FAMILY STEELE: 2001 - A STEELE ODYSSEY (PART 12B)

By: Phaedra Phelan

E Mail: PrissyBNY@aol.com

Summary: World events have a traumatic effect on the Steele family-a tribute to those who lost their lives in the tragedy of September 11, 2001.

Disclaimer: This "Remington Steele" story is not-for-profit and is purely for entertainment purposes. The author and this site do not own the characters and are in no way affiliated with "Remington Steele," the actors, their agents, the producers, MTM Productions, the NBC Television Network or any station

or network carrying the show in syndication, or anyone in the industry.

* * * * * *

Back in New York at nearly eleven o'clock Remington came to. He had sought refuge in a seafood shop and the Korean shopkeeper had put a tourniquet on his leg and was washing the gray concrete dust from his face.

"You hurt very bad, Mister. We wait ambulance come now."

Remington tried to get up but was unable to because of the injuries to his arm and shoulder.

"Oh, God!" He cried out as unbelievable pain coursed through his arm and shoulder.

"No move now. No move till medics come," the middle-aged man said. He motioned to his wife to bring bottled water and put it to Remington's lips.

"Chum banyao," Remington said, accepting the drink.

"Ah, you speak Korean." The man smiled.

"Only a little," Remington responded.

"Terrible day today," the shopkeeper said.

"Yes, unbelievable. Your name-what is your name?"

"Kim Lee Hun. I live in America twenty years-looking for peace. Where is peace?" Kim Lee Hun shook his head sadly as Remington Steele passed out again in his arms.

When he came to again, Remington was in St. Vincent's Hospital, it was nearly two in the afternoon, and doctors were working on him.

"You lost a good amount of blood with this leg injury, Sir. We are going to have to send you to the OR and try to repair the damage to your calf muscle. Fortunately whatever hit you missed the femoral artery or you would have bled to death before we got to you. X-rays show your arm and shoulder broken. We'll put a cast on your arm but there's little we can do with the shoulder except try to stabilize it with pins. That will involve surgery as well. This will take a while. All in all you were a fortunate man. You have sustained a concussion. That's why you kept passing out-that and shock. We want to make sure that the effects of the concussion are under control before we put you under anesthesia."

"I have to find my son-and his friend. They were in the other tower."

"They were in Tower One?"

"Yes, and I was in the South Tower. I got out just a few minutes before, before-the building went down."

"Your address is listed as Los Angeles. You're are Remington Steele?"

"Yes, please, I have to call my wife and tell her that I-I'm all right." Remington tried unsuccessfully to get up from the gurney and screamed in pain.

"You are really not in any condition to get up. You need to stay here. We are going to admit you, sir." The young Jewish doctor was kind but firm.

"Mate, please, just put me in a wheelchair and let me see if my son and his friend are here. I have to-to know. He may be hurt, may have lost his wallet."

Dr. Cohen sighed. "Get a chair, nurse. We have all those unidentified people in here. Let Mr. Steele pass through and see if his son and his son's friend are here."

The nurses helped Remington into a wheelchair. He was in tremendous pain, his body awakening again to sensation, and the medication given had not taken effect. The pain in his shoulder and arm was so intense and the wound in the back of his calf were hurting so badly that it was almost impossible for two orderlies to put him in a wheelchair, but he had to see if Jonathan was there.

"Mr. Steele, I'm gonna roll you through here and you can see if there is anyone familiar here," the orderly said. "Now some of these folks are in pretty bad shape. I have to prepare you."

"I have to see them, mate. It's the only way."

They slowly rolled through the crowded emergency area and Remington looked at the patients-most of them with broken bones and lacerations or burns. He did not see anyone that remotely resembled Jonathan or Ileana.

"Who you lookin'?" A young paramedic asked.

"I'm looking for my son. He's a teenager-about six feet tall with red hair and freckles. The girl he was with was tall as well, mixed Asian and black."

"Oh, man, I remember them. They brought them in here pretty early. They had burns-both of them. They were taking them to the Cornell Burn Center uptown on the East Side."

"Were-were they bad?" Remington was relieved to know that Jonathan was probably alive but knowing that he had been burned-and Ileana.

"They-well, it could have been worse."

"I have to go up there. Listen, just take me out of here to a taxi. I'll get there."

"Ain't no taxis running. Ain't nothin' running-no buses, no trains, no planes. The country's on lockdown, sir. It was a terrorist attack. They hit the Pentagon too. And you, sir, you ain't goin' nowhere with those injuries. They need to have you in the OR now."

"Dear Lord," Remington breathed as the enormity of the tragedy became clear to him. "How many people?"

"Thousands probably. Both towers went down. I had friends there. Don't know what happened to them yet."

"I'm truly sorry, mate."

"Say, let me check. Things have been moving pretty slow around here. Let me see if they've left for the burn center already. Will you be all right here for a few minutes?"

"Yes, man. Just go and see if they are there. What's your name?"

"I'm Hernan. I'll be back in a few minutes.

Shortly he returned.

"Mr. Steele, your son and his, his friend are still out there. You can see them before they go. Look, they both have pretty serious injuries."

"It's my son."

Hernan rolled Remington out to the bay where ambulances were transferring patients and pushed him up to one near the door.

Remington saw a glimpse of red hair on the young man on the stretcher and knew that it was Jonathan.

"Johnny," he said the boy's name softly.

Jonathan lifted his head and saw his father. If it were not for his hair, Remington would not have recognized him. He was covered with soot, his face swollen, his hair burned out in patches.

"Dad, you're alive."

"Yes, and you as well. Where is Ileana?"

"She was with me; she's burned too-in the other ambulance. The fire was horrible, Dad. My hands . . . they're really bad." Jonathan held up his burned hands swathed in sterile gauze.

Hernan rolled Remington's chair backward and turned toward the other ambulance waiting to go to the Burn Center.

He would never have recognized Ileana. She lay on her stomach, her mop top of thick ringlets of hair burned off, her face barely recognizable. She was swathed in bandages because of her burned her back and arms and hand. She appeared to be quite swollen.

"Ileana, it's Mr. Steele, Jonathan's father."

"Umm," a tear slipped from her eyes. She had obviously been given a sedative but Remington sensed that she heard him.

"I will notify your parents. You are being taken care of, lassie."

"We got to take them uptown, sir," the ambulance paramedic said.

"Her name is Ileana Stephenson, spelled with a p-h. Her parents must be notified. This one over here is my son, Jonathan Steele. I will be there to look after them as soon as they let me out of here."

The ambulances took off for the Cornell Burn Center and the orderly took Remington back into St. Vincent's. They immediately took him up to a room where they tried to make him comfortable, hooking him up to an IV with saline to restore his fluids while they waited to take him to the OR.

The nurse was quietly efficient and Remington realized that he perhaps did belong there. He was suddenly weak and very sick.

"Please, Miss, will you call my wife and tell her that I am all right? I know that the phones have been jammed, but will you please try for me. I have eight children back there with her and one was here in New York with me."

"You have nine children! I never would have guessed you to be that much of a family man. Sure, I'll try your call. The phones may have opened up.

Remington gave her the number and she dialed. Miraculously, at five o'clock, New York time, they got through.

David Chalmers answered the phone.

"It's me, Uncle David, Remington."

"Thank God, Son. By Jove! I was praying that you would make it. Let me get Laura."

Laura was given the phone and she steeled herself to hear the worst, but when she heard her husband's voice, she began to cry.

"Laura, I-I was able to get out. You know what happened?"

"Yes, darling, I saw it. I saw it. Oh, Rem . . ."

"I have a couple of broken bones and a nasty gash in my leg but I consider myself fortunate. Jonathan was burned-his hands, and his chest. They're taking him up to the Cornell Burn Center along with a girl he met yesterday."

"I will call there as soon as we finish speaking. Is it very bad?"

"I don't know."

"Darling, I know that you must be in pain."

"I-I'm rather woozy right now. I believe they've given me something. But I had, had to let you know. I love you, Laura."

"Oh, Remy, I love you too. Don't try to talk."

"I-I need you here, babe. Please come to me. It was ghastly, just ghastly." Remington could not go on. The combination of his injuries and the emotional state of his mind was too much. "I'll have to talk more later . . ."

"Yes, yes, darling. I'll get there."

The nurse took the phone from Remington and spoke to Laura detailing his injuries.

"Your husband is banged up pretty bad, but he is really lucky to be alive, Mrs. Steele. We are prepping him to take him into the OR to patch him up. Come out here as soon as you can. It would be very helpful in these circumstances."

Laura put the phone down and sobbed for joy on David Chalmers' shoulder.

"He's alive. I'm so thankful, Uncle David. I was so afraid-so afraid that I had lost him. They took Jonathan to Cornell Medical Burn Center. Please-someone call there and find my son."

Mildred took the situation in hand and began to try to contact the hospital where Jonathan was supposed to be. It took about fifteen minutes for her to get through to the Cornell Burn Center and to the nurses' station on the floor where Jonathan was located.

"You must take the phone to him," Mildred said. "He needs to know that his mother has been contacted." She waited while the nurse went to find Jonathan.

Finally Mildred heard a weak voice on the line and handed the phone to Laura.

"Jonathan, this is your mother. Can you hear me?"

"Yes, Mom. Mama Laura, I almost died. I almost died."

"I know, Johnny-but you're safe now. Just rest and do what the doctors tell you. I'll be there soon. I love you, sweetheart."

"I love you, Mom."

Laura just sat down on the sofa and cried and cried. She was exhausted but so relieved that her family was still intact, that her husband and son were still alive. She could not have been concerned more about Jonathan than if she had carried him in her own womb. The children sat around her quietly crying, hugging one another, overcome with the jumble of emotions assaulting all of them.

