Convalescence

My Child

A warm mass lies beside her, stealing half the bed covers—perhaps more than half—and threatening to roll her straight off her side of the bed. Wait a second. Her side? Since when was she sleeping with—?

Castle. Kate turns to look at him. He has stayed with her the whole night. She’s grateful for that, but it just makes her more confused about their relationship. Things are moving too quickly, giving her more things to second-guess without enough time to reach conclusions about the previous ones.

She is just watching him breathe, eyes closed and peaceful. She imagines she kept him up half the night with her nightmares, and Kate has ever been an early riser.

After a moment more, her bare feet touch down on the cold floor and she turns away. It’s a struggle to rise off the bed, and she was right yesterday—her muscles are definitely sore. Dr. Sven had warned her not to overdo it on the exercises. Dr. Burke had warned her that she was likely to want to. Perhaps both of them know her better than she knows herself. She wonders what the psychiatrist would say about her and Castle.

In the shower, while washing gingerly around her incisions and scars, another idea strikes her. She can’t ask Dr. Burke—she doesn’t know how to get into contact with him nor does she like the idea of spilling her secrets to a man she doesn’t know—but she can ask someone else. Someone she trusts implicitly; someone who knows her better than anyone.

From this person, she’s not likely to get an answer. In fact, she won’t get an answer at all. But in the simple act of telling someone, it’ll take the weight off her chest and give her some room to breathe. Breathing room sounds good right now.

After dressing in the clothes she had taken into the bathroom with her—she’d never have heard the end of it if she walked into her room wearing just a towel—she exits her room for the kitchen table. Castle is still fast asleep on the bed and she’s inclined to leave him that way, both to avoid talking about last night and to avoid his questions about what she’s doing. Kate squats down by a small shelf and works a sheet of blank paper out of the stack. When she stands again her chest flares, so she pauses to down this morning’s pain meds before sitting down to write. She begins like she usually does, with the date.

June 2, 2011

In these, she gives nothing but the full and complete truth. Always.

Dear Mom,

PTSD and convalescence are hard, but I signed up for the possibility of those when I joined the NYPD ten years ago. Love, however, I’m finding is much more difficult to deal with, and that one I didn’t anticipate. Why didn’t you warn me it was this hard?

He told me he loved me after I was shot. Castle, the man I’ve been telling you about. He’s the one that’s been shadowing me on my cases and driving me nuts. That’s a good thing, most of the time. I was falling for him too, no matter how hard I tried to stop myself. But when he said it out loud, it all became very real, very fast, and I wasn’t ready. I might have been before the bullet struck me but definitely not after. It was all too much to deal with even though I knew I loved him back. He said he loves me, but how do I know it’s real? I feel bad for doubting him after all he’s done for me, but there’s still a shadow of doubt that keeps me from just letting it happen, keeps me distant.

Mom, I don’t know what to do. We’re living in the cabin together while I recover, but we’re just getting closer and closer and I don’t know what I’m doing. One minute I’m doubting the relationship, the next I’m curled up in his arms. The PTSD certainly isn’t helping with that at all. I say that I need time to get my life back, but I think that’s just an excuse I give to everyone, including myself. I’m really scared he only loves the precinct side of me, or that I’ll end up one of his ex-wives. I’m sure he thought he was in love with them too, when he married them. And even if what he feels is genuine, how can I know what I feel is? Will, and Tom, and now Josh…those relationships all fell apart. I value too much what we have now to let mine with Castle end up that way. As a teenager, I really wanted love more than anything else. I wanted to find my someone who would laugh and cry with me and love me unconditionally despite my faults. I know I went looking for that kind of love in all the wrong places, but I still want that. And I can see that man being Castle.

But even if he is the one, I’m afraid I’m not ready. I’m not sure I can love like I’m asking him to love. To that depth, to that level of commitment. Ever since your death, I don’t feel capable of that strong of love anymore. I’m not sure I ever will be. Then is it fair to enter a relationship with Castle knowing that I’ll never be able to give him the kind of love he deserves?

I wish you were here to advise me on this, Mom. So you could brush your hand across my cheek and give some magical advice that would make all my problems go away. And then, when they did, laugh and say, “I told you so.”

