Convalescence

Weirder Things Have Happened

That man must be clairvoyant. How else could he manage to call her at this exact moment, right at her weakest? Right when she was having problems with Castle.

Perfect. Just perfect timing.

In her stupor it goes to voicemail. “Hey, Kate, it’s me. Listen, my trip to Africa got cut short and I’m back in New York. I really want to see you. Call me back?”

Disgustedly she tosses the phone away from her onto the bedspread, cradling her head in her hands. What to do?

She closes her eyes, reliving that moment again. In her mind’s eye she can see his caring face and concerned tone of voice. He was always steady, always the one with the answers, and, when not answers, the reassurance. “Hey, look. Just let me take care of you for a little while. Once you’re released, I’m planning to take a couple weeks off to help you get back on your feet. The trip to Africa with Dr. Carroll can wait another year.” Kate remembers not wanting him to put his life on hold for her when she was in love with Castle. And that’s still true. Does Josh think they can get back together? Did she not make that clear enough last time she saw him?

“No, listen, Josh,” she said. “I don’t want you to put your life on hold for me. Go do your rounds, go to Africa.”

“Kate, it’s not a problem. I want to.” He was so sweet and kind. Looking back on it, she hates the hell she put him through. “You’re…you’re breaking up with me? This is it?”

“I’m sorry, Josh.”

Wasn’t that ‘goodbye’ enough? He even said it himself. “Goodbye, Kate.” And then he stormed out the door.She doesn’t get how that could be misinterpreted, but…

Bottom line, Josh was a nice guy. He treated her well, made her laugh, made her feel loved. Sure, he was gone a lot. But so was she—gone being a cop, long nights at the precinct, early mornings that didn’t leave time for much more than a quick kiss good morning. None of that was his fault. For another woman, the time he had would have been enough. Another woman could have accompanied him on his trips or made the most of the time they had together. But Kate couldn’t, and so the relationship wasn’t enough for her. Wasn’t what she was looking for.

And then there’s Castle. Kate falling for him…that definitely wasn’t Josh’s fault either.

So…so if he needs closure, then she owes it to him. And not over a phone call either—she can’t deliver this news—this blow—to Josh without doing it in person. He deserves more than a phone call. So, when to meet him? She’s not exactly mobile right now.

The eleventh. Castle will be going into the city anyway, so why can’t she tag along? Although…what will she tell him, that she’s going to meet the ex-boyfriend he hates for coffee? Nope, not happening. How about Lanie? Have Castle drop her off at the morgue but turn around and meet Josh before she has lunch with Lanie… Sounds reasonable. She just hopes she can survive in the city that long.

She drags herself over to where she threw her cell phone and calls him back, crossing her fingers he won’t pick up. Today is not her lucky day. “Hello?”

“Hey, it’s me,” she says, threading her fingers into the blankets.

“Hey, you,” he replies, and a pang steals through her heart for what they had. It wasn’t love, not for her, but it was something genuine. Camaraderie. Friendship. “Did you get my message?”

She purses her lips, frowning slightly. “Yeah, yeah, I did. Are you free Saturday morning, or are you on shift at the hospital? I was hoping we could talk over coffee.”

“Uh…let me check my calendar,” he says. There’s a rustling of papers across the line. “Yeah, I’m free. Amazing that, I’m booked solid until then and after that.” He laughs. “It’ll be great to see you, Kate.”

“You too,” she lies. “Until then.” She hangs up.

That night she goes through hell. She doesn’t emerge from her room, doesn’t speak to Castle, doesn’t do anything but text Lanie and ask if they can meet for lunch that day, and spends the rest of her time staring up at the ceiling. She can’t even lie on her back to do that, because then she goes back to that cemetery with the life bleeding out of her and Castle above her desperately willing her to hang on. Eventually she just ends up staring at the blank white wall.

She’s not trying to punish him. If anything, she’s punishing herself. He made a mistake, didn’t think about what he was saying, that’s all. She’s the one who overreacted. It’s just…she clenches her teeth just thinking about her latest foray into the woods.

