A MOTHER'S TOUCH

Part IV

The next morning found the new family strolling casually toward a special ledge that overlooked the falls. That ledge had once been the site of the lovers' rendezvous and it held a special place in their memories. Today, it would take on an added meaning - it was the place of their first family outing.

Vincent spread the quilt on the ground for Catherine and the baby then leaned back against a protruding boulder and watched in fascination. Was he dreaming? He had to pinch himself to be sure. How many times had this same scene played itself out in his fantasies? No - this was real, he assured himself.

He joined in as Catherine played with the infant and watched enthralled as she held him tenderly to her breast to feed him. As he did, he couldn't help but think that if everything they had endured, all the pain they had suffered had been the cost of this one moment, it was a price willingly paid. The joy they now shared was worth everything.

Later, as Jacob lay sleeping nearby, Vincent and Catherine sat cuddled in each others' arms. Vincent sat facing the falls and Catherine sat between his legs with her arms wrapped around his upraised knees. She was leaning back against his chest and his nose would occasionally find its way into the warm bend of her neck. She would respond by tilting her head to allow him better access and then giggle when the soft down on his face tickled her.

Everything was so easy between them now. Gone was the hopeless longing for a life that should never be. The dream that always seemed to be just out of their grasp was now a reality. They sat there intimately embracing and touching as lovers and Vincent couldn't believe how natural it felt. Why had he let his fears deny them this? He pondered that question as a comfortable silence fell between them.

"What are you thinking?" Catherine asked softly.

"I was just thinking of how much our lives have changed in the past year. What we have now is something I never really believed we would ever have."

His mood turned suddenly solemn. "I'm so afraid it won't last. Catherine, after all we've endured, I don't think I could bear to lose..."

"Stop it, Vincent!" She tightened her grip on his legs. "Whatever happens from now on, what we share will survive. If the last year hasn't proven that to you, I don't know what will. Hey, lover, just accept and enjoy it - don't question it."

Vincent started to laugh softly.

"What's so funny?"

"I remembered the last time we were here. You were leaning against my shoulder as 1 read to you. If only I'd had the courage then to tell you what I was really thinking..."

"You can tell me now."

"No, I..."

"Please," she pleaded. She was intrigued by his rare confessions of desire and determined to encourage more of them.

"If you insist. While I was reading, I was fantasizing about what it would be like - if you were - not wearing anything. I wanted to toss the book aside and shamelessly grope you until you submitted to my wild passion."

"Oh, Vincent, that sounds like something out of a Danielle Steele novel."

"It may be. I've read a lot of them."

That admission truly astounded her. For the life of her, she simply could not imagine the well-read Vincent devouring a romance novel.

"What?"

"Catherine, classics weren't the only thing I read in my thirty-some years."

"I just can't imagine you..."

"Despite what everyone may think, I had to deal with sexual needs too. I may never have discussed or expressed them, but they were very real and very strong." he responded. He remembered those battles as an adolescent. Before the incident with Lisa, his newly discovered urges were intriguing and a source of endless imaginings. After hurting Lisa in his first fumbling attempt to explore those feelings, the curiosity was replaced by pain.

"I can believe it. I know it was tough for me dealing with the physical needs you aroused in me."

"And you - in me."

Now it was Catherine who began to laugh. "I can't believe we're having this conversation."

"I can't believe we're lovers!" Vincent exclaimed with innocent enthusiasm.

The sound of wonder in his voice warmed the depths of her heart. "I take it you're happy about that?"

"Catherine - happy is not an accurate description of what I'm feeling. I never knew such ecstasy truly existed."

She gently wiggled against him. "It does, Vincent, and I intend to introduce you to a world of carnal pleasures."

Vincent felt a shiver creep up his spine. To have the woman he loved so eagerly encourage his desires, was more than he ever dared to dream of. It gave him the courage to express his long forbidden needs. "Catherine - I want to make love to you here. Do you think we could?"

She turned to him and peered into the bottomless depths of his blue eyes.

"Anything is possible." she said then glanced over at their sleeping child. "He'll be sleeping for a while and, as long as we don't get too loud or too - active, he'll never know. My only concern is that someone may come here and catch us in the act."

"Don't worry. I asked everyone not to disturb us."

It was an innocent statement born of a very cautious man but it told her that her lover was hoping to seduce her. She studied him for a moment then smiled wickedly. "To be honest, I wouldn't be all that upset if someone did see us."

"Catherine!" he gasped. The thought of someone watching him and Catherine make love struck terror in his heart.

She gave no answer as she began unlacing his shirt.

* * * * * *

On their way home that afternoon, Vincent and Catherine were approached by Zack with a message from Above. Catherine waited patiently as Vincent read the note.

"It's from Diana Bennett."

"What does she want?" Catherine asked, fearing the worst. Having heard nothing from Elliot since the night of the rescue frightened her. Vincent said he was hurt but they had heard nothing of how seriously.

