The week before Christmas, Kate got kidnapped.
In the early hours of Christmas Eve, they got her back.
It came not without an insurmountable struggle, bullets flying and almost grazing Seth more times than he could count. Richie suffered through ‘hurts like hell’ more than once, accelerated healing and adrenaline keeping him going. His fangs didn’t retreat until the bodies between them and the girl they loved lay riddled across the ground of the warehouse they’d been led to.
Anyone who brought her up was dead.
Anyone who bragged about hurting her was torn apart.
They found her in a room, bound and blindfolded, her mouth covered with duct tape. She was shaking. Lights blinked above her and a television screen showed static footage of the room they’d just been in, assumedly for whoever had been watching her before the Geckos’ tore their way through them all.
It took a moment to calm her down, to show her it was them. They took her home, but not without a struggle.
Now, she was wearing Seth’s suit jacket, the black fabric far too big but covering up the outfit they’d found her in. Her arms and legs were wrapped around Richie’s tall frame, cold face pressed into his neck, her cheeks stained with salty tears and smudged black mascara. There was blood and dirt caked in her red hair and they hadn’t seen her so exhausted in a long time.
The house had been untouched, the decorations still up and as they’d left them just waiting for their eventual return. The house looked far more festive than any of them could manage to feel and Kate forced down the urge to get overwhelmed.
They undressed her slowly and she sat hunched over in the bath as Richie brought the shower head down, cleaning her hair slowly. Seth asked a million questions because he couldn’t think of anything better to do, pacing back and forth.
“Did any of them touch you?”
Everyone in the room knew what he meant.
There was silence for a moment and then a reply, definitive although Kate’s voice had become almost monotone, her throat still raw. “No.”
Seth followed up, his protective nature stopping him from being able to drop it now that it was done.
“Are you sure?”
She let out a steady breath. “Yes, I’m sure. They kept saying they’d be dead if they did, that guy… Whoever he was. He told them they’d lose their hands.”
“Seems a little… Fuck.” He was still pacing, his feet instinctively speeding up to keep up with the speed of his thoughts. He was trying to piece it together, unable to stop his erratic movements while his brother had fallen mute, almost catatonic for the car ride until he’d pulled her from the backseat up and into his arms.
Kate cut through all Seth’s thoughts, her voice ringing through the room. “Seth, stop.”
He did. “What?”
“I need you to be here.”
His shoulders slumped and he walked over. He only stared for a moment before he did as he was told, pulling off his shoes and socks and slipping into the bath in front of her. It was cold and damp but he didn’t notice it. He scooted close, his legs on either side of her and took a hold of her face. She flinched but she opened her eyes wide and leaned into his touch, after a moment. His hands got wet as water splashed over her and he cleaned her cheeks with his thumbs, his gaze softened with love and regret. They were all wishing things had gone differently. He reached for the washcloth hanging over the side of the tub, using that instead to clean her face properly, his touch impossibly gentle. Richie stayed where he was on his knees, sleeves rolled up far on his elbows as he scrubbed shampoo through her hair.
They focused on getting her clean because it was all they could focus on for the moment. There was no going back and fixing it. They had to move forward, one thing at a time.
Kate kept replaying gunshots in her head, the recoil sending her back despite her experience with weapons being a whole lot more than it had been when she first met the Geckos. Shaky hands threw her aim off but she’d hit her target and a bullet to the head had ended the whole ordeal. Kate had ended it, because she deserved that much.
When she was clean they wrapped her up in towels and both of them kissed her head. Richie focused on simple tasks: get changed, dispose of clothing, clean up bathroom. Seth took care of Kate, helping her to pull on flannelette pyjamas and even offering to blow dry her hair. She said no and dried it off as best she could with a towel before taking up the middle of the bed, waiting for them to return to her.
The light switch turned off and she stared into the darkness, eyes opened wide as the sound of the bullet leaving the gun replayed in her head once again, over and over. Her focus only broke when she felt the bed dip behind her and a warm arm curling around her waist. It was a comfort and it calmed her shivering limbs. She tensed up only for a second and then reached for him, pulling Seth tightly around her. His body curled around hers, legs underneath her and she wasn’t sure she felt safe, but she felt loved.
“I don’t know if I can sleep.” She said, still staring out into the dark.
