A MOTHER'S TOUCH

Part III

Vincent paced back and forth nervously at the Central Park threshold. Elliot's message had been urgent and he and Catherine were anxious for any word about their son. A week had passed since the three of them met and every second of it had been pure agony. Elliot's message bolstered his sagging hopes. His thoughts were interrupted by a message being tapped out on the pipes just beyond the heavy steel door.

When the heavy door slid open, Elliot quickly stepped inside. He fought the urge to blurt out what he had discovered until the door closed. Vincent beat him to the point. "What have you discovered?" he asked anxiously.

"Where's Cathy?"

"She is still too weak to make the trip. She made me swear to immediately relay your information to her."

Elliot nodded. "Look, I told Maxwell about Cathy and Moreno. We got together with Bennett who, by the way, said she had met you recently, and came up with a plan."

"Tell me," Vincent prompted eagerly.

"Maxwell put a tail on Moreno and he's been leading us to some interesting places. He has no idea Joe is on to him. Anyway - only the three of us know what's going on. I've also had my own men checking out Moreno's contacts. Cathy would be amazed at what we dug up once we knew where to dig."

"What does that mean for our son?"

"I was getting to that. We think we've made contact with Gabriel. From what we've discovered, we have a line on where he's keeping your son."

"Where?" Vincent asked excitedly. He was prepared to do battle right there on the spot if necessary. "Where is he? I must bring him home to Catherine!"

"Take it easy. I understand what you're feeling, but you can't do this alone. This guy's house will be a fortress. One man alone won't stand a chance."

"You don't understand! This is my son we're talking about!"

"Yours and Cathy's. The one thing Cathy could not survive would be the loss of her son and you. Let us handle this. We've learned enough about the son-of-a-bitch to get to him. We did exactly what you said. We studied our enemy and learned his weaknesses. Our plan is to use it."

"I have to do something!"

"I'll let you know the night we decide to move in. I'll give you the address and you can be there when we get that - bastard."

"I want to help," Vincent pleaded.

"You can't risk being seen by the others. I'll have to bring the child to you. You'll have to tell me where."

"Elliot..."

Elliot could see the anguish in Vincent's eyes. Impotence was never an easy thing to deal with under any circumstance. "I know what you're saying. I'd feel the same way, but it has to be done this way. We have to think about what's best for the child. His safety must come first. A clean-cut, well organized operation is that kid's only hope."

"Yes, I suppose you're right," Vincent painfully admitted. "Tell me what I must do."

A deep sigh of relief escaped Elliot. "I'll let you know when our plans are finalized. We'll agree on a meeting place. And - I don't think we should tell Cathy exactly what we're doing. As stubborn as she is, she'd insist on being there if she had to crawl. Besides, I couldn't bear to see her face if we failed."

"We must not fail, Elliot!"

That look of fierce determination sent chills up Elliot's spine as well as reinforced his sense of purpose. "We won't!"

The two men stood silently and stared into each other's eyes. They were from different worlds but now shared a common bond - the love of Catherine Chandler and the determination to save her child.

"Elliot - how can I thank you?"

"You can't, so don't try. Cathy wouldn't let me give her my world. This is all can give her."

Vincent understood and nodded. Then, without hesitation, he embraced his new friend. "Good luck, Elliot."

The hug momentarily caught Elliot off guard. "Thanks."

After an awkward silence, the two bid each other farewell.

* * * * * *

It was difficult to keep the full context of Elliot's visit from Catherine. She was no slouch at reading his emotions of late and Vincent found himself once again hiding his feelings as best he could.

She was getting stronger every day, much to her delight, but it still wasn't fast enough. Her daily walks with Vincent had, at first, been measured in steps. Now, they were measured in miles. Today's walk ended in Father's medical chamber.

"Hello, dear. How are you feeling today?" Father asked as he studied his patient with clinical eyes.

"Good. I still don't have much strength though," she admitted.

"It will come in time. You must be patient."

"Was that a deliberate play on words?" she asked with a smile.

"No," Father laughed. Her glowing smile could always brighten his day no matter how hard he fought it. Behind that smile, he realized, was a deep sadness that she tried valiantly to hide.

"Are you having any - problems you want to talk about?" he inquired hesitantly.

The smile faded somewhat as she answered. "Nothing that getting my baby back wouldn't cure."

