the warm gel. Running the wand over her skin, they both watched the image on the monitor. Peter smiled and gently told her, "Thatís your baby there, Cathy my dear!" He pointed out the head and body and then as the wand moved a bit he went very still.
Cathy knew at once there was something abnormal going on. "Peter! What is it? Is there something wrong?!" her frantic voice rang out.
Squinting at the screen for another minute before answering and moving the wand over her again, Peter turned back to her with a wide grin. "Well, I think I have an explanation for why youíre showing so early?"
"You do? Why?" she demanded.
Pointing to a tiny spot on the monitor that pulsed quickly, he asked, "Do you see that?" at her nod he told her, "Thatís your babyís heart beating."
"What does that have to do with the size of the baby?"
"Nothing at all, my dear," he laughed and then pointed to another spot on the screen. "But do you see that?"
Cathyís eyes grew wide as she realized it looked just like the other spot he had pointed to. "Peter?"
"Twins?" she asked in a hushed voice.
"It sure looks that way, young lady. Congratulations!"
She couldnít take her eyes off the screen as she looked at her babies. Twins! What would Vincent think about that, if he only knew?! A quiet tear slid down her cheek as Peter patted her shoulder understandingly. He hit a button on the side of the machine and there was a whirring sound. A moment later he handed her the first picture of her babies.
Taking it from him, Cathy carefully pressed it to her heart, "Thank you Peter!"
"Youíre welcome, my dear! Now I want you to keep taking your vitamins as well as eating and sleeping better. We might change your due date as it gets closer because twins often come a little early. Normally I would say I donít need to see you for two months, but with Vincent as the daddy, I think weíll cut that to one. Thereís no reason for alarm, I just want to err on the side of caution. If you have any questions or concerns before then, donít hesitate to call me."
"Okay, thank you again, Peter. Wait till I tell Jenny!" Cathy laughed. "But knowing her, sheíll claim that she already knew it!" Peter laughed with her as he walked her out of the office. Still feeling a bit dazed at the news sheíd just gotten, Cathy decided to take a cab home instead of walking.
Cathy was pleased at how Jenny took the news. She was almost as thrilled for her as Cathy was herself. The two of them laughed as their first thought was that they would need to double everything that had already been bought for Ďthe babyí!
Christmas that year was very quiet, with just Jenny and her to celebrate. Her friend had tried to get Cathy to go to the Aronson family gatherings, but she just wasnít feeling in the holiday mood. Joe Maxwell stopped by the apartment and brought her a bottle of wine. He had no idea about the pregnancy and that she wouldnít be able to drink it. Joe was still confused and hurt about her reasons for leaving the DAís office, and because she couldnít give him the real reason, anything she came up with didnít sound true. He went away still wondering what was going on in her life.
One of the things that Jenny had given her as a Christmas gift was a beautifully quilted baby book. Cathy lovingly placed the ultrasound picture in it, labeling it as the first picture of the twins.
The New Year came in quietly for Cathy. She sat home watching the ball drop on TV.
Below, on Christmas Eve when everyone gathered to exchange gifts in Fatherís study, Vincent was there with every one else. The pile of gifts on the floor in front of him was as high as it had been in all the years before and he received just as many hugs from the children, but no one spoke a word to him at all. Even that, though, was bearable in the face of what came next.
After Christmas each year, plans kicked into high gear for Winterfest. This year it was agony for Vincent. To help everyone prepare for the most social event of the year Below and to know that this year not only would he face it without Catherine by his side, but he would face it in Silence as well.
When the Winterfest candles were delivered to their Helpers Above this year, there were accompanying notes explaining what was going on with Vincent to those that didnít get Below much. The notes said that, although the Helpers were considered part of their extended family, each of them could choose whether they wanted to speak to Vincent at the party or not.
This note that arrived with his candle was the first knowledge that Peter had of how Ďthe matter had been dealt withí according to Fatherís note of several months ago. The fact that it was still going on was what shocked him. Although he hadnít planned on going to Winterfest - he had instead planned on spending the night with Cathy he knew how hard it would be for her - he was now torn. He simply had to find out more.
Since Peter hadnít told Cathy he was planning on being with her that night, figuring correctly that she would only tell him he didnít need to; instead he called Jenny, and after explaining the reason, got her to promise to spend the night with her friend.
Cathy knew Winterfest was coming; she could feel the aching aloneness it was causing in Vincent as well as the answering feelings in her. Her plan was to spend the night reading Shakespeare to the babies by candlelight in between bouts of the tears that she knew she wouldnít be able to keep away.
Wondering who was interrupting her night of solitude, Cathy went to the door when the bell rang. Standing there was Jenny with a bag full of Chinese take out in one hand and a fist full of what turned out to be tear-jerker movies in the other. "I donít suppose it would do me any good at all to tell you that I want to be alone, would it?" she asked as Jenny pushed by her and entered the apartment.
"Nope, not a bit!" Jenny replied, as she put the movies down on the coffee table and started to unpack the food. "Come and get it! Iím starved and Iím not eating for three!"
With a sad little laugh, Cathy sighed and accepted her fate. It was good to have friends like Jenny and Peter. She knew he had to have been the one to tell Jenny what this night was all about, because Cathy knew sheíd never mentioned it to her.
Below, Vincent was dressed in his best clothes, but instead of heading towards the Great Hall like he should have been by then, he was standing there thinking about not going to Winterfest. He knew he was expected, but three or four of the men could lift the beam off the door; he didnít need to be there for that. Because of the message of love, hope, and light that the lighting of the candle ceremony signified, and Vincentís continued defiance of not bringing Catherine back down, Father had come to the painful decision to give his sonís part in the ceremony to someone else. This would be the first Winterfest since heíd left boyhood behind that he wouldnít take part in the lighting ceremony. It was almost unbearable to consider. And on top of that, the fact that he wouldnít be able to guide Catherine through the darkness this year and then be the one to light her candle.
He wondered, as he often did these days, if she had found someone new to love by now. There was no news of her from any of the Helpers, and even the newspapers were silent about her. So many times he would read of her working on one case or another for the DAís office. They had seen stories about Joe in the paper several times, but not of Catherine. The society pages were also quiet about her. Even though she had left that life behind after her attack, there were still the occasional functions that she would have to attend, and often her picture would be in the paper the next day. But there had been no news of her in the last three months, and Vincent worried about that.
Mouse appeared in his chamber and then handed him a note that simply said, "Come now!" With a sigh he nodded at Mouse knowing that if he didnít comply there would be more messengers with more notes until he did. Since no one should have to miss out on the festivities because of him, Vincent followed his silent young friend.
Arriving at the massive doors to the Great Hall, Vincent was greeted with only nods as people parted so he could get to the doors. For a moment, as he lifted the bar off, he closed his eyes and allowed himself to think of Catherine. He had lived thirty-two years of his life without her, but ever since she had come into his life almost three years ago now, his life was all about her. Without her there didnít seem to be any purpose any longer. Oh he was of help in the community, but his greatest joy had always been teaching the children and sharing the lives of his family though conversation. These days everything that seemed worth while in his life he had either pushed away, or had taken from him.
So there he sat at the table as the ceremony began with Pascal reciting his part. Pascal even threw an apologetic glance at Vincent as he said his part. Understanding that it had been Fatherís decision and not Pascalís, Vincent nodded at his friend that it was okay.
Dinner came next as he walked along the huge buffet table that William and his kitchen crew had loaded down with food. He listened to the conversation ebb and flow all around him. There were many of their Helpers from Above, but so far no one had spoken to him. As he looked around the room he could see people looking his way and talking. He knew he was the topic of at least three conversations just from the looks on the peopleís faces. Vincent could guess what was being said about him and all he could do was wonder how soon he could leave.
As he walked by the area where Sebastian was performing his magic tricks for a group of children, Vincent was surprised to feel a hand on his arm stopping him. Sebastian looked up into Vincentís sad eyes and said, "I was so very sorry to hear about you and Catherine."
Vincent almost didnít know how to react. This was the first person to speak to him on over two months. As the children watched, in more awe, than the magic tricks had generated, Vincent replied, "Thank you Sebastian, but it was for the best."
"But is this continued Silence for the best?"
"The alternative would be far worse," he answered.
"All right my friend, but if you want to talk about it Iíll be here for you."
"Thank you Sebastian," Vincent said and moved away so the older man could go back to entertaining the children. Even in the fact that Sebastian was the only one that had talked to him, he didnít want to take the man away from the children.
Nearing the table where Father was playing chess with one of the newer Helpers, he could hear the musicians tuning up so the dancing could start soon. Vincent vowed he would leave before that happened. Just as he was planning on heading towards the doors to that end, he saw Peter Alcott approaching.
Peter glared at Vincent as he stepped passed him to talk to Father. "Jacob what is the reason for this continuing Silence?"
Father looked up from contemplating the dire predicament his queen was in, to see his old friend standing there with a very angry expression. With a sigh, he conceded the game to Walter and said to Peter, "Vincent has been given an opportunity to end it. He must simply tell Catherine that her banishment was not a decision of the community, but his alone, and that she is welcome to return here Below at any time she likes."
After a moments thought Peter asked, "I see, and if he never does that, do you intend that no one ever talk to him again for the rest of his life?"
It was clear to both men that Vincent was standing there, close enough to hear every word even if he didnít have extraordinary hearing. Jacob sighed and said, "I had hoped that he would come to his senses. It was never meant to go on this long. Who would have known he could be so stubborn?"
Peter snorted, "Like father, like son!"
Looking affronted Jacob retorted, "I was thinking he was behaving more like Devin!"
"Again, I would refer you to the paternal influence!"
"Yes, wellÖmaybe so," Jacob conceded. Reaching out to put a hand on Peterís arm, he asked, "How is Catherine? Weíve heard no word of her at all."
"Do you want the truth or the sugar coated version?" Peter asked him.
"The truth of course," Jacob insisted.
Now Vincent was openly staring and listening to the two men. Any scrap of information on Catherine brought her closer to him, even though from what Peter had asked, the news didnít sound good.
"I think Iíd better sit down," Peter said, and after taking the seat Walter had vacated, he looked from Vincent to Jacob before continuing, "Cathy hasnít been well. Sheíd lost weight and even though sheís gained it back now, she still isnít eating or sleeping like she should. Iíve had to put her on vitamin supplements to help her. From the night it happened, her friend Jenny Aronson moved into the apartment with her to keep a twenty-four hour a day watch on CathyÖ"
"Good Lord why?!" Father asked.
"Because she was suicidal," Peter answered softly, not wanting anyone else in the Hall to overhear.
Vincent couldnít help himself, he had to deny this! "Not Catherine! She would never do such a thing! She is too full of life!"
Peter answered, looking at Jacob as if he had spoken and not Vincent, "I donít know how else to interpret Ďa quick trip to the street from the balcony sounds pretty goodí! Those were her very words to Jenny!"
Vincent closed his eyes, but he couldnít stop the tears from escaping. He had done this to his Beloved Catherine! Made her contemplate throwing her life away! As he stood there berating himself, he didnít draw the parallel that he should have, considering the many times he had stood at the edge of the Abyss and thought about ending it all.
"Is Ms. Aronson still staying with Catherine? Is there still a dangerÖof herÖ" Father trailed off.
"No to both questions. Jenny returned to work and her own apartment and Cathy has pulled herself up and is trying to get on with her life." After a pause Peter added, "She has even talked about moving away from New York." That was added as casually as he could in order to see what kind of reaction he would get from Vincent.
Vincent just stood there with a vacant expression. It was Father that said, "Considering all that has happened, that might be the best thing for her."
A look of almost hatred flickered across Vincentís face as he spun on his heel and left the room.
Jacob waited until his son was out of ear shot and then asked Peter, "How much of that was for Vincentís benefit and how much of it was true?"
"The answer to both questions is Ďall of ití," Peter told him.
"Good Lord! That poor girl!"
"You donít know the half of it Jacob! But as her doctor I simply canít say anymore."
"I understand my friend. But please know that if there is ever anything I can do for Catherine, I donít want you to hesitate to ask."
"Iíll remember that," Peter promised.
Peter had decided not to tell Cathy about what had happened at Winterfest; and since she didnít ask, it was never mentioned between the two of them.
Things had changed for Vincent after Winterfest. Because of Peterís words to Father, Jacob had some thinking to do. After a couple of days of serious consideration, he decided to bring the matter up at the next Council meeting.
Once the normal topics of repairs that needed doing, progress reports on the childrenís classes, and how their supplies were holding out were taken care of, Father announced that he had something he wanted to talk to them about. With everyoneís attention focused on him, Father looked at Vincent before telling the rest of the Council what Peter had said.
Not wanting to get his hopes up, Vincent still wondered where this might lead. He listened to Father say, "So even though I still believe that Vincent was very wrong in what he did, it is also clear that the mere thought of having Catherine free to visit us is painful to him. Even though Catherine started out as a Helper and then became a valued member of this community, we still must take into consideration the feelings of someone who has been a part of our family for over thirty years. To that end, I would like to propose an end to the Silence."
There were nods of approval all around the table as Vincent sat there in hopeful silence. "Alright then, just to make it official, Iíd like a show of hands of those in favor of lifting the Silence. Every hand in the room went up except Vincentís. "You donít want us to lift the Silence Vincent?" Father asked him in astonishment.
"Not at all Father. I just thought that this is one vote I should abstain from."
"YesÖwellÖit clearly wouldnít matter. Even if you were voting against it, you would have been overruled by an overwhelming majority."
As the others just sat there grinning at Fatherís little bit of humor, Vincent wondered what else his parent had up his sleeve. With Father there was always something. This reprieve from the Silence wouldnít come without a price, so he sat there waiting quietly to find out what it was.
When Jacob realized that Vincent wasnít going to say anything at that point, he started to speak again, "I think that we should find a way to let Catherine know that while her presence here Below would hurt you, that Iím sure there are members of the community that would like to stay in touch with her, myself included."
"Can we be sure that she will see it that way Father and not just as an attempt to have her continued support as a Helper?" William asked in genuine concern.
"Catherine wouldnít view such a gesture in that way William!" Vincent protested. "She would see it in the spirit that it was offered. However, I think this is a bad idea Father! Catherine has had no contact with our world in over three months and she has most certainly gotten on with her life as Peter said. I think we should leave things as they are."
"Iím sorry Vincent, but I disagree with you. At the very least, sending her some kind of message proposing this couldnít hurt; and, if she doesnít want further contact with us, surely that is for her to say!" Father stated.
Not wanting any further disagreements between father and son, Mary suggested, "What if we were to consult Peter on this? He knows Catherine so very well and would certainly know how she would react to such an overture."
"That is a wonderful idea Mary!" exclaimed Father.
There were other nods around the table and even Vincent had to concede that if Father was determined to do this, then going through Peter would be the best way. It was decided that Father would write the note and have it delivered to Peter asking him the best way to present it to Catherine.
Above, Peter read the note when it was delivered by one of the tunnel children. He sighed, knowing that Catherine couldnít accept the offer in her condition without greatly increasing the risk of Vincent finding out about her pregnancy. Nonetheless he stopped by her apartment on his way home that evening to talk to her about it.
Cathy was happy to see him and invited him in to see the newest things that had arrived for the babies the day before. Peter admired them and then came to the point of his visit.
A tear slid down her cheek as she said, "Peter thatís a really mean trick to play!"
"What do you mean Cathy? Itís no trick! This is a real note from Father asking if you would be willing to let some of the community visit you."
As the truth in his eyes registered she became even more upset. "I would love that, but you know better than anyone why I canít!" she said with her hand on her tummy.
"You could swear each visitor to secrecy."
"That might work until Mouse came by. He would never be able to keep this kind of thing a secret, no matter how good his intentions were," she fretted.
"Youíre probably right there," Peter agreed.
"So how can I turn them down without hurting them?! Without telling them the truth, there is no way to turn them down nicely!"
"Iím afraid youíre right Cathy. There isnít any excuse that you could give that wouldnít sound like you were rejecting themÖunlessÖ" he paused to consider his next words before speaking. "Although I hate lying at any time, for you I could tell them that you had already moved out of New York," he offered hesitantly.
Knowing what even an offer like that had cost her very honest friend to make, Cathy said, "No Peter, there is no way that I would ask you to lie like that for me."
"You didnít ask me Cathy, I offered."
"I know, but I would be consenting to it if I let you do it. No, Iíll just have to find a way to make them understand in the note I send back."
"If that is really what you want Cathy, then I will make sure that it gets to Father when you have written it."
"Thank you again Peter."
Since Vincentís birthday was a mere two days after the Silence was lifted, everyone felt that it was necessary to make a big celebration of it this year. Everyone was thrilled to be able to talk to their favorite tunnel resident again; and even though Catherineís name was often brought up, Vincent still reveled in having his family once again talking to him.
His classes were also returned to him and the children were overjoyed to have him back. It wasnít that their substitute teachers hadnít been fine, but it was just that Vincent had a very special quality about him. He made it a joy to learn.
Even though the Silence had been lifted Father was still worried about his son. Vincent no longer went Above, something he had always loved and Father had hated. However Jacob could see the changes in his son since the break up with Catherine. He had lost weight and even though he needed much less sleep than anyone else seemed to, he was getting even less than was usual for him. Vincent had also become even more introspective and quiet if that were possible.
Father tried talking to Vincent about it, but he quickly made it clear to one and all that Catherine was the one topic of conversation that was off limits with him.
Even though the note to Peter had been delivered on the same day the Silence had been lifted, Catherineís answer didnít arrive until two days later, on Vincentís birthday. Father couldnít help but wonder if that had some significance. However after reading the letter, he asked Geoffrey, who had delivered it, not to say anything about its arrival. Father did not want to have to tell the community what it said and spoil the festive mood of Vincentís party.
After reading her letter, Father knew that there was something she wasnít saying. It was so clear that there was an underlying meaning to what she said, but for the life of him he couldnít put his finger on what it was. All he knew was that her words would sadden all of her friends Below, even if the news it contained might confirm Vincentís belief that she had moved on with her life.
Catherine agonized over every word of the letter that she sent Below. That was why it took her two days to finish it. The date did not escape her notice either, and she wondered if she should have waited another day to have her message delivered. Would it seem extremely cruel to him that her refusal of the tunnel communities visits come on his birthday? Or would he even care at this point? Even as that thought struck her, she knew that he would. Vincent still loved her; she could feel it every day through the Bond. She only wished at times that she couldnít so she wouldnít feel the pain of that loss so freshly each day. Each word that she had written brought Vincentís face to mind; and even though he was never far from her thoughts with his babies growing under her heart, like they were, this letter to his family was extremely painful to write.
Dear friends and family Below,
I want to thank you for your kind and considerate message. However, although I do miss all of you deeply, I cannot at this time consider having visitors from Below. Even though it has been months since Vincent and I parted, the wounds from that are still much too fresh to see someone from his world. It would only serve to remind me of what I have lost. I know that you all mean well and only wish to keep in contact with me, and I would be very glad to hear from you through Peter. He has assured me that he will pass along any messages that you would care to send me. Unfortunately, at this time that is the only contact that I feel up to. I hope that you will respect my wishes, and try not to take it personally. I donít wish to hurt or offend anyone there, but right now I need to face the rest of my life without Vincent in it. Seeing any of you would only remind me of the life I have been denied. Please know that I wish all of you the best that life has to offer and if there is ever anything that I can do for any of you, you have only to send word via Peter and I will see that it is done.
Father had been right to hold her letter until after the party for Vincent. The next day when he called everyone together to read it to them, it was as if a pall had fallen over the tunnels. Someone they considered one of their own was hurting and none of them could do anything about it. Vincent felt the guilt of this severely. Because of him, his family could not go to one they felt was in need. He knew that they thought less of him because of this, but felt at a loss as to what he could do about it.
Left with no choice, unless they wished to ignore her wishes, the community could not go to her. Instead many of them did send words of love and comfort in letters and notes conveyed to her via Peter. Catherine read and answered the ones that she felt needed it. But each one took its toll on her, and Peter saw it each time that another message from Below was delivered to her.
As the weeks passed, Catherine continued to grow much to her dismay and Peterís amusement. During her five month check up he announced that she was already the size of most of his eight month patients. Cathy glared at him as he listened to the fetal heartbeats of her babies. There was a strange expression on his face when he brought up a subject that she thought had been settled the month before. "Cathy, Iíd like to do another ultrasound," he informed her.
"Peter, we discussed this! I donít want to know the sexes, or if the twins will look like Vincent or me. I want to be surprised."
"Well, if Iím right you might get more of a surprise than youíre ready for!"
"What is that supposed to mean?" she demanded.
"I think I hear a third heartbeatÖ"
"WHAT!?" Cathy gasped. The idea of twins had been exciting, if a little scary; however, the prospect of triplets was down right frightening.
Waving his hand in front of her stunned face, Peter said, "Earth to Cathy, are you in there?"
"I guess so," she replied slowly then added, "Me and a whole lot of babies, it seems."
"Thatís why I wanted you to have another ultrasound to be sure."
"No Peter, as long as thereís no reason to think thereís a problem, my reasons for not doing that are the same."
"But donít you want to know for sure?"
"Not really. I can just prepare for three and then if thereís only two, the biggest problem is that I will have more clothes than I need."
"There is something else that I was holding off talking to you about, but now that there might be three babies, I think itís something that canít be put off any longer."
Dreading that this might be a demand that she tell Vincent, Cathy asked, "What is it Peter?"
"Cathy, multiple births often happen early, and with three instead of two that would be even truer. Also, with the way the babies seem to be growing and developing, I highly doubt that you will reach your ninth month before giving birth. With Vincentís unique DNA, we donít know if the shorter gestation period will still have the babies completely developed."
His words were beginning to frighten Cathy. All she wanted was to have a safe delivery and healthy children. "Peter, what are you saying?"
"I think that to be on the safe side we should have incubators here in case we need them. I donít know if we will, but itís better to be safe than sorry."
"Is there something that you arenít telling me Peter?"
"No, but I wouldnít be doing my job in providing you the best medical care if I wasnít ready for any eventuality. If you were having the babies in the hospital, the incubators would be there and available if needed, but since we canít chance a hospital delivery, we should be just as prepared here as we can be. They can be rented and then returned if we donít need them or when the babies are done with them."
"Why do you think that the incubators would be needed?" she persisted.
