By Thomas Mc

Chapter 12 : Closer

Jacob glanced down at Linda, cradled against his side, his left arm wrapped protectively around her, then his gaze shifted over to Sharon, sitting guard over a sleeping Desmond, then over to Madison and Michael, sitting huddled together close to the water over by the falls, then he glanced at Terry and Tonya dozing a few yards away beside the camp heater, and finally he glanced at Devin, standing by the water's edge looking out at the Dolphin Sea, deep in his own somber thoughts. This trip had bonded the two families closer together than he would have thought possible. And despite the two dangerous encounters, it was probably the most fun he and his family had had in a very long time. Even the two battles had been exhilarating (after the fact).

Normally Jacob had to be always on guard against the damage that his claws and his strength could cause. During the squid attack he and his sons had given free reign to the ferocity and rage of their beast, and they had all three done some serious damage to that thing. There had been something so satisfying about being able to cut loose and use his strength and his claws to help drive off that monster. He had also noticed similar reactions in both his sons during and immediately after the attack. They had been ecstatic over their victory.

At one point, while he had been attacking one of the tentacles, Jacob had caught a glimpse of Terry and Tonya's faces as well as felt their emotions as they witnessed the damage he and his sons had wrought on that creature. They had both been startled, amazed and even a bit frightened by that other side of their leonine companions. He found himself wondering about it. Should he be worried about the feelings and the destructive potential that the battle had brought out in his sons and himself. Jacob glanced again at his oldest son who was staring a bit moodily out to sea. Devin in particular had been affected by the aftermath and what he had discovered within himself, becoming a bit more subdued since that incident. Jacob raised his right hand and frowned worriedly as he studied his claws while slowly curling and uncurling his fingers. Then he became aware of scrutiny from another and looked over to see Terry watching him.

"You've never had to use those as a weapon before have you?" Terry remarked as he also looked at those claws.

Jacob shook his head. "No . . . though I have always had to be conscious of their potential for harm. I can't count the number of times I've used them as very handy tools. But this was the first time I have intentionally used them as a weapon." He shook his head. "A couple of years ago my brother was forced to use his claws to defend himself but I never have needed to. I was able to use my appearance to scare the terrorist into . . ." He paused a moment as he continued to study his claws. "I don't know which bothers me the most; the sheer amount of damage that they can inflict; or the exhilarating rush that I got from using them to destroy." He looked over at Terry expecting some form of disapproval and found only acceptance.

Terry responded to Jacob's uncertain look. "I can feel nothing but respect and admiration for you and your sons. Seeing you three in action against those tentacles, ripping them to shreds, and the wild rage in your eyes; it was a frightening thing to witness. Afterwards, I realized that you guys have to live with your destructive potential every single day. One look at your family illustrates to me how well you have managed." He glanced over at Michael and Madison. "I can not think of anyone I would rather have watching over my little girl than Michael."

Jacob lowered the hand he had been studying. The dark worry that had just been threatening to overtake him evaporated. If Terry could see what he had seen during that battle and still accept Jacob and his sons then Jacob could accept himself as well. Soon he was again thinking about how much fun the last two weeks had been.

~ o ~

By dinner time everyone was feeling much better and they were all excitedly discussing the various aspects of their recent adventure. Even the two battles were eagerly discussed as exciting adventures. At one point, the youngsters were comparing how many crab bites they got (Sharon won). The general consensus was that everyone had really enjoyed themselves in spite of the problems they had encountered.

Terry was already talking about returning here again next year with a larger and better equipped expedition. He wanted to try to follow and map the entire shoreline of the Dolphin Sea as well as all of the tributaries that emptied into this astounding place. In the end he hoped to create a complete map of the cavern itself and all the islands that dotted the Dolphin Sea.

Another round of injections was administered just before they settled in for the night. The sleeping bag arrangements followed the now well established pattern, which amused the adults as well as giving them a lot to think about.

