16

The Best of Times and the Worst of Times

By Southofoz

Summary: Vincent and Catherine go on a mercy mission and they find something they didn't expect. (This story was inspired by Brothers and Remember Love and takes place at the end of A Distant Shore) It is a Classic rated G.

"It was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness

It was the spring of Hope, it was the winter of Despair"

Charles Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities)

*****

He hurried through Central Park to the culvert and the hidden door, flipped the switch and the wall slid aside. He hurried through the outer tunnels and tapped out a message on the first pipe he came to, it wasn't long before he heard footsteps. Looking up he saw a shadowed figure coming toward him.

*****

Vincent heard the message from Jason, the park sentry concerning someone in the outer tunnels. At the same time he heard a familiar name on the pipes. He hurried to where the newcomer would be waiting.

The man he met there had changed a great deal since Vincent had last seen him. He was thinner and his face was shrouded by a dark beard, but even if he wasn't wearing his favorite leather jacket, Vincent would have known him anywhere.

"Devin?" he whispered.

Devin came forward and embraced his little brother, slapping him on the back. "Vincent! Oh God I'm glad to see you," He said into Vincent's cloaked shoulder.

"What is it Devin? You look terrible."

Devin laughed with irony, "I can always rely on you to state the simple facts little brother. The truth is I've had a bad couple of days and I've been driving for hours."

Sensing his brother's disquiet, Vincent stepped back and asked, "What is it, Devin? Where's Charles?"

Devin's expression darkened and he declared flatly. "Charles was arrested."

*****

A short time later, Vincent stood beside Father's chair, while Devin paced the room.

"What do you mean he's been arrested Devin?" Father asked with concern.

Devin stopped and ran a hand through his thick hair before saying. "He loved at that lake Chandler told us about. I got a job as a Ranger. It came with a remote cabin and Charles was free to wander without being seen. He'd been going for long walks. I was glad at first, and then one day he came back so happy. I asked him why he was so cheerful but he said it was a secret. He knew to avoid the town and people, so I said nothing to discourage him, even though I was a little worried. God knows Charles of all people deserves a little happiness so I said no more about it."

He stopped pacing, as a thought struck him. "Maybe I should have made him tell me?"

"Please, Devin, go on." Vincent prompted gently.

"Three days ago he went missing. I thought he may have fallen or gotten lost, so I went searching for him. He couldn't have gone far, but there was no sign of him. I went into the town the next morning and everyone was talking about this 'monster' that had been caught chasing a little girl, the Sheriff's daughter. She's six years old. They'd caught him and thrown him in the local Jail."

"Dear God." Father moaned, putting his head in his hands. "To be put back in a cage."

"Did you get to speak with Charles, Devin? How is he?" Vincent knew that Devin didn't need to be reminded of such a painful memory.

Distractedly Devin said, "Yeah, he was in bad shape. They'd roughed him up a bit, but I told them I was his guardian. Had to show them the papers Chandler got Eddy to sign, giving me custody of Charles. He was terrified and couldn't understand what was happening." Devin's fearful eyes went to Vincent.

"What did Charles say?" Father prompted, "About the little girl I mean?"

"Oh you know Charles; he wouldn't hurt a fly, not on purpose. He said he'd met this little girl in the woods one day and she wasn't frightened of him. She called him Mr. Mountain. She thought he made the thunder up in the mountains. Her mother had told her a story, to stop her being frightened of storms. Becky her name is, I've met her a couple of times, she's a cute kid. Anyway Charles said they would play hide-and-seek or she would tell Charles stories. That was why he was so happy. He'd found a friend. Charles is like a kid himself. He said that they were playing hide-and-seek when her mother must have come looking for her. She'd heard Becky scream and saw her running. She thought the worst of course and her father jumped to the same conclusion."

"How can we help, Devin?" Vincent asked gently.

"I went to Chandler's Apartment but she wasn't there, and I called the office and they said she was out of town. I thought maybe you might know where she is. I could use her help."