She was almost ready to go back when she saw it, up in a tree. She had just made it to the river, where the dirt turned into sand in a small clearing. A kite, far above her head and ensnared in the limbs of a large oak. Her kite, the one she made with her dad when she was five and subsequently lost years later. How did it end up there? She has no idea, but weirder things have happened. Hell, she’s been sleeping in the same bed with millionaire Richard Castle for the last few nights. Weirder things definitely have happened.

She tried reaching up to untangle it, but her arms don’t go straight above her head right now and even then she’d be lacking two feet or so. The tree was burly with a thick, strong trunk, so she’d decided to climb a few feet up and pull it down. When she was little, she had been amazing at climbing trees, better than all her classmates. Her dad had called her his ‘regular little monkey.’

But she couldn’t. She’d gotten five feet up and was reaching out for it when pain exploded in her chest and her arms went weak. She landed flat on her back on the ground, stars flashing before her eyes. No head injury, the wind just knocked out of her. And a wounded pride.

It was a few minutes before she’s recovered enough to push herself to her feet, find a long stick, and prod it until it was within her reach. It took more than half an hour to untangle it and cut the extra string with a sharp rock against the trunk, but she wouldn’t have had the strength to go all the way out there twice in one day. And if she left it there, who knows if it would have been still lodged there tomorrow.

And then when she had gotten back to the cabin… Castle.

So now, here she is: alone. Her bed is cold and uninviting without him by her side.

The next morning she awakes before the sun is even up after a night of terror and tears. Her arms have fingernail marks where she’s clenched them. Scarcely an hour passed when she wasn’t visited by Lockwood or Coonan or her unidentified sniper. This time, Vulcan Simmons had joined their number, leaning in close to growl in her ear, “Rich bitch from uptown on safari in the Heights. Somebody should have warned her not to feed or tease the animals. If they had, she might not have gotten eaten.” And then his laughter, a booming, smirking guffaw. “From what I hear though, she was pretty tasty.”

Kate purses her lips into a thin line, recalling the memory of that interrogation room where he said those exact words to her. She also remembers the fleeting—but sweet—satisfaction she got from slamming him into the mirror hard enough to shatter it.

Wiping her eyes on her arm, she throws off the covers and pushes herself out of bed. Her back is sore where she landed on it, but she’s glad overextending herself yesterday has seemed to have had no severe repercussions as far as her wounds go. She doesn’t think she could handle being told she’s to have an even longer recovery time right now.

Kate pulls open her drawer and throws clothes onto the bed behind her. After dressing, she washes her face and brushes her hair. Then she goes back to her bed, lying on her stomach with her elbows propping up her head so she can stare out the high window at the lightening sky.

A rustling catches her attention and she turns her head towards the door to see a slip of paper being shoved under the crack. She picks it up with a slight frown, bewildered. Kate unfolds it to find Castle’s usual scrawl. Are you still mad at me?

For some reason, the childlike simplicity of the note makes her smile. She hurries to find a pencil and write back. No.

There’s a scratching sound from outside before the paper is returned to her like before. Can I come in?

Since when do you ask for permission? She gives him a second to read her reply before opening the door herself. “Hey,” she says. She gives him a slight smile to let him know that’s she’s fine. Kate sits cross-legged on the bed and gestures for him to sit across from her.

“I’m sorry for what I said, Kate.”

“It’s not your fault.” She shrugs her shoulders slightly. “I mean, yeah, it wasn’t the greatest thing to have said to me, but it definitely wasn’t your worst blunder. I overreacted, and I’m sorry. It wasn’t fair to take my frustrations out on you. You least of all people.”

