Little House in the Woods
Kate stirs beneath his hand and Castle retracts it, already missing the softness of her hair and the comforting gesture. Her expression is languid until she realizes he’s there and she reaches for the gun on her hip. Except there isn’t one, not even a holster, and the sudden movement leaves her gasping in pain.
“Kate! Kate, it’s me. It’s okay,” Castle says, touching her shoulder. She collapses back onto the burlap sacks, unmoving with her hair obscuring her face. Castle tries to as gentle as he can with both his touch and voice. “Kate, are you okay? What are you doing here?” She doesn’t answer. “Kate…” he touches her again and she doesn’t flinch away, brushing the hair over her shoulder in smooth strokes. Her eyes are squeezed shut, as if replaying some horrific event over and over in her head. He goes off the assumption that she’s not answering him because she’s trapped in her own mind, the same state of mind that caused her to run here in the first place.
41319. 41319. 413… She can scarcely remember the number any more, much less what it stands for. All she can see in front of her is a great white light, blinding and all-encompassing. The ground she’s lying on seems to buck and sway of its own accord, and a confused jumble of voices follows her everywhere, but she cannot see the speakers. They are hidden from her.
Her body is shunted sideways, pain exploding in her chest and slicing across her side. She can feel it fast approaching, a cold stealing across her muscles that turns her bones to ice.
Suddenly the scene shifts and everything’s black. A rough cloth material digs into her hands and dust clogs her nose. There’s a warm pressure on her back, and she lifts herself up to find herself face to face with Castle. What’s he doing here? Where is she?
Then a split second later it all comes rushing back, and the adrenaline she feels as well as the utter exhaustion of her muscles makes complete sense. As the agony abates, she slowly sits up, facing him but still looking inward. The last remnants of terrifying, vivid imagery still haunt her. When finally she is herself again and fully locked in the present, she starts thinking about what to say. His questions are convoluted, impossible for her muddled mind to answer, mostly because she doesn’t quite understand herself. Every action she took made sense in that panicked state, but now that she’s out of it she doesn’t know quite what she was thinking. Why she came to the Old Haunt is another impossibly difficult question. It just…felt right. All of the big questions—all of the ones Castle wants answers to—are difficult.
But she can’t even come up with a suitable question of her own, because all that come to mind are large and hairy and involve even more thinking when she gets a response. She knows it’s been a long time since she left her apartment based on her parched tongue, and she also knows that Esposito, Ryan, and Lanie would be at the top of his call list if she went missing. She doesn’t want to think about what she put her team or her best friend through, because she can’t afford to be wracked with guilt right now. She’s holding together so feebly as it is.
And then there’s her dad. He presents even more of an issue than the other three, and she sincerely hopes Castle didn’t apprise him of the situation. Her dad loves her dearly, and he would drop everything in a heartbeat—his friends, his job, his life—to be there for her if she needed him. Running away, she thinks, would definitely qualify. She adds her father to the list of things she wants to know but doesn’t want to deal with the answer.
She’s been sitting there silent for well over two minutes and come up with absolutely nothing to say or ask. Everything is too big, too important, too complicated with too many ramifications. Once she asks, she’ll have to start doing, and she’s not ready to do much of anything yet. So the advice of Dr. Burke comes to mind: if you feel overwhelmed, start with something simple and work from there.
“Did you find your outline?” The words just seem to slip out of Kate’s mouth without her permission.
Castle stares at her for a second and then smiles as if mildly amused. “Really? We’re sitting up to our ears in filth in the secret bowels of a Prohibition-era bar and after everything that’s happened, you ask about my outline?” His tone is light and teasing, but Kate still wants an answer. “Yeah, yeah, I found it. Brought it back to your apartment. Why?”
The long version involving complex and muddled emotions is too, well, long, so she goes with a short, but still true, reply: “I’m looking forward to reading Heat Rises.” A shadow crosses his face momentarily, so quick that she might have imagined it. But she’s a Detective, and she’s learned to trust her eyes not to play tricks on her. There definitely was a shadow. What it meant, she has no idea, but it was there. Briefly. “How’d you find me?”
“Observant bartender upstairs,” Castle replies. The two sit in silence for another minute, Castle’s gaze scrutinizing and her own focused on the unbuttoned button at the top of his shirt. Finally Castle seems tired of waiting.
“Kate, are you okay?” She shrugs in answer, yet another movement at which her chest protests. “Are you…do you want to go home?”
She shakes her head like a small child. “My apartment isn’t safe.”
Castle doesn’t even argue this like she expects him to, just says, “Then where is safe? I’ll take you anywhere, Kate, anywhere you want to go. My apartment, your dad’s place, the Hamptons, Paris…”
She considers this. “My dad has a cabin the woods north of here. It’s secluded, out of the way.”
