Convalescence

Redheads

Castle awakens to bright light streaming in, birds chirping outside the window, and the scent of pine trees that permeates every inch of this place. Everything is right with the world; a delicious happiness has hold of him and wraps around him like a warm, fluffy blanket. Overhead pipes grumble and he hears water running. Kate must already be up and in the shower.

Kate. She is the reason for this absurd amount of happiness, more than he felt at either of his weddings. He doesn’t know what changed her mind, what made her finally reveal that she remembered his words from the shooting after all. Maybe she’s beginning to trust his love after all. Maybe she’s been working up the courage all along. Whatever the reason, he’s just glad she did.

Castle leaps out of bed and pulls on some comfortable clothes, determined to have some breakfast cooking by the time she gets out. He had just shoved most of the perishables into the fridge last night, and when he opens it now a package of bacon falls out onto the floor. Bacon, he thinks. There’s nothing better than the aroma of sizzling pig meat and grease in the morning. Jim bought it, so Kate must enjoy the stuff. Besides, it’s a crime to dislike bacon—she’d have to arrest herself.

He hunts for a pan and places it on the gas stove, lighting the flames with a flick of his wrist. The fire glows a cherry red before converting to blue as Castle waits for it to warm up. When it’s hot enough, he places strips of meat onto the pan, listening to them hiss delightedly.

“Is that bacon?” Kate emerges from her bedroom. She’s wearing minimal makeup and a thick sweater and sweats. The sweater has ‘Stanford’ emblazoned in red across the front. Her damp hair dangles messily over her shoulders and down her back.

“Know anything else that smells this good?” Kate smiles and sits at the little table. “No, Kate, I don’t think you’re appreciating this scent enough. Breathe it in deeply, through your nose, like it’s a heavy perfume.” She rolls her eyes and then does as he says.

She sneezes. “Ow. Ow, that hurt.” One hand clutches at her chest. “Sorry, I’ve still got dust in my nostrils from those tunnels.”

“Oh, never mind then,” Castle says apologetically. “You okay?”

“Yeah.” She removes her head from her chest and reaches for the pill bottle, overturning it and downing one.

“Aren’t you supposed to take two in the morning?” Castle asks.

“The pain’s not that bad; I can do without,” she replies easily. Castle turns away and back to the stove, frowning slightly. The doctor prescribed powerful pain medication for a reason. He thinks she should take them as specified, but it’s not his place to interfere. He’s not quite sure what his place is in this relationship.

He’s come a long way from being just her acquaintance, or just her favorite author. Although he was delighted to see all twenty-four of his books on the shelf in her living room. But no, back to the topic at hand. He was her partner at the precinct, and will be again in a few months, but right now, what is he? Had he asked himself this yesterday he would have said “friend” but now that she’s admitted she knows he loves her, what is he? What are they?

Castle barely manages to flip the bacon over before they burn. “You okay, Castle?” she asks. She’s staring at him with a bemused expression on her face.

“Fine. Why, did you say something?” He tries not to stare guiltily back at her. On second thought, he feels bad for trying to categorize their relationship. It was a big leap of faith for her to confide in him last night, and barely ten hours later he’s already rushing her into the next stage.

“I asked how you slept.”

“Oh. Well, thanks.”

“My dad used to complain about the chatter of the birds outside the window in that room.”

“Nope, I like them.”

She smiles slightly. “So did my mother.” She pauses, not seeming particularly distraught by the memory. Or maybe she’s just hiding it. “Have you discovered the boxes of comic books in the other room? Not as big a collection as you have, but I guarantee there are some in there you haven’t read before,” she says.

He serves the food, sitting down across from her. “Don’t tempt me. I’m supposed to be finishing Heat Rises, remember? Gina wants it finished by the eleventh so she can dip it in a bucket of red ink.”

“How much editing does go into your books, Castle? Are your words not as perfect hot off the press as when they hit the bookstores?” She’s teasing him, this little smirk on her face that makes him want to kiss it right off of her.

“I’ll show you when I get the manuscript back. You can barely see the text through the red scribbles.” She laughs softly and picks up a piece of bacon with her fingers, eating it daintily. He shovels eggs in his mouth to mask his staring. “Hey, you should come to the next book release. I think you’d like it.”