~ x x x x x ~

(Day 15)

Morning arrived to find everyone feeling in much better health. After a large breakfast the third injection was given out per Doctor Teresa's instructions. Then all the younger ones asked to go into the water and play with the dolphins, which had continued to hang around. Permission was given and soon they were in the water splashing each other and hitching high speed rides with the dolphins. It didn't take long before the adults came out into the water to join the fun.

Lunch was practically wolfed down so that they could all go back out into the water.

Though they were no longer feeling sick, the ones that had been ill did tire out a bit quicker and they decided to eat an early dinner and retire immediately afterward.

Once again Devin stood staring out to sea and brooding. Jacob took a step toward his son when he felt Terry's hand upon his shoulder. "Let me. As an outsider without vested family interest, my thoughts about his worries might carry more weight." Terry then walked over to stand next to Devin. After a couple of minutes of silence Terry began to speak.

As the two of them talked, Jacob could feel Devin's mood begin to shift and the melancholy slowly faded away. Terry had been right. Sometimes advice was more effective when it came from an outsider or, in this case, a good friend.

~ x x x x x ~

(Day 16)

By the next morning everyone was back up to full health. The youngsters went exploring and found a group of hollowed out shallow caves behind the waterfall. They amused themselves for a while diving through the waterfall from those shallow caves. The dolphins were always around to give them a ride back to the shore. Once Desmond hit the water too flat and it knocked the wind out of him. Two of the dolphins came up under him and supported him while he recovered.

After lunch Desmond, Sharon and Devin were out in the water engaged in racing each other on dolphin back while their parents sat on the edge of the beach and cheered them on.

Terry glanced over at Tonya and saw that she was unconsciously handling her purple crystal necklace. He had noticed that she often played with or stroked the purple crystal around her neck while watching the children or when they were deep in discussions about serious subjects or, especially, when romantic subjects came up.

Madison and Michael sat in the dimly lit recess of one of those shallow caves behind the waterfall and watched the multiple colors from the great cavern's ceiling play across the falling water. It felt like they were all alone in their own private little world here. Madison had cuddled up against Michael for warmth (and because she liked having his arms around her).

She felt his cheek brush hers and turned her head to find him looking back at her, smiling. There was a soft glow in his eyes that she had never noticed before. That smile and those eyes stirred something inside her, making her happy and nervous at the same time.

Slowly, hesitantly they leaned in toward each other. Then their lips met. There was a sweet innocence in that first kiss as Madison felt a warm tingle spread through her. Michael had felt her reaction and a similar answering feeling within himself. They separated, blushing as a hint of embarrassment mixed in with the warmth that the kiss had generated in them both.

Michael jumped up and challenged Madison to a race, then dived through the waterfall. Madison jumped up and dived through right behind him.

~ o ~

Jacob looked up towards the waterfall.

Sensing the unusual combination of emotions, many of them slightly nostalgic in nature, playing through her husband, Linda looked up at Jacob and noticed the hint of a sparkle in his eyes. "What is it?" She asked.

Jacob turned to look at Linda. "Remember the first time we kissed?" He said quietly.

"I remember how sweet it felt and how surprised and embarrassed we both felt afterward." She laughed then glanced at the waterfall as Michael burst from the falls in a graceful arching dive to be followed a half second later by Madison. "Oh, I see." Then she sighed and leaned into his embrace. "We're going to have to keep a closer eye on those two."

Tonya had notice the exchange between Jacob and Linda. Jacob felt her curiosity and commented to her while nodding in the direction of the falls. "Michael and Madison just experienced the 'first kiss'."

"Oh." Tonya remarked as her gaze shifted to the two in question. "I guess it was bound to happen, considering how things have been going between them." Tonya took hold of Terry's hand, a sparkle in her eyes. "Terry may not have been my 'first kiss', but I sure remember the first time he kissed me."

