Title: Running Water
Timeline: Picks up during 4x10 (Cuffed) and takes a serious left turn from there.
Summary: "What do you weigh, a buck twenty soaking wet? How the hell did you think you survived getting shot in the heart?"
Disclaimer: I do not own Castle or the recognizable characters used in this story. But my thanks to those who created them and let us play. As for other influences, please see the author's note at the end of chapter two.
A/N: Back when I finished Breaking Away, I mentioned a bizarre AU story. This is it. It's a bit of an experiment in style and tone, so apologies if it's a little too odd to take. Two notes to get started:
1. Italics: unless included in a quote, these indicate the thoughts of the person identified at the top of each section. So, Castle's thoughts kick off the story below, but we'll switch to Beckett as soon as he gets into trouble.
2. Balance: The story starts with a focus on Castle, but it'll shift over the chapters.
A tiger! A freaking tiger! I've always admired Poe and this seems like something right up his alley, but I was hoping to win his award, not find myself in one of his novels. Of course, I've finally got Beckett in cuffs, so something had to go wrong.
"Castle! Focus!" Beckett says with a tug on the hand she's holding to prevent the cuffs from further chafing their wrists. "We've got about 30 seconds to figure something out. If we can't move this freezer, we're in trouble."
"On it," Castle replies, reaching in to grab some of the chains from the freezer. With the first tug, he knows it's futile – these are heavy enough that moving them would take more time than they have, and being hobbled by the cuffs guarantees failure. This is Beckett! he reminds himself. He'll move the chains by force of will if necessary. He's not willing to trust in his last resort until it's, well, the last resort.
Somehow, they work out a system to unload the chains. Should've known we'd find a way. As the pile on the floor grows, he wonders if they need to remove everything before trying to move the chest.
"Do you think that's enough?" Beckett heaves next to him.
God, I'm tired. I don't enough have enough energy to focus on watching Beckett pant.
Somehow, they manage to tip the freezer on its end, scrambling up just before the tiger bursts through the hole in the wall and stretches tall enough to nearly reach them as they dance awkwardly around the top of the freezer.
The tiger circles as their possibilities for escape dwindle, testing her reach and threatening to overturn the freezer.
As their voices grow hoarse, Castle knows they're running out of options. "Screaming like little girls didn't quite do the trick," Beckett chides, her tone laden with exhaustion and desperation. And fear. "Castle, I did not survive a bullet to the heart to die as tiger kibble," Beckett says while looking around for some way out.
That's it, Castle. You're out of time – time to go all in and hope that you're around to sort out the messy details later.
"I'm so sorry," Castle says as he wraps his arms around Beckett from behind.
"Castle! Let go!" Beckett cries out at the sudden loss of movement. "We need to grab those pipes! She's going to knock the freezer over!"
"Kate," Castle says urgently. "If this works, you've got to get me to the water. Pier 32, Slip 47. I'll be dead within an hour if you don't get me there."
"What are you talking about?" Beckett yells as she struggles to break free without knocking them off balance.
"No hospitals, no precinct, no delay, or no Castle. Just get me to Slip 47," Castle repeats. "Say it."
"Pier 32, Slip 47," Beckett parrots back, hoping that he'll start making sense if she plays along.
Might as well go out in style.
"Actually," Castle says, pushing his luck, "You'll probably kill me if this works, and Shere Khan will eat us if it doesn't, so here goes," he says before laying a passionate kiss on a surprised Beckett, who barely has time to respond before he pulls back. "Love you, Kate."
Damn it, I should've told her I had to be touching her skin for this to work.
His thoughts end abruptly as the freezer tips, they both scream, and their vision blurs to nothingness.
I'm in hell. He told me he loves me and kissed me, and this is what we get.
Beckett blinks as she slowly wakes in a strange place for the second time today. Tugging her wrist, she finds herself still shackled to her partner. This time, though, he's not waking up.
Rolling over, she takes a quick survey. Her leg hurts and her wrist is still chafed, but she's blessedly unbitten. Beckett kneels over her partner as she takes in her surroundings. The flash of red and blue lights through the windows confirms that the cavalry has finally arrived, just moments too late. As she hears the distant megaphoned voice telling people to get their hands up, Beckett turns to her partner.