"Youíve had a perfectly normal pregnancy with the exception that I donít think youíll go nine months. However, youíre small Cathy, and triplet babies could be small too. If theyíre less than five pounds, Iíd want them in an incubator until they reached that weight."
"With as much weight as Iíve gained, I donít see how they could be under five pounds!" she protested.
Peter laughed at the look on her face and said, "There is a very real possibility that they wonít need them, my dear."
"Okay, you just tell me what to order and Iíll make sure theyíre here. How soon do you think weíll need them?"
"Well, youíre only five months along now and to my best guess, I think youíll be about two months early. So, as long as you have them here in two months, we should be good."
"So youíre thinking the first part of May?" At his nod she sighed happily, "Thatís great! I wonít have to be pregnant through the heat of the summer!"
He laughed at her happy expression and then brought up the other subject on his mind, "Cathy, I know you plan on nursing and I was pretty sure that with twins you would have enough milk, but if there is a third one in there, thereís a chance you might have to supplement with formula."
"I hadnít thought of that, but youíre probably right. Iíll add that to my list of things to get. You know when you started this" incubator" talk I thought you were going to ask me to tell Vincent. Iím kind of surprised that youíve never mentioned that."
"Donít get me wrong Cathy, I do think Vincent should know; however, I do understand your reasons for not doing so. I just know how I would feel in his place."
"Peter, if you were in his place, you wouldíve asked me to marry you years ago and we would have been living happily Below right now!" Cathy protested.
"Yes, I guess youíre right there. Okay, let me write out what you should order and then Iíll be on my way. I do want to see you in a month, so Iíll call before I stop by. As always, if you have any questions or concerns before then, just give me a call."
"Okay, and thank you Peter," she said and showed him to the door.
It was April first when Jenny called to say that it had to be a bad joke that she was being called out of town to nursemaid a new author that was having a major case of stage fright before her first book came out. She swore up and down that she would only be gone a few days, and that if the woman didnít Ďstraighten up and fly rightí she would kick her in the seat of her pants and come home anyway.
Cathy laughed and told Jenny that she was still a month from Peterís best guess at her new due date and that there was nothing to worry about.
The day had crept up on her without warning. She had been so busy getting ready for the babies to arrive that when she woke the morning of April 12th, Catherine suddenly felt as if the weight of the world had come crashing down upon her. Instead, she realized that it was the end of her dream of a life with Vincent. Surely if he had been going to change his mind he would have done so by now; and if ever there was a time for them to reunite, it would have been now, so they could have spent their third anniversary together.
Running her hand over her swollen tummy as she lay in bed, too sad to even get up and face the day, she said, "Well babies, it really looks like itís going to be just the four of us against the world. You know I think that we will go and live at the cabin even if none of you look like your daddy. Being out of the city might help me to let go more than I have."
Finally, it was an ache in her back that got her out of bed. No matter how she laid, she couldnít find a comfortable position. She thought about reading, but everything that she was in the mood for reminded her of Vincent; so in a fit of industry that she wasnít sure where it came from, she started to pack the things that she would want to move to the cabin with her. Jenny had always loved her apartment, so Cathy would offer it to her. Sheíd also be able to leave most of the furniture behind since the cabin was already furnished.
Cathy wanted to talk over her new plan with Jenny, but her friend was still out of town nursemaiding their newest author. She swore every time they talked on the phone that she would be back in time for the delivery. According to Peterís calculations, they still had two weeks.
The backache didnít subside throughout the day, even though sheíd already drunk a pot and a half of Mr. Leeís pain-relieving tea. By early afternoon, the ache had turned into twinges and Cathy faced the possibility that she could be in labor. Calling Peterís office she was put right through to him and after answering what seemed like endless questions, she was told that it sounded like this could be the real thing. He added that he had no one due until the weekend, so he would just continue with his normal office hours until one of two things happened. When her contractions got to be eight to ten minutes apart, or her water broke, she was to call him and he would hurry right over.
Since no call had come from Cathy, Peter was glad to think that it had been a false alarm. It seemed that all of a sudden there was a rush on the need for his services. He was in the middle of telling one patient that her dreams had finally come true and she was pregnant when the first call came from the hospital. Mrs. Franz was in labor. He was in his car on the way there when he got the call that said Mrs. Jackson would meet him there as well.
Even with two of his patients in labor, he would have felt safe leaving his resident in charge to go to Cathy if she had called. However, when the third one of his patients called, he prayed that the call from Cathy wouldnít come. This third patient was an unwed teenager having her first child, which she intended to give up for adoption. Peter had known he would have to hold her hand through the whole process, especially now, since she wasnít due for another month.
When Manny Perez, the hospitalís attending obstetrician, had to go home with severe stomach cramps that he guessed was caused from eating the two day old egg salad sandwich heíd had in his car because he was so rushed to get to work on time, Peter was put in charge of his two patients, since he was the next one on call. Now, eternally grateful that Cathyís pains had been a false alarm, Peter hurried from one woman to another. It would have been a disaster if Cathy had called then, because with five women in labor, there was no way he could have left the hospital.
Cathy knew this was Peterís late night in the office. So she had waited until the pains were eight minutes apart rather than ten, thus giving him an extra hour or so at the office, before she placed her call.
Peter looked down at his beeper and his heart dropped into his shoes when he saw that it was Cathyís number listed. He had the nurse in the room place a call to that number and hand him the phone, his other hand was in the death grip of Laurie Myers, the teen who was in her middle stages of labor. "Hello, Cathy?"
"Got it in one Peter! Ready to become an honorary grandpa?" she asked as cheerfully, trying to hide her nervousness from him.
"Oh god, honey, not now!"
"What?! Has something happened, Peter?"
"Yes, just about everything that you can think of! I have five women in labor right now at the hospital and there is no way that I can leave at this time. How far apart are your contractions, Cathy?"
"Oh dear! I waited as long as I could, thinking you were at the office seeing patients. They are less than eight minutes apart now."
"Damn it! Cathy there isnít any way I can get to you in time! We are going to have to get word to Jacob! He is close enough that he could be there in time to deliver the babies. I will send word through Mr. Lee that he has to get to you as quickly as possible!"
"Peter!" Cathy called out as her doctor was going to hang up the phone and call their friend at the Tea Shop.
"Yes?" he answered in a nearly frantic voice.
"You have to say in the note that Vincent NOT be told! That is important Peter! I donít want him coming just for the babies. In fact, it would be best that if in the note you could avoid mentioning that I am in labor."
"I guess I could just say that it was a medical emergency. Are you sure about Vincent, Cathy?"
"YES!" she stated firmly and a bit louder than she had intended, since she was in the middle of another contraction and her water had just broken. Informing Peter of that, he hung up without saying good bye and she was left to pace around the apartment and wait for Father to arrive. ĎOh god how was he going to take this?í she wondered as she paced.
Below, Eric hurried through the tunnels on his way to fatherís study. He was told the note that he carried was of the utmost importance, and even though he didnít know what Ďutí meant, he did know what most important meant! His feet flew and he bounced off the walls in his rush to take as little time as possible in delivering a note from Catherine! Maybe she was coming back to them! He certainly hoped so! She was one of his favorites, and he knew that Vincent hadnít been happy since the break-up.
Father opened the note that the young boy pressed into his hand after flying into the room. He was about to scold him for running like that when he saw who the note was about. Reading it over twice to make sure that he hadnít misunderstood, he told Eric to run and get Mary as fast as he could! So much for telling the child not to run!
Mary entered the study moments later and Father looked up as he hurried across the room. "Mary, I will need my bag and you should probably come with me! We must make every haste!"
"Whatís wrong, Father?"
"It seems that there is a medical emergency involving Catherine. Peter canít leave the hospital and has asked me to get to her as quickly as possible!"
"I will go as fast as I can!" she exclaimed as she started from the room.
"Mary!" Fatherís voice halted her in her tracks.
As she turned back to see why he had stopped her, he said, "The note said that Vincent was NOT to be told under any circumstances!"
Nodding her head sadly, Mary complied and rushed from the room.
What neither of them knew was that Vincent had been on his way to ask Father for a game of chess and had overheard the entire exchange.
Catherine felt the jolt of fear go through Vincent and knew that somehow he had learned of the note Peter had promised to send Below. Even though he had sworn that he would make it clear Vincent was NOT to be told, he had somehow found out. Whether he had intercepted the person taking it to Father, or it had been given to him by mistake, or possibly even that Father had ignored the instructions and told him, it didnít matter, the result was the same. Vincent was on his way to her and because of that, not only did she have to deal with being alone and in labor, but now she had very little time to prepare for a very troubling visitor.
Rushing to the French doors in her bedroom, she made sure they were locked and that the curtains were drawn. Quickly closing the doors between her bedroom and living room, she wished that she had a large winged back chair to hide behind. As she opened the French doors to her dining area, Catherine had to come up with another plan. Spying the afghan on the back of one of her couches, she folded it and laid it over the back of one of her wooden dining chairs. This would hopefully hide her very large and obvious tummy from Vincentís sight.
She had just enough time to make sure that the front door was unlocked so Father could just come in without her moving and to get to her hiding spot before Vincent appeared on her balcony. Even in her haste to get ready for his visit she could still feel all he was feeling through the Bond. He was terribly frightened that she was badly hurt, and worried about why she had called for Father. He couldnít, in his wildest thoughts, come up with the real reason for THAT!
Drinking in the sight of him, she could see the toll their separation had taken. He was noticeably thinner, even in his heavy clothes and cloak, as well as looking drawn as if he wasnít sleeping. Nonetheless, she couldnít take her eyes off of him. The five month separation was the longest by far that they had ever been apart, except for the eight months it had taken him to find the courage to visit her after sheíd left the tunnels upon recovering from her attack.
They stood there staring at each other for what seemed an eternity, but it was actually only a few seconds before Vincent started into the room asking, "Catherine, what is wrong? Father got a note saying you were having a medical emergency?!"
Holding up her hand to stop him at the threshold, she said, "The message also said you were not to be told."
"I wasnít. I overheard Father telling Mary to get his bag and that they needed to hurry to get here to you! Are you hurt or ill? Please let me help!" he pleaded trying to come closer to her.
But this time her other hand came up as if to hold him back by the sheer force of her will. "Vincent, if that is the only reason youíre here, then you can leave now!"
"Catherine! I canít leave if you are ill or hurt!" he insisted.
"And there you go againÖnot listening to me!"
"Catherine, I always listen to you!" he protested.
"Alright, I guess you do, but you only hear what you want to hear!" she retorted.
"I donít know what you mean," he denied.
"Yes you do!" she snapped, at that moment she wasnít in the mood to be kind. "If you really listened to me, you would know that I wanted a life with you Below!"
"But you are a woman of this world Catherine. You could have anyone you want!"
"Youíre right! I could have had Tom Gunther. After my face was fixed, he would have taken me back. Or I could have had Elliot, or even Joe! They both love me and are good men, but the only one I really want continues to treat me like a child!"
"I do not! I simply want whatís best for you!" Vincent declared.
"Exactly! You want whatís best for me without asking me what that is! You act like my father! Making decisions for me! Even my real father realized I had grown into a woman capable of making my own decisions!" Catherine insisted.
The truth of her words stung him like no others had ever before. He had been offering her the love of a parent because that was the only true experience heíd ever had with love. But Catherine had wanted more than that from him, or was it less? She had wanted someone to walk beside her on lifeís journey, not someone who would lead her as if she were a child. How very wrong he had been!
But was it too late for him? She had spoken in the past tense. Did she still have feelings for him or had she truly moved on? Before he could even think of asking her those things, he had to admit to her how wrong he had been and ask her forgiveness. And then there was also the matter of the medical emergency. She looked fine, but she was clutching the chair she was standing behind as if she would fall without its support.
"Catherine, you are right. I have done exactly what you said I did, even though I didnít realize it at the time. I do want to humbly beg your forgiveness, and if you would please tell me what is wrong, I would help you."
At that moment the awaited knock came at the door and Fatherís voice could be heard through it, "Catherine, its Father and Mary, may we come in?"
With a sigh at all the things still unresolved between her and Vincent, she still knew this need was more immediate. Calling out, "Yes Father, come in. The doorís open," she still didnít move from behind the chair.
The two of them came into the apartment even as Father was saying, "Catherine, Peter didnít say what the emergency wasÖ"
"That is what I have been trying to find out myself!" his son interrupted.
"Vincent!? What are you doing here?" Father demanded.
"Well, I think thatís clear," Mary tried to say, but no one was listening to her.
"I overheard you telling Mary you had to get here in a hurry," Vincent explained.
"And he was just leaving," Catherine added.
"I was not!" Vincent assured them.
While this argument was going on Mary had hurried over to Catherineís side and she quietly asked, "How far apart are your contractions my dear?"
"About four minutes now," she answered.
"Then we need to get you into bed," Mary told her, and finally the men took notice.
"Mary, do you know what is going on?" Vincent asked, still standing near the French doors.
"Sheís in labor, of course!" Mary replied as she put her arm around Catherineís shoulders and slowly led her to where she guessed the bedroom had to be.
"In labor?!" Vincent gasped, staring at the evidence that was now clearly visible since Catherine had stepped out from behind the chair. His heart dropped, she really had moved on! His beloved Catherine was about to have another manís child! Even though his heart was breaking, his first thought was still for Catherine. "Why call for Father, Catherine? Why didnít you call an ambulance and go to the hospital?" he wanted to know.
"Yes, Catherine?" Father added his question to his sonís.
Mary snorted at the two males, "Now how could she do that? What if the baby were to look like its father?" she rolled her eyes as she opened the louvered doors to Catherineís bedroom.
"Why would that keep her from going to the hospital?" Vincent asked, perplexed.
This time it was Father that supplied the answer, "If the child were to look like you, VincentÖwell the risk is too great."
"Like ME?! How is that possible? I am not the fatherÖCatherine and I have neverÖ"
"Yes, we did Vincent," Catherine quietly interrupted as she sat down on the bed.
"No! I would have rememÖ" he stopped mid word as he saw the look on her face. She was telling the truth! Somehow this child that was about to be born was his! He was about to become a father and he didnít even remember when it happened!
Father and Vincent were staring at her, waiting for an explanation while Mary bustled around the room getting things ready. Catherine began to explain, "We lovedÖthat night in the caveÖ"
A look of horror crossed his face and Vincent backed quickly away from her. She knew that if the French doors had been open, he would have been over the balcony rail and gone into the night. Instead, he was pressed against them as if wishing them away. "IÖforced you!" he spat out in self-disgust.
"No, Vincent! You didnít! We LOVED and it was beautiful! All of your defenses were finally down and you let yourself go! I probably could have stopped you, and I probably should have, but Vincent, I didnít want to! Making love with you was something I had wanted for a very long time! But later, when you came out of that three week recovery sleep you were in, you didnít remember. When I saw how it hurt you that you couldnít remember my name, I decided not to remind you of that night. Then I found out I was pregnant and knew you would have to be told."
When Catherine paused to breathe through another contraction, Vincent asked, "The night you came to me and told me you had a gift for me?"
"Yes," she nodded sadly. "You said you didnít want it and that I should give it to someone else, then you sent me away."
"Vincent!" Father protested.
"Father, I didnít know it was a child!" Vincent cried, closing his eyes in despair. He could see the pain his words had caused Catherine clearly written on her face.
In the quiet that followed Father did some quick mental math then protested, "But that was only six months ago!"
"Six and a half," Catherine answered quietly.
"That might explain the incubators over here," Mary interrupted. "but not why there are three of them."
All eyes turned to her, then to the machines in question, and quickly back to Catherine for an explanation.
"SurpriseÖ" she tried, but no one ever smiled at her little joke. "When Peter did the ultrasound he saw two babies. In a later exam he thought he heard a third heartbeat. I didnít want to know the sexes and he said there didnít appear to be anything wrong with the babies so I told him Ďnoí to a second ultrasound."
"So itís not positive that itís triplets?" Father asked.
Catherine looked at the still stunned Vincent and answered, "No, I told him it was as easy to prepare for three as it was for two, so we would just have to wait and see."
As she breathed through another contraction, Mary shooed father and son out of the room, telling them that she would help Catherine into a gown and then get her settled into bed.
Together in the living room, Father and Vincent faced each other. Father spoke first, "How are you handling all this, Vincent?" he asked.
"I donít know yet Father; itís all so much to take in."
"Did the two of you have time toÖtalk before Mary and I arrived?"
"Not really. She was hiding her condition and trying to get me to leave."
"Do you think there is a chance the two of you could settle your differences? I mean, for the childrenÖ"
"Thatís just it, Father! Catherine no longer wants me in her or the babiesí lives! She has made that clear! I wasnít even to know anything about them!"
"Do you think that she didnít want the babies to be seen as leverage?"
"What do you mean?"
"You sent her away, Vincent! She might have felt that she was buying her way back to you if you learned about the babies!"
Thoughtfully he replied, "She did say when she left that I would have to come to her this time..."
"This time?" Father questioned.
"I sent Catherine away from me twice before, and both times she came back telling me that our love was worth anything else she might have to give up."
"That is one strong lady Vincent! And brave too!"
"What do you mean, Father?"
"She was prepared to raise three children on her own!"
"Yes," he sighed.
"Vincent, do you want Catherine in your life?"
"More than I want to draw my next breath, Father!"
"Then you should tell her that!"
"No, I should ask her," Vincent replied softly, ignoring Fatherís puzzled glance as Mary opened the doors and said they could come in.
Stepping up to her, Vincent asked, "Is there time for Catherine and I to talk first, Mary?"
"Yes, she is doing well and should have some time to talk before the transition starts. Iíll make some tea," she replied.
Vincent thanked her and closed the doors behind him as he entered the bedroom. Catherine was tucked up in bed and looked at him hesitantly when he approached it, "Isnít Father coming in?"
"I had hoped that we might have a talk before thatÖif that is alright with you Catherine?"
This really wasnít how she pictured him finding out about the babies and she was still a bit unsure about his reaction to it all. Through the Bond she could feel his emotions churning and knew that right then, he was as much at a loss as she was. "All right," she said slowly.
"Catherine, I know that we were interrupted before and that this might not be the best of times for a discussion of this sort, but I want you to know that you were right. I had been assuming the role of parent with you instead of partner; and that was wrong of me. I know that itís a lot to ask, but do you think that you can ever forgive me for that?"
Reaching out to take his hand, Catherine replied, "Donít you know by now that I can forgive you anything?"
"Oh Catherine! If that were only true! You have so much to forgive me for! It was I that kept us apart all this time, fearing what I would do if I lost control in the heat ofÖummmmÖ"
"Vincent," she chided gently, "Here we are about to become parents and you canít even say the word Ďpassioní to me?"
He started to lower his head to hide his face behind his hair, but as he saw the resigned expression on Catherineís face, as if she had expected him to do that very thing, he stopped. Taking all of his mustered courage, he looked into the eyes of the woman he loved, the woman who was about to give birth to his children, and said, "Passion. Itís what I have tried to hide from you for so long, Catherine, but yes, I feel passion for you."
"I know Vincent, both about the feelings and that you were keeping them from me."
"How? I donít understand."
As gently as she could, she answered with the same words that he had used so long ago, "I feel what you feel when you feel it, almost as if we are one."
"The Bond?! Catherine, itís goneÖit has been since I woke up."
"I have a theory on that too, but when you let your guard down enough for us to make love, you must have also let it down enough to release the control you kept on your side of the Bond. I could suddenly feel everything you were feeling."
"Iím sorry, Catherine."
"For what, Vincent? Keeping your feelings from me, or the knowledge that our Bond really did work both ways, but you were suppressing your side of it from me?"
He answered her honestly, because this was a time for nothing but complete truthfulness between them, "Both. I only kept it from you to protect you, and I now know that was just another way of being the parent instead of the partner you wanted. But I donít understand why you can feel the Bond when it has been lost to me."
Catherine had to wait out another contraction before she could answer him, but when she did, she took his hand that she was still holding and placed it over her tummy, "I think they are responsible."
Vincent didnít understand and looked at her perplexed. Smiling, she answered his quizzical gaze, "Do you remember telling me that for you the Bond was like hearing my heart beat alongside yours?"
"Yes," he answered, still puzzled.
"Well, I asked Peter when a fetusí heart starts to beat and he said usually around the middle to the end of the third week. You were Ďoutí of it for twenty-two days Vincent! By the time you came to, the babiesí hearts were beatingÖ"
"Masking your heartbeat from me!" he interrupted.
"Yes. I mean, itís only a theory, but if you could try and hear my heart again you would have to listen past the babiesí. Theirís would be lighter and fasterÖ" she told him as she waited to see if he would try.
But Vincent was way ahead of her. He was already tuning in on her heartbeat, passing by the beats of the babies within her, eager to be out. A look of dazed wonder filled his beloved face as he whispered, "Catherine! I can feel you! Our Bond is there!" As he finished speaking, he winced in pain just as she did.
Smiling apologetically, she said, "This was probably not the best time to have it restored to you. I probably should have waited until after the babies were born to tell you."
"No, Catherine, Iím glad you did. This way I can share this with you and lend you strength if you need it."
A knock came at the doors announcing Mary and Father. "We gave you two as much time as we thought could, but I think we need to start concentrating on the babies now," Father said as they entered.
"I think youíre right, Father. Catherineís pains are getting closer and harder."
Both Mary and Father looked at him oddly, until he explained, "The Bond is back. I can feel what she is feeling."
They answered in unison:
Father said, "Probably not the best timing for that!"
Mary said, "What wonderful timing for that!"
Vincent and Catherine looked at each other and laughed. They only stopped when another contraction started.
Father insisted that it was time to get down to business. Asking Vincent to sit at the head of the bed next to Catherine so he could help her when it was time for her to bear down, he lifted the sheet and checked her progress.
As he did that, Mary informed Father that Peter and Catherine were well prepared for any eventuality. She added that she had turned on the incubators just in case they were needed. Vincent frowned when they were mentioned and Catherine felt his worry through the Bond.
"Vincent, donít worry, Peter only wanted them here as a precaution. He said that every indication he has had was that the babies are healthy and ready to be born. I can assure you that they have been very active!"
"This is all so hard to take in. Even one baby would be a miracle, but you are carrying three! It is almost unbelievable."
