THE ULTIMATE WINTERFEST SURPRISE
BY KATHY DE
At 1:00 on the dot, Ryan & Esposito came in as planned and pretending to be drunk, argued loudly with the nurse on duty. The two officers guarding Kate’s door came over to talk some sense into them.
Joe slipped in and helped Kate to her feet then shuffled her out the door and across the hall to the stairwell. He supported her down the staircase and two levels down stopped to slip off her slippers and place a pair of gym shoes on her feet. Two more levels and they were in the basement and making their way to a storage door.
Assuming they were headed to a car, Kate balked in fear then jerked in his arms and started to fight. “No!”
Joe held her tight in his arms. “Kate, I promise…I won’t let you get hurt.”
Fear had overtaken her; but in her weakened state, he overpowered her and she shook in defeat. He pulled them into the closet and closed the door then quickly opened a hidden door in the back.
She stopped struggling as she looked on curiously. Behind the door stood two men, one was smaller than Kate and had thick glasses and the other was in his twenties.
The man with the glasses stepped forward. His hand was extended and he had a welcoming smile on his face. “Hi, Kate, my name is Eric, and I’m the doctor here Below. How are you doing?”
The young man stepped forward. “And I’m Jacob Wells. I guess I’m part of the welcoming committee…Uncle Joe here asked me to come and make sure you got settled in.”
“Uncle?” Kate wondered aloud.
“Not really…” Joe smiled. “Can we continue to walk?”
Beckett nodded raggedly as she held her stomach. “Yeah.”
After a block, she began to breathe heavily. Jacob called out and within minutes, three men came forward with a stretcher on long poles.
Eric leaned in and touched her arm. “I know it’s unconventional, but with four of them the walk will be smooth; and I promise you, we don’t have to go far.”
Beckett sighed and lay down on the stretcher. As promised, the walk was smooth and within twenty minutes she was being settled into a huge double bed. She looked around curiously at what she could best describe as a prettily decorated…cave.
Eric checked her vitals and promised to check back with her in a few hours.
Finally alone, Beckett curiously looked at Joe. “Sir?”
“This place?” Joe chuckled at her. “It’s overwhelming…”
“Unbelievable is more like it!”
“I can’t believe I’m in a bed in a cave!”
“Chambers…they call them chambers down here.”
Joe spent the next hour explaining to her all about the world Below. Eric popped in one last time and promised that someone would check in on her periodically throughout the night.
Beckett smiled at him. “Thanks, but I’ll probably just sleep.”
Joe stood after Eric left. “I need to get home, too. I’ll be by first thing in the morning. Detective Beckett…Kate…I promise you you’ll be safe here.”
She nodded gratefully as she decided to trust him. “Thank you.”
Beckett slept until late the next day. She blinked her eyes in confusion as her mind registered where she was. She looked over to see a girl of about nine standing in the doorway. “Hello?”
The girl came in carrying a tray, on it was a coffee pot, a mug, and cream and sugar. Beckett sat up as the girl poured the coffee and handed her a cup.
“You’re welcome. My name’s Tiffany.”
“Hi, Tiffany, my name’s Kate.”
Tiffany uncovered a small plate with a blueberry muffin and a banana muffin. “Vincent told me to ask if you would like something more than this…so would you…like something more?”
Kate smiled at the sweet girl. “No, thank you.”
Jacob came into the chamber and looked at the girl and caressed her head lovingly. “Thank you, Tiffany, you can go now.”
The girl skipped out as he turned to face Kate. “Good morning, sleepyhead.”
Kate blushed. “It’s so dark here…I…lost track of time…”
Jacob smiled and handed her a long gown. “I’m kidding, sleep is the best medicine...if you feel up to it, I brought you this to wear.” Jacob handed her a dark brown gown that had bright yellow stitching on the collar. “It’ll have to do until Kevin brings me some of your clothes, he said maybe later today.”
“It’s okay,” Kate said as she took the gown. “This will be fine.”
“I thought you might like to walk a bit, build up your strength.”
