Living the Promise: Chapter Four


The little bunny took an undeserved plunge out of the safe confines of quilts and sheets, to land with a muffled thud on the stone floor of the chamber, at his feet. It startled Vincent back to consciousness, that, and the fact that Jacob was now moving about restlessly in his bed.

He fought hard to bring some small semblance of order to his chaotic spirit, to keep the child free of anxiety, tried to settle his heart. Bending to the floor, he retrieved the small rabbit from its hard resting place and came slowly back to his own feet. Dusting the treasure off, Vincent placed it close to his son's small hand, on his pillow. A gentle kiss to the tousled curls, and a soft caress to the little hand managed to still the child's growing anxiousness. Without coming totally awake, the boy found his small friend that had been returned to him and settled once again into what his father hoped would be a continued, undisturbed sleep.

Easing his powerful frame back into the venerable old rocker, Vincent tried to let the peaceful sight of his resting child comfort his own heart. In the subdued lighting of the chamber, the sweet little face could still not help but radiate the innocence of heaven. His father fought to cling to that blessed reality.

But, the pain would not leave him so readily, it would appear, this time. For the past three nights, he'd been able to draw himself out of it, tell himself it meant nothing. Still, today, the vision had remained with him even after he'd come awake, fought its hold on his

sleeping consciousness. It was still there, before his eyes, the minute details searing into him with a force he wasn't certain he could stand.

He'd been jolted awake by it this morning, once more, but he couldn't seem to draw his heart from it yet:

 

The pain had assaulted every fiber of his body, cold, hard, impossible to endure, robbing him literally of his breath. He both saw himself, and felt himself, gasping, attempting to fill his lungs with air, but the weight he had felt on his chest, in his heart, was too heavy for a breath to remove.

He was battling . . . loss . . . the blackness of grief . . . but he was losing.

And in his sight before him, maddeningly just out of reach, was the confirmation of that sense of loss: Diana, heavy with child, pale, trembling, collapsing to her knees with a soul-tearing cry of her own grief. She was clutching at her body, holding her arms around her swollen figure, attempting to . . . shelter . . . their child, their unborn child, from some nameless, sourceless anguish . . . crying out his name.

 

Vincent had come awake with a horrific start. He'd felt the weight on his chest still, sought frantically to understand what it was caused by, but he found only Diana cushioned lovingly across his body.

With trembling hands, he had brushed her burnished hair back from her face and she had turned then, a bit more to her side in her sleep. Vincent was able to watch, in relief, her breathing that was a steady, deep rhythm. She was safe.

Closing his eyes again, he'd forced his beseiged spirit to realign itself, dragged it past the terror to a momentary lull of pain. The baby's heartbeat had sounded within his awareness then, still strong and well, too. Vincent didn't even need to hold his hand over the child sheltered within its mother's womb to connect with the tiny heart. He'd only needed to set his love and wonderfilled expectation to it to touch the child's essence within his own heart.

Gratefully, he'd pulled back a breath from the fear and pain yet again, understanding once more that his terror had come only from a dream -- the same dream he'd been haunted by for three nights now. His hands had been shaking as he ran them over his face, beaded with cold sweat. But, this morning he was not going to be able to simply will the vision away from his consciousness, attribute it to some benign bit of anxiousness rooted in merely logical apprehension or even just physical weariness.

Because Diana had felt him move, picked up the fright that he'd been only able to rear back into anxiety and disbelief, even in her sleep. He'd known he wasn't going to be able to keep it from her for long.

She had attempted to come fully awake, and Vincent had steeled himself to the unacceptable possibility that he'd need to lie to her to keep her from worry, but the exhaustion that was often his wife's state of health lately refused to honor her urgings to her consciousness. She'd only managed to whisper quietly, with her eyes still closed, "Vincent, what is it?"

It was more confirmation of the fact that it was becoming increasingly difficult for him to protect Diana from his inexplicably haunted heart. She'd become so attuned, so receptive to his spirit that he could keep little from her these days. Ordinarily that thought had given him comfort; he'd viewed it as a blessed gift to him, because when he had struggled for words or actions to offer her as evidence of the beloved and treasured reality of their intertwined souls, she'd been able to pick up on his spirit with remarkable, startling, clarity. She could read his heart and cherish all that was in it for her.

At that instant, though, Vincent had prayed he could conceal his heart from her -- at least until the time he was able to understand why he was being subjected to such nightly anguish when their lives had been at their most wondrously gifted.