"I know, dear. I pray for that every night." He watched as she gritted her teeth, to fight the tears.

"He will come home. He will!" she declared adamantly.

Father smiled and offered a reassuring hug. In his heart, hope struggled to survive even though every fiber of his common sense told him it was an impossible dream. Soon, her hope would crumble. Soon, the bravado would fail her.

Catherine managed to regain control of her raging emotions. "I'm feeling almost completely well."

"That's a sign of healing. I warn you, just because you're feeling well doesn't mean you are."

"I know."

"It also doesn't mean that you should resume sexual activity. Because of what you endured, I still want you to refrain from intercourse for another couple of weeks."

"I understand."

"Cathy - everything's going to be all right. Keep hope in your heart and let your faith sustain you."

"Hope and faith are all I've been living on since I woke up from the coma. I believe in miracles, Father. And I think Vincent and I are due a few."

* * * * * *

Vincent hurried to the penthouse office of Elliot Burch. The message he had received earlier had his hopes soaring. When he entered the darkened office via a deliberately unlocked door, he could see Elliot leaning over his desk studying what looked like several maps and blueprints. He paused a moment to determine if they were alone. Once assured of that, he stepped into the soft glow of the desk lamp.

"Elliot?" he called softly as he watched his friend straighten up painfully. He could see the exhaustion in his bloodshot eyes.

"We've got him, Vincent!" Elliot exclaimed with great pride.

The words took a while to reach Vincent's weary brain. "We do?"

"Yes. Tomorrow night Gabriel will get what he deserves and Cathy will have her baby back."

Vincent swayed unsteadily as the reality of Elliot's words sank in.

"Are you all right?" Elliot asked.

"Yes - yes. How? Where?"

"Come over here, I'll show you," he instructed then began smoothing out the blueprints. "Not only did we discover where he lives, we got the blueprints to his house. My men and I have mapped out the vulnerable spots and analyzed the security system. All I have to do is get in and find out which room he's keeping the kid in."

After examining the blueprints, Vincent commented. "This is very dangerous, Elliot. Gabriel has an army."

"So do I."

Vincent looked up with a questioning expression.

"Don't ask any questions. It's best you don't know all the details."

"If there's a battle, the child will be in danger," Vincent commented.

"We won't do anything until I'm in the room with the baby. That way, I can protect him."

"How do you propose to get into that room?"

"You said to use his obsession about the baby - well, that's exactly what I plan to do. He'll want to show off his latest acquisition as well as rub my nose in the fact that it's Catherine's and he knows our history. His own pride will bring him down."

"Elliot - our child's life hangs in the balance. Catherine could not bear to lose him and - neither could I."

"I realize what's at stake, Vincent. We've planned this carefully. We've examined every possibility. I wouldn't risk Cathy's baby unless I was certain the plan would work."

Vincent thought it over carefully. It all came down to trust. Did he trust Elliot with his child's life? Would Catherine? The answer was simple. "I know. You're right, Elliot. Is there anything I can do?"

"Look at these maps and tell me where you can wait for us."

Vincent studied the maps then correlated them to his knowledge of the tunnels. "Here," he pointed to an area on the map.

"Great," Elliot responded as he jotted down the location. "Okay. You stay hidden there. I'll bring the child out to you." Elliot straightened up again. "We'll begin around nine o'clock tomorrow night. You be there before that. I don't know how long it will take so be prepared for a long wait."

"I'll wait for as long as it takes."

Elliot instinctively put his hand on Vincent's shoulder. "It will all be over soon - I promise."

"Perhaps, but it is the results that matter."

Elliot nodded.

"Take care, Elliot. What you are about to undertake could result in your death if you fail."

An all too easy laugh escaped Elliot. "The only time I ever failed to get what I wanted was when I lost Cathy."

"The stakes are much higher now."

"I know and so is my determination."

"My prayers go with you, my friend."

"I'll need them."

"What about Catherine?" Vincent asked.

"I'll let you decide the best way to handle that," Elliot answered.

Vincent nodded then took a deep breath and hugged his one time rival. "May God be with you."

"And you too, my friend."

* * * * * *

Vincent stepped out into the darkness of the cold January night. As he stood there waiting, he couldn't help remembering Father's story about the night he had been found outside St. Vincent's hospital. It must have been a night much like this one. The chill permeated his layers of clothes. He hoped the chill would not be too much for the baby. The baby! If all went well, Elliot would soon be bringing him. Vincent noticed that, despite the cold, his palms were sweating.

