Sunlight sliced a
thin line through the heavy drapes, piercing and hot and cold all in
one impression. The blankets lay tangled at his feet, his body thrown
diagonally across the sheets, the skin of his back prickling with the
early morning coolness of a quiet house. His awareness slumbered,
heavy and resistant to the rays caressing his lids. It wasn't the
sun, his subconscious whispered, arguing with the pull of sleep. It
was something else that roused you. And it just did it again.
He sighed a protest and shoved his arms beneath his pillow, burrowing his chest deeper into the mattress, trying to shut out reality and bask in the feelings of the night. Where his dreams had been sweet. A woman, smiling. Happiness like a drug. No, he would stay in the moment, in memories and warmth and whispers and laughter, where he could feel the smile, the touch...
Castle startled awake as his phone chimed obnoxiously from across the bed. He should change the ringtone, he thought, to a more suitable alarm. But it was familiar. It reminded him of the dream. Odd. No, it wasn't, of course it wasn't odd. It was Beckett.
Heaving himself half upwards, he lunged one arm out and snagged the phone to his pillow, swiping the answer bar en route.
"Kate." He winced slightly at the sound of his voice, heavy and thick and a little too warm from those lingering emotional tides...and had he just used her first name? "Is a body dropping now?" Wake up Castle, act alert.
"Actually, no. Good morning, Castle. Is that bed cozy?"
She knew, of course. And that was too perfect...
"Oh jeez Kate, you didn't have to call to ask me that...you could have just climbed in."
"Mhm. One evening at my place and already you're inviting me to bed with you."
"Would it be me if I didn't?"
"No, that'd be too mature."
"Oh ha!" he squinted at his phone, the colors blurring. "What time is it, anyway?"
"About quarter of nine. We have a new lead on the DiMassou case from a few weeks back–"
"The guy with the green hair and blue eyebrows?"
"–Yes, that one – and if we track down a few more details, we may file for an arrest warrant."
"I'm there. Just –ouch–" his toes smacked the closet door frame "-give me thirty." He was already grabbing pants and a shirt, tossing them on the bed, kicking his shoes out of their cubby.
Light laughter. "No rush. Breakfast's here."
Food's there? Castle jumped the shower, the water sparkling trails across his shoulders and neck, its playful meandering a mirror to his upbeat mood. A hand through his damp hair, a quick skim with the toothbrush, and he was out the door, hailing a checkered coach.
The Monday morning scowl on New York's working class passed him by unnoticed, the air a refreshing spike instead of a harsh bite. He'd wrote all day and half the night yesterday, the words forming faster than his fingers could twitch, the story weaving its own tapestry. Wine at her place, indeed. Forever his muse.
He slid into the precinct elevator and couldn't avoid bobbing in time to the jazz music playing through unseen speakers. His actions weren't really justifiable, his mood too jovial, his heart too light. There was no kiss. No touching, not really, nothing that counted. No special words, no relational milestone - it had been just a weekend, a weekend full of her. Drinks at the Old Haunt with the gang on Friday night; laughing about Tony the Tiger. Poker with her and a smattering of city officials at his place Saturday evening. Dropping her off turning into a few glasses of wine laced with literary criticism. She'd even asked him about his process, how he did it, what was his theory of storytelling. Richness. And now she was calling him in, no good reason, no body, just a new lead...sounded like a thin excuse. One could hope.
He rounded the corner into the bullpen, having already caught sight of her through the hashed windows. Sitting there, hair tumbling, eyes downcast upon a small stack of papers she was rifling through. Just like every other day. He allowed a slow smile breach his lips, a prerequisite for his good morning grin. The routine was so...comfortable. Beautiful. Unique to them. She called, and he came-
Castle's stride faltered, and Beckett glanced up at the brief stuttering scuff of his shoe. He had forgotten her coffee. Suddenly his hands felt glaringly empty, too light...his fingers closed on themselves. Whoops.
"I've got your coffee. And food, if you're interested in a breakfast burrito with extra bacon."
He looked at the desk. A Styrofoam cup, steam leaking through the small oval cut into the lid. A hand towel, wrapped around the burrito, keeping it warm. "I forgot yours." his tone was apologetic as he unbuttoned his coat and cast it across the back of his chair. She bought him coffee? And food? She might as well of kissed him back.
