It felt like he was stuck in a dream. Everything seemed fuzzy, and his ears were ringing. He remembered being stuck in a bank with his mother, so how did he end up at a coffee shop in a part of the city he’d never been to? And why was there a notebook in front of him? He glanced down, looking at his outfit, looking for any clue that would tell him how much time had passed. It was the same outfit he remembered wearing when he woke up this morning. At least he thought it was this morning.
A woman, two tables over seemed to be doing the same thing. She started patting at her side, breathing out a sigh of relief as her fingers made contact with whatever she was looking for, leaning back in her booth. "Everything okay?" He asked her, studying her face.
She glanced up at him, striking hazel eyes meeting his. "Yeah. Just a strange sensation, that's all.” She glanced away from him, trying to shake off his attention as she made herself smaller, shrinking into the corner of her booth. Her hand stayed glued to her hip, finding comfort in whatever she was holding onto.
He ignored it, his brain jumping around to a whole host of scenarios. If she didn’t look as out of place as he felt, he probably would have left her alone. Instead, he made his way over to her table, sitting across from her. "I just have one question. I like to imagine the impossible, and I have a feeling you might be experiencing the same thing.” At this, her eyes rose to meet his, her eyebrows raised in stunned disbelief. “Did you just experience a time jump?”
Her eyebrows furrowed and her eyes darted around, taking in her surroundings at his words. Her hand left her waist and she glanced down at a watch on her wrist. She looked back to him, shaking her head, loose tendrils of chestnut hair falling from her bun. "No, that can't be it. This has to be a dream."
He raised his eyebrows at her, flashing her a brilliant smile and leaning forward on the table. "Well then, this has been one hell of a dream."
She chuckled, her arms crossing at her chest. "You're telling me."
"So, if this is some weird dream, do we introduce ourselves?" He held his hand out to her.
She looked at his hand with trepidation, her mind still mulling over the events at hand. She ended up taking it, her handshake firm. "Kate."
He offered her a smaller, friendly grin, squeezing her hand just a bit more firmly. "Rick."
"Dad! Dad!" Alexis' voice rang out clear, and Kate faded from his field of vision. A hand stroked his face, fingers wrapped tightly around his. "Grams, he's awake." His eyelids fluttered open, and he met his daughter's bright blue eyes, surprised to find them full of tears. He heard incessant beeping, a few pages on an intercom that he couldn’t decipher, and shuffling on the other side of him.
"Richard, darling, you had us so worried." His mother grabbed his other hand, pulling it to her mouth, brushing her lips along his knuckles.
He met his daughter's eyes again, noting a sharp pain in his side that made its presence known each time he took a breath. "Kate?" He choked out, his voice barely a whisper.
Her face fell, tears streaming down her face. "No, Dad, it's me, Alexis. Remember?" He wanted to tell her that of course he remembered her, that he could never forget her, but the woman he was talking to had been there one moment and gone the next, and he was so disoriented. He wanted to ask where he was, and what had happened, and why she was crying. But he didn't have time for any of that, and he slipped back out of consciousness before he could tell her he was sorry.
He found himself back in the coffee shop, sitting across from Kate once the blackness cleared. Except now she was bent over, her head on the table, her shoulders heaving. "What just happened?" She ignored his question as he muddled through his confusion, her head still down, her sobs more audible. His hand reached out and touched her shoulder. "What's wrong?"
Her shoulders stopped shaking as she took a deep breath, steadying herself as she answered. "My Dad, he just sounded so broken." Her voice was a whisper, he had to lean in to hear her. "My friends are hopeful but my Dad…" she trailed off, another audible sob escaping her lips.
Castle thought back to his daughter, tears streaming down her face. "So we had similar experiences."
She brought her head up to look at him, her face red. "You heard your family too?" She rested her head in her hands, her eyes flickering to his before directing her gaze elsewhere, looking around the room.
"Yeah, and I saw my daughter, Alexis, crying just before I came back here, to you." He tried to smile larger than normal, tried to reassure her somehow that everything would be alright. His head ducked down, trying to meet her gaze once more.
