Richard Castle gazed around him, shielding his eyes from the glare of the mid-afternoon sun, then sat down on a large stone and contemplated his situation.
He was stuck in the desert, not a soul in sight, nothing but scrub and a smattering of rocks, without food, water or shelter. And he was naked as the day he was born.
"Yeah," he said out loud. "That went well."
This morning, "well" did not at all describe how he'd felt. As he drifted out of the oblivion of sleep, he heard a groan, then realized that it was his. His head started to throb with pain. Without opening his eyes, he took stock.
Swollen tongue? Check. Throbbing headache? Check. Completely dehydrated? Check.
Okay, he was definitely hung over.
Now, why was he hung over? And where was he?
Oh yes. The answer to the second question came to him first. He was in Vegas. There'd been a book signing and a record crowd of autograph seekers. The new Nikki Heat book was proving to be the most popular yet, and his wrist was still tender from signing the personalized dedications his fans expected. Following the signing event… there'd been the after-party, sponsored by the publisher.
And there came the answer to the first question. That was why he was hung over.
Turning onto his side and pulling the sheets higher, Castle nestled into a fetal position. Maybe he could sink again into blissful unconsciousness.
But then his eyes popped open, for he heard something that he shouldn't have heard. He was occupying a suite in one of the city's better hotels that featured a bedroom, a bathroom with a large walk-in shower for two and a hot tub, a large sitting area, and kitchenette. The sound that he heard was the rattling of pans. Someone was in the suite, working at the kitchenette.
Castle threw off the sheets and grabbed a nearby robe. He'd been naked, but didn't remember getting undressed last night. Among the other things he didn't remember. It had been a long time since he'd partied that hard.
Stepping out of the bedroom, he saw the petite, red-headed woman rummaging around the kitchenette. She wore a tan dress and rust coloured mesh shawl.
"Who the hell are you?" Castle asked abruptly.
The woman jumped, looked wide-eyed at Castle, then folded her hands in front of her and cast her eyes downward.
"What do you mean?" she asked, in a small, demure voice.
"I think I was pretty clear," said Castle, rubbing his temples. "What are you doing in my suite?"
The woman seemed confused and hesitated. "But… you know I'm to cleave to you."
Castle blinked. "To what about who?"
"Do you forget what Reverend Gommen told you?"
"What? What did he tell me? And who are you?"
The woman swallowed and looked at Castle with large, liquid eyes. "Mr. Castle, sir. I'm your wife."
"Could you repeat that please?" The throbbing in Castle's head worsened. He wanted to drink something to quench his awful thirst, but to grab a glass would require moving right next to... her, and he didn't want to get too close.
"I am your wife. I don't please you?"
"You can't please me. You never met me." Castle wracked his brain, trying to remember what had happened last night. How drunk had he gotten? He couldn't remember, so likely very drunk.
"I'm sorry that I shame you," the woman whispered.
Who was she? Castle detected no noticeable accent. She acted like someone from another time, trained from birth to be docile, subservient.
"You don't shame me. But you're not my wife. End of story."
The woman glided from the kitchenette, picked up a document from the desk, and with downcast eyes, handed it to Castle. Then she stepped back and again folded her hands in front of her.
"What's this?" Castle asked, worried for the first time.
"This is our marriage certificate."
Castle rubbed his eyes, then scanned the document. "The Church of the Second Coming of Elvis? Seriously?"
"It was your wish," she said.
Castle sighed. He had to admit, if he was to get married on impulse in Vegas, that would be the kind of church he would pick. Glancing at the bottom of the document, he noted the signatures. It did seem to be his signature. And as for the woman...
"Your name is..."
"Saffron. My name is Saffron."
"Look, Saffron, this is all some huge misunderstanding. I don't know you. We're not married. In fact I'm..."
Just then the phone wrang.
Saffron moved to answer it.
"No," said Castle. "Please. Let me get it." Taking a breath, Castle picked up the receiver and said, "Hello?"
