Recluse: Chapter 1

DISCLAIMER: Most of these characters are not mine at all, but they are memorable. Thank you, Mr. Marlowe. The others? Yeah, they're mine

A/N: This story picks up right after the conclusion of Monster, and is the second story in the Monster trilogy. If you haven't read Monster, please do so before continuing.

Set in Season 7, this continues an AU take on the disappearance of Richard Castle from the end of Season 6, and its aftermath at the conclusion of Monster. Thank you – I hope you enjoy this journey. I'm posting all eleven chapters at once, to provide some reading during the downtime I hope everyone has in the coming week.

Merry Christmas to all. Many of you have been such a blessing to me these past few months. God bless you richly – you know who you are, and you are dear to me, now.

Monday night - June 2, 2014, 6:07 p.m. in New York City

Detective Kate Beckett sits on the large sofa in the living room of Castle's loft. Technically it is his loft, but realistically she calls the place home now. She relaxes in front of the television, her long legs curled up underneath her, wearing black jeans and a soft, tan-colored button down blouse. The top two buttons are unbuttoned, and she holds a glass of zinfandel in her left hand, a remote control in her right. Her gaze alternates between the television screen in front of her, and her almost-husband, who sits roughly fifteen feet away in a chair next to the expansive window that overlooks the streets below.

Richard Castle is lost in his thoughts, increasingly weary from his nightmares that continually assault him whether awake or asleep. His gaze is disoriented. Yes, his eyes rest on the people passing by, but he doesn't see them. The cacophony of noise below is clearly audible, but he doesn't hear it. By all appearances, the writer is sitting in his home, comfortably lost in thought.

In reality, said writer is hundreds of miles away, to the south, still trapped on an island – he sees the fence, he hears the lions, and he smells the blood on his hands, feels its sticky texture – blood of another human being – a human being that he has killed.

He wears blue jeans and a non-descript tee shirt, and sits barefoot in this spot, where he has been parked for the past hour. She knows that he is grateful to be free, to be alive, but guilty nonetheless for the method he willingly – and in premeditated fashion – orchestrated for his release. In the first hours of freedom, he was able to justify his actions. Now, as time – even just over five days – has passed, she sees his justification growing weaker and weaker in his mind. Worse – his learning that she was just minutes from finding him, freeing him, has given fuel to the battering thoughts that are squeezing the breath from him.

Kate's thoughts are shaken to the present moment as she hears the name of her lover on the television. She shifts her gaze back to the 6 p.m. local newscast, and frowns as she sees the unflattering picture of the man across the room displayed in the upper right-hand corner of the television broadcast. The scene on television is one of a local fishing craft now docked back onshore. The female voice of the anchorwoman is heard describing the scene.

"Our next story is a sad one, and one that appears to be a continuation of a very frightening series of events that attacked New York City in the past two weeks. The body of missing District Attorney Walter Daniels has been found this afternoon, roughly a mile offshore by a tourist boating operation. The DA's body was attached – tied at the arm - to a life preserver, with a gunshot wound in his shoulder. Autopsy results are pending, to determine the exact cause of death, but initial reports by sources indicate that death by drowning may be the cause. Sources also say that the body was in some state of disrepair, possibly from sea-life.

The scene shifts back to the newsroom, where the anchorwoman sits next to her sharply-dressed co-anchor, who is quiet for this piece. She continues now, eyes facing the camera, as her monotonous tone drones on, her image, and that of her co-anchor now filling the lower portion of the screen, while an image of Senator William Bracken replaces that of Richard Castle in the upper right corner.

"Now, it is unclear what District Attorney Daniels was doing out in the ocean, or how he got there, whether he was there of his own volition, whether he fell overboard or was cast off. Regardless, given the brutal crusade against the city's underworld figures during the absence of Richard Castle, the fact that the DA prosecuting the case against Senator William Bracken turns up dead, and knowing the antagonistic relationship that the fiancée of Mr. Castle, Detective Kate Beckett of the 12th Precinct of the NYPD, has with the once-again free Senator – well, one can only wonder exactly what role – if any – Mr. Castle or his associates may have had in the death of the city's district attorney?"

The side camera pans her image, and she turns to face the new camera, as she continues.

"Back at our nation's capital, Senator Bracken, who was – just this past week - released from prison after all charges against him had been dismissed, had this to say."

The face of Senator Bracken appears front and center on the screen with an image of Detective Kate Beckett now inserted in the upper right corner. The taped interview with the senator rolls.

"I certainly don't want to cast aspersions that Mr. Castle is somehow involved, since by all appearances he was missing during this entire time. Then again, perhaps that absence on his part is simply convenient – as it is also very clear that his fiancée is willing to grab any straw – including doctoring decades-old cassette tapes – to bring about her brand of revenge against me. And make no mistake – my incarceration was not an attempt at justice on her part. It was her attempt at misguided revenge," he concludes, and pauses before uttering his final words.