The only noise in the house was Richie’s movement in the bathroom and the sucking sound of the tub slowly draining.
“Me neither.” He replied simply.
They laid there a little while longer and finally Richie came back to them, moving underneath the covers and touching her warm figure with cold hands. His palm pressed against her cheek as he settled himself onto the third pillow, exhaustion underneath his eyes although he didn’t need sleep like either of them did. Behind her, she could feel Seth’s chest rise and fall but she didn’t know if he had fallen asleep after all.
“Are you okay?” She asked Richie quietly and he frowned. It was a dumb question but it was the only one she could think to ask.
“No. I love you.” He said it like it made sense, just like that. No, I’m not okay. I love you.
Maybe he was just telling her why. I’m not okay because I love you and we almost lost you. Either way, it made her eyes well up with tears she had to blink away.
She almost said sorry, but she knew that wouldn’t be right, so she closed her eyes and hoped the slow, heavy feeling would fade by morning. Richie kept close to her, his hand taking the space below Seth’s and with both of them holding on to her as she fell asleep.
It was still Christmas eve when they woke up and the house felt ten times colder than it had when they got back. It had started snowing while they slept and if Kate weren’t still feeling unlike herself, she would have announced it a Christmas miracle. Instead, she was shivering on the couch as Richie prepared breakfast, the sizzle of bacon a distant comfort.
Seth was standing in front of the fire place they’d never used with his hands on his hips, sporting a black Christmas sweater. The same one, with a simple snowflake design, that he absolutely refused to wear all month under any circumstances. She knew why he was doing it and felt stuck between appreciating it and not wanting his pity. He was trying and she had to appreciate that.
“How the hell do you turn this thing on?” He said, mostly to himself as he crouched down in front of it.
The fireplace itself was big and brick, situated beside the unit that held their television – which was currently playing Die Hard because it was the only Christmas film they could all agree on. Even despite all that had happened, she could enjoy it and that much made her happy. On the other side was their still ridiculously large and overdecorated Christmas tree, the lights blinking. There wasn’t a lot in the way of presents underneath it, mostly things Kate had purchased for their few friends and their presents for each other.
“It turns on?” Kate repeated, her tone skeptical.
He went off on a tangent in response and she hugged her knees close to her chest. “Y’know last time I did this, I was sixteen and I burned my damn eyebrows off. They took their sweet time coming back, too.”
There was the sneaking hint of a smile on her lips as she imagined him, sweet sixteen years old and missing his eyebrows, maybe awkward too, without any of the swagger he’d had when she first met him, but the smile didn’t quite make it to her eyes. He turned to grin at her, noticing it but she skipped over the moment as she continued their conversation.
“Do you have to put new wood in there or something?”
“I have to collect wood now?” It was like he’d never even considered of the concept; the way his voice rose a few octaves.
He huffed and took the poker, pushing around the stuff already inside the fireplace.
“Can’t be that hard.” She reasoned with hesitant conviction in her words.
“Sure as shit could.”
He was saying it under his breath but she still caught it. She then witnessed him have the fastest change of heart she’d ever seen as he glanced at her again, her body still shivering despite the fact that she was in Richie’s fluffy morning robe.
It was hardly snowing enough to complain, but there was rain and plenty of potential slip on every surface. Seth didn’t often seem to want to do things that could end in possible embarrassment.
“You know what? Fuck it. Call me Bear Grylls, I’m gonna brave the god damn winter wonderland out there.” He walked towards the coat rack by the back door, pulling his jacket on as he spoke. Kate watched him from the couch, turning in her seat.
“I don’t think going out to find wood is the same as surviving in the wild.”
“It is if I have to steal it from other people’s backyards.”
That brought on another almost smile and he caught it right away, walking over to her as he slipped gloves onto his hands. He reached for her, pressing a kiss into her hair and she tugged him back before he could walk off, leaning up to catch an actual kiss, their first since they got back. It was tender but brief and she held him there for a moment, their eyes meeting, a silent warning that he better return to her again, even if he was just going out to get wood. He kissed her again before he left.
Richie noticed and frowned, coming out from behind the kitchen counter to watch Seth trudge through the snow. “Where is he going?”
“He wants to make a fire.” Kate replied, shrugging a shoulder.