"Catherine is in California, working on a case. She should be back any day," Vincent said.

Devin began pacing again, his hand combing through his hair once more. "I was hoping she'd be here, there isn't much time."

Vincent moved over to where Devin stood, and placing a comforting hand on his shoulder, he spoke gently. "Don't worry Devin, Catherine will be back soon and then she will go with you to help Charles."

"You have to come too Vincent!" Devin said emphatically, his tired eyes meeting his brother's.

Knowing what had happened the last time he had tried to go away with Catherine; Vincent looked in Father's direction, "Devin I …"

"Vincent you have to come. I haven't told you everything!"

Father spoke then, his attitude revealing nothing to Devin of what was on his mind, but Vincent saw his jaw tighten and knew he was not going to give in easily, "Sit down Devin and tell us."

Devin folded himself into the nearest chair. "This morning, Charles escaped … I don't know how, but Becky is missing to." He turned tired, pleading eyes to his brother. "The search party found no sign and had given up for the day when I left. Where they're looking is full of caves and gullies. They're going to start again at dawn tomorrow. I need you to help me find them Vincent, while Cathy deals with the legal stuff."

"Devin that's impossible!" Father declared emphatically, "Vincent can't leave the tunnels, or the city, you know that."

His enforced seclusion from the world Above, for the second time in his life almost more than he could bear, Vincent became more determined to help Devin and he turned to face Father. "Father, this is Charles. He and Devin need my help and I must do all I can to provide it."

"Vincent, you can't really entertain such an idea…" Father declared rising to his feet.

A long and loud argument followed this statement, but in the end with possibly Charles' and a little girl's life in the balance, Father had to relent. There was no choice. Vincent would go with Devin when Catherine returned.

*****

That night, as he held the shell she had sent him; Vincent dreamt that Catherine was in danger. In desperation he called out to her in his sleep.

The next day Devin came into Father's study after a short trip Above and told them. "I called a friend in town for news. There's no sign of them yet."

"Then you will go as planned." Father was not happy but he had exhausted all his arguments.

"Yeah as soon as Chandler gets back," turning toward Vincent, both men noticed he was staring into space.

"Vincent? Vincent!" Father called

Suddenly Vincent's head came up. "She's coming back. She's coming back…" he declared excitedly and without another word he ran from the room.

Father and Devin shared a look, and a smile.

Vincent was on Catherine's balcony waiting when she returned. She flew into his arms and told him that she had heard him call out to her, that he had saved her life. They were both astounded by the growing bond between them and they embraced. Later as they sat against the wall, wrapped in Vincent's cloak, simply enjoying each other's company, Vincent told Catherine about Devin's dilemma.

When he had finished his tale she sat up suddenly, "I'll come Below at once. Just give me a minute to change and tell Joe I'm taking some time off. God knows I deserve it, and then I'll be right with you," and she began moving out of his arms.

Vincent pulled her gently back toward him. "No. Catherine, you have just returned from a grueling four days. Rest, we will leave in a few hours."

"We?" she asked in surprise, resisting his embrace for a moment, as she looked down at him.

He smiled, looking away, "Yes, Devin needs my help to locate Charles."

"But Vincent, what if Father was right? What if something happens, what if you're seen?"

He stopped her with a look, "Catherine. I must go. This is not just for pleasure. A dear friend needs my help – our help. Am I to ignore his need because of fear for my own safety?"

"No, I suppose not. "Then she studied him for a moment. "You're not afraid are you?"

He shook his head and took her hand looking down, examining it with his fingers as he spoke. "I won't lie to you Catherine; I am somewhat anxious but afraid, no. I once feared so many things," then his eyes met hers, and in the light from the apartment they seemed to glow. "Then I found you Catherine, and so many of my fears have been replaced with the promise of new experiences. You once told me that it was a little frightening when our dreams begin to come true, and although it is alarming what has happened to Charles. Whatever happens will only be another experience to add to a growing number."

