Archie universe. I do not go into great detail in this story, but the detail is not important. Fill in the small details for yourself and the story will make some sense. You should know after a paragraph or two who I am referring to, though I never mention any names - except one. Written a long time ago... just after the world stopped turning in September of 2001.


That place that they called Central Park could have best been passed off as an oasis for those who wanted to put the everyday terrors of Manhattan far behind. He went there often, hiding from life, hiding from himself - wishing that maybe things could somehow be different, that the world would not be so frightening. And he had felt much of that fear; had lived through it and gone on, with family and friends to hold him up when he though he would fall. Though even the strongest arms could not keep him from his knees at times - they were still there to help him to stand.

He didn't know why it was so hard to keep his heart held tight - why those that laughed the loudest also were condemned to cry the hardest. And that had been him, time and again. He needed no more searching for an answer to his mystery, he knew that the answer had been with him all along - but he had not seen it past his own tears. He sat on the roots of a tree and stared at his wrists, scarred years before out of what he though was an ultimate loss- that of his own pride and hope, the result of the bindings that held him. But then he had lost more to fate - and still he managed to go on - still he managed to fight back to his feet.

He stood and walked, his eyes staring at the ground and the leaves there that had just begun falling as autumn showed its presence. He pushed his hands into the pockets of his long jacket and exhaled, his breath clouding in the fresh, crisp air. He smiled, feeling somehow warm even in the chill. He stopped in his steps and the crunching of leaves beneath his feet ceased as he listened to the faint sound as it drifted towards him. It was familiar, but different - like a memory from some dream. He followed the sound and it grew clearer - becoming the sobs of a child lost.

He found her cowering in the shade of the trees, deep within the city woods. She looked up at him and wiped her little nose with the sleeve of the rag that passed for a dress. She was a mutant, as different from humans as he and his brothers, and through her projected sadness, he felt close to her in their hearts. Her eyes flowed with lonely tears and he walked up to her, fearing that she would run away from such a stranger. She stood - but did not run. Tilting her small head to the side, she stepped closer to him and held out her arms, tiny and thin as they were.

He sat beside her and she crawled into his lap, trying to slide under his jacket for some warmth. He wrapped his arms around her and felt her shivering subside, then she looked up into his eyes and smiled.

"What are you doing out here all alone, little one?" he asked. "Do you have parents?"

She shook her head and pressed her cold nose to his cheek. She was young, maybe only three years old. Plainly she had been left there alone, forced into the cold to live on her own. But so young - that life would not be long. He unbuttoned his jacket and she slid inside, then he wrapped it around them both and stood. It would be useless to try and find her parents, the ones who had left her without shoes, without hope. She could stay with him - him and his family. However his brothers might feel at first, they would accept her in time.

He took her home and fed her, giving her warm clothes and a bed to sleep in. He needn't have worried about how his brothers would react, they felt for her nearly the same as he had that first moment when her helpless face had come into his view. They took turns watching her, teaching her what they each knew best. He took it upon himself to give her a name, calling her Danielle - because he liked the sound. She smiled the first time he said it.

Through the winter, over Christmas, and to the beginning of spring she stayed with them - learning from them and teaching them almost as much. She learned to speak, but did not do so with her adopted uncles as with her new daddy. Though he loved her deeply, he still searched for her family nearly every day. He would go out into Central Park and walk, keeping his eyes open and his ears focused on the slightest sound. Nothing ever arrived, no one ever claimed her.

He knew that if it weren't for him and his family, she would have been lost to the elements at the beginning of the winter that had just passed. If he had not found her she would have died there, in the cold center of the city woods. Unknown, unloved - alone. Even he would have not known about her and his life would have gone on as it always had - one day at a time. Knowing love, but not this kind. He was a father to Danielle by choice - and fate would have had it no other way. Every day he thanked whatever powers that might have been watching from on high - he thanked them for his child. How complete his life had become in those short months - how empty it would have been without her.

But he hurt deep inside, knowing that she would have to hide like he and his brothers, outcast from a world that didn't want to see their faces. He hung his head in prayer one evening, though it was not his custom to do so. He kneeled by her bed as she slept quietly and asked heaven above that she would one day be able to live in a peaceful world, where life was for living and not for hiding. The next day she woke up in tears, her little body shaking. His brothers tried to get her to say what was wrong, but she did not want to tell them. She waited for her father to come home from the park then she crawled up into his arms again.

"What's wrong, baby?" he asked, wiping tears from her cheeks.

"My head hurts, daddy," she told him.

He smiled and kissed her on the forehead, then laid her back down in her bed. "Just sleep for a while, honey," he said, covering her up to her chin in a thin blanket. "You'll be better in a little while."

Later in the day she was running around and playing - evening came and she went to bed happy. But in the morning she woke crying again. For a week that went on, each morning she would tell him that her head hurt. He gave her medicine, but it did not help - nothing seemed to help. As spring wore on, two weeks and then three, he and his brothers sought to find a cause to Danielle's pain. She would no longer sleep alone, instead curling up next to her daddy as the day ended. He would wake before her and hold her close, knowing that as soon as her eyes opened she would be crying.

Spring flowed into summer and they knew there was nothing more that they could do. His brothers came up with a solution, but he would not accept it. He would not give her away, not after waiting his whole life to find her. She put her arms around his neck one day and stared into his face, tears on tiny cheeks and pain in her baby eyes. Somehow it was that moment alone that told him what he had to do. He could not be selfish and let her suffer because of his not wanting to be without her. Danielle was his child, and to ease her pain he would have to give her away to those who could care better for her.

They found a place, somewhere that she could go to be cared for. But they would not hold her, would not wipe away her tears. They might be able to help her, but they wouldn't love her. He dressed her and told her where they were going, that she would never be able to see him again. She cried, as young as she was, she understood. She crawled into his lap like that first day he had met her, that morning in the park. A song came into his mind, something that he and she had sung together time and again when Christmas was nigh. This time he sung it alone- whispered words, soft and gentle...

"When the mountain touches the valley

All the clouds are taught to fly

'Cause our Souls will leave this land

Most peacefully

Though our minds be filled with questions

In our hearts we'll understand

When the river meets the sea..."

She fell asleep in his arms and he carried her to the park, laying her at the foot of the same tree where she had cried that day. Now, though, the leaves were green and the sky the bright blue of early summer. He kissed her on the head one last time and walked away, watching from a distance as the strangers came and found her there, where their anonymous call had said she would be. It broke his heart seeing how the strangers lifted her with gloved hands, afraid of what she was.

He turned his back and walked away, listening for her cry, forcing himself to leave her with those people that did not love her. He wondered if it was worth it - forcing her to live without love just so that she could live at all. He returned to his brothers' sides. They were all silent, unknowing what had become of little Danielle. Time passed and life went on, but he never knew - his imagination struggling with images that he could not confirm. He swore that some day he would find out, that he would discover what had become of his child. And maybe she would come back to his arms, singing the same song he whispered into her ear that last time his voice went out to her.

He walked down to the park one day the next July and sat at the base of the tree, leaning back and staring at the sky. Past the waving leaves he saw the sun, and a winter song played in his mind despite the summer heat. He closed his eyes and whispered the words along:

"..Thus the winds of time will take us

With a sure and steady hand

When the river meets the sea..."