Her fingers scrape lightly against the rough, textured wall of the cabin as she bites her lower lip. Cautiously she steps away from the building, nearly landing face-first in the pine needles as her foot catches on a small rock. She pauses, steadying herself for a moment. Then she continues on, each haggard step a step away from the cabin. The air is crisp and she’s enjoying the way it sears her lungs, gone much too quickly as early mornings get lost in the heat of the oncoming summer. She’s following a faint path that’s barely visible but she remembers from her childhood. Fishing was her dad’s thing, swimming was her mom’s, but they all loved long walks in the serenity of the woods. Her physical limitations will prevent this one from being long, but there’s no reason she can’t enjoy it all the same.
A bird is chattering overhead and a woodpecker is drilling somewhere nearby when she stops to rest on a fallen long, playing with a leathery strip of bark in her fingers. Looking back the way she’s come, she can’t make out the cabin behind the tree trunks and down the slight hill. Progress, she thinks satisfactorily. Much better than a week ago in the hospital.
Although now she’s tired and her chest is throbbing slightly. But still.
With a deep breath she pulls herself up from her seat and begins to shuffle back towards the cabin. She’s thinking about a long, hot shower when she gets back inside as she approaches it from behind. “KATE!” Castle’s bellow startles her, jolting her back into the cemetery as she drops and huddles in the crook of the wall. A bullet digs deeply into her chest and lodges itself there amid the screams of the audience and Castle’s shouts. Life blood bleeds out of her just as the tears do, except the tears are real and stain her face even after the flashback recedes. It threatens to overtake her again like a tidal wave every time Castle calls her name, and she knows the only way to stop it is to get him to stop calling. She wipes her face with her sleeve and stumbles around the edge of the cabin to come face to face with him.
“Kate, where have you been? I woke up and you were gone!” Castle’s flipping out, eyes dark with worry and shoulders full of tension.
“I went for a walk, sorry,” she says, looking him in the eyes. She hopes he can’t tell she’s been crying. He can’t.
“Okay, but…next time, take your phone with you. Cell reception may be spotty but it’s better than nothing.”
“Sorry, I will. I went a little further than last time, but now I just want to shower.” Her façade is breaking; she wonders whether she’ll have to shove her way past him into the cabin before it shatters. She wonders if she’s strong enough to do so.
Kate never has to find out, however, because after a moment more Castle turns and heads back inside. “I’ve got only six days to get the manuscript finished, so I’ll see you after.”
“Yeah,” Kate mutters, not really listening. She enters her room and shuts the door, heading immediately for the bathroom. Once inside, she leans heavily against the counter, hair falling in wisps out of her ponytail and into her face. A few seconds later she raises her head to look in the mirror.
A woman stares back at her evenly. She has light brown hair that sometimes borders on golden, slightly unkempt at the moment. Small ears, with the hair mostly tucked behind them. A mouth curved downwards slightly, a crease—permanent, perhaps?—in the forehead. Defined cheekbones and jaw line. A light sheen of sweat coating her neck and chest up to the lip of her shirt. The woman’s eyes are a deeper brown than her hair, but they contain a hardness within them, as well as fear and uncertainty.
Beyond basic recognition, the only thing that convinces Kate she and the woman in the mirror are one in the same is that the woman moves as she does. They part their lips at the same time. When Kate undoes her hair, so does the woman in the mirror. When Kate sticks her tongue out, the woman does as well.
Kate’s struck by the fact she doesn’t feel like the same person as a month ago. All she can hope is that when she gets back to her regular routine, the old Kate will come rushing back.
She forces herself to look away from the mirror, undressing slowly. She steps into the shower, careful not to slip on her still-shaky legs and melts into the warm water cascading down her back. How she wishes none of this had ever happened.