Gunshots rang out and Vincent jumped. His first instinct was to run toward the lights he saw in the distance, but he couldn't. Elliot would be expecting him to be waiting here. One slip could cost Elliot and his son their lives.

Impatiently, he paced back and forth. Putting his child's life in the hands of others was almost more than he could bear. Just as his controlled restraint was nearing an end, he heard someone approach. Quickly, he ducked back into the darkness.

"Vincent?" Elliot called out breathlessly. "Where are you?"

After recognizing the voice, Vincent stepped into the moonlight. "I'm here."

Elliot turned to him then and Vincent saw the small bundle in his arms. His breath caught in his throat and his heart pounded in his chest. His arms and legs refused to move.

"Here - take him. I don't have much time." Elliot added as his eyes continued to search the night. "Come on!"

Elliot's sharp tone snapped Vincent back to reality. His mind willed his body to move and his arms reached unsteadily toward the precious bundle. Elliot virtually thrust the child into his trembling arms.

Gunshots again rang out and Vincent instinctively gathered the child to his chest in a protective gesture.

"Get out of here!" Elliot commanded.

"What's happening in there?"

"World War III. Look, I don't have time to explain right now. Get the kid to Cathy as soon as possible. Vincent, he doesn't look too good. I think he's sick."

"What?"

"Just get him to Cathy as quickly as you can."

When Elliot stepped out into the brighter moonlight, Vincent saw, as well as smelled, the blood. "You're hurt!"

"It's nothing."

"No, you're bleeding! I can take you back..."

"No! I've got help coming. You just get that kid some help. I can take care of myself."

"Elliot..."

"Save it. Now go!"

With great appreciation, Vincent touched Elliot's arm. "Thank you." When Elliot nodded, Vincent turned and disappeared quietly into the darkness.

Elliot watched him go and smiled warmly. Despite the pain, he had never felt better in his life. For the first time in years, he felt clean. Pain flared through his shoulder and he grimaced as he felt the fresh blood draining from the wound. Silently, he prayed that Cathy could save her son.

* * * * * *

As soon as Vincent entered the drainage pipes leading home, he began to run. He took no time to look at the child he carried because he felt an urgent need to get him home to his mother.

Upon reaching the first set of pipes, Vincent stopped to tap out a message. He took a moment to pull the blanket back from his son's face. What he saw sent a surge of fear and anger through him.

He stared down at a pale, motionless shell of a child. "No - NO - NO!" he screamed as tears fell from his eyes. "No - please," he cried. His hands sought desperately to find a pulse or some other, sign of life. He held his own breath as he waited. Was that...yes, he could feel a heartbeat! He wrapped the baby warmly in the blanket and began running for all he was worth.

* * * * * *

Pascal came running into Vincent's chamber at full speed and startled Catherine who was quietly reading. "Catherine - hurry - Vincent - needs you..."

"Calm down, Pascal. You're not making any sense," she said as she put the book aside and stood up. "What's this about Vincent?"

The small man took a deep breath and tried to concentrate. "He sent a message for you and Father to meet him in the hospital chamber. He said it was an emergency. He used the extremely urgent code."

Fear gripped her heart in its icy hands. "Has he been hurt?"

"He didn't say."

Catherine pushed past Pascal and hurried toward the chamber. Every step was pure agony as she fought the rising tide of panic. She knew he was alive and coming to her but what disaster would cause him to send such an urgent message?

* * * * * *

Although residents of the community lined the passageways, Vincent saw no one. His sole purpose was to get the child in his arms to Catherine and Father. Anyone barring his path would pay the price.

As he reached his goal, he slowed his pace and burst breathlessly into the chamber. There he found himself facing a very confused and frightened Catherine.

Catherine felt, as well as heard, Vincent's arrival and turned toward the chamber's entrance. Expecting to see him badly hurt, she was shocked into silence when her eyes focused on the bundle in his arms. Something inside of her awakened and roared to life. She knew in an instant, what Vincent carried, and instinctively, she reached out.

