Punch Me Once

Castle sits at his computer, fuming. He’s got a half a page typed out of Heat Rises, but he’s going to have to scrap the section anyway. He can’t bear to write about Nikki right now, so he had tried writing a scene using Roach. It ended up culminating with Raley getting shot. He has bullets on the brain.

His phone rings. When he had gotten home from the hospital, he had two missed calls from Esposito and one from Ryan. Late that night, Lanie called, but he ignored that one as well. Castle picks up the phone to see Caller ID. Gina.

“Castle,” he answers through gritted teeth.

“Hello, Rick,” she says in her usual drawl. “You promised me a Heat Rises manuscript through chapter fourteen due last Saturday.”

“I know,” he says. “I got caught up in a case.”

“Well, now that the muse is in the hospital, have you made any progress?” Anger flares in him at the casual delivery of that statement.

“Beckett was shot. No, I haven’t made much progress, Gina.”

“Come on, Rick. You’ve done three years of research on that woman; you have more than enough to complete Heat Rises and then some. Do I need to remind you that you’re under contract?”

“I’m perfectly aware,” he spits out.

“I’ll give you three weeks, Rick. But I want the entire thing on my desk by midnight on the eleventh.” He’s silent. “Rick? This isn’t really optional.”

“Fine,” he agrees. He hangs up before his ex-wife and publisher can say another word.

Castle turns back to his laptop, which has gone to his “You Should Be Writing” screensaver. Everyone keeps trying to tell him what he should be doing.

“Stick around,” said Jim.

“Tell her how you feel,” said Martha.

“Don’t come back tomorrow,” said Kate.

“Get that manuscript finished,” said Gina.

And now even his laptop is giving him orders.

What if he doesn’t want to do any of this stuff? He closes the lid of his laptop with a slight bang and pulls open the study door. He grabs his coat off the rack.

“Dad, where are you going?” He hadn’t realized a certain red-head was still awake and seated on the couch.

“To the precinct,” he says without looking at her.

“It’s awfully late. Are you sure you shouldn’t just wait until morning?” Alexis asks. He doesn’t notice the forlorn looks she keeps giving to her phone or the dribble of smeared mascara that indicates she’s been crying. He’s wholly wrapped up in his own little world of Beckett and manuscripts and more Beckett.

“No,” Castle replies, kissing the top of her head. “Don’t wait up.”

He exits the loft and hails a taxi, directing the driver to take him to Smithies’, a bar he’s never been to but has heard a lot about. He needs somewhere to go that’s not a cop bar, somewhere that no one will think of looking for him. He doesn’t want to be bothered by anyone right now.

Upon entering the establishment, Castle promptly sits down on a stool and orders a drink. His mind has just achieved “little bit foggy” when a shadow looms over him. He looks up to see Josh.

“Well, if it isn’t Richard Castle.” Josh’s face is contorted with emotion. Castle eyes him warily.

“I’m not here for a fight. Walk away, and nobody gets hurt.”

Josh leans in closer, his face only inches away from Castle’s. “What if I’ve already been hurt? Can it hurt any worse than this? And it’s. All. Your. Fault!” He embellishes this last part by slamming his hand down on the bar. The MD’s hot breath reeks of liquor.

Castle slowly stands to face Josh, whose face is flushed red.

“Take it outside, gents,” says the bartender uneasily. Neither Castle nor Josh move a muscle as they stare each other down.

“You just wouldn’t let go, even when she was with someone else!” Josh bursts out.

“You were never there for her with all your trips to other countries!”

“You encouraged her to look into her mother’s case!” That stops Castle in his tracks, because it’s true. He is partially responsible for Beckett getting shot. He pushed her further in.

Josh pulls back his arm to take a swing. Before Castle knows it, Josh has been knocked to the side and his right knuckles are on fire. Punch me once, shame on you, he thinks. Punch me me twice, shame on me. The words echo with a melancholy strain because he knows exactly where he’s said them—or words very much like them—before.

Shouts come from the bar, but both men pay no heed to them. Josh spits a bit of blood out of his mouth and then takes another swing at Castle, who steps out of the way while grabbing an empty beer bottle from behind the counter. Josh yells in rage as he barrels into Castle, driving him into the side of the bar.