"Thatís how I felt too. We knew early on that it was going to be twins and that was very exciting, but when he told me there was a very strong chance that there were three, I got a little scared. How could I do that on my ownÖ"
Calling himself all kinds of a heel, Vincent winced at the thought of her having to deal with that all alone. The self-blame he felt for all the pain she had gone through was a heavy burden to bear. "Catherine, if you can find it in your heart to forgive all the worry and pain that Iíve caused you, then you will never have to be alone in this again. You and the babies can come Below and live."
"Do you mean with you, Vincent, or as just another tunnel resident?"
"With me of course, Catherine!" he assured her.
"Well, I need to be sure that it is me you want and that youíre not just doing this because of the babies."
Neither Father nor Mary moved. Both of them wondered what Vincent would do or say to this very real concern of Catherineís. They were both in shock as they watched what Vincent did, but no more so than Catherine herself. He stood up from his position on the bed and spun around to face her. The cloak that he still wore gave an added flare to that move. Falling on one knee next to the bed, he reached out to take her hand in his.
"Catherine, it has been my secret dream, almost from the first moment that we met, to someday have you for my wife. But there were so many fears and restrictions blocking the path to that dream that I despaired of it ever coming to pass. You, however, with your courage and love, have managed to lay every one of them to rest. Youíve told me we loved without any dire results and of that miracle you are about to produce another! I already love the babies that you are carrying, but with or without them, I would be the most blessed man alive if you would consent to marry me."
"How do I know that even if I do say yes, you wonít send me away again someday down the road?" Catherine asked him, the pain clearly showing in her eyes.
Vincent closed his eyes for a moment in pain, both his and hers that he felt through their Bond. He knew now just how much he had hurt her by his actions, and he would never, ever do anything like that again; but how could he convince her of that when twice before he had broken that very promise?
"I wonít make you the promise that I have broken before, Catherine. I will only say that once you are my wife, the only thing that I will allow to separate us is death."
"Then yes, Vincent, I will marry you!"
"Well, it certainly wonít be before these babies are born!" Father interrupted before Catherine could answer. "The first one is crowning now. Vincent, Iíll need you to get back into position please, and Catherine, you can start pushing on the next contraction."
After he took off his cloak, Vincent got back on the bed to sit behind her. Catherine did some quick calculations. She knew, from hearing Nancy complain about it, that you couldnít Ďdoí anything until six weeks after you gave birth. Since that was about when the tunnel community usually had the naming ceremony for newborns, she thought it might work to combine the two events. When she leaned back into his strong arms, Catherine asked, "What would you think about getting married the same day as the naming ceremony?"
"Oh, thatís a perfectly lovely idea!" Mary exclaimed, and then covered her mouth with her hand as she realized sheíd answered for Vincent.
Smiling at her response, Vincent said, "I agree with Mary, that is a perfect choice! And speaking of names, what have you picked out for the babies?"
"Vincent! We are back together now, we should decide that together!"
"Catherine, I am sure that I will love any name you have chosen for our children."
"That may be, but I want us to do things together, and we should start with something as important as this," she replied.
"Alright, how about if you tell me what you have picked out and if I donít like them I will tell you?"
Looking at the other two eager faces in the room, Catherine grinned, she knew that a babyís name was a well kept secret until his or her naming day, so she told Vincent, "Okay, but Iíll tell you when weíre alone."
Seeing the two disappointed faces of Father and Mary at this answer, Vincent also grinned and agreed with Catherine.
Then suddenly it was time to push and everyone went into action. As the four of them worked to bring this first miracle child into the world, Vincent held Catherine in his arms and they shared the feelings of hope and wonder that the future would bring for them. They knew that there were still some things to be settled and talked about, but each in their own way, knew that they would get through it all together.
A short time later, Vincent watched as Catherine gave one last push and brought forth their child into the world. The wonder and awe that filled the faces in the room at this beautiful child was incredible to behold. Father looked up as the baby began to cry and told them, "You have a son."
Sharing smiles of joy, Catherine leaned close and whispered a name in Vincentís ear. His eyes widened in appreciation and his nod of approval told her that he was indeed happy with her choice.
Giving them a few moments to admire the baby lying on her stomach, Mary whisked him away when her contractions started again, signaling the coming of their second child. When a few minutes later Father announced that the second baby was also a boy, Vincent and Catherine shared another blissful smile, and she once again whispered a name in his ear. The tear that slid down his cheek and his fervent nod told her that he heartily approved of this choice also.
When Mary came over to take the second baby to clean him up and record his vital statistics, she gasped in amazement. Quickly going back to the first baby that she had placed in one of the bassinets near Catherineís bed she brought him over to hold him next to his younger brother.
"What is it Mary?" Catherine asked, fearing that something was wrong with one or both of the babies.
"Thereís nothing wrong dear! But look at these two," Mary insisted, and as every one did, she added, "Tell me that they donít look like two peas in a pod?"
After a moment Father spoke, "I do believe youíre right Mary! These two are identical!"
Both boys had Catherineís features and coloring, but she was thrilled to see that they also had their fatherís intense blue eyes. Mary placed the already clean baby in Vincentís arms and said, "Well we have to be able to tell them apart." Pulling a small pair of scissors from her dress pocket, she reached out and clipped off a piece of one of the leather ties from Vincentís padded vest, near the shoulder. She grinned at the startled man and teased, "I hope you donít mind," as she tied it around the older babyís wrist. Picking up the second baby, she carried him off to be cleaned, weighed, and measured.
Catherine watched as Vincent held his firstborn son for the first time. The look on his face was indescribable. It was a mixture of awe, disbelief, tenderness, and overwhelming joy. "Can you believe that we have identical twin sons?" she asked in a hushed tone.
His eyes lifted almost reluctantly from the tiny bundle in his arms, and as his glance met Catherineís, he said, "Iím still finding all of this a bit hard to believe. Whatís one more miracle added to this night of miracles?"
"You do remember what tonight is, donít you?" she asked hopefully.
With a tender smile he answered, "Yes Catherine, I do, and it seems very fitting to me that you have chosen this magical night to give birth to our children."
She giggled just a bit, "Well I didnít have a lot of say about that, the babies chose this night. But I do think that it is wildly appropriate that they chose our anniversary to make their appearance."
"Yes, how very wise of them! This way, we will never be able to forget their birthdays!" he laughed.
"As if we could ever forget the night three children were born!" she responded with a happy sigh that ended on a gasp.
"Catherine what is it!?" Vincent demanded.
"I think our third child wants to meet his or her brothers!" she answered as she breathed through a contraction.
As Mary and Father went into action again, Vincent whispered in her ear a request for a daughter as beautiful as her mother, because they already had two boys. Grinning up at him she promised to do her best, but she was secretly hoping that this third child looked like Vincent.
After another half an hour of contractions, Catherine and Vincent watched as Father held up their third child and announced that they had a perfect little girl to go along with her brothers. Through the Bond Vincent felt Catherineís disappointment as she looked at their daughter. The realization of why was almost a physical jolt to him. "Catherine?" he whispered in her ear.
Realizing that she had been caught by him, she gave a sad sigh and told him, "Iím sorry Vincent. I wanted one of our children to look like you."
Mary and Father couldnít help but hear her words to Vincent and listened intently for his reaction to this. "Why, Catherine?!" he gasped.
"Because all this time I have been trying to tell you that you are BEAUTIFUL and you havenít believed me. I wanted a child that looks like you because I defy you to look into the face of our son or daughter and tell me that they werenít beautiful! THEN, maybe, you would finally believe me!" she declared fiercely.
The stunned look on Vincentís face was almost comical to see, however Father and Mary refrained from laughing when they saw a tear slide down his cheek. "Catherine!" he whispered, and bowed his head. Finally he could see the truth in her eyes. In her eyes he WAS beautiful, and his love for this incredible woman swelled his heart to overflowing. Tears slid quietly down his cheeks as he nuzzled his cheek against hers. It was a moment so tender and private that both Mary and Father felt like intruders.
The only thing they could do to give them the privacy they needed right then was focus their attention on the child that had just been born. Mary carried her over to clean her and record her vital statistics. Father was going to go with her when he heard someone at the door. He threw a frantic look at his son, knowing that there was no way that he would leave Catherineís side at a time like this, and wondered what in the world he could do. As that thought was crossing his mind, Jacob realized that the person on the other side wasnít knocking or ringing the bell, but instead was turning the knob and coming right in!
In the bedroom, Vincentís extraordinary hearing had also picked up the sounds at the door and his flight response immediately kicked in, but then looking at Catherine resting in one arm and his sleeping son tucked into the other one, he knew he couldnít leave. Even as that thought crossed his mind, Father left the room closing the door behind him.
Jacob Wells watched as Dr. Peter Alcott let himself into Catherineís living room and gave a sigh of relief that Vincent wouldnít have to leave at a time like this.
"Oh Jacob, good! Iím so glad you made it up here to help Cathy!"
"Yes, well, your message did say it was urgent," Jacob told his old friend.
"And it was!" he laughed. "Please tell me that I havenít missed out on all the action?"
"Iím afraid so, Peter. Catherine has given birth to two boys and a girl. The boys are identical twins!" he said as he moved towards the bedroom to show off his new grandchildren.
"Darn it!!!" Peter exclaimed as a cry came from the other room.
"Father! Peter!" Catherine called.
As the two men hurried into the room, Mary had already sprung into action. Lifting the sheet, she looked up with a grin at Peter when he rushed to her side. "Well, it looks like Catherine didnít want you to miss out completely, Peter."
"What?!" four people gasped.
"It looks like number four is on the way," Mary answered.
"Four?!" Vincent questioned dazedly.
"Four?" Catherine whispered in wonder.
"Four." Peter and Father looked at each other in shock and then at Catherine.
Seeing their looks she grinned and replied defensively, "Hey! Donít look at me! Blame Mr. Stud here!" she told them, pointing at Vincent.
Vincentís eyes grew round and then a blush took over his face. As Peter grinned, surprised but pleased to see him there, Vincent dropped his gaze.
"Well then, letís get down to business!" Peter exclaimed. "If you donít mind me delivering this one Jacob?"
"Not at all!" Father answered with a smile, going over to the other two babies and picking up the tiny bundle in the pink blanket. She was a perfect angel, just like her brothers in looks, but without the intense blue eyes of her father. Jacob guessed that when they changed from Ďbaby blueí they would be the same lovely green as Catherineís.
Meanwhile, Peter shed his suit coat and quickly washed his hands. Twenty minutes later he escorted another little girl into the world. She looked so much like Cathy did the day he delivered her; he teared up as he held the baby up to spank her. Cathy laughed at the look on his face, knowing that he would be tormenting this daughter with the same story he often told about Cathyís birth.
"Oh dear Lord!" Father exclaimed, looking from the newest arrival to the baby in his arms. As all eyes turned to him, he beamed at Mary and told her, "I think youíre going to need to steal another bit of leather from Vincent."
As the meaning of his words sunk in, everyone craned their necks to get a look at the little ladies in question. Sure enough, these two were as alike as their brothers were. Catherine and Vincent shared blissful smiles at the thought of their new family as Mary happily clipped another leather strip and tied it around the oldest girlís wrist. When she finished that task, she picked up the youngest baby to also be cleaned and recorded.
Now that the excitement had died down a bit, Peter finally had a chance to take a look at the first three babies. He was so proud to be an honorary grandfather to this wonderful bunch.
Softly, so only Catherine could hear, Vincent said, "Thank you Catherine, for four of the most beautiful gifts in the world! I canít tell you how sorry I am for ever saying that I didnít want these precious gifts."
"Even though I knew you werenít aware that the gift was a childÖwell okay, fourÖeven though I didnít know that then, it hurt more than you could ever know to hear you say that. I guess that was why I issued the ultimatum of you having to come to me. Then, later, it was my stubborn pride that kept me from coming back to you."
"I didnít deserve you, Catherine! I probably still donít, but I donít care anymore! If youíre willing to take me as I am and take me back, then I will never let you go again."
"Vincent, all I have wanted since we came to know each other was to be your wife and the mother of your children; and even though we got that a bit backwards, Iím happier now than anyone has a right to be!"
"We should think about getting you Below as soon as possible Catherine. With four babies you wonít have enough milk to nurse them all," Father recommended.
"I donít see how getting me Below will help that, even though that is where I want to be. However, when Peter thought there were going to be three we planned to supplement with formula."
"Olivia is nursing now, she might be able to help out a bit," Mary offered.
"Olivia?" Catherine questioned.
"Thatís right! They didnít announce it until after youíd left the tunnels. Luke has a baby sister, sheíll be a week old tomorrow," Mary answered.
Vincent filled in with, "Olivia and Kanin didnít want to tell Luke until the last possible moment because of how impatient he is, so they waited until she was actually showing to tell anyone."
"Iím so happy for them!" Catherine replied. Then a strange look came over her face and she asked, "Why do I feel the need to push again?"
Peter reassured her, "Donít worry dear, itís just the afterbirth. Iíll take care of it and then we can see about getting you and your new family Below."
She smiled at his comment and watched as he lifted the sheet covering her once again. That was how she was the first to know that something he hadnít expected was going on. His stunned gaze lifted to meet her worried one and he said, "I hope that you havenít run out of names yet, young lady!"
Mary, Father, and Vincentís eyes all turned to him and they demanded in unison, "WHAT?!"
At the same time Cathyís eyes filled with tears and she gasped, "Five? Vincent, how ever will we manage?!"
Seeing her distress he was quick to reassure her, "Catherine, Below we will have all the help we could ever want."
Mary added, "You will have so many volunteers to take care of these precious babies that the two of you will probably have to set up a schedule!"
Father warned, "I shouldnít wonder that if you arenít careful you might never even get to see the babies! Someone will always want to carry them away!"
Catherine gave them a watery smile and said, "Thank you all, I guess I was just feeling a little overwhelmed."
"Thatís perfectly understandable Cathy, my dear, but I have a feeling that you wouldnít have wanted to stop before this little lady was born!" Peter exclaimed. He and Cathy had talked about her hope that at least one of the babies looked like Vincent and she had gotten her wish. Holding up the newest baby he gave her a gentle tap on her bottom then when she cried, placed the tiny replica of Vincent on her motherís tummy.
Father stood there remembering the first moment he had seen baby Vincent and all the awe and wonder he had felt.
Mary looked at the infant and knew she would quickly become the hit of the tunnels. Catherine and Vincent would need to be careful that she didnít become spoiled.
Peter knew how much this meant to Cathy and he was thrilled for her. His only concern was, how was Vincent going to react.
Catherine tenderly ran her hand over her newest daughterís head and then a finger down her tiny furred nose. She looked just as sheíd always imagined Vincent had as a baby. Catherine knew that the third girlís name she had chosen in case they had all been girls had been the perfect choice for this precious child. She finally pulled her eyes away from the baby to look at Vincent and see his reaction.
Tears were sliding slowly down his cheeks, he was unashamedly crying at the beauty of this latest child Catherine had given him. Yes, he had to admit that she was beautiful, was this truly how Catherine had seen him all along? Was there a chance that he could really be this beautiful in her eyes? Reaching out he too caressed their child and whispered, "Welcome to the world, little one."
Unable to keep her tears at bay any longer, Catherine fell back against Vincentís chest and asked softly, "Well, are you going to tell me that she isnít beautiful?"
"No Catherine, Iím not. She is the sixth most beautiful sight I have ever seen in my life."
"SIXTH!?" she gasped.
"Yes, you are the first and then our other four children. You didnít think that I could put them ahead of this little darling, even if she does look like me?" he teased.
"OhÖI guess in that case sixth is okay," she sighed happily, now that she knew her point had been made.
"Do you have a name for her too?" Vincent asked.
Catherine was about to answer him when an odd look came over her face, instead of the name she had been going to tell him she said, "I donít think weíre quite done even yet."
"What?" he questioned.
Calling out to Peter who had turned away for just a moment she told him, "Peter! I think this might be your fault! You wanted to deliver my three children; I think youíre going to get the chance."
"Good Lord Cathy!" he exclaimed as he turned back to see if what she said was true, and sure enough one more tiny head was crowning, another child was about to enter the world.
This one came quickly with hardly a pain to announce her arrival, and as all eyes looked on, another tiny version of Vincent made her appearance. Mary grinned as she unrelentingly cut another leather piece from Vincentís vest and placed it around their fifth childís wrist. It looked like they had three sets of identical twins!
As the afterbirth finally eased from her body, Peter looked up at the tired woman on the bed, "Cathy, normally after a woman has had three or four children, I would ask if she was planning on having any more, but since that didnít happen," he paused while everyone chuckled before going on, "I would then suggest that she have her tubes tied to prevent that from happening if it was what she wanted. Do you think that you and Vincent are going to want more children after these six?" he questioned, almost knowing what the answer would be. However, he was stunned when Cathy spoke.
"Iím not sure Peter. Vincent wasnít with me during my pregnancy and I know that he will always feel that he missed out on something wonderful because of that. So I think for now at least I would like to leave the possibility open for there to be maybe one more child. That way we could share the experience totally."
Vincent looked at her with love and concern in his eyes, "Catherine, are you sure? Six is more than I could ever have hoped to have; and as much as what you say is true, I would never ask you to have another child unless you were very sure that was what you wanted."
"I love you Vincent, and I would like to share those times with you. With the exception of the sadness of our separation to deal with, I had a very easy pregnancy, and donít think you should miss out on that experience. If you can assure me that next time we will have only one," she chuckled, "Then I would like to wait to have this done.
"Iím not sure that I can promise you that, but I am fairly certain that both Father and Peter will tell you that having six at a time is the exception rather than the rule. But honestly there isnít any way of knowing for sure."
"Iím willing to take that chance if you are," she promised.
With a nod he agreed and Peter, accepting their decision, finished up what he needed to do, then began to prepare the new family for transport Below.
As they packed and prepared the things that needed to go Below with Catherine and the babies, Vincent carefully slid the sleeping Catherine back onto her pillows so she could get some rest before the journey Below. He quietly rose from the bed and walked over to take his first look at all six babies lying side by side. He could hardly believe that six hours ago he had been a man facing the rest of his life in miserable solitude; and now he not only was a happily engaged man, but the father of these six beautiful babies.
Their first born was dressed in a blue sleeper, while his younger brother was in green. Mary had put the first girl in pink and her twin in yellow. The two girls that looked like him were in white and ivory respectively. In the tunnel community, a new baby was just referred to as Ďthe babyí until their naming ceremony, but that wouldnít work in this situation. Vincent loved the three names Catherine had already told him for the first three children, and he was sure that he would feel the same about the others she had chosen with such care. However, until the naming ceremony, maybe they could be referred to by the colors they were wearing.
When everything was in readiness to go Below, they talked over how they were going to accomplish the move. Vincent would carry Catherine and the pack of supplies that Mary had tied up in a bed sheet. Both Peter and Mary would carry two babies each, while Father, with his cane, would take one. That left only one infant for Catherine to carry as she rode safely in Vincentís arms. He was very concerned about the trip through the apartment building instead of his usual method of travel, but Mary assured him that with his hood pulled up and the three of them to run interference so no one got close enough to see him, everything would be fine.
Vincent told them that he wanted to get Catherine and the babies quietly settled in his chamber for the night. Breakfast the next morning would be time enough to tell everyone the news of the engagement and introduce them to the tunnelís newest residents. Peter chuckled and said he was staying the night; there was no way he was going to miss THIS breakfast in the tunnels!
Because it would be after 1am by the time they got Below, they expected to only encounter the night sentries. They would swear them to secrecy until the announcement could be made.
With all the plans in place, it was time to wake Catherine and start the careful trek Below. Lifting her gently into his arms, once he had the pack secured on his back and his hood pulled up, Vincent waited for Mary to hand Catherine one of the babies. Because Father had only one infant, he had been placed in charge of doors and calling the elevator. They were heading for the door when the phone rang. Everyone froze. Who would be calling anyone after midnight? Catherine was about to tell them that she should probably answer it because a call at that hour might be an emergency, when her answering machine picked up the call.
Jennyís voice filled the room, "Cathy I know youíve gone into labor! How could you do that and not call me?! You better have Peter there with you, and one of you had better pick up that phone and talk to me!"
Peter was openly laughing, while Father and Mary looked slightly shocked. Catherine looked up at Vincent and motioned for him to put her on the bed near the phone. Picking up the receiver, but not turning off the answering machine, she said, "Hello Jenny."
Everyone in the room could hear her friend demanding, "Donít you ĎHello Jennyí me! You went and had those babies without me there didnít you!?"
"Iím sorry Jen, everything just happened so fastÖ" Cathy admitted in a tired voice.
"WellÖokayÖI guess I can understand thatÖso did you have two or three, and do I have nieces or nephews?" she wanted to know.
Cathy looked around the room at all the babies that she was still having a hard time believing were really hers, and with an odd little grin she simply told Jenny, "No."
"You mean Peter was wrong all this time and you only had one after all? Boy did we overbuy then!!!"
"NopeÖnot only oneÖ" Cathy was having fun now.
There was a long pause while Jenny processed this information and in a dazed voice she asked, "Good Lord Cath, FOUR?!"
"Huh? Then how many did you have?!" Jenny was getting a little upset at this point.
"Iím not sure you would believe me if I told you Jenny."
"CATHY, are you trying to tell me you had FIVE babies?!"
"No Jen, not five," Cathy ended that comment on a yawn.
"Cathy?" came the hesitant, almost fearful, voice of her friend.
"I had two boys.Ö" She paused for dramatic effect, even as tired as she was, and then added softly, "And four girls."
The silence on the other end of the phone had everyone in Catherineís apartment wondering what was happening with her friend.
Cathy finally asked, "Jenny are you okay?"
"ME!? ME!? Youíre asking ME if IíM okay after youíve just had SIX babies?!"
As another yawn took control of Catherine, Peter put down one of the babies he was holding and took the phone from her unresisting fingers. Just as he began to talk, the answering machine finally clicked off. He said into the phone, "Jenny this is Peter. Cathy is understandably exhausted and needs to rest. When you called we were about to take her BelowÖ"
Father, Mary, and Vincent gasped at this casual mention of their world to someone they didnít know and were not even aware that she knew anything about the tunnels. But Peter went on as if he hadnít noticed, "She and VincentÖ" another trio of gasps could be heard, "have gotten back together, and we are taking her and the babies Below."