I had so many plans on what I would do when I finally met “the one” and what it would be like. I imagined it would be like those fairytales, love at first sight and happily ever after. I wanted to bring him home for dinner so you and Dad could meet him for the first time. I wanted the chance for you to tell him embarrassing stories about my childhood that I could pretend to mad at you over but be secretly glad because you’re making him feel like part of the family. I wanted to plan our wedding with you and pick out a dress with you and see you crying as I approached the altar. I wanted to share so much of my life with you and explore it together. Even after twelve years, it hurts that we’ll never get the chance.

I miss you.

Love,

Kate

She slowly sets the pen down, reading over what she has written. Then she quickly wipes away a tear, anxious to make sure it does not fall on the paper. She carefully stashes the letter away in a corner, making a mental note to bring it home with her when they leave.

A curious feeling is present inside of her. The aftermath of writing such a letter is one of the more puzzling experiences in her life. She feels close to her mother, which gives her comfort, but at the same time she’s sad that their communication is reduced to this and talking to a tombstone. She wouldn’t classify writing these letters as something she likes to do, but she doesn’t dislike it either. It helps to still feel some connection to her mother.

“Hey,” Castle says from the doorway, causing her to jump. He must have woken up.

“Hey,” she greets him with a sad smile. She wonders if her eyes are still wet, but wiping to check will just make it all the more noticeable.

He tilts his head, looking at her more carefully. His hair is poofy and he has slight bags under his eyes, but he looks semi-alert. She must look worse than normal from the look he’s giving her. She hasn’t had the chance to apply any makeup yet or work a brush through her hair. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine,” she replies. “You? You look tired. Sorry about that.”

“No, don’t be. I’m here for you. But it wasn’t just the nightmares, it was Alexis and something my mother said.”

“Oh?”

He appears hesitant to say. “She…she said I should wait a day to let Alexis cool down and then treat her like an adult.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad. Why would that keep you up?”

“Because she also said I needed to tell Alexis what was really going on. Everything. And if you didn’t agree, I needed to decide who my priority is.” Kate is struck dumb by that last statement. For a second she can’t believe Martha would say something so cruel; then the logical side of her kicks in and she can empathize with her. Martha only has Alexis’s best interests at heart—it’s not her job to take care of Kate as well. As for Kate, her duty is to Castle. And if this is what Castle needs from her…

She never meant to get in the way of his relationship with Alexis, but somehow, she did. And now she feels responsible. Alexis should be—and hopefully is—his number one priority. Kate has the utmost respect for the father-daughter relationship, given that she nearly lost hers. After her mother’s death, Jim’s alcoholic years had been the darkest period of her life—the only time she ever felt completely alone. Though she felt her mother’s death deeply, it was her father’s descent that truly changed Kate. She had been forced to grow up prematurely, to be strong for him where another would have fallen apart, to put her life together with no outside help. Her mother’s murder had changed the course of her life forever, but her father’s absence had changed her forever.

It goes against everything in her core, everything she has built up for twelve years, but she knows it’s what she must do. She can’t make him—and never meant to, doesn’t want him to—choose between her and his daughter. If she’s honest with herself, it’s partially for fear he’d choose Alexis, partially for fear he’d choose her.

“Castle, it’s…it’s okay. Your relationship with Alexis is more important than keeping this a secret. If it’ll help…you can tell her everything that’s been going on.” The words feel like something vile she’s shoving out her mouth and a small, deep-seated feeling of panic is rising inside of her. Alexis will never view her the same way again, the way Kate wants people to perceive her.

It doesn’t matter, she tells herself as Castle’s face clears. “Are you sure, Kate? I know this is a sensitive subject for you…”

She nods her assent. “When are you going to call her? I’d…I’d like to be around when you do.”

He smiles. “Of course. I was thinking tonight at two, so it’ll be around eight in the morning in Paris. I know it’s kind of late, but…”

Kate understands. He doesn’t want to wait any longer than he has to to talk with his daughter. “Wow, Castle, you know that off the top of your head?” She’s teasing him now, trying to leave the heavy topics behind.

“Best-selling author. I get around.”

“Do you know any French?”

“I learned it in school, but I promptly forgot it once I entered college. Alexis tried to re-teach it to me as she learned it, but the only thing I remember are the swear words.”

“I find it hard to believe Alexis taught you French swear words.”

“No, I remember those from high school,” he grins. “Breakfast?”

“Actually, no, you don’t have to cook today, Castle. I’m in a cereal mood.”