She smiled down at him and came back into his arms, resting her head on his shoulder. "I guess we get to see that lake after all."

"Hmmm." He murmured, pressing his lips to the top of her head.

*****

Devin had parked his black van as close to the manhole as he could, with the side door open. The back of the van was more like a small bus, fitted with a bench seat as well as a place for Charles to lay or sit down as Devin drove.

Devin had picked Catherine up from her apartment. Now with the motor running, they were waiting for Vincent to emerge from the closest tunnel entrance in a back alley.

Suddenly there was the sound of the manhole cover being moved. Moments later the van rocked and the door was slid shut and Vincent's voice murmured a hurried. "Let's go."

Devin gunned the engine and Catherine turned to Vincent. It was thrilling, and yet frightening to see him sitting on the seat behind her, his face shadowed by his hood. She watched him, worried, until they passed a streetlamp and she saw that his eyes were avidly taking in every detail of the passing view, and he was smiling. Catherine relaxed. Vincent was enjoying himself. He was like a child on his first road trip.

Vincent's thoughts were chaotic, a mixture of fear and excitement. He had stood at the base of the metal ladder for uncounted minutes, overcoming a lifetime's caution and unnamed fears. Until finally, in one swift move, he had hurried up the ladder and entered the van. His quick 'let's go' was to stop him from having any second thoughts.

He had half expected Father to send someone with an excuse to stop him, but at last he was on his way to a place he had never seen before. He could hardly breathe with excitement, as he watched the streetlights fly by and he felt exhilarated. Being inside a moving object, instead of on the roof, was a refreshing change.

"How're you doin, back there lil' brother?" Devin asked with a grin, and a quick look back.

"It's less drafty than a train." Vincent said matter-of-fact, smiling in return, and feeling like a young boy again.

Devin laughed and Catherine said. "If the situation wasn't so grave I'd say you were enjoying yourself."

Vincent settled himself more comfortably, "We have a long drive ahead of us Catherine and I intend to enjoy every moment." then he looked out the window as he left his home far behind.

*****

It was still dark when they arrived. They followed a bumpy dirt track, until at last Devin pulled the van up to a small log cabin in thick woodland.

"This is the most isolated of the cabins. There's a stream not far away and the lake is just over the hill. The fishing season's just finished, so it's pretty deserted around here." as he spoke he opened the side door for Vincent, who climbed out with only the slightest hesitation.

Vincent's senses were suddenly assailed with the sounds and smells all around him. He stood still, his face lifted to the night sky, his eyes closed and he was taking deep breaths.

"Vincent?" Catherine asked as she came closer to him, touching his cloak-covered arm.

"Catherine. This is breathtaking. The smells, the sounds …"

But before he could enjoy this new experience, Devin spoke as he took a small pack from the front seat, "Well that's why I brought you little brother, to use those extra senses of yours. Now come on, I think I might know which way they went." and he threw the pack over his shoulder and began to walk away.

"Devin, wait!" Catherine called after him. "What do you think you're doing? You can't both just go off into the night. What if they've moved the search this far out, what if they've found them already, shouldn't we call to check first?"

Devin stopped and turned back to her, "The search party suspended the search at sundown. There's too much dangerous country and wild animals around here to be wandering at night unless – like me, you know it pretty well and have a secret weapon." And he slapped Vincent on the shoulder. "Besides I called when Vincent was with you. They hadn't found anything."

"Well what's going to happen when the sun comes up?" Catherine was terrified for Vincent's safety, but didn't want to voice her fears.

"Its like this Chandler, there's this little something that happens every morning around here it's what we call 'Day Time'. I know these woods and we won't get lost, you worry too much."

Vincent laughed softly, no doubt too excited to be concerned, but Catherine was worried enough for both of them and got angry. "Devin! It's not funny what if Vincent is seen?"

Devin came close to her, putting a hand on each shoulder, "This is a very remote part of the woods. Charles has been wandering around here for months and hasn't been seen. And Vincent has certain advantages he didn't."