No one in the room knew what Jenny said to that, but Peter chuckled and agreed to meet her at Cathyís apartment the next day at noon. He hung up then picked up the baby heíd put down, announcing that they could go if Vincent was ready to carry Cathy again.
"What have you told this woman about us Peter?" Father demanded as they all made their way out of the apartment and down the hall to the elevator.
"It wasnít Peter, Father, it was me," Catherine said quietly from Vincentís arms. "She is my best friend, and I needed someone to talk to about what was going on in my life. So if you are going to yell at anyone, it should be me."
"No one is going to yell at you, Catherine dear, are they Father?" Mary asked, with a frown at the man she had known and respected for decades. She was not about to let him upset this young lady who had become so special to them all and who had just given birth to the most wonderful miracle that Mary had ever seen!
"Ummmm, no of course not," Father blustered as they got into the elevator. "I was just wondering what she had been toldÖ"
"I told her everything Father. Jenny is a wonderful person, and I would like to submit her as a Helper. She works in a publishing house," Catherine offered as an extra incentive.
"Father, since this has already happened, why donít we table the discussion of it until a later date?" Vincent suggested quietly. He could feel the weariness in Catherine and didnít want to put any more stress on her than had already happened that evening.
"Yes, quite so!" Father agreed, and the subject was tabled.
As the elevator began its journey to the basement there was only one close call. On the 11th floor the elevator pinged and the doors opened. Catherine quickly pulled Vincentís head down to hers and hid his face from view by kissing him.
The slightly tipsy couple took one look at the very full car and said they would catch the next one. Although Vincent tried to raise his head the minute the doors closed again, Catherine had him right where she wanted him and didnít set him free until the elevator arrived in the basement.
Father gave an amused chuckle and said, "And we were worried he would be seen!"
Mary, Peter, and Catherine laughed while Vincent blushed.
Vincent tenderly placed Catherine and the baby on one of the many boxes in the storage area and then opened the tunnel access. Catherine was extremely glad to see that it hadnít been sealed after their breakup; she had wondered, but had been too afraid to come and check it out. Quickly lowering himself through the opening Vincent held out his arms for the baby Father carried. With his free hand he was able to help keep Father steady as he climbed down the ladder.
Once the older man was safely on solid ground Vincent handed the baby back to him then reached up for one of Maryís. He passed that one to Father who could stand still with two even if he couldnít walk with more than one. After Mary handed him the second child she had carried down, Vincent helped her to safety then repeated the same procedure for Peter.
As soon as Peter was safe, Vincent climbed the ladder again and took the baby Catherine was carrying from her. Handing that child to Peter, he undid his pack and dropped it to the floor.
Asking Catherine if she had enough strength to hold on to his neck, he got a confirming smile. He bent down so she could do so. Once she felt secure he backed into the opening and climbed down the ladder, with her on his back. His superior strength took little notice of the extra effort. Hoisting the pack on again while Catherine leaned against the wall waiting, he then lifted her back into his arms. After she took one of the babies from Father they were once again on their way.
Vincent chose a route that while just a little longer, would have them passing only one sentry on their journey. As he came around the corner Jamie stepped out from her niche where she had been keeping watch. When she saw him her challenging posture immediately began to relax, then her eyes widened in surprise and happiness as she realized he carried Catherine in his arms. It was too dark for her to see the tiny bundle Catherine held in her arms, and as yet she hadnít noticed the people behind Vincent and Catherine.
"Jamie, it would mean an awful lot to me if you would simply turn your back and let us pass. We would like to surprise everyone with the news at breakfast tomorrow. If you will come by myÖour chamber in the morning weíd like you to help us be a part of the surprise."
"All right Vincent, but this one is going to cost you!" she agreed cheerfully in a teasing voice, not even realizing what the surprise entailed.
He smiled and acknowledged the debt with a nod. Jamie turned her back and the group passed. It was only then that sheíd become aware there was someone, or more than one, behind Vincent. She wanted to turn and see who it was; but she had promised, and Vincent had said she would know in the morning! For now she would be content with the knowledge that she was the first to know that Vincent and Catherine were back together; and from what he had said about Ďourí chamber, she was willing to bet that there would be a wedding soon!
The group proceeded down the passage way, meeting no one else. They entered Vincentís chamber, where he placed Catherine on the bed. Mary looked around the room and decided that four of the babies would fit on the padded bench Vincent kept near the bed, and the other two could sleep easily for this one night in his large chair. Since they were much too young to roll over, they would be fine there. Once all the babies were settled, Mary unpacked the supplies she had brought for them and then showed Vincent where everything was.
She, Father, and Peter were ready to leave the young family alone, but when they crossed to the bed to say their good-nights to Catherine, they found she was already asleep, curled up on top of the covers with her shoes still on. Vincent promised he would tend to her, and they all said they would be back early to help with the morning feedings and to get ready for the breakfast introductions. Vincent thanked them all and was soon alone with Catherine and the babies.
Before he would allow himself to indulge his desire to just sit and look at the babies, he tenderly removed Catherineís shoes and then lifted her so he could place her under the covers. She never even stirred and he stood in awe at the sight of her peacefully sleeping in his bed. He still couldnít believe that all of this was quite real.
He would have gladly spent the rest of the night just staring at his new family; but he remembered Peterís warning that new parents of one baby needed all the sleep the could get, and that he and Catherine would now need that times six! Taking off only his boots, cloak, and vest, he laid down next to Catherine on top of the covers. He didnít want to presume on their new relationship. Even though it was clear that they had been lovers at least once, he was new to this Ďcouplesí thing and would wait for her lead as to what to do.
After just a few hours of sleep, the babies began to wake wanting to be fed. Vincent quickly got up, changed Baby Girl Pink and brought her to Catherine. As she started nursing her, Vincent changed Baby Boy Green and, laying him on the bed, quickly prepared a couple of bottles of formula. It took the two of them just over an hour to get all of the babies fed and back to sleep. Catherine fell asleep in the time it took Vincent to place Baby Girl White in the chair where she had been sleeping and return to the bed. He smiled tenderly at her, sheíd had a very tiring night and she needed all the rest she could get.
As promised, Mary, Peter, and Father arrived just as the first of the babies were waking for their next feeding. All three of them sprung into action and soon all of them were fed and ready to meet their new extended family. Catherine had nursed two of the babies and then asked if she could take a quick bath before they went to breakfast. She was told they had time, and as she slowly got up from the bed, Vincent went to his dresser. He pulled something out and shyly handed it to her. She looked down and saw the gown sheíd worn during the time sheíd spent Below when her father died. Vincent had kept it in his dresser for her! Her smile lit the room as she said, "Thank you Vincent!"
He barely managed to keep from blushing at the look in her eyes. If they were going to be together as a couple, he was going to have to get over that. He gave her a smile and she rewarded him by standing on tiptoe and kissing his cheek. This time he wasnít able to control his blush much to the amusement of the others in the room.
While Catherine was bathing, the four adults talked over how Vincent wanted to introduce his new family to the community. They had just finalized the plan when Catherine and Jamie entered the chamber from two different directions.
Jamie had just gotten off sentry duty and had come straight to Vincentís chamber to get the full story on how they had gotten back together. She had expected to find Catherine there, but not Father, Mary and Peter too. Along with the five adults, the chamber seemed filled with babies! They were everywhere! Looking around dazedly, her eyes finally came to rest on Catherine for an explanation.
Catherine grinned and said, "Surprise!?"
All the adults except Jamie laughed and Vincent stepped in to begin to explain. "Jamie, I know you are curious, but we will be telling the full story in a few minutes at breakfast. For now though, Iíd like you to meet our childrenÖall six of them."
"Good Heavens!" she gasped as she looked around the room at the babies that she hadnít bothered to count before. Vincent was right, there were six of them! Her eyes softened as she spotted the two that looked like him. They were so cute!
"Vincent was going to carry Catherine to breakfast, Jaime, would you be willing to help us carry the babies?" Father asked.
"Oh gosh sure!" she agreed eagerly, her arms already reaching out to pick up one of the two that looked like Vincent.
Mary and Peter left the chamber with two babies each, Catherine and Jamie had one. Vincent was carrying Catherine, who still tired out easily. Father would help once they reached the dining hall, but for now he could walk more quickly if unencumbered.
Speculation had been running high as to why Father, Vincent, and Mary werenít at breakfast that morning. As everyone sat down to eat, that seemed to be the main topic of conversation.
The group with the babies had waited until they were sure most people would already be eating. Out in the passageway to the dining hall Catherine handed the baby she was carrying to Father. She smiled at Vincent after settling back into his arms and they started into the room.
One by one the hallís occupants noticed Vincent and Catherine crossing the room. As they did, mouths fell open and a wave of silence crept across the area following their progress. The table that he and Father usually shared with Mary and a few others was empty, as if no one wanted to sit there without the tunnelís patriarch and his son.
Vincent walked up to his normal place at the table before stopping. He carefully stood Catherine on her feet next to him before he started to speak, "As you can see by Catherineís presence here, she and I are back together." He waited for the cheering to die down during which they shared a smile.
Her heart was warmed by the reaction and he could feel that through the Bond.
When the hall was again quiet, Vincent continued, "I was a fool to let her go." As he said that, he noticed a few nodding, Pascal the most emphatically. "I didnít know just how much of one until last night. Peter Alcott sent word to Father that there was a medical emergency at Catherineís apartment and that he needed to get there as quickly as possible. As it turned out, Catherine was in labor!"
The gasp that spread around the room at this announcement was not unexpected.
Catherine felt every eye in the room on her assessing her figure. Even though she had in no way gotten her shape back yet from having the babies, she still was clearly not pregnant. Vincent also saw the looks given to Catherine and once again took up the story. "Over the three years I have known Catherine, she has provided me with many surprises. Last night was no exception. While she was in labor we had a chance to talk; and after she forgave me for being a fool, Catherine agreed to marry meÖ"
He was interrupted by several demands of "When?"
"We will be getting married the same day as the naming ceremony," he answered them, and then with a tender smile at his fiancťe he asked the community, "Would you like to meet our son?"
There was a roaring "YES!" throughout the hall; and, as planned, Father came into the room carrying the oldest boy. Before everyone could start crowding around the new arrival, Vincent held up his hands and asked, "Will everyone please wait to come forward until we say? You see, Catherine didnít just give me one son last night, but two!"
As Peter carried in the second boy, Vincent told them, "We are calling the babies, Baby Boy Blue and Green until the naming ceremony, because they are identical twins."
Peter handed the baby to Catherine and left to go back into the hall. No one seemed to notice amid the clapping and cheering. Once again Vincent held up his hands, and after a few seconds, quiet settled on the room. "Catherine didnít just give me two sonsÖ" as the word Ďtripletsí raced around the hall Mary entered with the oldest girl. "This is Baby Girl Pink," he told them.
"Father delivered all three babies before Peter arrived from the hospital. When he got there he was so very disappointed that he had missed out. Catherine didnít want him to feel that way so she allowed him to deliver Baby Girl Yellow!"
Peter once again came into the room with a baby in his arms. The room was in an uproar! Even Vincentís hands in the air couldnít quiet the joyous exclamations of all their friends.
Seeing what was happening, and knowing that Jamie still waited alone out in the hall with the last two babies, Catherine struggled to her feet and called out, "If everyone would please settle down! We know that you all want to see the babies up close, but we would like for you to see them all at once!"
The room did quiet down at her words even though no one but the group from last night and Jamie knew what she was talking about.
Vincent smiled and deferred to her to introduce the youngest two babies. "If Jamie will come in, we would like you to meet Baby Girls White and Ivory!" Catherine announced and Jamie came in, carefully bringing the last two to join their four siblings.
As they were held up, just like the others had been, so everyone could see them, Mouseís voice rang out loud and clear, "Two little Vincentís!"
Everyone in the room burst out laughing at Mouseís innocent comment, and that was like letting the cork out of the damn. Questions flew from every direction. Many were asking the names in a vain attempt to find out before the naming ceremony. Others wanted to know if they could hold the babies. Both Father and Peter had advised Catherine and Vincent not to allow this because the babies were still so young. Being handled by so many different people could upset them. So for the time being, everyone was asked to look, but not to touch.
Olivia was one of the first to come up to Catherine, and while showing Catherine her new daughter, she also offered to be of any help that she could in feeding the new arrivals. Catherine gladly told her she would take her up on it.
Several of the men had gathered around Vincent and after a hearty round of congratulations, quickly brought up the subject of expanding Vincentís living quarters for his new family. They were soon deep in this discussion, but even as they worked on the plans, Vincent felt Catherine beginning to tire. The Bond was truly back now and he knew she needed to be alone to get some rest. Excusing himself from the group, Vincent crossed to Catherineís side. Lifting her into his arms he gently told her he was taking her back to their chamber to rest.
Seeing that they were about to leave, there were over twenty volunteers to carry the six babies back to their chamber. Vincent asked Mary to handle the requests and strode out, confident that the babies would be placed in good and caring hands.
Lena was the first to enter the chamber with one of the babies. She had left little Cathy with Mary for this honor. Rebecca and Sarah delivered a baby each and were followed by Samantha and Eric. Vincent was surprised that Mary had trusted the children, but when he saw how gently and lovingly they carried the babies, he knew she had been right in her choices. The last infant had not only a carrier, but an escort as well. Mouse had begged to be allowed to help and Mary had agreed, as long as Jamie went along with him.
Catherine was asleep before they were alone with the children, so Vincent didnít have a chance to talk with her about the ideas for expanding their living area. In the hopes that she would approve, Vincent authorized the clearing out of the guest chamber and storage room at the end of the hall where their chamber was. As this was being done, cradles started arriving. Because Olivia was using one for her daughter, there were only four others that could be found. Sarah brought two large baskets that she said were strong enough for the babies until Cullen could make two more cradles. Vincent thanked them all, accepting their gifts of love with wonder and a bit of surprise.
The surprise wasnít for the gifts, or the love with which they were given, but rather for the ease everyone seemed to accept that Catherine was back in his life and that they were parents. It seemed like everyone was taking this new arrangement more in stride than Vincent himself! Almost as if they had believed in Catherine and his dream more than he had! It was a humbling experience.
Catherine woke to the babies call for their next meal, and Vincent sent one of their sons with Samantha to Olivia to be nursed. Samantha had been hovering around their chamber in the hopes of being allowed to help with the babies. During the feeding time, Vincent told Catherine of the proposal put forth to enlarge their living area.
There was a small guest chamber right behind theirs that was rarely used because of its size, and being so close to Vincent, there would be a lack of privacy for him. The chamber shared the back wall where the stained glass window was. Caleb had suggested that the guest chamber could be enlarged so that the window could be shared by both rooms. By keeping a ledge where the candles could still illuminate it, the window could serve as a headboard to their bed.
When she gave him a puzzled look, he went on to tell her that the new room could become their bedroom and his current chamber could then be their living room. The new chamber was even close enough to the bathing chamber that he shared with Father that a new door could be added to that area.
"Where would the babies be in this new plan Vincent?" she wanted to know.
With a grin, Vincent told Catherine of a storage room right across the passage from what would be their bedroom. It even had a door that Caleb suggested they remove, but place in the hall passage. It could either be placed before the new living room or after it, depending on how much privacy they wanted.
After the feedings were done, Catherine said she felt up to walking a bit and wanted to see these rooms. She loved the concept as soon as she could see how it would really work. Knowing how much of a public figure Vincent was and how Ďin demandí he was, Catherine suggested that their living room door remain in the public passage, and that they only close off the bedrooms for privacy. Vincent thanked her for her thoughtfulness and agreed.
"How long do you think this will take Vincent?"
"Since they know we are planning to be married on the naming ceremony day, Caleb assures me they will work extra hard to have it done by then. We will however have to move out of this chamber for a few days while the new doorway to the bathing chamber and the back wall are being worked on."
"Where would we go for those days?" she questioned.
"There are some new chambers that have just been opened for families, I am sure that there will be one available that we could use for just a few days," he offered.
"Everything sounds wonderful Vincent, but I think that there are still some things that you and I need to talk about."
"I know Catherine, but I wanted to give you time to rest and recover from the babies birth."
As they returned to their chamber Samantha brought back the baby Olivia had fed. The young girl was disappointed when they told her there was nothing more to do right then. After she left, Vincent lowered the tapestry over the doorway, a signal to everyone that the people inside wanted privacy. Catherine could never remember a time when she had seen Vincentís closed.
He noticed the slightly puzzled look on her face when he turned around and explained, "I thought that we would be interrupted by people stopping by to see the babies if I didnít close it."
"No, thatís fine and you are probably right, I was just trying to remember if I had ever seen it closed before today," she assured him.
"This is the first time it has been closed since I was in my teens," he admitted.
"Oh," she said softly, trying to imagine him as a boy entering manhood with all the trials and anxieties that brought with it, and to top it all off, his being so different from all the other boys his age. She wished she could have known him then.
"I know we have many things to talk about Catherine. Where would you like to start?"
"I guess Iíd like to know how you feel about the babies. I mean, I know that you already love them; so what I was talking about was how they came to beÖI take it that you still have no memory of that night?"
"Only vague images of telling everyone that I had to leave them so I wouldnít hurt them. Nothing after that..."
"Do you believe that you didnít hurt me in any way that night?"
"Yes, because you say it is true, and I can feel it through the Bond. Father told me what you did, coming into that place after me. I couldnít believe that you did that!"
"As I told Father that night, you are my life Vincent, and I knew you wouldnít hurt me."
"What did I do when you came in?"
"At first you didnít know me, you rushed at the person intruding on you, but when I called out your name you stopped. Vincent you tried to keep the promise you made to my father before he died!"
When he gave her a puzzled look she reminded him, "You promised him that you would protect me with you last breath, and thatís what you tried to do! You willed yourself to stop and to draw your last breath rather than hurt me. But when I realized what you were doing, I told you that I wouldnít let you go without me. I kissed you. I prayed that it would bring you back to me. Nothing happened at first, you were already so far away from me, but I couldnít let you go! Finally you did respond, and with all of your defenses down you let yourself love me; and it was wonderful! I hope someday that memory does come back to you, but if not then I am sure that we can create many new memories once we are married."
"Once we are marriedÖ"
"Yes, Vincent, Iím sure both Father and Peter will tell you that we will have to wait for six weeks until we can be together. That is why I suggested the babies naming day as our wedding day." Seeing the look of hesitation in his eyes, she just had to ask, "Vincent you do want us to have a Ďnormalí married life, donít you? I mean, I thought that was what you intended when you proposedÖ"
"Catherine, even though there is ample evidence to the contrary, I have no real knowledge of what to do other than what I have read in books. The only actual experience Iíve had, I donít remember."
"We have time Vincent, just because we canít Ďmake loveí for six weeks doesnít mean there arenít other ways of loving each other that can lead up to that. For instance, you are a wonderful hugger, but it might be time to move on to kissing."
"KissingÖ" the thought was both magical and terrifying to him.
"Yes, weíve kissed twice and both times were at my instigation. It would be nice to know that you want to kiss me, too. I know itís something Iíve dreamed of often."
"As have I Catherine, but I was always so afraid of losing control."
"Vincent that is a part of passionÖlosing control with your partner. I want you to lose control with me!"
"Yes! Vincent, come here and sit next to me," she patted a spot on his bed by her side. When he did as she asked, she went on, "I want you to close your eyes and concentrate on our Bond." At his wary look she questioned, "Donít you trust me?"
"With my life Catherine!"
"Then close your eyes," she suggested gently. He did and she told him what she was going to do. "I want you to feel what I feel when I think of you Vincent. I want you to understand that what you feel for me is not wrong, but natural! I know in the past I kept these feelings from you, but it was because I didnít want to frighten you with their intensity. Maybe that was wrong of me." As she had been speaking she started letting her desire for him build, allowing all those feelings sheíd hidden away from him to slowly come to the surface.
He felt her desire for him through the Bond, but it wasnít like his feelings for her! His were raw and demanding, hers were gentle and warm! They were as different as he and Catherine were! She was a creature of the day and he of the night. But even as he thought that, he felt a change through the Bond. The warm gentle feelings that had been flowing towards him had changed so gradually that when he finally realized the change that had taken place he was stunned.
Catherine watched his face closely and even though his eyes were closed she could tell when he felt the passion she had allowed free reign. She had started slowly, with thoughts of kissing him, then her mind had moved to caressing his chest that she had seen in all its furred glory when she was helping Father take care of him during his convalescence. It was as she was imagining herself taking his carefully hidden male nipples into her mouth that he had begun to notice the change in the Bond.
Vincentís eyes flew open and their gazes locked. Her eyes half closed as she concentrated on the images in her mind and his open wide at the feelings those images were causing.
Catherine could tell he was stunned at what he had felt so far from her, but she wasnít finished yet. She wanted him to truly understand that she felt just as wild and free as his were. To that end, she let her mind focus on the dream of him rising above her hard and ready for loving. She was actually trembling when the Vincent of her dream slowly entered her and they moved together towards a climax.
Vincent gasped out her name, his hand covering his chest as if he were afraid his heart would burst. Her feelings did rival his! They did share the same desire, the same passion for each other. He was speechless.
"Did I shock you Vincent?" she asked softly, when her breathing had returned to normal.
Nodding he admitted, "Yes, Catherine you did! I had no idea you felt the same as I did. I believed my desires were unnatural andÖanimalistic. All of the books Iíve read told of slow, romantic, gentle loving. But my feelings for you were not like that! They were wild, intense and at times uncontrollable. I would often have to go and plunge into the icy waters of the Mirror Pool to quench the heat of passion for you!" He hung his head in humiliation at having to admit that to her.
"Vincent I have taken many cold showers as well! It was so very hard keeping those feelings from traveling to you through the Bond. But there isnít anything wrong with two people who love each other having those feelings about each other! Now donít get me wrongÖslow and gentle loving is wonderful too, and I assure you that we have a lot of years ahead to explore both of those and other forms as well. We will learn together what pleases the other, it will be a great journey Vincent, I promise you that."
"I believe you Catherine and there is no one else that I could ever imagine taking that journey with."
"Good!" she answered with a tender smile.
As much as he would have liked to peruse this new world of possibilities that Catherine had introduced him to, he could see the weariness in her eyes. No matter how much help everyone was willing to be, Catherine still had a very large load on her plate. He gently suggested that she lay down and at least rest, even if she didnít want to sleep.