"Hey babe," said Beckett on the other end. "How'd the signing go? I thought you were going to call after."
Castle sat down. He wasn't sure he would survive this morning.
"Beckett!" he said with forced cheerfulness.
Beckett paused. "Is everything OK?"
"Um, fine. Everything is just fine." Castle wracked his brain for something to say that wouldn't arouse Becketts suspicions. "How are you?" He winced. Good one, Castle.
Saffron approached him, ignoring his "go away" gestures.
"Shall I wash your feet while you conduct your business?" Saffron asked.
Castle frantically shook his head and put a finger to his lips. Saffron retreated to the kitchenette and resumed cooking.
"Castle," said Beckett, her voice frosting over, "who was that?"
"Who was who?" Castle asked, his voice a bit shrill.
"Well, something's come up," said Castle.
There was silence on the other end of the line.
Castle continued. "I might possibly be married."
Another pause, then, "You might be married."
"I'm sure it's all a misunderstanding," Castle said. "Can I call you back?"
Suddenly, there was only dial tone on the line.
"Beckett?" Castle hung up. Hoo boy.
"Sir, I've prepared your breakfast," said Saffron. She'd set out a pot of coffee, a pitcher of orange juice, and a plate of scrambled eggs and sausages. A bowl of chopped fruit was set off to the side.
"Look," said Castle, approaching the table, "you don't need to... Actually, this looks really good."
"I'm told I'm a good cook," said Saffron, standing to one side of the chair she'd pulled out.
The smell of the food caused Castle's stomach to rumble. Up until now, he'd no idea how hungry he was. He sat and downed a forkful of the eggs. His eyes popped.
"This is delicious," he said, looking up at Saffron. Saffron's face beamed in return. "How did you do this?
"Eggs, salt, pepper, cream and tarragon," said Saffron. "It pleases you?"
His mouth full, Castle nodded vigorously. Then he said, "Look, will you please sit down? I can't eat with you just standing there."
"As you wish," Saffron said, her eyes still averted.
As he continued his breakfast, Castle said, "I know you mean well, but honestly, we're not married. I'm already engaged to someone else."
Saffon's eyes started to fill with water. Castle swallowed and continued.
"I don't want to hurt your feelings, but I doubt you can legally marry someone who was too drunk to remember the ceremony, assuming the ceremony actually took place."
With that, Saffron let out a cry and dashed for the bedroom, slamming the door behind her.
Castle shook his head. "Nicely done, Mr. Wordsmith. Very tactfully handled."
He set down his serviette and was about to follow her when the phone rang. He let his head fall to the table for a few seconds before getting up with a sigh and answering.
"Hello?" he said quietly.
He almost hung up. All he heard on the other end was the sound of someone chortling.
"Hello?" he repeated more loudly.
"Hear congratulations are in order, bro." It was Esposito. He must have been on speaker, because it sounded like Ryan was beside him, helpless with laughter.
"Listen guys, this isn't funny."
After taking a deep breath, Ryan finally managed to speak. "You're right, Castle. It's not funny. It's freakin' hilarious."
And with that, both men convulsed with laughter.
Esposito was the first to collect himself. "Anything we can do?" he asked.
Castle lowered his voice to a whisper. "Actually, there is. See what you can find out about Saffron Haymer. She's about 5' 7", red hair, blue eyes, and acts like she was born a hundred years ago. The man is the king of his castle kind of thing. Um, okay, poor choice of words. You could also see if the Church of the Second Coming of Elvis is legit, and if we were actually married there last night."
"The Second Coming of Elvis? You're killing us, Castle," Ryan said.
"We'll get on that," said Esposito. "Meanwhile, does Beckett have anything to worry about?"
"What? No, of course not."
"'Cause if you actually are married, I've a feeling she'll make you wish you were in a special level of hell. You know, the kind reserved for child molesters. And people who talk in the theatre. Wouldn't want to be in your shoes." Esposito added.