"She wants to meet with us tonight at the Central Park threshold," he answered simply. His fears were just as strong as Catherine's.

A sudden coldness filled Catherine's heart and she tightened her hold on the child in her arms. Why Diana and not Elliot? she asked herself. Perhaps Elliot was hurt too badly or maybe... She didn't want to think about that "maybe".

Vincent noticed the reaction. "You don't have to go, Catherine. I can talk to her alone." Inwardly, he was thinking that if the news about Elliot was bad, it would be better if he heard it first.

"Yes, I do. I need to meet this woman and I want to know what happened the night you brought Jacob home," she declared with determination.

That was something Vincent wanted to know just as badly. Elliot's deliberate evasion of the details that night had been eating at him since then. Why was he being so evasive? Were the details so tragic that he simply could not bring himself to talk about it? Had Elliot murdered in his quest to return their child?'

* * * * *

Diana followed Elliot's instructions to the letter, or so she thought. Why would anyone arrange a meeting in a drainage pipe? Before she could answer that question, she heard the heavy door behind her begin to grind slowly open. Fighting the urge to run, she stood her ground and watched as the hooded figure she knew as Vincent stepped through the opening. Just behind him was the petite form of Catherine Chandler.

"Diana," Vincent greeted her as he stood before her.

His imposing figure before her threatened to take her breath away. "Vincent," she responded. "I hope you're well."

"I am, Diana. I would like you to meet Catherine. Catherine, I'd..."

"I know who she is, Vincent," Catherine replied then stepped forward to get a good look at the woman in her dream. After thoroughly assessing the woman she dreamed would be a part of Vincent's life, she was stunned at how exact the image in the dream had been. The real thing was the absolute personification of her dream's character.

"I'm glad to see you're all right. Catherine. How's the baby?" Diana asked impulsively. She felt suddenly very awkward talking to the woman she had been searching for those many months. With one look, she realized why the men in Catherine Chandler's life were so devoted.

"He's growing stronger every day."

Diana couldn't help but notice the maternal glow on Catherine's face as she spoke of her child. "Good. Elliot told me he wasn't well when he found him."

"Elliot! How is he?" Catherine asked. "Vincent said he was hurt."

"Mr. Burch is in the Virgin Islands recuperating from a mild shoulder wound. He's the one who wanted me to meet with you and find out about the baby."

Catherine smiled warmly. "That sounds like Elliot. Tell him little Jacob is on his way to becoming a healthy, happy two month old baby."

"Jacob?"

"My father's name," Vincent explained.

"Oh. Once you've both recovered, there are a lot of legalities to be worked out," Diana cautioned. "Catherine, we'll need testimony from you about the kidnapping and then there's the baby. So far no records exist of his birth other than what we found in Gabriel's mansion."

"I know," Catherine answered in a suddenly solemn tone. "There was nothing there about Vincent was there?" she asked in fear.

"No. We destroyed as much as we could. There was only one tape with Vincent on it and we burned it before Joe got there. The other tapes were of you during the pregnancy and birth. Those we had to turn over to Joe. I don't suppose you want to see them?"

"I don't think so," Catherine said with a touch of disgust in her voice. "I want to forget all that." She felt some sort of disturbance in the bond. "Unless, of course, Vincent would like to witness the birth of his child."

"As much as that would have meant to me, under the circumstance, I don't think so. Watching another man take our child from you in such a way..."

Catherine felt the anger, pain, and anguish rising in him. "No, Diana. Those tapes are better destroyed as soon as that is possible."

"I understand," Diana replied. "As soon as they are no longer needed, I'm sure Joe will have it done."

Catherine decided it was time to hear the truth. "What happened that night, Diana? I need to know."

Diana sighed as she tried to organize her thoughts. "Elliot contacted Joe. Believe it or not, the three of us pooled our resources and discovered where Gabriel was hiding the baby. Legally, we couldn't go in without a warrant and that would require letting Moreno know so Elliot planned a little invasion of his own."

"That was quite a risk," Vincent observed.

"Yes. If just one thing had gone wrong... Well, luckily it didn't. Elliot said Gabriel threatened to kill the child, they fought, and Elliot was wounded. Gabriel was killed. Joe and I arrived after Elliot had returned the child to Vincent. We, more or less, cleaned up the mess."

"What about Moreno?" Catherine asked.

"Joe arrested him after we found evidence at the mansion of his complicity in Catherine's kidnapping, among other things."

"I can imagine that was tough on Joe. I know how he looked up to him," Catherine commented. "I'd love to see him."

"He wants to see you too."

"Tell him... Tell him that I love him and that I'll see him soon. Also tell him I said thanks for everything. Tell him I'm healing and that I'm with the man I love." She laughed. "You can also tell him I'll bring the baby for him to see as soon as I can."

"He'll have a lot of questions," Diana warned.

"He'll have to trust me," Catherine countered.