She made eye contact again before shaking her head, blinking rapidly to hold back her tears. "I didn't see them, I heard them. I couldn't open my eyes, I couldn't squeeze his hand.” She swallowed a sob. “I could just hear my Dad pleading with me to wake up. He sounded so broken, Rick, just destroyed. I'm all he has left." Her voice broke at the end, almost a whisper as she held back her feelings, her eyes looking at the other people in the coffee shop. She took a deep breath, settling herself, struggling to make her face blank.
He didn't know what compelled him to it, but his hand found her cheek, his thumb wiping away her tears, and watched as she fought to keep her composure. "I'm sorry." He at least heard his mother, and knowing that for now, Alexis had her, was comforting. "But your friends are hopeful at least, right?"
She grinned then, small and soft, her head leaning into his hand. "Yeah, Espo kept saying that I'm the toughest person he knows, so I have to bounce back. Lanie was actually arguing with the doctor about my Glasgow score, even though she doesn’t treat live patients. And Ryan was next to me, telling me that he and Jenny wanted to start a family, and he wants to make me Godmother, so I'd better wake up."
He grinned at her, his hand falling from her face. "Sounds like a great group."
"Yeah." She fixed her eyes on a point behind him and he let her be, giving her the time to process her thoughts. He pulled the little notebook out of his pocket, trying to figure out what he remembered last. Hostages in bank. Trapper John. Gun. His pencil tapped as he tried to remember anything else, his fingers tapping faster as he remembered his Mother’s scream, and the gun shooting into the sky. After a few moments of tapping, the noise grabbed her attention, and she pulled the notebook from his hand, studying his writing. "Wait, were you in the bank?"
"Yeah, were you?" He doesn't remember details about what happened or who else was there, just that he had been there. It came to him in flashes that didn’t make much sense. Maybe she could help him fill in the blanks.
"I wasn't in it, I was outside of it.” She leaned forward, adding her own writing to the page. “I'm a Detective, and I started training in hostage negotiations a few weeks ago, my supervisors thought it would be good for me to be there today." He watched her writing, neat and uniform, fill the page. They wanted a bus. Traffic. Threatened to shoot hostages. At that last line, it started coming back at him. He remembered seeing the barrel of the gun pointing in his direction, but he couldn’t remember if they pulled the trigger. Her eyes were filled with sympathy as she looked at him. "I think you might be the hostage they shot."
His heart stopped as she spoke, her words confirming his fears. His hand ran over the left side of his abdomen where he had felt the pain for the brief moment he was awake. Nothing now, but that couldn't be. Something must have happened. He took a deep breath. "Well, I'm alive. I saw my kid, I heard my mother. And you're alive but immobile. So what are we doing here?"
She shrugged, a small part of her mask washing away as she grinned. "Whatever we want?"
He copied her movements, the notebook making its way back into his pocket. "Well, what do you want to do?"
She leaned over, smiling as her eyes found what she was looking for. "Well, we are in a coffee shop. Can I buy you a coffee, Rick?"
He grinned, his stomach rumbling. "And maybe some donuts. Cops like donuts, right?"
She heard the monitors beeping around her and footsteps pacing on one side of her bed. Someone was holding her hand, probably her father, their elbows depressing the mattress next to her. "Her eyelids have been fluttering, that's a good sign. And she's started moaning. Her Glasgow score is going up." Lanie explained, her friend’s voice steady by her head. "She'll wake up, Jim. I feel it in my bones."
His hand tightened around hers as he pulled it toward him, his lips grazing her knuckles before he rested it by his cheek. She could feel his tears on the back of her hand, and wished more than anything that she could wipe them away for him. "I can't lose her too." His voice was quiet but not broken, like he couldn’t cry anymore, and her heart ached as she listened to him.
"You won't." Ryan spoke up from where he was pacing at her feet. "She'll be okay. She has to be."
Kate fought to open her eyes, move anything, to squeeze her father's hand back. She took a breath, happy to note that she was breathing on her own, no tubes to block her throat. She could move her tongue, just a bit, but just enough to form the one word she needed to.
It wasn't easy. She made the motions over and over, but she managed to grunt out a "Da", using all her effort to get his attention. She knows he heard when he squeezes her hand harder, almost making her want to cry out in pain.
"Come one Katie. I know you're in there." His voice was a whisper this time, and she felt him grasping her hand between both of his as she slipped back into unconsciousness.
"You're back!" Rick grinned as she reoriented herself, the cup of coffee in front of her half touched.
