The Encounter
by Ginger

Soft footsteps padded along a familiar path in the night. In the eternal twilight of New York City, the lights illuminated the park in patches, and the mysteriously cloaked figure carefully avoided those patches as he made his rounds, as he'd come to call them ruefully. Father was probably noting his absense and wondering where he was already... he shook this thought from his mind firmly. At thirteen years old, the lad was certainly old enough to look after himself, and even if the man did not approve of this particular activity his adopted son practiced at times, there was little he could do to dissuade Vincent from venturing out into the night air, away from the confinement, safe as it was, of the tunnels. Once in a while, the boy just had to test his wings, even with that inevitable knowledge that he could never truly fly.

Clenching his teeth unconsciously, the young Vincent continued on his restless journey, soft old boots soundlessly falling on grass, then on pavement, then again on grass as he made his way around the largely unpopulated park. The few vagrants who slept in the park this time of year were far too long under the influence of alcohol to notice his silent passing; as he usually used the chest-high shrubs and conveniently placed trees to best advantage in the more popular places; those who were not drunk were not even stirred from slumber as he sailed past. Vincent made sure to nary step upon a twig nor rustle branches, another old and familiar habit.

As his mind was concentrating on his stealthy wandering, he didn't notice the crying at first, very faint but very enthusiastic, and high-pitched. He stopped in an instant, his foot, still up in the air with the aborted step, hesitantly joined the other as he tilted his head this way and that. A child? he thought. What would a child be doing alone in such a place at night? Concerned, his eyebrows furrowed even more than usual and quickly he trotted toward the weeping, ever carefully vigilant not to be discovered, but if the child needed help...

Hearty peals of sorrow greeted Vincent as he paused behind a thick curtain of bushes, his cloak snagging irritantly on a branch here and there as he knelt, taking in the scene. Indeed, a little girl bawled, tear-streaked cheeks glinting in the city lights, and the headlights of a limousine. Its driver stood next to the driver's door, looking on helplessly, as a man crouched near the girl, both somewhat in front of the car, off to the side of the road. The man, and the little girl, seemed to be in silhouette in the car's bright lamps, and Vincent had to squint; but he thought he could make out a tuxedo on the man, and a frilly dress on the girl, as if they'd been to something fancy. No matter, he needed to watch and make sure the girl was all right.

"I want my Mama!" the girl wailed yet again, as her father tried consoling her. She stamped her little shiny black patent leather shoes on the wet grass, and clutched a small something in her two hands, up to her chest.

The father looked helpless as he gazed up at the driver; the driver looked away. Looking back to his daughter's upset face, he sighed yet again. "Shh, shh, everything is going to be all right. I'm here..."

The girl's lower lip jutted out and quivered. "Don't want you, want Mama!" she had stopped in mid-squawl to exclaim this, and then picked up the cry where she'd left off.

The man closed his eyes, praying to whatever diety was watching to grant him just a little more patience. He took the girl's shoulders with his two hands, and squeezed. When the girl resisted, he drew the stiff girl into his arms, and stood upright, knees complaining only a bit as he rose. With a hushed voice, he crooned to the squirming girl who squealed in indignation of being carried. "Shh, my Cat, sshhh." I want your Mama too," a choked voice shared, as he continued to hold the little girl to his chest, rocking a bit.

Surprised, the girl mercifully stopped wailing and started sobbing, hugging the man's neck with two little hands, one of which still held a mysterious object. "Why can't Mama come home wit' us, Daddy? Why?" she whimpered, sounding suddenly very tired.

"Because," the man explained with great and infinite self-control, as if reiterating an explanation repeated several times, "she's gone to heaven, Catherine, she's gone. She'll always live in our hearts," he sobbed with his daughter now, tucked his head to rest his chin on the little girl's shoulder, as the child did likewise, listening with new awareness at her father's words. "She'll always live, hon, as long as we remember her."