Soon Michael and Madison had joined in the dolphin races. A little while later the parents joined the fun and it soon turned into a game of tag on dolphin back. The dolphins had become very adept at knowing which way the people they were pulling wanted to go, and they seemed to be enjoying the game as much as the explorers.

As the evening wore on the youngsters finally came out of the water, happy and exhausted. Dinner was a boisterous affair as the various races and games that they had been playing were thoroughly discussed. Twice Tonya saw Michael and Madison look at each other and blush. It wasn't Michael's blushing that surprised her as much as the fact that she could see it through the fur.

~ x x x x x ~

(Day 17)

Terry spent most of the next morning following the beach as far as he could and mapping the entire area as completely as possible. Tonya, Linda and Jacob made sure that everything was properly packed away for the return trip to the home tunnels then spent some time swimming near the falls and checking out the cavern wall on the other side of the falls.

Michael and Madison ended up in one of the caves behind the waterfall. They spent the time talking and cuddling and occasionally stealing a kiss.

At mid-day Jacob called everyone in for lunch. Michael and Madison didn't respond and Jacob resorted to projecting an insistent emotional barb at Michael and got an embarrassed response. A few seconds later Madison and Michael appeared from behind the falls. There was a definite hint of pink in Madison's face and, though far less obvious, the same was true of Michael.

They both had to endure a bit of mild teasing from the others as a result of their delayed arrival for lunch.

After lunch everyone spent a large part of the afternoon in the water with the dolphins. Tonya was able to spot and categorize at least a dozen other types of small fish found in the sea near their location. She even managed to catch a few with the help of the dolphins and their dinners ended up being quite excellent with the addition of the fish . . . especially after twenty-two days of prepackaged trail food.

During that night, after all the children were asleep, Tonya and Terry took their sleeping bags and found their way to one of the shallow caves behind he waterfall. They opened up both sleeping bags and joined them together into one sleeping bag for two then they engaged in a heavy make-out session. Afterward they both dozed off together to the soothing roar of the waterfall combined with their own feelings of extreme contentment.

They finally woke up and made their way back to the camp area, to be met by a knowing smile from Devin, just a few hours before the others began to wake up.

~ x x x x x ~

(Day 18)

The new day began with everyone taking a quick dip in the sea and a shower under the waterfall before breakfast. They had discovered an area near the far end of the waterfall where there was a rocky shelf about three feet below the water's surface. A perfect place to take a shower.

At lunch Sharon and Desmond were talking about the possibility of going to the same junior high school during the coming fall. They spent most of their lunch making plans. Though they would be in different grades they would still be able to see each other between classes and during lunch. Both sets of parents were amused by the discussion. It reminded Terry and Tonya of their teenage years before they had met in college.

After lunch they all returned to the water and the companionship of the dolphins. They all knew that they would be heading home in the next day or two and they wanted to spend as much time with their new friends as possible. The dolphins seemed to be aware that their time with the group of explorers was limited and were also making the most of their time together.

~ o ~

The ten person relief party finally arrived late in the afternoon on day eighteen. They were very surprised to find all the explorers in the water, apparently playing with what turned out to be slightly undersized albino dolphins.

A short while later, they were all sitting around the two camp heaters and feasting on a fine dinner of fish that Jacob and the dolphins had supplied. During this time they were entertained by a fairly complete outline of the Dolphin Sea adventure. The battle with the 'sea monster' in particular drew many cries and gasps from the enthralled audience.

That evening was spent hearing all the news about what had been happening in the world Above while they had been gone. The biggest news was that Brigit O'Donnall had just completed a brand new story and had presented the original, beautifully hand written, manuscript to Catherine and Vincent as a gift. That hand written manuscript was the story of Catherine and Vincent from the year they first met through to the aftermath of the World Trade Center collapse. And, they were told, it was the only existing copy. Brigit also had informed them that her Last Will and Testament granted control of all her copyrights and royalties to the Wells-Chandler Foundation after she was gone. This news caused quite a stir among the explorers.