Kate nodded. “Yeah, sounds good.”
She went behind a screen and shrugged out of her hospital gown then slipped into the long gown. She took a moment to indulge in the soft fabric that floated down her lithe body. She stepped around the corner and looked at Jacob nervously. “Okay.”
He led her through the tunnels towards the dining chamber. “It’s almost lunch. People will be eating and you can meet some of them.”
Kate was surprised at how warmly she was welcomed. Some of the older women fussed over her and she began to relax and enjoy herself.
After an hour, Kate was starting to tire, and Jacob walked her back to her chamber. He taught her how to tap out a message and told her someone would come if she needed help.
Kate blew out all but one of the candles in the room then settled into her bed. She had a hard time getting comfortable, and she tossed and turned restlessly.
“Would you like me to read to you?”
Kate turned to look in the direction she heard the soft gravely voice. “Read to me?”
“I haven’t been read to since I was 7.”
“It will help you relax.”
Kate stared into the darkness but could only make out an imposing shape in the doorway. “Who are you?”
“My name is Vincent.”
“I can’t see you.”
“That’s best, Detective Beckett. My appearance can be frightening.”
Kate chuckled. “I’ve been a cop in New York for what seems like a million years, not much frightens me any more.”
Vincent ignored her and sat in a chair in the shadows and lit a small candle. It kept his unusual features hidden in the shadows but it gave enough light for him as he opened a book and began to read.
His soothing voice had the desired effect and Kate was soon asleep.
Jacob repeated the same routine later that night, and he and Kate had a nice dinner with the people from the community.
Again, the next day, Vincent came to her and read. This time she stayed awake longer and got swept away in the story.
She yawned and Vincent finished the chapter then closed the book. “You should rest.”
“Seems like that’s all I’m doing.”
“That’s good; it will help with the healing.”
He stood and Kate squinted to get a look at him. “Thanks, Vincent.”
“You’re welcome. If you need anything through the night, just tap the message Jacob taught you.”
“Call me Kate.”
This pattern was repeated for the next few days. Kate had never felt so pampered since before her mother had been killed.
Jacob had taken her on longer walks and her strength was returning quickly. One day, she overdid it and walked too far and that night was in a lot of pain. Vincent’s soothing voice lulled her and she settled in for long night’s sleep.
The next morning, Kate woke to the sound of gunfire in the tunnel way.
She leapt to her feet and dressed quickly then ran to the doorway where she cowered at the sounds she heard and her mind raced with all the possibilities.
Thinking the killers were coming after her, she slipped into the tunnel way and headed in the direction she thought she and Jacob took yesterday. It wasn’t long before she was hopelessly lost and the tunnel she was in was no longer lit. She heard gunfire ring out behind her and headed into the darkest tunnel to her left.
A few levels up from her, several adults from the community came running from all different tunnels at the same time.
Cullen roughly grabbed one of the older boys. “Justin! What the hell are you doing?”
Justin’s face fell. “I…we…saved our money and bought a brick of firecrackers.”
Vincent bent down in front of the child. “Justin, you know we don’t allow fireworks Below. They’re too dangerous and…”
Frantic tapping came over the pipes, one of the sentries was reporting that Kate was headed down a dark tunnel way towards the Abyss.
Vincent took off running full speed towards the Abyss. He took several short cuts and made it in front of where Kate was last reported seen.
Kate stopped when she heard heavy panting coming from up ahead in the darkness. She slowly started to back away and turned to run when a tall shadow emerged and grabbed her. She screamed and struggled until strong arms immobilized her.
Vincent’s words finally penetrated through her fear and she stopped struggling.
“They found me! We’ve got to get help! We’ve got to find everyone and get them out of here!”
“No! Damn it, Vincent. I heard gun shots…”
“No, Kate…what you heard was fireworks…one of the children brought firecrackers Below.”
“Yes, but down here the sound becomes distorted…”
“I thought…” Kate held her hands against her rib cage then collapsed against him and started to cry.
