Mall Scare

“So, I was thinking, we’re coming up on the one month mark,” Kate says as Castle pours the coffee.

“Don’t tell me you want to make a day out of the anniversary of your shooting,” Castle says. Kate doesn’t even merit him an answer, just her patented glare. A bit more hostile than the Beckett-glare, actually. He really needs to watch what he says.

“I was thinking that I want to start working on the other half of my recovery.” Other half? As in, PTSD half? He’s surprised she’s even willing to admit there is another half.

“You want to see a psychologist?” he asks.

“No, of course not. I don’t need anything as dramatic as that. No, I was thinking we should move back to the city.” She looks at him expectantly, eagerly.

“But Kate, it’s peaceful up here. That’s the whole reason we came.”

“Maybe too peaceful. Maybe I need to be shocked a bit, get used to everyday life back home.” Ah, there it is. She would only admit she has a problem because she’s about to dive headlong into tackling it.

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

“Are you saying I can’t handle it?”

“No, of course not. It’s just…last time—”

“Yes, I know perfectly well what happened last time,” her eyes flash dangerously.

“That’s not what I meant. All I’m saying is that moving back to the city is a big leap. Why don’t we start slower?” He’s anxious, waiting for a response. Her expression is unreadable.

“What do you have in mind?” she says neutrally, finally. He’s glad she’s not rejecting the idea out of hand.

“Well, are there any towns around here we could spend the day in? You know, look at shops, get a bite to eat…something low-key.”

“There is a quaint little town a few miles from here…it’s really a section of a larger city, but there’s this entire area of little stands and even this cute marketplace…” she considers. Castle hopes she’ll say yes.

It’s not that he doesn’t want to go back to New York City. It’s not even a matter of trust. He just doesn’t…doesn’t want to lose her again. He doesn’t want to have to find her hiding in the tunnels below the Old Haunt again. And if he’s completely honest…well, he likes having her all to himself. If they go back, he has to share her with everyone else again—Lanie, the boys. He knows it’s selfish of him, but he kind of just wants to keep her…his. For a little while longer.

“Fine. We’ll go to Old Town on Tuesday.”

“It’s a date,” he smiles. She gives him an odd look. “You…you know what I mean.”

“Castle, wake up.” Something pokes him in the shoulder. His brain is muddled, sleepy. “Castle, come on.” He grunts something unintelligible, trying to maintain his sleep-state. Words take too much effort, and the last thing he wants to do is wake up fully. Besides, from the minute crack in his eyelids, he can see it’s still dark out. Yellow light floods his vision and blinds him as she turns the room light on. He pulls his pillow over his head in vain, but his mind has started turning. “Castle, come on, get up.”

“Mmmgh,” he mumbles into the thick fluffy thing.

“I’m taking my shirt off.”

His eyes don’t open, but before he can stop himself: “Really?”

“No.” She pulls the pillow away from him and tosses it to the other side of the bed. Kate, sadly, is fully clothed. “Come on, Old Town today. You said you were going to get up early.”

“I said maybe. And I definitely didn’t mean while it was still dark out.”

“The donut place opens at six. If we want them fresh, we have to be there by then.”

“Mmph. Still, I don’t believe this was the best way to get me up.”

She leans over and kisses him. “Better?”

“Much.” He sits up and swings his legs out of the bed. “Okay, okay, I’m coming. I’ll shower and meet you out there in ten.”

“Good.” She gives him another peck on the lips and disappears out the door. As soon as it closes, he falls back onto the bed with a fwump! “I heard that,” she calls through the door. Crap.

“Just making the bed,” he lies, pulling himself up once more and hobbling towards the bathroom. He rubs his bleary eyes and looks at the clock. Five in the morning. Well, that’s what he gets for living with a cop. Or just Kate Beckett in general.

After a quick shower, he goes out to find a small breakfast waiting for him on the table. He wolfs it down under her watchful and impatient eye, sets their dishes in the sink, and grabs the car keys. He wonders briefly if she will want to drive, trying to decide if he should let her or not. The sensible answer is no, but she’s been acting so…normal, lately…

Luckily she doesn’t make him choose, just goes to sit complacently on the passenger’s side. “Do you have the map?” he checks before starting the engine. She nods, unfolding it in her lap.