The avalanche of Catherine's emotions nearly overwhelmed him. The longing in her grew to a burning hot intensity and he responded by walking over to her and carefully placing the infant in her arms. The look in her eyes as she gazed up at him expressed such joy and love he had to force himself to tell her of the child's condition. "Catherine - he's very ill."

Her expression of happiness was briefly altered by concern but her adoring gaze did not falter. With shaking hands, she lifted the blanket from the child and scrutinized the tiny face she had only seen once before. Then, without panic, she called out for help, "Father - we need you."

Vincent watched helplessly as Father seated Catherine and began to examine the infant. She was reluctant to hand the child to him but she sacrificed her own need for her baby's welfare.

The following minutes were agony for them both as they watched Father thoroughly examine their child. When the examination ended, he sat back and angrily tore his glasses from his face.

"What is it, Father? What's wrong with him?" Vincent asked.

"A lot of things, I'm afraid. He has a low grade fever, signifying an infection. He's suffering from malnutrition, gross neglect and, judging from his lethargy, something called touch deprivation."

Anger swelled inside of Vincent and threatened to choke the life from him. Catherine's voice refocused his rage.

"He'll be all right!" she stated defiantly. "You'll see." She gathered the unresponsive child back into her arms.

"Catherine, he's in serious condition!" Father responded in an attempt to reason with her.

"Just tell me what to do."

Father studied her for a moment and caved in. How could he deny her hope? "All right. He needs nourishment. If he's like Vincent, he cannot tolerate the standard formulas."

Father's look told her he knew of Vincent's continued nursing but was seeking an affirmation.

"He won't have to," she assured him.

"Good. I want you to try to get milk down him even if you have to do it by a few drops at a time. He's probably not going to nurse so you'll have to squeeze it into his mouth and stroke his throat until he swallows. Do this every fifteen or twenty minutes. As soon as I get the results of the blood test, I'll try some antibiotics on him for his fever.

"Now," Father continued. "This is very important. An infant needs to be stimulated by touch. That touch activates the instinct to nurse. It stimulates their growth and development. The lack of it produces lethargy, unresponsiveness, and growth and development problems. This is what I want you to do. Lie down on your back in bed. Open your gown and remove the child's shirt. Lay him down on your chest so that he can hear your heartbeat and share your warmth. Stroke him constantly. Massage him. Talk to him. Do this in between attempts to get milk down him."

"I'll do it," Catherine promised.

"No, Catherine. We'll both do it," Vincent corrected.

Father watched as they rose to leave. "Call me if there's any change."

They nodded solemnly then walked out. Father stood there deep in thought.

"Do you think it will work?" Mary asked.

"I don't know. I don't know if anything can save that innocent child. God - what a waste! That poor child has never known love until this moment." He sighed heavily. "Perhaps it is better he leave this world in this mother's arms."

"Oh no!" Mary gasped. "You don't mean..."

"If this child survives, it will truly be a miracle," Father sadly commented. "Perhaps his very existence was all the miracle we were meant to be blessed with."

* * * * * *

The walk back to Vincent's chamber was quiet and quick. Once inside, Catherine headed for the bed and fumbled with the covers.

"Let me," Vincent offered. He quickly pulled down the quilts and helped her slide under them. When she began to struggle with her gown, Vincent offered to take the baby. She hesitated.

"Please, Catherine. Let me hold him."

It wasn't that she didn't trust him, it was just that she couldn't bring herself to let go of the baby that had been so cruelly taken from her. Finally, she did then quickly unfastened the top of her gown. Vincent handed the child back and Catherine awkwardly held him to her breast and encouraged him to nurse. When the child didn't respond, she squeezed a few drops into his mouth and worked with him until he swallowed. She did this repeatedly until the child refused to swallow.

"At least he got a little down," she commented hopefully. "Come on, baby, let's lie down for awhile."

Leaving her gown open as Father instructed, Catherine nestled the baby on her chest. She placed his head over her heart and began to stroke his back and talk to him.

Vincent sat on the side of the bed and methodically massaged the infant's arms and legs. When Catherine's voice failed from exhaustion, he continued for her. "Hello son. I am your father," he began awkwardly. The words, said for the first time, were hard to form.

He stared at the child's delicate features. Catherine had been right. Their child was indeed beautiful. His hair was strawberry blond and his skin, fair. All his fingers and toes were perfectly formed, like his mother's, as were his facial features. To look at this child, you would never guess he was fathered by such as he.