The wind knocked out of him, Castle can only stand there blinking for a moment. Then he tries to bring the bottle down on Josh’s head except he misses and connects with his shoulder. The glass shatters everywhere and Josh socks Castle in the side of the mouth. With one massive push, Castle shoves his assailant out the door of Smithies’ and follows him outside.

“You. Were. The. Only. Thing. Keeping. Us. Apart. For. A. Whole. Year!” Castle shouts, accentuating each word with a punch to the stomach.

Josh looks like he’s had enough as he hobbles to his feet. “If you love her so much, then what are you doing drinking in a bar instead of sitting with her?” He spits another bit of blood out onto the sidewalk, a wild frenzy in his eyes. “What, did she send you away too? At least when she was with me, she was sure of my intentions!” The battered MD turns on his heel and stalks off, leaving Castle standing on the sidewalk alone. He can feel a bruise forming on his back and mouth, and he can taste blood.

Castle’s had enough for one night too. He hails another cab back to the loft, wiping away the blood on his face with his coat sleeve. Luckily neither Martha nor Alexis are in the living room when he arrives, and he retires immediately to his bedroom. For the first time in a long four days, he falls asleep the second his head hits the pillow.

In his dream, he’s wandering through the loft trying to find the source of the endless music. It inexplicably bothers him and seems to be coming from upstairs, where Alexis might have left it playing or something. Every time he walks up the stairs to check, however, he finds himself walking through front door in an infinitesimal loop. Something bad will happen if he doesn’t shut it up. He just knows it.

Castle awakes slowly from the dream, but the infernal music hasn’t stopped. Blearily his hands fumbles inside his jacket and removes his cell phone from within. He can’t even read the Caller ID but answers it anyway in his very best grumpy-sleepy-why-did-you-wake-me-up voice. “Castle.”

“Rick! Rick! I’ve been calling you all morning! Have you seen what they’ve published on page six?!”

“Paula,” he says, sitting up. “Paula, what are you talking about?”

“Oh, so you thought it was a good idea to just mosey into some bar and start punching somebody?”

Oh, no. Oh, no. Castle bolts off the bed and out into the living room, opening the door to retrieve the morning paper. He spreads it out on the kitchen counter. Paula won’t stop jabbering in his ear. “You at least could have told me, Rick. A simple, ‘hey Paula, I made a mistake, so here’s what’s going to be in tomorrow’s paper’ would have been nice.” But Castle’s set the phone down. He’s not listening to her high-pitched tirade anymore.

Could millionaire playboy Richard Castle have turned home-wrecker as well? In the past it appears that Richard Castle has refrained from chasing the married types, but as of the bar fight at Smithies’ last night it appears no conquest is too heinous for the best-selling author. He and an unidentified man were caught throwing punches—and beer bottles—at each other, fighting over an also unidentified woman. Who is this man, and who is this potential next fling of Castle’s? Or could this mystery woman turn into wife #3?

Accompanying the miniature article is a blurry photo picturing Castle smashing a beer bottle into Josh’s shoulder. Josh’s back is to the camera, but it’s not enough to stop Ryan or Esposito—or, even worse, Beckett—from identifying him easily.

“Paula,” he picks up the phone again. “Is there anything you can do about this?”

“Well, I would have been able to had you told me last night!”

“I forgot, I’m sorry,” he says. Anything to make her lose the screechy tone. “Still, you have a lot of connections. Is there anything you can do to at least make it…die down a little?”

“It’s already printed; it’s already out there, Rick,” she tells him. “Maybe I can keep the smaller papers from latching on and reprinting it, but it won’t be easy.”

“You’re a life-saver, Paula,” he says.

“And don’t you forget it.” There’s a click and she’s gone. Castle slumps over the counter. It’s still early in the morning but already Castle feels like an entire day has past. His back is sore and he decides just to go back to sleep. On his way he’s ambushed by Martha.

“Richard, what are you doing up so early? Going to see Detective Beckett?”

“No, Mother, just thinking,” he lies.

“About what?” she pries. “You don’t look happy; is everything all right between you two? Is it about what I said yesterday?”

“What did you say yesterday?” He honestly doesn’t remember; yesterday feels like a million years ago.