"It seems all I do these days is sleep and feed the babies."
"Catherine, that is a monumental task in itself. No one expects you to do any more than that right now, least of all me!" He helped her into bed and tucked the handmade quilt Mary had given him years ago under her chin. When she was settled he asked, "You could tell me the other names that you had chosen for daughters. I love the first three you picked out."
She told him that she had chosen three names for each sex in case they had all been the same, but since they had four girls she explained that sheíd been thinking about splitting the last name. With four of the babies looking like her they could have birth certificates in the word Above, if they would ever want to go to a university. But since their youngest pair would not have that chance they wouldnít need middle names. When Vincent heard the names sheíd selected he once again teared up. Every name had been chosen with such care and love, there was no way he would have changed any of them. "Catherine you have honored so many of our family and friends with your choices, I am humbled by the consideration you have given this!"
"You really do love the names and arenít just agreeing with me to be doing so?"
"Yes Catherine, I do love their names, and Iím sure everyone else will as well. Their naming day will be very special."
"Since it will also be our wedding day, Iím sure it will be a day no one Below will ever forget. Have you given any thought to who you want to stand up with you?"
"I always thought that if I ever did get married, I would have Devin as my best man; but I donít know if he would come backÖ"
"For your wedding?! Of course heíll come back, Vincent! Iím sure he wouldnít miss it for the world!" Catherine assured him.
"But will we be able to reach him in time? Since heís in the mountains with Charles, I donít know ifÖ"
She stopped him by placing a hand on his arm, "Vincent weíll try, thatís all we can do. Just in case we canít reach him, who else would you select?"
"Pascal has always been like a brother to me," he replied. "You havenít said who you would choose."
"Well if you think the Council would approve it, Iíd really like to have Jenny Aaronson. Sheís my best friend in the world after you!"
"Catherine, Iím sure that if you trust her, then the Council will approve her."
"Good, because as you already know, she knows about you and the tunnels," Catherine answered a bit defensively. "I had to tell her why I couldnít have the babies in a hospital; and when I thought I would never see you again, I needed someone to talk to about you."
"Oh Catherine! Iím so sorry! I wasnít upset about your telling her if thatís what you thought. I was wondering what she thought about all you told her."
"Well, honestly sheís mad at you for letting me get away."
Vincent gave her a sad smile and told her, "And she has every right to be! Catherine, I will swear to her that she will never have to worry about that ever again. Iíll talk to Father. Maybe we can get special permission from him to bring her down."
"Do you really think he might allow that?" she asked eagerly.
"Catherine after the beautiful grandchildren you have just given him, I donít think he could deny you the moon if you asked for it!"
"Oh. Well in that case, I should make a list of my demands!" she giggled.
Vincent gave her a toothy grin and asked, "How much paper do you think youíll need?"
"Oh reams!" she assured him.
"Why donít you close your eyes for a while? I will find Father; and if he agrees, we could bring her down today."
"That would be wonderful! Thank you Vincent!"
Leaning over he boldly gave her a quick kiss on the forehead as she settled back on the pillows. Catherine sighed as he left the room. As a kiss it had been all too brief, but it was the first one he had ever instigated. It had come out of the blue, but had seemed very natural. She wished it would have been on her lips; but since he had done it on his own, she was very pleasedÖmaybe later she could get one on the lips.
Vincent could feel her pleasure at the kiss he had given her as he moved down the passageway towards Fatherís study. If only he had known how something so simple could please her so much! Who was he kidding? He had known all along that she wanted more than hugs from him. It had been his fear that had held him back, not his lack of knowledge of her feelings. But no more he resolved. From now on they would continue to move forward until that blessed day in six weeks when they would be husband and wife and could finally make love! Maybe tonight he could get up the courage to kiss her lips!
Peter met Jenny at Cathyís apartment at noon that day, just as theyíd arranged. She was standing outside of the apartment waiting for him to step off the elevator, and the second he did she started bombarding him with questions. Laughing, he told her that they would all be answered shortly. Her next comment was to demand to see Cathy and the babies right away. "Iím going to take you to them Jenny; and you will get to see where Cathy, Vincent, and the babies will be living as well as meeting Vincent. Are you sure youíre ready for that?"
"Oh yeah! I have a few choice words to say to that guy, I can tell you!"
Peter just smiled and replied, "Iím pretty sure that meeting Vincent will leave you speechless Jenny!"
"No, no, Cath told me what he looks like, even though Iím sure she was exaggerating! But believe me NOTHING is going to keep me from telling off the guy that hurt my best friend like he did! And six kids?! Whatís up with that? I thought she was only going to have two or three!?"
The conversation was taking place in the elevator on the way to the basement of Cathyís apartment building and Peter was thankful that they were alone! Somehow he didnít think the presence of others would have even slowed Jenny down any. "The only explanation I can think of is that since the babies were pairs of identical twins, somehow their heartbeats were in tune with their twins, and that is why I only heard three."
"Wow thatís amazing! Three sets of identical twins? What I canít figure out is how in the world she managed to carry six babies!?"
"I canít either, Jenny. Believe me, no one was more surprised than I was when that happened." They had arrived in the basement by this time and Jenny watched as Peter moved the boxes from in front of the access panel to the tunnels. He advised her to be careful climbing down the ladder and then went first so he could steady her as she did.
Her eyes widened as they entered the passageway, but her gaze became a little wary when they went around the first corner and saw Father and Mary standing there. Peter introduced them, and Father stepped forward with his hand outstretched. "Good afternoon Ms. Aaronson, welcome to our world. Catherine speaks very highly of you."
"Well she should! Iím a great person," Jenny laughed a bit nervously and then her eyes focused on Mary who held a tiny bundle in her arms. Jennyís eyes were glued to the blanketed bundle as she asked, "Is thatÖ"
"Yes, this is one of the babies. We felt that if you met this little lady first it might better prepare you for meeting Vincent." Mary slowly lifted the light blanket that had covered the babyís face from view. Even though Jennyís arms had reached out for the baby Mary hadnít passed her over because she wanted Jenny to see her first. The shock just might have caused her to clutch the baby too tight or worst case, drop her.
"I donít know why everyone is so freaked out about how Iíll react to Vincent! You act like Iím going to go running and screaming into the night!" Jenny exclaimed, as her eyes watched Mary reveal the baby.
What none of them knew was that Vincent himself was just around the next turn in the passageway. He had wanted to know Jennyís first reaction to the baby that looked so much like him. It was clear she had no idea that most peopleís instinctive response to seeing him for the first time was to go running and screaming into the night. He heard her gasp at the first sight of the baby, and he wanted to go running forward to protect his daughter from any negative reaction. He wanted to insist that Jenny see the beauty in her tiny face. Vincent almost missed Jennyís words in his fierce protective instinct towards his daughter.
Jennyís mouth dropped open as a gasp escaped. The tiny baby in front of her looked like a cross between a human baby and a kitten! She had baby soft fur covering her entire face, a flat little nose, and a tiny muzzle shaped mouth. "Oh my!" Jenny said when she could finally speak. "Do all the babies look like her?"
"No, only two of them," Mary answered, still not sure if Jenny was reacting positively or negatively.
One finger reached out to caress the babyís cheek and she said in a hushed tone, "And are the other four any where as near as beautiful as she is?"
Mary beamed at their guest. Jenny had easily won her heart with that simple question. She quickly answered, "Oh yes! They look like Catherine!"
"May I hold her?" Jenny asked. Mary happily passed the baby to the newcomer, and all of them listened as Jenny questioned the baby, "And is your daddy any where as gorgeous as you are?" Not waiting for the baby, or anyone else to answer, Jenny went on, "I know your mommy thinks heís the sexiest guy in the world, and I bet youíre pretty biased too; so I guess Iíll just have to wait and see for myself."
At her comment, Mary had blushed. Father had gotten an affronted look on his face, and at seeing that, Peter had started to laugh. Vincent, still out of sight, was also blushing to know that Catherine had described him to her friend in that way. How would he ever be able to meet Jenny face to face after hearing that?
Even as distracted as he was by those disconcerting thoughts, Vincent heard when the group in the passageway began to move. He quickly slipped away to Fatherís study, where Catherine waited with the other babies and where he would be introduced to Jenny.
Catherine looked up from the baby she was nursing when Vincent entered the study. She had sensed the emotions going through him. She understood the fear of how Jenny would react to the baby and the feeling of protectiveness, but what she hadnít understood was the embarrassment. She knew Vincent had agreed to let Jenny see the baby first and then meet her in Fatherís study, so she was pretty sure the two hadnít met yet. So where then, had the feeling come from? "Vincent is everything alright?" she asked as he came closer to her. She could still see the telltale signs of his blush as he lifted one of the babies into his arms.
"You told your friend Jenny that I was.Ö" he couldnít seem to finish the sentence.
Trying to help him out, she suggested, "Different? Unusual? Beautiful?" At each guess she received a negative shake of his head, so she tried again. "Wonderful?" Again he shook his head Ďnoí and then she thought of the embarrassed feeling, trying to hide her smile and to think of all the things she might have told Jenny that would embarrass him, she was about to start guessing again when he spoke.
"She told Mary, Peter, and Father youíd told her I wasÖsexy," he finished almost in a mumble.
Catherine burst out laughing, startling the baby she was nursing, and getting an affronted look from Vincent. She gasped out, "I donít think I ever called you that to herÖI might have said virileÖ"
"CATHERINE!" he protested.
"Or maybe vigorous!" she was laughing so hard it was almost impossible to speak.
Catherine wondered if she had gone too far when Vincent simply groaned at that, but she couldnít resist adding just one more comment, "I might even have mentioned ĎprolificíÖ"
His aghast look told her that he was actually speechless at this last statement. She felt that she needed to defend her words, "Well, that was after Peter told me that I might be having triplets! Canít you see how much better it fits now?" she teased.
There wasnít time for him to say anything more as the group entered the study. Vincentís instinct was to reach up and pull the hood of his cloak over his head to hide from someone he didnít know entering the room; but even as this thought crossed his mind, he became aware of three things that would prevent it. The first was the child in his arms, he couldnít reach up while holding the baby, and then he almost laughed when he realized he didnít even have his cloak on! The last reason he couldnít carry through with the thought was that he had promised Catherine he would meet her best friend. However, after the last bit of teasing that she had performed on him, he wondered what he could expect next from her!
Father started to make the momentous introduction, "Ms. Aaronson, Iíd like to introÖ"
"Donít bother!" she exclaimed practically shoving the baby sheíd been carrying into Maryís arms. "Since thereís only one other person in this room full of babies and Cathy, I think I can figure out who the guy I need to deal with is!"
Not letting the sheer size of the man with long golden red hair intimidate her, Jenny hurried down the three metal steps and was coming up in front of him as Vincent rose to his full height after placing the baby he held in her cradle. Jenny was already starting her rant before they were face to face; and to her credit, getting her first look at him only caused her to pause ever so briefly in her tirade.
"Now you listen to me, Mr. Vincent-High-and-Mighty-I-know-whatís-right-for-everyone-andÖummmmÖand-everyone-else-should-go-along-with-what-I-say-Wells! You hurt my best friend in the world really badly, and Iím not going to let her let you off the hook with just a simple ĎIím sorryí! You need to step up to the plate and marry this girl after a proper time of groveling at her feet for her forgiveness! I mean LOOK at what you did to her!
Vincent looked down at the tiny woman poking him in the chest and yelling at him. Catherineís protest of ĎHey!í was overlooked as Jenny continued berating him. She was clearly angry with him, but totally not afraid of his appearance. He was amazed at her easy acceptance of him, or maybe it was the fact that she was just madder at him than she was frightened.
"Ms. Aaronson, I promise you that I will do any amount of groveling that Catherine wants me to; and as marrying her, I have already asked and she has said "Yes". Our wedding will be the same day as the babies naming ceremony. I hope that you will be free on May 22nd?"
"FREE?! Iíd better be more than just invited!" Jenny exclaimed turning to Catherine.
She smiled and handed Vincent the baby she had finished nursing. Hugging her friend once her hands were free, she said, "Of course I want you to be my maid-of-honor! Who else do you think I would ask!?"
"Oh Cath! I was so worried about you! You do know that all I want is for you to be safe and happy, donít you?" At her friendís nod, Jenny went on, "And if that big lug isnít keeping you happy, you let me know, and I will take care of him!" As Cathy laughed at the mental picture that made, Jenny demanded, "Now let me see all these beautiful babies!"
While she was oooohing and aaaahing over the babies, William and a few of his helpers brought in lunch for the group. Mary helped to clear the table so that the food could be set out. They had all thought that meeting Vincent would be traumatic enough for Jenny, that private lunch would be better than in the crowded dining hall.
Jenny had to touch and caress every baby as she took in how many of them there were. "So which one is which?" she asked Cathy turning with one of the boys in her arms.
"We arenít telling anyone their names until the ceremony. They are referred to by the colors they are wearing, like Baby Blue Green who you are holding, or Baby Girl Ivory that Vincent has," Cathy told her.
"Do you mean Iím the only one that knows what youíre going to name them?" Jenny gasped.
With a grin Cathy admitted, "You and Vincent."
"Wow! Okay I can keep a secret! Why do some of them have leather around their wrists?"
Vincent was the one to answer this time, "It is so we can tell which twin of each set is the older one."
"Cool idea!" she cheered.
"Ms. Aaronson, would you care to join us for lunch?" Father asked, indicating the table that was now ready for them.
"Oh wow! Look at all that food! It looks great!"
Father held out a chair for her, while Peter seated Maryand Vincent helped Catherine to a chair. The meal was up to Williamís usual standards, which meant that it was simply wonderful. Jenny was having a hard time trying everything that there was on the table. She had to give up without completing her goal, but she was so full that she just couldnít eat any more. Conversation had revolved around the babies and the coming wedding. Jenny had also asked if she was going to get a tour of the tunnels while she was here. Vincent assured her that she was welcome to look around as much as she wanted; he would be happy to be her guide.
Catherine smiled as her best friend went off with Vincent. The two of them looked so comfortable together! She never would have thought that Jenny would accept Vincent as easily as she did, but maybe it had been the anger that had shielded her from the surprise of his looks. However she was glad now that the two of them seemed to be getting along, even if Jenny had threatened him if he didnít keep her happy.
While Vincent had expected his companion to be a bit dazed by all the various people she met, he was surprised to find that she was actually in her element. In her work at the publishing house she met and dealt with all kinds of people. This was as natural to her as breathing was. She won everyone over with her easy style and eager questions about their way of life and the work that they each did.
When the two of them returned from the tour, they found that Peter had left the tunnels and that Catherine, Mary, and Father were enjoying a cup of tea while the babies slept. Jenny enthused about all the things she had seen, but her eyes kept straying to the number of books that were around them in the study. "Is this the tunnel library?" she asked to anyone in general.
Grins appeared as Father answered, "No, we have a library in another chamber, this is just my study."
"Good heavens!" she exclaimed, "I didnít think I would ever find someone that loved to read as much as I do!" Grinning at Father, she asked, "I donít suppose you would be opposed to increasing your count of books?"
"I am never opposed to adding to my collection," Father admitted to the accompanying laughter of the rest of the group. "Why do you ask Ms. Aaronson?"
"Oh please call me Jenny! Iím sure as long as Vincent is a good boy we can all become great friends!"
Vincent rolled his eyes at this comment. He had become used to Jennyís brash and bouncy personality during their tour. Catherine giggled, and Mary even smiled at Jennyís words. Father blustered a bit and said, "I have rarely ever known Vincent to be anything other than good!"
"But you have to think that!" she protested. "Youíre his pop! Iím sure he was just as wild as all the other boys his age!"
"Truthfully it was my other son, Devin, that was the Ďwildí one. He would think up all kinds of trouble and rope Vincent and the others in on it."
"You have a brother?! Does he look like you? Is he single? Why havenít I met him!?" Jenny demanded of Vincent.
"Yes I have a brother," he replied. "He doesnít look like me because he is Fatherís natural son, and I was a foundling brought to him to raise. Devin is single, and the reason you havenít met him is because he doesnít live in the tunnels."
"Oh rats! Where does he live?"
"He lives in the mountains with his friend, Charles," Father told her.
"Oh! So he swings that way does he?"
Catherine nearly choked on the second brownie she had managed to snag as she thought of Devin and Charles as lovers. Mary and Vincent looked confused, not quite sure what she was asking. Father offered the outraged explanation of, "They are NOT lovers, more like brothers! Charles has a condition known as Congenital Neurofibromatosis, and due to his deformities, he wanted to live separately. We are hopeful that they will be able to come back for the wedding. But young lady, you never did answer the question of why you wanted to know about me increasing my book collection."
Jenny casually answered, "Oh because I get about a crate of books a week that I need to find homes for, and most of my friends already have more than they want because of me! I just figured that you might find people here that would like them."
"My dear! That is a most generous offer! One that we would gladly accept! Many of our residents are voracious readers and would welcome new material. Thank you!"
"Oh itís no trouble, you might regret it in a year when you have to add another room onto your library!" she giggled.
"A chance we are all willing to take, Iím sure," Father told her with a pleased grin.
Jenny spent the rest of the day in the tunnels getting to know Cathyís new family and helping with the babies. Talk focused on plans for the wedding and the remodeling of Vincentís chamber for his larger family. As it got later and Jenny showed no signs of wanting to leave, Mary offered to prepare a guest chamber for her. Since the next day was Sunday, she said sheíd love to stay the night.
It had been such an exciting day that it was clear Jenny didnít want it to end. Vincent finally had to tell her how tired Catherine was, and that even though she wanted to stay up with her friend, she needed her sleep. Jenny apologized over and over again for forgetting that Cathy would need as much sleep as she could get. She waved them off to their chamber assuring them she could find the way to the one assigned to her.
Finally alone with their children in their chamber, Vincent had been hoping all day that they would have some time alone so he could kiss her, but now he wondered if she was too tired and he should just let her sleep. He could see the weariness in her eyes, so was surprised when she said she wanted to take a bath. However he could deny her nothing so agreed to watch the babies while she bathed.
She looked up at him with her nightgown and robe in her hands and coyly said, "Theyíll be asleep for hours yetÖyou could bathe with meÖ"
Blushing to the roots of his hair at the very thought, Vincent shook his head Ďnoí! Heíd been thinking about a kiss! He wasnít ready for the two of them naked together!
With a smile that was as understanding as she could make it, while trying to hide her disappointment, she headed to the bathing chamber. Once she was gone Vincent heaved a sigh of relief and tried his best not to dwell on the fact that she was only a few feet away from and as naked as the day she was born. Instead he sat down at the table and reached for his journal. He hadnít had time to write about the birth of the babies, getting back together with Catherine, or their engagement yet.
After a half an hour of recording all that had happened in the last two days, Vincent tested the Bond to see how Catherine was doing. He wasnít truly surprised to find that she was asleep as tired as she had been, but he was worried that she was still in the bathing pool! Without thought to his embarrassment, but only for her safety, he jumped to his feet and hurried into the bathing chamber.
There she was, reclining back on one of the underwater benches, sleeping as peacefully as you please. He softly called her name, glad that the water covered her almost to her neck. Unfortunately she didnít wake to his call, or his second one either. Kneeling near her and tenderly touching her shoulder rewarded him with her eyes fluttering half open and a hazy smile when she saw it was him. "Catherine you shouldnít sleep in here," he chided gently.
There was no response to his comment, she was asleep again. A gentle shake of her shoulder didnít rouse her, neither did a slightly harder one. With a sigh, he faced what he had to do. Removing his vest and sweater so they didnít become soaked, he placed a towel over one shoulder and then reached into the water to lift her into his strong arms and quickly carried her into their chamber.
Desperately trying to keep his eyes averted, he placed her on the bed and quickly covered her with the towel. Knowing that just having the towel laying on her wouldnít dry her before she caught a chill, he reluctantly began to pat her dry using his hands, but not moving the towel.
As his hands cupped her breasts she moaned, this caused him to freeze in position so when she opened her eyes that was how she found him: His hands on her breasts, frozen in place, with a look of abject fear on his face.
"Catherine did I hurt you?" Vincent asked because of the moan.
"No, Vincent, what you are doing feels wonderful. I just wish you had had the courage to do it while I was awake.
"I was only drying you off!" he protested in his own defense.
"Oh I see," she sighed. She should have known better! She couldnít even get him to kiss her on the lips, how had she assumed he had quantum leaped to Ďfeeling her upí even if she had been asleep?!
Vincent felt her disappointment and realized now was the time to do something about this! He needed to overcome all the years of warnings from Father, as well as his own fears, and show the woman he loved how he truly felt about her. Falling to his knees beside the bed and taking her hand in his, he assured her, "Catherine, I love you with every breath I take. You are my life, and I want to share everything the world has to offer us! I might need your guidance along the way, but I want to take that journey with you!"
Leaning forward, he softly pressed his unique lips to hers. Catherineís gasp of surprise left her lips open as if inviting him to explore. Taking her action as an invitation, he tentatively allowed his tongue to enter her mouth.
She didnít want to frighten him now that he was finally kissing her, but she could no more hold back her response than she could have stopped having babies the night before. Her arms slid around his neck; and as she pulled herself closer to him, the towel slipped down until it pooled around her waist.
When they finally parted for air, Vincent saw this and with only a slight gulp forced himself not to look away. "Do you know how much I love watching you nurse our children Catherine?"
"Yes Vincent, I do. I can feel it through the Bond when youíre watching me. But at times I get a feeling of shame from you that I donít understand. Nursing is a natural event, or is it that you feel shame at looking at my naked breast?"
"At first that was part of it, but then I realized I was jealousÖ"
"That I could feed the babies that way? You know that the bottles you give them areÖ"
He stopped her with a shake of his head, "No, not how you were feeding them. I was jealous of the children!" he admitted sadly.
"Of the chilÖoh Vincent, why?"
She had to wait several moments for his answer, and when it came it was so low she almost couldnít hear him, "Because, Catherine, they were touching you where I have always longed to."
"Vincent, I would welcome your touch!"
"Yes, my love," she answered softly, taking his hand and gently placing it on her shoulder right about her breast. She wanted him to make the final move himself.
Vincent looked into her eyes and tested the truth of her words through the Bond, she really did want him to touch her like that! Swallowing the lump in his throat, and keeping his gazed linked with hers, he slowly moved his hand down. Instead of what he was doing, he was watching her face to make sure she wasnít changing her mind.