"I know how you must feel. You probably think no one loves you. You feel all alone and you don't want to live like that. I understand it. I've felt it. Know that your - mother and I love you and want you. We will not abandon you or ignore your needs. You are a part of us."

He looked up to see Catherine staring at him lovingly and he continued. "There are so many things I want to do with you. So many wonders I want to share with you. I want to take you to play in the Chamber of the Winds. I want us to explore the Crystal Caverns and sail the river with no name. I want to teach you to read and appreciate the classics. Most of all, I want to watch you grow up safe and happy in the love of your mother and me."

He paused a moment to again glance over at Catherine. A warm smile adorned her face then her lips silently formed the words, "I love you." He smiled back then leaned over to kiss her softly.

Over the next several hours, Vincent talked about everything and everybody he could. When that failed him, he began to read "Great Expectations." Catherine smiled at his most fitting choice.

The ritual continued throughout the night. Every twenty minutes or so, Catherine would force a small bit of nourishment into the child's weak body. She would then change his diapers and lower him back onto her chest to begin the massages again.

During those long hours, the community's normal activities came to a halt as all waited and prayed for this special child's survival. The pipes were eerily silent except for the occasional status report. The passageways were empty. Father could be seen making frequent trips to Vincent's chamber then returning to his own to pace.

The hours of strain and lack of sleep began to take its toll as Catherine and Vincent fought to stay awake. Almost twenty-three hours after their child's return, they lost that fight and succumbed to sweet slumber.

Somewhere, in that deep, fitful rest, Catherine heard a sound and felt a movement. For a brief instant, she flashed back to the night her child was born. She remembered feeling him moving inside her, positioning himself for birth. Slowly her eyes opened and she became aware of her surroundings. Again a weak sound disrupted the silence. Was it a baby's cry? It couldn't be. He had not cried since his arrival Tentatively, she glanced over in Vincent's direction and found him sitting on the edge of his seat staring at the child lying on her chest. She took a deep breath and waited.

A few seconds later, she heard the sound her mother's heart longed to hear - her baby's cry. She smiled broadly as tears burned her bloodshot eyes. Carefully, she sat up and cradled the baby in her trembling arms. Then, a miracle happened. Their child, opened his eyes and focused them on his mother's face.

Vincent had been watching the scene anxiously, praying that this wasn't their child's final struggle. When the infant opened his eyes and appeared to be looking at his mother, Vincent was sure his heart stopped beating. Mother and child seemed to be "checking" each other out in those first few seconds and Vincent couldn't help but smile at the sight.

Catherine studied the child in awe. He actually seemed to be looking at her. "Hello there," she cooed softly. In response, the child moved his arms as if he was reaching out for her. "I'm here, sweetheart," she reassured him as she moved him close enough for his hands to find her face. "I'm here now. It's going to be all right. Mommy's here."

Being so afraid that what he was witnessing was some delusion born of his fatigue, Vincent had not moved from his chair. When Catherine spoke, however, that fear was replaced with a surge of joy.

The soft touch of her baby's hand on her face caused Catherine to laugh joyfully. She held him close to her face and kissed his tiny hands repeatedly. When he began to whimper and cry, she felt an aching in her breasts. The response amazed her. "I think he's actually crying to be fed," she commented to a still immobile Vincent.

He answered softly as if he were afraid he would break the spell. "Perhaps you should try to get him to nurse."

She positioned the child at her left breast but he seemed not to know what to do. With her right hand, she squeezed out a little milk on his lips and rubbed them with the nipple. When the baby opened his mouth and tasted what he wanted, Catherine pushed the nipple into his mouth and waited. First, there was a tentative pull. A few seconds later, she felt a second one and then a third. Soon, he seemed to catch on and began sucking contentedly.

Catherine sighed in contentment and relief. Her child was going to make it. She knew it! She looked over at Vincent and smiled. "Come over here. I want your arms around us."

Vincent stood up on trembling legs and moved over to the bed. Carefully, he sat down and Catherine leaned back into his embrace so that he could look into his child's blue eyes.

"He has your eyes," she observed as she held the baby's hand.

"He has your beauty, Catherine."

"Vincent - I want to thank you."

"Catherine..."

"No - listen. If you hadn't made the decision to nurse so I could feed our child when we found him, he might not have survived and I wouldn't have been allowed to share this with him. I can't put into words what that means to me."