"Castle," she coaxes, rubbing his cheek in an effort to wake him, switching to light pats when he doesn't stir. Come on, sleeping beauty, wake up and tell me how we got here. With a devilish look, she decides to push her princess analogy further and shock him awake.
Castle's eyes blink open at Beckett's kiss. It should be sweet, but Beckett's immediately concerned. Unequal pupil dilation, distant look, slow tracking, and inability to focus. "Castle, can you talk?"
"Jonas," he whispers, "get me to Jonas."
"Beckett! Castle! You in here?" Esposito's voice calls out, echoing through the building.
"Here!" she shouts. "Come on, Castle, get up. You've got to help me explain this."
"Floor," he mumbles. "Trap door."
Rolling him to his side, Beckett sees that they are indeed laying on top of a trap door. Thanks, Castle. Nice of you to point this out when we were on the other side. But how did we get up here?
The door is locked tight, providing no answers for their narrow escape. She has the presence of mind to unlock the latch just as Esposito and Ryan round into view, weapons drawn but looking frantic.
"You okay?" Ryan asks as he comes near, leaving Esposito to ensure that there are no other perps in the area.
"I need a car," Beckett says quickly. "Castle's hurt. They drugged us and he's having some kind of reaction," Beckett improvises an explanation. "He's got a doctor near here but I've got to get him moving. Please, Kevin!"
Hearing his boss' plea galvanizes Ryan. "Let's go," he says as he unlocks Beckett's wrist. "I've got this side. Javi, get the cruiser ready."
As they lift Castle to his feet and drag him toward the exit, Beckett fires off as much as an explanation as she can. "There's a tiger down there, Ryan." Not pausing to answer his stuttering, she presses on. "It nearly got us, but we managed to climb up and escape through the trap door. Be careful, don't hurt her."
That tiger pushed our relationship further than Castle or I have managed in the last six months – having her shot wouldn't be a good omen.
Struggling up to the car, they try to gently stretch Castle across the back seat, but their effort ends with him flopping into the car and rolling halfway off the seat. No time to waste, he said, and the longer we're here, the more likely someone will slow us down.
"You need to get out of here," Esposito warns. "Gates is here and she's not happy. We'll cover for you, but you'd better get moving."
Beckett jumps into the driver's seat as Ryan manages to pull Castle into a sitting position and get him belted in. The car's already in gear as he closes the door and pats the roof.
This had better work, Castle. I need you and Gates is going to kill me for leaving the scene.
Beckett's anxiety ramps up as she careens through the streets of New York, heading toward the wharf. Luckily, they weren't far away, so precious few minutes have passed when she squeals to a stop in the parking area of Pier 32.
Opening the back door, Beckett looks at her partner. His eyes are closed and he's pale, barely sitting upright in the back of the cruiser.
"I'm not kissing you awake this time, Castle. Next time, you'd damn well better be awake for it."
So it wasn't my imagination.
Struggling to open his eyes, Castle fumbles several times to get his seatbelt unlatched. His arm is sluggish and his hand's not working quite right, but he'll be fine if they can just get to Jonas.
The smile that Beckett wore when calling her partner on his ruse slid off her face when she realized that his pathetic efforts to exit the car were genuine.
"Come on, Castle," she says gently, holding out her hand. Even with her help, he's barely able to rise from the car and he nearly topples them both when he's standing.
Always falling for you, Beckett.
Beckett's gasp tells him that she finally noticed his injury. The puddle of blood from his tiger-mauled calf was a bit of a clue. To be fair to her, though, he's only just lost the concentration that was holding the wound closed. Espo's going to be pissed about the mess.
"Oh, Castle," Beckett moans while craning to look at his legs while holding him up. "Why didn't you say anything?"
"No time," he croaks. "'Splain later."
With a shuffling gait that would lose ground to a distracted octogenarian, Castle starts them moving toward Slip 47. He's too exhausted to notice, much less enjoy, Beckett's supporting arm around his waist that keeps him pressed to her side.
As their progress grows even slower as they pass Slip 40, Beckett starts to wonder if they'd move faster with help. "Castle, should I run ahead and get Jonas to help?"
"No," Castle whispers as he focuses on plodding forward. "Hates you."
Beckett's stumble belies her surprise at Castle's terse comment. She's not generally concerned with what people think about her, but the thought that someone she's never met hates her catches her by surprise.
She deserves to know. Can't let her walk in blind.