“Richard, when I said a woman would have to be in love with you to put up with you for three years, I didn’t mean it as an insult.” Oh. That. “No, really. Inside you are a deeply loving, deeply caring man. I just meant…sometimes people can look at you and not see all that. Sometimes the childish, playboy side of you—or your reputation as such—masks your abundant finer qualities.”

“I know, Mother,” he says. He can’t say that the comment didn’t hurt at the time, but he wasn’t overly bothered by it. Clearly Martha has given it much more thought and credence than him and is quite determined to get it off her chest.

“Kate Beckett would be lucky to have a man like you, Richard.”

He cuts her off before she can say any more, really just wanting to be alone right now. He doesn’t need a list of a million reasons why Kate should be with him—he’s already created one of his own, and a fat lot of good it did him. “I knew what you meant,” he promises her. “Besides, if I took it as an insult, I would’ve kicked you out of the loft right then and there.”

She pinches his cheek. “That’s my boy.”

Castle walks past her and into his bedroom. “I’ve had a long four days; I think I’m just going to back to sleep.” She nods agreeably and he closes the door again. Once he’s lying down, however, he finds it isn’t quite that easy.

Beckett refrains from fidgeting as the doctor slides the IV needle out of her arm.

“Last one, there you go,” the doctor smiles. He has already removed the oxygen tubes from her nostrils. Despite her aversion to needles, that procedure wins the prize for most invasive in her opinion. But now she’s just glad they’re out.

She flexes her fingers experimentally, examining the dark dot that betrays the puncture wound. “Can I sit up?” Her father next to her looks uneasy.

“Katie, maybe you should wait a while.” Jim turns to the doctor for backup.

The doctor eyes her. “We’ve already raised the top part of the bed by two inches. I wouldn’t recommend putting it up any more than that in this stage of your recovery.”

“Because it’ll be damaging or because it’ll hurt?” Her voice is monotone, every syllable stressing the command she possesses over her body and mind. She will not allow fear, and she will not tolerate weakness.

“It might not be damaging, but it definitely will be painful.”

“Raise the bed.” The doctor looks at her for a second and then nods to the nurse. The machine whirrs as it props her up slowly, and Beckett knows he meant what he said about it being painful. It hurts. A lot. But not enough to request to go back to the way it was.

She grits her teeth and breathes in as big a breath as she can manage, stretching her ribcage painfully. Her wound objects loudly, assailing her with flashes of heat and red. “What exactly is the plan for my recovery? By your estimate, when is the earliest I can be released?” She phrases it in such a way that it’s clear she’s just asking for his professional opinion. Letting him know that if she wants to leave, nothing’s going to stop her.

“Right now, we’re just focused on you regaining some of your strength and not damaging the wound any further. Most patients aren’t as active or alert as you are in this stage. Next will be physical therapy, where you’ll do exercises that won’t be too stressful for your body and exceedingly gentle on your wound. Even something as simple as taking a step will be extraordinarily hard when you first begin.”

“Why can’t we start physical therapy right now? I’m ready.”

“Any physical activity on your part in this stage would be extremely detrimental. Your wound is too fragile for even the lightest of exercises.”

Beckett scowls at this, expressing her displeasure at these restrictions. The doctor smiles and pats her arm. “Relax and enjoy the extra time off. You’ll be out of here soon enough.”

As he walks out of the room with the nurse trailing him, Beckett’s fingers curl around the hem of the blanket. “Soon enough” would have been twelve hours ago. She hates being dependent on people and things. She hates being dependent on the hospital staff for her recovery. She hates being dependent on Lanie to bring her books to occupy her time. She hates being reliant on a metal pan to go to the bathroom.

After a moment of self-indulgence, Beckett reasserts her formidable mental discipline. Do not think about the negatives. Do not think about the shooting.

Do not think about Castle.

She’s still exerting her mental control when Ryan, Esposito, and Lanie arrive. Lanie immediately gives her a questioning look, but Kate shakes her head. No, she hasn’t talked to Espo yet about PTSD. Using the group setting as an excuse not to delve into the topic, she asks, “So, what’s going on? You guys get stuck on a case and need my help?”