"Mildred, will you plan a flight to New York for me as soon as the system is up and running again? I'll take the babies and, Esperanza, I would like for you to accompany me. I have to go see about my family."

"I'll come, Laura," Harriett said. "Leave Esperanza with the other children. My children are old enough for me to leave them. The older two can look after the twins well enough." (She referred to the ten-year-old twin girls she had given birth to with the assistance of Dr. Sandra Brathwaite and her team.)

"I would appreciate it very much if you could come, Harriett."

The two women who both loved Remington so deeply in such different ways hugged each other tearfully. Laura stood back, looked down at her bosom and smiled.

"Oh, my goodness, my milk is coming back down. Where are my babies?"

Laura went into her bedroom where the babies were tossing restlessly and lay down in her bed with them. They immediately sensed that Mother was back to normal and began to nurse. Joanna came into the bedroom, carrying Tabby in her arms and sat on her parents' bed.

"Mom, if Jonathan is burned, he is going to be sick for a long time, isn't he?"

"He may, Joanna, but we are just thankful that he is alive now. We will all have to help him through all the rest of it. He might need other operations, things like that. I will have to see when I get to New York."

"I wish that I could come with you."

"I wish that you could too, but I need you here, love. You're the oldest and I can depend on you. I'll bring them both home as soon as the doctors release them."

"Some children won't get their parents to come home. And they don't have other parents like you and Daddy Remington to take them and love them. I love you both so much, Mom."

"I know you do, Joanna, and I love you too."

"I remember you nursing me when I was little. How old would I have been?"

"Well, you were two when you came to us and I nursed you off and on till you were nearly three. Cassie and Chl÷e were little babies, and you just seemed to find your place at my breast when you missed your mother. I'm surprised that you remember back that far."

"You were soft and warm and I felt so safe. I remember it."

"I'm glad that you do, Joanna. It was a special time for both of us, wasn't it?"

Joanna nodded, feeling once again the security of the family that had so completely become hers. She lay down next to Laura in her bed, her head resting on Laura's shoulder as she nursed the little ones.

"Aren't you afraid to get on a plane and go to New York-after what happened today?"

"Yes. But I'm more fearful for your father and for your brother if I don't go. Sometimes we just have to overcome our fears and do what we have to do. Do you understand, Joanna?"

"I think I do. I'll try."

Back in New York, Remington Steele fell into a deep drug-induced sleep after talking to Laura and was taken to the OR so that the damage could be repaired.

Once he had spoken to Laura, his body seemed to sense that it was all right to give in to the injuries he had sustained and the full effect of the shock he had suffered became evident. His blood pressure and other vitals dropped dangerously low during the night after the surgeons finished with him and the medical staff watched him anxiously as he slept. The powerful adrenaline rush that had propelled him to survival was gone. He was now simply a man nearly fifty years old who had suffered two serious fractures, a concussion, serious injuries to his right leg, in addition to having his respiratory system subjected to the toxic mix of dust that had enveloped the whole area of the disaster. All of this was compounded by the emotional impact of the shock of being involved in a most horrendous catastrophe.

Jonathan was having a very rough night as well at the Cornell Burn Center. The inside of both his hands had sustained third-degree burns and there was a large second and third degree that cut a swath diagonally across his chest where he had fallen upon Ileana to snuff out flames that threatened her life. His hands were now immersed in saline solution to prevent his vital body fluids from draining out through the terrible burns on them and his chest burn was covered with wet sterile compresses, but the burning he felt was unrelenting.

Ileana Stephenson was in a room just down the hall from Jonathan suffering from third degree burns to her arms and back and hand and first degree burns to her scalp. Her burned hair had broken off leaving her hair just a few inches in length and she was forced to lie upon her stomach because of the serious burns on her back and arms. Wet compresses were being applied to her back and her arms as well. She was in severe pain now that the initial shock had worn off, but she just cried silently, only screaming when it was necessary to move her.

Ileana's father would not find her until he got back from Chicago by car the next day after the disaster. He was horrified to see his daughter barely recognizable and suffering so, and immediately took steps to see that she got the very best of care from a burn specialist who was a personal friend of his at the center.

"Ileana, what happened to you. How did you get caught in that hell?" Mark Stephenson had had to wear a sterile gown to even enter his daughter's room.

"I went to see Kaity at Windows. I had a special-special friend with me. I had been assigned to show him around the school the day before and I-I wanted him to see the city from 'Windows.' His name is Jonathan, Jonathan Steele. He is here in the burn unit. He saved my life, Dad. Please see him. I have to know how he is. He has red hair."

"I should be angry with you, Ileana, but I am not. I am just thankful that you are alive." Dr. Mark Stephenson was overcome for the moment.

"I am so sick, Daddy. Am I going to live through this? The pain-when they come-the pain when they change the bandages on my back and arms. I can't take it. They have this room where they spray water on the burned parts and change the bandages. I passed out from the pain today."

"It's terrible, honey. With all of medical science's advances they have yet to invent a bandage that will not stick to a burn. They are going to start grafts in a couple more days. You will have to make a decision."

"Decision?"

"Where do you want them to take the grafts from? There will be scars. If they take the grafts from your midriff, you will not be able to lie on your stomach for at least a couple of weeks. And you will not be able to lie on your back. There is a rack of some sort to help you with that, but you have to decide where you want the graft scars-on your midriff, on your thighs. And, sweetheart, your arms were swelling so that they performed a series of faschiotomies. They had to cut them several places so that the tissue would not die."

"I'm going to be ugly. He won't want to be with me. Oh God, I just want to die. I just want to die." Ileana began to cry bitterly.

"Just, just how close were you and this young fellow? Is there something you aren't telling me?"

"We-we felt like we were falling in love. No, we didn't have sex. I know that's what you want to know. I wish that we had."

Mark Stephenson dropped his head, unable to handle his daughter's frankness.

"If this young man is worthy of you, he will not care about the scars. I'll go to see about him and come back in a little while."

Ileana stopped crying for a moment. "Kaity? What happened to her?"

"She is among the lost, honey. There was no chance for those up that high."

"We were going up there. We were late or we would have been up there when it happened."

Mark Stephenson wanted to hug his daughter, but there was no place that he could touch her. Finally he just grabbed her foot and squeezed it.

A few doors down from Ileana Dr. Stephenson found Jonathan Steele. He was lying on his back, his hands bandaged, his chest bandaged. He looked pretty miserable as well.

"Hello, young man, you must be Jonathan Steele. I'm looking for a fellow with red hair."

"Well, I'm Jonathan. I think most of my hair got burned off, but it is red for sure. Are you Ileana's father?"

"Yes, I'm Mark Stephenson. You saved my daughter's life. She told me what you did. Thank you, son."

"I'm sorry. If she hadn't cut school, she wouldn't have been in the middle of it."

"And then again, perhaps she would have been-for some other reason, and you would not have been there to save her life. How are you doing?"

"Pretty awful. I can't use my hands. Some nurse has to help me pee and wipe the crap off my butt. There is no skin left on the inside of my hands."

"They will start grafts soon on your chest. The inside of the hands will not usually take grafts well, but they will heal with scarring. They probably are using this new synthetic skin to close the wounds on your hands."

"How is Ileana doing?"

"She's in pretty tough shape. She's going to have to have autografts on her back. She's worried that you won't-be attracted to her because of the scars she is going to carry. I left her in tears."

"I don't care about the scars. Tell her that. And when I can do it, I will tell her myself."

"I truly believe that you will. I really do."

"Please, Dr. Stephenson, go to St. Vincent's and find my father and see how he is. I saw him that night just before they brought us up here. He was looked wracked up pretty bad. My mom is coming out here on the first plane they let out of L.A."

"Your father's name?"

"Steele, Remington Steele."

Dr. Mark Stephenson was a very tall black man nearly fifty years old. His muscular build made it easy to believe that he had been a NFL linebacker in his college days at Notre Dame. As he approached Remington Steele's bed, he saw that he was extremely agitated.

"You're Remington Steele?"

"Yes, yes. Who are you? I'm trying to make these people understand that I do not need to stay here any longer. I have to go and check on my son."

"Perhaps there are reasons that you should stay here a while longer. I'm Mark Stephenson, Ileana's father. I just came from visiting your son-and Ileana."

"You're a physician." Remington took note of the stethoscope around Stephenson's neck.

"Your son is a brave young man. My daughter seems to be quite taken with him. They are both in pretty bad shape, Steele. Ileana is in the worst shape. But she owes her life to your son. Your boy has third degree and second degree burns on his hands and another pretty bad third degree burn across his chest. His hair was singed pretty well off, but no deep burns on his scalp-looks like first degree burns in a couple of places. His hair will grow back. Autografts will take care of his chest burn. The hands will be his most serious problem. He will need a lot of physical therapy to regain the use of them after they heal."

"And Ileana?"

"It's going to be a while before she is completely out of the woods, but she should make it. She needs grafts on her arms, her hand, her back-third degree burns." Mark Stephenson's voice cracked, his emotional involvement with his daughter removing his normal physician's objectivity.

"I am truly sorry." Remington was pensive now, the gravity of Ileana's situation weighing heavily on him. He had seen the chemistry between the two young people and knew that they had connected very powerfully.

"I don't know about kids. You think you know them. My daughter would probably have been valedictorian at Stuyvesant High this year. She is slated to go to Brown next fall. She stayed home every night studying calculus and chemistry. Today she lay there and told me that she just wished that she had had sex with your son."

"They connected-in that unique way that only a male and female connect. I saw it. First I dismissed it-infatuation, puppy love-whatever. But I saw something quite deep between them-even though they had just met."

"You may be right, but Ileana has a lot of surgeries ahead of her before she is whole again."