“Like what, watching you sign all those pathetic women’s chests? I think not.” She’s grinning now, eyes alight with good-natured ribbing.

“You’d be my sanity amidst the chaos. I mean, we met at the one for Storm Fall; you know what it’s like. I need familiar company other than my ex-wife—she’s too familiar.”

“What about Alexis? She was there for that one, as I recall.”

“She’s decided she’s tired of being dragged along. Apparently it’s ‘scarring’ to see me flocked by so many young and beautiful women. And the old ones too. They’re like vultures.” He stops, narrowing his eyes at her over the breakfast plate in front of him.

“What?” she asks, truly nonplussed.

“Did I ever sign your chest?” He’s aware of the fact that the question comes out of nowhere and loves that it catches her completely off-guard. She chokes slightly on her water.

“If you can’t remember, then you’re never gonna know, Castle.” Her eyes play with his, taunting and daring him across the table.

“Come on,” he whines. “You know how many I sign at just one release?”

“Not winning you any points here.” She’s practically bubbling over with mirth, but he doesn’t know whether to take that as a confirmation or denial. He’s racked his brain numerous times to see if he can recall her, but if she did come she didn’t make much of an impression. None of them do, really.

Ooh, except for that one chick with the…no, never mind.

Castle refocuses quickly, trying to reel his mind back into the present. Don’t go there, not when Kate’s sitting right across from him. “So, um, what are you planning to do after breakfast?” he clears his throat. “Do you need me, or should I start writing?”

“I’m going to go through the exercises Dr. Sven showed me in physical therapy,” Kate answers. “Go ahead; go write. Don’t make me responsible for Gina getting on your case.”

Castle smiles. “Hey, without you, she wouldn’t have anything to get on me about.”

“You wrote twenty-two novels before our partnership, you would have had no trouble writing many more without me,” Kate says.

Castle tilts his head. “But no muse I ever found would have been as special as you.”

Her head whips up and then lowers, hair obscuring most of her face. “Thanks, Castle,” she says softly, a small smile playing across her lips. He’s confused by her sudden shyness. He’s said sweet things like that to her before, hasn’t he?

He feels the need to break the silence. “But anyways, off to write!” He takes her plate and his own and puts them in the sink, filling them with a little water so the food won’t stick. He enjoys cooking much better than he does cleaning, which suits him well at home. Besides baking, Alexis isn’t that into the culinary arts and Martha is just inept at it. Here, however, it’ll all just stack up if he doesn’t do it. Still…nothing wrong with a little healthy procrastination.

He fetches his laptop from his room and sits down on a comfy chair in the living room with it. Soon he’s tapping away at the keyboard, lost in the world of Nikki, Rook, Lauren, and Roach. When he looks up again, she’s lowering herself into splits on the floor of the living room. He can’t help but watch the flexibility of her body over the top of his laptop, eyes just peeking out over the screen.

She reaches forward, stretching her arms before switching legs. Perspiration wets just the edges of her face, and her eyes are half-closed. He wonders if that means it’s relaxing or that it’s painful.

His laptop lies forgotten on his lap, displaying its “You Should Be Writing.” message before fading completely to black. In one particularly convoluted pose, her shirt slips, revealing several inches of tanned, creamy skin. Thoroughly entranced, he jumps when she speaks. “Castle. You’re ogling.”

“I’m not ogling,” he says, trying but failing miserably to avert his eyes.

“Castle, stop ogling!”

“I’m not ogling.” She returns to a standing position and gives him a flat stare, hands on her hips. “Yeah, I’m ogling. It’s just, you’re right there, and…”

“Relax, it doesn’t mean anything, Castle. It’s called stretching, not a booty call.” She snaps her fingers. “Castle. Eyes. Computer.”

“Right,” he mutters, swiping his finger across the touchpad to wake it back up. She resumes her exercises, but he can’t help but sneak a peek ever once in a while. After all, she is his muse. He’s just gathering inspiration.

Words just seem to flow into his fingers and onto the page for the next he-doesn’t-know-how-long, sweeping him away into the Zone. The Zone, where nothing else matters except the characters and plotline at hand.

“Castle.”