“You want to go there?”
She bites her lower lip, nodding. “The noises…the noises of the city startle me. Sirens, car horns, doors slamming…”
Castle smiles reassuringly. “Then that’s where we’ll go.” He holds out his hand to her and she takes it, rising slowly to her feet. He supports her on her shaky legs as they make their way back up the stairs and into the main bar. Castle leaves her in a booth nearby to exchange a few words with the bartender, but she notices he keeps a close eye on her. Kate tries not to let it bother her. She’d like to promise him that it will never happen again, but she’s not sure herself. In this lucid state, the idea seems preposterous and out-of-the-question, but she definitely wasn’t in her right mind when she fled the apartment. There’s nothing she can do to guard against that state of mind again. She hates feeling so out of control, so she gazes at the lacquered wood table and concentrates on her breathing until Castle returns. In and out. In and out.
A tap on her shoulder lets her know that it’s time to go. She stands willingly, waits patiently for a taxi, and sits quietly the whole way home. She sinks into the couch upon arrival, running one hand tiredly through her hair.
“What’s this?” Castle asks. He’s kneeling down at the other side of the room next to a dark gray metal box. He hooks his fingers around the door and it swings open readily.
“Close the safe, Castle,” she says coldly, but not before he removes a gun similar to her piece from the Twelfth. At the sight her heartbeat triples and her legs pull up to her chest. She shields her face with her arm, curling up into a ball.
He hurriedly places the handgun back into the safe, shutting and locking it. “Kate, okay, the gun’s gone.” She hesitantly uncurls, taking in shuddering breaths. “Why do you have a gun? I thought the precinct was keeping yours until you’re back on duty.”
“That’s mine,” she says. “My personal one.”
“How long have you had it?”
“Since the Scott Dunn case.”
Recognition flares in his eyes. “Nothing like near death by a psychopath bomber who’s got you confused with your literary alter-ego to make you paranoid.” He looks at the safe again. “Why was it open?”
“I tried to take it with me, before I left. But I couldn’t touch it.” She pauses, letting that sink in. “I couldn’t touch it, Castle. How am I supposed to be a cop when I can’t shoot a gun?”
“Kate, no one’s expecting you to be a cop right now,” Castle says. He sits on the other end of the couch facing her. “You will go back to your job, and you’ll be as good as ever. But not for a little while. You were shot; cut yourself some slack.” She’s quiet, digesting this. “Oh—speaking of cops, I’d better call Esposito.”
“Espo?” That snaps her back to attention.
“Yeah. When you went missing, I called Esposito, Ryan, and Lanie to see if any of them knew where you were.”
“Did you…did you call my dad?”
Castle shakes his head and she’s immensely relieved. “They’ll be worried though.” He dials up one of them and puts it on speakerphone.
“Hey, it’s Castle. I found her.”
“Thank God, Ryan and I were just about to put out an APB.” Castle exchanges a worried glance with Kate. She’s glad he called just then, or she’d have a lot more explaining to do.
“May I speak with her?” Lanie’s voice comes over the phone. Kate’s eyes widen and she shakes her head emphatically no.
Castle’s brow creases. “Sorry, Lanie, she’s sleeping right now.”
Her friend sounds disappointed. “Oh, okay. Tell her to give me a call when she wakes up.”
“Will do,” says Castle uneasily.
“Where did you find her?” Esposito asks.
“At the Old Haunt,” Castle says, “in the tunnels. I guess it was the only place she could find that felt safe. She slept more peacefully there than she ever does her, for hours straight. I didn’t want to wake her up.”
“Wait a second, bro,” says Espo. “You were watching her sleep for hours? And you didn’t think to call? We were worried too, man!”
“Writer-boy, you’ve got some nerve,” Lanie adds in her best pissed-off voice. Kate wants to warn Castle to defuse the situation before she gets into her stride but she can’t without being heard on the call. She feebly motions over her throat for him to stop. Castle. Stop. Stop talking. Stop talking! Unfortunately, Castle doesn’t seem to be very adept at the nonverbal cues. Maybe because he spends too much time opening and closing his mouth.
“Sorry guys, I just didn’t think—”
“Hell yeah, you didn’t think! You didn’t think about any of us! We’re her friends too, Castle, and we’ve been worried sick about her!” Kate can’t take the yelling anymore; it’s too much for her to handle right now and dredges up too many emotions. She slides off the couch and into the kitchen in search of pain medication. Which she’s a dose behind on today already.
After downing the pills, she can still hear Castle’s indignant voice and Lanie’s screeching from the other room, so she heads to hers and shuts the door. Even that doesn’t block the noise out, not even when she insulates her head with pillows. After a few minutes she can’t hear anyone but Castle and can only assume he took it off speakerphone to not upset Kate further. Well, too late. She’s already upset.