"Yeah, and look where that got Charles." Catherine said, looking away from him.

"Look Chandler, you came to help Charles too, and your skill is the law. At 9am drive the van back the way we came. The road is rough but it's clearly marked. Go to the town and find the courthouse. I'm sure you know what to do from there." At Catherine's angry moan he said brightly, "Trust me Chandler. Vincent always has, haven't you lil' brother?" he slapped Vincent's shoulder again.

Vincent gave Devin a look but said nothing and then coming close to Catherine he placed a calming hand over hers, "It will be all right Catherine. Devin knows these woods and I can sense that we are the only humans in the vicinity." He pulled her into his arms and put his chin on top of her head. "I will be all right Catherine, please don't worry."

She buried her face in his cloak, breathing in the familiar scent of him and held him tight. "Be careful Vincent."

He nuzzled the top of her head and murmured. "I will." And moving away from her, he turned to follow Devin into the night.

"Trust him he says." Catherine said angrily as they disappeared. "We come all the way out here, in the middle of the night and he says 'trust me'. I'd sooner trust a rattle snake." and then she went into the cabin still talking to herself.

*****

As they ran through the woods, Vincent was filled with euphoria. He was running through an untamed wilderness, his every sense attuned to the world around him. He would stop now and then, searching for any sign of Charles or any other humans. He had seen the woods at night before, but each time he had been so preoccupied by rescuing Catherine, that he had never been able to savor the experience. Now amid his concern for Charles he was able to do just that.

Some time later, Vincent sensed humanity. He stopped. "Devin?" he called to his brother, who was just ahead of him.

"What?"

"We are nearing the town."

Devin came back to him, "I know."

Vincent gave his brother a stern look. "Devin?" suspicion in his voice.

Devin was silent for a moment, and then sighed before saying, "We have to go through the town."

Vincent was shocked. "Why?"

"I didn't want to tell you this before, but the trail the search party was following was on the other side of town."

Vincent looked all around him, controlling his fear, anger and frustration. "Why didn't you tell me this before?"

"I knew you wouldn't want to go so near the town." At Vincent's sudden agitation, Devin went on hurriedly, "Look, its still dark and the search won't start again until dawn in about 4 hours. If we hurry we can find Charles and get him and you back to the cabin before then, and then you go back to the city and no one is the wiser. C'mon little brother this will work I know it will."

Knowing it was too late now for angry recriminations, Vincent asked. "How large is the town?"

"Not large. One main street and a few out lying homes about 300 people, if we hurry we can be through it in about ten minutes."

"We had best hurry then." Vincent murmured and turned in the direction of the town. With his cloak flying behind him Vincent took the lead, skirting any homes. Dogs barked and the smell of humanity was all around him, it was very different from that of New York. It seemed longer than ten minutes, but once through, it took little time to be back in thick woodland, and he began to relax a little.

They had been traveling for about an hour when Vincent stopped. He lifted his head but said nothing.

"What is it?" Devin asked

"Blood."

"Where?"

Vincent started walking slowly forward.

"Is it them?"

"No it's not human blood." he stopped and looked down, "Here."

Pulling a torch out of his pack, Devin shone it on the ground to reveal the sable body of a large cat. It looked like its neck had been broken; blood was seeping from its nose.

"There've been reports of a wild cat in the area." Devin murmured

"Hmm," Vincent was looking around the body and murmured, "There's a trail of blood." and he began following an irregular trail, then he stopped again. "I hear a child crying."

"Where …?" But before Devin finished the word, Vincent was pounding through the woods, and Devin had to run hard to keep up with him.

Vincent ran toward the sound, following the scent of the blood. Then the sent was lost as they came to a quickly flowing stream. He stopped, closing his eyes and using all his senses and suddenly he felt the child, and she was not alone. He ran through the stream and up a hill on the other side until he came to a thick corps of trees. He almost fell down a hidden gully, but his quick reflexes and night sight warned him.