"As is this scar on my face."

An on-site reporter in Washington, D.C. now comes onscreen, with closing comments.

"When asked to explain the aforementioned scar on his face, Senator Bracken simply frowned and walked away, indicating that the interview was over," the reporter begins. "Whatever is going on between Senator Bracken and the 12th Precinct, one thing is clear: It has gotten highly personal, it has escalated, and it now includes a large and growing number of casualties."

The scene shifts back to the newsroom in New York, as the anchorwoman takes control back, closing out the segment.

"That it does, Ramona. Thank you for this report from our nation's capital. Clearly, we have yet to see the end of this sordid tale, and we can only wonder where this will turn next."

Kate angrily punches the off button on the remote, and immediately glances over at the still unmoving figure that sits next to the window. If he has heard any of the newscast, he is not letting on.

She drops the remote onto the sofa next to her and places her glass of wine on the coffee table in front of her. She pulls her legs from underneath her and places them on the floor. From this sitting position, her head drops into her hands, a look of anguish on her face. This is getting far, far out of hand.

Sure, there were likely going to be repercussions from what now - in the media and court of public opinion – appears to be a case of misguided and faulty arrest and prosecution. An embarrassment to the city? Yeah, that was easily predicted. Gates has already warned her that things could get ugly, as the precinct is not at the top of the most-favored list at city hall right now. Even Weldon is feeling the heat on this one.

But a premediated plot against a standing Senator, with insinuations that a number of deaths – including that of the district attorney? No, that wasn't expected. She smiles sadly at the words of the Senator.

"I certainly don't want to cast aspersions that Mr. Castle is somehow involved," he had said – yet then proceeded to do just that. Cast aspersions that the writer is involved. As is his fiancée. And perhaps the 12th Precinct of the New York Police Department.

She shakes her head sadly, waiting for the next phone call that she knows will be coming from Captain Victoria Gates – any minute now.

"We are going to have to get out of here," she thinks to herself, her mind immediately traveling to the safety and privacy of Castle's Hamptons getaway, knowing that the likelihood that she might have a little bit of free time coming up is increasing with each passing minute.

"Rick?" she calls to him.

She frowns, as he makes no move to acknowledge her. He is lost in his world right now, a haunting world that points an incriminating finger at him. She knows that it will only get worse when he hears the news of the deceased district attorney. She idly wonders if the DA's death is an accident. And if it isn't, then who would have been responsible? Her mind immediately turns to Jackson Hunt. She knows that Hunt is responsible for the brutal slayings of certain elements of the criminal underworld in the past couple of weeks – a part of his frightening siege through the city searching for his missing son. But would Hunt extend this onslaught to elected officials? Would he extend this to the city's district attorney?

And if so, why? To what end?

She closes her eyes, and for the next four or five minutes, she allows herself to drift away, ever hopeful that a quick nap will momentarily take her away from tonight's reality. It is short-lived, as her own thoughts continue their barrage through her mind.

She opens her eyes again, finding her fiancée. He has not moved, and from this distance, she even wonders if he has blinked. A crazy thought, of course. But these have become crazy times – even for Detective Kate Beckett and Richard Castle. She glances at her phone, and for probably the tenth time today, she considers calling Dr. Carter Burke. The good doctor had done so well with her, helping her through a physical, mental and emotional train wreck a couple of years prior. Perhaps he could do the same with Castle. Then again, Dr. Burke is at the disposal of the NYPD – would it even be possible for him to see Castle? She shakes her head, knowing the likelihood of Captain Victoria Gates even signing off on such an idea is ludicrous, at best.

Her thoughts fall back on Jackson Hunt, and the district attorney.

"He is always such a wildcard," she muses out loud, wondering once again if he could be involved. She shakes her head, reaching back for her glass of wine, when her cell phone vibrates on the coffee table in front of her. She can't help but frown as she sees the name on the caller ID.

"Well, that certainly didn't take long," she mutters under her breath as she brushes strands of hair away from her ear and answers her phone, hearing the clipped voice on the other end. Yeah, things have gotten much worse.

"Yes sir, what can I do for you?" she begins, glancing over at her lover again, realizing that the one good piece of news, that piece that she needs to hold on to and focus on, is that he is alive, he is home. Now she just needs to help him get well.

A/N: Sometimes I think we write – and read – fanfiction stories to get taken to a completely different world, with new possibilities, alternate realities and timelines, fantasy stories that could never be. However, sometimes these stories are just to give us a different take, a different viewpoint of an already familiar story. That's what the Monster trilogy is for me. I never thought that the writers really fleshed out the whole 'Castle-gone-missing' storyline. Even the ending left me a little lukewarm. Eventually, these three stories – beginning with Monster – came to mind.

Anyway, I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday – whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah – be safe, have fun, hug your loved ones, be they friends or family.