“Cereal’s so boring. But fine.” He plops the box in front of her and starts a search for spoons. She half-rises from her chair. “Don’t you even get up,” he says, pointing behind him without even looking. She sinks back down.

“I’m just injured, not paralyzed,” she complains, giving him a look.

“And I can see in your eyes exactly how much pain you’re in when you try to stand or walk.” He delivers a bowl and a spoon to her place, followed by the carton of milk.

She can’t argue with that one, just purse her lips and let the subject drop. He’s right, but how’s she going to get better if she doesn’t push herself? Working through the pain has always been her tried-and-true method…but then again, she’s never been recovering from a bullet wound before.

She dumps some cereal into her bowl and patiently waits for him to pour the milk. Dr. Sven had been very clear that Kate was not to lift anything heavier than a tablet computer for the next couple weeks, and Castle is more than happy to do the honors. “I’m going to take a walk outside today,” she informs him, digging in with her spoon. He creates his own bowl and sits down across from her.

“Are you sure that’s a good idea, Kate? I mean, you have trouble just going from room to room.”

She affixes him with a defiant stare. “I won’t go far. Just around the cabin a few times. I want some sunlight and fresh air.”

“Okay,” Castle agrees reluctantly. “Stay close. Yell if you need me.”

She doesn’t merit that an answer. She’s not some child he has to admonish and protect. Has he forgotten that already?

She finishes breakfast in silence, checking her phone for messages and her email for anything important. Nothing, just a voicemail reminding her of the appointment tomorrow with her doctors. A check-up with Dr. Marks and a session with Dr. Sven. At least they’re not requiring another visit to Dr. Burke.

Kate wonders briefly if they should make a day out of her visit to the city. Visit Lanie, or Espo and Ryan. Then she remembers how frightening the city is and decides the precinct isn’t a good option right now. She’ll wait and see how she feels after physical therapy and then decide to drop in on Lanie or not.

She places her dishes in the sink and makes her way to the door. She opens it and stands in the threshold for a moment, sunlight warming her body and a cool breeze refreshing her. Keeping her fingers splayed and gently brushing the wall, she exits out, feeling the surge of energy in her leg muscles. Her breath lets out in a huff as she takes her first step forward. It feels odd to her to be wearing shoes—real shoes where her heel is no more than two centimeters away from the ground. A twig snaps under her feet and she leaps for the wall, searching frantically for the tell-tale glint of a rifle hidden among the trees. There is none and she manages to calm herself down relatively quickly, taking charge of her own breathing and concentrating on it.

Once she feels safe enough to continue onward, all that’s left to do is wonder what happened to the little girl who refused a night light at age five.

To the sixth grader bold enough to play basketball with the big kids.

To the junior who, despite everyone’s reservations, took on a schedule containing five AP classes and managed to balance all of her coursework with volunteering and a dynamic social life.

To the college student who left all by herself for a semester in another country whose language she only half-knew.

To the desperate daughter who stood up to her father and finally forced him to get sober after five years of drinking after her mother’s death.

To the young woman who entered the male-dominated Academy and received her badge, determined to find justice for those who could not get it for themselves.

To the thirty-one-year-old detective who didn’t mind being first to burst through the door without knowing what was waiting on the other side.

Kate sighs, leaning her back against the building and running her hand through her hair. How did she fall so far, to be reduced to…to this? She tries to tell herself that it’s only temporary, that she’ll recover her personality as her body heals, but it’s hard to believe when she hasn’t seen that much improvement. All her life she’s been courageous and strong and brave—she’s always taken life head on and come out better because of it. So why, in the face of flash backs and nightmares, does her bravery desert her? They aren’t even real, just warped memories that she’s forced to relive over and over again. Her mind is waging war against itself, constructing and bringing forth the images that terrorize her.

It’ll do no good to think like this, and she knows that. All she can do is take it one day at a time, maybe try some of the techniques Dr. Burke recommended. She has to be content with only managing two laps around the cabin—it’s better than she ever does inside. She has to be content with occasionally needing a bit of help. So she opens the door and slips back in, taking off her shoes and sinking down on the couch.

“So, how was it?” Castle asks over the lid of his laptop.

“Good,” she lies. Being alone with her thoughts wasn’t nearly as relaxing as it used to be. She reaches down amid a flare of pain and extracts a small shoebox from between the couch and the wall.

“What’s that?” Castle asks curiously. She turns it so all her can see is the muddy brown lid as she opens it. His writing is all but forgotten. Castle is almost as famous for his having a nine-year-old’s attention span as he is for his novels.

