Author's note below. Thanks for reading!
Some mornings he remembers that he's forgotten: he knows who he is and that the eight weeks are all that are missing.
Some mornings he panics because he doesn't recognize the bedroom. Some mornings he wanders alone through a stranger's apartment gathering clues until it all comes back like the tide. The waves of who he is, what he's accomplished, and who he loves crash over him, assaulting him on the blank beach of his life, making him drop to his knees, tossed by the voluminous intensity. The tiny bits of detritus in the form of pictures, mementoes and déjà vu like familiarity roll, cut and scrape in the breakers, pelting him in an onslaught of memories.
Other mornings, like this morning, he pretends he knows: an interloper in a household of women who obviously know him and love him. He pretends to love them back as well as he can. He's too polite not to pretend that he doesn't recognize their life. He's too afraid that they will find out that he doesn't belong there. So he pretends.
"Richard?" That's the older woman. He turned his vacant gaze from the protection of endlessly contemplating the architecture of the building on the opposite side of the street and other more pressing concerns to her anxious eyes. He swiveled the rest of his body on the sleek ebony of the piano bench to look at her squarely. The vivacious woman interests him: her love of life is plainly written on her face, in her language, and her jewelry and wardrobe choices. Some of those are genuine intimations and some a façade, like white out over a written mistake or two or a hundred. He sees the regret and mistakes, acknowledged but somehow not embraced: pushed aside in favor of the present. He also sees an abundance of love; it's practically seeping from her eyes but guardedly held back. He's noticed that she doles it out sparingly as if she's trying not to overwhelm or let too much be known like she's got a winning poker hand, held close to her vest. What does come is cushioned like a hot dog in a bun of sarcasm or wit. He doesn't know her, but he knows she's holding back. Maybe they play poker together.
"Are you sure you're feeling all right, Richard?" she breezily asked, but he caught the flash of concern on her features when he stumbled out of the bedroom that morning, unable to hide his surprise when he found her in the great room.
He blinks: once, twice. 'Richard…Richard—it should sound familiar, but it doesn't, not applied to him anyway.' It hasn't since she greeted him earlier that morning, drinking some olive-drab colored, lumpy and thick, repulsive concoction. The name is not familiar no matter how hard he's tried to force it to be. It doesn't matter how many times she uses it or the inflection or emphasis. It's not as if he hasn't ever heard the name: she's been using it for the past few hours. He simply could not claim the moniker as his own. He wonders if he has always gone by his full name: Richard or has he ever been Rich or Rick or, God forbid, Dick.
He gulped and nodded. "Just tired still, I guess…uh…Mom?" he ended awkwardly.
If she heard the question in his voice, she seemed to ignore it, but she whipped her head back around toward him: for a second there was a look of utter alarm on her face, replaced swiftly with controlled calm. Maybe he guessed wrong; maybe she wasn't his mother.
She covered the distance between them in world-record time, reached for his forehead and shook her head. "No fever." She stretched her head back to assess his countenance again. "How's your head?" she asked in a dry, droll tone. "Did you have a little too much to drink last night?" She almost sounded hopeful.
If he's honest, he doesn't know. Maybe this has all been a result of being blackout drunk. Does he drink? Does he drink that heavily? He doesn't feel like he has a hangover or maybe he doesn't remember what a hangover feels like. He imagines it would be worse or better than he is feeling. Maybe not better, but… numb, deadened to the confusion and lost feeling. It would be better.
"Um…noth…" he stopped, cutting himself off: he has no idea, so he fudged it. "Not much. Just distracted, I guess."
"Ah, yes. Well don't worry, Sweetheart; Katherine will only be gone for a couple of days, so stop pouting. I will get out of your hair and you two can get back to whatever it is that you two do. Maybe that will bring the smile back to your face." The worried look passed over her features faster than a cold front would in a Kansas tornado season: it was just as dark, just as portentous.