"I prayed it was the right decision."

"It was and I love you."

"I love you, Catherine and I must thank you."

"Why?"

"For loving me and - for giving me my humanity."

"I couldn't give you something you already had," she responded.

"Perhaps, in some ways, that is true. In the most important part of my life, however, you did. Your love proved to me that I am truly a man."

"I won't argue the point because I never had any doubts about that." She could feel him nuzzling her hair and it felt wonderfully reassuring just as her child's nursing at her breast did.

"May I come in?" Father called from just outside the entrance.

Vincent instinctively moved away from Catherine but she grabbed his hand. "No, stay here. Yes, Father, you may come in."

Father walked in expecting to find a still unresponsive child. What he saw astounded him. The baby was awake and nursing hungrily at his mother's breast. "How is he?" Father whispered in awe as he moved closer.

"He's going to be fine," Catherine answered with delight.

"May I take a look at him?"

"Of course, but I don't think he's finished his meal yet."

"That's all right. I won't bother him," Father explained as he began a cursory examination. "It's a miracle! His pulse is much stronger, there's no sign of fever, and his responses are almost normal. He must have inherited his father's ability to recover quickly."

Vincent smiled and blushed a little at Father's reference to his fatherhood. "He'll be all right now, won't he?"

"I don't see why not. Mother's milk - there's no substitute. That, and a large dose of maternal love, can cure almost anything," Father laughed.

"Let's not forget about a Father's love. Vincent's faith kept us both going."

"Yes, you are both - incredible." Father stood up slowly. "As much as I would like to dote on my grandson for awhile, I think the three of you need some time alone. I'll be by later. Call me if you need me. Oh Catherine - don't feed him too much at one time. It's going to take a while for you both to get regulated. If you have questions about breastfeeding, Mary can help you more than me. I'll say goodnight." He leaned down and stroked the baby's head then kissed Catherine's cheek. Lastly, he kissed Vincent atop his golden mane. "Congratulations on becoming a father - son."

"Thank you, Father. I hope I'll be a good one."

"You will, Vincent. You will."

"I agree," Catherine added.

After Father left, Vincent and Catherine watched contentedly as their child fell asleep at Catherine's breast. They sat for some time simply adoring the tiny infant.

"How does Vincent the second sound?" Catherine suddenly asked.

Taken aback by her unexpected question, Vincent contemplated her suggestion for a few seconds. They had been so busy fighting to save their son's life, the choice of a name had not come up for discussion.

"I have no objection to any name you choose, but don't you feel he should have his own identity?"

"Can I confess a secret?"

"Of course you can. You can tell me anything."

"Before we - conceived him, I used to fantasize about having your baby and what we would name him." She blushed and smiled nervously. "Silly, huh?"

Vincent shook his head. "No. I used to dream about a life with you as my wife and the mother of my children but I never thought it could ever happen. It was just another aspect of life denied me - until that night."

She sighed at his confession. "You never told me."

"And you never told me."

"We wasted too much time not talking to each other," she surmised.

"I agree and promise not to allow that to happen again. We have a child now. A life entrusted to our care. We cannot hide our feelings and expectations about each other anymore. We must be totally honest with him and each other."

"You're right. Vincent, I love you and our son and I refuse to go back to the chaste love we once shared. I want a complete future with you, whatever that may be."

"That is exactly what I want."

"Good! Now tell me, what did you have in mind for a name for our son?"

"I always hoped, if I were blessed with a son, I would like to name him Jacob."

"Hum - Jacob. That's a strong name - I like it and I think Father will be thrilled. How about Jacob Vincent..." she stopped mid-sentence.

"What is it?"

"What about a last name?"

Vincent scratched his chin as he contemplated their dilemma. "Catherine, legally I do not exist. I have no last name to give him."

"Legalities don't matter," she argued.

"Yes, they do. I want him to enjoy the possibilities the world Above can offer him. To do that, he must have a legal name. How would that be accomplished in your world?"

"Well - a woman having a child without a legal husband has two options. The father can sign the appropriate documents giving permission for the child to carry his name or the child would carry the mother's name."

"Since I don't exist, I cannot sign any documentation. Catherine, I think it would be fitting for our son to carry the Chandler name."

"Vincent..."