“I know,” Vincent said as he automatically put his arms around her to offer his comfort. “Let’s get you back to your chamber.”
Kate leaned heavily on him as they walked. When they got to a part of the tunnels that had better lighting she turned to him. “Thanks…” She sucked in a breath and stumbled.
Vincent steadied her with his arm. “Be careful.”
Kate stared at him and tried not to show her shock at his appearance. She looked away quickly to gather her thoughts.
“Kate…” she looked back at him as he spoke. “It’s all right to be startled.”
She smiled at him weakly. “I’m sorry…I…”
“Didn’t know…I know...I’m sorry you were shocked…now let’s get you back to your room.”
Vincent held her as they walked. She clung to him as the exhaustion overtook her. Finally, he turned and picked her up to carry her. Kate rested her head against his shoulder as she gasped at the pain in her chest.
Vincent carried her through the tunnels and set her down on the gurney in the hospital chamber. He quickly went over and tapped a message to Eric.
Father stepped into the chamber shortly after the message went over the pipes. “Vincent…”
“Father, what are you doing here?”
“I’m not so old that I can’t hear a call for medical attention.”
“Jacob and Eric will be here soon.”
“Yes well, let me take a look at our patient until then.” He stopped and looked at the strange woman in front of him. “Who are you?”
“She’s the one who needed our help?” Father addressed Vincent who nodded as Father frowned at Kate. “What happened to you?”
“I was shot, sir. The bullet nicked my pulmonary artery but they stitched it up. I’m here to recover.”
Father grumbled as he grabbed gloves. “Of course and you thought running through dark tunnels was good therapy?”
Vincent stood by his side as he explained. “Some of the children brought fireworks Below, Kate thought we were under attack.”
Father unlaced the front of her gown and Vincent turned away while he examined her stitches. “Looks like everything is still in place.” He reapplied bandages and nodded his assent.
Kate sighed with relief as she sat up and redid the lacings. “Thank you, I didn’t mean to be a problem.”
“You are not a problem,” Vincent said.
Kate sighed as weariness overtook her. “Could I go to my chamber…I’d like to rest.”
“That’s a good idea,” Father said.
Vincent helped Kate to her chamber and made sure she was settled into bed.
“Vincent, I don’t even know how to begin to thank you…”
“There’s no need, Kate. You should try to rest.”
Kate shook her head. “I’m too wound up…will you stay and talk with me for awhile?”
“If you wish…”
Kate settled back and stared at him. “Vincent, you fascinate me…tell me how you came to be down here.”
Vincent spent the next half hour telling her about how he was found and brought Below. He proceeded to tell her about growing up in the tunnels and all of the people that were involved with their community, he eventually got to the story of how Jacob was raised.”
“What about Jacob?”
“What would you like to know?”
Kate looked at him curiously. “Is he really your son?”
Vincent sighed as he smiled. It still hurt him but he told her all about Catherine and the love they once shared. He went into her kidnapping and eventual death and how he recovered Jacob from Gabriel’s clutches.
Kate’s jaw dropped as the story unfolded. “My God, Vincent! I am so sorry!”
Vincent shrugged. “It’s in the past…Catherine’s gone and I’ve led my life with the sole purpose of raising Jacob to the best of my abilities.”
“You did a good job, he’s a great kid.”
“Thank you. How about you, Kate?”
“How about me?”
“I sense an underlying sadness in you…something is driving you on your path through life.”
Kate nodded and told him the story of her mother’s death. She included her feelings on growing up without a mother and then told him what sent her to the academy then eventually drove her to become one of the city’s top detectives. She finished her story and was physically as well as emotionally drained.
Vincent stood and looked down at her. “I’m guessing you’ll be able to rest now.”
“I am exhausted.”
“I’ll leave you to sleep then…”
“Vincent, thank you.”
Vincent left the room and Kate smiled as she thought about the friendship they had created.
Joe came down to visit Kate to try to come up with a schedule so they could start work on the case.
He found Kate asleep and headed to find Vincent.
Vincent looked up from his book when Joe entered the library.