Gently, tenderly, he had raised her hand up to his parched lips, and kissed it. "I must have heard something and come awake suddenly. Go back to sleep. It is still very early."

But, she'd felt the tension in his body, noted the fact that he'd not simply wrapped his arms more closely about her to rejoin her himself in his rest. The tiny, nagging doubt she thought she'd heard deep within her mind had drawn her past the sweet shelter she'd always felt being close to his body. "You're not coming back to sleep?" she'd asked softly. I'll make us some tea, then."

The movement she'd made to pull herself from beside him had left Vincent suddenly both bereft of her tenderness and anxiously protective of her state of mind and heart. He didn't wish to cause her any pain, couldn't even understand what seemed to be . . . threatening . . . their blessed existences at this point of time. Sliding his hand, then, over her side, he'd reassured her sweetly beneath the covers. "Don't get up, my love. You need your rest. I'll just get working on those plans for the deep storage chambers for a while. Kanin said he was worried about the mixture of rock types we were coming across down there."

She'd been ready to protest his need to begin their day early and alone, but her body sent out its own complaint and in patient surrender, she had merely made herself comfortable once again beneath the covers. Vincent had drawn himself away from her only after he'd left her with a tender kiss, her sweet breath mingling with his, bringing about a welcome wash of shared possession and fulfillment that touched his distressed heart with a caress of relief.

Dressing quickly, he'd sat at the small, circular writing table and lit the candles there, intending to concentrate his attention to the rolled up plans of their latest stonework project, but his effort had been in vain. Not even the complicated math calculations he was working on for the project could keep his mind free of the images that had assailed him, and he'd set the papers aside in frustration.

That is when he'd come, defensively, to sit at Jacob's side on the rocking chair, trying fervently to settle his heart, drawing around him the beautiful wonder of his life of past months. Praying that the ready hope he'd always been able to touch to within it would once again relieve his anxious pain. For a few moments, it did.

The truth of his life at this point in time . . . it was a gift he still had a hard time believing was really his, complete with its wonder and its worry:

Diana, his bride of five and a half months, was indeed heavy with child, a confounding, unexplainable miracle. In and of itself, that simple reality would have shown itself to be enough of a source for anxious disquiet for any soon-to-be parent. Because of it, Father's and Peter's professional opinions were torn between what they knew as actual medical fact, and what Diana's condition presented to them as reality before them -- she'd been carrying the child only five and one half months, but every physical indication placed the pregnancy to near full term.

Peter had simply stated that perhaps they'd misjudged conception in their calculations of the baby's development, but Vincent, and Father, knew surely that could never be the case -- Vincent's haunted, fearful terror, of ever touching his questionable humanity to his beloved Diana, backed up the physician's knowledge. There was no way on God's earth that the child could have been conceived before his son's wedding night, Jacob Wells knew. There'd actually been doubt that the pall of fear could have been pulled back even on that night. Father had recalled the paralyzing uncertainty that his son had confessed to him only an hour before the ceremony that would unite him to his cherished soulmate.

But, love had been able to guide both Vincent and Diana past the anguish, somehow, to the wealth of communion awaiting them in all its gifting beauty. That the baby Diana now carried was the ultimate homage to that blessed consumation of spirits, souls, and bodies, neither Father, nor Vincent had any doubts whatever.

Still, Diana seemed, by all evidence, to be in the last stages of her time. She tired easily, had trouble keeping food down, and was plagued by backache and a cantankerous resurrection of her injured leg's temperamental outbursts because of the baby's added weight she needed to bear. There was no medical explanation to the evidently accellerated

state of development of the pregnancy, and Father had nothing he could go by to guide him in the tenderly dedicated care he was offering his cherished daughter-in-law. Only Catherine's experiences with Jacob's birth might have been able to shed some light on what to expect for the present circumstances, but those experiences had been buried along with Catherine herself.

Even with the physician's resultant largely instinctive guidance as their only source of reassurance for her state of health, Diana's andVincent's acceptance of their impending parenthood had been nothing short of an awesome wonder. The physical uncertainties had done little to diminish the sheer, astounding . . . blessedness . . . that seemed to totally envelope the mother-to-be within an aura of love beyond all telling.

That radiant, expectant love burned brightly, with such joy, in Vincent's heart, too.