"Yeah. I spoke to my Dad, sort of." She thought back to her friend's reassuring words to him. "He's got plenty of people looking out for him though." Maybe they’d all look out for him if this ever went south. She tried to push those thoughts out of her head.
"I'm happy to hear that." He looked around the shop, taking note of the vast number of people there going about their normal routine. "Do you think everyone here is like us? Unconscious and hurt?"
Her eyebrows knit together with concern. "I don't even want to think about that. It's so depressing."
"It's not a hard leap to make though. I mean, that's why we're here, in this strange limbo."
"Are we really though?" She played with the cup in front of her. "How do we know that this isn't some elaborate dream I've come up with?" It occupied her while she recovered, gave her something to do. It was her brain’s way of keeping her alive, keeping the neurons firing, and nothing more.
"You know, they say you can't dream up someone that you've never seen before. Trust me, if I'd seen you, I'd remember."
She blushed at the odd compliment, brushing the fallen pieces of her bun out of her face. Her eyes narrowed as she studied him. "You look familiar to me though, and I can't place it."
He ignored her, ducking his face from her view. “I’m nobody.” Maybe it was the brain injury, but she knew there was more to him than met the eye, she just couldn’t place it. So she let it slide. He pointed toward the door, scooting to the edge of his booth for an easy escape. "So, we were gonna maybe do something, right? Other than sit in this coffee shop all day."
She grinned, one eyebrow raising as she crossed her arms in front of her. "Something fun. You have anything in mind?"
He smirked, holding out his hand. "I think I do."
He brought her to Coney Island, though how they got there she didn't remember or understand. She grabbed his hand, and suddenly they were there, the famous white roller coaster standing in front of them, miles away from the coffee shop they’d started in, only seconds passed in travel time. "Please tell me you like these?" His blue eyes pleaded with her, her hand still clasped in his as he pointed up.
She grinned, gripping his hand tighter. "Are you kidding? I used to ride on this with my Mom all the time!"
He let out a sigh of relief, pulling her toward the entrance. "Good. Because Alexis doesn't like them and I've always had to go by myself."
"Oh, you poor thing." She teased, pulling her hand from his. But she understood his feelings. She hadn't been on in ages, only once since her mother died, and it just wasn’t the same alone.
He crossed his arms while they waited, his eyes studying her, a curious look etched into his face. "So, a Detective. That must be cool."
She breathed out a sigh of relief when he didn't ask why. Everyone always asked why. Why a Detective when she could have been a lawyer, like she made an inferior choice. The looks of pity when she explained why it was important to her were almost worse. "It is. I work homicides. The weirder the better."
His face lit up as she spoke, and he bounced on the balls of his feet. "That's so cool! I got to shadow someone in the CIA for a little bit, but they didn't solve any murders."
She snorted, her grin wide as they spoke. "You shadowed someone at the CIA? Yeah, I totally believe that." Her eyes rolled as she watched him, allowing herself to have a little fun with this figment of her imagination.
"I did, for about a year. She was great." He gazed off into space, a nostalgic smile playing on his lips.
"I give her props, I couldn't do that." Kate spoke, interrupting his flashback and bringing him back to the present, or wherever they were.
"Do what?" He asked, his eyes meeting hers again.
"Let someone in on my investigations. I'm a bit of a control freak, and I wouldn't want an outsider messing it up." She stepped over the side of the car and sat in the second seat.
"I didn't mess it up!" He protested as the lap bar came down. "I helped!"
She chuckled. "Sure you did." The roller coaster brought them forward, the chains catching, the coaster lurching as the rest of the cars caught up. His hands were already up, balled into fists. She kept hers gripped tightly on the bar in front of them, her knuckles turning white. As they went down the first drop, she screamed with delight, the wind pulling out more of her hair. She laughed as they travelled around the bends, looking over every few seconds and laughing at her companion's elated face.
Back in the real world, Jim clutched his daughter's hand close as she tightened her grip on it, a hint of a smile dancing on her face.
Rick's eyes opened again, his daughter curled up and asleep in the chair next to him. He could hear her snoring, the sound soft as she fought to relax in that uncomfortable position. He tried to move his hand to touch her, run his fingers through her hair and reassure her that he would be alright, but the wires prevented him from getting that far. "Richard, are you up?"