"Wouldn't that kind of information be very dangerous to have lying around?" Inquired Tonya. She knew some of the story of Vincent and Catherine. "If the wrong person got hold of that book it could endanger both Vincent's family and the tunnel community."

"The Manuscript is being stored in Father's library." Replied one of the relief party members. Only those who are from Below and those who are trusted helpers will have access to it. It will be safe there."

A second relief party member added. "I heard that the story is written in such a way as to obscure the existence of the tunnel community. We are described as being safely hidden away from the prying eyes of the rest of the world. That could be anywhere, even an abandoned building."

Tonya was looking forward to her chance to read the manuscript, both because she was curious about the subject and because Brigit o'Donnell was one of her favorite authors.

Finally the discussion wound down and everyone bedded down for the night.

~ o ~

The next morning they packed up what little still remained to be packed and they all headed back home. The five day trip was filled with the explorer's tales of adventures and discoveries.

Everyone in the relief group noticed how close Michael and Madison had become. It was also noticed that Desmond and Sharon could usually be seen walking hand in hand with each other. The way the youngsters set up their sleeping bags at night was also noticed by everyone.

These observations generated a lot of quiet exchanges of comments and opinions, especially after the second night they all spent together. There were several discrete questions addressed to the two sets of parents as well. They acknowledged the relationships and expressed no serious concern about them, which was considered enough to set the matter to rest as far as everyone else was concerned.

That was just the way things were in the tunnel community. Everyone lived to their own drumbeat and they respected the feelings and lifestyles of others.

~ o ~

The explorers arrived at the community dining chamber just past lunchtime to be greeted by a massive welcome home party. The entire community was aware of their approach and had delayed lunch until they had arrived. The kitchen had prepared a very sumptuous meal for the occasion.

The resultant party turned into a rather festive event. Tales of adventure were told and eagerly listened to. The five youngsters were the envy of their peers.

After the big lunch celebration, Teresa hauled all of the returned explorers to the tunnel infirmary and gave them each a thorough examination. She grudgingly admitted that they all appeared to be in good health in spite of their ordeals.

~ o ~

That evening a second family celebration was held Above in the family brownstone.

After dinner Michael and Madison ended up on the divan in the rooftop garden holding each other close and gazing up at the clear evening sky. They talked a lot about their recent adventure and they talked about their feelings toward each other. And they kissed, often.

In the second floor library, Desmond and Sharon sat squeezed together in an oversized chair and listened to some currently popular music. There was no kissing and they talked very little.

Downstairs in the parlor, the adults talked about the recent adventure, the new Brigit O'Donnell manuscript, and the budding relationships of the four youngsters.

Catherine addressed her remarks to Terry and Tonya. "As it is, we already tend to think of all of you as members of our family. Madison and Desmond are both great kids and I find it most appropriate that your children might one day make the familial like relationship official."

"Dear heart, did anyone ever tell you that you talk like a lawyer?" Vincent chuckled as he patted Catherine's hand then added his opinion. "As it stands, it already makes for a good story. The attachment those four have formed is very strong, I can feel it even now, and I suspect that the end is already a forgone conclusion."

"Now who's talking like a lawyer?" Catherine laughed then kissed Vincent on the cheek. "You've been hanging around me too much, I'm afraid."

Tonya grinned at them as she responded. "I hope you're right. I like the idea . . . I just hope we can keep things from going too far too soon."

Catherine laughed as she looked over at Jacob and Linda. "Didn't you know? That's what makes parenting so interesting as well as explaining the gray hairs."

THE END (For Now)

A/N: There is a sequel floating around in my head (titled Growing up) but it will take a lot of work before it is ready to post.

'Beauty and the Beast' and its characters are owned by Witt-Thomas Productions and Republic Pictures. No infringement on copyrights is intended. This story is presented merely for the enjoyment of fans. Original concepts and story elements may be used by other authors as long as appropriate credit is given.