Castle nods, leaning forward. “I understand, Kate. It’s frustrating; I know that. You were free and independent before this and now life is tying you down. It feels like your life has been put on hold while you recover.” Kate’s gaze drops to the bedcovers as he reads her. He’s always been able to read her well. The idea of someone else knowing her innermost thoughts makes her skin tingle a little bit. “Going from New York City Homicide Detective to living in near seclusion in the woods for your own peace of mind isn’t an easy transition, and I respect that.” He’s only skimmed the surface, but that’s a deep lake and she hasn’t even shown him its true depth. “You’ve been through the emotional looking glass in your life, Kate. I can’t pretend to know what that was like or be able to relate, but I would like to listen. I would like to be there for you.”

“You are,” she speaks quietly, slowly. She’s determined he hear every word of this. “You are, Castle. You were there when that little girl, Angela Candela, was kidnapped. You were there when I killed Dick Coonan, the contract killer who murdered my mom. You were there to pull me out of my blown up apartment and you had my father’s watch fixed. You were there when Royce betrayed me, when he revealed he wasn’t the man I fell in love with. You were there when Raglan was shot right in front of us. You were there in that freezer with me, and when we realized we wouldn’t have the time or the knowledge to disarm that dirty bomb. You followed me to LA even though it was against my orders to go. You tried to save me when I got shot, and you were there in the hospital. You’re there for me; you have been for three years. And even though I may not share my emotions readily during those periods, it doesn’t mean I don’t notice or that I don’t appreciate it. It matters. I told you once that I had a hard job, and that you make it a little more fun. Well, the truth is I live a hard life, and you make it a lot more bearable with your jokes and your antics and your concern.” Their eyes meet and his soften. “So thanks, for…for being there.”

“Always, Kate.” He takes her hand in his and she smiles, giving it a squeeze.

“Thanks for the ride, Castle,” she says, opening the car door and stepping out onto the sidewalk. She shuts it just hard enough to latch it and squeeze her eyes shut at the sound, breath catching in her chest. Adrenaline races through her fingers, but after a few moments she opens her eyes again and steps away from the car. Castle rolls down the window.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to walk you inside?” he asks uncertainly. She gives him the look. “Okay. See you in a few hours.” She smiles reassuringly, although that may have come off more weak than reassuring. But it’s the best she can do, given that she’s been lying to him this whole ride and she’s about to meet her ex-boyfriend for coffee behind his back. As much as she’s been trying to tell herself it doesn’t affect him, that it isn’t any of his business, it is. It is because he’s in love with her.

But that doesn’t change her duty to Josh. So she walks through the doors into the morgue, turns, and waves at him through the glass. He waves back and then signals, checks behind him, and pulls back out onto the street. She watches him drive away before hurrying back out to the sidewalk to hail a cab. Kate climbs in with a lead weight in her heart and tells the driver where to go. When she arrives, she pays him automatically, thoughts far away.

She spots Josh as soon as she pulls open the door to the café. He greets her happily, standing and gesturing to the booth seat across from him. “Hey, you,” he says.

“Hey,” she smiles in spite of herself. The waitress appears seemingly out of nowhere to place a mug in front of each of them.

“I ordered for you,” he offers in explanation as the waitress retreats. “I remember what you like. And that you’re supposed to be caffeine free right now…how’re you doing with that?” His eyes twinkle; he’s teasing her.

“Everyone kept talking about how painful the wound would be,” Kate replies lightly, “but no one warned me about the caffeine withdrawal.” They’re falling into that easy rhythm again, and Kate remembers how easy it is to talk to him.

“How’ve you been?” Josh asks.

“Recovering,” Kate supplies. “Can’t wait to get my badge back. You?”

“I’ve been…doing okay,” he responds with an almost pained smile. “You look good.”

“Thanks.” She ducks her head slightly, well aware this is the first time she’s worn makeup at least a week. It’s good to know it covers up the bags under her eyes from sleepless nights. “So do you.”

“Listen,” Josh says, leaning forward. He has an air of excitement, of hopefulness about him. “Now that I’m back in town and you have what I expect is a copious and marginally aggravating amount of free time, I was thinking maybe we could give us another shot.” He connects the two of them with his forefinger.

