After patiently listening to his Dad's explanation, the youngster was still adamant. "But, why can't I go with you?"


Vincent sighed, thwarted. He was very aware of Geoffrey's enthusiasm for this journey, and he couldn't find a gentle way to refuse him. The boy wanted so desperately to be included, immediately interpreting it as a "family" trip -- how could Vincent turn him down? How could he explain that this was not to be some sort of an adventure for him and Catherine, but a chance to be alone together. The word Catherine had used was "honeymoon" -- those Below did not indulge in such things as "vacations" or "getaways," and although the idea of a honeymoon was new and intensely appealing to Vincent, it was understandable that the concept was beyond the comprehension of this child raised for so long in the Tunnels.


Vincent shrugged and replied, "Geoffrey...perhaps you should speak of this...with Catherine." He hoped she could find a way to explain it which would not hurt the boy, so recently adopted by them.


They'd been acknowledged as a "family" in the eyes of their community for only a few weeks. And he knew that Geoffrey's question would be echoed by many others Below. What would Father and the others think if they abandoned their son now, even for a few precious days? Vincent honestly didn't know how to explain it to anyone else, much less his son. But Catherine wanted this so much...and he couldn't refuse her anything she asked, not when she asked for so little.


As Catherine entered their common chamber, he looked up in grateful relief. But Geoffrey turned to her before Vincent had a chance to prepare her and blurted out, "Dad says you're going to explore some special crystal caverns way beyond the Chamber of the Winds, but he says I can't come. Why not? I think it would be so neat to see 'em! Why can't I come, Mom?"


Catherine noticed Vincent's chagrin and understood intuitively what had happened. Her sensitive spouse, in an effort to ease the concern of their son over their extended absence, had unwittingly made it seem as if the trip the two of them had planned was nothing more than a sightseeing excursion. Of course, Geoffrey had probably jumped to a few conclusions and was now excited about the prospect of taking such a trip with his parents. What kid wouldn't be?


She walked over to the lovingly restored oak roll-top desk in the corner and deposited her briefcase on it, using those few moments to try to compose herself and consider what she would say. But as she turned toward her son, the youngster ran to her and threw his slender arms around her waist, hugging her hard. Automatically, her own arms reached down to embrace him, and she glanced at Vincent in mute appeal. His eyes held no answers, only empathy.


"Sweetheart, come over to the loveseat with me." She took him by the hand as they crossed the room to sit together on the cozy little sofa. "I'm going to explain something to you. I hope you understand me, but if you don't, please don't be afraid to tell me, OK?"


Wide-eyed and solemn, the young boy nodded.


Catherine took a deep breath and plunged in. "Three weeks ago, two things happened. Vincent, you and I pledged ourselves in an adoption ceremony before our whole family Below, as well as all those Helpers who came to witness it."


Geoffrey smiled in fond remembrance and nodded vigorously. "It was great!"


"Yes, it was." Smiling, she ran her fingers fondly through his brown curls. "It was the beginning of our family, and it's a memory I will cherish always. You are a part of us now, and we are a part of you."


Catherine bent to press a warm kiss on Geoffrey's brow, and he squirmed in pleasure. This was all so new to him...and so wonderful.


In tender recollection, her eyes misted as she said, "And there was something else that happened that day -- my Joining with Vincent, and his with me. It was a different type of promise we made. We pledged ourselves each to the other in a special way. It was a confirmation of our Bond, of becoming one." She paused a moment, lost in the romantic reverie which seemed to overtake her whenever she thought of that magical fulfillment of their Dream.


Shaking herself -- wistfully aware of the tendency for her thoughts to drift in ...certain directions...whenever she considered her Bondmate -- she began, patiently and gently, to explain things to her son. "It was different than the three of us becoming a family. Both are very special, miraculous events -- but they are separate and distinct ceremonies. That's because the love Vincent and I bear for each other is a different love than the one we bear for you. But both are more powerful than any other kind of love, and I can't live without them, either of them. The two of you are the most important people in my life. Understand?"


Geoffrey nodded, but how far did his understanding truly go? Catherine pressed on. "What Vincent was trying to explain to you, I think, was that we -- he and I -- plan to take a few days to commemorate our special Joining, just the two of us. It's not meant to exclude you, for we never would exclude you from our lives. It's more of a...a celebration between the two of us of the special way our lives are now connected."

It was obvious from the stricken look he gave her that the youngster did not comprehend the distinction she'd been trying to make. "But...why do you have to go off alone, without me?" Geoffrey's voice could hardly be heard as he whispered, "Don't you think I'm special enough to celebrate with?" His big brown eyes filled with tears and his lower lip began to tremble as his precious concept of "family" crumpled and splintered. An anxiety he thought gone forever now rose within to mock him. No matter what had happened before their community three weeks ago, he was not a part of anything real. What did the adoption mean? He was still an outsider...still alone. He wasn't really a part of them.