Devin came panting up behind him, and with a strong hand to his chest, Vincent stopped him from suffering the same fate as Charles and the little girl.

"Where are they? I can hear her now, but can't see a thing?" Devin whispered

"They are in a hollow between two rocks, hidden by thick brush. They must have fallen … and either the child, or Charles, is bleeding badly."

"Stay back, I'll talk to her." Devin whispered. As he moved passed Vincent he pointed the torch into the bushes, searching for the fissure in the rock.

"Becky?" he called softly.

"Help me, he's hurt." A child's frightened voice called from the darkness.

"Are you okay Becky?"

"Yes, but I can't wake up Mr. Mountain. We were playing, only playing. He wasn't going to hurt me. He is kind and gentle. No one would listen to me! My daddy left the key out, and when he was gone I let Mr. Mountain out the back door, and we ran away. He fought with a big cat to save me and now he's hurt real bad." She had said it all in a rush as though Devin was going to blame Charles, then she began to cry louder.

"Don't cry Becky, it'll be all right. I'll go get help, and then we'll get you out and look after Mr. Mountain, okay honey?"

"Okay." She answered in a small frightened voice.

Devin turned to Vincent. "You'd better go back to Chandler, it'll be sunup soon. I can handle it from here."

"But Charles, I can help get him out."

"No, Vincent, I don't want Becky to see you. I know what happened now. Charles will be okay. Go back and tell Cathy that everything will be all right. I'll go and get help. Lucky I brought you; no one would have found them in that gully but you, the dogs would have been useless."

With assurances to Becky that he would not be long, they hurried back to the town. At its outskirts, when the grey of morning was lightening their way, Devin stopped and turned to Vincent, "I'll go get help; you go and moon over Chandler for a while. The cabin's fully stocked, and no one will come up there. I'm gonna have to stay in town to be here for Charles anyway. I'll give Chandler a call and tell her what happened, when I get Charles to the hospital." He slapped his brother on the shoulder and added, "Make the most of the freedom little brother. I'll see you in about a week." There was a double meaning in Devin's last words, but Vincent dared not dream too much.

"Very well I will see you then." Vincent said and reluctantly, yet with a growing excitement at the prospect of a week alone with Catherine, Vincent hurried through the town.

*****

As he made his way back to the cabin and Catherine, Vincent noticed that the sun was beginning to rise, and at first he began to hurry, an urgency speeding his process – a lifelong habit taking over. Then a thought struck him, and he stopped. He realized that he was far away from the town now, and the city, and people and the constraints that he had lived by all his life suddenly fell away.

He smiled, a feeling of freedom and joy coming over him. He looked around taking in everything. The smells, the sounds, the sight of the sun peeping through the trees, then with a sudden thought he ran to the nearby hill.

His cloak flew behind him, his booted feet pounded on the verdant ground, and with the clean fresh air in his lungs and blowing through his hair, he felt more alive than he had his entire life.

Then he came to the edge of the woodland.

For a moment he hesitated, before stepping out into daylight – for the first time in his life he went toward the sunrise instead of running from it. His senses were on high alert, but his attention was on the warmth of the morning sun on his face.

He walked slowly up the hill, removing, first his cloak and throwing it over his shoulder. Then the grey vest and cream tunic followed, until by the time he reached the summit, he was wearing only a light, cream sweater.

He dropped his clothes on the ground and stood surveying the surrounding countryside, taking in a huge lungful of fresh country air. He could see the lake in the distance and the smoke coming through the trees not far ahead, where the cabin, and Catherine, waited.

As he stood there he began to feel something rising within him, a need to express how he felt. Not in words, but in a more instinctive, primal way to voice his utter joy– for no words could convey how he felt.

He began to quiver, his breathing deepening, his lungs filling with the crisp morning air around him that was charged with life. He felt something bubbling up from deep within him, a need he had no name for. He raised his arms to the heavens, set his feet apart as a wild exaltation, in the form of a roar of triumph, burst from his throat, to echo throughout the woods.

He was free!