"Neither would I," said Castle, and hung up.
It was 11 AM. He'd have to start getting ready if he was going to make it to the airport. Gina had booked a private jet to L.A., part of a media splash she had planned. First, though, he had do something about Saffron.
He knocked on the bedroom door then opened it slightly. Where was she? He stepped into the room, then stopped abruptly. She was in bed, her clothing slung over the chair. Which meant that she was...
"I've made the bed warm for you," Saffron said. "And I've made myself ready for you."
Castle gulped. "You… what? Okay, number one, I'm not getting into that bed, and number two, I've a flight to catch and I've got to start getting ready."
"But... we've been wed," said Saffron. "Aren't we to become one flesh?"
"Um, no, we're still two fleshes," Castle said, then winced. "And like I said, I've got a flight to catch."
Saffron bowed her head. "I'm not skilled, sir, nor a pleasure to look upon." Then she looked up again at Castle and let the sheet fall to her waist. Castle's eyes widened, then he averted his head. Slightly.
"Saffron," Castle started, his face reddening slightly as his arousal became apparent to himself and, no doubt, to her.
Rising from the bed, she stood naked in front of him and said, "If I'm wed, then I'm a woman, and I'll take your leave to be bold."
She approached Castle slowly and continued. "I want this. I swell to think of you in me. And I see that you do too."
That was the last straw. Castle turned and fled, shutting himself in the bathroom and locking the door.
Showered, shaved and dressed, Castle finally felt more like himself. He noticed Saffron enter the bedroom, thankfully she was dressed again, then he turned his attention back to packing.
Saffron, her eyes tearing up again, said, "You would leave me behind?"
Castle sighed. As much as he'd like to forget all this, leaving her here might be a bad idea. He could just see the field day the press would have with this story. Gina would be less than thrilled. She didn't hold to the notion that there was no such thing as bad publicity. And if he survived Gina, Beckett would take what was left of him and flay him alive.
Then a better idea came to him. Keep your friends close and your wives closer.
"No, I'm not going to leave you here. You're coming with me."
After boarding the small jet, Saffron and Castle took seats across a table from each other. As Saffron gazed at Castle with wide, wet eyes, he sighed, took out his phone, and made a call.
"Gina, it's me. I'm bringing a passenger along. Yes, a woman. No! She's not a… Who even uses that word anymore? Look, for now, as far as everyone's concerned she's a research assistant. I'll explain everything when I see you. Gina? Hello?"
Castle turned off his phone. "Everyone's hanging up on me today," he muttered.
Glancing out the window, he tapped his fingers on the table a few times then looked back at Saffron.
Her expression had changed. Her eyes were sharper. Her mouth was shaped into a small, wry smile. And she was pointing a gun at him.
Castle, shocked at first, allowed himself to smile as well. "And now, for the first time, you truly stand naked before me. All the pretense stripped away. So what is it you really want?"
Saffron's eyes moved away from him, up and around.
"The plane. You want to steal the plane."
Nodding, Saffron said, "You'd be surprised what a plane like this fetches on the black market."
"And you already own the pilot I suppose."
"That poor man. But now his mother will be able to afford the operation she needs."
"But why the act?" Castle asked, genuinely puzzled. "All the seduction games, the dancing about. There has to be an easier way to steal."
With a smile, Saffron said, "You're assuming the payoff is the point."
It was all a game with her, Castle realized. Playing the game was the point.
"So what's your move?" he asked.
"We'll be setting down in the desert, leave you to sit a spell, and oh, speaking of naked…"
Realization dawned on Castle's face. "No," he said, "now that's just low."
"Kind of evens things out though, don't you think?" said Saffron, smiling.
Upon hearing that Castle's plane had gone missing, Beckett immediately took a flight to Las Vegas to join the search and rescue effort. After climbing into the helicopter and settling into the co-pilot seat, the pilot shook her hand.