To everyone's eyes in the Underworld community, Diana had evolved into an auburn-haired vision of imminent maternal tenderness in all its compelling resplendence and generosity. She barely ever complained about anything, not her accentuated physical tribulations, nor the belovedly overprotective attentions of every soul within the extended family of the tunnel chambers.

Taking it all in stride, she nevertheless refused to relinquish her teaching responsibilities in favor of Father's cautiously biased medical admonishments. She kept taking on her communal chores with easy patience, and always had time to listen to the concerned advice of those around her who would rejoice no less than the new parents in the birth of a healthy child.

Even physically, she'd become a sight that stirred the hearts of all those around her. In the long, comfortable, flowing tunnel maternity gowns Mary had supplied her with, her hair as often loosed upon her shoulders as it was braided sensibly off her face, the rounded enlargement of her belly unmistakable now, she had become a source of everyone's delighted hope and promise.

To Vincent, she had become nothing less than a treasured, awesomely beautiful madonna bearing heaven's own light about her into his life.

The emotional and spiritual reality he and his beloved soulmate had been offered with the impending birth of their child, nurturing and gifting their relationship these past months, had been far more compelling than even Diana's arresting transformation: Her state of heart was nothing less than glorious -- Vincent's was nothing less than blessed.

Until three nights ago.

Vincent quietly drew himself again from out of the rocking chair and around the screened partition that separated Jacob's sleeping area from the rest of the main chamber. The need was still so yearning within him, despite the pain he'd been attempting to distance himself from . . . the need to hold himself to the reality of Diana's love at that instant. It was the only thing that could quell his uncertainty, he knew, soothe his troubled spirit. Even as he'd ever seek to protect her and shelter her all the days of his life, he knew, without question, that only her own protective, sheltering reassurance in love could steady his heart.

Gently easing down again to their bed on top of the covers, he set his body to rest gratefully along the length of Diana's back, enveloping her in his soft embrace. Because of her ripened proportions, they'd found that the tenderly spooning posture was still able to offer them the closeness their bodies craved from each other. Vincent set a kiss to her hair, reached his beyond human hand to her grace-filled form. She nestled gratefully against him, and, almost as if in relief itself, the baby stirred beneath his touch.

Closing his eyes, Vincent focused his spirit to the astounding sensation.

The baby was moving often now, quickening with vital frequency. Just the other night, when Diana had been sitting up in bed writing to Joe, she had set her pen down onto the lap tray and moved it over a moment; then she had called Vincent away from his own journal writing to her side.

He could tell instantly, from the awe-filled look on her ethereal face, that she'd felt the baby.

"Give me your hand, Vincent."

She knew how much her husband treasured being able to touch his child as well, feel the life thriving, and always gave him the opportunity to, whenever he was near. She'd smoothed out the gathers of her gown and set Vincent's hand across her belly, pressing it gently a minute with her own.

For a second, there was nothing noticeable to detect, beyond their mutually breathless anticipation; then Vincent felt the tender flesh sheltered by linen and wool beneath his hand move perceptibly, actually seeming to nuzzle, nestle beneath his hand. His heart stopped in wonder. Resting his head gently down on Diana's abdomen, he stroked it softly with otherworldly hands that were merely a father's hands at the moment, then placed a tender kiss above his youngest child's cherished little body.

Diana had rested her own hand onto Vincent's lowered, golden-haired head, drawing her fingers through the thick silk with familiar devotion and peaceful marvel. She had been describing pain and guilt and turmoil, to Joe in her letter, a few moments ago. She'd been blessed, instead, with the reality of sheltering love. They'd been blessed.

Why then, was that shelter suddenly threatened? Vincent fought to understand the emotions assailing him . . . and let the truth of his heart surface within that nurturing reality of his life.

The truth rested, on a simple, profoundly saddening observation -- today was September 2l.

It was the third anniversary of Catherine's death.

A sudden shudder coursed through Vincent's body and he buried his breath within

Diana's auburn hair. "I love you," he heard her whisper softly.

Not surprised that she was still awake, still connecting to his troubled heart, he drew her more securely within his arms, intertwined his hand with hers, and rested a tender kiss to her shoulder. "My sweetest love," he breathed to her in response, never once wavering in his belief that she had held him safe from the desolation of regretful grief..

It had been three years. Through some mercy of heaven, he'd been able to rest his soul on enough of a foundation of hope and loving promise in the present to make it through the remembered anguish of the past with his spirit intact. Vincent blessed the providential guidance that had brought about such a life-giving transfirmation within him, that had brought Diana to him.