She went back to her papers. "I owe you a few. Had mine while you were sleeping."
"Good movie." He unrolled the towel and peeled back the burrito wrap. "While You Were Sleeping."
"If you are into that."
"Did I just hear the girl who watches Temptation Lane tell me she doesn't appreciate a good flick?" He bit into the burrito. Where did she find this? And extra bacon? He loved this woman.
"Depends. I find reality takes a little more work than that."
"I always figured she just finally met the right guy...sure reality takes more work but the story is so-"
"Fluffy? Stop talking before you lose your man card."
"Being raised by and raising a female has already stolen that."
She tilted her head in concession to his point.
"So what's this new development?" he crinkled his eyes and leaned past his burrito. "...Or did you just miss me?"
She gave him her flat-eyed glare, her lids lowering in feigned boredom at his comment, mouth humorless above the jut of her chin. "Well, apparently, there was a witness."
He distinctly remembered her reacting differently at the Old Haunt in the face of his incessant teasing...more temptress, more bantering; teasing grins and sharp retorts that left little goosebumps on his arms. This is the precinct, Castle. Weekend's over.
"What? We interviewed everyone that was in or around that slimy alley."
"All the ones we knew about. David Shimonoseki came forward this morning, he was a young friend of our vic DiMassou. He was hanging back around the corner, saw our killer run off. Said it was a drug deal gone bad."
"And he's just now coming forward?"
"The kid's barely sixteen. He saw DiMassou's body and freaked. Conscience finally got to him; must have decided it was better to rat to the police than carry a murder with him the rest of his life. Ryan's got him up with the artists. Meanwhile..." she swiveled her chair away, bent down, stood up with a box pressed between her palms, "...we get to brush up on the case and rebuild the murder board. Put in the new info. See what clicks."
"Have I become your inspiration for building theory? That's so poetic."
"Don't flatter yourself."
Goofy. Ridiculously goofy. She couldn't label it at first...there was a different glint in his eyes, a swagger she hadn't seen since before - well, since before the summer...But as they pieced the board back together, poured over the details, he just kept rolling out one joke after another, some terrible, some warranting a glare, others dragging the laughter out of her...a goofy litany full of inside jokes and punnish word play. And he wasn't showing signs of stopping.
The endless stream of one-liners and irreverent comments were transforming her job into an impromptu comedy show; transforming the way she worked, transporting her emotion from somber contemplation to amused perusal. He was pulling her pigtails left and right, and she was barely swatting him away. Like Friday. And Saturday. And Saturday night...what had she done? Give this man a mile and he'd go ten.
He looked at her over the top of the crime scene report as he read off the timeline points for her to plot with a squeaky marker; his crazy little smile peaking just over the edge. A memory sparked: a whiff of scotch and those same dancing eyes gazing at her over his glass, face too close, his cologne adding a sultry tinge to the earthy bar air. She stifled a smile.
She knew the root of his ridiculousness. Her. They'd had a good time, she would even say a great time; but give too much and he may start pressing, asking for some definition. Definition she couldn't give, clarity she didn't have. Perhaps the burrito and coffee had been too much? No; she owed him that much. She had grown dependent on the healing laughter, expectant of the optimist's charms. But admit that to him? No way. She wasn't ready for that yet. Not by a long shot.
The goof got out of hand, of course. She turned her back to the board momentarily to glance over the new report from their early morning interview with Shimonoseki, pivoted back to compare it with the timeline. Which had been turned into train tracks. She looked at him. He was engrossed in his assignment, searching DiMassou's phone records for Shimonoseki's digits. Well, she could deal with tracks...it wasn't really messing up her board. And she wasn't giving him the satisfaction of a reaction.
She grabbed a suspects report, reviewed the alibi, looked at the board again. Little stick men acting out the timeline. She narrowed her eyes, tried to concentrate on the facts, struggle against the smile - and the telephone barked from her desk. It was a quick call. But apparently long enough for DiMassou's murdered stick man to appear, complete with green hair and...were those blue eyebrows? 'WHO DUNNIT?' was printed in the square reserved for the killer.