"Then time may well take care of their youthful infatuation, if it is only an infatuation. On the other hand, if it is more than that, we may all have to help them. It has been my experience that trying to stop something like this usually only accelerates the situation."

The two men fell silent as they contemplated the circumstances that had brought them all together and the future of the two young people who had found themselves in the midst of the tragedy of September 11.

"Your son told me that your wife is coming out here. When will she arrive?"

"The first plane out of Los Angeles-whenever that is. Hopefully by Saturday at least. We have a large family, Stephenson. Jonathan and his sister are the oldest. They are adopted. Then we have seven natural children-two sets of twins. Our youngest are twins, nine months old. My wife is bringing them with her-and my own twin sister is coming as well. I made reservations for them at the Rhia Rhiga."

"Not at all. They can all stay at my place. My wife is away in Hong Kong. We have a brownstone in the East Village. We will take care of your family. That's the least I can do."

"Thanks, mate, but my wife is nursing. And the babies are a handful."

"If you need child care help, we have a fine program based here at the hospital and we can get you a nanny for other times. Listen, I have a room near the hospital where I work in connection with my office. I'll stay there. My wife will be here as soon as she can get here. She is in Hong Kong looking after her mother who has been quite ill. There is not much we agree on these days but I am sure that she would agree with me on this."

"Well, thank you, Stephenson." Remington paused for a moment sensing that there was deep anxiety in this man that had nothing to do with the tragedy that had enveloped them all. "You and your wife-problems?"

"When Ileana goes away to college, we had anticipated separating. We've been trying to put it off till then. There was a time, Steele, when I had such a heat for that woman that a day hardly went by-well, we were very passionate. But then after Ileana was born, I wanted a larger family. Kyong wanted her career to be first. (She's a plastic surgeon, does cosmetic surgery-high profile stuff.) Suddenly we just were going in different directions. I've been unfaithful-and she knows it because I told her. I don't want anyone else, but I have to prove to myself that someone wants me still. She treats me like I'm invisible, Steele. I'm six feet four inches tall and she's five feet tall-and she treats me like I'm invisible." Mark Stephenson's brown eyes filled suddenly.

"Maybe your daughter's injury can bring you two closer again. If you love that woman, you're going to have to fight for her, mate. If there is one thing this whole terrible business should have taught all of us, it's what is really important in life." Remington Steele's eyes brimmed as he thought of his own family. " I have to get out of here." His voice was just a whisper as his own emotion overwhelmed him.

"You have a leg injury that is high risk for infection. You have forty stitches in your calf. You have a pin in your shoulder. wouldn't advise it for another forty-eight hours to seventy-two hours at least, and then you will need to be monitored."

"Listen, I was staying in the Millenium Hotel. All my clothes-everything is probably impounded in there. I don't have a thing except basic hospital issue here."

"I'll check you out of the hospital when that time comes. That way you can be with your wife-but not till she is here. Stay in the hospital for now. It's best. That is a nasty wound on your leg and the infection has not been completely cleared up. Those drains will have to come out before I take you out of here. I will arrange for your wife and her party to be picked up and brought to my place. It looks like we're going to get a lot better acquainted, Steele."

Remington Steele realized the truth of what Mark Stephenson said over the next seventy-two hours as the infection in his leg made his temperature spike again and again, leaving him delirious at times. In his delirium his mind retraced the horrors of the events he had experienced again and again. He was given medication to calm him but it would not blot out completely the memory of that day. He tossed restlessly, calling for Laura, calling for his children.

By the time Laura and Harriett along with little Rhett and Reade were finally able to get a flight out of Los Angeles on Saturday afternoon, Laura was totally frazzled. The enforced separation from Remington during this critical time had been most difficult and Laura now just wanted to see Remington and Jonathan with her own eyes. She had spoken with Dr. Mark Stephenson and he had told her that Remington was feverish and incoherent at times. This only heightened her concern for him. As Laura and Harriett sat on the plane winging its way east, Laura started to weep uncontrollably. She was holding little Rhett in her arms and she just hugged him and cried and cried.

"Laura, I know how you must feel, but we're under way now. You are going to see him in just a few hours. He could have been among those lost without a trace even."

"I know, Harriett. I am so thankful that he is alive. But I can't stop myself from worrying about him. He's sick. He didn't even make sense when I was talking to him last night. Will I have my husband back?"

"I think that you will have him back. He will never be exactly the same as before, Laura. He has been through an experience that was unimaginable. He needs you to be with him. Now you are going to have to be the strong woman that you are and help him get through this."

"Everybody thinks that I am strong, Harriett, and I am not strong-not really-not when something like this happens. When I started the agency, I knew that I had to present a strong image, and I did. I could play that role, Harriett. But this is not role-playing. This is reality. My hands are shaking, my stomach is in turmoil. I need to be strong for him, but I don't know if I can."

"You can do it. Just relax and try to get some rest. You've been under such a lot of pressure since the attack and you are going to need all of your emotional strength to deal with Remington and Jonathan when you get to New York, Laura."

* * * * * *

It was nighttime-nearly eleven o'clock when the American Airlines flight carrying Laura, Harriett, and the twins landed at Kennedy Airport in New York. It wasn't difficult for Mark Stephenson to spot the two women with the twins when he came to pick them up.

"I'm Mark Stephenson. I gather that you are Laura Steele."

"Yes, thank you for coming for us, Dr. Stephenson. This is my sister-in-law, Harriett Rourke."

"And these are the twins-Rhett and Reade."

Laura's face reflected her anxiety in her situation and Mark Stephenson had anticipated that she would not want to wait to see her husband. He planned to drop Laura immediately at St. Vincent's Hospital and then to take Harriett and the twins to his home.

When Laura went into Remington's room, he was sleeping.

"You just stay as long as you want to, Mrs. Steele. Your husband has been constantly asking for you when-when his temperature has been up. This has been his best night so far." The nurse was gentle and sympathetic.

Laura sat down beside the bed and watched Remington sleep, contented just being near him at last. He was quite pale and haggard in appearance. There was an ugly bruise on his forehead and the cast on his right arm--and then his right leg bandaged from knee to ankle.

"Laura," he moaned in his sleep. "Laura, please . . ."

"I'm here, love. I'm here." Laura answered him.

Remington opened his eyes and saw Laura.

"Is it you? Laura, is it you?" The line between dreams and reality had been so blurred that he wasn't sure.

"It's me, love." Laura bent over the bed and kissed him tenderly on his cheek and then on his lips, tears running down her face.

"I thought-thought that I might never see you again." Remington's eyes filled with tears now as he reached out to touch Laura's face with his hand that wasn't immobilized by a cast. "Oh God, I am so glad-Laura . . ." At that point he broke down and cried like a frightened child who had found the safety of his mother's arms. The tears that he had been able to hold back since that terrible day all came flooding forth as Laura embraced him and they cried together.

"I almost died, Laura. I-just knew that I wouldn't make it. I was walking in blood on the street. Body parts strewn all about. I saw a man cut in half right before my eyes. And a tiny woman that I had helped down the stairs to safety-she was struck by piece of falling debris and died right beside me. It was like a slaughterhouse all around me. Bodies falling, people jumping from the top. It was ghastly, Laura. I never was in war, but no battlefield could have been more soaked with blood." Remington was shaking uncontrollably, his blue eyes wide with fear, sweat breaking out on his forehead as he remembered that day, words that had been locked inside his heart since the terrible experience tumbling forth.

Laura climbed upon the bed next to him and just held him in her arms as he rambled on and on, tearfully recounting the shattering event till he quite literally just ran out of steam and fell asleep in her arms. When Laura attempted to get out of his bed, he wakened and he was more lucid.

"Please, babe, don't leave me. I don't know why I survived but I am so grateful. I just kept thinking about you-about our children when people were dying all around me. You are the best thing that ever happened to me, Laura."

"I love you so much, Rem. I was so scared when I saw those buildings go down. The children were crying. Your little shadow, Harry, got sick to his stomach. Everybody was there with us-Mildred, Alessandra, Hector. Then Uncle David and Jacqueline came. He cried, Rem. I never saw him cry before, but he cried in Jacqueline's arms. Joanna kept dialing your cell phone number. The girls just got into our bed under our covers and stayed there. They just wanted to be close to you."

"Jonathan is burned pretty badly. I saw him right after it happened, but Mark Stephenson says that he needs grafts on his chest-and his hands are going to be scarred badly."

"And the girl, Ileana?"

"I think he took quite a tumble for her. Her father says that she is burned very badly-all across her back, both her arms. She was a very beautiful girl, brilliant-set to go to Brown next fall. Mark Stephenson says that Jonathan saved her life-got her down from the seventy-eighth floor after she had been burned so badly."

"Oh, Rem, you could have all been lost. What would we have done without you?"

Laura kissed Remington's forehead, his hand, and then his lips gently, at which point Mark Stephenson came back for her and walked in on them embracing.

"Excuse me, I should have knocked. Do you want to stay the night here with your husband? It can be arranged. Steele, it looks like your wife is the best medicine."

Remington just smiled weakly.

"I think that I will have to come with you now. The twins will wake up early and look for me."

Laura reluctantly started to get down from her husband's bed.

"Rem, I'll see you in the morning-after I've seen Jonathan."

"Listen, you two just stay put. I'll drop by here at six a.m. and take you home then. I have some things to take care of in my office. It's already three o'clock. If you get tired and want to nap, you can use that recliner there, Mrs. Steele."

Mark Stephenson's eyes twinkled as he left the room, well aware that Steele was not going to let his wife out of his arms' reach.

Laura smoothed her husband's hair back from his forehead. He was sweaty, unshaven, his personal toilet unattended to.