“Come sit near the oven, it’ll be warmer.” He told her and she finally got a good look at the festive apron he was wearing – without a shirt, so it seemed a little pointless.
“Okay.” She nodded.
While trying to figure out how to take apart someone’s deck chair on the assumption that the wood would be as good as any, Seth was reminded of a childhood memory. It was of him and his brother making snow angels in their backyard, their clothes two sizes too small and an air of innocence about them. The moment was happy and rare, considering how bleak the season seemed to them.
Just kids being kids, ignoring the bruise blooming on Seth’s cheek, a rare hit to the face that was harder to hide. Ignoring the fact that Richie had a cold and they always upset him.
His best memories were always with his brother and Christmastime was when they did their best for each other. That’s what they were doing for Kate now, their best. Even if that meant going out in the snow that was mostly sludge and wearing sweaters with dumb, festive patterns. It didn’t count for much, but it was an attempt at the very least.
What else could they do?
Seth returned half an hour later as Kate dusted off a second hashbrown. She watched him struggle to get inside while holding a stack of wood that surprisingly wasn’t made from anyone else’s belonging’s as far as she could tell. The door snapped shut behind him and he walked over to the fireplace without a word. Kate picked up his plate of food and walked over to where he’d sat himself down in front of it, loading it up with chunks of wood.
“Do you want me to get lighter fluid?” She asked, holding the plate out and making him do a double take.
He took a strip of bacon and pushed the whole thing into his mouth, about as gracefully as was to be expected and got back to work. “Uh… Yeah. And some matches or a lighter.”
She did just that, returning to a plate that was all but licked clean while Seth chewed furiously and arranged the wood. She wasn’t sure if placement mattered that much, but he seemed determined so she took the plate back to Richie who was slowly making his way through a stack of pancakes.
She snuck underneath his arms and he shifted back, dropping his fork to give her room while pressed against the counter.
“How do you feel?” He asked her, leaning down to level with her.
“Tired.” Kate replied, her shoulders slumping as she breathed out.
“Tomorrow will be better.”
“And the day after that, and the day after that. I know how time works.” She averted her eyes and he stood steady, both hands still against the counter.
“Not just with time, Kate.”
“I don’t wanna talk about it right now.” She decided and ducked out of his reach.
Seth was still there, shaking something off his hand as he reached for the box of matches. She sat on the rug in front of the fireplace, her legs crossed. Her gaze went unbroken, watching him manage something so small and pointless. She had seen him do things far more impressive – take out security guards without shooting his gun, talk their way out of dealing with dangerous culebras, successfully getaway drive with three police cruisers on their asses.
“You don’t have to lose your mind doing this, you know.” She told him.
“Don’t know what you mean. It’s a learning experience.” He glanced at her with eyebrows furrowed as he lit a Fanglorious flyer and held it near the wood.
Kate watched him grumble in frustration as it seemingly refused to take.
“Why are you making a fire?”
“I’m not that cold.”
Seth huffed out of frustration, dropping the flyer. “Just… Let me make you a fire, okay? Let me do all the cliché shit a good boyfriend would do, like cook you breakfast,” He motioned towards Richie in the kitchen, who was watching quietly. “Like doing all the shit you wanted me to, because it’s Christmas and the only way I’m not gonna be mad about this is if I try to make it better.”
She looked away. “Being festive isn’t going to fix what happened.”
“Yeah, but it might make you feel better.”
“What if it doesn’t?”
“Then we try something else.” He sighed, his shoulders deflating. It was hard on all of them, especially since they were dancing around the topic rather than addressing it. She assumed at some point they’d be forced to confront what things had been like only hours ago, but avoiding it was easier, for now.
The room was silent, none of them saying anything for a moment. And then, like clockwork, Kate noticed flecks of burning orange. She reached for Seth’s hand and pulled it away from the fire forming and his face lit up with a grin.
“I fucking told you. Bear Grylls, baby.”
Kate frowned and then gradually dissolved into laughter, holding her hand over her stomach as she threw her head back. Seth and Richie just stared in awe as it finally reached her eyes.
Time ticked by and the three of them sat crowded around their usually unused dining table. Kate was staring at the grooves in the wood, her nail scratching around it. She’d been silent for the last five minutes, a harsh statement having left her mouth that shut all of them up. She couldn’t even remember the exact wording but she could feel the regret deep in her gut.