"He kept me alive," Castle pants out, exhausted by the effort to walk, talk, and think simultaneously. "This summer, when you were killing me."
What a drama queen. How is a drinking buddy going to help us?
Not letting her apprehension about Jonas slow her down, Beckett continues to prop Castle up while they stumble on. The occasional thump of metal against her side reminds her that Ryan only unlocked her cuff – Castle's still shackled, the empty cuff dangling from his wrist.
"Hey Castle," she says, trying to use her light words to help raise his spirits and keep them moving, "Do you think anyone watching us thinks you're an intelligence asset whose handcuffed briefcase has been stolen?"
Come on, Castle. React. Show me you're still in there.
"Pffft," Castle manages after a few more steps. "Nuclear codes," he mumbles. "Way cooler."
Smiling irrationally, Beckett looks ahead to see the outline of a large white boat moored in Slip 47. "Boat" is about all she knows – it's probably got a more accurate description, but all she knows is that it floats and it's big – it looks like something that could be chartered for a day of game fishing. There's a raised bridge and a cabin below. Big enough for someone to live in, so they're probably about to arrive at the home of Castle's friend.
"Jonas?" Beckett calls out, hoping for help with Castle. "Jonas, are you there?"
She cheers as lights come on and a figure stumbles out from below.
Jonas – if that's him – looks like he was just woken by her call and isn't happy about it. Short, pear-shaped and probably in his 50s, he's wearing a garish, faded blue and white Hawaiian shirt, unbuttoned, over a white tank top that's shiny with accumulated grease, sweat, and suntan lotion. His cargo shorts are only slightly less dirty. But it's his head that commands her attention. His unruly white-grey hair shoots out wildly in all directions, as if he'd just jammed a fork into an electrical socket. His eyes are strange – large and wide, but pushed in by swollen brows and cheekbones. A bulbous nose, dimpled chin, and ruddy complexion complete the look.
Looking around to see who called his name, the man's eyes fall on Beckett and Castle and a rictus snarl mars his face.
"What the hell'd you do to him this time?" Jonas growls.
Castle must've really unloaded on me to this jackass.
"We were trapped," she says as she swallows a much more pointed response. "He got us out, somehow, but said I had to get him right to you."
"Damn right," Jonas says gruffly as he steps onto the pier. Approaching from the far side, Jonas scoops Castle up and wrenches him away from Beckett, who's flummoxed both by the little man's strength and his overpowering dislike of her.
"I've got it from here," Jonas says as he lifts his leg to carry Castle onto the boat, "As usual. Run along, princess."
Like hell. That's my partner and I don't know you. Prepare to be boarded, bastard.
"Jonas, she comes, too," Castle whispers. "Be nice."
"Fuck that," Jonas tosses out as he climbs aboard, turning sideways to get Castle through the door to the boat's cabin. "We're leaving in five minutes. Get aboard or get lost. Phone's over there," Jonas tosses over his shoulder as he takes Castle out of sight.
The phone – oh, this just keeps getting worse. Might as well bite the bullet while my new pal Jonas gets us ready to go… wherever it is we're going.
Just before she steps aboard, Beckett notices the boat's name: Writer Buoy. Nice. Swallowing her smirk and gathering her resolve, Beckett dials the phone, grimacing when Gates answers her call.
"Captain, I'm sorry to have left so abruptly, but I had to get Castle some medical attention. We're with his… caretaker now, but something's not right," she rambles, trying to keep control of the conversation.
"You do realize, detective, that EMTs were on their way to the scene? The scene that you never called in and were lucky we found?" Gates hammers, as Beckett knew she would.
"Time was of the essence, sir, and Castle's physician lives nearby," Beckett says, trying to sound both contrite and polite. "We're on our way to get more help."
"Tell his doctor that we found bottles of Ketamine and Xylazine where you were held," Gates says, sounding only slightly less angry. "They're tranquilizers that a veterinarian would use to sedate a large animal. Like a horse, or, say, a tiger."
"I will, sir," Beckett replies, anxious to keep this conversation moving so that it concludes before Jonas fires up the engines and causes all sorts of problems. He's already jumped off the boat to untie the lines holding them in place
"Keep us posted, detective. Barring any unfortunate developments, I expect to see you in my office tomorrow at 8:00 to give a statement and to hear you defend how you chose to pursue this investigation," Gates laces the last word with disdain to let Beckett know that she doesn't think much of how this case was handled. "Oh, and we'll also talk about some new protocols that you've inspired."