Catherine hugged him hard as she avowed, "You are my beautiful boy...always! I love you so much! Please, Geoffrey, please don't imagine we don't love you or think you're special. You are our son and we are more happy about that than you can imagine."


Apology shining in her eyes, she smiled ruefully at Vincent. He nodded once, accepting the only decision possible under the circumstances. Their relationship with Geoffrey was too new, too fragile to survive this challenge. Another time -- later -- they could explain...could tell him that they wanted, needed the time alone together, then they would take that trip. But it was too soon. They really had no choice but to prove to him that he was truly important to them, that his happiness was their happiness.


As she rocked him gently against her, she crooned, "All right, Geoffrey, honey. It's all right. You will come with us on our hon...our trip. We never meant to upset you. Please sweetheart, don't cry."


Vincent knelt beside them both and wrapped his arms around the two of them. "We love you, son," he murmured, and kissed the boy's tousled brown curls.


Only very gradually did the boy respond and cease his weeping. Distrust had tried to weave its insidious way into his heart. But, finally, love overwhelmed it -- their love, and his.


_ _ _


Geoffrey was excitedly relating the details of their upcoming trek to his schoolmate. "It's supposed to be a really neat series of caverns filled with all kinds of crystals! Dad says that's where he found the crystal that Mouse made into a necklace for my Mom. It's gonna be so great to get to see it!"


Samantha sniffed, not willing to show how jealous she was about this wonderful adventure her friend was about to embark upon. She knew she should be happy for Geoffrey, but she really wished someone would take her on a trip like that! She never got to go anywhere! "Sounds nice," she grudgingly admitted. "But I thought Vincent and Catherine were supposed to go on this trip alone. How come you get to go along?"


Stung by the question, Geoffrey said, "We're a family. We do everything together!"


Persistently, Samantha continued. "Well, I was reading a book I found in Father's library about weddings, and it says in there that after a wedding, the bride and groom go off on a 'honeymoon' -- a kind of trip -- together. It didn't say anything about bringing kids along!"


Her flippant comment stopped Geoffrey in his tracks. He didn't know how to respond to this new bit of information. "Oh.... Can you...um...could you show me where the book is, Sam? I'd...I'd like to read it."


She stared at him incredulously. "Why would you be interested in how to plan a wedding? You aren't getting married!"


He squirmed, embarrassed. "I know, but...I'd still like to see it."


Samantha shrugged. "Sure. I know right where I left it. Unless Father's stuck it back in a stack somewhere, I should be able to find it real easy."


_ _ _


Geoffrey put the book down and drew his knees up to his chest, clutching them with encircling arms. Alone in his chamber, curled up on his bed, he thought about what he had just read. Sam had been right -- the book talked about this "honeymoon" thing, and made suggestions for romantic places people could go after they got married. It all sounded very "couple-ish." Obviously, Dad couldn't take Mom on a plane anywhere, to those islands or countries the book mentioned. But thinking back to how his Dad had first brought up the subject of the trip, he now realized that this was what he had in mind. A "couple" kind of thing. Not including him.


Geoffrey sighed, trying to figure this complex matter out. Yes, they were a couple, but they weren't like other couples -- they were his Mom and Dad. They'd all just made a huge promise to be together always, to be a family. Father had even used that big word he'd had to look up afterwards to describe them: You are now an indissoluble unit, with one life, destined ever after to face your futures together. He supposed he might be in their way, a little, if they wanted to talk alone together or something. But he could always just go to sleep early. They'd still have time to be alone then, wouldn't they?


Disappointment gnawed at him at the thought of missing the trip. He really, really wanted to see those caverns. He was torn about what to do. His Mom and Dad had said they would take him, so why was he struggling over the situation now? They'd promised, and they wouldn't go back on a promise. Would they be disappointed they couldn't go alone? But if they really wanted to go alone, why did they tell him they'd take him with them? And if they went alone, who knows when they'd ever find the time to take such a trip again? Darn it! Why did life have to be so tough!


Although it was late and he should have been asleep hours ago, he felt an urgent need to talk with his Mom about this. Now that he kind of understood things better, maybe having another discussion would clear things up for both of them. He jumped up and decided he would talk to his Mom now, rather than wait for morning when they might not have enough time before she had to leave to go to her job Above. He knew his Mom and Dad didn't go to sleep real early, so they were probably still up.


He softly padded his way into the corridor that separated his bedchamber from their common family chamber, and was disappointed upon entering the larger space to see that no one was about. But he heard the low murmur of voices coming from their bedchamber. So, they were still up. Great! Confidently, he strode into their private chamber, an apology for still being up on his lips. What he saw forced the breath from his lungs, and he just stared helplessly, in abject embarrassment.