"Maybe," he agreed even though he doesn't know who Katherine is, whatever it is that they do or why she would be leaving them to do it. He could feel the panic rising: a tightness clenching his chest and throat fast on the heels of a wave of chills. He gripped the edge of the piano bench.
The fleeting, teasing smile dropped from the red head's face, distress and concern refilled the gaps. She studied him for a lifetime in a moment, in which he fidgeted uncomfortably under her scrutiny. She leaned over and kissed his forehead. He tried not to flinch: really he tried. The red-head, who was proving to be a pretty good actress, didn't react…much. "Maybe you should go back to bed, Kiddo," she sighed to his forehead. "I think maybe that you're coming down with something." She squeezed his shoulder.
The door slammed and both their heads jerked across the spectacular apartment, which he thought might truly belong to the older red head, toward the door. Another red head rushed toward them. This one was younger, a teen, maybe or young woman. Her excitement pushed before her in a wave of electricity. He inhaled sharply and backed away slightly. The older woman, his mother or maybe her mother, noticed.
"Dad, Dad, Dad: I did it! I got in and it's all because of you!" She shouted happily as she skipped across the room, caught in a hug by the older red head.
He melted and swallowed: he was a father. "That's great," he said in a tone that he hoped reflected the girl's father's normal enthusiasm, and although he searched, painfully reached into the recesses of his mind, groping for some little anything in the darkness, he had no idea to what she was referring.
"Uh, Alexis," interrupted his mother, he safely could assume her role now.
The girl continued, either ignoring or not hearing her grandmother. "Great? It's everything," she sang, happily as she twirled around the piano. "Thank you so much, Daddy!" Before the older woman could once again try to intervene, the girl threw her arms around his neck and for a second, he stiffened, but then relaxed and hugged the teen somewhat cumbersomely. The girl pulled back and looked at him, assessing. "Are you okay?"
He managed what he hoped was a normal smile. "Fine, I'm fine."
"Are you in pain?" Her concern colored everything around her, like a sudden cloud cover on an otherwise sunny day.
The other red head watched the exchange, intently. "Alexis…"
"No…why…why do you ask?"
The teen sat next to him on the piano bench, playfully sliding over the polished surface and jamming her thighs next to his. It was all he could do not to push away; to put distance between him and this affectionate stranger.
"Dad, what happened? Did you do something stupid at work yesterday?"
His mother lifted her hand to her mouth and grunted.
'Work…work?' The questions assaulted his mind, unbidden. 'What did he do every day? Where did he go? Where would he go, were he to leave? Was he supposed to be someplace now? How did he afford this apartment? Maybe it was the older red head's after all. Maybe he was a grown man living with his mother.' He scowled, staring at his manicured cuticles and tried to figure out how to ask a question, the answer of which he should already know.
Said older red head had turned away before he mustered the courage. "Good morning, Darling," she sang. She spread her arms, welcoming whoever was on the other side, effectively hiding him and the teen behind a flamboyant caftan blind, like they were odd hunters lying in wait for some demented psychedelic duck. "Did you sleep well?"
"Morning Martha." The new voice paused. He heard a sigh. "Uh, yeah, I did, you? And have you seen Rick this morning? He tossed and turned all night again."
Martha, arched a knowing eyebrow, shook her head as she laid a hand on the woman's sleeve. After a pause she sashayed to the side, revealing him and his daughter still sitting gawkily next to each other on the piano bench. Maybe they were the ducks.
The woman was breathtaking, even with bed head, dressed in an oversized tee shirt and threadbare leggings that had seen better days. Next to her, he was definitely the duck. He'd seen her on the opposite side of the bed when he awoke earlier and beat a hasty retreat, not recognizing her. He hoped then that he wasn't the type of man to bed random women. He thought about leaving the apartment, but he didn't know where he was let alone where he would go.
"Oh hey, Babe," she asked warmly. "How are you feeling today? Hi Alexis," she greeted the teen cheerfully. "Sleepover over already?"
Alexis nodded and tilted her head toward her father.
The woman crossed to the kitchen and poured herself coffee before turning around and holding the carafe in the air. "Need a refill?"