He turned his head, finding his mother wide awake, her blue eyes watching him and holding back tears. "Yeah, for now." His voice was raspy and came out in a whisper.
"Do you know who we are?" She asked, leaning forward with anticipation, her face blank as she awaited his response.
It broke him apart. He didn't mean to cause so many doubts in their minds. He had just been disoriented. "Of course, Mom. I know who you are. And I could never forget Alexis" Her relieved smile took some of those feelings away. "What happened?"
She moved forward, grasping his hand in hers, tears in her eyes. "I owe you my life, Richard." She sniffled, bringing a handkerchief to her nose. "You put yourself between me and that bullet."
"I don't remember. I just remember a gun." He wanted to stay, to talk to her more, but he could feel himself slipping away again.
"If you had died, I don't think I could have forgiven myself."
He found himself sitting at a picnic table across from Kate, watching her shove ice cream by the spoonful into her mouth. "How's your family doing?"
His head was ringing, and he squeezed his eyes shut to make it stop. "Okay I think? Alexis was sleeping, Mother keeping vigil at my side." She pushed a cup toward him, chocolate ice cream with rainbow sprinkles, a treat he accepted. "She told me I saved her from the bullet, that I jumped in front of it for her."
"Doesn't surprise me." At his raised eyebrows, she continued, explaining her thought process. "I mean, you just seem like a family man. You have a daughter that you care about a lot, and I feel like you would be the type of man to go to extraordinary lengths to protect the ones you love."
He grinned. "And you're getting all of this from…"
"The look in your eyes when you talk about her. You must be proud of her." She finished for him, a small smile playing in the corners of her mouth.
"I am. She's great. I don't know what I did in this world to deserve her, but I wouldn't have it any other way."
Kate's face fell as he spoke, her eyes looking down. "Just promise me something, for Alexis."
"Just," she paused, letting out a breath as she gathered her thoughts, "when you wake up for good, be careful. Don't do anything crazy or reckless like follow the CIA without training." Her hazel eyes met his again, holding back tears as she spoke. "I know what it's like to lose a parent at a young age. Make sure she never knows that feeling."
He reached out then, grabbing her hand and squeezing it tight. "I'm sorry for your loss. And yes, I'll be careful for her."
"Good." Kate set her face, returning to her ice cream. "So, are we about done here? Because I have somewhere else I'd like to go in mind."
He grabbed her hand, afraid to get separated. He wasn't sure how travel worked in limbo any more than she was. "After you."
The scenery changed around them, and now instead of sitting at a picnic table at Coney Island, they were sitting on a bench at Central Park. Mary Poppins organ music was playing from behind them, a smile stretching across his face as he recognized it. "Alexis loved the carousel when she was little."
"So did I." Kate mused, closing her eyes as she listened to the music. "My cousin and I used to play here when we were younger, make pretend games mostly. And we fought over this one horse on the carousel, our favorite one. I named it Polina."
"Alexis called one 'Sparky.' I never figured out why." She chuckled at that, playing with her hands in her lap. "Why did you want to come here?"
She shrugged. "It reminds me of good times." She turned her head to meet his gaze, her eyes glistening with tears. "You've woken up, you've spoken to your family. You'll get to go back and make more good memories. But right now I don't know if I will. I’m fighting for my life out there. So I want to relive my memories, every good thing that’s ever happened to me. You're welcome to join me for the ride."
He smiled at her, taking her hand. “There is nothing I’d rather do with you.”
She smiled back at him, relieved to have the company. She spent the next chunk of time telling him all about her cousin, and what it was like to play with her in the park. How they used to hide from their parents, how she taught Sofia how to climb trees. She taught Sofia some Russian, the words sounding funnier on her cousin's lips than when they came from her mother's mouth. This was where she'd come on her first date, Tony Parker bringing her here to the carousel, and making out with her for the first time in one of the chariots.
She took Rick's hand and they were in Shea stadium, where she recounted stories about her Father, and how he taught her to keep track of the stats of her favorite players, sometimes buying hot dogs and lemonade for her. It was their time, separate from her mother, and so precious to her.