She waited expectantly for his touch and when his large hand finally cupped her breast, her eyes closed at the sheer bliss of having him at last touching her intimately.
Vincentís eyes closed, almost overwhelmed by the feelings assailing him. His own of fear, joy, and awe were almost more than he could handle, and then there were her feelings! They washed over him in reassuring and arousing waves. "Oh Catherine," he gasped softly and his eyes flew open.
There was his large, furred, clawed hand caressing her delicate, milk laden breast! He was touching his Beloved! And the miracle, to his mind, was not only was Catherine allowing it, but she actually seemed to welcome and enjoy it.
She had been watching him and testing his reactions through the Bond so she knew that while he was pleased with what he was doing, he had started thinking again; and if she didnít do something about that, he might back away. "Vincent kiss me please!" she asked and as their eyes met once again, she knew that had been the right thing to do. Vincent pulled her into his arms and kissed her as sheíd always dreamed he would.
All the passion that he had kept hidden from her was finally let loose in this kiss. Without hesitation, Vincentís tongue sought entrance to her mouth, and she eagerly allowed it. Meeting his with hers, their tongues caressed each other as their hands began to explore. Catherine was thrilled to find him without his padded vest and thermal sweater. The thin cotton tunic style shirt he wore next to his skin was loose enough to allow her hand to easily find their way under it so she could run her palms over the lightly furred skin beneath it. Vincent groaned and she shuddered as her thumbs found his nipples.
When their lips parted for a moment, she asked Vincent, "May I take off your shirt, please? I want to see youÖ"
A bit reluctantly, because he feared her reaction to his appearance, he nodded then tried to close off the Bond in case she was repulsed.
"Vincent, please donít! You need to understand that I love you just the way you are! Nothing about you could turn me off, but then since we canít carry this through right now maybe I do need something to turn me off. Maybe I should think of Father coming in?"
He smiled at her, understanding her feelings completely. "All day, I have thought about kissing you tonight, but somehow things went much farther than I thought they would. I just seemed to lose control."
"Itís alright to lose control like this, Vincent; and as you can see, nothing bad happened. I know I loved what happened and I think you enjoyed it too."
"Yes, Catherine, I did."
Smiling at him through a yawn, she said, "Do you think that you could get my gown for me? Itís still in the bathing chamber."
"Of course Catherine," he told her and did so. He brought her robe back with him as well and handed them to her. While Catherine got into her gown, Vincent stepped into the bathing chamber to change for bed as well. He returned dressed in drawstring cotton pants and a loose fitting cotton shirt. Catherine was already tucked into bed waiting for his return. He slowly climbed under the quilt; and as soon as he was settled, Catherine curled up closer to him, laying her head on his shoulder.
"Do you mind if I use you as a pillow, Vincent?"
"Not at all Catherine, not at all." They both gave contented sighs and were asleep within moments.
They woke twice during the night to feed the babies and were still a bit bleary-eyed in the morning when they met a bright and bubbly Jenny. She eagerly helped carry the babies to the dining hall where everyone wanted a chance to greet the babies. They were passed from person to person; and as Vincent and Catherine looked on, they realized Father might be right! They might have a problem seeing their own children. Although Mouse seemed to be the only one that really wanted to keep one for his own! His reasoning was that they had six, and he only had Arthur.
Vincent laughingly tried to explain that they loved them all and couldnít bear to part with even one, however Mouse could help out with the babies anytime he liked. That seemed to content him enough for the time being.
Jenny spent most of the day with them, only allowing Vincent to escort her to Cathyís old exit from the tunnels after dinner that evening. She vowed sheíd be back as soon as she could and reluctantly kissed every baby and Cathy good-bye. At the exit she gave Vincent a fierce hug and told him, "You take care of her and those beautiful babies. Iíll be back to visit as soon as I can."
"I will Jenny. I love Catherine and the children with all my heart and will protect them with my last breath!"
"Yeah, I could sense that about you. Well Cathy is my closest friend, and as long as you are good to her we can be friends too!"
"I will value your friendship, Jenny. You do have the telegraph message to send to my brother?"
"Yes and I will get it off as soon as I get to the office in the morning."
"Thank you, Jenny."
"No problem. I canít wait to meet him!"
Catherine and Vincent worked on building the intimacy in their relationship whenever they werenít too exhausted from caring for the six children and working on their new quarters. Close to the end of the babies first week of life, they had a memorable evening in the bathing chamber.
Catherine had needed to wash her hair, but hadnít had the energy. However, it really needed to be done, and rather than ask Mary or Rebecca, she hoped that if it was a need he might fulfill, Vincent would want to help. She was right, and he had bravely said he would assist her.
He shyly suggested that she get the rest of her bathing out of the way first and then he would come in, but since her ultimate goal was for him to become more comfortable with their mutual nudity, she declined. With a sigh at her coy smile he grinned and took her hand to enter the bathing chamber.
They undressed slowly because each one wanted to savor the sight of their beloved. Entering the water together, they took turns washing and caressing their mate. They had moved to the deepest part of the pool and Vincent had just started to wash her hair when Father entered the chamber.
All three of them froze in place for what seemed like an eternity. Catherine was the first to recover, and even though the water came high on her shoulders, she sank down until she was covered to her chin. Fatherís eyes had opened wide in astonishment at the scene he had interrupted. He hadnít thought things like this had been going on.
Vincent moved to stand between Father and his sight of Catherine, and the elder man smiled. His son was protecting the woman he loved. He knew Peter had cautioned Catherine about resuming Ďrelationsí for six weeks after the babiesí births and he trusted that she wouldnít let this little scene go to far. But he felt the need to make some comment on the situation, "Vincent," he began, and when he had his sonís attention, he continued, "Maybe it would be a good idea to place a tapestry over the entrance to my chamber, then the two of you could lower it when you are in here together."
If he had hoped to embarrass his son, Father had to have been disappointed, because Vincent just smiled and replied, "I think that is a very wise idea, donít you Catherine?"
At her answering giggle, Father finally excused himself by saying he would bathe later.
"Iím sorry if you were embarrassed, Vincent," Catherine told him when they were alone. "If I hadnít asked you to wash my hair, this wouldnít have happened."
"You did nothing to be sorry for Catherine, and I am always happy to help you. Father will just have to get used to the idea that his son is finally becoming a man, just as I have had to do!" he chuckled at admitting the last part.
"Personally I think you are doing a magnificent job if it!" she assured him. "Now do you suppose we could finish my hair before he comes back?"
With a laugh, Vincent agreed and quickly finished washing her hair. They actually took their towels and clothes back into their chamber to dry off and dress just in case Father did return to the bathing chamber.
The weeks progressed and the new family fell into a routine. They found that, although they didnít like the babies to be too far away from them at any given time, it was easier for all concerned, that at night Olivia would take any one of the babies with her to deliver the two nightly feedings without all the comings and goings.
Samantha had been discovered as a wonderfully dedicated nursemaid. It had been discussed in a Council meeting and with the young lady herself. The decision, when made, was that as soon as their new quarters were finished, she would move into the new nursery to help full time with the babies, as long as she continued to keep up her school studies.
Jenny became a regular visitor to the tunnels, managing to get Below at least once a week, and more whenever her schedule allowed. Peter also was a more frequent visitor. Even though he knew Cathy was in the good hands of Jacob Wells, he still considered her and the sextuplets as Ďhisí patients. Plus, he just loved watching Cathy and Vincent running herd on the multitude of helpers they had with the babies. He had been heard to chuckle to Father that it was like watching someone trying to herd cats!
As had been expected, the two that looked like their daddy had become the darlings of the tunnels, and their parents had to work hard not to allow favoritism to affect the babies.
Last but not least, the telegram to Devin had been received and answered. As Catherine had predicted, Devin relayed that he wouldnít miss his brotherís wedding for anything in the world. He added that it was about time Vincent married Chandler. Charles and he would arrive several days before the big event. No mention of the babies had been made in the telegram. Vincent had decided that he wanted to surprise Devin.
The news of Devin and Charlesí arrival was announced on the pipes and word quickly went out for a baby round-up. This had become a common announcement in the last five weeks. Anytime the babies had gotten farther afield than their parents felt comfortable with or they didnít know where all of them were, they sent out word on the pipes to bring them all back. Because Vincent and Catherine wanted to surprise Devin with the babies, everyone had been asked not to say anything to him about them until they could introduce them.
So the plan was for Samantha to watch the babies in their chamber while Vincent and Catherine met with Devin and Charles in Fatherís study. After catching up for a while and talking about the wedding they would suggest showing them the changes they were making for their new quarters. They would introduce them to the babies at that time.
Charles had arrived completely shrouded in a hooded cloak. Once he was in the tunnels he knew he was with family and felt free enough to remove it. He and Devin entered Fatherís study where Father, Mary, Catherine, and Vincent waited for them.
Devin quickly grabbed Vincent up in a hug and said, "Well congrats bro! Itís about time you got up the courage to ask her!"
"It had nothing to do with courage, it was all about love," Vincent informed his brother, stepping out of the hug so he could greet Charles.
This left Devin free to greet Catherine. "Well, Chandler, youíre finally getting your manÖgot tired of waiting for me, huh?"
Catherine hooted with laughter as she hugged Devin, "Sorry Dev, I have the brother I want, but my maid-of-honor is looking forward to meeting you."
"Is she single and beautiful?" he asked.
"Youíll just have to wait until tomorrow to see. Sheís coming to dinner."
"I will stay in my room then," Charles said quietly. He was still very leery of strangers.
"Charles, Jenny is a wonderful person, and I am sure you will get along with her well. She took one look at me and started poking me in the chest telling me Iíd better take good care of her friend!" Vincent laughed.
"She was not afraid?" Charles asked, knowing that Vincent often got the same feared reaction that he did when people first saw them.
"No she wasnít, Charles," Catherine answered. "And she is eager to meet both you and Devin."
"Okay," Charles said and smiled.
To change the subject, Vincent spoke to his brother, "Devin, I was hoping that you would agree to be my best man?"
"Of course I will! Who else would you trust with a job like that?"
Everyone laughed and Devin took that time to greet Father and Mary. The six of them had a cup of tea together, and then Vincent mentioned wanting to show them the work they were doing on new quarters for himself and Catherine. Everyone grinned knowing what surprise awaited the two newcomers.
The four of them reached Vincentís chamber and were greeted by Samantha. She reported all the babies were sleeping and that she would go and get her dinner now. Only Vincent, with his acute hearing, knew that she got no further that the passageway then stopped in the hopes of hearing Devinís reaction to the babies. Vincent couldnít blame her for wanting to know how he was going to respond to the surprise. Vincent was just as eager himself to know.
"Good Lord, Vincent, itís no wonder the two of you need new quarters! When did your chamber become a nursery?" Devin asked looking at all the cradles.
"A little over five weeks agoÖ" Vincent paused for effect, "When Catherine blessed me with six childrenÖ"
"SIX?!" Devin exclaimed, looking wildly about as if counting the cradles. "You mean all these are YOURS?" At his brotherís nod, Devin turned to Catherine and asked, "You had them all?"
"I know Vincent is a bit different Devin, but do you really think he was able to have any of them himself?"
At that, Charles, who had been leaning over one of the cradles looking at the baby it contained, chuckled. Vincent couldnít help but smirk at that himself, and he even detected a muffled giggle from the hall.
Catherine walked over to pick up the baby that Charles had been inspecting and she handed one of her sons to the gentle giant of a man. Charles stared at her in astonishment that she would allow him to even touch one of these delicate creatures, but when she just smiled at him and pressed the baby into his arms. He oh-so-carefully took him from her. "Be sure to support his head," was all the advice she gave him as Devin was trying to clarify what heíd said.
"I didnít mean that someone else had given birth to them! Just that I couldnít imagine someone as small as you carrying that many! But then again, Vincent never does anything halfway! Leave it to him to have not one kid, but a litter of them!" Devin laughed at his own joke.
But he was the only one laughing. Catherineís mouth dropped open and she stared at Devin in stunned silence at his indelicate reference. Charles was so wrapped up in the baby he held that he didnít even realize something out of the ordinary had happened. Vincent wasnít sure how to react. His sense of Catherine through the Bond, was that she was shocked and maybe a little offended by the remark. He had been afraid that what Devin had said would bring home his differences and point out the fact that others might be thinking the same thing. As always, his only concern was for Catherine, not himself; so he could either laugh off what Devin had said or take him to task.
However, before Vincent made that decision, Devin seemed to realize his faux pas, "Iím sorry you two! That was uncalled for! The only excuse I can give you is that once again Iím feeling jealous of my little brother. Here he is living in a hole in the ground, and not only does he find the most beautiful woman in New York, but he manages to get her to fall in love with him and promise to marry him. And now he had a family that would inspire awe in anyone! The two of you are truly blessed, and I am sorry if I offended either of you in any way!"
When Vincent didnít answer right away, Catherine said, "Thank you Devin."
Catherine was surprised at Vincentís question, "You were jealous of me? I donít understand that Devin."
"Donít you know that you have what men all over the world spend their whole lives looking for? A wonderful woman who loves you devotedly, beautiful children, six of them! You also have a safe and comfortable place to live and raise that family. Plus, on top of that, you have family and friends here that would give their lives for you, enough to eat and too many other things to list them all!"
An odd look came over Vincentís face as if he had never looked at his situation that way before, but once again Catherine was surprised when he spoke. She would have thought he might have said something about not being able to go Above, or even just thank his brother for pointing out those things to him, but instead, he said, "You could have those things too Devin. I know there have been women in your life, and the tunnels will always be your home. People here love you too."
"Thanks Fuzz, but thatís just not where I am in my life right now. Charles and I are doing well on our own."
"Well then, you donít have any reason to be jealous, do you?" Catherine asked, and then questioned, "Do you want to meet your nephews and nieces?"
"Sure! Do you mean to tell me youíre letting Charles and me in on their names before the ceremony?" he wanted to know.
"No," Vincent assured him and then introduced the babies by their color.
"Well, I guess thatís a clever way to tell them apart Ďtil they have names, but whatís with the leather on some of their wrists?"
While Vincent explained that, Catherine picked up Baby Girl Ivory who had wakened and wanted to be fed. She quickly changed her diaper first then went to sit on the bed to nurse her. When Devin noticed this, even though she had placed a light shawl over herself and the baby, he blushed and said, "UmmmmÖmaybe Charles and I should leave?"
Not understanding the sudden change in plans, Charles looked up from the baby that fascinated him so, and asked, "Why do we have to go Devin?"
Devin nodded his head at Catherine just as the baby Charles was holding woke up. All of the babies were used to waking up to different people by now, so he wasnít startled by a new face above him, instead, he reached out a tiny hand and grabbed a hold of Charlesí nose. Vincent grinned at Charlesí startled look and held out his arms for his son. "If youíll let me change his diaper, then you could feed him Charles."
"Really?!" Charles asked, and Devin knew that there was no way he could gracefully leave at that point. So when the rest of the babies started waking up, he pitched in to help, keeping his eyes from the bed and what Catherine was doing there. When Charlesí tummy growled loudly, everyone laughed and Vincent suggested that they go to dinner. Devin asked how they were going to do that with just the three of them. He knew Charles was too clumsy to carry a baby and walk at the same time. Before he even finished the question, Samanthaís head popped around the corner asking if she was needed.
Vincent smiled, knowing she had been there all along. He invited her in and handed her a baby, "Thank you Samantha we were going to the dining hall for supper. Since youíve already had yours, you will be a great help with the babies."
"You know, William is such a great cook I might be able to eat more when we get there, but Iíd be glad to help with the babies too!" she assured him.
Knowing the truth, Vincent didnít say anything as they decided who would carry which baby. Catherine and Vincent each took two, because they were used to it, while Devin and Samantha would each take one. They all knew there would be many willing hands when they got to the dining hall.
The evening went well, with everyone wanting news on what Devin and Charles had been doing. After theyíd finished eating most of the community had adjourned to Fatherís study to listen to Devinís stories. Charles was even persuaded to say a few words to the group. Everyone was enchanted by Charlesí reaction to the babies, and even though they were in great demand with everyone wanting a turn at holding one of them, no one had the heart to go up to Charles and ask to hold whichever baby he had at the time. His favorite seemed to be Baby Boy Green, the first one heíd held, that had grabbed his nose. Maybe it was the easy acceptance he got from the tiny child that meant so much to him.
The next day Devin joined the work crew on the new living quarters, and he was a bit surprised that Charles didnít want to stay close to him. Instead, the gentle giant spent the entire day with Catherine and the babies. He rarely let Baby Boy Green out of his sight, and when Olivia came to take one of the babies to feed, it was Charles who insisted she take any of the girls! Catherine was very tempted to tell Charles a closely guarded secret about his favorite baby, but with their naming day only four days away she felt it wouldnít be that long to wait.
The work crew for their new quarters started early and put in a very full day, with only three work days left until they needed to be finished. They planned to spend every minute available on it. To that end, William had sent them lunch via many willing children. Although they planned on taking a break for a communal dinner in the dining hall, they would return to work after the meal.
Because the last of the rock work involved in breaking through to the bathing chamber from the new bedroom would begin that night, Vincent, Catherine, and the babies would be moved to temporary quarters for the next three days. Mary had informed them that the women would need time to put the finishing touches on the three rooms, so the men would need to be finished by lunchtime the day before the ceremonies. No one wanted to incur Maryís wrath, so the work crew vowed that they would be done on time.
Jenny had been to the tunnels enough times by now that she no longer needed a guide to find her way to the main hub of chambers. She was heading to Cathy and Vincentís chamber to see them since sheíd arrived a few minutes early for dinner and never minded any extra time playing with the babies.
Devin had been working on the ledge that was to be the headboard of Catherine and Vincentís bed, he had wanted to finish before he broke for dinner. Because he was running late he decided to make a quick stop in Vincentís bathing chamber instead of the longer trek to the public chambers.
Since Jenny hadnít been Below in several days, she didnít know that Vincent and Cathy had moved to temporary quarters so they and the babies wouldnít have to deal with the dust and mess. She entered the chamber expecting it to be full of babies and her friends, but instead she was surprised to find no one home. ĎHad dinner time been moved?í she wondered as she heard a sound from the room next door. Thinking that she would now get an explanation for where everyone was, she was staring expectantly at the door to the bathing chamber when Devin came through.
Thinking that he was completely alone, Devin entered Vincentís chamber still towel drying his hair. His clean clothes were lying on the bed. With the towel covering his head, the first indication he had that he wasnít alone was the gasp he heard. Yanking the towel down, he saw a pretty brunette stranger standing there staring at him in open-mouthed surprise. Quickly lowering the towel to cover himself, Devin tried to brazen it out, "Hi there! Youíre new here, arenít you? Iím Devin Wells, Vincentís brother."
Jenny grinned at his brash attitude, standing there with just a towel covering his private parts, and replied, "Iím Jenny Aaronson, Cathyís friend and maid-of-honor. I was expecting to meet you tonight, but wasnít expecting to see so much of you."
"Yes, well, if a woman does see this much of me on a first date I have to admit itís usually at the end of the date."
"I didnít realize this was a date, but how did I come to receive this unexpected premiere? Isnít this Cathy and Vincentís chamber any more?"
"Yeah, but they and the baby squad moved to temporary quarters while we finished up the more messy work on the new rooms."
"The baby squad?"
"HA!" he laughed and explained, "We couldnít keep calling them the SEXtuplets because Vincent blushed every time we did," he told her with glee.
"You be nice to Vincent! Heís a great guy!" Jenny demanded.
"Hey, I love Fuzz like aÖwell like a brother!"
"FUZZ?! He allows you to call him Fuzz?!"
"Been doing it since we were kids. You know how brothers are," his laugh ended in a shiver as he stood there with just a towel held in front of him.
Seeing that, Jenny looked around for a robe or something to hand him.
"Those are my clothes there on the bed, if you could hand them to meÖ" Devin nodded in that direction.
Jenny couldnít resist teasing him just a bit, "Oh, I Ďcouldí hand them to youÖthe question is Ďwouldí I?"
Devin stared at Jenny in astonishment for a moment and then teased back, "Well, I guess I Ďcouldí just walk by you and get dressed with you standing there. The question is Ďwouldí I?"
"WellÖsince Iíve already seen all of you, the question should be, would I be impressed by the gesture?"
"Oh noÖ I think the question should be, did you like what you saw?"
She was trying to decide how to answer that. She didnít want to inflate his ego too much by telling him he had an impressive body, but she also didnít want to say something that would shoot him down either. She found that she liked this older brother of Vincentís, even if he didnít look anything like the gorgeous hunk Cathy snagged. Before she had a chance to reply though, Charles came into the room and stopped dead at the scene he was witness to.
"IÖummmmÖoops!" Charles said covering his eyes with his hands.
Jenny spun around at the sound of a new voice and her heart broke when she saw the man that had come into the room. How awful it must be for him to meet new people! Slowly stepping forward, she held out her hand and said, "Hi, Iím Jenny. You must be Charles. Cathy and Vincent have told me so much about you."
With a stunned look Charles dropped his hands and asked, "They did?"
"Yes they did," she assured him with her hand still outstretched.
Charles looked at the hand and the beautiful woman who had so willingly accepted his appearance. He was so moved by this that a tear make its way down his malformed face. He reached out a ham-like hand to enfold hers and gently shook it.
Meanwhile, as the two of them were dealing with their first meeting, Devin had taken the opportunity to snatch up his clothes and was putting them on as fast as he could while Jennyís back was to him.
As soon as he was dressed he came up behind her, put his arm around her shoulders, and asked, "Are we all ready to go to dinner now?"
Jenny looked over her shoulder at him and said, "Sure, I guess so. Charles are you joining us?"
He lowered his head shyly and nodded. The three of them headed off to the dining hall together.
Dinner was a very noisy affair, everyone talking at once, making final plans for the wedding and naming ceremonies. Even though they were having so much fun, the men got up right after desert had been served to return to work.
In a quiet moment alone together as they tucked the babies in, Jenny told Cathy about her meeting with Devin. Cathy almost dropped Baby Girl White she laughed so hard at the mental picture Jenny drew with her words. Cathy couldnít help but ask with a giggle, "So did you like what you saw?"
