(Disclaimer: fanfiction based on Ron Koslow's Beauty and the Beast series starred by Linda Hamilton y Ron Perlman, 1987)
"Charles, what a surprise!" Peter smiled somewhat forcedly.
On the other side of the door, there was Charles's entire family. Precisely now.
"I'm sorry I didn't call first" Charles looked uncomfortable.
Beside him, Charles's wife. Her gaze on Peter looked already puzzled. Of course, not to let them in immediately was a bit out of character; with a furtive glance to the packages, he freed the way for his unexpected visitors.
"It's just that Cathy needed a bathroom" Charles kept explaining, "and we were closeby so…"
A five-years-old blond girl stepped in, blushing, head down, and Peter's heart melted. This baby girl he had helped into the world was already a very self-conscious young lady. Her emerald eyes looked at him just for a moment and averted the gaze in shame.
"Hello, Cathy! Of course you can use my bathroom. You know the way."
The girl ran there. Her mother looked as if she was deciding if she must go with her, but stayed, holding a little elephant in one hand and a coat in the other.
"Come, sit down. Do you want a drink? Water? Soda?"
"No, we're fine, thank you. We're on our way back home. After such long vacations, Cathy misses the comfort of her own bedroom. Very much."
"I do too."
Everyone laughed. And their attention was driven to more convenient subjects, until they heard a childlike voice.
"Are you moving, uncle Peter?"
Everyone turned to Catherine, whose intelligent gaze was on the boxes. Peter's eyes narrowed slightly. Charles had been politely overlooking them, but once asked…
"Do you need some help with those packages?"
Hiding an anxious sigh, Peter answered.
"No, Cathy, I'm just… kind of cleaning up… And don't worry, Charles: I'm getting some help."
"It's a lot of trash."
"That's all right, Charles. It's not trash, Cathy: I'm deciding what to give to some friends."
"I didn't know you were such a philanthropist."
Everyone turned to Caroline. It was obvious from whom Cathy had inherited her curiosity.
"There are old friends, and they are building something great."
"Like what?" Cathy asked, little hand now in Peter's knee, eyes shining with curiosity. "A castle?"
To speak about questioning…
"Do you love your family, little Cathy?"
"I do" she said seriously, making her parents smile.
"There are people who don't have a family, so my friends are building a big one for them. It promises to be an entirely different world, I hope you can enjoy it sometime. And as uses to happen in the construction of everything great, they would need some help."
While he spoke, she had taken her toy from her mother's hand and was now hugging it, but she had never taken her eyes from Peter's. She recognized a good story, he thought, smiling. However, he was too close to violate his vow, so he stopped.
"It sounds wonderful, Peter" Charles stated.
"It's even better."
"I'd like to help too. Can I?"
Peter hesitated. It wasn't his secret to share, he'd need permission, and anyway Charles moved in entirely different circles.
"If you want to… But you live so far away… I wouldn't let you drive all the way here just for that."
Both men paused, then the woman intervened.
"I'll tell you what: I'll leave a bag for them."
"You couldn't!" Peter started. "You have personal things there…"
"I have nothing inside that I'd really miss as much as this opportunity."
"You should at least go through them… Charles!"
But Charles was smiling.
"You know my wife has the biggest of hearts" he took the woman's hand with as much love as he would have put in a kiss. "It seems that you friends have the same sort of thing beating in their chests. I'm not that generous, but I'll give you some money for them."
"You are being too generous, Charles." Overwhelming, in fact. Peter would rather decline that sort of help, but it wasn't for himself: people Below would benefit from it. He expected that, even if the family insisted in meeting those friends, the Council would approve; they'd make good Helpers, too. As they said: God made them, and they got together.
Cathy was the only one who didn't smile. She knew her parents were doing a very good thing, and she couldn't do the same! She couldn't offer a bag, or money, since she had none of it. Her father wouldn't let her give away anything she was wearing, not even her coat, even if she wasn't cold. What would she give? Frowning, she looked at the elephant in her hand… and it gave her the answer.
"I'll give them Alfred."
Everyone froze. Catherine had been inseparable from this toy for so much time that no one remembered when of where she had got it.
"Catherine, you don't have to give anything."
Yet, Catherine was already handing the elephant to Peter, while wearing her best stubborn expression, even being tears in her eyes. She really loved Alfred, he was her best friend. Yet, it seemed that someone else needed a friend. She repressed the urge to hold Alfred one last time, and she didn't look to Alfred's eyes, dreading her weakness. Her offering arms just trembled once, when Peter touched Alfred's soft skin.