Catherine, eyes bright with sorrow, nodded solemnly as she absorbed this, leaning back to look at her father. "Like, how she always had these things?" she tilted her head, showing the odd little thing she'd clutched in her hand so desperately before, now in her upturned palm, so that her father could inspect.

Vincent, watching this heartwretching drama unfold, squinted even more as he tried to discern what the object was, something akin to pity warming his heart for the little girl.

The man nodded affirmatively. "Yes, Cathy, just like those little porcelain eggs your mother loved so much," he grinned despite himself. At another time, he would have questioned his daughter as to how she had come to obtain such an object. Now, it didn't matter. It obviously comforted the girl. "Now," he commanded, seeing her yawn widely, "Why don't we go home, and see what else we can remember, hmm?"

A sleepy nod, and the man hefted the girl more securely in his arms, as the limo driver gracefully opened the passenger door, a warm smile of sorts on his own face. The two disappeared into the limo, the driver crisply shut the door and got in his own seat, shifted the still-running car into gear, and started off into the night.

Vincent blinked, the car headlights now out of his eyes, and knowing he wouldn't be seen, stepped out onto the grass occupied moments ago by the girl and the man. He watched the taillights fade into the distance, and he sighed contentedly. The girl would be all right, he prophesied with a light heart. With an obviously caring father, she would have help through her sorrow. Comforted by this, his eyes slid from the car, blocks away by now, to the grass--and his eyes widened, for there on the wet ground was the white porcelain egg that the girl--Catherine, he whispered to himself--had obviously dropped as her father had carried her to the car. Alarm rose in his throat, and in one fluid movement he picked up the precious thing and started after the car, stopping after a few steps. Now that, he admonished himself helplessly, would be foolish. It was one thing to wander around the park, a familiar place, a safe place, and quite another to chase a car through the busy streets of Manhattan.

No, he sighed, he'd have to forego that thought. And with a slight grin, he remembered Father's words about walking around the park, and how the words spoken to him were as Catherine's father had talked to her, gentle, caring, wanting only the best. Holding the porcelain carefully in one clawed hand, he knew the futility of trying to find a little girl named Catherine in a city of millions. Sighing yet again, he wondered what else he could do with such an intricate, and obviously expensive, piece of art...

Vincent, a few years older, was dressing yet again for another night of ''rounds'' in the park. Father looked on, with much dissatisfaction evident on his face, as Vincent slipped his heavy cloak over his back, and secured it closed over his chest. He looked at Father with a set expression in his blue eyes, and turned to leave his chamber. Father inhaled and exhaled sharply, and Vincent turned to regard the man.

Leaning on his walking staff, the elder man glowered. "I don't suppose there's anything I could say that would stop you from doing this, Vincent?" The pain in his voice made the words biting this day.

Vincent shook his head sadly. "No, Father, there is not." And he moved, again, as if to leave. But stopped.

Father looked at the great cloaked being before him expectantly. Vincent moved, this time toward Father. The man once known as Jacob Wells stood, waiting, wondering. Vincent took Father's unresisting left hand into both his gloved ones, holding it in comfort, and, yes, gratitude.

Pressing a small object into his Father's palm, Vincent pressed his face closer to his ear, and whispered, "Father, thank you for raising me from a babe," Father's eyes widened at this unexpected speech, but said nothing. "You took me under your wing, taught me everything you know, showed me a world of friends, and of family," and Father nodded mutely, "but I must be allowed to leave the nest at times..." Vincent pulled away quickly, squeezing his father's hand before turning on his heel and striding out of the chamber.

Father looked after his son with much bemusement, stammered the start of a question, shrugged, and looked down to see a white porcelain egg in his hand.

--

The story came about because I had reflected upon the way that Vincent spoke Catherine's name in the pilot episode, as if he were drawing upon some long ago memory, rather than meeting her for the first time.

This was originally posted in CyberDreams II: Tappings from the BBTV Pipes, a fanzine the content of which was donated by quite a few of the artists and writers on the discussion group BBTV, in 1999.