Next he knew he was in the New York Public Library. His grin grew. This was by far his favorite spot in their travels. She wandered around, passing people who were paying them no mind, until she found one of the armchairs. "I used to curl myself up here and read after Mom died. I brought her books with me, and even discovered a few of my own." She turned to him then, a triumphant look on her face. "I figured out why you look so familiar. You used to look at me from the backs of my book jackets, Richard Castle." His heart fell as she said his name, her skepticism showing in her facial expressions. "You know, I wonder why, out of all people, my mind conjured you to take this journey with me? I mean, yes, your books helped me through my mother's murder, but why wouldn't she be here?"
He sighed. "Because this isn't an afterlife. This is limbo."
She shook her head, her arms crossing over her chest. "No, this is a dream. Limbo isn't real, people don't have adventures there. And they certainly don’t have adventures with famous people who wouldn’t look at them twice if they met on the street." She sat in the chair, her elbows resting on her knees, her head in her hands.
None of what she had said was true. They were having adventures in limbo, he just couldn’t prove it. And if he met her on the streets, he’d be fascinated by her. He’d probably beg to write a character based on her, and he would definitely look at her more than just twice. "No,” she continued, “I conjured you here because I'm in crisis. Your words helped me through one, now you're here to help me through another, to help me get back."
He sighed, sitting in the seat next to her. "No, I'm here. Right here." He grabbed her hand, wondering how she could ignore something that was right in front of her. Except he wasn't, at least, not in real life. When she is conscious, he isn’t near her. Everything was different here.
"This stinks though, because when I wake up I won't have any connection to you. You won't recognize me in the streets or at your signings, but I'll have all these memories of our time together."
"That's it!" He yelled, making a few heads turn in their direction. "That's how I'll convince you.” His grin was so wide that it hurt his face, but these strokes of brilliance only came once in a while. It seemed to amuse his companion though, her teeth sinking into her bottom lip as she listened to his plan. “Tell me something about yourself that you've never told anyone, so when I see you I can repeat it!"
She scoffed, shaking her head and crossing her arms as she sat back in her seat. "Nope. Not gonna happen. I'm a private person, Mr. Castle."
He wiggled his eyebrows at her, making her smile and roll her eyes. "If this is really just a dream, than you have nothing to lose."
He watched her chew on her bottom lip, her eyes narrowed as she thought it over. "Okay, fine." She searched in the air around her for a secret she could tell him, one that was innocent enough that it wouldn't come back to haunt her. "When I was in middle school, my classmates wanted me to teach them swears in Russian. Instead I taught them words like butterfly and rainbow, so when they called each other names they weren't really being bad."
As she smiled at the memory, so did he, and he swore the world got brighter as she grinned. "So if I see you in the real world, I'll ask you to swear at me in Russian."
She nodded once, determination etched into her features. "Deal." Her eyes found his again, her brows furrowed in confusion. "So why'd you kill Derrick Storm?"
"It was boring. It felt like work. And then my Alex Powers series was a flop." His shoulders heaved up and down as his spirits fell. "I just haven't found my inspiration yet."
She sat back in her chair. "Well, maybe this limbo thing can be your new inspiration. I'd read it."
They stayed in the library for a bit, wandering through the stacks, time an illusion to them both. Then they travelled. They spent some time in Paris at the Louvre and wandering the halls of Versailles. She took him to her favorite spots in Kiev, telling him all her wild college stories as they visited the city. In Moscow she wowed him, the foreign language smoothly flowing from her lips, making him wrap his arms around her, whispering in her ear how hot he thought it was. She'd let go of her inhibitions, her wall crumbling to pieces, convinced this was all a dream. Somewhere in the back of her mind she hoped that somehow it wasn't, and that someday she could have this type of relationship with him. Thoughts like that were dangerous though. It set her up for heartbreak down the road, when her favorite author didn’t recognize her. Pushing those feelings aside and allowing herself to enjoy the dream was the best thing for her.
It wasn't until they were in Venice that they were separated for more than just a few minutes at a time. She'd been resting in his arms on a gondola, watching the sunlight dance over the canals, her head tilted upward to catch her lips with his when she left limbo, disappearing from his warm embrace.
She awoke with a start, taking in a large gulp of air, her eyes flying open. Her Father was watching her, tears streaming down his face, and as she opened her eyes he threw himself on her, his body trembling. Lanie was above her head, smoothing her hair and talking to her. "Kate, I need you to say something to me, anything."
