Disclaimer: The only part of Castle that I own is the TV on which I used to watch the show.
A/N Surprise! I couldn't tell the story in two chapters, so this is not the conclusion.
Nothing? She remembers nothing? Zilch, zero, zip? He's already run out of zees and beginning to panic. He feels as if he's in a rowboat but all the water it was floating on got sucked out the instant she said "Please, will you tell me?" and it has landed on the bottom of the bay with a thud and oh my God that's what happens at the beginning of a tsunami because here comes a wave the size of the Pentagon and it's about to hit him.
It does hit him and he's tossed around in the ocean for God knows how long and his lungs are about to burst, but somehow he bobs to the surface and even though his ears are filled with water he hears her voice.
"Castle? Are you there?"
"Yes. Sorry. Yes. I'm here." Here and soaking wet, although what he's suddenly drenched in is sweat, not seawater. Whoa, seawater is an anagram of ear sweat. Do ears sweat? His might. He puts his free hand over his ear: it's wet, but it could be from the sweat that's running down from his forehead.
"Hey, Castle? Did I lose you?"
Did she lose him? No, but he lost her. In the ambulance. And then again in the OR. That's what Dr. Kovaks told them, out in the hall in the hospital. "During the surgery, she experienced cardiac arrest," but they'd gotten her heart going again. Not Josh. Josh hadn't. Dr. Kovaks had. Dr. Kovaks and his team, whoever they were, but a team that didn't include Josh. Dr. Kovaks benched him and Beckett kicked him off the team entirely.
"No, no. I'm sorry. I'm just sort of speechless, uh, shocked that you don't remember. I was sure you did. Would." What the hell is he going to tell her?
"No. The trauma, apparently. All I know is that I was giving the eulogy and then I wasn't. It was the next day and I was in the hospital and everything hurt like hell. The in-between is a blank."
How can he both draw this out and get it over with? Which is worse? Or better? There is no better, except that she's getting better.
"You know all about the medical aspects, right? They must have talked you to death–sorry, not death. Sorry. They must have explained to you what happened physically, to your body, and what the surgery entailed? Given you printouts and diagrams and what to watch for and things like that. Oh, and pain management. You have pain management, don't you? How is it?"
"The pain or the management?"
"Both." This should buy him a little time, help him figure out what he can and can't eliminate or gloss over.
That's it? She's not going to describe it? Worse, if she classifies the pain as "pretty bad," any ordinary mortal would give it fifteen on a scale of one to ten.
"What do you mean, 'pretty bad'?"
"It's much better, really. At the beginning is was so awful I was afraid I wouldn't die. I was just beginning to make progress but that infection set me back. If I'm not moving, I'm fine. The PT hurts like hell but it helps."
What kind of sadists does she have for doctors, anyway? "Don't they give you any drugs?"
Ah, there's a familiar Beckettian silence, but he's not letting this one go. " 'Yeah, but' what? Lemme guess. You don't like to take them."
"Because? This isn't first grade. Lemme guess again. You think you're a wimp if you take them."
"I want to get stronger without them. I do better without them. I do take them, just mostly at night. Besides, I hate the way they make my brain all foggy."
Oh, maybe he has an out. Trauma. "What you said about trauma. When that begins to recede, won't you begin to remember things on your own? You won't need me to tell you."
"Look, Castle, I don't want to spend a year with some shrink trying to recover a repressed memory or whatever it is. I want to know now. Why can't you just tell me? Please?"
"Sure, okay. Well, obviously they haven't caught the shooter or you'd have heard. Working theory is that he was dressed like a cop, so no one noticed him at the cemetery."
"Is there anything about him that isn't just a theory?"
"Well, we do have the weapon. Mark eleven, a modified sniper rifle."
"The kind Special Forces use."
"Yeah, that's what Espo said. The guy wiped it clean but left it. He was behind a gravestone a few hundred yards away. Left a slight depression in the grass, but we couldn't get anything from it."
"That's what I don't understand."
"The guy was a pro. He hit me once, right in the middle of my chest. Why didn't he finish the job? It doesn't make any sense. Why didn't he fire again? To make sure I was dead."
For some reason he hadn't seen that question coming. The sniper did fire again, he just missed. He missed because–. Oh, shit. He doesn't want to tell her but he has to, because eventually she'll get it out of someone. And then he has a brainstorm. "You know, this is a lot to handle on the phone. There's so much to tell you." Actually there's not much, because they have so little. But now that she's cornered him, he'd rather tell her another way. In person. Because there may not be much, but there's something that's huge. And personal. "Could I come see you? Drive up there, wherever it is?"