Castle shoves his phone back into his pocket, a mixture of anger and guilt coursing through him. He gives himself a few seconds to calm down and then stands up. He checks the kitchen first for her and then sees her closed bedroom door. He knocks on it softly and, when there’s no response, opens it. She’s asleep again, brown hair framing her head like a silky mane. Her chest rises and falls softly.
He leaves her be but keeps the door open so he can better hear if something goes wrong. Then he walks to the closet and fetches a suitcase, wondering briefly why she has two. His writer’s mind immediately begins weaving a story, something about spending a semester in Kiev in college. His is sitting in the corner of the room, but he still has to repack it to fit everything. He wonders if this cabin in the woods has a laundry machine.
“Hey, Jim, it’s Rick,” he says, holding the phone to his ear.
“Hello, Rick. I was just about to call and check up on Katie. Is everything all right?”
“Yeah, no, everything’s fine,” Castle replies evasively. “Kate had the idea to move into the cabin in the woods for a little while. Would that be okay?”
“Sure.” There’s a pause in which neither of them speaks. “Why?”
“We think getting away from the city, where it happened, would help her recovery. She’s…” Castle’s finding it difficult to explain this without making it sound too awful. “She’s having some trouble sleeping, so maybe getting away from it all into the peace and quiet would help.”
“I understand,” Jim says. “Give me an hour, and I’ll be right over with the keys. If you don’t mind, I’d like to talk to her before you leave.”
“Yeah, of course,” Castle agrees. “That’ll give me time while you’re here to pick up my car from the loft. See you in an hour.”
Castle sighs and leans against the pillows of the couch. Then he drags himself up and into Kate’s room. He pauses a minute in the threshold, trying to decide whether it’s better to let her sleep or let her prepare for her father’s impending visit.
“Kate.” He doesn’t shake her for fear of hurting her, but her expression of terror as she wakes clenches his heart.
“Castle,” she runs her hand groggily through her hair and glances at the window. “It’s nighttime. What is it?”
“It’s only nine o’clock. Your dad will be here in about fifty minutes.”
“You told him?” All of a sudden her voice is laced with fear.
“No, just about moving to the cabin in the woods.”
“Oh,” she relaxes.
“Anyway, he’s coming over here to drop off the keys and chat with you a bit. I thought you might want some time to…compose yourself a little.”
She nods. “Thanks, Castle.”
“We also should pack your suitcase for the cabin.” She moves to get up and he stills her with a hand on her shoulder. “No, I’ll do it. Keep resting; it’s going to be a long ride.”
Castle opens the suitcase at the foot of her bed and pulls out her bottom drawer. “Socks?”
“They’re socks, Castle. They’re all the same. Just pick some.”
Castle shrugs. “Your wish is my command. But at my place, I own socks with designs on them.”
“Like what? Pink bunny socks?”
Castle smiles. “Actually, yes. Alexis gave them to me for my birthday.” At Kate’s look of confusion, he adds, “She was five.”
“Ah. Well, I don’t have pink bunny socks, so any will do.” Castle sighs and turns back to the drawer, eyes falling upon her collection of lingerie. After a moment’s hesitation, he closes that drawer and proceeds to the next. She had taken on a pained expression at the sight of them…he wonders just how badly she’ll scar from the bullet wound. Not that it matters to him, of course—she’s alive, and that’s all he can ask for. A scar can’t quench the love he feels for her. Nothing can.
He’ll let Kate pack those herself. They spend the next half hour selecting clothes for her to bring, which consisted mostly of him suggesting, her arguing exasperatedly, and eventually Kate just dictating his movements. “No, Castle, the other red one.”
“What other red one?”
“That one, right under your hand! No, back the other way…yes, that one.”
“I’m sorry,” Castle says, holding it up, “that is not red. Had you said ‘the burgundy’ I would have known what you were talking about.” He packs it into the suitcase, pressing down on the piles of clothes so that they’ll all fit. “There, done.” As if right on cue, there’s a knock on the door. “I’ll get it.”
“’Kay.” She pulls her legs into a more comfortable sitting position and blinks several times, trying to look as awake and alert as she can. Castle gives her a thumbs up before exiting the room and opening the door.
“Hey Rick,” Jim greets him.
“Good to see you,” Castle says. “I won’t be gone long, just picking up my car from the loft.”
“That’s all right,” Jim says. “Katie’s in her bedroom?”
“Yeah,” Castle nods. Castle steps out and takes the elevator down to the entrance and then hails a cab to his place. He unlocks the door quietly, intending to inform Alexis of the change in plans but instead finds a note on the counter.
Going to a late movie with Paige, Zed, and Ashley. Will be home around 11:30.