Kate opened her mouth, taking a deep breath. "Happened?" was all she got out, even that hoarse and just barely audible.
"There was C4 in the bank. You were too close to the blast zone and you got knocked out. You've been in a pretty bad coma for the last few days." Her friend explained to her, in a soft voice.
The next thing she knew her doctor was in the room, ushering her family out and performing a battery of mental tests, including asking her what year it was, the names of her parents, what she did for work, and her captain's name. They pinched her, poked her, and tested her reflexes. By the time they left, updating her Glasgow score on the board, she was too exhausted to talk anymore. Her father left, promising to be back tomorrow. Lanie stroked her hair until she fell asleep. And when she did succumb, it was dark, no longer that limbo world, and she realized she forgot to even ask anyone if Richard Castle had been in the bank.
She didn't tell anyone about her dream. She was the skeptic, and she didn't want to answer any weird questions about it. She almost googled the author, interested in finding out if he even had a daughter, wondering if she had made those details up about him in her head. But she stopped before pressing the return key, realizing that it didn't matter. She could have read that information about him anywhere, knowing whether or not she was right wouldn't make a difference.
It was weeks before she made her way back to work. Her Dad wanted her to relax for another week, but pacing around her father's cabin wasn't doing anything for her. The sound of crickets were starting to drive her insane, and she ached for the bustle of the city, the honking horns and awful traffic, city lights keeping the night bright. When she returned she received a warm welcome, her co-workers clapping as she made her way through the bullpen and into her Captain’s office.
In there, joking around with Captain Montgomery, was the writer who had been on her mind. She felt her heartbeat pick up as she saw him from behind, her jaw setting so it wouldn’t drop, and she could feel the wall being built around her heart, preparing for the heartbreak of his eyes falling on a stranger when he turned. Montgomery indicated that she was there and Rick spun around to greet her. His eyes were just as blue as she remembered them from her dream, his boyish grin exciting every atom in her body. "Detective! I heard you can teach me how to swear in Russian."
Her face hurt from smiling as she threw her arms around him. "Rick!" He grabbed her and held her close, swinging her back and forth while she stood on her tip-toes.
"So, you two know each other?" Her captain inquired, his eyes flickering back and forth between them.
"It's a long story." They answered simultaneously, Kate still holding onto him as she pulled away because he was here and she didn't want to let him go.
"Let's just say, I lost track of her, and have been searching the homicide units of every precinct in this city to find her." He answered, his hand resting in the small of her back.
"Well, you found her." He turned to face Kate, his face stern. "Beckett, you have work to catch up on, paperwork to complete, and the department has ordered a recertification test. If I were you I'd get started." Kate didn't argue, only nodded at each of his points. As she turned to leave, her hand still laced with Rick's, Montgomery called her name out, making her turn to look at him from the doorway. "It's great to have you back, Detective."
She nodded, a proud grin plastered on her face. "Thank you, sir. It's nice to be back."
She tugged her new friend to her desk, pulling over a chair so he could sit next to her. She leaned forward, her head resting in her hand as they spoke. "I can't believe you found me."
"You scared me!" He hissed, his head resting close to hers as they spoke. "I went back into limbo and you weren't there. I thought you'd died."
Her hand reached out for his, her thumb rubbing soothing circles into his hand. "I'm right here. I'm okay." She'd spent time doing that with her father for a few days after she'd woken up, reassuring him that she would be fine. "I didn't mean to leave you." If she'd gone back and he hadn't been there, well that was a feeling she didn't want to stomach, even if she did doubt the validity of their adventures.
"I know, I'm not upset with you." His smile stretched across his lips, his hand reaching out to cup her face again. "Just seeing you here is so surreal."
He leaned closer, his face inches from her as he whispered. "Well, I've found you here, among the living. What do you want to do?"
She thought back to their adventures, from the roller coaster, to their time spent in France, to their abrupt end in Venice, trying to pick her favorite trip, her favorite memory. She closed the distance between them, capturing his lips in the soft kiss she hadn't been able to give him in limbo. When she pulled away, her eyes travelling from his, down to his lips, and back to his eyes again, she answered him, a warm smile on her face. "I want to do it all again. And more.”