Loving Catherine, losing her. . . cherished remembrance and fathomless grief . . .would always be a presence in his life, the twists and trials of Fate that had shaped his destiny and clung to his hopes. They would always remain inside his heart, but, he'd been able, somehow, with Diana's love, to see life and possibility . . . fulfillment . . . as well as pain there, too.

He'd been able to see this day as the blessed beginning of new life, also, of Jacob's life, his birth, of the wondrous little soul that seemed destined as well, to be the very embodiment of his father's tender heart and most deeply cherished dreams. He'd been able to accept those dreams, even on this day.

The quietly uplifting confirmation of that acceptance would come about this very evening: For the first time, the Underworld community was preparing to celebrate the day for Jacob's promise, and not only honor it for Catherine's memory.

Vincent had been the one to suggest the need for such a communal occasion, that would acknowledge the child's gifting presence among them, freed of conflicting turmoil.

Diana, he knew, had breathed a prayer of grateful relief because of his decision.

Yet, despite the hopeful promise he could welcome within his life, something insisted, still, on claiming a portion of his soul with inexplicable pain.

He must understand why.

Diana had fallen back asleep, and Vincent knew he had to leave the sheltering warmth of her body for the cold of his anxious uncertainties, if they were to keep some hold on promise for this day. He needed, desperately, to understand his present state of mind and heart, what they meant for his family. And beyond Diana's insights and understanding, he valued only on other's counsel.

Quietly drawing himself to his feet, Vincent looked a long moment to his wife and unborn child. Then he purposefully turned out into the rock corridor to seek out his father's guidance.

 

Though the hour was still quite early, probably before six, Jacob Wells was already seated at his massive old desk, pouring over the community ledgers he'd be presenting to

Peter later on this evening. The always providential generosity of Helpers this past month would allow the Underworld to once again reach out in its mission of quietly nurturing spirits into the city Above. The frugal community had barely touched the monthly stipend that came from Peter. There would be much left with which to do good, beyond their own needs.

Father removed his reading glasses and drew his dressing gown a bit more closely about his body, conceding to himself that he'd begun feeling the cold in the tunnel climes a bit more frequently. Well, one doesn't stay young forever, he reminded himself silently, with a smile. Then, he smelled the delicious aroma of a freshly steeped cup of tea heading his way. His heart warmed, instantly.

Vincent reached Father's chambers at the same time that the fragrance of the tea did.

Both men were greeted unexpectedly by a tender sight that readily set burdens aside:

The moment that Vincent came fully into his parent's public chamber area to greet him quietly, Mary had exited Father's private quarters as well, carrying a teapot and a tray to him at his place. There were two cups already on the desk, and she gracefully set down a plate of toast and fruit beside them.

What had totally captured Vincent's heart, in that instant that had begun in turmoil, but ended with a sweep of astonishing tenderness that belied his earlier burden of heart, was the image he now caught of the beloved lady he'd always considered his own foster-mother. Father warmed to the same sight.

Mary was still wearing her dressing robe, too, over a soft and bright muslin gown that graced the elder lady's figure with attractive presence. Even more remarkable was the fact that her gently greying light brown hair was not carefully knotted atop her head, but still flowed freely along her shoulders to the middle of her back.

She set the tray down before Jacob Wells with practiced ease, let her hand linger long over the physician's shoulder, and then lifted her eyes with quiet purpose to hold Vincent's from across the room.

Vincent felt his breath catch.

It was no secret to anyone in the Underworld community that Father and Mary had, after half a lifetime of trials, heartaches, and denials, finally allowed themselves the incredible blessing of accepting one another's devotion as romantic, emotional love. The change of spirit between them was hardly earth-shattering . . . they'd long sheltered one another's souls with tender care and obvious commitment.

But, what came to Vincent as a sweet, wondrous shock, was the reality that his two adoptive parents had apparently been able to touch to all the awesome gifts a life shared in love could bring to them, as they made their way through the daily tribulations of leading a community of souls in a remarkable world.

There was a warm, radiant glow reaching out to Father from Mary's beautiful, careworn face that Vincent recognized instantly -- He'd seen it time and again in Diana's emerald eyes. It was the look of love given and accepted, of hearts at peace and bodies treasured.

It drew a comforting shelter of hope over his own presently tested heart.

"Vincent, you are up early this morning," came Father's observation.