"Not to burst your bubble, but what do you plan to do?" Diana asked. "I know Joe's got plans for you. What about you?"

Catherine had been at war with herself over that exact subject for some time although she had not admitted it to Vincent. "I don't know yet," she answered hesitantly. "All I want to do now is spend some time with my baby - and his father." A warm smile graced her face as she looked over at Vincent.

"That's understandable," Diana offered.

"How is Joe? He was badly injured before I was kidnapped." Catherine asked in concern as she remembered the sight of him lying in that hospital bed so badly burned.

"He's pushing himself way too hard. After your disappearance, he checked himself out of the hospital and camped out at the office. When Elliot told him what he had discovered, he became even more determined."

"That's Joe," Catherine replied with a soft laugh.

"Now that he's the Acting District Attorney..."

"What?"

"After Moreno was arrested, he was appointed to fill the job until the election."

Catherine smiled proudly. "They made a good choice."

"Frankly, I think so too. I'm concerned about his health though. Maybe, since all of this is over, he'll take some time to heal."

"I wouldn't count on it," Catherine laughed.

Vincent, who had been watching the scene in silence, couldn't help notice the spark in Catherine's eyes as she spoke of Joe. Her friendship with him was an important part of her life. "Catherine, perhaps you should visit him soon."

"I'd like that," Catherine answered.

Although he meant what he said, the thought of her going Above again frightened him more than it ever had before. He came so close to losing her - closer than he ever wanted to get again.

Feeling his terror, Catherine slid her arms around him. "I'm not ready for that yet."

"I think we could all use some down time after all this," Diana commented. "I just wanted to let you know what's been happening and to see if all of you were all right. Is there anything you need?"

"I'm - we're fine. Tell Elliot that what he did was - something I will not ever forget. We owe him - so much."

"Yes," Vincent agreed. "And you too, Diana."

"I agree," Catherine added. "What can we do to repay you?"

Diana studied the obviously happy couple before her and. for a moment, envied them. "You can show me this - world of yours I've heard so much about."

Catherine gave Vincent a questioning look. This was a decision he would have to make.

"I'll speak with the others. Any visits to our world must be approved by all as the risk is assumed by all."

"I understand and I would like to help in anyway I can," she offered.

"You've already done so much," Catherine responded.

"After the cases I've had lately, it was nice to win one," Diana admitted.

Catherine nodded her head in understanding. "I know what you mean."

"Well, I'd better be going. I'm sure that baby of yours needs you."

"It is almost feeding time," Catherine answered with a smile.

Hopefully, Diana looked up at Vincent, "You'll contact me?"

"Soon," Vincent assured her.

* * * * * *

Later that night, Vincent sat across from his bed and watched as Catherine fed their baby. At that moment, he felt an indescribable sense of peace and contentment. Yes, their future was still unclear but there was one thing of which he was certain - their dream was a dream no longer.

After putting the baby down for the night, Vincent stood by the bed and silently gazed down at the embodiment of his world. She lay back against the pillows with her gown still open. Her eyes were filled with a loving warmth he could feel as well as see.

She returned his adoring gaze. "Do you miss -nursing?"

Somewhat startled by her question, he blushed. "A little I guess, but now that we have Jacob back, I know the need for it has passed. I do not wish to interfere with what you share with him. For a time, we shared something - very, very special and I can't begin to tell you how much it meant to me. In a sense, you gave me the acceptance of a mother's love - something I never had."

"I hope it meant something more," she shyly confessed.

He smiled as he realized just what she meant. "Yes, Catherine. Sharing that intimacy with you forced me to face my desires and conquer my fears." Slowly, he eased himself down on the bed and sat facing her. With great tenderness, he traced the swell of her exposed breast. "For the first time in our relationship, I do not fear rejection. What we have is not a temporary phase of our lives. Our love is real and it is for always."

"I've known that since the night I returned from Nancy's. I knew I could love no other. My future is with you - and our son." Catherine's answer was filled with all the determination in her heart.

"That makes my next question a little easier. Catherine - marry me?"

To say she was stunned would be an understatement. "Vincent, I..." she stammered.

"I realize it would not be legal in your world, but this world would respect our commitment. But you'd..."

"Yes!"

"What?"

"Vincent, I don't care about legalities. I never have. What's important to me is our commitment to each other and our child. If a formal ceremony for our friends and family is important to you, then I would be honored."

"Thank you," Vincent whispered just before leaning over and kissing her soft lips. "I love you."

"I love you," she replied. "Now, are you coming to bed or do I have to channel these energies somewhere else?"

Vincent smiled at the suggestion in her voice then began to remove his clothes. "We wasted too many years re - channeling. From this day forward, I want us to use that energy as God intended."

"Amen!" Catherine agreed as he slid under the covers next to her.

Neither of them were sure just what fate had in store for them in the years to come, but they were sure of one thing - whatever happened, whatever came, they would face it together.

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