"Charlene Godard," she said. "My friends call me Charlie. Don't worry, Detective, we'll find him."
Beckett nodded, hiding her anxiety. "Let's go."
Some time later, as they combed the desert for any sign of Castle, Beckett realized that it would soon be dark. She peered anxiously at the desert landscape below. The LAS control tower had tracked the plane in this direction after it veered off from its registered flight plan. It couldn't have gone far without being detected. Although an earlier search had proved fruitless, he had to be here somewhere. But there was so much ground to cover.
More time passed, and Beckett had to fight the choke-hold her anxiety had on her throat.
"There!" said Beckett, practically jumping out of her seat. She pointed a few degrees to starboard as she tapped Charlie's shoulder. "That's where he is."
"Where?" said Charlie.
"Seriously? I don't think rock formations in the form of a Vulcan salute are natural, do you?"
The copter had no sooner touched down than Beckett sprang towards Castle. Then she stopped short. As he stood up, she realized that Castle was stark naked.
He sauntered towards her leisurely, like nothing about this was out of the ordinary.
"Beckett!" he said. "I was wondering when you'd get here."
"Castle," she said. "You're naked."
"Yes, yes I am," said Castle with a grin. "And I know how to find the plane. That's what she was after."
"How?" Beckett asked.
"I left my phone on the plane," Castle said. "You can track the GPS."
Beckett shook her head. "She would have turned it off as soon as they left you here. There'll be no way to track it."
"My usual phone, yes. I planted a backup phone without her noticing."
Beckett raised an eyebrow. "So. Not so gullible after all, it seems. Come on, let's get you out of here."
As she turned back, Beckett noticed Charlie. She was grinning ear to ear and giving Castle a big thumbs up. Castle gave a thumbs up in return.
After helping Castle into the copter and covering him with a blanket, Beckett cuffed the pilot on the back of the head then indicated they were ready to ascend.
The pilot grinned. "Best. Rescue. Ever," said Charlie.
It was late, past midnight, and they were back at the hotel, in the same suite that Castle had occupied earlier.
"Okay, Espo, thanks. See you tomorrow. Yes, I'll make sure he behaves himself," said Beckett, eyeing Castle.
Putting down the phone, Beckett joined Castle on the sofa.
"They've recovered the plane and arrested the staff at the hangar. No sign of Saffron. Espo just confirmed there was no match to her fingerprints in any criminal database. But the likeness the sketch artist drew has been widely distributed. We'll catch up with her sooner or later.
"And you won't be needing a divorce. There is no Church of the Second Coming of Elvis."
Castle smiled. "Too bad," he said. Then, as Beckett's expression clouded over, he clarified. "I mean, if there isn't there should be. It's just too perfect. You know you're the only one I want to be married to. Right?"
Beckett inspected him closely, then continued.
"She was seen at the after-party. The bartender said you only had a couple of drinks, so Saffron likely drugged you. You were seen leaving together. People thought you looked pretty inebriated but didn't think anything of it."
After another pause, Beckett said, "I suppose I'll just have to keep closer tabs on you going forward."
Nodding, Castle was suddenly lost in thought. "You know, I think I feel sorry for her. She seems capable of so many personas, I wonder if even she knows who she really is." Then he yawned.
"I'm thinking I might head to the bedroom. Would you mind keeping tabs on me there?"
"Oh well," said Beckett. "If I have to." And with that, she grinned and started to tickle Castle.
"Hey!" he said, leaping off the couch. "I've been through an ordeal. You should be more sympathetic."
Beckett stalked after him. "I think a little reminder of who you're supposed to be marrying might be in order."
Castle made a dash to the bedroom with Beckett close behind, and all that was left in the sitting room was the sound of their laughter.
The character Saffron as well as some dialog and situations are borrowed with love from the Firefly episodes "Our Mrs. Reynolds" and "Trash".