Vincent was truly free, in a way he had never dreamt of. The bright blue morning sky was above him and a wide open wilderness surrounded him, filling him with immense joy. He felt alive, truly alive, and invigorated, as though every cell in his body was singing. The heat of the rising sun bathed his body in light and caused the blood in his veins to speed through his body like molten fire.

As his triumphant cry echoed throughout the lake country, a deer in a nearby glen lifted her head unafraid, but smaller creatures scurried to their burrows or high into trees. The people of the town did not notice, they were all listening to the story of the valiant Mr. Mountain, who had fought off a wild cat to save a little girl.

Catherine, sitting on the couch in Devin's cabin, heard Vincent's roar and ran to the door, stopping on the porch. At first she was concerned, but then she recognized what that sound truly meant, and she smiled and went back inside.

*****

When his exhilaration ebbed, Vincent watched the sun rise over the woodland for some time. He had removed his boots as he sat atop the hill. The tactile feel of the grass beneath his feet, yet another pleasant sensation he enjoyed, as he surveying the world around him. Then he felt Catherine's presence and turned to look down the hill as she emerged from the woods.

He had felt her concern for him some time ago, but then suddenly it was replaced with curiosity. He put on his boots and stood as she came closer. She had a brilliant smile on her face as she reached out her hand, and he took it and gently eased her toward him.

Looking up at him she said, "I hardly believed what I saw, when I looked up here." her eyes searched his face. "This is unbelievable, a dream come true."

He pulled her into his arms. "Yes it is." He said burying his face in her golden hair, breathing in its sweet fragrance of apples.

"Devin called about an hour ago." She murmured into his shoulder. "He said that Charles and the little girl are safe and in the hospital. He's pretty beat up, what with the police and the run in with the cat, but he'll be fine in a week or two and Becky only had a few bruises and exposure. According to Devin Charles is somewhat of a celebrity." then she nestled her cheek against his soft sweater.

"Hmmm, I am glad." Vincent said, as he placed his chin on top of her head, his gaze on the far distance.

"I heard you – call to the morning." There was a smile in her voice.

He laughed softly, feeling lighter of spirit than ever before. "I felt …"

"Free?" she said looking up at him.

Their eyes met, and he memorized the sight of her in the sunshine, the brilliance of her eyes, the warm flush of her cheeks, and the glow of her golden hair. "Yes."

"Devin said we have the cabin for the next week." there was such hope in her eyes and in her heart.

"Yes." He murmured looking away. Should he dare dream?

She turned in his arms, looking out on the picturesque view, "I can't think of a more beautiful place to be, even if it is only for a week."

Neither could he. He could feel her excitement and it matched his own but there was something that troubled him an old and constant fear. He was silent for a moment trying to gather the courage to speak. "Catherine …"

She turned quickly in his arms and put her fingers on his lips. "I know, 'we are something that has never been. And our journey is one that none have ever taken.'" Catherine said, repeating his words of a few weeks ago. She had heard them so often in her mind ever since. "I expect nothing of you Vincent. Nothing more than you are willing to give. We have had a precious gift given to us. One that may never come again, let's just enjoy every moment, and as we have always done we will measure our time together in a different way, and take whatever comes."

He looked down at her, his eyes in the sunlight, reflecting the color of the sky. "Yes, whatever comes." He lifted his gaze, looking into the distance, where the waters of the lake shimmered in the sunlight. "I knew that one day we would see that lake together Catherine."

She turned her head leaning, against his solid warmth as she looked at the lake. "Yes, maybe we can go there after breakfast." Then moving out of his arms she took his hand, "Come, I have breakfast ready and our first day has just begun."

"Yes our first day has begun." Vincent said with a sigh and a silent promise to return to this hill each morning at sunrise.

He bent and picked up his discarded clothing, and hand in hand they made their way slowly back down the hill to the cabin and the fulfillment of a dream.

*****

"They said of him, that day that it was the peacefullest man's face ever beheld there. Many added that he looked sublime …"