The problem was, she wasn’t even mad at them, even if the scowl on her face may have said otherwise. She didn’t blame them for what happened, or herself. How could she blame any of them when the culprit lay dead by her hands back in that warehouse? Or maybe his body had been moved by now, she wasn’t sure. Richie had called Freddie about it, to keep an ear out for anything, but he hadn’t told her what he’d said. The people who’d taken her had tracked them, they had picked the perfect time to strike and preyed on the Geckos’ apparent weakness to extort them. It wasn’t her fault if she couldn’t fight off three men much larger than her on her own and it wasn’t their fault if they couldn’t be there by her side all the time. There was no going back to remedy the situation. So Kate decided to let it go. At least for the moment. She would be thankful that it hadn’t been worse, they would take more precautions, but for now…
It was snowing. And it would be Christmas in mere hours.
Her chair scraped back and both of them looked to her as she did up her coat, walking towards their back door. She found her boots by the couch and pulled them into her feet, her hair pushed behind her ears as a look of determination came over her features.
“Where are you going?” Seth spoke up, sitting back in his chair.
The cold hit her as soon as she opened the door and behind they protested, but they washed over her and went ignored. She stepped forward, out onto the back porch and then down the steps. It was a rare moment of no rain, just the snow and she didn’t even wish she had gloves. For a moment she stood there, but the door opened behind her again and she caught the both of them watching her, so she kept walking.
They followed, again. Really, she thought they might follow her anywhere.
She waited until the snow felt thick enough, towards the back of their property and promptly sat down, staring out into the early night. It was still bright enough so that she could see their two dark figures approach and take their places beside her before she laid back, staring up at the clouds and the sliver of moon up in the sky.
Kate stretched her arms out, realising that they’d situated themselves far enough apart for exactly what she wanted to do, although she hadn’t known that she wanted it until her ass had hit the snow. While she lay there, her arms and legs moving back and forth, she was reminded of a memory. When Scott still felt much smaller than her and they didn’t seem to be connecting at all. Her parents took them on vacation and he couldn’t quite catch on to snowboarding, and they’d both fallen back in the snow and bliss came over them.
Just kids being kids, ignoring the fights they’d had earlier in the day. Ignoring the fact that Scott couldn’t even stay upright on his board.
Laughter filling the cold air, their parents had found them there and pulled them up from the snow, revealing two snow angels imprinted in it, one for her and one for her little brother.
Maybe this wasn’t the sweetest of memories to make, the result of a fight after Kate had gone through an ordeal, but it was something, wasn’t it? Even if her hair was soaked and was probably going to have leaves stuck in it. Even if she was freezing through her clothes. She exhaled, long and slow and smiled. She looked at the men beside her, just being able to catch grins even in the shadows that tried to hide them from her.
Kate didn’t get any real sleep that night, getting up from laying between the brothers, figuring they were both asleep when Richie caught her arm. He’d taken her into the living room where the fire had stopped burning, a blanket wrapped around her shoulders and they’d laid out on the couch, half asleep and exhausted. The television had steadily been on the same channel, because Richie apparently couldn’t get enough of A Christmas Story, much to Kate’s confusion. His explanation was long winded and she’d failed to keep up, but she nodded and encouraged him anyway.
Six a.m. blinked back at her on her phone screen and she nuzzled into his shoulder, having gotten another brief stint of sleep against his skin. It was a comfort to have him there with her, even the lack of sleep made her more anxious.
They’d wished each other a ;Merry Christmas; as soon as the clock struck twelve, but she still felt like telling him every time her eyes opened again. At that point, he was just smirking to himself, waiting for it.
“I’m not gonna say it.” She insisted, staring up at him.
He looked at her then, clearly noting the bags under her eyes as he searched her face. They’d distinctly avoided everything serious for the night, giving her a much needed break after their emotional Christmas eve. He’d even gone so far as to distract her and get her tired all in one with his hand in her pyjama bottoms, but it only lasted her so long before she was feeling awake and hyperaware again. At least she had an excuse to be up now, with light coming through the windows and brightening up the room.