Fabulous. But not my biggest concern right now.
"Yes, sir, 8:00," Beckett replies. Just let me go, already!
"I'll see you in the morning, detective. Along with your wallets and phones, I have your gun and badge – depending on how things go in the morning, you might get them back. Best wishes to Mr. Castle," Gates says in a flat tone as she disconnects the call.
Castle, I'd kill you if you hadn't somehow saved us. Oh, crap – that's another tally on his 'saved you more' scorecard.
Replacing the handset in the cradle, Beckett's nearly knocked aside by Jonas as he jumps back aboard and heads up to get them moving. He's muttering to himself as he starts the engines, clearly unhappy about her presence. But he's keeping his snide comments to himself, so Castle must've said something to him.
Deciding that it's well past time to check on Castle, Beckett starts to move toward the cabin when Jonas hits the throttle and sends her stumbling with the sudden acceleration. Shooting him an annoyed look, she's unsurprised to see his satisfied smirk before he turns back to guide them out into the river.
"Castle? Are you decent?" Beckett asks with a light knock that's nearly drowned out by the rattle of the inboard engine.
No, but it's good to have life goals.
"C'min," Castle tries to call out from his prone position on the bunk, but the pocket door is already sliding open with Beckett's concern overriding her sense of decorum.
"Castle, we've got to get you cleaned and wrapped," she says, growing concerned about the red stain that's already seeping through the nasty towel that Jonas wrapped around Castle's leg. Beckett grimaces as she inspects the towel, which looks like it wasn't washed after Jonas used it to wipe his hands after gutting the last batch of fish he landed. Gently, she reaches out, stroking his healthy left leg with one hand while reaching for the towel with her right.
What I wouldn't give for this when I was healthy. But not now.
"Stop," Castle grunts. Beckett whips her hands back from him as if burned.
"Gotta concentrate. Can't when you touch me. Never could," he confesses. Being on the water is helping, but he overdid it with the tiger and he's still paying for it.
Giving him a sad, sweet smile, Beckett asks "What can I do?"
A belly-dance would be nice. Maybe a lullaby. But just stay, Beckett. Stay.
"Hold my hand?" Castle contradicts himself, unable to resist the siren call of her touch. She doesn't give him trouble about the reversal, instead scooting over so that she can cradle his hand while sitting on the edge of the bunk.
"Castle, where are we going?" she asks gently.
"The confluence," he answers. Though it doesn't satisfy her curiosity, Beckett holds her tongue as she watches her partner fall into a light doze.
The sudden decrease in ambient noise when the inboard motor cuts off alerts her to their arrival at wherever they are. Letting go of Castle's hand, she kisses it quickly, then blushes at her foolishness and quickly rests it on the bunk next to him before slipping out to go another round with Jonas.
"Are we at the confluence?" she asks, happy to act as if she knows what's going on. Jonas is bustling at a locker at the stern, extracting something while his back is to Beckett.
He must not have anything nice to say, since he's saying nothing at all.
Straightening and slamming the lid of the locker, Jonas moves over to a cleat and secures the end of what looks like a waterskiing tow line.
If this is all some prelude to a crazy "waterskiing in the moonlight" lark of Castle's, I'm going to toss everyone else overboard and set a course for the Caribbean.
Her musings are broken by the sound of the sliding door behind her. Her shock stops her mid-turn. Castle's up and shuffling again, naked except for the cuffs and the dark grey boxer-briefs that cling to him and don't leave much to the imagination.
When did Castle start working out? He looks – really, really tasty. I mean good. He looks good.
Feeling guilty for her slow perusal of his body, her eyes finally make their way up to his face where she sees that his exhaustion hasn't prevented his smirk.
"Now we're even," he whispers as he shuffles by her, moving to the back of the boat. "And I didn't even lose my loft to a 'splosion."
"Lose the shorts, then we'll be even. But you can leave the cuffs," Beckett replies before her eyes reflect the shock at her own audacity.
What am I doing? Castle's hurt, his friend is nipping at me like a distrustful shepherd, and we're bobbing in the dark middle of nowhere. Focus!
Any further playful thoughts fall away as Castle moves past her and provides a direct look at his right calf. The tiger's claws raked three deep furrows from the back of his knee to his ankle. "Oh, Castle, how can you even walk?"