“Here, look, this is where you’re going. Back out to the main road, straight for twenty or thirty miles, and then a right turn onto Pennington Way. That’ll take you straight to it.”

Castle takes one last look at the map, criss-crossed with lines going every which way, and decides just the follow her instructions. The headlights blink into existence as he turns the key, illuminating the foliage in front of them. He looks over his shoulder while backing up, and then they’re on their way.

Castle feels himself slowly waking up and the grogginess draining away throughout the ride, and when he pulls into the donut shop’s parking spot at exactly 5:58 he’s fully awake and even a little excited for the day. It’s just the two of them today, and barring any unpleasant surprises, it should be very entertaining. He wants to see the things she grew up with, and this little olden-style section of town is one of those things. He wonders when the last time she came here was.

They enter the shop together, hands painfully close but not touching. He knows he could, if he wanted to, and she wouldn’t mind—she’d probably even smile at him. But she needs her hands to point and choose donuts and to pay the cashier, so he keeps his at his sides. “Two of those,” Kate points at some delicious-looking glazed ones. “And two coffees.” Castle nudges her slightly. “One of them decaf,” she adds with a sigh. He hopes he didn’t just put a damper on the day by reminding her why they’re really here, what her real position in the world is. Injured.

She seems able to move past it quickly though, and they exit the shop laughing. Kate chooses a place to sit and watch the streets slowly get busier, atop a wall that is high enough to let their legs dangle freely and feet occasionally intertwine. After that they move on into the market, a collection of stands selling everything from fruits to jams to jewelry. Despite her protests, Castle ends up buying her a pair of gorgeous earrings that leave her grinning and blushing slightly, something he’s never seen her do before.

They’re eating their way through a bag of fresh cherries when Castle spots a cute little model train store and drags her inside. They visit yet another bakery, and window shop some more.

“That’s the end of it,” Kate says finally, stopping on the the sidewalk. Up ahead, Castle can see a McDonald’s and a Taco Bell.

“It really is,” he agrees with a sigh. They begin their trek back to the car. “So, what now?”

Kate checks her phone. “It’s only two o’clock.”

“How’re you feeling?” Castle asks. Though they’ve been out for hours, they’ve stopped often—not because she needed to, but to eat whatever delicacy they’d just picked up or to observe the passerby. Kate was right—this place is wonderful.

“I’m good to go,” she says, and for once he doesn’t doubt her. She’s exhibiting none of the usual signs of tiredness—irritability, the hitch in her step as she walks, or the momentary looks of pain in her eyes that she tries her hardest to hide from him. “Hey, you know what? There’s a mall on the other side of town. Why don’t we head over there before going back to the cabin?”

Castle considers it as they approach the car. Malls can be busy, and crowded, and loud… “Are you sure?” he asks. She nods eagerly. “Okay, but not for too long,” he concedes. She maps it on her phone and Siri directs him to the place. He parks in the crowded parking lot, trying to ignore the sense of foreboding he gets from seeing all these people. He and Kate get out of the car and shade their eyes as they start walking towards the main entrance. It’s really hot outside on the asphalt.

“Hey, look, is that—Richard Castle!” someone with a very high-pitched voice and a giggle to match gasps from behind him. Out of instinct he turns, and Kate does warily as well.

“Oh my God, it is!” squeals the other girl to her blonde friend. “Hi! We don’t want to disturb you, but could we get your autograph?”

“Sure,” Castle pulls a pen from his pocket. “Where would you like it?”

One of the girls proffers up her canvas tote bag and the other her hat. “It was so great meeting you; thank you so much!” the girls chime, nearly bubbling over with excitement.

“Yeah, sure,” Castle flashes a smile at them. “Just don’t tell anyone or tweet anything about me being here with someone, okay?”

“No problem,” the brunette trills. “Thanks again!”

“Wow, you were really nice to them,” Kate says, falling back into step with him.

“Yeah, well, if you’re a mean grouch you generally don’t build up the fan base I have,” Castle shrugs.

From behind them, the blonde teenager leans towards her friend. “Why do you think he doesn’t want anyone to know he’s here with her?”