After toweling off, she dresses in comfy sweatpants and a T-shirt and peeks into the living room to see Castle hard at work writing his novel. She wonders where all the words come from—it seems impossible that one man could hold as many at once as what his fingers are pounding out onto the screen. Do I have that much to say in me? Kate thinks, but dismisses the thought. She has words, but not like he has words. His come from the imagination, while hers are conversations. Conversations she’s had, or hopes to have, or never will have. That’s the difference between them. Castle can write for the masses, but when Kate writes, she writes to someone. Generally just one person in particular.
She dials up the precinct while her computer boots, sitting on the bed with the door closed so Castle won’t hear. It’s not that she’s trying to hide what she’s doing, but she doesn’t want him to try to stop her or tell her she doesn’t have to be doing this. Because she does have to. She does.
Unfortunately, neither Ryan nor Esposito pick up at their desks. She could try their cells, but she doesn’t want to interrupt them if they’re out on a case—which they most likely are. If she’s honest with herself, she also doesn’t want to wait for them to get back. If she digs down to the root of it, she doesn’t want them asking the same questions Castle would. So she punches in another number.
“Hey, it’s Beckett.”
“Oh, Beckett, how are you?” The woman on the other end of the line sounds surprised to hear from her.
“I’m on the mend, thanks. Listen, I’m going crazy not being at the precinct and working cases.”
“Yeah, well, the pile of cases keeps rising higher and higher when we’re down a detective. Plus some of them just have us running in circles. The one of I’ve got right now, the body was mutilated and whoever did it was smart enough not to chuck the wallet anywhere in the vicinity, so…no ID.”
“That’s rough. About that…”
“Don’t tell me you want me to slip you an unsolved case file… Do you know what Iron Gates would do to me? No one would find all the pieces of my body.”
“Not a random file, no,” Kate says slowly. “I need mine. The one of my shooting.”
There’s stunned silence on the other end before, “Beckett, you know that’s even worse, right? You know even if you were here you wouldn’t be allowed to work that case.”
“I know, but…no one will find out. If I get anything useful, anonymous tip line, remember? You owe me one, Karpowski.”
Kate can literally feel the indecision radiating off the detective. “All right, for you, Beckett. But not a word of this to anyone, and now we’re even. If this gets out, I could lose my badge, or worse. Probably worse.”
“No one will find out,” Kate promises.
“Okay,” says Karpowski. “It’s in your personal email box in three…two…there.”
“Got it,” Kate answers, opening it up. “Good luck with your vic, Karpowski.”
“Good luck with your sniper.”
Kate frowns at the file in front of her, hating the digitized version. It’s just not the same as holding it in her hands, as if the important details that always allow her to solve it don’t pop out at her in this form. But it’s the best she’s got, so she makes do. To start, she types in the names of the groundskeepers in and around the cemetery. They all seem to have given a statement on where they were at the time of the shooting, but they all alibied out. But she’s not yet willing to rule out the possibility of one of them working with the man who shot her.
She searches them up, one at a time. It’s not as good as a background check like she could do at the Twelfth, but most people post way too much about themselves online, and these seven are no exception. Nothing strikes her as odd or noteworthy, however, and so she moves on. Fingers flying over the keyboard, Kate types in their names in conjunction with Hal Lockwood, Gary McCallister, John Raglan, and Roy Montgomery. Nada.
But she doesn’t give up. She will move on to other parts of the file—trace evidence, people with motive, the rifle left behind. And if nothing comes up, she’ll just try again. Because she has to get to the bottom of this. Because maybe then the nightmares and shaking and flashbacks and weakness will stop. Because maybe then she can go back to being a cop.
Brrring! Brrring! The sound of his phone singing and buzzing breaks Castle from his writing zone, and he sets his laptop on the floor to answer it. Blocked number. “Castle.”
“Mr. Castle, we need to talk.” He knows that voice; it’s the voice of the man keeping Beckett safe. The voice that has been creeping into his dreams these last few nights to join him where Montgomery is shot and killed. “Are you alone?”