"Catherine - if you give him another name, there will be questions you cannot answer. Besides, Chandler is a respected name and your father would be proud."

"You don't mind?" she asked.

"Our child does not have to bear my name for me to acknowledge him as my son."

Catherine studied him for a moment then gazed into the face of her sleeping child. "We'll call him Jacob - Jacob Chandler."

Vincent smiled proudly. "Yes - Jacob."

That night, the three of them slept peacefully for the first time in weeks. Catherine refused to put the baby in the crib, so he lay snuggled warmly between the two of them. All was quiet - until that precious bundle got hungry and began to loudly demand a feeding. That interruption of their much needed sleep didn't upset the new parents at all. They awoke with smiles and Vincent held Catherine in his arms as he watched their son nurse.

After their son's hunger had been satisfied and his wet diaper changed, Catherine settled him back onto the bed and began to softly sing her mother's lullaby. The tune brought a misty smile to Vincent's face and a never before felt sense of completeness to his heart. The look of contentment and fulfillment on Catherine's face was like glimpsing a little bit of heaven's glory. Life just couldn't get any better - or so Vincent thought.

The next day, the threesome stayed in their chamber recovering from their mutual exhaustion. They only ventured out for the evening meal and that was more of an excuse to show off the newest tunnel citizen than to eat. Everyone had to take a turn viewing Vincent and Catherine's greatest treasure.

"He's beautiful!" Jamie gasped. "He looks like you, Catherine," she added shyly.

"You think so? I think he has Vincent's hair, eyes, and high cheekbones."

"Yes, but he has your mouth and chin," Mary commented with authority.

"I think you're right," Vincent responded lovingly as he looked over at Catherine. As their eyes met, Vincent felt a oneness with her he had never experienced before. Even in those moments when their bond was at its strongest, he had never felt such an overpowering union of heart, soul, and mind. He felt the undeniable need to experience the power that a physical union with her would bring.

That same feeling assaulted Catherine's senses. He didn't have to whisper seductive suggestions or make physical overtures to express his intent. His powerful need radiated from his entire being and he made no attempt to hide it. He stood before her claiming her with his powerful gaze. Never before had he so openly transmitted his desires in such an uninhibited way. She could have sworn the earth moved.

Catherine quickly excused herself from the gathering using the baby's feeding as the reason. Vincent was at her side instantly and, in uncomfortable silence, they returned to their chamber.

To Vincent, Catherine's quick exit from the dining chamber signaled her submission. Strange, he thought. To hear other men talk, the act of seduction was composed of both verbal and physical forays; but with Catherine and himself, it was all instinctive.

They walked down the tunnel without touching, yet their growing excitement was barely containable. Catherine held the baby tightly and tried 'to concentrate on the feel of him in her arms but she couldn't help being aware of Vincent's closeness. How had this started? she wondered silently. Most men go through some very strange mating rituals but all Vincent had to do was simply look at her and she was ready to submit to him on the floor in front of everybody as if she had no will. She trembled at the thought of making love to him again.

Vincent was trembling too, although for a different reason. His trembling came from his struggle to keep from having his way with her here and now. Why had their passion flared so suddenly and intensely? Yes, he had always been aroused by her but never had he allowed it go this far - at least not consciously. Some memory of that first night had come back and she had used her hands to bring him to climax, but the prospect of feeling himself inside of her was making him weak.

With each step, he was strongly aware of the way her body moved and smelled. It was all he could do to keep himself from reaching over and...

The feel of his hand tentatively finding its way to the small of her back, made her shiver. It was a possessive touch but one that also seemed to be testing her receptiveness. When she did nothing to discourage him, his hand slowly slid down to rest firmly on her hip. Odd, she thought. Vincent had never been so bold.

Once inside the chamber, Catherine prepared little Jacob for bed. As she did, she was achingly aware of Vincent's commanding presence. She could hear every breath he took and feel every move he made. His effect on her was unnerving. No man had ever elicited such a strong, physical response from her. It was almost as if they had no choice. All will was gone. Destiny, or something more powerful, was drawing them together. She couldn't have resisted if she tried.

Vincent paced nervously. His palms were sweating, his stomach was churning, and the ache in his... He shook his head angrily. Don't reduce what you feel to that! he admonished himself.