The other replies in an undertone, “Maybe he’s cheating on his girlfriend.”

“Just let them go, Castle,” Kate admonishes with a laugh, but he wouldn’t have done anything anyway. Fans will be fans, and the worst these two have done so far is leave him with an incredulous, indignant expression on his face.

They enter the mall and are immediately buffeted by people, but once they manage to get through the first throng it opens up a little. Kate looks a little paler than she did before, but maybe it’s just the lights.

And by the time he realizes it’s not just the lights, it’s too late.

Castle doesn’t even know what set her off. He doesn’t know if it was a sound, a glimpse, a flashback. Just how she reacts. And it’s not pretty.

He shoves her up against a wall, fighting for control. She’s a mess, flying fists and raining tears. The wild, panicked look in her eyes is most frightening, and as her fingernails scrabble against the back of his hand he knows she has no idea who he is.

“Sir, just let us handle this,” the deep-voiced security guard in a uniform says. “What seems to be the problem here?” Castle hadn’t even noticed his approach, but then again, he’d been a little preoccupied. The crowd has recovered from their initial shock and confusion and has given the three of them a wide berth. “Sir, I need you to step back,” the guard/mall cop demands again.

“Come on, Kate, come back to me,” Castle growls, pinning one of her hands against her stomach. “I believe in you! Come back.” Castle's words are rewarded with a powerful shove away from her, followed by an intense kick to the chest that feels like being hit by a truck. At least she isn’t wearing heels, he reflects as he hits the ground with an oomph!, or he would have been stabbed through.

At this the guard draws his weapon, and to Castle’s dismay it’s a gun. With all his strength he leaps up, knocking the gun down while simultaneously shouting, “Don’t, she’s a cop!” But it’s too late; Kate has seen the weapon, has reacted to it. Has frozen. For a moment Castle wonders whether this will cause her to flee or just break down, but it’s soon answered when she pushes through the small, gathered crowd of gawkers and into the throng.

Between harried breaths, Castle explains in a few short sentences the situation to the guard. “She’s a cop, but she was shot a month ago. She’s dealing with some PTSD issues, so please don’t pull a gun on her. She won’t hurt anyone—just let me get her. I can calm her down.” Without waiting for a response, Castle races into the mass of people, calling her name ahead of him. “Kate! KATE!”

He’s shoving people aside, but he doesn’t care. They’re on the second floor of the mall, and as long as none of them go careening over the edge of the platform they’ll be fine. That’s what the railing’s for. He just needs to get to her. Kate.

He spots a flash of brown, wavy hair going through a door marked Authorized Personnel Only and speeds after her. It’s a service hallway, and his heart skips a beat when he pulls the door open and she’s not there. But then he turns and sees her, huddled in a small alcove where someone from the cleaning crew has stashed a bright yellow cart with various bottles of nauseatingly scented solutions stacked on top.

“Kate!” he rushes to her and she flinches away, scrabbling against the wall, but when he takes her in his arms she collapses into him, shaking and bleeding tears profusely. He cradles her against him, whispering in her ear. “Kate, Kate, it’s okay. There’s nothing to be afraid of; I’m here. I’m here, Kate, I’m here. You’re okay.”

Time has no meaning for either of them in this dank service hall, but Castle estimates it’s been at least fifteen minutes when at last she sits up on her own. “Thank you.”

He nods, holding her still as he wipes away most of the smeared eye makeup from her cheeks. “Home?”

She dips her head meekly and relies on his strength to pull her to her feet. They exit the mall as quickly as possible, his arm never leaving her shoulders and her hand clutched at his chest. “I’m sorry our day got shot to hell,” she says on the car ride home. He wonders if her word choice is intentional.

“Don’t be,” he tells her. Dinner passes mostly in silence. He can’t discern what she’s thinking, and he doesn’t know what to say.

Finally, in their bedroom that night, she speaks. “I want to be a cop again. I want to be like before.”

He looks at her seriously, in the eyes. “You’ll get there, Kate. I promise.”

“That’s not fast enough.” She purses her lips slightly and then opens them again, mind made up. “I want to see a psychologist.”

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