“Just a box of stuff,” she answers, staying nonchalant. Kate adopts a look of great concentration as she stares at the motley collection of items inside.

“Come on, please?” Castle says. He’s giving her his patented puppy-dog eyes, the ones she’ll never admit melt her heart.

“All right, come here,” she says, making place for him on the couch next to her. He grins and sets his laptop down, taking the seat on her right. If he had a tail, it would be wagging a mile a minute. “This,” she gestures to the box, “holds twenty years of my family’s history in this cabin.” She picks out an object and smiles. After a moment she hands it to him. “This is Meep.”

“Meep the Sheep?” Castle asks, giving the fluffy animal a little squeeze.

“Yeah. My first time in this cabin, when I was one, this was the little stuffed animal I always fell asleep with. Somehow it got left behind, and when we went home my parents could not get me to sleep. After five hours of my crying, my dad finally drove back up here and fetched him for me.” She laughs softly.

“What?”

“He says he did it because he loved me so much, but I think it was mostly just to shut me up.”

Castle laughs too. “Yeah, well, babies can be a handful, trust me.” He hands Meep back to her and she sets him inside, digging for the next item. Kate hands him a folded sheet of yellowed paper, watching as he opens it. “A drawing?”

“No, just the acorn,” she nods to it. It’s her mother’s drawing, definitely, as Kate had only been two for this one. “It’s a drawing of the acorn I found just outside when I was little.”

Castle appears puzzled. “Why is that significant?”

“Because the biggest, fluffiest-tailed, meanest-looking squirrel I have ever seen chased me around for half an hour to get ahold of it.” She’s trying to keep a straight face for this one but just can’t as Castle bursts out laughing.

“Kate Beckett, traumatized by a squirrel attack,” he chortles. “I have got to tell that one to Ryan and Esposito.”

“Shut up,” she says, rolling her eyes.

They spend the next six hours going over everything in that box, neither taking any notice of the passage of time. Sometimes Castle interjects a story of his own, but it’s mostly Kate who’s doing the telling. She’s vaguely aware of how easy this is, to share these pieces of her past with him. How natural it seems. Her favorite is a drawing from her six-year-old self depicting her and her dad flying homemade kites in the clearing by the river. Her mom even took a picture of them to accompany the stick-figures. The kites have been gone a long time after a couple mishaps with particularly gnarly trees, so the drawing and the picture are the only remnants of those specific happy, carefree times. Castle’s favorite is a story she wrote when she was ten, her first story not required for school. She never was one for writing stories much past fifth grade, but Castle seems to really like it. He even says it’s better than he could have written at that age, but she doubts it. Best-selling adult authors, at least in her mind, are usually writing prodigies as children as well.

After they break for a lunch/dinner crossover, she puts the box away on the insistence that he must get some writing done today. Castle protests on the grounds that he’s almost finished chapter sixteen, but acquiesces anyway. He knows even better than she does what Gina’ll do to him if he’s late, she’s just the more responsible one. All too soon, however, the time she’s been secretly dreading rolls around, the time she’s tried to distract herself from with wistful, introspective thoughts on her walk and a nice trip down memory lane with Castle.

Two o’clock, and she’s not even tired. Nervous tension has made it impossible to relax since dinner. She couldn’t fall asleep right now if she tried. As the minute passes she’s hopeful Castle will just forget altogether, but she knows she’s being irrational. He needs to talk to his daughter, and her feelings come secondary. Her fears are baseless anyway…aren’t they? The clock turns to 2:04 as her indecision remains rooted inside.

“Castle, aren’t you going to call Alexis?” she forces out.

He smiles. “Yeah, of course. I was just waiting to see how long it would take you to remind me. I could see the battle raging behind your eyes.”

“Castle—” She doesn’t even know what to say, but she hates that he can read her and play her so easily. He pulls out his phone and sighs. He makes eye contact with her and her annoyance is pushed to the back of her mind as he seems to draw strength from their visual connection. He presses a button and puts it on speakerphone in time to hear the second ring. Kate shifts uncomfortably in her place, breathing shallow and palms damp.

“Alexis’s phone, Meredith speaking!” a voice on the other end chirps.

“Meredith?” Castle asks, exchanging an eek-what-do-I-do-I-didn’t-expect-this look with Kate.

“What’s the news, kitten?”


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