“I’m just glad you’re awake. Think it’ll last? We’re on hour eleven.” He said, motioning towards the screen and she raised her eyebrows.
“I hope you’re not planning to watch all twenty-four hours.”
“I make no promises. I used to do this… Before everything.”
Kate could tell what he meant, but prodded further anyway.
“Like a tradition?”
“A personal one.” Richie chuckled and sat up a little straighter. “Lack of better things to do.”
She pressed her chin against his arm and then her cheek, her eyes still looking up at him. “We’ll open presents after breakfast, when Seth wakes up… Whenever that ends up being.”
“Don’t count on it until after nine, at least.”
She sighed. “He doesn’t get excited.”
“He’s trying, for you.”
“Not just me.”
Kate pulled herself into his lap, wanting to get closer to his warmth and he complied, holding her there with his hands gentle at her waist, but most of his focus still remained on the television. The volume was barely loud enough to hear considering it had to be low enough for her to sleep through, but she swore he was muttering every other line under his breath. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to marvel at it or distract him, but she kept close to him anyway.
“Richie…” His name came out as barely a whisper.
“Yeah?” He angled his head down, turning to her as her hands reached up to cup his face.
Her thumbs moved over cheek bones then reached up to brush his eyes closed, eyelashes tickling over her skin. They opened again as her fingers moved back down, a soft exploration of a face she loved. She leaned up and pulled him down, bringing her face close to his so their noses brushed and she turned her head slightly so they would again. Then, tipping her face she pressed their foreheads together before finding his lips in a kiss, as sweet as honey. Kate felt like they needed the moment of affection, that she needed to show him how much she appreciated him being there with her. She smiled as she pulled back, eyes still shut and exhaled but he pulled her into a hug, crushing her body to his.
“I’m okay.” She mumbled, her arms breaking free of the space between them to wrap round his neck.
“It won’t ever happen again.” Richie said it into her hair and she nodded against him.
It was silent for a long while, the two of them holding on to each other tightly. Kate said the only thing in her head.
“I knew you were going to say that.”
While food crackled and sizzled over the stove, most of the breakfast that Kate and Richie had put together laid out across the breakfast bar, Kate decided to go wake up Seth. It’d been hours since she officially woke up and she was no longer feeling patient, plus, she was sure he wasn’t going to get up on his own considering how much colder it would be out from underneath their blankets. It took her away from Richie, whose mood had greatly improved since the morning, but she’d pressed kisses to wherever she could reach before she wandered up the hallway.
She got a run up from the doorway and jumped into the bed, landing on him and laughing as he rolled over, away from her hands that tried to tickle his neck. He squished her hand under his chin but she insisted, straddling his waist so he couldn’t pull away. “Seth, wake up. It’s Christmas.”
His eyes remained shut as he spoke, as resistant as ever. “It’s Sunday. Sunday is the day of rest.”
“Sunday is the Lord’s day and you’re not listening to me. It’s Christmas.”
Seth’s eyes fluttered open ungracefully as he squinted at her form, illuminated by the light coming in from their windows. They hadn’t shut the curtains last night. He looked at her with a lazy smirk. “No shit, is it really?”
“Don’t be an asshole, get up.”
“You’re not even trying to entice me?” He asked, his eyes now just barely staying open as he folded his arms behind his head against the pillow.
Kate leaned down and put on a charming smile. “The breakfast is gonna get cold.”
“Not what I meant.” He reached for her hip but she pulled off of him, slipping off the bed and narrowing her eyes at him.
“Up.” She commanded, turning on her heel and walking away. She felt like herself.
The three of them sprawled out on the couch, taking in warmth from a second miracle fire that Seth managed to light while professing himself the God of fireplaces. Kate was leaning back on her elbows as the brothers bickered about their presents for each other, which she’d come to expect the moment she found out what both of them were. They were incorrigible, a pair of idiots in Christmas sweaters.
“A gift card is not a present.” Richie announced decidedly, scrunching wrapping paper together as he shoved it to the side.
“You got me a gift card too.” Seth reminded him, his face pinched with annoyance.
“You’re impossible to shop for.”
“And you think you’re easy?”
“Kate managed it.” The taller of the two pointed out, gesturing to the recently unwrapped engraved lighter and box of cigars she’d found for him. She didn’t like them all that much, but when Richie went on at least three tangents about them she thought she’d gone on the hunt to get them for him. She could be resourceful when she needed to be.
