C.J. hadn't been asleep that long when she started dreaming. Assorted images snatched from different times in her life, flashed in front of her as she tried to make sense of them.
Place them in some kind of order but she wasn't in control this time. Her dreams had always left her wondering where they came from and what they meant.
Sometimes they appeared to connect her with her past, the times when her parents appeared before her long after they had died.
Her father had saved her life through a dream. One time when she'd been very ill and Matt had tried to race her to a hospital in L.A. when the power grid fried leaving the city in darkness. She'd been slipping away from him, from the rest of the world wanting desperately to be with her father. She'd missed him desperately since he'd abruptly left her life years earlier.
But her daddy wasn't having any part of it.
The fire licked the sides of the walls in the hallway and the wallpaper released trails of smoke before igniting. The voices of the men had receded and no longer followed her down the endless hallway. She saw the open doorway ahead out into what looked like intense sunlight. She saw the outline of a figure and thought she knew its name.
"Daddy," she said, "I can't find my way out of here. Can you help me?"
He shook his head.
"You can't come this way," he said, "You've got to trust him."
Her brows furrowed as sooty ash began to drizzle down like dirty rain. She shook her head.
"No Daddy," she said, "I'm afraid to go that way. What if it leads me back to where I started?"
He still shook his head.
"I love you daughter," he said, "and that means saying goodbye."
And just like that, a rush of wind stronger than any that came naturally pushed her away from him back into the light.
Back to the hospital bed where Matt had been waiting for her…but he'd been with her in that dream, trying to help her escape from a burning building set to collapse all around them. Would they get out in time?
As it turned out, just as the past had saved her life, so would her future.
"Come with me," Matt said, and she felt his hand slip in hers. It felt warm and comforting and she followed him down the hallway dodging panels of burning wood that fell around them.
She felt the rush of cool air reach her.
"We're almost there," she said, "I think it's just ahead."
Matt looked around.
"Have you seen Gracie," he said, "Is she safe or do we need to find her?"
The answer to that question arose from her heart, in the language of quiet certainty.
"If we get out of here, so shall she."
That's when she knew that at some point in her life she would have a daughter of her own, with dark curly hair and in her eyes; she'd see the man who would be her father. But C.J. had pushed her out of her mind focusing on the here and now, in a life where she'd have to do as she delicately put it, kiss a lot of frogs to find her prince. She didn't know that the man who had kissed her teasingly in response that summer afternoon would be the one. Oh she'd always kind of hoped but never thought she'd see the day.
Life took its time at bringing them together and seemed intent on testing their resolve first to the max. But she never gave up trying to stay alive and he never gave up trying to find her.
During that time, she often dreamed of her daughter. It kept her alive.
One dark morning years ago she'd woken up inside her gilded cage to see Elena looking down at her puzzled as C.J. struggled to get out of bed. She'd spent another restless night alone as Andre had left the compound on another business trip which meant he had no need for her.
"What time is it," she'd asked in a world where it was easy to lose track.
Elena just looked at her, her brows knit and her jet black hair braided behind her.
"About seven," she said, "Who's Gracie?"
C.J. just looked at her in silence then she found her voice.
"Why do you ask?"
Elena sorted out the silverware on her breakfast plate that she'd placed on the table.
"I heard you say her name," she said, "Is she your sister?"
C.J. didn't answer because she didn't know how to sum up so much in a few words and she didn't trust anyone. Elena quietly waited for an answer so she finally gave her one, something that couldn't be used against her.
"Something like that…"
She thought of her daughter so much when she'd been held captive, when she was being used by Andre. She'd learned how to pull herself away from the violation of her body wouldn't touch her soul. If he noticed he didn't care and when he left, she'd curl herself in a ball and try to dream of a future that would outlive its present.
She told Matt when they'd decided that friendship wasn't enough for either of them about the first pregnancy test she'd taken. They'd been lying on the grass on a ranch in Colorado when she shared in halting words about what it'd been like during the days when she thought her rapist had left her with a more permanent reminder of his crimes. She'd been so sure that she wouldn't know how to go on if that had happened, when she'd dreamed of Gracie, she didn't see her dream realized through an act of violence. Somehow…it just didn't fit.
He'd listened to her and then she knew she did right by telling him. Not long after she told him, they'd become lovers and not long after that, she took another test, this one had been positive. He'd been so excited when she finally told him and the pregnancy had been one of the joyous periods of her life. It had been almost an act of defiance against those who had tried to break her and steal her dreams.
He had walked in to the bedroom where C.J. lay, drenched with perspiration and her face filled with concentration as she breathed her way through the pain of labor, as her daughter struggled to move from the world she knew to the next one. At first, he felt at a loss of what to do but when their eyes met, he rushed over to her and took her in his arms, whispering words that came quickly to mind, words that made her relax as the doctor told them what would happen next. She closed her eyes for a few minutes then and rested her head against his chest while he held her. She had always proven to be the rock he needed during any storm that crossed their paths.