“Hey, Vincent. I just came by to see Detective Beckett.”
“She’s sleeping right now.”
“Yeah, I peeked in her chamber then came here. How’s she doing?”
Vincent shrugged. “Physically her body is healing quickly. She’s getting a lot of rest and eating well.”
Joe frowned and picked up immediately on the unsaid words. “Physically? What about mentally?”
“She’s gone through a very traumatic experience, Joe. It’s going to take time…”
“Yeah, but she’s a trained officer…”
Vincent sighed and shook his head. “Some of the children broke the rules and brought firecrackers Below and set them off…”
“Must’ve sounded like gunfire down here!” Joe laughed then the realization dawned on him and his face fell. “How’d she react?”
“How could she react? She ran in terror…I caught up to her near the Abyss…if she had gotten any further…”
“She’d be dead…Thank God you caught up with her…”
“She was only marginally frightened by my appearance,” Vincent smiled ruefully. “But the sound of gun shots…created pure terror in her. Does that sound like someone who is having trouble dealing with her trauma?”
Joe stood up. “Tell her I stopped by. I’m gonna tell Esposito and Ryan we have to back off for awhile. I’ll have to get her to some psychiatric counseling…”
“She should be ready in a few more weeks…”
“Can she stay here that long, Vincent?”
“Kate’s welcome here for as long as she needs to be.”
Joe squeezed his shoulder affectionately. “Thanks, Vincent.”
Kate slept late into the afternoon. She got up and took a candle with her and found her way to the dining chamber. It was much easier to do when she wasn’t panicking. She looked around the room and found Vincent at a table with Father and the woman she thought was named Mary.
Vincent motioned for her to come over and Kate smiled as she started across the room.
Eric stepped in front of her. “Kate?”
“I heard about your adventure. Are you all right?”
“Yes, thank you.”
“If you need me to check your stitches or…”
“No, Father did that for me and he said everything looked good. Luckily I didn’t do any damage on my hysterical flight through the tunnels.”
Jacob stepped into the conversation. “The children who brought the fireworks Below are on kitchen duty all week. I’m sure you’ll be getting an apology at one of your meals.”
“Not necessary. It was my imagination that did the most damage.”
Kate smiled and turned to find Vincent standing behind her.
“Let me show you how to get something to eat here.”
He led her to the long banquet table where the food was placed.
Kate laughed as she grabbed a tray. “It’s like a cafeteria.
Vincent nodded. “It’s the only way to feed the amount of people that live here.”
Kate made her way down the table and grabbed a small portion of everything. Vincent led her to his table and held her chair while she sat.
Father hid his surprise at Vincent’s behavior and turned to Kate. “You look well, my dear.”
“I feel well, thank you.”
“You do look rested,” Mary added.
Kate smiled sheepishly. “I feel like all I’ve done since I got here is sleep.”
“Sleep is the best way for your body to heal,” Vincent stated.
“I should be ready to run a marathon then.”
Father chuckled. “In due time, dear. Now, Jacob told me that you’re an officer of the law, tell us about that…”
Kate told them about her job and quickly realized that that weren’t nearly as interested in her job as they were at putting her at ease. She related some stories then quickly turned the tables by asking pointed questions of Father and Mary.
Vincent looked at Kate respectfully as Mary gushed over the newest additions in the nursery.
Father caught the look shared between Vincent and Kate and frowned. “My God! He’s actually interested in her!” he thought as he quickly turned away to hide his feelings.
Kate finished her meal and stood. “I thought I’d try to go for another walk, I could use the exercise.”
Vincent stood immediately. “I’ll join you if you wish.”
Kate smiled shyly. “That’d be great.”
She followed Vincent who showed her where to put her dirty dishes and tray. They walked slowly out the door together and into the tunnel way.
Mary smiled warmly. “What a sweet girl.”
“Yes…” Father grumbled.
Mary looked at him curiously. “What’s bothering you?”
“Didn’t you see the way he looked at her?”
“Vincent for God’s sake!”