As his patience grew thin, he finally sat down on the edge of their unmade bed. Catherine was breastfeeding their child and he tried desperately not to watch. He didn't think he could take it. Finally, he couldn't stand it any longer. The sound of her breathing and the child's hungry sucking sounds were more than he could bear. He looked up and met two equally intense green eyes staring back at him. The intensity of that gaze was unnerving.

The baby's insistent tugging at her breast and Vincent's hungry eyes combined to fill her with an uncontrollable longing. It was a longing she had to satisfy as soon as possible.

They sat there for some time simply staring at each other until Vincent made an unexpected move. As Catherine watched, he slowly and erotically began undressing. Her mouth fell open in shock as he shed his bulky clothing piece by piece. Her heart began to pound and the aching in the pit of her stomach grew unbearable. It was becoming physically painful to wait.

By the, time the baby had finished nursing, Vincent was completely bare and lying in wait for her in bed. His behavior was uncharacteristic of the Vincent she knew. Tonight, every conception she had about his modesty had been smashed. Whatever was going on between them was transcending all the barriers and neither of them could stop it.

Acting more like a zealous adolescent than an experienced adult, Catherine eased the baby into his crib, gave him a goodnight kiss then turned to Vincent. Pausing only long enough to catch her breath, she began stripping. No time was taken for an erotic disrobing - speed was the important thing. She had to have him. The hunger had to be satisfied or it would drive her insane!

With little grace, she jumped into the bed and onto Vincent's hard body with a vengeance. She had to fight her own urges to keep from climaxing before the main event as his hands feverishly explored her body. He exhibited no shyness, only inexperience, in his quest to possess his mate. That awkwardness didn't bother her, however, because his eagerness and responsiveness more than made up for his lack of expertise.

Desire overcame reason as hands probed and bodies writhed in response. Breathing became difficult and beads of perspiration appeared on already flushed skin. Moans of both frustration and pleasure filled the air as each strove to please and be pleased.

As passion rose, so did the intensity of their lovemaking. Catherine, still on top, began moving downward on Vincent's body. The male instinct took over. Grasping her firmly by the wrists, he rolled her over onto her back and rose above her. His eyes bore into hers for a long moment before he lowered his mouth to hers. Repeatedly, he kissed and nipped at her neck and shoulders until his own body betrayed him by the instinctive flexing of his hips. He could fight it no more. He lifted his head and watched her face as he entered her.

His world became one of pure sensation. The sight of Catherine writhing in pleasure beneath him, the sound of her moans and gasps, and the feel of his body in such intimate contact with hers soon overpowered his restraint. How could such pleasure be possible? He didn't have time to ponder the answer. Nature demanded completion of its creative ritual and his body could no longer delay the inevitable. With one last, paralyzing thrust, he felt the explosive power of orgasm.

With that last thrust, Catherine's orgasm began. It was one of the most powerful experiences she had ever had and, for a moment, the world spun wildly about her. Slowly, however, her eyes did focus on Vincent's face above her. He seemed to be in some place between heaven and earth judging by the look of complete fulfillment on his face. He took a deep breath and a tear escaped from the corner of his eyes.

She felt his body quiver as he withdrew from her then hesitated as if not sure of what was expected of him. Gently, she worked her hands free from his now weak grip and guided him down into her comforting embrace.

As her soft hands stroked his shoulders, Vincent fought his shame and guilt. This first conscious time between them had not been one of tenderness and giving, it had been one of self gratification and animalistic lust. He was convinced she would never forgive him. "I'm sorry, Catherine. I just couldn't control it."

"Don't be sorry. Vincent - what we shared was wonderful. Passion is at its best when it's uncontrolled."

"I wanted this to be - loving and gentle."

"Passion that's been pent up as long as ours cannot wait, Vincent - this was practically our first time. Sex, like most things, takes practice. Control and technique take time to develop."

Vincent pushed himself up on his elbows and looked down into her eyes. If she was lying to protect his feelings, he would know it. She wasn't lying. Love filled his heart and he smiled shyly at her.

She smiled back. "Our son has come home to us and we've found each other. It's time we celebrated. It's time we laughed and loved and accepted our - fate. We've got a lifetime to practice and we'll take it one night at a time."

Vincent took a slow, deep breath. "Yes - one night at a time."

Catherine could feel his doubts evaporate and joy filled her heart. Finally, he had accepted himself and her love.

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