His Mom and Dad were still awake, but....oh, God! He finally forced himself to look away. But even after he did so, the image of the two of them was imprinted behind his eyeballs. He shook his head to try to push that picture from his mind's eye, but it seared through him:

his Mom straddling his Dad's legs, her head thrown back, back arched and eyes closed, as his Dad buried his face against her breasts, her arms cradling his head, holding him to her. All he could see of them was naked -- his Mom's back down to where the covers met it, the slender length of her arms enclosing his Dad's tawny head, his Dad's muscled, fur-covered forearms, the massive hands splayed across her slim back so possessively. The voices he'd heard were not, as he'd first thought, engaged in conversation, but were murmuring nearly incoherent words of love.


Almost as soon as Geoffrey had entered the chamber, the gentle footfalls intruded upon Vincent's concentration. As absorbed as he'd been a moment before in loving Catherine, astonishment shuddered through him as he realized they were no longer alone. His head came up just as Catherine's snapped down and around, and two pairs of eyes stared in shock at the young intruder.


Geoffrey recovered his wits enough to blurt out, "I'm...I'm s-s-sorry!" He bolted from the chamber, shame, confusion and embarrassment plunging him into headlong flight.


"Oh, no! Oh...Vincent!" Catherine scrambled off the bed. "I completely forgot to lower the privacy curtain. Oh...."


Vincent rose in one fluid motion and lifted himself from their bed. Grabbing for his cloak, he quickly wrapped himself in it and went to her. He pressed a soft kiss upon her lips, silencing her. "I will find Geoffrey and speak to him."

Catherine reached for her robe, but Vincent laid a hand upon her arm, preventing her. "It's probably best if I go alone. I fear he would be too embarrassed at this point to face you. Trust me, my love. And...wait up for me?" He allowed himself one lingering kiss before leaving her.


After he left, Catherine threw herself backwards onto the mattress as she exploded with an emphatic, "Christ! Poor guy!" But she wasn't really sure whether she meant her lover or her son.


_ _ _


Geoffrey wasn't in his bedchamber. Vincent paused for a moment, listening intently, then followed muffled sounds which only he, with his keen hearing, could pick up. He tracked them down several tunnels until he came to a small chamber which served as an ad hoc study hall for the children in that outlying corner of the Tunnels. There, in a rock alcove, he saw his son. He was sitting with his legs drawn up, his chin resting on his knees. He looked up when he heard the footsteps draw near, but turned away as his Dad approached.


Kneeling beside the boy, Vincent stroked the child's tumbled curls. "Geoffrey...I apologize. We should have remembered to drop the privacy curtain. You had no way of knowing you might be...walking in on something...private between your Mother and me."


A barely whispered "I'm sorry" wafted to his ears.


Shaking his head, the older man reassured him. "You have no need to apologize, son. You are allowed anywhere within our chambers. You have a right to expect that an open doorway means you are welcome inside. It is we who owe you an apology."


Geoffrey risked a glance up at his Dad. He didn't appear angry at all, just concerned. "But...you were...." But he absolutely couldn't continue. Blushing crimson, he dropped his head, face pressed to his knees.


Gently, Vincent explained. "We were making love, Geoffrey. It's a beautiful, natural expression of our special feelings for each other, your Mother's and mine. There's nothing shameful in it. And there's no reason for you to feel guilty."


The young boy mumbled, "But...I shouldn't have seen it."


Vincent nodded solemnly. "No, you shouldn't. But that was our fault. There are some times when we need our privacy, but we should signal those times to you. We forgot. We will not forget again, believe me!" His wry smile was discernable in his voice.


Realizing that he wasn't in trouble for barging in on his parents, some of the tension left Geoffrey's small frame. He took a deep breath and again looked up at his Dad. Several things clicked into place at once. "That's why you and Mom wanted to take that trip to the crystal caverns alone, isn't it?"


Vincent started at the sudden change in subject. Recovering quickly, he admitted, "One of the reasons...yes."


Feeling that he now -- finally! -- understood what his parents had been trying to tell him, the youngster protested, "But you never explained that to me."


Abashed, his Dad offered a gentle smile. "No. It's...not something...easily explained."


Thinking aloud, Geoffrey remarked, "And...if I went with you...you couldn't...do...that."


"No. Not when camping." Vincent chuckled. "There are no...privacy curtains...that far beneath the Home Tunnels."


Geoffrey caught the joke. His Dad was joking about it with him?! Suddenly he felt much better. He doubted he'd ever erase the image in his mind of his parents...together...but it really helped to know they weren't mad at him for seeing them. It was kinda funny, when you thought about it. But he didn't want to think about it too much!


His awareness complete now, the boy suggested, "So...maybe...if it's OK with you and Mom...I'll just stay home this time? Maybe...maybe we could all go on another trip later on...and you could show me the caverns then?"


Vincent nodded once in confirmation, then bent to kiss his son's forehead. "That sounds like an excellent suggestion, Geoffrey. We will plan a special family trip when we return. You think about what you'd like to see, and we'll map it out later." He gazed at his son with new respect. "And...thank you."


Geoffrey was genuinely puzzled. "For what?"