Mary looked shocked. “I didn’t see anything different about the way he looked at her.”
“Oh for Pete’s sake, Mary…he held her chair, laughed at her stories, answered all of her questions…”
Mary smirked. “What a horrible host he makes!”
“He was being more than a host!”
“Jacob! The boy was just being friendly!”
“Yes…and what happened the last time you said he was just being friendly…”
Mary looked thoroughly confused then it dawned on her what he meant and she gasped. “Do you mean Catherine?!”
Father looked at her incredulously. “Who else?”
“But that was over 20 years ago! Surely by now he’s entitled to show interest in another woman!”
“Yes, another one who has a dangerous job and already has someone who is out to kill her…I suppose it was too much to ask that he fall in love with someone from the tunnels?! Rebecca perhaps or…”
“Jacob! Rebecca is like his sister as well as every other woman down here!”
Father sighed. “I know, I don’t fault him at all it’s just that he always falls in love with someone who is dangerous.”
“Falls in love?! That’s a little presumptuous isn’t it…I mean…he met her three days ago!”
Father grumbled as one of the children came over and grabbed his and Mary’s dirty dishes. They thanked Julie then the two of them walked to the library to spend a quiet day together.
Meanwhile, Vincent and Kate meandered through the tunnels and talked about a variety of topics. Each of them enjoyed the conversation and it wasn’t long before they had gotten over a mile away from the home tunnels.
Vincent turned to her apologetically. “Kate…we should turn back we’ve come too far.”
Kate smiled. “It’s okay, I feel pretty good, and the company’s been great.”
Vincent smiled shyly. “Thank you, I’ve enjoyed our time together as well.”
They turned around and slowly made their way back. They spoke about books and Vincent stopped off at his chamber and grabbed one off the shelf. He handed it to her in the tunnel way.
“I think you’ll enjoy this.”
Kate took it from him and nodded as she read the name on the spine. “It’s been a long time since I’ve read this…I think it was for 7th grade history.”
“Then you should revisit it…perhaps you will gain new insight into the story with the mind and heart of an adult.”
“I’ll start it tonight. Thank you.”
Vincent led her to her chamber and lit some of her candles for her. “Do you need anything?”
“No, I think I’m all right. Tired but I feel good…stronger.”
“I’m glad, goodnight, Kate.”
Three days later, Kate walked into Vincent’s chamber and found Jacob standing alone staring at the wall.
Jacob looked forlorn as he looked over at a curious Kate who nervously apologized for intruding. “I’m sorry…I was looking for your father.”
“He’s in the lower tunnels fixing some leaking pipes.”
“I just came to return a book he lent me.”
Kate showed him the book then laid it down on the table that was there. She turned and looked at the wall he was staring at and realized there was a portrait there. She walked over and stood next to him and gasped. “I was wondering what held your attention.”
Jacob shrugged indifferently as he gestured at the portrait. “Now you know.”
“It’s your mother?!” Kate had immediately seen the likeness and turned to him for confirmation.
She turned back and studied the picture. “She was beautiful…”
“Yes…inside and out…or so I’m told.”
Kate stared at the mesmerizing portrait. “I’m…speechless…”
“The artist captured them perfectly,” Jacob smiled mischievously.
“Wow…I’ve never seen two people so in love…you can feel their…their connection…it’s almost like they’re an extension of one another.”
“Yes…” Jacob covered up the portrait and walked around the table to sit. “My whole life I’ve heard stories about their love. I wish I could have witnessed it.”
Kate sat down across from him. “You were the product of it.”
“Your dad never found someone else?”
“No.” Vincent said quietly as he walked in the door.
Jacob and Kate turned towards him.
“Jacob, your Grandfather wishes to speak with you.”
“Oh, okay, I’ll go see him now.”
Jacob left the room and Kate pointed towards the book. “I brought it back, thank you for lending it to me.”
Vincent nodded as he walked over slowly and took the sheet off the portrait and sighed.
“Can I ask you a personal question, Vincent?”
“It’s so beautiful…she…was so beautiful…why do you keep it covered?”