"Come on sweetheart push," he encouraged her, "We're almost there."
"I don't know if I can," she gasped, "Her birth is proving to be much harder than her conception."
He smiled at that and stroked her back.
"Just one more push and I'm going to be here right with you," he said. She knew he meant every word as she prepared to bring their daughter into the world, reaching past the pain, the fear that she had used up every bit of strength she had left. Only to find out that he had given her what she needed.
And not long after that, their baby crowned and drew her first breath.
Gracie had been fearless since her birth, running instead of walking and she'd loved exploring her world inheriting that from her investigator parents. Both she and Matt had taken her to work with them, more environments for her to investigate herself.
Until the day she vanished in plain sight.
She and her husband were left in shock, left to figure out whose past had returned, the key to finding her before…neither had wanted to think of all the terrible things that could happen to her. Neither willing to give up, to take a deep breath and exhale until she was safely back in her mother's arms.
But even though Gracie had come back safely, C.J. hadn't been able to move forward to keep up with her daughter. She'd tried but somehow images of almost losing her flooded her mind intertwined with the times that her own captors had threatened to erase her dreams as they intended to do to her.
She thought about this while sitting on the steps of the worn paneled house that had appeared in other dreams. She heard the voice of the man who had once lived there.
"Why are you here," he said gently, "This isn't your home."
She couldn't see him but she knew the voice even though she hadn't heard it for most of her life.
"I thought I'd come back and visit."
"There's nothing for you here," he said, "Your future is elsewhere and it's still very much in motion."
"I…sometimes it feels like it's going so fast…and I don't know what to do," she said, "I can't control it…"
The man chuckled but not at her.
"That's the way it happens," he said, "at the end, it seems like the blink of an eye even though it's many years gone."
She fell silent and then she said softly.
"I couldn't protect her," she said, "I really tried and still I almost lost her forever."
She felt something warm on her shoulder, almost like an embrace even though she sat there alone. It felt as real as it had when she'd been a little girl and had scraped her knee, or fallen out of a tree.
"Gracie's safe now…but you have to believe that if you want her to grow up healthy and strong, and sure of herself."
"I know but it's hard…"
"That's my fault," he told her, "I didn't mean to leave you alone…it just wasn't meant for me to raise you any longer."
She heard him sigh deeply.
"You had people who stepped in to do what we could not….good people."
She knew that now, it could have turned out worse for her.
"But you're afraid to lose those you live because you know it can happen in the blink of an eye but you can't let that stop you from living your life the best of all ways. To make the most of each moment that you get and with an eye on the future…"
She nodded slowly.
"And I believe you owe your mother and I more grandchildren so you and that fellow of yours better get going."
She bit back a smile.
"Look up daughter…"
She did that for him. Ahead of her she saw him for the first time, the little boy following in the footsteps of Gracie…reaching out for her hand and her daughter taking it. She'd never seen him before in her dreams at least not as clearly as she did now. Almost like she could touch him…after all it was just a dream.
Her father faded away, leaving behind a trace of what he'd been like a comforting blanket and the house drifted away too.
C.J. woke up with a start but not feeling as if fear had followed her into the real world. Matt moved next to her and he opened his eyes looking at her wrapped in a sheet.
She smiled reaching out to caress him with her finger.
"No a nice dream…I dreamed about the future."
"Yeah and Houston…I'm so sorry I made life so tough on you…"
"You've got nothing to be sorry about," he said, "I could have been more understanding."
She stroked his hair looking at him.
"It's just that I was so scared with Gracie being kidnapped. It's one thing to imagine that our lives set us up for that but to actually have it happen."
Matt looked directly at her.
"You know I'm never going to let anything happen to Gracie and any other children who come along."
She knew he meant it but what they both wanted was to control what couldn't be…any one of their children could be taken.
"I know we've taken steps but we didn't stop it."
"We got her back," he said, "that's the most important thing. But C.J. we have to live our lives, we can't let what might happen keep us from doing that."
"I know that and I'm going to really try to live it," she said, "I just…Gracie means everything to me for so many different reasons…almost losing her and then that's just going to get harder with each child."
He understood what she meant. She knew he did and this time his hand reached to stroke tendrils of hair off her face.
"I know that…and it's going to be okay," he said, "We've both got family and friends to help us through the most difficult times and each child, that'll bring a lot of joy too. "
"But if you want to wait before we give Gracie a brother or sister," he said, "Then that's what we'll do."
She shook her head.
"I don't want to wait," she said, "besides I think he's getting impatient."
But she didn't answer, except to kiss him softly on the lips the way she knew he liked. He looked at her after that. She ran her hands underneath the bed sheet to stroke his chest, toying with the whorls of hair as he slid his own hands on her hips to draw her closer.
Both of them more than ready to head forward in the next exciting chapter of their lives…in it she saw the little boy in her dreams. Matt just knew he was getting lucky with his woman that he loved so much.
The ghosts of their past still lingered but fell quieter at least for now as the future loomed brightly in front of them.