"Thatís what he asked me right before Charles came in," Jenny admitted.
"What did you say?"
"I didnít get a chance to answer. Charles interrupted us."
"Well, what would you have said?!" Cathy demanded.
Jenny laughed and told her, "Well certainly not what I would tell you!"
"That if he knows what to do with the equipment that he has, then heíll keep some lucky lady very happy."
"Oh!" Cathy blushed a bit at Jennyís frank comment. Catherine felt the tug of Vincentís curiosity at why she was a bit embarrassed and knew he would ask the reason when they were alone later.
Meanwhile, Vincent, who had noticed a bit of a spark between his brother and his new friend, took a quiet moment to question him, "Devin, what did you think of Jenny?"
Eyeing his brother suspiciously, Devin declared, "Oh no you donít, Fuzz! I know that tone of voice all too well, even if I never thought Iíd hear it from you!"
"What tone?" Vincent asked, truly confused.
"The tone that says ĎIím about to play matchmakerí!" Devin stated waving a hammer at his brother for emphasis.
"Oh," Vincent replied, and then after considering what he had been thinking as he asked the question, admitted, "I guess the thought had crossed my mind. But you would do well to consider Jenny. She is a very special lady."
"You know I never thought that you would fall into that old clichť, Fuzz!"
"The one where as soon as a guy gets engaged or married, he feels that he needs to get all his single friends hooked up too. I was never quite sure if it was because they were happy and wanted to share the joy, or whether it was because misery loves company!"
"Well, I am anything but miserable with Catherine, so I guess the former would be true. When you said you were jealous of what I have, I could hardly believe it Devin; but if itís true, you could so easily have the same things!"
"Vincent, I canít even think about that right now! You know the old man said Charlesí time was limited, and I just canít run off looking for love and leave him high and dry!"
"Thatís understandable and commendable Devin, but have you watched Charles for the last two days? He is so enamored with the babies that he might be happy to stay here in the tunnels for a while."
"Yeah, I was surprised when he wanted to spend the day with Chandler and the kids instead of with us.Ö" Devin trailed off as the thought about Vincentís words.
"There is even a chance heíd be willing to stay here with us if you wanted to go off somewhere for a while," Vincent offered.
"No, I wouldnít do that; but maybe if Charles did want to stay here for a time, that wouldnít be such a bad thing."
"Then its something you should talk to him about," Vincent advised.
"I will," Devin answered.
That evening as Vincent and Catherine lay cuddled in each others arms, she told him the amusing story of Jenny and Devinís first meeting. When he questioned her, like she knew he would, about her feeling of embarrassment that afternoon, she told him what Jenny had said about his brother.
She could tell he was shocked by the way he stiffened behind her and what she was feeling through the Bond. "Vincent it's okay. They both seemed amused by the encounter. Iím surprised that Devin didnít tell you about it."
"I have a feeling he is attracted to Jenny, and if that is the case, he might have been more embarrassed than he let on."
"Is that your empathic sense, or your Ďlittle brother trying to fix up his big brotherí sense?" she asked with a giggle.
"Devin accused me of trying to play matchmaker, too!" he protested.
"Well, it says quite a bit about your current relationship if that is the case," she told him.
"What does it say?" he asked, truly curious if Catherine and Devin were thinking along the same lines in this situation.
"It says that you are so happy you want others to be as well," she said, and snuggled closer to him.
"Devin said the same thing," he admitted, without adding the part about Ďmisery loves companyí.
Finally it was the day before the two ceremonies, and the work crew, who had been hard at work through the night, were delighted to let Mary know at breakfast that they were done ahead of schedule, and that she could now take over with the decorating end of the project.
The women of the tunnels descended en mass. Catherine was asked to supervise where she wanted things placed; but because tomorrow was her big day, she wasnít allowed to lift a finger. The men had been put in charge of the babies for the day, much to the delight of Charles. They were told only to bring them by the new quarters at feeding time. Catherine loved her babies, but it was the first day sheíd had off since their birth six weeks ago, and she was determined to enjoy every minute of it and not feel guilty.
Catherine shouldnít have been surprised that Mary had the ladies and girls alike organized into a well oiled work force. Her amazement came in how quickly and smoothly everything was put into place. When Vincent came by with two babies for their mid-morning feeding, he was pressed into service moving two pieces of furniture too heavy for the women to manage on their own.
All but Mary were surprised when the work was completely finished just before dinnertime. Mary had told the men to be done at noon, figuring they wouldnít be finished Ďtil dinner time; but since they had finished before breakfast that day, the ladies wouldnít have to work late into the night. Even though the rooms were ready for them to move back into that night, Vincent and Catherine decided to wait one more day and move into their new home as husband and wife.
The morning of the ceremonies came early to the tunnels. Some of the residents had gotten little to no sleep at all the night before. William was one of those. He had been planning for Vincentís wedding almost from the day he had met Catherine, and now it was finally here. William wanted everything to be perfect, and he was driving his kitchen crew crazy with his obsession to details.
Rebecca had also been putting in extra hours working on a special batch of candles for the wedding. Mary had been busy making a special gift for the babyÖtimes six!
Jenny was so excited about her best friendís wedding that she could hardly sleep at all. Since she was spending the night before in a guest chamber, when she woke she headed to the kitchen to beg a cup of coffee from William. He informed her that he always had tea on but if she really wanted coffee he could make it for a friend of Catherineís. She told him tea would be fine and the two of them shared a cup.
After her tea, Jenny headed to Cathyís temporary quarters to wake her. Vincent and Catherine had thought they were untraditional enough as a couple already that they didnít feel the need to do the Ďgroom canít see the bride the night before the weddingí ritual.
Jenny approached their chamber and saw that the tapestry was down covering the doorway. Having become a frequent visitor to the tunnels, Jenny knew what that meant, but today there wasnít time to mess with that! "Okay in there you two, I hope youíre decent because Iím coming in!" she called out as she brushed the tapestry aside, then she giggled, "Who am I kidding? If you arenít decent, then maybe Iíd get a look at just how sexy Vincent is!"
To her slight disappointment both of them were up and already dressed. They were sitting at a small table having morning tea and some muffins that William had sent them.
"Rats!"" she teased when she saw them.
"Good morning Jenny," Cathy said as she tried not to giggle at the look on Vincentís face at Jennyís comment.
"Donít you think that catching one Wells brother in an indecent moment was enough?" Vincent asked.
"Well, I donít knowÖ" Jenny told him. "You see, Devin was naked, but not indecent, so it isnít really the same thing, now is it?"
"Jen, give it a rest," Cathy told her friend as she sensed Vincentís embarrassment.
"Okay," she agreed readily. "We have a wedding to get ready for anyway! Come on letís go!" She grabbed Cathy by the hand and started to pull her out of the chamber.
"Wait a minute!" Cathy protested. "Donít I even get to kiss Vincent good-byeÖand what about the babies?"
"The baby team should be here.Ö" she stopped as four of the older children along with Mouse and Jamie entered the chamber. "Here they are now. Theyíll take care of the kids. You need to get ready!"
Catherine managed to tell the baby team that all the clothes that they had selected for the babies naming ceremony were laid out by their cradles. Vincent promised he would see that they were dressed correctly as she was pulled from the room without her good-bye kiss. As they disappeared, Devin and Charles arrived to escort Vincent off to get ready himself. It was clear from the look on his face that Charles would much rather have been on the baby team than on the Ďget the groom readyí team. Vincent suggested that Devin could handle helping him so Charles could stay with the children. He received a heartfelt and crushing hug for his efforts.
The room seemed to be filled with women; but when Catherine had a moment to really look around, she realized it was only Mary, Rebecca, Olivia, Lena, and Jenny who had arrived with her. On an old mannequin stand her motherís wedding dress was waiting. It had been cleaned, pressed, and altered slightly because Catherine was smaller than her mother had been, even after the birth of six children. The ladies encouraged her to sit down so her hair could be done by Olivia, who had never trained to do hair, but was talented at it nonetheless. Lena and Jenny would apply the little bit of make-up that Catherine would allow, knowing that Vincent preferred her without it.
In the guest chamber that Devin was using, Father and Peter were waiting for them to arrive. After explaining why Charles had stayed behind, they began to help Vincent dress for the wedding. He had insisted on wearing his white ruffled shirt and thigh high boots because Catherine had told him several times how much she liked those two articles of clothing. The rest of his attire he had left up to the wedding planners.
Catherine had found a pair of black suede trousers in a store catering to period clothing. The pants laced in the front with black leather cords. Mary had grinned and winked at Catherine when she showed them to her. She had also bought extra suede and a pattern for Mary to make him a matching jacket.
Devin smirked when he handed his brother the pants, knowing just why Catherine had selected that style. As Vincent took stock of the intricacies of this new garment, his thoughts couldnít help but go to later that evening when he knew Catherineís small fingers would be undoing them. The heat that rushed through his body from that thought was felt by Catherine through their Bond. She had no trouble knowing what he was thinking about. Faster than a telegraph, she imagined taking those pants off of him and sent back the feelings of desire that invoked as well. Vincent had to turn away from the other men so they didnít see the trouble he was having lacing the pants over the results of their shared desires.
Before long, Catherine was ready for her dress. The ladies took if off the mannequin and carefully lowered it over her head so as not to mess up her hair. Looking into the antique cheval mirror, that had been in Maryís chamber as long as anyone could remember, Catherine could hardly believe the sight she saw. Tears came to her eyes as she remembered her parents wedding photograph. She wished they were there with her! As that thought crossed her mind, two things happened that reminded her how very lucky she was.
Vincent felt the melancholy tug through the Bond and figured she was missing her parents. He sent all the love and support that he could back through the Bond as well as asking Peter to go and be with her.
Mary put her arm around her shoulders and said tenderly, "Your mother would have been so proud of you! Iím glad that youíre allowing me to be a stand in for her today."
"Thank you, Mary, but youíre much more that just a stand in for her! In essence you have been Vincentís mother since he arrived here in the tunnels and you have mothered everyone else here Below, as well as me ever since we met. So even if I didnít already see you as a dear mother-in-law, I consider you as a second mother just like I do with Peter as a father."
"Did I hear my name?" the man in question asked as he peeked around the doorway.
When the ladies told him it was safe to come in, he stood looking at Cathy. "You are as lovely as your mother ever was, my dear! Did I ever tell you that I was a little in love with your mother myself? But she took one look at Charles Chandler and there was never anyone else for her, so I quietly stepped back into the role of friend to both of them. Cathy, they would have been so proud of you today!"
Giving Peter a tight hug, Catherine said, "Thank you! I think I always suspected that about you and mom. Your voice always softened when you said her name. I am glad you did marry and have a family of your own though."
"As am I, my dear. I just wanted you to know that Iím not just here to be a stand in for your dad, but because in some small way I feel like I could have been your father."
Hugging him again, she told him, "As far as Iím concerned Peter, you are the next best thing to having my dad here."
"Thank you, Cathy. Iím honored to be here."
It was only a few minutes later that Father arrived so both he and Peter could escort the bride to the Great Hall. There was no other place that Vincent and Catherineís wedding could be held. No other place would hold all the people who would attend. There wasnít one single Helper who wanted to miss this wedding, nor would anyone Below even think of not being there. Pascal had even decided that no one would need to man the pipes during the ceremonies since everyone they knew would be present. This was a major deviation from the norm for the Pipemaster.
Vincent and Devin arrived and took their places in the enchanted Hall. Hundreds of Rebeccaís special candles illuminated the room and the fragrance of roses was heady. The red and white blooms were almost as prevalent as the candles. Being the ever concerned father, Vincent searched the room and found Charles watching the six baby minders closely. Reassured that all was well with them, he began to watch for Catherineís arrival.
Catherine, the women who had helped her dress and her two fathers made their way to the Great Hall together. She smiled and talked as they walked along, but internally she was tuned into Vincent. She sensed his pleasure at the room and could hardly wait to see it for herself. The couple had been consulted on colors, music, and flower types, but other than that they had been left completely in the dark as to how the Hall would be decorated. The community had wanted to do this as a surprise for them. Vincent and Catherine had been humbled and honored at the amount of people who had wanted to help in that project. Catherine also knew that Vincent had checked on the children and that they were being well taken care of. She had even felt his amusement as he watched as others had offered to help with the babies and had been refused. Finally, she sensed his anticipation as he waited for her arrival at the doors to the Great Hall.
She remembered the first time she had seen this room. It had been her first Winterfest. She would never forget her anticipation as Vincent opened the massive doors and then led her through the darkness. But that anticipation was nothing to what she was feeling today. Finally all her dreams were coming true! She and Vincent were getting married, and they were already parents of an amazing bunch of children.
All the ladies, with the exception of Jenny, said good-bye at the doors, and went to find seats inside. Zachary had been put in charge of flower distribution, and he quickly pinned a white rose boutonniere on Peter and a red one on Father. He then handed Jenny her bouquet of both colored roses and babyís breath. To Catherine he handed two perfect blooms, one red, the other white, their stems were wrapped together with a white satin ribbon.
She and Vincent had explained about her rose bush with both colored blooms and how they felt it symbolized the two of them so well. The community had passed the story from one to another, and everyone had taken it to heart.
Catherine linked her arms with both Father and Peter and stepped into the doorway. The musicians began to play the first song they had selected. She only had a moment to register the incredible beauty of the room before her eyes met Vincentís and she couldnít focus her gaze anywhere else.
Vincent looked like a fantasy prince in his black suede and ruffled shirt. Catherineís heart beat faster and she allowed herself one heated thought of their wedding night to come before she brought herself back to the present.
He had felt that moment of desire and had to clamp down tightly on his response, so he didnít embarrass himself with the evidence of his thoughts. Instead he concentrated on Catherineís appearance. She was a vision! An angel! A princess! A queen! None of them quite did justice to the beauty that was her. She was perfect! She was simply his Catherine, a beauty both inside and out; and she was about to become his wife.
She walked up the aisle with a stand-in father on each arm, her smile brighter than any of the candles in the room. When the trio reached the front and the minister asked, "Who gives this woman to be wed?" Both Father and Peter answered, "We do, in her fatherís place."
The ceremony began, and they joined hands to repeat their vows. When it came time for the exchange of rings he turned to Devin and then back to her. Taking her left hand in his, he placed a beautiful ruby and diamond ring on her finger. Vincent had told her that this ring was Margaretís. She had given it to Jacob during their last week together and she asked him to keep it for Vincent when he and his Catherine were ready to marry. Catherine felt blessed to be a part of their love in this way.
When it was Catherineís turn, she received a ring from Jenny and turned to place it on Vincentís finger. Sheíd had her fatherís wedding band enlarged to fit his larger hand. Both of them loved the fact that their rings connected them to the otherís parents and their legacy of love.
They were pronounced husband and wife, and Vincent was told he could kiss his bride. Because of the six weeks of practice theyíd had, he didnít even hesitate; gently taking her into his arms they shared their first kiss as a married couple in front of their family and friends. The cheers and applause reminded them that they werenít alone and they reluctantly broke the kiss. They were presented to the community as Mr. and Mrs. Vincent Wells. More cheers and applause greeted this announcement.
Jenny and Devin were the first to hug and kiss the happy couple, because they had been the closest, then Father and Peter, after that, everyone in the room wanted a chance to wish them well. Before they had a chance to talk to everyone the babies started to wake and needed to be changed and fed again. As that was happening, the men rearranged the room so the naming ceremony could begin as soon as they were finished.
The babies were once again gathered up and Vincent asked certain people to be holding them for the ceremony. He and Catherine had a very special reason for the arrangement. "I think the reason we have these people holding the babies will become evident in a few moments," Vincent told them and then nodded to Father to begin.
The tunnel patriarch stepped forward, his eldest grandson held tenderly in one arm and said, "Today is a very blessed day, not only is it the day that I saw my son marry a beautiful woman whom I already thought of as a daughter, but it is one of the most special naming days we have ever seen. Never have we ever had six babies named on the same day, let alone the fact that these six belong to one couple! So, we welcome these children with love so they may learn to love. We welcome them with gifts so that they may learn to give, and we welcome them with names, that I know Vincent and Catherine have decided on."
Vincent spoke next, "Actually, Catherine chose all the names for our children before we got back together again, however, when she told me what she had selected there wasnít one change that I would have made. She had managed to honor many of our family and friends in the names, and I was in awe of her choices. We do plan on continuing with the color coding of the children as well as the wrist bands on the eldest of each twin. Until they are old enough to recognize their own names, it will be a way for all of us to tell them apart."
Vincent stepped back and allowed Catherine to take center stage, she smiled and told everyone, "We will name them in the order they were born. Father is holding Baby Boy Blue, we have named him after two of his three grandfathers." As Father came forward with the baby Catherine added, "We would like you all to meet Jacob Peter Wells."
Both Father and Peter beamed as the community cheered. Next Vincent stepped up and asked Charles to come forward. "Baby Boy Green is being named for his other grandfather, as well as two very dear friends. We would like you to meet Charles Winslow Wells."
Amid more cheers Charles looked down at his namesake in his arms and wept. He had never thought he would ever hold a child in his life, and now he had one named after him! There were no words as Vincent hugged the man who loved his second son almost as much as he did.
Once again it was Catherineís turn to speak. She motioned Mary, who was holding Baby Girl Pink, forward and said, "This is our oldest daughter and she is also being named after three people we hold very dear. Mary, who has been Vincentís mother since he was brought to the tunnels, Ellie, Ericís sister, whom we all knew and loved, and Fatherís wife, Margaret. We would like you all to meet MaryEllen Margaret Wells."
"Thank you, children!" Mary whispered to them as tears slid down her cheeks. Another one crying was Eric. He was touched that his sister would be remembered this way. Father looked too choked up to do anything more than nod his approval.
Vincent and Peter came forward next as Vincent explained, "Baby Girl Yellow is being named after her grandmother and the woman who found me and brought me to the tunnels and my new family. Even though her name will officially be Caroline Anna, we plan on calling her Carolann."
Peter looked down at the sleeping infant in his arms and placed a kiss on her tiny forehead. He went back to the group of baby holders, leaving Catherine and Vincent standing side by side with the last two babies.
Catherine spoke, "On the first anniversary of our meeting Vincent and I exchanged gifts. He gave me a crystal from the Crystal Caverns that Mouse had helped him turn into a necklace. I gave him a porcelain rose that my mother had given me as a child. We thought it completely appropriate when they decided to be born on our third anniversary that they be given names to commemorate that. So Baby Girl White will be named Crystal Wells and Baby Girl Ivory will be Rose Wells."
A brief silence followed this moving announcement, only to be broken by Mouseís enthusiastic comment of "Okay good, okay fine! Present time now?"
Laughter greeted his question; and Samantha rolled her eyes as several people looked at her, remembering that same question from her on Little Cathyís naming day. Father agreed that it was time for the gifts, and every one surged forward to place their offerings on the tables that had been set out for that purpose.
Vincent and Catherine were overwhelmed at the quantity of gifts and the quality as well. The largest majority of the gifts were homemade, and those that werenít, had been rescued from the world Above and lovingly restored to their former glory, and sometimes even beyond it! They thanked everyone profusely; and just as they finished opening the last gift, William announced that it was time to eat.
The meal was amazing! Williamís cooking was always wonderful, but this time he had outdone himself in quantity and quality. He had been planning this meal for quite some time and had been putting back into storage things that would keep in preparation for the day. Vincent had always been a favorite of his, and he had wanted this dayís food to be as special as the groom himself was. Not only that, but the bride was exquisite as well!
Speeches and toasts were made to the happy couple; and when everyone had at last eaten their fill, the dancing began. Once again during this time the babies needed to be fed and changed, and again there were more hands than needed ready to assist with the task. Before long, even though they were enjoying the day, Vincent and Catherine began to think about getting away from everyone so they could be alone.
Being the guests of honor and having to round up the six tiny additional guests of honor, precluded Catherine and Vincent from just slipping away from the reception. Because of that, Olivia and Kanin were alerted to the fact that the newlyweds wanted to leave. They quickly sent word out to the six plus one baby minders. The plus one was because Charles had begged to be included in the group, and no one could refuse him.
The nine of them approached Catherine, Vincent, and the babies they had just gathered up and took control of the babies right out of their hands! The minders and Charles disappeared, as planned, with their charges, leaving Olivia and Kanin to explain what was happening. "We know how much you love your babies, but as of now, and until Monday morning. you two are not parents. They will be well looked after and loved, so all you two need to worry about is each other for the next day and a half."
"But what about my milk?" Catherine protested, knowing she would be hurting from one missed feeding let alone thirty six hours worth of feedings.
Olivia grinned and leaned over to whisper in Catherineís ear, "Remember the other day when I told you what Kanin liked to do?" At Catherineís embarrassed nod, she continued with a wink, "Well this is a perfect opportunity for Vincent to help you with that!"
Catherineís face flamed red at just the thought of what Olivia was suggesting, and Vincent wondered what it could have been that caused that reaction in his much-more-worldly-than-he bride.
Kanin grinned at what was going on, especially the bewildered look on Vincentís face. He was pretty sure what Olivia had told Catherine and knew that if he was right, Vincent would be in for a treat that night. However, his words gave nothing of that away as he said, "Come on you two, we have been given the pleasure of escorting you to your honeymoon hide-away." He and Olivia started out of the room with Catherine and Vincent following along behind.
When the four of them reached the newly remodeled living quarters, Kanin opened the door in the hall with a key. Catherine and Vincent hadnít been aware the door would even be able to be locked. Kanin presented the key he held to Vincent, while Olivia handed Catherine a matching one for herself.
"Because of what the two of you did for us the night we moved into our new quarters, we wanted to do the same for you," Olivia told them.
"We hope youíll like it," Kanin added.
The four of them exchanged hugs as Catherine and Vincent assured them they would love whatever had been done for them. Then, as the other couple melted away, Vincent lifted his bride into his arms and carried her across the threshold. At Catherineís surprised look, Vincent admitted that he had been studying marriage customs for the last few weeks. As Catherine teased him that he would have to tell her about any other customs that he had found interesting, he swung his precious burden around in such a way that her feet pushed the door closed.
They entered the bedroom to find that it was filled with Rebeccaís special candles as well as dozens of red and white roses. The bed itself was covered in petals, the fragrance this gave the room was amazing. Vincent stood there with his bride in his arms; both of them were speechless at the beauty their friends had created for them. "Oh,Vincent!" Catherine whispered in awe.