"Is anything wrong? With Diana?" Mary's softly voiced acknowledgement of his presence, without preamble or explanation of her own situation at the moment, drew Vincent's instinctive, protective care out. He'd never wish to burden her with anything that could cloud the quiet fulfillment within those hazel eyes, those eyes that had always looked upon him with nothing but a mother's love for most of his life.

"No, Diana is well and sleeping. I'm sorry to have disturbed you so early."

Father, however, immediately caught Vincent's tone of voice. He knew that his totally selfless son would not willingly cost someone else their peace of mind because of his own turmoil . . . and Jacob Wells read turmoil in the blue depths that called out to his own wise gaze, a turmoil that had nothing whatever to do with having walked in on a tender moment between the elder couple.

"Come and sit here with us, Vincent, and tell us what is on your mind. You look troubled despite your reassurances."

In most instances, Vincent had always turned to his father's counsel in private, sharing his heart easily with the extraordinary leader of their world who, often burdened as he was in his own right, nevertheless always was able to carry his son's trials personally as his own with quiet dignity and hope.

On occasion, though, Vincent had also called upon the loving maternal instincts that were Mary's softly reassuring presence, seeking guidance from her own tender, gentle soul when not even his father could understand. The elder lady had long ago become Diana's own beloved confidant, something that gave Vincent no end of comfort to know.

He'd never, however, found himself able to call upon both these nurturing individuals at once with his painful need of direction. It was suddenly a solace from heaven to know he could do so now.

Pulling a chair closer to the side of the desk, Vincent sat down and ran his hands momentarily over the books piled atop the table as he searched for words to describe his unsettled heart. Mary moved from her place behind Father to stop beside the remarkable spirit she loved as a son, letting a gentle hand rest on his shoulder as she had done only a moment before to the physician she cherished. The soft touch was a reassuring urging. Vincent found his words.

"Is there something about Diana's conditin that you haven't told me, Father, something that could threaten her or our child?"

The question was not an accusation, only an acknowledgement of a parent's primal urge to protect a child, from harm, from fear, from the unknown. It was his own.

Jacob looked to Mary for quiet confirmation, knowing he'd only speak the truth to his son, and hoping that he'd be able to offer him the reassurance he sought.

"There is nothing that I know of, Vincent, nothing Peter nor I have seen, that might cause us alarm. Diana is strong, she's been relatively healthy in her life. You've been taking such tender care of her. There is nothing of concern to either Peter or myself, except for the fact we can't explain how her condition can appear to be, how the baby appears to be, in an accellerated stage of development. The pregnancy is not yet advanced six months, but all indications show that the child seems to be already near term."

"Other than that, everything is safe and normal?"

Father looked long into sapphire eyes that always left him feeling in awe of the power of their trusting clarity. He reached his hand over to his son's unearthly, taloned one, then, a hand capable of meting out death as easily as it was able to nurture life with sweet, gentle care.

He couldn't even come close to guessing what could possibly be considered "normal" at a moment like this, and his logical, scientific experiences were giving him nothing to grasp at for direction. Jacob decided then that he could rely only on his heart to respond.

"Peter and I have been keeping a close watch on Diana, as you yourself have, Vincent. There is no evidence of toxemia. Her blood pressure is normal. The baby appears to be maturing steadily. All of its vital signs indicate it is thriving and safe. You, yourself, have been able to touch to the child's presence and felt it to be sheltered and unthreatened, have you not?"

Attempting to let the body of evidence enter his mind as reassurance, Vincent, however, found it still so difficult to discount the pall of foreboding he was suddenly carrying within his soul for both Diana and their child.

"I have heard our baby's steady heartbeat. I know Diana is merely uncomfortable and tired, for the most part, nothing more than that."

"But there is something you are not telling us yourself, isn't there, Vincent?" The gentle urging from Mary instantly set their entire conversation into its proper perspective.

Both men looked at her with quiet wonder. Perhaps Diana's intuitive sensitivity was not actually her gift alone. Oh, granted, her extraordinary soul had honed that gift to a startling power. Still, Mary appeared just as capable of reaching into a loved one's soul. It must be some providential power reserved exclusively for women in love, Father and son both conceded, that kept those women so closely attuned to the hearts they cherished.

Vincent responded after letting a sigh of resigned concern work its way from his spirit.

"For three nights now I have been haunted by a dream, Mary, a vision, that brings with it a turmoil and pain of heart I'd believed I'd been able to free myself from. I don't understand it, why it is happening, and, Father, I am terribly afraid."

