by Lee Kirkland
It was his second Leap through time and although he was prepared for it, Vincent staggered a little when he leaped back home. As he tried to regain his footing, his balance became more precarious, so he stopped and tightened his grip.
He looked down, wanting his eyes to confirm what his heart already knew, but all he could see was the soft brown hair across her cheek; she was wrapped in his cloak, and her face was buried against his neck.
"Catherine?" he asked softly.
She lifted her face and he set her gently on her feet, unable to stop staring. His hands touched her face.
"Vincent? Is something wrong?" The sound of her voice was food for a starving man.
"No," he said, brushing away a stray wisp of hair and stroking gentle fingers across her cheek. "I just want to look at you."
She looked tired, with faint purple smudges under her eyes, but he didn't think he'd ever seen a more beautiful sight. All he wanted was to stand here forever, holding her; his eyes filled with tears of joy.
Smiling at him, she touched a finger to his cheek. "Don't cry," she whispered. "I'm here now. I'm safe. I knew you would come."
Her faith wounded him, knowing as he did, that he had not found her, but his joy was greater than all else, and he returned her smile. A moment later, her expression became unfocused and her eyes grew distant as her body tensed. She's in labor, he remembered. "It's all right," he whispered, holding her. "I'm here."
As the contraction eased, she relaxed against him.
"Catherine okay?" a tentative voice asked from the end of the passage. "Catherine hurt?"
"Catherine is fine, Mouse," Vincent answered his friend. "She's having a baby." My baby? That's what she told Sam...
Mouse asked it aloud. "Vincent's baby?"
For the first time in more than six months, Vincent heard the sweet sound of Catherine's laughter. "Yes, Mouse, Vincent's baby."
The young man grinned. "Okay, good, okay, fine." He came closer and held out something. "For Catherine."
Vincent reached out for the soft bundle and looked at it curiously. "Socks?"
"Clean!" Mouse promised quickly. "Good socks. Warm. Mary made."
"I'm sure they're fine socks, Mouse, but why?"
"No shoes!" Mouse pointed down and Vincent looked.
Catherine was barefoot, and her feet looked cold on the dusty tunnel floor.
"Thank you, Mouse," she said, smiling. Mouse gallantly offered Catherine an arm for balance and Vincent knelt, pulling the borrowed socks up over her feet.
"Mouse, why do you happen to have a pair of clean socks with you?" Catherine asked as he straightened.
"Always carry," Mouse proclaimed. "Mouse goes far. Father says, don't want blisters, wear clean socks."
"Thank you, Mouse," Vincent said. "Your help tonight was invaluable." He felt safe saying that, since Al had told him Mouse was guiding Sam through the tunnels.
Mouse beamed. "Saved Catherine!" he boasted.
"Yes, Mouse. Vincent told me how you helped," Catherine said. Stepping forward, she surprised and embarrassed poor Mouse with a warm hug. "Thank you."
Mouse ducked his head and backed away. "Gotta go," he said, blushing. "Tell everyone!"
"Mouse. Go to Father first. Tell him Catherine is safe and she's about to have a child."
Mouse nodded, hurried around a corner and was gone.
Vincent didn't see him leave; he had eyes only for Catherine. "You're well?" he asked anxiously. "Did they hurt you? The man called Gabriel..."
She came back into his arms and he tucked his cloak around her more snugly, unable to stop touching her. "He wanted the baby," she said flatly. "He took care of me because he needed me for that." She looked at him. "Vincent, how did you know his name?"
"A friend," Vincent said slowly, wondering how much he could tell her. "He helped to find you. He told me."
"His name is Albert. You've never met him."
"I'd like to."
"I don't know if that will be possible," Vincent said. "There is another who helped, and you have met him, though I have not. His name is Sam."
She frowned. "I don't remember anyone called Sam."
Vincent smiled. "There is no reason why you should," he said. "Nevertheless, without his help, and Albert's..." his voice broke. "I would have lost you."
Her arms went around his neck and he held her as tightly as he dared, acutely aware of the rounded swell of her abdomen pressing against him; lightly he touched it.
"Catherine, if you have no objection, I would like to name our son after my friend."
"A son? You can tell it's a boy?" Her smile was a mixture of wonder and joy.
"I know it is a son," Vincent said carefully, not revealing how he came by that knowledge. "May we call him Albert?" He already knew her answer would be yes.
The tunnels are quiet except for the occasional sound of a passing subway train above or the gentle tapping on the pipes acknowledges that all is well in the tunnels. It is late and these tranquil sounds are reassuring. So much has happened recently that my mind and heart can scarcely contain the maelstrom of emotions that stir within.
The entries have been few in this new journal; it's not been a time for writing. The words have not provided the catharsis for which I long; perhaps tonight they will.
Catherine sleeps behind me, in my bed; our son sleeps beside her. They are here. They are safe. I marvel at all that has happened today. I would like to forget the nightmare, but I remember searching for her, night after night... without even our bond to sustain me.
I was almost at the point of desperation when I "leaped". (The concept is still difficult for me to comprehend even after experiencing it twice, but it saved Catherine's life... I owe so much to Sam and Albert.)
To "leap" back and find Catherine in my arms was more than I could have imagined, even with what Albert had told me. All I could do was look at her, touch her... try to convince myself that she was real.
As I carried her to my chamber, I began to sense the nebulous stirrings of our bond... but it seemed different this time. It seemed to come from Catherine... but more so from within. I dared not concentrate on it; part of me feared its loss once again and its existence was tenuous. At that moment Catherine's welfare was more important. She was in pain and I needed no bond to feel it. I was even more afraid knowing that her pain was because of the child she was carrying, my child. I tried to comfort her as best I could, telling her things that might distract her.
Although it seemed like forever to me, Catherine's labor actually progressed quite rapidly. I wished only that I could draw the pain away from her, yet I was helpless to do so. As I witnessed the birth of our son, I was filled with such wonder at the miracle unfolding before me; I was so proud of Catherine, her love, her courage, her unflagging belief in me... in us. I remember those moments when I first held him. He's beautiful... I wish that Albert and Sam were here to share this with me.
I find myself missing Albert and wishing I could have known him better. If only I could meet Sam and thank him for what he's given me. "If in the twilight of memory we should meet once more, we shall speak again together and you shall sing to me a deeper song. And if our hands should meet in another dream we shall build another tower in the sky." I wish I could share these words of Gibran with them.
I am learning what it must be like for Catherine to carry the secret of the tunnels... and me. Would Catherine and Father really believe I traveled in time? Would my friends believe Sam and I exchanged places? Or would they think I was like Dorothy after the twister, dreaming it all? What would Catherine say if she knew I had gone out into the daylight and felt the sunshine on my face? That for once I'd been able to experience the beauty of her world from outside the pages of a book?
I'm changed now; things will never be the same. I know that Catherine and I can share a life together... and that we will. Will she be surprised when I tell her our next child will be a daughter... that her name will be Samantha? Or will she smile and accept it as another surprise that life together brings us. Will she ever know? Will I ever be able to tell her? Do I need to...?