“Josh, I’m sorry, but no,” Kate says. She’s looking him straight in the eyes as she says it, making sure he knows she’s serious and that what she says next is just as true as well. “You’re a great guy, and I really like you. I value what we had, I do, and I thank you for being there when you could and calling when you couldn’t. It isn’t because of you. But for me, it wasn’t love. Not that kind. I’m sorry.”

The man across from her freezes for a minute, despair flashing across his face. Then: “No, Kate, it’s fine. I won’t say that it doesn’t hurt, but I understand. Castle?” Kate frowns, surprised at the question. Especially by the gentleness in his voice as he said his name, so unlike last time when he had nearly yelled it at her. Her hesitation must be obvious to him because he adds, “I know we didn’t work out as a couple, but could we just take a shot at being friends?”

Kate thinks about it, and then nods. It takes her a moment more, but she does answer his question. Or attempts to. “Yeah, Castle. Maybe.” She shakes her head. “I don’t know.”

“Have you seen him since the hospital?”

She does a double-take at the question. “What? Oh, you don’t—Castle’s been staying with me, in my dad’s cabin.”

“Oh.” She’s glad she didn’t mention that they were sharing a bed. Not that she would have, but… “That’s…big.”

She shrugs. “Sort of. I don’t know. It’s confusing.”

He looks genuinely interested, not accusing at all. She’s grateful. Maybe this could actually work. “Last I heard you asked him to vacate the hospital. How did this come about?”

“I—” she stops, puzzled. Her interrogation instincts are kicking in. “How did you know about that?”

“I…heard one of the nurses gossiping about it. I mean, because he’s Richard Castle and all.” Josh hurriedly picks up his mug to take another drink.

“Josh, come on. I can tell when you’re lying to me. What is it?”

“Well…Castle and I might have had a fight that night.”

“That night? What kind of fight?”

“A…bar…fight…”

“What? Did you hit him?”

“Well…yeah… But in my defense, he smashed a bottle over me.” He’s losing her, and he knows it. “It was even on page six.”

Inside, Kate’s fuming. Fuming at Castle, for not telling her this. Fuming at any and all of her friends who knew about this and didn’t think to inform her. And especially at Josh, now that her irrational protective side has been fired up. But she clenches her teeth and forces it down, forces her voice to a civil tone. “Josh, this isn’t going to work. Please, for both our sakes, don’t contact me again.” She rises from her booth and slaps a five down on the table.

Soon enough she’s back at the morgue, having utilized the length of the car ride to look online for a digital version of that article. Holding her phone like a weapon, she practically barges into the building. “Lanie, why didn’t you tell me about this?”

“Kate!” Lanie exclaims, pulling off her blue latex gloves. “I wasn’t expecting you for another half hour!”

“Why didn’t you tell me about this?” Kate shoves the phone at her friend, who squints bewilderedly down at it. Then recognition floods her face.

“Oh, Kate…I’m sorry, I just couldn’t think of a time to bring it up. Or a reason to. Is it really that important to you? In the grand scheme of things?”

Kate snatches the phone back. “No,” she deflates sullenly.

“Like I said, I’m sorry,” Lanie bustles around the body on the exam table, pulling the sheet back over his face. In the middle of straightening her tools on the cart she turns around and narrows her eyes at Kate. “That can’t be all that’s on your mind. What’s going on?”

Kate sighs. “I found out about the fight from Josh.”

“Oh.” Comprehension. “Why’d you go to meet him in the first place?”

“I don’t know,” Kate sighs, “closure?”

“I see,” says Lanie. “From the look on your face that’s like you just ran over a squirrel, I take it it didn’t go well?”

“No, he was fine. We were almost friends, and then…”

“Why did the fight matter so much to you? According to my sources, they both took a beating. Not just writer-boy.”

Kate frowns, thinking.

“Well? Earth to Kate.” Lanie’s standing right in front of her now.

“Lanie…” she says. “Lanie, I think I’m in love with him!”

“You’re just now realizing that, girlfriend?” Lanie rolls her eyes, but she’s smiling. “Took you long enough.”


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