He looks around. “Uh, yeah, I think so. Kate’s in her bedroom. Is something wrong?”
“Do you remember our deal?”
“Keep Beckett away from her mom’s case, she stays safe. Yeah.” His heart pounds in his chest. Something about this man’s gravelly voice makes him want to hide in a corner.
“You broke our deal.”
“What? No, I didn’t. I didn’t!” It dawns on him. “Wait, you mean…she’s looked into her mom’s case?” His eyes stray towards her closed bedroom door. “Is that what she’s doing right now?”
“Yes. You must stop her immediately, before they notice. If they have not already.”
“Okay, yeah, I’ll do that,” Castle says. He’s starting to panic, and when he panics he can get pedantic and side-tracked.
“You’ll hear from me soon,” the man replies.
“Wait! What should I call you? Not to her, I mean, just so you’re not ‘the man on the phone’ in my head anymore.” Side-tracked: like that.
“You may call me Mr. Smith.”
“Wow, original. Is that the best you could come up with? It’s as bad as Jones, or Lee, or Hunt.” And there’s the pedantic.
The line clicks dead without a reply. Castle hopes he hasn’t just pissed him off. Then he remembers the whole point of the call and hastens to Kate’s bedroom. His hand is looped around the doorknob before he remembers to knock. There’s a scuffle from inside and then, “Come in!”
He opens the door to find Kate seated cross-legged atop her bed, a closed laptop in front of her. “What are you up to?”
“Nothing much. Just checking email, that kind of thing. Why?”
“Oh, I, uh…was wondering what you wanted for lunch.”
“Anything’s fine.” Her wide-eyed look tells him all he needs to know, but he can’t figure out how to get her away from the laptop without her getting suspicious.
“Well, I could use some help on this scene I’ve written for Nikki. I was rereading it and I’m not sure the way she acts quite makes sense. Wanna run through it with me?”
Kate is reluctant, but says, “Sure.” Castle leads her out into the kitchen and turns on the stove as she seats herself at the table. “What’s the scene about?”
“So, Nikki is running through this park with these guys chasing her…”
To his relief, Castle manages to keep her distracted throughout lunch and even gets an idea for a new scene in Chapter Nineteen. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the chase scene as he had written it; he’s only pretending to be dissatisfied with it to keep her away from her computer. He can’t keep this up forever, but he doesn’t feel he can tell her about “Mr. Smith” either. She needs him right now because of her injury—where would she go if she kicked him out of her life? That and, well, he doesn’t really want her mad at him in the first place. Even if she does understand the reasons for his silence, she’ll launch a full investigation into the mysterious “Mr. Smith,” and he can’t have that either. So when she says she’s going to take a walk after lunch, he opts to join her just to keep the conversation going. Afterwards he suggests she give her dad a call, and that ends up being more than a two hour enterprise, as Jim actually had the afternoon off work. At some point, Castle peeks his eyes up over the rim of his laptop and slowly sets it down.
He creeps towards her bedroom, Kate’s voice emanating from the kitchen. Every time the floor creaks beneath his feet he cringes. She could kill him for this.
Castle softly opens the door and steps inside, closing it after him. Her laptop is right where she left it, and he deftly opens it to see her searches and open email. “Karpowski,” he mutters, annoyed. But how did Smith know she had started looking into her mom’s case? Was it the email, Karpowski herself, or the Google searches that had alerted him? Was there a mole in the precinct who could have been privy to this exchange?
If it was the searches themselves, there’s nothing he can do about that. Is it possible to tag keywords and be alerted when someone searches them? He doesn’t really know, but he supposes if “the Dragon” is as powerful as most claim, maybe he could do it. Another thought comes to Castle and he runs a virus scan on her machine.
The green progress bar edges along, moving much too slowly for Castle’s taste. Finally, it’s done. “Found the little bugger,” Castle mutters, highlighting the Trojan and clicking ‘Clean Computer.’ He sets all the windows back to the way he remembers them being and hurries out of the room. Kate is still talking to her dad.