“Not exactly,” Ryan says, “we just wanted to check up on you, see how you were doing. Pretty quiet week for murders, actually.”

“There is something else we wanted to talk to you about, Beckett,” Esposito says. All of a sudden Kate finds it odd that they’re all there, together, and her father isn’t leaving like he normally does when she has visitors but leaning back in his chair thoughtfully with an intense look in his eyes. “We can’t get in contact with Castle.”

“We’ve all tried, but writer-boy won’t pick up,” Lanie says. Lanie knows exactly why Castle isn’t picking up. She’s giving her best significant-subliminal-message look to Kate that clearly says, “Don’t blame me; they forced me to come along.”

“So we were wondering whether you’d heard from him,” Esposito continues. “It’d be just like Castle to go off on his own and try to track down the sniper by himself.” She stiffens at the word as a hole is ripped in her chest again, but her muscles are locked so tight with self-restraint that she doesn’t think any of them notice.

“And if he is, we’d like to know so we can head him off,” Ryan finishes. “Castle’s not known for keeping his head in these types of situations. It sounds exactly like something he’d do.”

“Yes,” Kate lies. “He was in here this morning.”

“I didn’t see him,” Jim interjects.

“He didn’t stay long,” Beckett replies, “just a quick pop-in. I think…I think he said something about a book deadline. Maybe that’s why he’s AWOL?” She hates lying to both her dad and her team, but they’ve given her no choice in the matter. As much as they care about her and she them, what happened with Castle is none of their business. “He came by while you were getting breakfast.” Lanie gives her an exasperated look but doesn’t comment. She sees right through the lie. Ryan and Esposito, however…they are detectives, but her poker face is as good as Castle’s. They might suspect something’s amiss. They might not.

“All right, I guess we shouldn’t worry about him too much,” Ryan says.

“If we still haven’t heard from him I’ll stop by his place tomorrow after work,” Esposito agrees. “The dude can’t ignore us if we’re banging on his door.”

The thought fills Kate with dread but she forces herself to smile. “Benefits of being a cop.”

There’s something bothering him, preventing him from falling back into the emptiness of sleep. It swirls around in his brain evading capture, teasing him and haunting him and remaining elusive. Whenever he thinks he has it, it slips out of his grasp again like a fish.

It has something to do with the fight, he thinks, rolling over onto his side. He cups his elbow and uses it as extension of his pillow to rest his head on. Was it something he did? No, neither of them did much more than exchange blows. Something he said?

At least when she was with me, she was sure of my intentions… The words float back into his mind and a pang in his heart tells him that these are the ones that have been giving him so much grief. Sure of his intentions? What were Josh’s intentions? Castle can discern no other motive in their relationship besides the simple fact that Josh loved her. Was that what he meant by intentions? How are his own any different?

I love her too, he thinks. More than Josh does, or ever did. Josh had only been with her for less than a year, while Castle has three years of pent up love for Kate. Was Josh implying that Kate didn’t know of his intentions? He had told her he loved her, what else did she need?

He weighs this new revelation against everything he knows about her, everything he put on that list from yesterday. On a whim he adds in Martha’s observations as well to the mix. He starts chronologically, from the moment they met. What had she thought when she first met him?

He had been offering a drink to his fifteen-year-old daughter. Well, that can’t have been the greatest first impression ever. He knows she’s a fan of his books, which probably meant she knew him as the papers knew him—a man of numerous flings, conquests, and even a couple of failed marriages to boot. And he had cemented that idea of him in her mind by…hitting on her. “I’d be happy to let you spank me” comes to mind.

He’d like to think that everything he did after that commuted those first few cases where she wasn’t any more than a hot new woman to chase. He’d like to think that saving her life multiple times and spending $100,000 of his own money to find her mother’s killer would have demonstrated that he’s in it for the long haul. But Josh seems to be insinuating that it wasn’t enough. That she doubts his intentions, and is thus nipping their possible romance in the bud to save herself the emotional pain later.

And here Castle is now, lying on his bed and longing for her. Pining.

He sits up, lethargy gone. She’s pushed him away, but he’s not going anywhere. Even if she isn’t going to fight for this relationship, he is. And he isn’t going to stop fighting until he gets what he wants. Because he knows it’s what she wants too.

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