“There are times I can’t bear to look at it….and then there are times I can gaze at it for hours…lose myself in it’s depths.”
Vincent turned and smiled weakly at her as he took a deep breath. “Not really…you just read about Brigit and Ian.” He walked over and held up the book she just returned. “Like she said…it’s a sweet sorrow.”
Vincent looked at her curiously. “You’ve never loved someone so much it hurts?”
She thought of Castle and shrugged. “I…don’t know. I do care about someone very much…but I’m…”
“What then? Are you worried he’ll not return your love?”
“No he already told me he loved me, although he doesn’t know I remember him saying it…”
“You’re pretending you don’t remember he declared his love?”
Kate nodded. “I know…it doesn’t make sense.”
“Are you afraid to let him in…afraid to take the chance…”
“No…I like Rick…” Kate shook her head to clear it. “Actually…I think I love Rick…but…I’ve been driven for years by the need to find my mother’s killer. Until that happens, I don’t know if I have room to concentrate on anything else.”
Vincent cocked his head to the side. “And you don’t want to be unfair to Rick?”
“I can’t…” Kate sighed as she began to pace. “You know…the last thing I remember after the shooting is him telling me he loved me?”
“But you couldn’t say it back?”
“No…when came to see me the morning after...” Kate snorted with disgust. “I told him then I didn’t remember anything about the incident…”
“But you do?”
“Yes…all of it.”
“Then why the dishonesty?”
Kate shrugged and shook her head in confusion. “Because…Rick’s…like a kid…a big, fun loving, dopey kid…but he’s also good and he’s kind and he makes me laugh. He deserves someone who’s working as hard at the relationship as he is.”
“Perhaps if you work at it you’ll be able to make room for him in your life?”
“I love him, Vincent.” Kate sighed as tears came to her eyes. “I’ve never admitted that to anyone before but I could do it…I could turn myself and my life over to him in an instant and know that we would be all right but...”
“But you need closure to your mother’s death…”
“Yes…and until I find that closure I’m afraid I won’t be present in the relationship.”
“And you care too much about him to take the chance on losing him?”
“Yeah…he’s not a throwaway kind of guy. I…don’t know what to do…”
“Catherine and I overcame many obstacles and even though our time together was short, the love I felt for her was enough to last me a lifetime.”
Kate stood and touched his shoulder. “I’m glad that you had found that love in your life but in a way it’s sad as well.”
“The only sad part is how long my fears kept us apart…how much more we could have had.”
“You two deserve better than you got.”
“Yes.” Vincent stood as well and extended his hand towards hers. “It’s almost time for dinner…would you care to join me?”
Kate smiled as she took it. “Yeah…thanks.”
Over the next few weeks, Kate’s strength slowly returned. She and Vincent took long walks and spent hours talking about everything. She helped anyone who was interested with self defense classes, and Vincent, Mouse and Cullen listened to her advice on some new ways to defend the tunnels.
Two months after the shooting, Vincent was leading her to the basement of Joe’s house.
Kate was unusually quiet and Vincent looked over at her. “You’re nervous?”
“You’re strong enough to do this.”
“I’m not so sure.”
“I am…and Joe will be with you. Perhaps…” Vincent stopped unwilling to voice what he was thinking.
“You should call Rick.”
Kate sighed. “I don’t know…”
“Kate…you’ve talked about him for almost two months, don’t waste another minute.”
“I’ll think about it…” She shrugged as Joe came down the steps.
“Hey, Vin. Thanks for bringing her here.”
“You’re welcome, Joe.”
“You ready, kiddo?” Joe asked of Kate.
“As I’ll ever be.”
She turned to Vincent with a smile. “Thank you…for everything.”
Vincent opened his arms and hugged her. “You’re welcome, you’ve become a good friend, Kate, and you’ll always be welcome Below.”
Kate hugged him back then turned nervously to face Joe. She squared her shoulders and stepped forward. “Okay, lead the way.”
Vincent watched proudly as she followed Joe up the steps.