"I'm such a mess, darling. I'd hoped that you would not find me in this state. These people mean well but they just don't know how to give a decent bed bath. And some things-I just didn't want them to do-and with only one arm I . . ."

"I'll take care of you, love."

Laura went into the bathroom, filled the plastic hospital issue basin with hot soapy water and came back to carefully bathe her husband in his hospital bed.

Remington kept his cobalt blue eyes focused on Laura as she attended to him, bathing him as thoroughly as she would bathe one of her children, avoiding the cast on his arm and the sling that immobilized his shoulder and then lower right leg that was swathed in bandages.

"You've lost weight," she said as she turned him on his side so that she could wash his back and buttocks and thighs.

"I haven't felt like eating-since that day."

Laura turned him back over and gave attention to his most personal areas under Remington's watchful eye.

"Now you'd better not get excited here. I'm trying to concentrate on what I'm doing."

"I haven't been excited like that since I left you in L.A. on Sunday. I feel strangely guilty-knowing I am still with you when so many of those men and women are gone from the ones that loved them."

Laura's eyes filled with tears.

"You've got me crying and I can't even wipe my eyes or I'll get soap in them." Laura wiped her sleeve across her face and tried to finish bathing Remington. "And you said you wouldn't get excited."

"I can't help myself. I love you so much, Laura." Remington's eyes misted as well. "I remember the only other time you gave me a bed bath-when that crazed fellow Wally rigged the elevator in my building and I had my leg broken falling into the elevator shaft."

"I think that I will put your fresh hospital gown on now, love-and cover you up so that you don't catch cold and then I'll shave you."

Laura turned away from her husband's penetrating gaze to get the fresh clothing and toiletries for him. As she began to dress him again, Remington took her hand in his.

"Laura, if something were to happen to me, I want you to be taken care of."

"We-all of us-are taken care of financially."

"I mean emotionally, physically. If anything happens to me before you, please find a good man and marry him. Don't suffer alone for the need of a man."

"And just where am I to find this 'good man?' "

"Well, for starters, you could find out if Murphy is attached. He goes from one marriage to the next like a change of clothes. He's never gotten over you actually. You know that. If something happens to me, you let Murphy know. I don't want you being in need and . . ."

"And you think Murphy is what I would need! I didn't want him twenty years ago. Why would I want him now?" The stress of that past several days suddenly came to a head in Laura and she was very angry with the man she loved so much.

"Laura, we almost lost each other on Tuesday. I-I just want to take care of you." Remington realized too late that he had stepped into very dangerous emotional territory.

"Well, that would not take care of me. Finding another man to regularly shag me would not solve the problem of losing you no matter how well-endowed or proficient he might be. And Murphy-I had him, before I met Wilson, before I met you-when we were both at Havenhurst-a couple of times."

"You? And Murphy?"

"Yes, so don't ever offer me Murphy again. It was a mistake then and it took me years to convince him that it wasn't going to happen for us like that."

"You never said, Laura." Remington was stunned.

"Do you think that I had to tell you every thing? You took your own sweet time to tell me your secrets." Laura swore in frustration.

"Laura, please don't swear at me. You know I hate to hear you use those words."

"Well, considering what we've been through here, I think I'm entitled to say what I damn well please, don't you!"

"Yes, and you should understand what I was trying to do by, by suggesting . . . what I said." He was too weary to defend himself.

"Well, I couldn't let you know about Murphy then. I just couldn't."

"I guess that explains his intense dislike and resentment at the outset of things between us. I'm sorry to have brought it up. Everything seems so unstable-where our lives are going, whether we will be separated by some disaster. I was grasping at straws. Forgive me."

"Oh, Rem, there is so much more to us. I would never get over losing you-not in a lifetime of days. And as for me, if something happens to me, I'm not going to 'will' you to anybody. You'll just have to find your own damned shag. You are mine. That's all I know. You are my life. I don't want anybody but you. And I don't want anyone else to have you. Do you know that?"

Laura's hands were shaking as she started to sob-deep painful wracking sobs. Remington drew her back up onto his bed with him with his good arm.

"I'm sorry. After all these years sometimes I still can't say the right words for you."

"Just don't try to fix everything, Rem. Some things just can't be fixed or replaced if they're broken. When they're gone, they're gone and there is no replacement. I love you and I thought I had lost you," she hiccuped slightly as she cried on his chest. "I wanted to die. I just wanted to die."

"We just came too close-too close to losing each other, love. Take me home, babe."

"I will-just as soon as they say I can."

* * * * * *

Later that day, Laura went to see Jonathan and to meet Ileana as well. Jonathan cried when she and Harriett came in to see him. He was mending but it was going to be a slow process and a painful one. Laura cried when she saw his hands. They were not bandaged, the red raw flesh of the insides of his hands covered with perforated artificial skin as the doctors tried to stimulate his own flesh to regenerate itself. His chest was covered with some of the same material.

"Mom, I'm trying to deal with this, but it's so hard-so much pain."

"I know, Johnny. But you are going to be all right."

"Did you see Ileana?"

"Yes, she is getting through some pretty rough treatment too. We are just praying for both of you."

The next few days were important for all of them. Remington was allowed to leave the hospital on Monday, September seventeenth. Laura took him to Mark and Kyong Stephenson's home on West Twelfth Street. The Stephensons were away from the house and only the nanny who had been helping them with the twins was there.

Remington leaned heavily on a crutch under his left arm as Laura and Harriett helped him into the house. When he came into the bedroom where they were staying, the sight of his little boys brought tears to his eyes. The discerning young woman left Laura and Remington and Harriett..

"Let me help you here." Laura took his jacket from his shoulder and helped him to the bed. He sat down awkwardly and reached for his sons. "Just lie down, love. They are as anxious to see you as you are to see them."

Laura propped the pillows for him and Harriett removed his shoes so he could swing his feet up onto the bed.

The little boys clambered over him, chattering their baby talk and Remington broke down and cried outright as he hugged and kissed them.

"I think I'm going to leave you two alone," Harriett said. "She bent to kiss the brother that she loved so much, smoothed his thick dark hair and left them.

"Laura, I'm so grateful to be alive-to touch my wee ones again."

Rhett crawled over to Laura and onto her lap. Laura took his cue and let him nurse as she rocked him in her arms till he was contented and sleepy. Then she put him in the crook of Remington's good arm and took Reade and fed him.

While Remington and Laura were involved with their family so intimately, there was a knock on their door. It was Mark Stephenson and his wife Kyong Foon, welcoming them to their home.

"We aren't going to stay-just wanted to tell you how glad we are that you are finally out of hospital, Mr. Steele," Kyong Foon bowed graciously.

"I'm just happy to see my children again. We thank you for taking us in like this. I don't know what to say."

Knowing that both Stephensons were physicians, Laura felt completely at ease as she continued to nurse her son while the four of them talked together.

"You have beautiful children. Seeing you nurse them-as a physician I wish more women would nurture their children like that." Mark Stephenson looked at his wife and she smiled tenderly up at him and took his hand.

"I think we leave Remington and Laura and their lovely children, dear."

* * * * * *

It was a week later when Remington, Laura, Harriett, and the twins left New York for Los Angeles and home. Jonathan would follow a month later when risk of infection to his wounds had lessened. Remington and Laura felt comfortable leaving him under the medical supervision of the Stephensons. Ileana's progress was slower and more painful, but steady nonetheless.

When Remington Steele arrived back at his home in the Hollywood Hills into the arms of his children and other relatives, he was a man who had been changed dramatically by his experience. His emotions were so sensitive that those first few weeks, he found himself weeping often and inexplicably. He did not speak in detail of the terrible events of September eleventh after that first night in the hospital when Laura had come to him. He began to have the nightmares that would plague him for the rest of his life-nightmares of the collapse of the buildings, nightmares of running through the streets, trying to escape a black tidal wave of debris.

Laura was there constantly for him, comforting him, loving him, but a deep melancholy persisted. The extremely passionate nature that was so totally a part of him was tempered so that Laura found herself taking the initiative more often than not when they came together. Even his little Tabby finally climbed up onto his lap one evening late in November and asked him a question that left him without a response.

"Daddy, when are you coming back?"

"I-I'm back, sweetheart."

"No, you're not." Tabby looked up at him with Laura's eyes and Remington could not withstand her penetrating gaze.

"I'm trying, little one. Your daddy is trying very hard to get back to you." Remington hugged his daughter to his chest as a tear slipped from his eyes.

Harry came to his father and patted him on his shoulder.

"She means that you aren't the same, Dad. We just want you to be our Dad like you used to be-funny and playing with us and . . ."

"Maybe there just isn't that much that's funny anymore, guys," Jonathan said from his seat on the floor. He was looking like himself again, his red hair thick again, the only visible evidence of his ordeal the elastic gloves he wore on his scarred hands.

"It's like you-left part of yourself there, Daddy, back in that building," Chl÷e said, " and that's the part that we want back. We need you. You are so strong and so brave and-and we . . ."

Chl÷e ran to her father and threw her arms around his neck and Cassie followed and fell on her knees with her head on his lap and proceeded to finish her twin sister's sentence as was so often the case.

"We want to understand what happened, Daddy. We're growing up. We want to help you, but you close us out. We deserve to know what you went through and to feel it with you."

"And Mom misses you too," Michael added.

Remington looked questioningly at his son and then at Laura who was quietly observing all of this.

"You know. You and Mom are always so-so groovy-hugging and kissing all the time. It makes us feel good-seeing you and Mom like that. You make Mom smile when you hug her and kiss on her."

Remington Steele looked into the faces of his children and realized that what they said was true. They knew him so very well that it was impossible for them to fail to know that his very psyche had been wounded even more than his body on that terrible day.

"Laura, come and sit by me. I need you to hold my hand if I am to tell this."