He’s just developed an acute pinkie cramp when another great idea pops into his brain, filling him with an excitement he’s never found in anything else except writing. The words are flying now, riddled with typos and missing spaces, but he dares not stop for fear of losing the words blazing in his mind.

“Castle.”

Nikki, what does Nikki do next? She calls Roach, right, no, maybe just Oach. Or is it Rales? He’s weighing the two options against one another, which fits better? Which would Beckett call?

“Ca-stle!” The sing-song voice jerks him out of it.

“What? Sorry, did you say something?” Castle’s groggy, like he’s just woken up from a deep sleep. Or, rather, a deep write.

“Your phone’s ringing,” Kate answers, gesturing to it with her water bottle. The look she’s giving him as he reaches for it makes him wonder exactly how long it’s been ringing.

Caller ID says it’s Alexis. He racks his brain—no, he never did tell her they were going out to the cabin. Time to break the news.

“Hey, pumpkin,” he greets her. “What’s up?”

“Dad, where are you?” She sounds half-angry, half-freaked out.

“I was just about to call you. Kate and I went to her dad’s cabin up north.” There’s dead silence on the other end. “Alexis?”

“How long have you been there?” Her voice is curt, sharp.

“Just arrived today,” Castle says. Technically, it’s not a lie. They arrived past midnight last night, so…

Unfortunately Alexis isn’t a big fan of technicalities. “Don’t lie to me. I talked to the doorman; he said you left last night. When were you going to tell me, Dad?”

“I…” Castle moves to defend himself.

“We just talked about this the other day. I thought you understood that I didn’t like being left out of discussions that affect me! But it’s obvious now: you care more about Beckett than you do me.”

His mind is still playing catch-up. “Wait, how did you know we were gone? Did you go to her apartment?”

“Yeah, Ashley and I baked cookies this morning. We thought it would be a nice gesture.” She's spitting the words at him now.

“Listen, sweetie, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner. There were…complications…and we had to leave. You are right; it was wrong of me to not discuss this with you first.”

“No, Dad, you don’t get it. I gave you a second chance last time, a chance to show me that I meant just as much to you. But you went and put her before me again! You knew exactly how I would feel about it, and that’s why you waited so long to call.”

“Please, Alexis, I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s too late now. And don’t bother trying to come back to the city to talk with me and fix it, I’m leaving.”

“Leaving?” That throws him for a spin.

“Yeah, Mom came over this morning. Apparently she had caught a flight from LA to New York for a long-shot audition that didn’t go so well. She wanted me to come with her on a two week-long trip to Europe—London, Paris, Venice, the works. I told her no, there was too much going on here, but I called her back later and said I would. She even asked me to check it with you—I know, imagine that, right?—but I’m done checking things with you when you won’t do the same for me. She and I leave in an hour for the airport. Plane to Lisbon and then Paris.”

“Wait, Alexis, I didn’t mean—Meredith’s taking you to Europe?”

“Talk to you in two weeks, Dad. I’ve got to pack my stuff.” The line clicks dead. Castle removes it from his ear, staring at it helplessly. Kate watches from the sofa. He can’t believe how much the situation just exploded. Where had Martha been in all this?

He taps her number and listens to it dial and then go straight to voicemail. Perfect. “Mother, call me when you get this,” Castle growls.

Meredith? Hers goes straight to voicemail as well, with a lovely custom message waiting for him in her chirpy voice. “Hi! You’ve reached Meredith, but I’m currently with my wonderful daughter on a no-cell-phones girls’ day out! If this is about an audition, please leave a message. If you’re an unhappy ex-boyfriend, by all means don’t!”

Just hearing her high-pitched tones makes Castle’s blood boil. It’ll do no good to leave Meredith a voicemail now; she won’t see it until they’re at least in Lisbon and it’s too late by then. He hates playing the overprotective, jealous parent—and Meredith maneuvers him into that position all too often as it is. He also supposes he counts as an unhappy ex-boyfriend.

Great. One redhead immensely angry at him, one aggravatingly aloof and taking said redhead to Europe, and the third redhead AWOL and oblivious to it all. He makes a mental note to avoid redheads in any of his future relationships; they seem to be especially maddening.

Kate scoots across the couch to come up next to him. She hesitantly places a hand on his arm. “You okay, Castle?”

“Not really.”


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