"Um…sure," he mumbled as he grabbed his half-full coffee cup and escaped the too close, confines imposed by the teen.
He walked to the kitchen and held his mug out in front of him. The woman was even more beautiful the closer he got to her. He'd been too confused that morning to stay still and really look at her. He wished he had. He wished he remembered her: he ached for it. She turned from doctoring her own coffee to pour more into his.
"Black?" she questioned as she added to his cup. He looked into the cup and back to her, terrified he'd made an error. "Trying something different this morning?"
He nodded, hesitantly. "Yes?"
She smiled teasingly at him, but stopped suddenly, a look of concern replacing it. "Seriously, Rick: you look like hell." She glanced past him to the woman and teen by the piano. The three silently communicated and he knew they'd figured him out for the imposter or intruder he was. She sighed as she placed the carafe on the counter. She raised her hand to his forehead, caressing his jaw before finding her mark, but he ducked away, instantly aware that his evasion was the wrong response to this woman's concern.
He spun away and decided that full retreat was the best option. He was halfway through the office next to the bedroom where he'd awoken when the brunette caught up with him.
Kate wordlessly asked Martha and Alexis how bad it was before she followed him. They both shook their heads, silently.
"Hey, Castle," she said as she lightly grabbed his arm, stopping his flight. "Can you talk to me?"
He sighed and turned slowly toward her. "I…" he hesitated, blowing out a breath.
Kate's heart broke. She recognized the familiar stranger standing unsteadily in his office. Inhaling to fortify herself and silently sending up a prayer that he'd come back to her quickly, she whispered, "Babe, you can tell me anything. You know that, right?" she entreated, squeezing his arm.
After a moment of studying her, he blurted, "No, I don't. I don't know anything."
She felt the cold sweat on the small of her back. "Hm, what do you mean?" she asked tenderly, although she knew.
Gulping, he dropped his head and whispered his confession, "I don't know you. I don't know them," as he gestured to the other room. "I have no memory of who I am, where I am or anything." He fell into the armchair and held his head in his hands. She knelt in front of him and placed her hands on his thighs. "I woke up this morning and didn't recognize you, that bedroom, this apartment or them." He looked up into her face. "Who am I?"
It started happening about a month, give or take a few days, after he'd returned to her. Nightmares, terrors where he'd clamber from their bed and she'd find him huddled in a corner between the bathroom door and armoire, rambling about conspiracies and spies with absolute confusion and panic on his face and he'd shrink from her as if he didn't know her, as if he had reason to fear her.
They'd been to see Dr. Burke, many times. His theories surmised that whatever drug cocktail his abductors had used to inhibit his memories was failing. Or causing more memory loss: perhaps irreparable damage.
The most frustrating part for Kate was the inconsistency. She was never sure to whom she might wake up: her fiancé who had been abducted, losing two months of his life or a complete stranger, who knew nothing of their life together, his family or even himself. He usually came back to his memories and his life within hours. Once, though, it took two terribly frightening days when the clock's hands obstinately ticked at a sluggish pace while his eyes held no recognition, comprehension or the fathomless love that usually was present there.
That particular morning had caught her off guard. He'd been sleeping better and hadn't had an episode in weeks. Burke happily theorized that whatever undetectable drug his captors had used had finally worked its way out of his system. They'd celebrated and relaxed; finally she stopped listening for the other shoe to drop. But then Castle had been restless in bed the previous night, more so than she'd noticed recently, but she failed to connect the dots and now she sat in his office looking into the eyes of the man she loved who, for all intents and purposes, was a total stranger. He looked so lost; it broke her heart for him. He looked so closed off and it broke her heart for her.
Martha, Kate and Alexis were under strict orders from the doctor not to force memories onto him. To behave as normal even if they noticed he was having a bad episode, even if he tried, as he often did, to hide it from them. More times than not, he had come back on his own. It was painful to watch because not only would the memories inundate his brain, but he would also remember the not remembering of the people who he held closest and then they would see the guilt and panic followed by an aching sadness.