"Walking's easy," he groans as he sits on the side of the boat and Jonas hands him the handle-end of the tow line. "It's swimming that'll sting," he says as he leans backward and plunges into the frigid, black water.
What the hell?!
"Castle!" Beckett yells as she vaults over to where he'd been sitting. Looking over the edge of the boat, she sees nothing but the broken reflections of the boat's running lights.
"He'll freeze to death!" she shouts as she reaches for the spool of line that's running out, as if Castle's a hooked yellowfin making a break for freedom.
Beckett's just about to grab the line when Jonas' steel grip shackles her wrist, right where her cuff chafed her earlier today. "He's where he needs to be. We wait," he says gruffly, releasing her wrist but moving to stand directly between Beckett and the tow line.
"How long?" Beckett asks, impatient while imagining the bacteria that must be swarming Castle's wound right now, assuming that shock hasn't already forced him to drop the line and sink beneath the waves.
"Less than three months, so shut yer yap," Jonas snarls in response.
It's a good thing Gates has my gun, or I'd use it to get some straight goddamn answers.
"What is your problem?" she shoots words, since bullets are unavailable to her. "I've never even met you and you've been a complete prick since we showed up."
"My problem?" Jonas replies with a nasty laugh. "My problem is that I'm sick of cleaning up your goddamn messes. You want to kill him? Just feed him a fucking bullet. If you don't want to kill him, show him some goddamn gratitude."
"I haven't done anything to Castle!" Beckett yells in response. Well, that's not true, but I'm not getting into it with you.
"You keep telling yourself that, sweetheart, if it helps you sleep at night. But we both know that he's the only reason you lived through the summer," Jonas challenges.
What bullshit. "I didn't even see him this summer," Beckett seethes in response. Fine. He felt bad, I get it. But I had a goddamn hole in me, so I win.
"What do you weigh, a buck twenty soaking wet?" Jonas sneers with a leer. "How the hell did you think you survived getting shot in the heart?"
"What's that supposed to mean?" Beckett fires back, still aggressive but now confused.
Jonas checks his watch. "Jog in place or do jumping jacks or something and you'll see."
Pervert. I'm not flouncing about for your entertainment.
"Goddamn, you're even more self-obsessed than I thought you'd be," Jonas asks with disgust, apparently reading her response to his suggestion. "Get your heart-rate up, princess, and you'll have your answer. I'll be at the wheel," he finishes. She hates the way he punctuated his departure with an eye roll and wonders if Castle feels the same sting when she cuts him off in the same way.
This whole day's been surreal. What the hell, might as well get my heart rate up – might help me lose some of this tension, or at least stop me from belting that jerk.
Feeling more than a little ridiculous, Beckett starts with some stretches and push-ups, moving to squats and jogging in place. Exercising late at night on a rocking boat while wearing heels is a great core workout, so she's managed to get a light pant going when she hears splashing.
The rhythmic rocking of the boat changes a bit as Castle pulls himself up the port-side ladder at the stern. He's just standing when Jonas fires up the engine, letting the water sluice down his skin. After shaking his head like a dog to dry his hair, Castle hops the rail, tosses the cuffs to her, then turns his back to Beckett as he starts to pull in the tow line, looping it in his left hand while pulling in more line with his right.
No – that can't be.
His arms are still swinging as he retrieves the line when Beckett kneels behind him. Leaning forward, she runs a hand up Castle's whole and unblemished right calf. Not only are the gouges gone, but his skin is warm to the touch, as if he just stepped out of a warm bath rather than a frigid river.
Her touch startled him to stillness, but he restarts and continues to coil the line until Jonas calls out.
"We ready?" Jonas yells from up above, sounding like a normal person for the first time since Beckett met him.
"Make it happen, Captain!" Castle calls back happily as he uncleats the line and returns it to the locker.
Castle turns to face the bow as the boat begins to plow forward on the return trip to Pier 32. Beckett rises to demand an explanation, but she doesn't get that far. Her eyes move up as she stands, lingering over his wet shorts that now hide even less than they did before. Climbing the ladder of his abs (when did that happen?), her eyes lock onto the broad expanse of his chest. Not the whole of his chest, but the dark red shadow in the center that's an exact duplicate of the scar on her chest.
"Now do you believe in magic?"