Disclaimer: I have no rights to anything related to CBS's Beauty and the Beast TV series. This is an entirely unauthorized work of fan fiction for which I receive no compensation, monetary or otherwise.
A/N: I recently watched BatB for the first time since I was a kid, and I absolutely fell in love with the world Below. Perhaps it's just that I'm older now, or perhaps it's that I've been tossed around by the economy and family situations the last few months, but the idea of such a place for lost souls resonated deeply in my own. The tunnel community takes on such a life of its own, and however idealistic it all is in the end, it's a beautiful dream, a reminder of greater possibilities. I suppose this fic is something of a tribute to those ideas, that dream. Take from it what you will. Thanks for sharing it with me.
For No Miser's Sake
Vincent found himself with too much empty time on his hands, too much time to think words and ideas that he would not chance to speech. Of course Father had commented on his brooding. Father had commented on everything, the disappearance of Vincent's cloak, the way his ventures Above had so suddenly ceased, the late, silent hours he had taken to wandering the corridors in the last few weeks. And none of it was enough to calm the worry in him, to erase the smell of blood mixing with sex or the panicked screaming in the dark.
He had taken more sentry shifts than usual to fill the hours. It was solitary work and left too much time for thinking, but it let him feel useful. It gave him some focus for his restlessness, and it gave him someplace to go that wasn't Above. His sentry shifts had been tapering off in the last year or so, as he took on more of Father's classes with the children, and he couldn't let himself grow complacent. He needed to protect the people and the place that had kept him safe for so long, the only sanctuary there could ever be for what he was. He needed to do his share for the people who gave him everything.
It was early on a Tuesday morning when he started a shift near one of the dockside entrances. Jonathan, their cobbler, passed the sentry staff to him, the changing of the guard.
"Been quiet," Jonathan said as he gathered up a pair of boots he'd been repairing in the sentry hidey-hole. Once his tools were cleared away, Vincent set down his lunch and books; after this shift and a lesson with the newest sentry recruits, he had two reading groups before supper that he needed to review for.
"Don't expect you'll see any traffic come daylight," Jonathan continued. "Say, is there any hot breakfast left?"
Vincent looked up from the books he'd just put down, and it took him a moment to catch up to Jonathan's expectant silence. "I don't know. William was still cooking when I had breakfast."
The cobbler frowned at him. "Are you all right? You've been a bit…spacey lately. Mind, you've always had your head in the clouds, but you've been worse lately."
"I'm fine," Vincent answered at his most reassuring.
"Right," Jonathan returned at his most disbelieving. "Well, keep sharp. Being Father's favorite won't keep intruders out."
Vincent said nothing as Jonathan slid out of the hidden alcove; the cobbler's barbs were nothing new, and nothing had ever come of taking them too seriously.
With the sentry staff in hand, Vincent set out to walk his first set of rounds, first to be sure that the secret entrance was secure, then through the surrounding tunnels to check that all was well. Maintaining the vast underground network was a constant dilemma for the Council and relied heavily on identifying leaks, cracks, and other hazards as early as possible. Part of it was to maintain structural integrity, but part of it was also the fear that any problem the topsiders noticed with their pipes or electrical lines or sewers could lead someone Below.
The air in the tunnel shifted; Vincent might not have noticed the fresh slice of February chill creeping down the corridor if he had had his cloak to protect him, but he knew the sharp smells of seawater and shoreline as soon as they drifted past him. He was adjacent to the tunnel that led to the secret entrance and the hidden sentry alcove, and when he looked around the corner, he saw someone peering into the outpost. When she pulled back, Vincent realized it was one of their Helpers, a tall, dark-haired woman called Jacqueline, and he nearly called out to her, but something in the way that she scanned the corridor and that she had appeared without a sound put him on edge. He watched as she disappeared back the way she had come, back toward Above, with silent footsteps.
He waited, and before long, she reappeared, guiding an unfamiliar man and two young girls, the eldest no more than twelve, who must have been sisters. If the man was their father, they must have taken after their mother; as much as they had straight, blonde hair and narrow faces, the man had coarse, brown hair and rounded features.
"We're in luck," said Jacqueline in a hushed voice. She brushed wiry, black hair out of her face. "The sentry must be on rounds. Come on, quickly."
Vincent drew back further, and they hurried past without noticing him. He waited before looking into the corridor and finding it completely empty. Back in the hideaway, he used his staff to tap out a message to Edward and Pascal: Jacqueline Below with strangers. Suspicious. Toward Serpentine. Almost immediately, Edward tapped back: Understood.
Helpers and newcomers all found it hard to believe that those who had spent most of their lives Below could identify the people tapping on the pipes by minute idiosyncrasies in the code, but most messages were as good as spoken words to Vincent; he could identify nearly three dozen "voices." Pascal, of course, was the best of them, identifying not only the people who lived Below, but also every Helper, and he could identify the location of each on any of the commonly used pipes, just by the strength of the sound. Even Edward, his father, couldn't claim such uncanny accuracy, and Pascal's intuitive skill was a source of much pride for the both of them.
Vincent sat in perfect silence for several minutes before Sarah tapped: Intruders spotted. Serpentine. High. Edward acknowledged. Then he tapped: V, How many? Vincent answered: Jacqueline. Man. Girl. Girl. Edward tapped back: Understood. S, How many? Sarah's answer matched Vincent's. Edward acknowledged.
Vivian saw them next, leaving the Serpentine. Then Winslow's heavy-handed tapping said: Will meet. He followed it with the angry, sloppy sequence that the tunnel dwellers used as an all-purpose curse on the pipes.
The conversation ended there, and Vincent went to check that Jacqueline had secured the tunnel entrance.