Laura got up and came over and sat beside him on the sofa. Remington kissed her cheek tenderly.

"Oh, Rem," Laura caught her lower lip in her teeth as she tried to hold back her own tears.

"I will start by telling you that I had certain apprehensions about the Twin Towers ever since the bombing in 1993, but I tried to dismiss all of that as it was necessary to do the seminar. After the plane hit the first building, someone in the class saw-something fall from the upper floors of the Tower. People were falling-jumping, trying to escape. I immediately organized our group and instructed them that we must evacuate."

"But you weren't hit yet," Michael interjected.

"I know. But you don't wait to be hit, Son. When something happens like that, you have only one window of opportunity. You rarely get a second chance. Some did not want to leave but we brought them round to understand the situation and we started to walk down from the sixtieth floor. I took up the rear."

"Why did you go out last, Daddy?" Cassie asked.

"The captain always goes last. It was my class. They were my responsibility."

"Kind of like the Titanic?" Chl÷e said.

"Yes, love, too much like the Titanic. We were walking down the steps when we heard the plane hit the building we were in. Everybody stopped and started screaming. The building was vibrating, making this awful sound like it was dying. You could hear the elevators snap in the shafts and plunge to the bottom. God! I never heard nothing like that sound. We-there were a couple of us in charge of the group-we tried to calm them down, make them keep walking. The women were crying. By this time their legs were aching from walking down the stairs. I finally picked up this one woman and carried her on my back for a few floors. She was tall-quite a load but I had to get her down. Finally a fireman came along and took her down and I picked up this little Asian woman who couldn't go any farther. I carried her down to the bottom."

Remington stopped, shaking his head, eyes closed, unable to continue as he remembered.

"Ileana and I were on our way to the top when the plane hit the first building. We would have been up there when it happened but I was kind of really falling for her and we just sat starin' at each other in the bagel shop."

"Did you really fall in love, Johnny?" Cassie asked gently.

"Yes, I sure did." He blushed. "Well, anyway, when we got off the elevator at the seventy-eighth floor to switch over to the elevator to Windows on the World, the fire was coming down from the top. It was in the elevator that we got out of and in the one that came from the top. I don't know where it was coming from but it was everywhere-the fuel from the plane-running along the floor burning, falling from above us. Some fell onto Ileana's hair and set it afire and I threw her down to put it out with my hands. Then she rolled into the flaming stuff on the floor and that's when her arms and back got so badly burned. I tried to put it out, but it was too late."

"That's how you burned yourself-your hands, your chest," Joanna said simply.

"Yes! Yes! Oh God, I was so scared. I knew we had to get out and I grabbed her hand and we ran for the stairs. I held onto her all the way down to the bottom. We were both so burned but we just kept moving. She didn't cry or anything all the way down the stairs. When we got down to the bottom, they pulled us aside-the paramedics. My burned hand was stuck to Ileana's burned hand. I couldn't let her hand free. I cried and cried. It hurt so bad. I was crying, peeing on myself, crying for you, Mom. Oh, God, it was terrible."

Jonathan was sobbing and his sisters and brothers put their arms around him and held him and cried with him.

"There were many of us that lost control of our bladders that day I am sure, Son."

"What happened to you, Dad? How did you get hurt?" Harry asked.

"I thought that I was in the clear when I got to the bottom, but that was the furthest thing from the truth. Everything imaginable was falling from above-people, pieces of metal, concrete-as the building burned on top. I saw people cut in pieces by glass-dead-on the spot. Mrs. Myra Wong, the Asian woman I had carried down the stairs-something-fell on her and she died right there. I stopped to close her eyes. I had to close-close her eyes."

Remington sobbed as he remembered Myra Wong, one moment alive and then the next moment dead on the sidewalk. Laura held him as his shoulders just shook with his sobs as he tried to continue.

"There were dead people, dying people, burned people, body parts of people, blood. I was in shock I think, but I started walking away from it. And then I heard the sound-the sound of the building goin' down. I knew without even lookin' up. It just came down on top of us. It nearly scared the crap out of me. I just took off runnin' as fast as I could up West Broadway. Everybody was runnin' like bloody hell. Dust and debris was fallin' all around. That damned dust was following us chasin' us like a tidal wave. People were stumbling and falling. It went completely dark as night at ten o'clock in the morning."

Remington broke down in tears, sobbing in his wife's arms.

"I'm crying in front of my children, Laura. I can't help it. Oh, God, it was so horrifyin.' Forgive me, children."

It was as if the floodgates had been open and he could not close them, as Remington sobbed deep wracking sobs in his wife's arms.

"I was just thinkin' about you, Laura, and about you children, tryin' to remember everything about you-cause I thought I was a dead man. And then something hit my right side-knocked me down in the street. I couldn't stand up for the pain. I couldn't even pull myself upright. I rolled over to the sidewalk and crawled into some shop or other and passed out.

"When I came to in the hospital, I wondered why I was alive. I wanted to live-but I didn't deserve it more than anyone else. What did I do to deserve to come home to all of you? All those people-never to come home to their children, their wives, husbands. I still feel guilty. So many people-innocent people gone just like that. Terrorism! Weren't those crazy men of the same flesh as I? How could they do such a dastardly thing? Where did that hate come from? I keep seein' that woman I carried down the stairs lyin' dead in the street. Dear God! Why did I bring her down-for that?"

Remington continued to cry unashamedly onto Laura's bosom and Laura cried with him as his children clustered around them, smoothing their father's hair, rubbing his taut shoulder muscles, patting him and crying with him till they were all spent.

Little Tabby sat on the floor gravely watching all of this and when everyone finally stopped crying, she stood up and came to her father's knee and looked up at him.

"I'm coming back, little one. I'm coming back," Remington said as he took her up into his arms.

Remington's blue eyes were still brimming but he managed a weak smile as he hugged her tenderly, looking over her head into the eyes of his wife.

"Your daddy is going to be fine, Tabby-just fine," Laura said softly.

* * * * *

On the first Saturday in January Remington and Laura were finding themselves back in their regular routine with their children and with each other. After his initial deep melancholy over the disaster finally dissipated, Remington gradually came to terms with what had happened and was simply grateful that he was still alive and with his loved ones. That acceptance and the realization of how close they had come to losing each other made each time he and Laura came together an experience of passion and fire on a psychic level that was more intense than anything that they had shared before.

The early morning hours had found them in each others arms validating again the tremendous bond between them with words of such love that they both were in tears as they sank into the afterglow.

"I love you, Laura. It frightens me when I think that we may not have come to this. Where would we have been?"

"I knew that you were what I wanted, but you-you came into my life in such a strange way. I was afraid-so afraid that you would love me and leave me."

"Well, here I am seven children later-still hung up on you, babe."

"I know. But you tried to give me to Murphy in September."

"I'm sorry, darling."

"I was so angry with you for that. It makes me mad whenever I think of it. I couldn't believe that you would do that."

"Please don't think about it. I was half out of my mind, crazed by the whole experience. All that I could think of was leaving you behind with no one-to-to love you. I was stunned when you said . . ."

"When I told you that I had had Murphy back in the day?"

"And you accused me of keeping secrets, my dear," Remington teased her gently.

"It would have complicated things needlessly back then. It was a mistake then and it would still have been a mistake."

"He was one of the ones that you 'pretended' with?"

"Perhaps he knew that I was pretending. He kept wanting another chance. He never told you about us, did he?"

"No, he was a gentleman, not one to kiss and tell. I appreciate that about him."

"You are the only man to touch me since that day we met. If I had lost you that terrible day in September . . ."

"Oh, Laura, Laura," Remington groaned passionately, kissing her breasts over and over, becoming intoxicated again with touching her till they simply gave themselves to each other.

"Rem, I love you. I love you so. Oh, God! I love you." Laura never got used to the sensation of Remington coming into her, filling her so completely. After nearly fifteen years of marriage each time it was a stunning moment of such clarity, such perfection as to take her breath away and this time was no different.

When finally they lay quiet in their bed, they had just begun to drift off to sleep again when there was a knock on their bedroom door. It was Jonathan.

"Mom, Dad, I need to talk to you-now."

"Come in, Son."

Jonathan was in his pajamas, the elastic pressure garment and gloves that he wore to help with the scarring from his injuries clearly visible. His blue eyes were troubled.

"I was talking on the phone with Ileana. She says that she doesn't want to live anymore. She's going to take her life. I told her that I love her, that . . ." Johnny could not continue.

"Son, why does she want to die?"

"She says that I would not love her if I saw her, how badly scarred she is."

"How do you feel about that-about the fact that she will carry those scars for the rest of her life? Can you see past those scars-to see the woman you love underneath?"

"Yes, I know that I can."

"But you haven't seen her. She knows that. You should go out there-find out for yourself where the two of you stand."

"If we still love each other, what are we supposed to do about it? I'm just eighteen. Ileana won't even be eighteen till next month."

"Jonathan, you will have to cross that bridge when you get to it," Laura said softly.

"The things that seemed so important before September seem so unimportant now-studying criminology in college, working in the agency as a career," Jonathan said. "I don't want to be three thousand miles away from her."

Two days later Jonathan was on American Airlines Flight 21 to New York to see Ileana. The last time he had seen her she was still in the burn unit swathed in bandages. Now that she was home, Jonathan was apprehensive as he followed Mark and Kyong Foon Stephenson into the house on Twelfth Street.

Kyong Foon showed him to his room on the second floor of the brownstone.

"I am glad that you could come visit Ileana. She has been so very depressed, Jonathan. No matter what I say she does not respond. And when she found out that her father and I are having another child, she said that that child will replace her when she is gone."

Jonathan was stunned, "I'm sure that no one could replace Ileana. But Gee, that's nice, Mrs. Stephenson, you havin a baby and all."