Uh oh, silence. She hates the idea. She doesn't want to see him. Still, trying to return to his optimistic self, which until recently was not only his nature but his default position, he decides to press on.
"Beckett, I know that you're a looker–" and what a looker; she looks like no one else on the planet "and I'm a leaper, but I hope you'll just say yes. Don't look before you leap at the chance to hang out with your partner for a little bit." He'd rather hang out with her for all eternity, but right now he'd settle for a little bit. Like a snowplow, even though it's 93 degrees, he pushes ahead. He'll push every one of her objections aside. "Albany's about two and a half hours from here. Are you south or north? If you're south I'll get there sooner. You're probably on some dirt road, right? Good thing I have GPS." He takes a quick look at his watch. "Hey, it's not even two o'clock. I could be there by five." All right, time for her to react.
"I dunno, Castle."
"Dunno what? Directions? Give me your address and I'll punch it in." He waits a little longer. "Of course if you don't want me to come, I'll just hang up and when you get back to the precinct in what, a month or so? Six weeks? When you get back to the city, I'll tell you."
No, that's progress. "Blackmail is such a nasty word, Beckett. Under most circumstances, it's a felony. I'm not threatening bodily harm, am I? Or extorting money? On the contrary. In fact, I'm throwing in a free dinner, which I'll bring with me. You do have a stove, don't you? I'm not much for reheating over a campfire. Campfire cooking be reserved for s'mores."
"Yes, there's a stove here. Even indoor plumbing."
"And?" He thinks there's a little murmuring from her end. "What's that? Uncle? Did you say 'uncle'?"
"I said 'okay'."
"Even better. So, text me the directions, please."
She does. It's Altamont, a village less than three hours north of him. He'd walked into his office a few minutes earlier, and he checks Altamont on his laptop. Looks beautiful. "It's not exactly Altamont," she adds. "A little southeast of it. Kind of a suburb."
"Altamont has suburbs? The population is one thousand seven hundred and twenty. I just checked."
"You know what I mean."
"I do. I'm hanging up now. Oh, but wait, wait, wait. Do you want anything from the city? A little pollution, maybe? A subway rat? You must be missing that."
She laughs. She actually laughs. Now he's smack in the center of Nirvana, not a suburb where Jamaican Blue coffee put him earlier today. "Nope. I'm fine."
"Okay. I'll call you when I'm almost there." He ends the call before she can change her mind, then phones his favorite neighborhood restaurant and places a large take-out order that will be ready in twenty minutes. She's probably been living on dandelions and cheese parings.
He throws a clean shirt and a change of underwear into a gym bag–hey, what if he has to stay over? The road could wash out in a monstrous storm that the weather department with all its fancy equipment hasn't seen coming. He's about to leave when he turns back to the kitchen and fetches a pound of coffee beans and a small battery-powered grinder. He'd bet his very large bank balance that she has lousy coffee. How is she supposed to get well with that?
After picking up the takeout, which fills two bags, and safely stowing it on the back seat, he heads for the West Side Highway. In the middle of a broiling Saturday afternoon in summer the traffic is reasonably light: anyone with any wits escaped at dawn. Of course at dawn he'd been sleeping off a bender, not to mention having no idea what miraculous things were about to happen.
She called him. Okay, texted. But she called, too.
When he's deep into the green countryside he drives as fast as he can, hoping that the local cops are not deploying radar guns. Apparently they aren't. A farm stand catches his eye and he pulls over to buy two quarts of perfect, just-picked strawberries. They're so juicy and sensual they're almost pornographic. An unbidden image of Beckett biting a berry in half and licking the juice from her upper lip, or him licking it from her lip, nearly lands him and his Mercedes in a ditch, but he recovers in the nick of time. He takes the opportunity to stop for a moment to call her. "I'm about a mile away."
"See you in a couple of minutes."
A couple of minutes? More like 50 seconds.
He comes to the end of the short, gravelly driveway and parks in front of the cabin. He can see her looking through the screen door. He gets out of the car, grabs the takeout, his gym bag, and the fruit and heads for the porch. She's standing on it now, wearing cut-offs and a burgundy JUST DO IT tee shirt. And no bra. He instantly chastises himself for considering JUST DO IT in ways that she clearly had not intended. Her hair is sun-streaked and her arms and seven-feet-long legs are tanned. If she weren't so skinny and obviously (to him) in some pain she would be an advertisement for Country Living = Good Health, if there were such a thing. Maybe there is. His mouth is dry but he croaks out, "Hey, Beckett."
"Hey, Castle. I'd come help you but you'll be here before I even get to the top step."