"Alfred would be OK, right?"
"It'll be much loved. I know exactly who would be its new human friend."
Peter had more than enough help to carry the supplies Below. Yet, he carried Cathy's special gift personally.
"You can trust them, Father. I promise" he pleaded, once alone with Father in his study.
"I don't know, Peter. A lawyer?"
"A lawyer's family. I know you can't trust lawyers easily; I know what they did to you."
In fact, Father looked away, surely trying to suppress the awakening of memories far too painful. He had lost too much at the law's hands.
"But Charles… he's different. They are really generous… and they could help so much…"
"You know it has never been about funds."
"I know. However, they'd be great Helpers."
"Father, you called me?" a boy's voice arose from just outside the chamber.
"Yes. Come inside, Vincent, please."
A strange child entered the room. At first view, he'd seem more lion than human; yet, he walked erect and wore his old-fashioned clothing with elegance. There was a seriousness in his eyes that shouldn't be in such a little child, and equally atypical was his way of speaking, from his words to his voice.
"Peter, I am very glad you are here. Thank you for your help."
The strength in the child's hug was already amazing.
"I'm sorry I interrupted your study, Vincent" Peter apologized.
"It is fine. I was just reading."
"I ended it last week. I am finishing Tom Sawyer."
Peter looked at Father's proud expression for a moment, and smiled.
"I brought a very special gift for you, Vincent."
Then the elephant came forward, and the boy's eyes softened making him look like a child all of a sudden. Peter's heart melt. There weren't so many toys at the Tunnels. This one was an old thing, nearly broken, but what Vincent was seeing in the toy wasn't its cost, but its value.
"Its name is Alfred. It was the best friend to a little girl who's very dear to me. It wasn't easy for her to part from it, but she did. For you."
Vincent's hands brushed the toy and suddenly stopped moving, then he let them fall beside his body.
"I must not accept it."
His eyes suddenly avoided the gift, pain in his frown. Peter and Father looked at each other, frowning, too.
"I just felt how much loved it was" he stated, attracting the adults' attention. Peter panted in surprise. Moments like these made him aware of how unaccustomed he was to Vincent's gifts. "It is too precious for me. It is owed to the little ones."
It was difficult to find an answer for that. Father put his hands on the child's shoulders and found his eyes.
"It's very generous, my son. I'm very proud of you for that. But you are the only child here who doesn't have any toy."
"I have the carousel…"
"… because no one wanted the broken thing Devin brought, and you yourself fixed it. And you nearly gave it to Winslow last Monday."
"I know nearly everything down here."
"You are the only one capable of taking care of Alfred" Peter interrupted. "I promised it would be much loved and taken care of. The little ones wouldn't appreciate it that much, and it would get broken."
Vincent's hungry gaze went to the toy again. Clawed hands stretched to seize it. Cat-like nose moved slightly, smelling the fresh, girly scent the white fabric had kept from its previous owner. He hugged the little, precious thing, and for a moment he felt completely happy.
"Thank you" he said in deep, meaningful voice that reached his eyes. "Tell the girl it means much to me. Would she want to meet Alfred again, I would have no problem in arranging a date."
Peter's hand sank in the boy's mane.
"It's very thoughtful of you, Vincent."
The boy's eyes were always a piece of sky, but tonight it also seemed like heaven.
Father hugged the boy in pretty much the same way he was hugging the elephant.
"Go to bed, my son. Don't speak with Alfred for too long."
"Good night, Father. Good night, Peter."
He ran to his chamber through deep, lightened tunnels. It was easy for him to see, in darkness as in light. Still, he stepped into the place carefully, the elephant so tightly hugged that it seemed nearly part of his vest. Sitting on the bed, he looked into the toy's eyes for a long while, absorbing its looks. Just then, he dared say:
"Hello, Alfred. I am so sorry we have been discussing your future so rudely in front of you. I will take good, good care of you" his voice became a whisper "until your girlfriend claims you, then I promise I would let you go… although I would really, really want to keep in touch with you."
His eyes devoured the precious toy, as his nose absorbed the essence he had already felt, and his hands enjoyed the softness of the elephant's "skin".
"You are really beautiful, you know? I wonder who your girl human was. She must be beautiful too."
That was the first night Catherine slept tearlessly without Alfred. She felt, in the depth of her soul, a singular peace, like a happiness that wasn't really hers.