"Yes, is very nice, dear, but it is very true that this child will never take Ileana's place. Now you make yourself comfortable. Ileana's room is across hall there. We trust you to be with her, Jonathan, but remember that she is our special daughter. Please be gentle with her."

Jonathan sat quietly in the room for quite a while. He did not know exactly what was going to happen but he knew that he cared very deeply for Ileana and would try to convince her that she should continue to live. He hung up his clothes and finally went across the hall and knocked on the door that Kyong Foon had pointed out to him earlier.

There was no answer to Jonathan's knock so he opened the door a bit. Ileana was lying on her bed on her side. She was wide awake.

"Hello, Ileana. I thought that you might be sleeping."

"I hardly sleep any more." Her voice was without emotion.

Jonathan approached the bed. There was just a small lamp by her bed. Her room was the dream room of a teenager-computer, electronic gadgetry and all sorts of fashion drawings and an exquisite doll collection making for an interesting mix.

"I came to see you-because I was worried about you-after the other night on the phone."

"I'm going to kill myself, Jonathan." She said the words dispassionately.

"That's what I'm scared about, Illy."

Ileana looked up at Jonathan.

"Why are you calling me that? No one has ever called me that."

"I just think of you like that. When I was laid up in that burn unit and in so much pain I started thinking of you as 'Illy.' Do you mind?"

"No."

"I see your hair is growing back. It's so pretty." He reached out and touched her soft curly mop of hair.

"Yours grew back too."

"I still love you, Ileana, even more than that terrible day in September."

Ileana sat up on the side of her bed.

"Listen, let's just get this over with, Jonathan. You don't know how terrible I look. I look like a monster. My body looks horrible." Ileana began to cry pitifully.

"I don't care about the scars. I have scars too."

"You aren't a female. It's different."

Ileana stood up. She was wearing a cotton terry robe and she let it slip from her shoulders and stood before Jonathan clad only in her panties. Her arms were red and angry-looking and they had ugly diagonal scars from the surgical faschiotomies. The wounds were all closed but so tender and sensitive. Her thighs were scarred with bright pink patches where they had taken the skin for the autografts. She turned her back to him and Jonathan saw the terrible scarring across her shoulders and down to her waist. The first series of grafts had taken but the skin would never be completely normal again.

Jonathan's eyes filled with tears, but he leaned forward and kissed her on her back, on the scarred grafted tissue. Gently turning Ileana to face him, he kissed her chest, the lovely young breasts. Then he tilted her face up to meet his and kissed her lips. When their lips met, Ileana, melted in his arms.

"I love you, Illy. I love you so much. You are so beautiful to me. The scars-they don't mean nothing. They don't mean nothing." Jonathan touched Ileana's face, caressing it tenderly. "This is enough for me, Ileana. This-and this . . ." He bent to kiss her dainty bosom again, and then put his hand over her heart that was pounding in her chest.

Ileana trembled in his arms, overcome with desire to be cherished and loved by him. She unfastened Jonathan's shirt so that she could inspect his wounds-the six inch wide burn that went diagonally across his chest permanently stripping a swath of his red chest hair, leaving an ugly scar. She took his hands and looked at them, scarred and permanently disfigured from his attempts to save her life when she was on fire, and kissed them.

"I'm so sorry, Jonathan. I'm so sorry. We are such a mess, aren't we?"

"Yes, but we're together, Ileana. We're together. I love you. I always will. I want to be yours, yours . . . "

"My man. Are you mine, Jonathan, my very own? You're a man you know. Only a man could have gotten me out of that terrible thing we were caught in. No silly teenage boy could have done that. I don't feel like a young person anymore. What we saw-what we experienced. It was like being in battle-in a terrible war."

"Yes, it was. I think that we have both aged way past where we were. I know that I have. And I know my-my heart belongs to you, Ileana. Will you give your heart to me? I know that we are both too young to be thinking about this, but I want you-not like a boy or a teenager, but like a man wants the woman that he will spend the rest of his life with."

"Are you sure, Jonathan? You don't have to. I'm so wracked up. I'd understand if you didn't want me. My Mom can't even fix me and she's one of the best plastic surgeons in the country. She just looks at me and cries, Johnny. I'll always have these scars. I thought that I would lose my mind when the itching began. Constant-and I couldn't rub or touch the wounds."

"I know. The itching was almost as bad as the tank room. I still wake up at night itching like crazy as everything heals. I know what you're going through, baby. I'm here for you-to hold you when you're scared, to rub your scars when the itching is driving you out of your mind, to love you. I need you to be here for me the same way."

"And this horrible ugly pressure garment. Look at it! I have to wear it twenty-three hours a day for at least a year. And it won't get rid of the scars. It'll just keep me from looking so like a monster." She pointed to the garment of elasticized synthetic material that she was to wear on the chair beside her bed and broke down in tears again.

"I know. I have to wear one too. It doesn't matter if I know that you love me. I'll always love you. Oh, honey! It's about so much more that some marks on your skin." Jonathan drew Ileana to him again and this time they were both suddenly very aroused, their youthful passions at full tilt as they kissed again and again.

"Oh, Johnny, Johnny!"

"I'm sorry, Illy. Scars-whatever-I am so excited by you. I've never been like this with anyone. Oh, Illy!"

They were intensely conscious of their bare flesh that was touching and Johnny reached for her robe and wrapped it around Ileana, in an attempt to quell the urges that were overwhelming him.

"Ileana, I-I'm so helpless. In spite of everything that has happened I want you, but I have to protect you. I have to protect you, Illy. If I love you, I must be responsible. Do you understand? Oh, God, I'm having such powerful feelings right now. Oh, God!"

Ileana nodded. "Yes, Johnny. I feel such passion inside me. I need you to just hold me. Please hold me, Johnny, and tell me why we survived to be left like this. It's so hard to understand-so hard to understand."

Johnny took Ileana's hand and they lay down together in her bed. They cried, cuddled, kissed and fondled one another. Johnny gently patted and rubbed her itching back for her and Ileana kissed his damaged hands over and over. They bonded completely-and they began to understand. It was enough that they were together-so badly scarred emotionally and physically-but together none the less.

The next day Johnny and Ileana sat down with Mark and Kyong Foon Stephenson.

"We wanted to speak with you-both of you-about, about us," Jonathan said, blushing as he looked at Ileana.

"Go ahead, young man. I am trying to understand what has happened to our family and it seems that you are a part of my daughter's life now. We were very fearful for Ileana, and we are thankful that you came out here."

"I wanted to come. I missed Ileana so much since I went home. I know that it's hard for you to believe that Ileana and I are mature enough to choose to be together like we want to be, but I am in love with her. I knew it the first day we met and then-all that has happened. It hasn't changed that-my feelings for her. It's so powerful-so intense."

"Ileana, how do you feel about this?" Kyong Foon wanted to hear her daughter's expressions. She herself had softened so in the recent months since she and Mark had reconciled their differences. The baby she now carried inside her made her very sympathetic to the emotions of her daughter before her.

"I want to be with Johnny. I just was so afraid that he would not want me-like I am now. And now I know that it doesn't matter to him-the scars-all over my body." Her eyes filled and Johnny hugged her close and kissed her cheek, oblivious to the fact that her parents were there with them.

"I want to marry Ileana. We know that it can't happen right now. We both have to finish high school and then there is college. I should tell you that my parents, my natural parents, left me a trust fund. I come into it when I am twenty-one. I think that I should be able to borrow against that fund so that Ileana and I will have enough to live on while we are in college. We are going to try to get through this year-take all this physical therapy and try to get really over the hump with these injuries-what happened to us. Then we want to get married. I want to live with Ileana."

"Well, young man, you seem to have some very mature ideas here. You know that Ileana was slated to go to Brown."

"I don't want to go to Brown any more, Dad. My whole life has changed. Johnny was planning to go to UCLA and I want to go there. They have an excellent program. I know for sure now that I want to go into pharmaceuticals. I want to do research on the equipment used in burn therapy."

"She wants to discover a bandage that will not stick to burned tissue-for obvious reasons."

"Some things are just not that important to me anymore. I want to be with Jonathan Steele. If I didn't have him, I couldn't face my life now."

Ileana began to cry again, her head on Johnny's shoulder. He tenderly brushed her curly hair with one of his injured hands till she calmed again.

"I'm here, Ileana. I'll always be here." Johnny turned back toward Ileana's parents but put his arm around Ileana reassuringly.

"I talked to my Dad before I came out here. I really needed advice and he and my mom were really cool about me and Ileana. When the time comes, they have a place where we could stay-where we could be a married couple."

"So you two have real plans. This is good." Mark Stephenson was touched at the sight of this young man handling his daughter so tenderly even as his fatherly protective instincts rose to the fore. "Now I know that you have both been through a horrendous experience and I see the obvious attachment between the two of you. Jonathan, I am holding you responsible for my daughter. Obviously we don't want to see her pregnant and unwed on top of every thing else she's been through. You say that you feel that you are a man now. I expect you to act like one. If you need information, I am sure that your father can help you. I expect that you, Ileana, will try to remember that you are very young, and that you are not well at all now. You must try to keep that clear head that has made me so proud of you."

"I'll try, Daddy. I am trying."

"Sir, we just want to hold each other-close, you know. I don't want to hurt Ileana. It is still painful for us to just touch. I have never had sex, Dr. Stephenson, and neither has Ileana, but we do want that very much. Both of us do. I don't know when that is going to happen, but I promise you that we will act responsibly when it does."

"Well, Son, I am nothing if not a typical father of my daughter. You young people will do what you will do. Just don't tell me about it. I still think of Ileana as my little girl and it's difficult to realize that she is a young woman now."

