The little girl was screaming.
Even Tom Collins, who often remained secluded in his thoughts, could not help turn at the shrill pitched shriek that echoed down the street. Angel, who had been walking very close to him, instantly gripped his arm, turning to look at the frantic child.
Walking closer, he could see that the girl was tiny, maybe about four years old. Her parents had intended for her to be all girl, adorning her in a puffy pink jacket, with matching pink bows in her dirty-blonde hair.
Most of the busy New Yorkers swept by the screaming child without so much as a glance, but he could see the look in his Angel’s eyes, and he knew she was not about to leave this little one in hysterics.
Angel knelt at the child’s level, with some difficulty due to the heels she was wearing, and touched the girl’s arm. "Honey...what’s wrong?" she asked in a gentle voice. Collins stood, watching as more looked, now that they were involved.
"My...my...my daddy’s gone!" she shrieked. "I can’t find my daddy!"
"Honey, it’s all right, we’ll help you find him," Angel said in a soothing voice. She stood and took the girl by her hand. "What does your daddy look like sweetie?"
"He’s..." The girl stopped speaking, quiet. "I...he looks real plain. I dunno!"
"It’s all right," Angel soothed, moving to a bench, so they weren’t in the midst of the crowd. Collins followed, sitting, setting his large bag next to him. He watched Angel in amazement. "Sweetheart, can you tell us your name?" she asked patiently. Sighing, Angel pulled a tiny tissue out of her jacket pocket, and wiped at the girl’s face.
"Okay, Anna sweetheart, we’re going to look out for you until we find your daddy." Angel then looked to Collins with an concerned expression. He sighed, standing to look for the child’s father.
"Honey...what were you and your father doing?" Angel asked, sitting beside her, hoping to get a clue. Collins glanced down and could see the concern in Angel’s deep brown eyes. That was why he loved her, her deep concern for people, like this four year old child she did not know.
"He was shopping," she answered, now slightly less hysteric. Still her breath came out in tiny gasps.
"There are about thirty shops on this block," Angel muttered to Collins. "What was he buying?" she asked, her voice playful, childlike.
"He was buying...clothes...for my big brother..." Her words were punctuated with whimpering.
"Don’t worry, we’ll find him," Angel comforted, touching the child’s shoulder. She took the sobbing girl onto her lap. "I’m Angel, and this is Collins, and we live not too far from here. We know this place, we’ll find your daddy."
"Don’t you worry," Angel said, laughing lightly. "I’ve been lost before, when I was little..."
"You did?" the girls eyes were wide. Collins smiled to himself, watching as the girl went from upset to smiling. "Really?"
"I did," Angel told her, leaning close. "My daddy was worried about me too, but he found me."
The girl laughed. "I...I can’t believe you were a little girl," she said softly.
Angel winced slightly, an expression for nobody’s eyes, except for the man looking for the child’s father, who kept glancing back at Angel. Collins knew the baby girl’s innocent words had affected Angel.
"I was little," Angel supplied, grinning happily, covering the vulnerability the stinging words had caused.
Then Collins noticed a red faced man, looking rather flustered. He came running up to them, his face horror stricken. He swept the small child off of Angel’s lap, pulling her into his arms. His glare was dangerous. Collins jumped down from the rock he had made his look out post.
"Anna, honey, baby, girl are you okay?" he asked, looking over the child, as if inspecting for damage.
"Daddy!" she shrieked happily.
The man set her down at his side, before turning to her rescuers. "What the hell were you doing with my daughter?" he asked Angel, his voice vicious. Collins moved forward protectively, but Angel stood first.
"Honey, your child was lost...I was trying to help her find you." Angel knew the man’s objections to her being near his child well enough. Collins knew the dangerous look in his lover’s eyes, as she stared at the man.
"You hurt my kid and I’ll kill you..." he threatened.
"Darling," Angel said in a strong voice. "What I saw was this adorable child standing in the middle of a New York street screaming. In case you didn’t realize it, this is a dangerous place for a little girl to be alone."
"‘Course it is...freaks walking around all the time, abducting kids. I should call the police right now."
"We were just trying to..." Angel stopped herself. Collins held onto her shoulder tightly.
"Great! Now I’ve got to wash this fu..." he stopped himself, ironically enough, gripping his daughter’s hand, "filth away from my daughter’s mind. How dare you even be out in public."
Collins had to step in, moving Angel to the side. "Listen up," he said, coming close to the man, but not exhibiting any violence – Angel once told him she’d have a hard time forgiving him if he did anything violent because of her. "We found your kid screaming in the middle of the street. We watched people walk right past her. Only...only my girl, my Angel, took the time to care for a kid she didn’t know."
"My family doesn’t need help from people like you..." the man almost hissed at Collins. He leaned close. The little girl was now idly sitting on the floor. "Why the hell did we move to this trap, I’ll never know. Full of drugs, faggots, guys dressing like women..." he sneered at Angel. "Just get the hell away from me and I’ll forget it."
Collins was horrified. He just hated this, this subtle hate and prejudice, that counteracted the beautiful compassion Angel had felt for the small child. He wanted to kill the man, scream in his face that Angel was the most beautiful, pure person on earth, and he was missing out on a true Angel, in every sense. He wanted to protect Angel, tell this idiot that Angel had saved his kid from the fate of many kids on New York streets.
But he couldn’t. He just couldn’t do anything as the man and his child walked away.
Angel had slumped back down on the bench, and was picking at the chipped red paint with her fingernails. He watched her, unable to cope for once, with the sadness and anger. He sat beside her. "Baby, I am so sorry," he said, honestly, hurting.
She looked up at him somberly. "Honey, there’s nothing to be sorry over," she said wearily. She leaned on his shoulder, and he responded by instantly pulling her closer.
"Yes there is," he insisted lightly, touching his fingers to the side of her face. "There is something dreadfully wrong in a world where people don’t see you for the beautiful person you are."
She laughed lightly, the motion shaking him. "Sweetheart, you know the world is wrong," she said, laughing. "But I deal with it."
He was quiet for awhile. He really could not say more. He knew she was hurting, but she would be angry with him if he pressed. Angel did not like pressure. He just drew her into his arms, letting her sit in his lap as if she were the lost child.
She pressed her face into his shoulder, and he knew she was crying. It wasn’t the first time, and it probably wouldn’t be the last. "Baby..." he said lightly. "Angel, it’s all right."
"Not really," she muttered, "but it will be, because I have you."
He laughed aloud, smoothing the dark hair away from her face. "I don’t know how that helps," he said quietly, "but thanks."
"It does," she muttered, kissing him deeply, pushing him against the bench. He held her close, kissing back with an eagerness to make her happy.
She pulled away from him, holding his hand lightly as she smiled. "Collins, sweetie, do you remember the dreams I told you about?" she asked lightly, running her thumb over his hand.
He nodded. She had told him about some pretty horrible nightmares, on the very day they’d met, but he had yet to see her suffer one.
"Every time some horrible person would do something like that," she said, her voice soft. "I would think about it until my head felt like it was going to explode. Then I’d go home and have a horrible nightmare about it. It happened all the time, baby, until...Christmas Eve..."
Collins smiled. "You mean to say..."
"Of course I mean to say," Angel said smiling, "that you saved me from hating myself. Now I can let it go. It doesn’t hurt me so much. Not at all, in fact."
She held his hand in hers, smiling as she looked down at their hands. "The only thing that makes me sad...is that poor little girl will have to grow up with all of those horrible prejudices. No child should have to grow up with such things shoved in their poor minds."
She kissed the side of his face, holding tight to him. "Lucky for the world, baby, there will always be the anarchists. You will save us all. You saved me."