Nope. Now her board was cluttered. No dice, Castle. She crossed to where he sat perched on the edge of a desk, the pages of phone records fanned out and held up to cover his face.
"Castle." she clipped, hooking a finger over the top edges and flopping the paper screen away from his face, forcing the corners of her mouth to stay down and stop twitching in mutiny. "Get in line."
He laughed, a little boy celebrating a self-gratifying prank. "I am! I finished highlighting all the numbers...see?"
She snatched the papers and turned them to inspect his work. "Seriously, what is your deal today? You're hindering, not helping." Not with the case, anyway. Never mind herself. Never mind she enjoys their game of push-and-shove; never mind it is oddly therapeutic.
"I just verified that Shimonoseki was, indeed, telling the truth about his friendship with our vic, and he talked to him twice in the hours before the murder." Castle had slid off the desk and was standing close, reaching over her wrist to point out relevant yellow streaks. "And now all I have to do is check Shimonoseki's phone records to see who else he called within our timeline...get some more leads from DiMassou's group of friends, right?"
"You've had plenty of time for that."
"Castle, you murdered my board."
"Well it is a-"
She threw a hand up over his opening mouth to stop the words. "Pun intended."
The flash in his eyes; the still line of his mouth against her skin; the absence of a light chuckle were her only warnings that she'd crossed an unspoken threshold from playful to...to...too much. Too far. Her hand dropped as lead, burning from the warmth his breath had infused across her palm. She swallowed, turned to fumble for the other call logs, swept them up and thumped them into his chest. Hard. "Now, do something productive."
"Ow!" he whined emphatically, the goofiness back, light dancing in his eyes.
She stepped away and berated herself as she meticulously cleaned up her board. It had just...happened. A raw, subconsious reaction, a symptom of how familiar she was with him, an indication of the claim she had inadvertently laid. Overstep again, Beckett, cross that line one too many times - and you won't be able to go back. Back to safe. Back to control.
Her phone clattered again, a welcome distraction.
"Beckett." Words filled her ear, she reached for a pen, jotted a note. Glancing up, the phone cradled in her shoulder, she caught Castle reaching for her coat in preemptive expectation. She finished, dropped the phone back to its cradle. "Alright, DaVinci. We've got a body."
She made an instantaneous decision and dropped her hands behind her, allowing him to deftly slide her coat up the length of her arms and over her shoulders. For a heartbeat, as his hands hovered in front of her clavicles while drawing the seams of the jacket in line with the curve of her shoulders, she could imagine rocking backwards and allowing the circle of his arms to close around her, press her tight.
His hands disappeared and the image with them. They had a body to see.
Beckett picked her way off the perfect lines of the path, between the headstones of Calvary Cemetery, past little bouquets of flowers; mostly fake, but with a few wilted arrangements mixed in. The sun was bright, crisp, the sky perfectly clear; a rarity for the season. The wind was minimal, the ground soft and giving beneath her steps, the grass brown and limp.
Entering the crime zone, she swept the scene. A woman, bundled in a pea coat, curled sideways at the foot of a grave, seemingly asleep. But her chest was motionless, her skin too pale, papery and white in the bright afternoon.
"Single shot to the center of mass; she bled out. No other marks or contusions that I can see, it doesn't appear there was much of a struggle." Lanie was crouching by the woman's head, talking and tapping her pen across the top of her clip board.
Beckett stood above her, a few steps farther away than she should be. The ground was dark beneath the victim, a large stain that soaked the ground, heavy and black. The delicate blades of grass were bowed, mourning, unable to carry the burden of the life poured out upon them.
She glanced surreptitiously at Castle, hands in his pockets at her side, his elbow nearly touching hers, his presence suddenly comforting and strong, counteracting the feeling of frailty consuming her. Did he feel it too? The weight, the heaviness?
"She tried to rob the grave." Castle's voice; his eyes met hers. "I accuse the ghost." Beckett was close enough to hear it rumble through his chest, too flippant. But his eyes were still, serious, supporting. He felt the hesitance in her, he was attuned to her moods as a musician to his instrument; he always knew. And he was bringing her back, grounding her.
She forced her eyes back to the corpse, the fatal wound to the heart glaring and too obvious. Remembered pain clenched beneath her chest, shallowing her breath. Her life was given back; it is a debt to repay. Find the killer, bring justice and closure. It is who she was; it defined her now more than ever. Speaker for the dead.