Mark Stephenson was assaulted with a mixture of emotions as he saw the depth of passionate attachment between his daughter and Jonathan Steele. He took his wife's hand and squeezed it.

"I feel very proud of our little girl, don't you, Kyong? I believe that they will find their happiness-just as we have found ours."

"Thank you-both of you. I will never forget how you helped me get through those terrible days after the accident, Dr. Stephenson. I really do feel at home here with you both. It's hard for me to leave Ileana but I'm going to have to head back home in a few days. We both have to try to finish this school year out and then-then we can move on with our lives together."

Jonathan and Ileana were inseparable for the next few days till it was time for him to return to Los Angeles. They went together to the physical therapy sessions and Jonathan sat in on the tutoring that Ileana was receiving to help her finish her senior year at Stuyvesant High. Ileana took Jonathan to all her favorite eating places in Manhattan. They made the obligatory trip to Katz's Deli. There they ate huge corned beef sandwiches and Ileana introduced Jonathan to Dr. Brown' s cream soda and the best French fried potatoes in the city. She took him to Gray's Papaya, where they indulged in the fabulous cheap hot dogs and washed them down with quantities of creamy fruit-flavored drinks. Then, at the one and only original Ray's Pizza at Twelfth Street and Sixth Avenue not far from her home, they ate huge slices of pizza loaded with cheese and pepperoni.

On the last day that Jonathan was in New York they made themselves go back together to Ground Zero to stand on the recently built viewing platform and stare at the hole where they had almost died. They just quietly held one another, silent tears slipping from their eyes till they finally were able to walk away from the place hand in hand not saying anything to each other.

As they walked along Canal Street north of Ground Zero, Ileana finally spoke.

"Let's go home, Johnny. I want to spend this last night with you, really spend the night, you know."

"Are you sure, Ileana?"

"Life is too short, too uncertain. I can't let you get back on that plane without giving you-what I want to give only to you."

"Ileana . . ."

She put her fingertips to his lips.

"I have everything that we need-to be responsible."

"Ileana, Ileana," Jonathan was lost for words for a moment. "I only want this if it will be like, like the beginning of marriage for us. We have been through too much to let this be a-a casual thing. It has to mark something for us."

They stopped in the street and faced one another.

"I love you, Ileana Stephenson. Will you marry me?" Jonathan Steele's blue eyes were completely serious as he met evenly the green-eyed gaze of the tall young beauty with whom his life had become inextricably intertwined.

"Yes, Jonathan Steele, I will marry you and I will live with you all of my life."

Jonathan took Ileana in his arms and they kissed there on Canal Street with New Yorkers on their way home from work and shoppers passing on either side of them taking note of them without taking note of them in the true manner of New Yorkers..

"Let's find something to exchange to let everybody know we belong to each other."

"They have all kinds of silver jewelry along here, Johnny. My fingers are still not well enough to wear a ring and I know that yours aren't either."

"Maybe we can exchange something else-lockets or pendants. My dad wears a silver medallion around his neck and he has just my mother's name on it."

"He doesn't have a date-like when they met or when they were married?"

"No, just the name. I asked him about that and you know what he said? He said that before he met her, time did not count and that if he ever lost her, time would mean nothing."

"That is very beautiful."

"Let's find pendants or medallions and I will put my name on yours and you will put your name on mine."

Ileana just nodded and they began to search the shops for what they wanted. Finally they settled on the ones that they liked very much. The jeweler engraved them for them and they put them on right there in the store and kissed tenderly.

"One of these days I will buy you the most beautiful ring and put it on your finger, but this will have to do for now, Illy."

"Let's go home."

They got back to the house on Twelfth Street in the early evening. There was no one at home as Ileana's parents had gone out to a meeting and would not be home till quite late.

Ileana took Jonathan by the hand and they went up the spiral staircase to upstairs. As they reached the top, Ileana turned to face Jonathan and they kissed passionately, Jonathan's lips seeking hers over and over as he could not get enough of tasting her mouth, possessing it.

They were consumed with their need for one another as Ileana led Jonathan into her bedroom and they kissed and kissed as they shed their clothes and the uncomfortable pressure garments that they both were wearing.

"I don't know what I'm doing, Illy, but I know that I love you so much. I just want to touch you and be one with you, girl."

"We'll learn together, Johnny. Oh, Johnny, hold me close." She reached for the drawer next to her bed and took out the necessary things and gave them to him.

"I don't want to hurt you. I know it will hurt. And your back is still so tender."

Ileana kissed him across the swath of scarred tissue on his chest and Johnny bent to kiss her breasts.

"I don't want it to be anyone but you-ever, Johnny."

"Be my wife, Illy. Be my wife forever and ever."

"Yes, Johnny. I will. I am."

Johnny lay down and let Ileana lie in his arms so as to protect her still tender back and they rapidly became lost in their own mysteries till suddenly they were coming together. Ileana cried because the pain was so intense, but there was no pulling back at that point. When Ileana saw her Jonathan experience the acme for the first time, when he lost all sense of who or where he was and simply babbled incoherently in her arms calling on his Maker and calling her name, she knew that he was all that she wanted in the world.

"I'm sorry, Ileana, so sorry that I hurt you."

Jonathan wiped the tears from Ileana's eyes and kissed her soft pliant mouth again and again, his hands caught up in the soft thick curls of her coal black hair. As her pain subsided, Ileana trembled, tears in her eyes, but still in need of Johnny and they made love slowly, giving Ileana time to relieve the ache she felt for Johnny. And when Johnny saw Ileana fluttering helplessly, crying his name, experiencing the release of complete surrender for the very first time, he saw no scars, he saw only beauty.

Jonathan Steele left New York the next day and went home to Los Angeles and his family but he and Ileana viewed themselves as committed, engaged to be married. It was settled with both of them and they honestly confided in their parents their situation.

Ileana approached her mother the day after Jonathan left for home. She went into her parents' bedroom where her mother was resting with her feet up, trying to counteract the effects of pregnancy in her mid-forties. She was now four months along and just beginning to be evidently pregnant.

"I want to talk to you, Mom. I need you to be my mom more than ever right now."

"Darling, I am here for you. It about you and Jonathan, isn't it?"

"I want to show you something, Mom." Ileana unfolded the sheet that she was holding in her arms and her mother saw the stains of blood on it as she gave it to her.

"I know, Ileana. I saw you change from teenager to young woman right in front of my eyes."

She held out her arms to her daughter and Ileana clung to her mother, crying.

"I am so in love with him, Mom. We pledged ourselves to one another. He wouldn't take me like this unless we viewed ourselves-as engaged."

"I am glad that you both very serious. Life very strange these past months. You must find your love. If it is Jonathan, it is Jonathan. We love him too. We have all found much love in such terrible time, little one."

Remington noticed immediately the difference in his son but waited for him to approach him. It was just a few days after coming home that Jonathan sought his father out.

"Dad, I know that I need to talk with you-about Ileana and me."

"Yes, I dare say that you do," Remington said simply.

"I love her and I asked her to marry me and she said 'yes.' "

"We-we got together. We had sex-responsibly. I was trying to hold back, but she didn't want to take a chance on something happening to me and then losing me. Life is so uncertain now. It was beautiful, Dad. I know that I am so totally inexperienced, but somehow we managed."

"Well, I see that you are going to have to do some required reading, Son. The objective is not to pleasure a wife one time but over and over again for the years of your marriage. We shall have to have some long talks on that subject. What are your plans?"

Jonathan outlined what he had in mind and Remington listened. He offered a few suggestions but he knew that this was a decision that was made and could only pray that for these two young people the bond that had been struck would be a lasting one.

When Remington finished talking with his oldest son, he went to find Laura. She was lying in their bed giving the twins their evening feeding. They were extremely active these days since they were walking-toddling everywhere they wanted to go and only seemed to slow down to look for their mother to nurse. This evening they were wanting each one his own special cuddling time and Laura had fed Reade and now truly had her hands full with Rhett.

Remington's eyes had begun to lose some of the sadness that had filled them for the months following the tragedy and as Laura saw him come into the room, still limping slightly from the injury to his leg, she could only think of how much she loved him. Even though his hair had gone completely white in a streak back from his forehead almost overnight, the experience-rather than aging him, had seemed to only mature him and render him even more handsome. His blue eyes were eyes full of a wisdom now as he contemplated the world that had not been there before, a deep gratitude for every moment spent with his loved ones. He lay down in bed beside Laura and Reade began to clamber all over him trying to keep from falling asleep.

"Darling, I just had a long talk with Johnny-about him and Ileana."

"He has seemed rather quiet since coming home, don't you think?"

"I noticed it, but I wanted to give him time to approach us."

"And he did?"

"Seems that it is rather serious between them. They've promised themselves to each other. They've had sex together. They fancy themselves engaged actually-and I believe they are completely pledged to one another."

"They went through a terrible thing together and bonded. Do you think they are too young to make such a decision?"

"Of course I do, but that is irrelevant now. It happened and we are going to have to help them get where they want to go with it. I dare say we both understand what happens when you meet someone and you just know that that is the one, don't we?" Remington smiled at Laura. "I knew it that day I walked into your office posing as Ben Pearson. Didn't you know it?"

"Yes, I knew it." Laura smiled tenderly at her husband of fifteen years.

"There I was-a con man, a cat burglar, a womanizer, a rolling stone no less, a man who didn't even know his real name-and you took a chance on me."

"I couldn't help myself. I kept telling myself 'I must be crazy' but I couldn't let you go."

Reade had fallen asleep in his father's arms and Remington got up and put him in his crib. Meanwhile Rhett dozed off as well and Remington took him from Laura and put him to bed as well.

He locked their bedroom door and came back, lay down beside Laura in their bed.