"I know. Theyíve created a wonderland for us."
"This is how they must have felt the night we did this for them."
"Catherine, I have to tell you that I imagined us together in that room we created for them," he said with the new boldness that he had discovered in the last few weeks.
"I did too, my love," she told him and gently kissed his cheek.
Vincent slowly lowered Catherine to her feet, keeping his arm around her and pulling her closer for a kiss when she was safely standing. She reached her arms up around his neck and arched her body against him. She could feel his rising desire pressing against her. Catherine moaned into the kiss they were sharing, and Vincentís reaction was even more evident.
"Catherine, may I undress you?" he asked tenderly.
"Yes, Vincent, you may do anything you wish."
With a slight smile, he took one step back so he could look at the amazingly beautiful sight she made in her wedding gown. Reaching up, he removed the circlet of flowers she wore as a headpiece and laid it aside. Next he walked slowly around behind her and carefully slid the zipper of her dress down.
Catherine could feel his nervousness about what was about to happen. Even though they had been leading up to this point for the last six weeks, the only time Vincent had ever made love, he didnít have any memory of it. She wanted this to be wonderful for him, so she told him, "Vincent, we can take this slowly. If you arenít ready we can waitÖ"
"I have waited for this day all of my life, Catherine. Iím ready to take this step with you."
With a soft sigh, she turned to face him and whispered, "Iím glad." Sliding the dress off of her shoulders, she let it fall to the floor. Knowing how much the dress meant to her, he picked it up and laid it over a chair. "One or all of our daughters might want to wear this dress on their wedding day," he told her.
"As long as they donít all decide to get married on the same day!" she giggled.
Vincent took in the sight of Catherine standing there in her underclothes laughing at the thought of their childrenís wedding. It was incredible how at ease she was.
"Vincent, may I help you out of your clothes too?" she asked.
He gave her a shy smile and nodded. Smiling back at him, she undid the buttons on his jacket and slid it off his shoulders. Then she reached for the ties of his wonderful ruffled shirt and did the same. Over the last several weeks Vincent had become almost comfortable around her without a shirt on. He was constantly astounded at the pleasure she received from running her hands through the thick mat of hair on his chest. She also seemed to delight in playing with his nipples, which aroused him greatly.
He had also found that her nipples were incredibly sensitive. She said they had been before, but since she started nursing the babies, they had become even more so. She had encouraged him to play with them, and even once suggested that he taste them and her milk. He had been so shocked and had backed away so quickly that heíd almost fallen off the bed. Catherine had wisely not suggested that again. She remembered well that night. It was right after Olivia had told her that Kanin liked doing that; but she wanted the closeness between her and Vincent to continue to grow, and scaring him like that wasnít the best way to do that.
Her tender caresses brought him back to the moment at hand and he groaned in pleasure. Catherine was emboldened by this encouragement and reached for the leather cord that held his trousers closed. He tensed for a moment and then reminded himself of her positive reaction to the sight of his nudity in the bathing chamber. After that first time, when Father had caught them, they had hung a tapestry, as discussed, and had several baths together since then, once they were assured of privacy.
The slow sensual movements of Catherine unlacing the front of his pants were so much more than both of them had thought it would be earlier in the day. Catherine had untied the cord and shocked him down to his toes when she fell to her knees in front of him and pulled the cord free using only her teeth!
"Catherine!?" he gasped.
She looked up at him with the cord held firmly between her teeth and asked, "Yes, Vincent?"
He could feel her sexual tension through the Bond and it was tinged with just a hint of fear. Fear that she had gone too far. He couldnít let Catherine think that just because his own fears were still there in the back of his mind. "You never cease to surprise me!" he told her.
Grinning, she went to work on his boots next, and once they and his heavy socks were laying on the floor, she placed her hands on his hips and began to lower his pants. He watched as she removed them and his underwear at the same time! Vincent hadnít expected that, and he could tell by the smile on her face that she was pleased to have surprised him again.
Finally he was naked in front of her, and highly aroused, while she still had on her underclothes, hose and shoes. "I think one of is over dressed," she said.
Helping Catherine to her feet he smiled and replied, "May I take care of that for you?"
"I would love that, Vincent," she told him, stepping out of her shoes and waiting to see what he would do first.
He had learned the intricacies of the front closure bras that she favored and gently reached out to free her of the delicate piece of satin and lace. Vincent sighed when he beheld the beauty heíd uncovered. "Catherine, I still find it hard to believe that we can be together like this, and that not only will you let me undress you, but that you actually want me to!"
She smiled at him and said, "Vincent, I hope that after tonight you will never doubt either of those things again."
"As do I, Catherine," he replied as he carefully smoothed her panties and hose over her hips and down her legs. She rested her hands on his shoulders as she lifted her feet one at a time to step out of them.
Both stood there staring at the other for what seemed an eternity, but was in reality just a minute or two; then Catherine reached out her hand for his, intending to lead him to the bed. But this time it was Vincent that surprised her!
He took her hand like she expected, but instead of letting her pull him towards the bed, he pulled her towards him. When she was right in front of him, he swept her up into his arms and as his head lowered to hers in a very heated kiss, he walked to the bed.
Gently placing her in the middle of it, he paused a moment to savor the sight of her lying there and then eagerly joined her. Vincent had listened carefully to all the things she had told him about lovemaking during the last few weeks and had even taken his courage in his hand and asked Kanin for any advice he had to give. Both of them had in essence told him the same thing, let his instincts take over and use the Bond as a guide to Catherineís feelings and emotions.
He knew she loved kissing him. She had often said how sexy she found his uniquely shaped mouth, and when she discovered how sensitive the cleft of his upper lip was, she delighted in tickling that spot with her tongue every chance she got. This caused a shiver of sensation to race through his body and give his manhood a wake up call, which was okay when they were alone; but that wasnít the only time she did it! One memorable occasion had been three weeks ago when she had been called out of a Council meeting to tend to the babies. She had kissed him good-bye, adding that little lick as a mischievous afterthought. Vincent had to quickly sit down and cover his lap with a book. The smiles he saw on several faces around the room told him that although he may have successfully hidden the evidence of what she had caused, the ones smiling, knew the reason for the book in his lap!
So, kissing her was his first instinct. Vincent allowed that instinct to lead him where it would, and soon he was placing kisses all over her face and then trailing them down her neck, to her beautiful breasts that nursed their children. Vincent was very careful to just kiss her nipples and not to lick or suck on them. She didnít know whether it was because he was afraid of taking milk from the babies or if there was some other reason. Catherine hoped to change that before Monday morning, but for now she enjoyed the delightful feeling of his kisses, arching her body up as she silently begged for more.
She moaned his name as he left her breasts and began to kiss his way down her tummy. Catherine had worked as hard as she could over the last few weeks to get her pre-pregnancy figure back and she was proud of how well she had done. So as he kissed her tummy where their babies had grown, she was happy that the only evidence that she had given birth six weeks ago were a few stretch marks. She knew that some women stressed about the stretch marks left behind after pregnancy; but after having six babies, she felt that they were her badge of courage! She had earned every one of those stretch marks!
Vincent felt her shiver of anticipation as he reached her curls. The scent of her arousal was heady to him. After placing a tender kiss on her mound, carefully parting her folds, he could see how wet she was. Her gasp when she felt his warm breath on her most intimate area surprised him, but he wondered what reaction it might cause if he did something else. He gently blew a puff of cool air on her clitoris and she came unglued.
Catherine cried out his name as her body shuddered through her climax. This was only the second one Vincent had ever witnessed. During their six weeks together she had managed to show him a few things that they could do short of intercourse. One of which was to use his hand to stroke her to completion, and that was what he had done just a few days ago when they had been taking a bath together. She had shown him it was safe because his razor sharp claws softened when in water, and so they couldnít hurt her. The pleasure he had managed to give her had left them both shaken.
Another thing she had insisted was necessary before their wedding night was to release some of his years of built up tension, so to that end, the night heíd brought her to climax with his hand, she had done the same for him. At first heíd been unbelievingly embarrassed to have her do what heíd only done a very few times to himself, and then only in the latest hours of the night when he could be assured of complete privacy for this lack of control caused by his intense desire for Catherine. She had insisted that it was common for men to do this on their own and that she also enjoyed doing it for him. She told him it pleased her to please him, and later that night she had pleased him in a way that had only happened in his most intense fantasies! She had taken hisÖcock in her mouth!
Laughingly, Catherine had told him it was okay to call it something other than penis or phallus, terms heíd gotten from Fatherís medical books. She had gone on to list several of the names she knew. Cock, shaft, manhood, and joy stick had been just a few of the ones listed. Privately, his favorite was joy stick because even though he wasnít aware of the play of words relating to computer hardware, he found that since Catherine had started his sexual instruction, that was what he felt every time she touched him thereÖjoy.
Having her Ďgive him headí, as she had referred to it, had been the most mind-blowing experience of his life to date. However, he was sure that as long as Catherine was his wife that would probably be a constantly changing thing. She had in fact wanted to do that for him again last night so some of the pressure was off for tonight, but he had told her Ďnoí, heíd rather wait, and so last night they had just kissed and cuddled until they fell asleep in each others arms.
Now here they were lying side by side, waiting for her to recover before joining their bodies together for the first time as husband and wife, as well as the first time in Vincentís memory.
"Catherine, I want you to tell me if I do anything wrong or that displeases you," he said quietly as he held her close.
"Vincent, nothing you could do would displease me, and as long as you follow your heart, there will be nothing you could do that is wrong," she assured him.
"I would like this firstÖsecond time to be perfect for you."
"Vincent, the fact that I am with you is what makes it perfect. Thatís all Iíve ever needed."
"Catherine, I donít know what I ever did to deserve having you in my life, but Iím certainly glad that I did it!"
"Youíre simply the kindest, most generous person Iíve ever known Vincent, and Iím sure if you ask anyone here Below, they would tell you the same."
"Thank you Catherine," was all he said and kissed her to show how much her words had touched him.
It was no surprise that the kiss quickly became hungry on both their parts. Catherine could feel him hard and eager against her thigh and he knew by how she was shifting around on the bed that her desire was almost out of control. Added to the physical signals, the Bond was telling both of them that the other was more than ready.
Vincent rose up over her as Catherine shifted to be in the right spot under him. Her legs parted in an invitation as old as time. She let him probe around a bit because it simply felt so good. However, sensing that he was becoming a bit embarrassed as well as frustrated at not being able to find his goal, she reached down between them, and taking his shaft into her hand she guided him home.
Vincentís eyes closed in bliss at the feeling of her moist folds opening to receive him as he slowly entered her, and then they seemed to close around him as if even her insides wanted to caress him.
"Oh Vincent," she sighed at the feeling of having her beloved inside of her once again. His eyes popped open to see a look of wonder and awe on her face.
"Catherine youíre looking at me as if this is our first time."
"It is Vincent," she assured him, but he had the evidence of Crystal and Rose to tell him this wasnít true. "It is the first time I can see the expressions on your face, as well as seeing your wonderful body. The cave was so dark and I couldnít see anything."
"Oh Catherine!" he exclaimed in wonder at how she never ceased to amaze him. Here he had been regretting not remembering their first time, and with her simple words she had made this a first time for both of them. He started moving, stroking in and out of her as they both drank in the sight of the one they loved in the light of the dozens of candles in the room.
They could feel their climaxes approaching and Catherine wrapped her legs around his hips encouraging him to go faster. He smiled down into her face and did as she wished. As they raced towards their goal, Vincent began to feel odd. Something was intruding on this magical moment. Images of Catherine in an orange sweater, above him just like he was above her now, assailed him. Her hair had hung down tickling his face as she movedÖthe same way he was moving now.
As the passion overtook them, Vincent threw back his head and called out her name. He knew she would have done the same, if there hadnít been the entire tunnel community in the next room, that night so many months ago now. He rolled to his side so his weight wouldnít crush her and then whispered her name reverently.
With her eyes still closed and a totally self-satisfied smile on her face Catherine said, "I know. It was wonderful!"
Wondering why he didnít voice his agreement, Catherine slowly opened her eyes and looked into his. It took her a moment to analyze the look on his face and then a split second to check her guess through the Bond. She gasped and exclaimed, "Vincent, you remembered!"
"Yes Catherine," Vincent agreed joyfully. "It was as wonderful as you said, even if I wasnít much of a participant."
She giggled lightly. "You were enough of a participant to have given me six children!" she teased.
The blush that sheíd expected didnít appear. Instead, he gave her a self-satisfied smile and replied, "I did, didnít I?"
They both laughed and tussled just a bit before settling down to get a little sleep.
Catherine woke a few hours later, knowing that it was past the babies usual feeding time. Her breasts were heavy and hurting. She knew the pressure needed to be relieved soon. Vincent felt her shifting in bed next to him and sliding his arm around her he pulled her close. Unfortunately, this caused her breasts to press against his chest and she moaned at the discomfort it caused.
Vincent woke at the sound of her pain as well as the feeling he was getting through the Bond. "Catherine did I hurt you?" he questioned anxiously.
"No, Vincent, but I do have a problem."
"What is it? Is there anything I can do to help?" he wanted to know.
"Actually youíre the only one Iíd want to help me with this."
"You know that I will do anything I can for you! You have only to tell me what it is."
"Well, with the babies being taken care of by our family and friends, I have milk that needs releaseÖ" she trailed off hoping he would understand.
But it seemed that wasnít to be. "How can I help with that Catherine?" he questioned, clearly confused.
"You could relieve the pressure."
"How?" he wanted to know, still ready to help but not knowing how.
"Well, I didnít buy a breast pump because with the possibility of three babies. Peter and I figured that all my milk would be in demand. So the most natural way would be for you to drink it."
He quickly backed as far away from her as he could without falling out of bed and she was pretty sure that was the only thing that kept him from moving even farther away. With a horrified look on his face he exclaimed, "Catherine, I couldnít!"
"No Vincent, you couldÖyou just donít think you should!"
"Catherine! I would do anything for youÖbut that is just soÖintimate!"
"And making love wasnít? Vincent, Olivia told me that Kanin loves to do this! She said that it is a very special thing that they share, and unless you want to go get the babies, Iíll suffer because I canít drink it myself!"
"Oh, Catherine! I donít want you to suffer in any way!" he said contritely. Moving closer to her once again, he begged, "Just tell me what you need me to doÖ"
"Vincent. Iíd like this to be a pleasant experience for both of us; but if you really donít want to do it, I could go and hunt down the babies."
"Iím sorry,Catherine, once again my fears and misconceptions are getting in the way. I will put my trust in you that if you say it is alright, then I am willing to try it. Please just tell me what to do."
"I was hoping that this would be a joy for us to share rather than a chore, but at this point Iíll take what I can get. As for what to do, itís easy Vincent, just lay here next to me and drink, just like youíve seen our children do many times."
He looked at her warily as if still not sure she really wanted him to do this, then he slid down until his head was at the level of her chest. As he hesitated she softly told him, "Itís okay, Vincent, really."
With a single nod, he tentatively opened his mouth and carefully closed his lips on her nipple. Her moan when he began to suck was almost his undoing. As if she sensed he was about to pull away, she pressed her hand to the back of his neck, and begged, "Please donít stop, Vincent!"
Testing the Bond he found that she meant what she said and began to suckle again. Because he had the Bond completely open, he sensed it there first. Catherine was becoming aroused by what he was doing!
Catherine couldnít help but watch Vincent sucking at her breast. The sight was incredible. Olivia had told her that the feeling of having the man you loved nursing at your breast was totally different from your baby doing so, and she had been right! Your baby tugged your maternal instinct, but the feeling of your lover doing the very same thing placed the tug in a much different place!
She could feel the moisture gathering between her legs and her desire build with every passing moment. At her moan, this time Vincent didnít pull back, he could tell this time that her moan was one of pleasure and not of disgust or pain as he had thought the first time. And her feelings of desire caused his to beginning to rise as well. Vincent wasnít quite sure just when the feeling of intense uncomfortableness had started to fade, but as their desire rose he realized that he was starting to enjoy what he was doing.
Even as he continued to drink from her breast, Vincent tried to analyze the changes that were happening and the reasons for them. Could it be that this had been something he had missed as an infant? Having been abandoned as he was, heíd never nursed. Father had told him of the many bottles heíd fed him after he recovered from how sick heíd been when he was found. It turned out baby Vincent had a very healthy appetite. Or was it simply that this was something from Catherine that he was missing? She had become his life, his love, his lady, his wife, and the mother of his children. Was it really so odd that she was also now giving him an experience usually only given by a mother? She was, and always would be, his everything.
Her milk was also sweeter than he would have thought, if he had ever had the courage to think about it. Regular milk had never tasted like this! But he didnít know if that was normal of if again this was something uniquely Catherine.
His thoughts were interrupted by her voice, she told him, "Oh Vincent, I need you to switch to my other breast, but I also want you to make love to me!"
Licking her nipple clean in preparation to moving to her other breast, Vincent smiled at her as he removed his mouth. "Catherine if you were to be like you were in the cave, we might be able to do both at once."
"You really do remember!" she said in wonder as she was already moving into position.
"Yes, we were still mostly clothed, I remember you had on an orange sweaterÖ" he waited as if heíd asked a question.
"You could see in that darkness?! Your vision is amazing! As for why, the others were so close and we were in quite a hurry."
He nodded as if that were the explanation heíd expected. Helping Catherine by steadying her as she climbed up and over him, he watched as she took his manhood in her hand, just as she had that night in the cave, and guided him into her wet center.
Both of them sighed in pleasure as she slowly lowered herself onto him. He watched the beautiful sight of her above him and remembered what he was supposed to be doing. Propping himself up on his elbows, Vincent tenderly took her breast in his mouth and began to relieve the pressure for her. Because they were joined so intimately, they felt the jolt go through themselves to the other and back again through the Bond. They were always stunned how, now that the Bond was flowing both ways, just how intense every emotion and feeling was, since it was amplified by two. It made life much more exciting.
Catherine set a fairly quick pace as she rode her handsome husband. She knew that both of them were so very aroused that it wouldnít take long for both of them to be coming. She was right. Within minutes of her mounting Vincent, both of their worlds exploded into a shower of bright lights and colors, almost as if fireworks were going off inside their new bed chamber!
Collapsing on top of him, Catherine gasped, "Vincent that was fantastic! They say that your love life gets better the longer youíve been together and learned what your partner likesÖif ours gets any better, Iíll have a heart attack!"
Knowing that she didnít really mean that, he held her close and promised, "In that case, I will do my utmost never to improve or learn any thing more of what you like than I do right now,Catherine!"
Propping herself up on his chest so she could look into his eyes, she saw the teasing glint in them and swatted his shoulder in reward for his smart answer. "Oh you!" she griped.
Laughing, he cuddled her closer and softly asked, "Catherine do you think that maybe, from time to time, I might have another taste of your milk?"
She smiled sweetly and even though he couldnít see it he could feel it through the Bond. "So you really did like it! Yes, darling, you can have a sip or two any time you like."
"I donít want to take anything the babies need though," he told her urgently.
"Oh my love, you wouldnít! I can tell how concerned you are about that very thing, so therefore it wonít happen. Besides, by the time we have a chance to be like this, they are already fed and asleep."
"Youíre right, I hadnít thought of that."
"So, do you think everyone was pleased with the babiesí names?" she asked quietly.
"Yes I do. WellÖall but oneÖ"
"Who?!" she questioned in concern.
"DevinÖhe thought we should have named one of them after himÖbut he let me know that he wouldnít be too upset if we promised to name the next one after himÖ"
"Oh he did, did he?! Iíll make sure the Ďnext oneí is a girl!" she vowed with a tired laugh.
"Iím not sure that will be enough, Catherine. I think Devin would be a pretty name for a girl as well!"
"Ohhhh! And that would serve him right if we named a girl after him! Okay, itís a planÖweíll have one more and sheíll be named Devin!" Catherine giggled.
"I approve of your plan wholeheartedly, Catherine; but might I add that I think Devin Jennifer sounds just perfect?"
"Oh Vincent! I think so too!" she added and they both fell asleep with smiles on their faces.
The next morning the babies started to arrive bright and earlyÖwell early anyway, since you couldnít tell if the day was bright or not below. Olivia brought in Jacob first and told them that they thought he would be a perfect match for her daughter Sarah, even though she had been born a week earlier than him and that would make her an Ďolder womaní. Both Catherine and Vincent laughed and told her they wouldnít object to that. The rest of their children were delivered among furtive glances from those wondering how the wedding night had gone. Father and Mary seemed pleased that the newlyweds were well and happy.
No one was surprised when Devin and Charles were the last ones to bring in the baby they had been watching. If Charles had been taken with Baby Boy Green before, he was well and truly hooked after discovering that his favorite had been named after him.
The couple and their children planned to spend a quiet day in their new quarters, however, they were blessed with more visitors than they had expected during the course of the day. Samantha also arrived with all of her belongings, ready to move into the nursery with the babies.
During a later visit with Devin and Charles, they were told that Charles had talked with Devin and had asked that they stay in the tunnels from now on instead of returning to the mountains. Devin had agreed with a smile, knowing how much the trust his brother and his new wife had placed in the deformed man by allowing him to care for the babies meant to Charles. So they would be staying. Father had been pleased at the news; he welcomed the chance to spend more time with Devin. Charles had one more request that had been granted as soon as he asked. He would take up residence in the closest free chamber to Catherine, Vincent, and the babies. Samantha had cheerfully agreed to share her baby duties with the gentle giant.
As they tucked the babies into their new room that night, they smiled as Samantha hurried them out of the nursery, she was eager to be left in charge.
Passing through their bed chamber, Catherine caught sight of the picture of her mother that had always been on her nightstand in her apartment. Vincent had made sure that it had a prominent place in their new home as well. She paused in front of the photo and smiled, thinking of all the blessings in her life. Catherine reached out and caressed her motherís face, unaware that Vincent was behind her watching. She said, "Mom, I know you always wanted me to be happy. I wish you could meet Vincent and your grandchildren. I just want you to know that I am happier than I could even have imagined."
Vincent stepped up to her and put his arms around her, he added, "Please tell her father that too, if you would."
Catherine leaned back into him with a contented smile on her face and thought, ĎWe really do have a happy life.í