Beckett took a long step forward and crouched beside Lanie, listened to the report, time of death, size of the bullet. She could handle this, she could do this. Maintain professional distance.
Castle dropped another line and Lanie turned her head to fire something back, Kate glanced back as well, just because. She felt raw inside, her chest too tight. She hated it. Hated the weakness, hated the triggers, the memories, the insecurities. The irrationality of it all. She was over it, she had survived, she was healed. Why did her psyche fail her?
Her eyes landed on his face, set above her, the sky a brilliant blue behind him, the direct sun casting contrasting shadows over his cheeks. It was an accident, she hadn't meant to catch his eye, she was only trying to hear what he had been saying to Lanie...
And unexpectedly the world tunneled, everything out of focus except those piercing eyes, set against a blue sky; suddenly the grass was emerald, sharp, the air static, cracking. She couldn't avert her gaze, though she knew she was staring, unblinking, all her senses suddenly on fire, the light wind a roaring, Lanie's words jumbled and indistinct, the smell of the ground sharp and heavy and impossibly suffocating.
She couldn't breathe. She needed air. Everything was crashing, she was trapped in the middle, trapped between a dead woman and Lanie and Castle and the pool of blood near her toes...she sucked wind but it was too thick, choked with fresh grass and musty sod; the sky was still so brilliant and Castle's face was more serious now...
"Beckett? Kate?" “Kate, Shh... Kate. Stay with me Kate.” His words were disembodied, they didn't match his lips.
But the words... She was hearing them, so softly, she couldn't shut out the sound...“No, don't leave me, please...stay with me, ok?” No - she couldn't hear it again; it was too much, too close.
His hand was fisting in her lapels, solid, real, keeping her from toppling over, contaminating the body. His face was close, really close, but out of the sky now, no longer framed in blue - reality was there, reachable.
"Kate! Come on, stand up." His words hung, a focal point, everything falling back into place, her senses finding equilibrium, the panic ebbing away, her coat still too tight, his hands hauling her upwards. But she was standing on her own, she had pushed him away - violently, needing the distance; the buttons were stubborn but finally her jacket swung open as she staggered away, the scarf unwrapped, burning her neck as she yanked it free.
Air. Space. Cold wind, brown grass. Composure. This was not her. She was strong, she could beat it, use her weakness...Esposito's words, her therapist's...don't ignore it, face it, process it; all of it crowding her mind. She wasn't going to process it. Not yet. The moment was too raw. Maybe she would talk about it at her next session; probably not.
She was alive. She had a job to do. A debt to repay to the victims. Put on the armor, lock in the vulnerability, bind up the fraying pieces.
She breathed, steadied, and returned to the scene. Esposito was there, notebook in hand.
"Tell me what you've got, Espo. Any witnesses?" She was back; impenetrable, unshakeable - for the time being. She would wait for solitude and space before delving back into the triggers surrounding that dark place.
Their faces were too tight, stances too stiff, voices too measured. Castle was looking at her; she ignored him. She wished he wasn't here; she regretted calling him in.
Regretted the fact that he witnessed her brokenness, got cut on the pieces. She could feel it between them; his question, her silence. The damn wall. He wanted in - or at least to approach...listen. To be her anchor, to offer her a pillar to lean on. But how could she explain? He didn't realize what he was asking for, what he was in for.
She was too broken. It could ruin him. Them. Her.
If she dropped the facade and bared her soul, it would be uncontrolled, wild, too raw and piercing. The hurt and anger from a thousand wounds pouring over him. She was learning. Learning to control it, to unpack herself piece by piece; a slow process of restructuring and restoring, rebuilding her cracked foundation and crumbling pilings. For him.
But until that work was complete...she feared his impetuousness, his impulsiveness - she feared he would jump the gun before she was ready, bringing her crashing down around him. And what then?
So she turned her back on his troubled eyes, clipped a few orders to Esposito, and cinched down the armor. Walked away, back to her car. Ignoring the hollow pit in her gut. Fighting the angst and longing in her soul. She knew what he wanted. She just didn't know how to give it to him.
And she wasn't sure how much time she could buy.