He was right twice, if they also kept in mind her gift to Seth – a stack of books, true crime, the gritty stuff and even one about Bonnie and Clyde that she’d figured out he liked but never quite had the time to read.
“Plus, I didn’t get you just a gift card.”
“Yeah, another thing, buying me a pack of white singlets is hardly a great god damn gift.”
“All of yours have blood on them. It was bothering me.” Kate almost agreed, a giggle bubbling up in her throat, but she kept her mouth shut for a little longer.
“You’re buying me a holiday.” Seth decided and Kate raised her eyebrows, wondering if that meant that she was also getting a holiday. Might be nice to go somewhere that wasn’t Texas or Mexico. Although, all thoughts of the beach involved Richie too, so maybe she was being a little idealistic.
“Only if you buy me one.”
“Boys, can we move on?” Kate asked, finally interrupting them. “Seth, you’ve been holding onto that present so tightly this whole time, you’re gonna rip the paper.”
Seth immediately took notice of his hands gripping the large, flat present, wrapped up rather thickly with too much wrapping paper and tape. She didn’t expect him to be an expert at it by any means, but it was an interesting version of a wrapped present.
“Right… Yeah, this is…” He exhaled like it was difficult and she could see nerves building up in him, in the way he handled it, moving it into his lap. “It’s not much, but uh…”
She took it from him slowly, using her fingers to pull up the tape. “I’m sure it’s perfect.”
He was glancing away and didn’t catch her reaction to the last minute as her eyes lit up excitedly and she gasped, realising what the painting was. It was blurry, a hazy mess of pastels depicting three figures in a bed, maybe in the morning, maybe in the late afternoon. And it was gorgeous. And he’d remembered. Memory sprung to the front of her mind of her admiring the painting in a building they’d passed through, the reason lost on her now. She’d joked that it looked like them and now she felt like crying because it was there, in her hands, looking back at her.
“Oh my god.” She was gentle with it, her fingers only playing along the frame.
“So it's alright?” Seth asked, although her reaction made it pretty evident that she appreciated his gift.
“Not a toaster, but it’ll do.” Kate joked and his eyebrows furrowed, before he caught on.
“I can… I can get you one, if you want.” He said, his eyes taking on something serious and cautious. She knew he didn’t exactly do this whole song and dance very often. Christmas gifts could be difficult, especially in a relationship that was still relatively new while also feeling as permanent as theirs did.
“What? We have a toaster.” Richie piped up, looking between them. They did have one, one that like much of their kitchen appliances Richie had decided on after a rigorous review reading process.
She shook her head and dropped it. “No, I love this. I really do, it can go in our room.”
Kate shuffled over on the rug to kiss his cheek and then placed the painting aside, looking to Richie and holding back any expectance.
Quickly he caught on and pulled a box out from behind him, the wooden lit carved into roses, the petals intricate and smooth under her fingers as she took it from him. She met his eyes before she pushed it open, less sure than she had been with Seth and found inside a silver handgun with more intricate floral carvings, with pink marble panelling down the side of the grip. It was the prettiest gun she’d ever seen, while a little unorthodox as a Christmas present.
“I figured you should have something to go with the dress.” He said, shrugging a shoulder nonchalantly.
Kate never minded much which gun they gave her, as long as it wasn’t the smallest one. This one wasn’t all that big, but it was gorgeous. Part of her was surprised he hadn’t bought her one with a depiction of Mary on the grip like they kept telling her they would. She picked it up gently, handling it with care.
“It’s gorgeous.” She marvelled.
It wasn’t lost on her that she was talking about a gun. They really had changed her.
She showed how grateful she was through affection, situating herself close to him as she put it back in the box, leaning back into his arms. Exhaustion had come on strong as the morning had progressed and she knew that by lunch time she’d be out like a light, if she allowed herself to keep laying against him. They’d planned to take her to visit Scott later, but for the moment she just wanted to be with them. The rain started again outside and she listened to it get louder as her eyes shut and she smiled.
Maybe it wasn’t the perfect Christmas she had been imagining when she’d put up their tree and decorated the house, but at least now the only way was up.