He wants to hug her but doesn't. One, it might hurt her. Two, he might be, would be, presuming. Three, if he hugged her it would be impossible not then to kiss her. See Two. "I can manage. Nothing heavy."
His eyes adjust to the interior, where partially-closed Venetian blinds in the living room filter the sunlight. It's a casual and comfy room, with a fireplace that must be welcome much of the year, but not today. The kitchen is the next room, and he sets the bags on the waxed pine table, which is surrounded by four painted chairs. "Are you hungry?" he asks. "Because the only thing I've had to eat today is a few gulps of coffee and half a bucket of popcorn. Oh, and a strawberry. I caught it as it was falling out of the box."
"Uh, huh." Her eyes widen as she realizes what he's brought. "You went to Balthazar."
"Only the best for someone who probably hasn't had a decent meal since early May. So, are you ready to eat?"
"Yes, but are you sure there's enough food?"
"I don't like to skimp," he says, extracting packages of grilled asparagus, sautéed mushrooms, pomme frites, four servings of chicken paillard, as well as a green salad, a small container of dressing, a baguette, and two blueberry and lemon mille-feuilles. "Oh, and this," he says, holding up the coffee beans and grinder. "I just need to heat up the potatoes. Everything else is fine at room temperature."
He finds plates and glasses–no challenge, since they're on open shelves–and cutlery, and sets the table. The potatoes are in the oven and he asks, "Could I use the bathroom, please? Long drive."
"Sorry, I'm sorry." She points to a door at the other end of the kitchen. "Go through there and it's the second door on the left."
"Thanks. And I have a pro–. A suggestion. Neither one of us apologizes for anything for the rest of the day."
She nods. "Good. Good idea. But before–." She looks at the floor, then across the room, and finally at him. "But I am sorry I didn't call you before. I mean it. Things are hard, but that's not an excuse. Okay, I'm done."
"Thank you." He means it.
It's still bright enough in the small bathroom that even without the overhead light he can see clearly what's on the shelf over the sink: an array of prescription bottles, bandages, tape, and some kind of antibiotic ointment. He sits down hard on the edge of the claw-footed tub. This is what she's living with, this is what she lives. His hands are shaking a little; he gets up, washes them, and splashes cold water on his face. Time to face the music, whatever it is.
As soon as they sit down, he asks her how long her family has had the cabin (since she was a toddler), what it was like spending summers here (idyllic), and on and on until she puts her fork down firmly on her plate, even though there's a delectable mushroom on two of the tines.
"We had a deal."
"So, deal. I'm a grown-up. I just want to know what happened. Wouldn't you?"
"The thing is, there's not that much to tell. Espo and Ryan and I have been down more blind alleys than I thought possible. Whoever did this has got so many layers of protection." He fills her in some of the many things that didn't pan out, the tantalizing hints that were nothing but chimeras. "Want some dessert? I got your favorite."
"Not until you come clean with me."
"Earlier today you said this was a lot to handle on the phone, there was a lot to tell me. So either you were holding back then or you're holding back now. Let me ask you something. I was at the podium. The guy had a clear shot. So why didn't he take another? One second later. An insurance shot. He'd still have been able to get away."
He can't do it. Can't tell her. Can't open his mouth.
"Castle, I can take whatever it is you're not telling me. Nothing you say will shock me."
Silently he says, That's what you think. It's beyond shocking. Aloud he says, after working his jaw so hard he could have pulverized a dinosaur bone, "Because of me."
"Because of you? What does that mean?"
"It was totally by chance, but I saw the sunlight glance off the barrel of the gun. It was all I could see and I was so close, you know? So close to where you were standing." And then everything comes pouring out. "We'd had that Godawful fight a few nights before. But there you were in your dress blues, eulogizing Montgomery, looking right at me and quoting him, 'If you're very lucky, you find someone willing to stand with you.' And a second after that was when I saw the light on the rifle, and I tried to get to you. I jumped and knocked you down, but it was too late."
The tan on her face vanishes, and she looks as ashen as she had in the hospital. "You knocked me down?"
"You knocked me down? Jesus Christ, Castle, you could have been killed. In front of your mother and your child. You can't do that, Castle, you can't. You can't. You can't." She's weeping, but she's as still as a tree on a windless night. "Why did you?"
"Because I love you."
"Because I love you. And I told you that while I held you in my arms on that impossibly beautiful day, while you were lying on the green green grass with the blood pouring out of you. I said, 'Kate, I love you. I love you, Kate.' That's what happened when you got shot."
A/N Just a reminder that at this point in canon Mr. Smith hadn't made an appearance, so Castle knows nothing about him or the files he had. He's not keeping anything from Beckett. Thanks so much for your wonderful feedback, for reading and reviewing.