She heard the clack of his mother's heels crossing the great room. Martha noticed his state, of course, but being the actress she was, kept up the charade. She, along with Alexis and Kate had been through this together, forging a bond among the women.
"Katherine?" Martha called quietly from the doorway. She observed her son through unshed tears.
Kate sighed, still gripping Castle's legs. "Bad," was all she needed to say.
"Oh, I had hoped…" Martha began sadly. "What can I do?"
"Get his meds from the bathroom."
"You know I'm right here. I can hear you. I may not know who you are, but apparently my hearing is fine," Rick snapped. "You don't need to speak about me as if I'm not here."
"Sorry, Babe, sorry," Kate murmured as she pressed a kiss to her fingers and then pressed her fingertips to his jaw. Martha handed Kate the prescription bottle and retreated to the kitchen and her granddaughter. Alexis, although wise beyond her years, often needed comforting after recognizing the stranger in her dad.
Castle jerked his head back out of her reach. He retreated behind the armchair.
Beckett breathed, her own anxiety had no place when he deserved all her strength: in and out and in and out, completely aware of, but choosing to ignore, the makeshift wall between them. He'd insulated himself like that before; she learned not to take it personally, most times.
He gripped the back of the dark leather as if it were the only thing keeping him grounded. "Look, you're lovely…and hot, but I don't know you…at least as well as you apparently know me. I'd appreciate if you'd stop calling me that and…the touching…please stop touching me…" He hesitated as he searched for the right word. "Intimately," he finished, a warning flashing in his eyes.
Nodding, she stood up, crossed her arms in front of her chest, protecting herself or maybe insulating herself as well. She inhaled and began, "Your name is Richard Castle. You are forty-three," she paused because he scowled. He always scowled upon learning his age. She supposed it was because he didn't look or most days feel his age. He didn't act his age either, but he wouldn't know that as well as she did or at all. She sucked in another cleansing breath for additional fortification. "You are a best-selling novelist." His eyes narrowed and Kate could see him mentally scribbling the clarification questions he had; the same ones he always had. His eyes tracked over the framed book covers adorning the walls and surfaces of the office. She continued his biography as he discovered the bookshelves, recognizing the name he'd just learned. "Your mother, Martha, is an actress and lives here in the city. You have a daughter, Alexis who is a junior at Columbia. You have been married and divorced, twice," she added the latter gently. He always flinched just as hard as if she'd struck him when she informed him of those particulars. "You are currently my fiancé. I'm Kate Beckett. I am a Homicide detective. Seven years ago you started following me for research for a series of novels. You became a civilian consultant, evolved into my partner and an important member of our team. Eventually, we fell in love. We were supposed to be married last May, but you were abducted on our wedding day and were missing for two months." He frowned and looked like he wanted to interrupt, but Kate continued. "You were found unconscious on a small boat on the ocean. When you woke you had no recollection of the two months you were missing," she ended quietly. As he always did, he gasped upon learning of their relationship, his abduction and eventual recovery, then as always, the wave of mortification flushed his features and he hung his head.
Kate hated this part of it. Introducing him to this condensed, bare-bones version of his life, the life he didn't remember, couldn't remember and not being allowed to introduce him to the type of man he is, the goodness he had brought to everyone who knows him. The condensed version without the human version always embarrassed him, always made him feel guilt, shame and regret. Burke said that a minimalist description would be best, so he wouldn't be overwhelmed. She wasn't sure she agreed.
After an extended silence, during which he half-heartedly explored his office, he stood, staring out of the balcony door and asked "How long?"
She didn't ask for elaboration. She knew he wasn't asking how long they'd been a couple or how long they'd been engaged. "This has been happening on and off for two months. It started a few days after you were found. It hasn't happened in a few weeks."
That was a new one. "Why what, Babe?" He turned sharply and glared at her. "Um…sorry." She leaned against his desk.