The elder man came to his feet then and reached his arms around the massive shoulders of the figure bowed over in anxiety. He'd seen such pain too often in that beloved soul that was his son. He'd believed the new life Vincent had been able to create, phoenix-like, from the ashes of that pain in Diana's arms would have put an end to the undeserved anguish he'd been visited by time and again.

"Tell us this dream, Vincent. Tell us what is disturbing your peace of heart so."

Jacob Wells had no trouble whatever reconciling his logical, cultivated mind with the seemingly illogical and irrational twists and turns of the universe that remained unexplainable, but no less real. He'd long ago learned to trust Vincent's empathic powers and impulses, his unbelievably prophetic dreams and insights. Why should they be any less real than the mystic being from which they were born?

More than once, Father knew that Vincent's visions, his dreams, had found basis in reality. His child, Jacob, was alive only because of those dreams and the power of that empathic vision, for Vincent had been able to touch the child's heart and find him when he'd been stolen away from his dying mother. He'd been able to realize the baby had been gravely ill himself when the spectoral Gabriel had held the child captive for months. Vincent had even reached out to Catherine once in a dream, sensing her danger somehow, even though she was 3,000 miles away, working on a case that took her to Los Angeles and unexpected peril.

The temporary loss of that insightful empathy, when he'd suffered his near-fatal collapse, had cost Vincent his bond with Catherine,though, an horrifying reality he'd believed with such anguish to be the ultimate source of her death -- he couldn't find her, couldn't reach out to her when she'd needed him most.

Father could understand why a recurring dream could cause his son such turmoil.

"I found myself within a stone chamber somewhere here Below, " Vincent began to recount quietly, the details of his vision coming to him with too much ready clarity, "though it was devoid of any recognizable article or feature. I couldn't make out where exactly it was. Without warning, a terrible, debilitating pain gripped me fast with a searing power, a torment that was both physical and spiritual."

Vincent held his hand to his chest, feeling once again the phantom anguish from the night. "It robbed me of my strength, my very breath. I struggled to fight against it."

"Were you hurt?" came the anxious question from Mary's gentle voice. Vincent raised his head up to her, reading the love and care in her features for him, always there for him, since he was only a child; a mother's love and care he'd been blessed by, protected and cherished by when he'd known no other.

"I'm not certain if the hurt was physical, Mary, only that the pain was unendurable, made even more so by what I could see mere inches before me, see, but could not touch -- Diana."

Father swallowed hard at the tears he watched well up into the profound azure eyes that bared the entirety of his son's compelling soul. At that instant before him, there was raw, desperate grief in those eyes, disbelief, and a shattering collapse of hope he visibly struggled against. Father had seen such anguish in Vincent's face only once before.

The deep-timbored tones of voice tried to remain even, fought to keep from cracking in pain, but the vision being described was one apparently beyond all hope. "I watched Diana crumble to the stone floor beneath her, holding her arms about herself. I couldn't reach her, couldn't touch her. I could only feel her pain, see her tears, listen to her cry out my name in torment."

The powerful figure before them, capable of beyond human strength and endurance, had been fully reduced to a haunted soul aching for guidance and reassurance. Father prayed that they could come to understand why his beloved son was now being forced to experience what seemed to be a foreboding prophesy of doom.

"Was Diana still with child? Had she delivered yet?" he asked quietly.

"She still sheltered our baby within her body, Father, but she seemed driven to protect it somehow from the anguish overwhelming us."

For a long moment, Father held back from asking the next question, the one that could possibly crystalize the essence of what they sought to understand, but a question the mere possibility of considering could very well shatter his son's heart. The elder physician dreaded what his beloved child could be touching to. "Vincent," came the soft sound of a father's own pain, "did you feel your anguish, your sense of foreboding, for . . . Diana . . . or for . . . the child . . .? "

Sapphire eyes turned suddenly dark with unspeakable pain. Mary reached her hand out to the beyond human one that had gone cold on the surface of the table before them. She couldn't bring herself to even contemplate what Vincent had to understand -- whether he was being warned of the impending, destined loss of his bride . . . or his unborn child.

The words he formed in response were only a whisper. "I don't know, Father. I could not distinguish between them."