He only relaxes once he’s seated and writing again.
“I’m headed to bed, Castle,” she says, stifling a yawn. It’s after dinner, an hour after, and the book she’s been reading is barely holding her attention anymore.
“I’m gonna stay up a little while longer,” Castle murmurs. “Goodnight.” The glare from the screen is reflected in his eyes, still directed down toward it. Kate frowns slightly. His behavior has been odd all day, but she can’t discern the reason. Maybe something with Meredith or Alexis? No, based on past events he would have discussed that kind of thing with her. Something Espo said yesterday at the morgue? She hopes not.
“Night.” She pulls herself up from the couch and shuffles towards her room. Her laptop is sitting on her bed—she had almost forgotten about that with Castle’s Nikki Heat questions and her father’s concern. She powers it down and moves it under the bed. As her most recent dose of pain medicine hasn’t kicked in yet, her chest is full of a slight burning sensation as she brushes her teeth and washes her face. Kate changes into her pajamas like someone with rheumatism, as bending down is borderline excruciating. She climbs into bed and flicks off the light, hoping in vain that the nightmares won’t visit her tonight.
Kate opens her eyes as someone smacks her across the face, nearly knocking her over. She’s on her knees, the alley stretching out off to her left and the cemetery to her right. She’s not alone; there are three men standing over her and pointing their guns at her face. All of a sudden, one of them—Dick Coonan—turns and pulls the trigger. Her mother slumps to the ground in the alleyway, blood spilling out of her and onto the pavement in a red river. “No!” Kate screams, but the three men only laugh. She realizes that her father, Ryan, Esposito, Lanie, and Castle are there as well, at the mercy of these killers, on their knees just as she is. They don’t seem to know what’s going on, just stare blankly ahead until a gun is leveled at them. That’s when the look of terror takes shape.
Crack. Jim falls backward onto the concrete. Coonan grins evilly. “Please, stop,” Kate whimpers, but Lockwood only steps toward Ryan.
“Sorry, Detective, there’s nothing I can do.” Montgomery shrugs his shoulders at her. “There’s only the battle, the place you make your stand. The only question is, did you make your stand on the winning side.”
Crack. Crack. Ryan and Espo fall into the grass of the cemetery with two shots of Lockwood’s gun. A third crack. Lanie.
“Please,” Kate whispers as Coonan turns his weapon on Castle.
“Kate, it’s okay,” he whispers, but she can’t help the wail of anguish that comes out of her mouth as he too slumps to the ground.
The three men, including Montgomery, exchange looks. Lockwood tramps over, pressing the barrel of his gun to her head. “Well, well, well,” he says. “You’re the only one left.” She waits for the end, the splitting pain and then the nothingness. “Too bad the Dragon wants you alive. Death is too quick for you. He’s going to let you live…without them.”
Despair chokes Kate as she opens her eyes for real. She’s crying softly, uncontrollably, in the darkness of her bedroom. The only light comes from the digital clock reading 3:58 AM.
She can’t do it; she can’t do it alone. The night terrors are too much to handle. Now it’s not just she who’s dying in them, but all of them. All the people she loves. Johanna. Jim. Ryan. Espo. Lanie. Castle. The urge to check that he’s all right overtakes her and her feet hit the ground. She opens the door to her room and enters the hallway, using the glow of her phone as a flashlight. Her own breathing is too loud to hear his, so she pushes Castle’s door open as well and approaches the bed. In the semi-darkness Kate can see his chest rising and falling as he sleeps. Only marginally comforted, she perches on the edge of the bed to watch him. Slowly her legs snake under the covers and she crawls in with him, reminiscent of the days she would crawl into bed with her parents—this same bed. She scoots closer until she can hear his breathing and feel the warmth of his body next to hers. Then she places her phone on the nightstand and curls up into his embrace.