Castle resolves to call Alexis in the morning, seeing as he doesn’t have the time to wait for her to get home. It’s not that he doesn’t trust Jim—obviously Kate’s father has nothing but her best interests at heart—but after the events of today Castle doesn’t even want to let Kate out of his sight. It had been hard just letting her sleep in her room without sitting next to her, and probably would have been impossible had the window been any larger or the three-story drop outside any shorter. It doesn’t help that he can’t warn Jim about the danger of Kate disappearing.
Driving his own car back to the apartment is therapeutic and relaxing. Or, it is until some idiot screams across the red light and Castle has to slam on his brakes to avoid getting flattened. He’s not driving his Ferrari either. Most people, when given the choice would choose the Ferrari any day, but as a best-selling author with droves of fangirls—some of whom should be classified as psychotic—he appreciates the value of being nondescript.
After letting himself in—Castle doubts the novelty of having his own key to her apartment will ever wear off—he waits patiently in the kitchen for Jim and Kate to finish talking. When at last Jim emerges, he sits across from Castle and places the key to the cabin in the palm of his hand. Castle pockets it.
“I’m surprised she wanted to go back there.”
Castle senses a story coming on and automatically has his curiosity piqued. Long gone are the days when Beckett-stories were merely fodder for Nikki Heat. Now Castle just wants to hear them because they explain a little more of Kate Beckett. “Why?”
“Katie has scarcely been back to that cabin since Johanna’s death. The last time we went as a family was just a month before her murder, and the family tradition just seemed to stop there. I go back every Christmas, but I didn’t think Katie would want to go back there too often. Too many memories, I guess.” Castle nods his understanding. “Anyway, if she’s willing to go back there, then the city must be really getting to her.” Castle doesn’t trust himself to speak; there’s so much he could tell Jim if he opened his mouth. But that would be a violation of Kate’s trust, and there’s little he values more.
A small, nagging part of him reminds him of the major secret he’s keeping from her. But he crushes it down. There’s no need to bring up the mystery man on the phone just yet, not when returning to the precinct is so far off.
“Rick?” Castle refocuses on the conversation at hand.
“Sorry, I missed that last part.”
“Not caught up in any of those fantasies, are we?” Jim asks, a twinkle in his eyes. “I said, take care of her. And if you need anything—anything at all—don’t hesitate to call. Goodbye, Rick.”
“Bye,” says Castle. He watches Jim leave before heading to Kate’s room. “How’d your chat with your dad go?”
“Fine,” she answers with a half-hearted smile. “I finished packing. Can we go?”
“Ready when you are.” Castle holds out his hand and helps her up, sticking by her side until she’s stabilized on her feet. “Can you make it?”
“Of course.” She’s trying to sound determined but Castle can hear the uncertainty in her voice. So he stays close with the two suitcases to the door, in the elevator, and waits to load them in the trunk until she’s situated comfortably in the passenger seat. She’s not in any condition to run anywhere, so Castle chances a trip back to her apartment to check that everything is secure before they leave. He grabs an extra blanket for the ride and spots the lonesome cup of coffee on the table, long since cooled to cold. He dumps it in the sink and chucks the cup, trying not to think about the utter panic he had felt when placing it on the table.
Then he tucks the blanket in around her, gets a murmured, “Thanks, Castle,” for his efforts, and pulls away from the curb, her apartment, and his life in New York City.
Throughout the trip, Castle can tell Kate is trying to sleep, but the car bounces and rocks too much for her head to rest comfortably on the headrest. Neither of them speaks, however, and Castle focuses on driving safely in the dark. There’s a new moon tonight, and the road is especially hard to see. He’s using his phone for GPS, but the glowing screen messes with his vision as well.
It seems like Kate has just dozed off when Castle pulls into the parking space and turns the car off. The headlights wink out of existence, leaving them in absolute darkness save his phone. She sleepily exits the car, swaying on her feet, and Castle almost carries her into the cabin. Exploring will have to wait until tomorrow, he thinks. She points out both bedrooms to him.
“This one was mine,” she says, pointing with an unsteady hand. The use of past tense does not escape him. “And that one was my parents’. You can sleep in there.” Castle, who had been expecting the couch, nods, humbled by her letting him use her mother’s bed. Kate—for lack of a better word—totters into her bedroom and Castle pulls the covers up over her. Her eyes are half-closed as he says goodnight, but that doesn’t stop her from responding in kind.
Just as he’s about to leave, her eyes flick open. “Castle, I lied,” she says. He frowns slightly. “I remember. I remember everything.”
For a moment it feels like the world is coalescing around him, the air turning to liquid and choking him. What is she about to tell him? Why here, why now?
Her beautiful brown eyes gaze up into his. “I remember. And I’m glad you’re here. Thank you.”
His hand finds hers under the blankets. “Always, Kate. Always.”