Father turned away from the desk a moment, taking a few difficult steps on his crutch, to give himself a tiny bit of space from the pain washing over him from his son. He didn't know what he could say to comfort Vincent, wasn't certain that he, himself, could come to believe the vision to be only the anxious disquiet of a new father's heart. That must be the only answer to the dream . . . anything else was too nightmarish to even conceive.

Coming back to sit across from his son, Father took both hands into his as he'd do to connect with a child, his own little grandson. His grandson: that wondrous little soul, Jacob, had been, continued to be, a miracle of hope in all their lives. Something deep within the distinguished physician's spirit urged him to believe that the second life soon to be born of another mystical, never dreamed of union of souls, could be no less a blessing and miracle.

"Vincent, if there is one thing I've learned about helping Mary bring new life into this community, it has been this: Birth is an overwhelming, wondrous, beautiful, humbling, terrifying experience, for both mother and father. It is perfectly natural for fear and uncertainty to cloud its presence, especially for a man.

"Look at the rational reality of the process -- Diana, the woman you love as your own heart, will be very much alone in all this, even though you might be standing right there beside her all along. That a woman's body, her mind and spirit, can withstand the physiological pressures of birth, is a miracle in itself. I've seen grown men who'd survived battle and hardship immeasurable, completely crumble at the sight of their beloved in pain as she struggles in the labor of childbirth alone.

"A husband can do very little to help, beyond hoping to keep her focused and relatively capable of handling the uncertainty and fear."

"Then you feel that the vision is only a manifestation of that anxiety?" The words were softly expectant, desperate to believe.

"The fear is very real at a time like this, Vincent. Things can and do go wrong." Here, Father momentarily pulled his gaze from Vincent's in quietly-recalled loss. His own. "Sometimes medical care can do little to help a mother or a child in distress. Lives can be lost. I won't tell you otherwise."

Pulling himself back from the depths of his own heart, Father slid his hand down over Vincent's golden hair gently. "But know this, my son: You, we, have cared for Diana and the baby as best as we've known how, given our lack of experience with the uniqueness of her condition. She is strong and well. The baby appears so also. We need simply to place them both in God's hands when the time comes."

Mary, who'd silently contemplated the elder physician's words to his son, prayed that the reassurance would take hold somehow within Vincent's pained heart. But, the barely restrained desolation she still read in his entire being proved to the gentle lady that she needed to offer her own difficult to voice observations.

"Diana is not Catherine, Vincent. You will be there for her."

Father pulled his incredulous gaze from his troubled son to the steely-souled matriarch of the tunnel world. He couldn't believe she'd said what she just had . . .

because he knew he himself hadn't been able to gather the courage to speak the other possibility that was forcing its way into his mind.

Vincent looked long into the face of the seemingly fragile elder woman and caught sight of another characteristic she shared with the amber-haired angel of his hope -- an uncanny courage to seek out the truth, no matter how presently painful, so that the future may be ransomed beyond that pain.

Diana had done so, he'd understood in awe, more times than he'd been able to admit,

battled him for the truth so that she could save him from pain. She'd stood before him from their very first moments together, seeking him out in the tunnels after having nursed him back from death, ready to offer him her capacity to guide him to the truth.

She'd offered him her help then, defied him to accept it, as she spoke the reality of his circumstances to him in startlingly honest conviction: What possible chance could he have to find Jacob, his child, in a world where he couldn't even show his face?

When he'd protested the danger to her, the fact that he could not be responsible for her life, that he could not keep her safe, Diana had only let the fire in her voice match that in her eyes -- "I am not Catherine," she'd flung at him, so ready to take on his pain.

No, she was not Catherine. Their life now, together, was not the existence he'd shared with Catherine, either.

"That is one other thing that is seeking to overwhelm you now, Vincent, isn't it?" came Mary's soft spoken, heartbreaking truth. "It is Diana you love now, your child with her you are anticipating with awesome wonder. But it is Catherine's lonely pain you could be touching to in that dream. You couldn't be there for Catherine, for Jacob, help them, protect them. You're afraid now that Diana will be somehow placed beyond your protection as well, that she and the baby will be beyond your reach when they need you most."

At first attempting to deny Mary's conclusions, Vincent recognized the stab of pain her words had conjured, still capable of shadowing his soul. He was able to only question the elder lady with silent, unbelievable eyes. Mary understood.

"Diana confessed to me, when I first realized she was expecting, that she was afraid having this child would cause you to revisit all the anguish within your heart that losing Catherine had left you. She prayed you could accept the wonder of your child as the heavenly mercy that it was, but she still feared that the pain of the past would cloud your response to it.