"Now where were we, Mrs Steele?" he murmured as he took her into his arms and kissed her for the countless time.

"Right here, Mr. Steele."

* * * * * *

It was late March of 2002 when Jonathan Steele and Ileana Stephenson saw each other again. Ileana came to Los Angeles to meet the rest of Jonathan's family and to spend precious time with Jonathan during school break. Jonathan picked Ileana up from LAX late in the afternoon of March 27th.

The two young people were beside themselves with joy as they saw one another again. Ileana was radiant, obviously healthier, her hair grown out to ear length, her green eyes with their slight Asian slant giving the subtle clue to the Chinese blood that flowed in her veins. One had to look closely to see the sleeves of the pressure garment protruding from her light jacket and discern her scarred hands. Jonathan was a vibrant and strong young man again, his ruddy good looks enhanced by the tremendous charge of sensual energy he felt whenever he even thought of Ileana. This day, as he met her wearing a dark navy blazer and soft blue shirt with buttoned down collar and khaki pants, he looked much more the collegiate man than the teenager.

"Oh, Jonathan, I missed you so much," she whispered as Jonathan held her tightly in his arms kissing her till they were both breathless. "And I like this," she said, touching the moustache that he had grown since she last saw him.

"I missed you too. It is so hard-being away from you, wonderin' if you're having a good day, wonderin' if you're feeling all right. Come, I have the car, we can talk after we get your things."

Jonathan retrieved Ileana's bags and soon they were in the Steele family Passat wagon. Jonathan turned to Ileana in the car and they kissed again. Jonathan tipped Ileana's face up to his.

"Do you still want to marry me, Ileana?" His blue eyes were dead serious.

"Yes, you know that I do."

"Then marry me today, tonight. We can drive to Las Vegas. We are eighteen and it will be completely legal. There's no waiting period, no blood test. They marry people all night long up there."

"What will your parents say?"

Jonathan smiled. "I guess the question is 'what will your parents say.' I know that my parents feel that we are too young but they worry about us, because they know that we have-been together-and they don't think we are going to be able to keep a proper distance in front of my younger brothers and sisters. I think they will accept this if it's a done deal."

"Then we go to Las Vegas, Johnny." Ileana said.

"Oh, I meant to give you this. If your fingers are too sensitive still, you can put this with that medallion you have on your neck."

Jonathan gave Ileana a small padded box and she opened it. The emerald engagement ring had belonged to Jonathan's natural mother and Remington had given it to him along with some other personal items from his natural parents when he turned eighteen years old.

"It's beautiful, Johnny."

"Not as beautiful as you are." Johnny eased the ring onto her finger and kissed her hand.

"Let's go to Las Vegas, Johnny."

During the car trip to Las Vegas they talked about their plans. They would finish high school where they were. Then Ileana would move to California when school was finished. Jonathan knew that his parents would let them have the loft. He had already made arrangements to borrow against the very large trust fund left by his natural parents to take care of him and Ileana as a newly married couple going to college fulltime. They decided to start out at UCLA together in the fall.

"Johnny, you do know that I really want to have children with you, don't you? When I was nearly dead in the hospital and they came to me to ask me where I wanted them to take the skin from for the grafts, I told them to take the grafts from my thighs. I wanted the skin on my belly to be healthy and strong so that it could stretch to carry your babies. Then when I came home, and the scars were so horrible, I was certain that you wouldn't want me. That's when I wanted to die, Johnny."

Johnny didn't respond. He just slowed the car, pulled off the road, and stopped. He drew Ileana into his arms and they kissed and kissed.

"Will you give me children, Johnny?" she murmured between their passionate kisses.

"Yes! Oh, yes, Ileana! We'll have as many children as you want in due time. I love you so much. I want to make you happy in every way that a man can make a woman happy. I want you to feel secure with me, Ileana. Do you feel that I can take care of you? I don't want you to wonder about this, sweetheart."

"I'm not worried, Jonathan, not at all. I just want to be with you-always. We'd better-we'd better go on to Las Vegas."

They reluctantly disengaged and Johnny started the car back up and they were underway again.

When they crossed over into Nevada, Jonathan used his cell phone to call home and break the news to his parents who were in the kitchen making dinner together when the call came in.

"You are absolutely sure that you want to do this, Son."

"Yes, I am. Ileana feels the same way that I do."

"You know that we will stand by you. We will do whatever we can do to help you young people make this work. Be careful on the road, Johnny. You are excited and may not have your mind on what you are doing."

"I will be careful, Dad. I love you and Mom. Ileana and I just need to belong to each other-completely. We will do whatever you want us to do-another wedding later in the year with all the family, or whatever. We don't care. We just have to be together."

"I understand, Son. Let me speak to Ileana."

Jonathan handed the cell phone to Ileana.

"Mr. Steele?"

"I think you might think of something else to call me, dear. You are going to be our little girl now also."

"Thank you, um . . . Daddy Steele. I do love Jonathan very much."

He handed the phone to Laura who spoke to her now

"We love you both, Ileana. Just be careful and get back here as soon as possible. We don't want your parents to worry unnecessarily. Your mom being pregnant, she doesn't need anxiety."

"Yes, Mother Laura. I understand. We are going to call them from Las Vegas-after we are-married." Ileana's voice was full of her happiness as she said the word 'married' and Laura and Remington had no doubts as to whether the two young people were truly committed to one another.

They hung up from talking with Jonathan and stood staring at one another somewhat flabbergasted.

"So they're eloping." Laura said matter-of-factly.

"I'm not surprised, Laura. It was very strong between them. We will just have to prepared to help them over the rough spots they are sure to encounter, won't we?"

"Yes, we will. He's changed so much since the tragedy. He's become so manly-all his hormones going at full tilt, I guess."

"It's more than hormones that have him after that girl, Laura. He's got her in his gut. You know the feeling I dare say. I know that I know it rather well."

Remington smiled and drew Laura to him.

"I dare say we both do. But it hit us quite a bit later, didn't it?"

"I don't think it makes a difference when it hits you. In twenty or so years when he looks at her-he will see her dainty ingenue breasts have become like lush fruit and her tight young hips have become the comfortable arse of the woman who has been used by him almost every day of his life with her. I can only hope that he'll feel the same thing I feel when I look at you."

"How do you feel, love?"

"I feel like that young man, often so excited I can only think of one thing, my heart pounding in my chest in anticipation of making love to you once again."

Remington's blue eyes turned dark cobalt as his passion for Laura overwhelmed him.

"Oh, Remy, you really mean that, don't you?" Laura flushed under her husband's blandishments.

"You know that I mean it. I am so hung up on you, babe. After all these years, all the babies, all the mornings and nights of making love to you, all the joy and all the heartbreak, nothing is diminished."

Remington Steele was kissing Laura full on her mouth, taking possession of her, practically inhaling her, his hands gripping her hips, pulling her up close to his excited flesh as their oldest twins came into the kitchen where they were.

"Mom and Dad, excuse us. We just want something to drink."

The girls giggled at their parents' discomfiture at being caught in such an passionate embrace.

"Dad is finally really getting back to normal, Chl÷e, isn't he?" Cassie said, averting her eyes from their parents who were so passionately engaged.

"Yes, groovy as ever." Cassie agreed, opening the refrigerator to find a cold drink.

"They're talking about us in the third person again, love," Remington said, relaxing his embrace of Laura as the intensity of his ardor calmed.

"One of these days we will be talking about them." Laura said.

"Oh Mom, we're just teasing," Cassie said, turning to face them. "We love to see you-cuddle."

"The word is chouchouter, Cassie. Remember French class." Chl÷e could not resist a final tease as they took turns drinking from the same glass of Coke the way they usually did.

"Well, leave us to 'cuddle' in peace and go gather your sisters and brothers in the family room. We have something to tell all of you," Remington said as he tried to sound stern and failed.

Cassie and Chl÷e went to round up their siblings.

"Next thing we know they'll be wanting to get married too," Laura said.

"Well, they will have to get used to drinking from separate glasses before they get married to anyone. Even though I'm a twin myself, I never fail to be surprised by the closeness of twins."

Leaning against her husband in a manner that he understood completely, Laura whispered "Mr. Steele, where did all that ardor I was confronted with a few moments ago vanish to?"

"You know where it is when you want it, woman." Remington winked at his wife. "Come on, let's break this news to the rest of the children."

* * * * * *

Jonathan and Ileana got into Las Vegas at nearly eleven o'clock in the evening. They quickly found the marriage license office before it closed at midnight, filled out the necessary papers and then picked the first chapel that they saw after that to get married. It was nearly two o'clock in the morning of March 28, 2002, when they said their vows in a simple, somewhat tacky chapel, but the surroundings didn't matter. They saw only each other as they vowed to love each other forever with total strangers as witnesses to the most important event of their young lives.

Jonathan and Ileana checked into a hotel as Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Steele. They were both suddenly very tired physically as well as emotionally as they undressed. They had no self-consciousness about the scars on their young bodies as they removed the hated pressure garments and fell into each other's arms in their honeymoon bed.

"It's all right, Illy. We have forever to have one another. I'm happy that you are here sleeping close to me like this tonight."

"This is why I love you so much, Jonathan," Ileana said. "Oh, Jonathan, my sweet husband." Ileana clung to him now and they kissed tenderly before quickly falling asleep.

It was nearly dawn when Ileana wakened Jonathan, embracing him, exploring him in a most intimate fashion.

"Ileana, did we really get married?" he teased her. "Am I in bed with Mrs. Steele?"

"Yes, and I definitely want my husband now, Mr. Steele."

There was no barrier, no need for restraint as they gave themselves to one another till bright sunlight was streaming into the window of their hotel room. They slept again till afternoon and finally got up and drove back to Los Angeles, into the arms of the family that loved them so very much.

END