"Why does it happen? There must be a medical reason…ah…a treatment…something I can do, or not do? Have I've done something to exacerbate the problem?" He scowled. "Do I drink?"
Kate blinked. He'd never asked those questions before. "Not to excess. Dr. Burke…"
"Who is that?"
He sat down slowly, fumbling his way inelegantly, onto the soft armchair. He seemed to sink as the air exited his lungs and the foam and supple leather beneath him; his shoulders drooped, the implications dragging him under the rip tide of the words. He sat with his head bowed, clasped between his hands. After several moments, he inhaled a shuddering deep breath and as he lifted his head he asked, "Am I crazy?"
Taken aback at the rawness she saw in his eyes and heard in his voice, she was back in front of him in an instant. "No, oh god no, Rick, no." She grabbed his hand and then tilted his face to look at her. He pulled back. "No. Whatever this is, it was done to you. This and your other injuries…"
"Other?" He sought her eyes again, panicked.
Kate inhaled and sucked her lips in between her teeth. Calmly, she clarified, "You had contracted Dengue Fever and had a partially healed bullet wound in your side." Her eyes involuntarily went to the place on his torso she had wondered and worried over, the place she venerated the same way he revered her scars, with gratitude that he was alive and home and hers.
He followed the track of her eyes and twisted, lifting his tee shirt and his arm. He gingerly placed his fingertips to the rough, dark pink scar. Abruptly he dropped the shirt and stood, crossing to the globe he'd spotted earlier by the bedroom door. "Dengue Fever is prevalent in the tropics. Where were we supposed to get married?" He stared at her, his gaze so penetrating; she had to turn away as if his eyes held all the intensity of the dawn of a new day.
Standing up straighter, she stepped toward him as she explained, "Here…well not…here, here," she gestured to the rest of the apartment. "The Hamptons. You own a house there. Well, really it's an estate on the beach. It was beautiful, Castle."
The woman turned away, but he saw the gleam in her eyes. He'd hurt her. He swallowed his apprehension and hesitation, and stepped behind her, placing his hands tentatively on her shoulders, testing before he squeezed gently. She shuddered and he lightly rubbed his palms up and down her upper arms. "I'm sorry."
She turned quickly and he retreated a few steps. "Castle, we've been over this." He turned his head sharply toward her exasperated tone and raised an eyebrow. She softened and tilted her head. Reaching out, he brushed her fingertips with his own once more. The woman was magnetic. "I…I mean it wasn't your fault then, and now…today, you don't...you don't even remember that part of it." Dropping his fingers, she turned back to the globe and hurriedly swiped her cheek.
He stepped behind her. "I may not remember, but I do know one thing," he exhaled gently next to her ear. He spun her in his arms and lifted her chin with his fingertips. Wiping away the other tear track, he whispered, "I would never want to be the cause of you hurting like this, unless it turns out that I'm some kind of jackass, I guess."
Kate's heart quickened as she felt her lips quirk at the very Richard Castle like comment. "No, no you're not a jackass. You once told me you were a wise-ass, though." For the first time that morning, she saw a smirk: a sign that somewhere deep inside him, beneath the tampering his brain and mind had endured still was he: the Richard Castle she knew and loved. "I'm sorry," she shuddered, cleansing her mind and soul; she ducked her head. "I just thought…I thought this was behind us."
"Kate?" he asked, confirming her name, as he stepped back. She raised her head to look at him. Lacking any better idea, he thrust his hand forward. "I'm so very glad to meet you…again."
Kate looked from his face to his outstretched hand and back again, a tentative smile playing on her lips.
As she took his hand, he asked, "Help me to remember?"
A/N - After much encouragement from many awesome people, (Operaluvr, concreteangel16, and FuelDH206) I'm publishing this. Special thanks to Perspex13 for your frank and eloquent assessment. Let the haunting begin.
I will try my best to update as often as I can, but my life is the very definition of upheaval right now and will be for the next three months. I hope to use this work as an escape or an oasis. Follow and you will be sure to catch the updates as they come.
As always, thanks for reading.