"You've managed to come this far with only the anxiousness any new father endures. I guess you would not be the sensitive, loving soul that you are, Vincent, if Diana's imminent labor did not bring back thoughts of Catherine and what she was forced to go through."

Vincent pushed back his chair and came to his feet, a bit unsteadily. He leaned on his hands presed against the polished desktop, attempting to sort his colliding emotions into their proper order in his heart. But there was no order, he knew, that he could press upon them. There was only one single, melded, fusion of pain, fear, loss, and utter helplessness.

"I lie beside Diana," he began in quiet anguish, "cradle here body next to mine, rest my hand onto our child within her, and yes, Mary, the ache has passed through my soul beyond the wonder: I was never able to share such a moment with Catherine, feel Jacob grow and thrive within her body.

"I see the beautiful radiance of Diana's face, the maternal wonder with which I know she shelters every hope and possibility for this child of ours . . . and I know that all Catherine was able to realize was that her baby would be stolen from her by some demon of hell himself . . . that I could do nothing to help her, keep her safe, keep Jacob safe."

Father came to stand beside his son, considerably overshadowed by the towering, powerful figure before him. Yet, that figure's heart was only a haunted shadow at the moment. "That is what you fear, Vincent, son, isn't it? You weren't able to be with Catherine, keep her safe, when she most needed you. You weren't able to shelter Jacob from the evil that enveloped him from the instant he was born. Even though you were ready to lay your life down for them. And now you are fearful that somehow Diana, too, will be taken beyond your reach, your capability to shelter and protect."

"Oh, Father, I couldn't bear the loss of her, of our child!"

Jacob wrapped his arms around the massive strength of his son's formidible body, that trembled now with the force of his emotions, drawing the golden crowned head down to his shoulder. Mary rested her own comforting hand onto his back as she swallowed back tears.

"Vincent, you have done everything in your power to protect Diana, to keep your child, safe. You have watched over them with love and care, met their every physical need, taken on their spiritual and emotional welfare as your own. You love them. There is nothing more you can do but wait, and trust in God."

Mary continued. "This is a time when you must look beyond the past, child. As painful and uncompassing as it has been, there is no need to look to it for your present reality. Remember that this evening we are going to celebrate Jacob's life, as well as honor Catherine's memory. There is a place in all our hearts for both. There is a place in your heart for you to grieve as well as one in which you can cherish the new life soon to be in your care.

"There are so many possibilities opening up for both you and for Diana, for your children. Don't fear them because of the shadow of uncertainty and pain. We will never be able to live an existence completely free of them, but, we don't need to let those uncertainties rule our lives, either. Diana will live to be mother to both of your children. You both will grow old and delight together in all your blessings, Vincent. I believe it with all my heart."

Vincent pulled back from the shelter of his parents' arms, to look upon faces filled with love and hope and concern. There was still a shadowing of anxiety within their beloved features, as there always would be when faced with the knowledge that someone they loved was struggling and in need of guidance. Yet, the hope and peace born of the certain sheltering, nurturing power of love, made it possible for them to believe.

A weight was suddenly lifted from Vincent beleaguered heart. He knew, as well, that Providence would not forsake them. All he could do now was hope, and pray.

Quite distinctly, a gentle warmth filled Vincent's spirit. He pulled his attention totally to it, beyond the fear, and realized with a sweet, tender ache, its source. Jacob's heart was beating close to Diana's . . . both theirs in delighted proximity to the tiniest thythm he sensed.

In their chamber, Diana had come awake again, was probably gathering Jacob to her. The small boy himself must be listening attentively to his new sibling's stirrings, following the thriving life's essence with his own so attuned, generous little soul.

"My family is awake." The quiet words were filled with unconcealed wonder -- and gifting peace -- It was possible for a disquieting, unsettling dream, to be simply that, even for him. He had to believe it, even if he could never be completely certain.

Reaching a tender hand to Mary's still supple cheek, Vincent set a soft kiss there, in gratitude. He wrapped his Father in a finally unburdened embrace. "I only pray that we can be of as much nurturing support to one another over the yers as you both have always been to me."

With a graceful sweep up the few stairs, Vincent turned into the corridor that woud take him back to the miracle that was his family -- his wife and his children. Another day called out to them, one shaded with poignant remembrance, surely, always, but still one alive with hope and possibility and shared, blessed promise.


Continued in Chapter 5