Monday, October 27th, 2011
7:32 AM, Montauk, NY
Autumn embraced the approach of Halloween. It went so far as to bring its own costume.
Most of October had been pleasantly average, but over the past two days the season had donned a mask that sported a serrated smile of wintry fangs. Monday's temperature was slated for a high in the mid-forties, but dawn arrived during the two-hour drive from the city without so much as a glint of sunlight escaping the overcast. It was a dismal day to be anywhere doing anything responsible.
Detective Katherine Beckett found the southern fork of Long Island's tip to be no exception.
An offshore wind was tearing out towards the Atlantic at a furious twenty-five miles per hour as if utterly fed up with land and its shenanigans. The forcefulness of it threatened the bun her hair was pinned into and flung the drape of her Burberry overcoat as she walked. Buffeting gusts and the modest two-inch heels of her boots made for an awkward march across the beach.
Should've left them in the car. I should've left the rest of me there too, damn it.
Desire had overridden reason. Go figure. She had slipped while clambering down the steep path cut into the sandy bluffs which formed the backdrop for this blotch of coastline. Felled by gravity with both to-go cups of coffee becoming casualties. It was by a very slim margin she hadn't ended up wearing them.
The tumble had effectively soured an already dubious morning.
Turtle Cove wasn't exactly a tourist spot, hence the lack of easy access, but it was a semi-popular haven for local fisherman and surfers. On such a day as this was shaping up to be, the latter were sure to rule; the usually sedate cove was being brutalized by waves cresting between six and a fearsome nine feet.
The only figures willing to brave the near-freezing morning were a few people-shaped blobs in the water and a pair onshore standing at the fringes of an illegal campsite. Pale streamers of smoke wafted from the charred remains of a fire-pit. They were cut apart in the wind almost immediately above the blackened coals.
The wide-open stretch of coastline threatened the grasp Kate's belly had on a meager breakfast. There was nowhere to hide. Easy sight-lines for a half-mile in three of the four principle directions. If anyone wanted a second shot at her, it would be difficult to find a more secluded place to stage it.
Beckett grit her teeth and advanced. At first, each exhale through her nose sounded as though she'd been running for miles. It calmed as she progressed, but the skittering of her pulse was less obedient. Control was still difficult to wrest from PTSD. It was like alternative lengths of wiring had been threaded throughout her body and brain. Therapy had done much to reset the breaker. Emotion and thought zapped along their rightful currents. But she was still capable of carrying signals to an instant, mindless hysteria. Capable and too keenly aware of it.
Closing the distance revealed the pair ashore to be young women. Both were clutching wool blankets around their forms, legs and shoulders otherwise bare.
"Hey," Beckett volleyed as she closed within a dozen feet.
The duo turned to look at her. Both appeared to be in their early to mid-twenties, both wearing bikini tops and shorts beneath their makeshift shawls. The one on the left was a drop-dead gorgeous blonde who stood a tall and leggy 5'10". The other was a brunette, also pretty and a head shorter. Neither seemed fazed by the sudden arrival of company. "Hey," the latter returned by way of greeting, and her friend offered a polite token of a smile.
Thoroughly stoned, Kate added to her summary after noting telltale indicators.
"You a cop?" the blonde asked.
Beckett frowned and looked herself over. Decadently expensive coat, charcoal-hued slim-fit sweater, designer jeans, and admittedly knock-off but still cute calf-length boots. "You're kidding me."
"We saw you in your car the first time you drove by. Too fugly to be anything but official. No offense."
"Oh, thank God. None taken then."
"Are we in trouble?"
"For the illegal campsite, making me shiver just looking at you, or the wake-and-bake?" She shook her head afterward and showcased a wan smile to set them at ease. The pair giggled. Combined with their blankets and ill-suited attire, it made them both look terribly young and vulnerable.
The blonde said, "I'm Kally, and this is Dina."
"Kate. Nice to meet you. Listen, I'm actually here looking for someone. Richard Castle? I stopped by his place and there was a note on the door that said he'd be here." Technically the note had been left for his housekeeper, Genie, but she didn't see the need to go overboard by sharing that.
"Dunno 'im," Dina said, and it came readily enough to have the ring of truth.
The other girl shook her head as well, but then lit with a flicker of realization. "Oh, wait. She means Sway, Deen. Sorry," she added for Kate's benefit. "People pick up their monikers in this scene," a couple digits pointedly vaguely towards the furious ocean, "and those stick better than anything homegrown."
A pinging of curiosity arose and Kate heard herself ask, "Do either of you, uh, know him well?" Curiosity—not doubt. That's what she told herself and brooked no argument.
The blonde shrugged in her blanket which set it to slipping down her well-tanned arms. "Nah. Not that he's a bad guy or anything, don't get me wrong. Maybe it's the age gap and all—Sway doesn't really socialize with the usual crowd here."
The brunette grinned and gave an indelicate little snort from the back of her throat. "Yeah," she said with a nudge of an elbow at her companion's middle, "and it's not like some of us haven't tried to include him."
"Dina!" the other yowled. "Shut up."
"Wha'? He's only, like, forty-something, right? That's no biggie. Summer was very kind to him. Mmm-mmm."
Beckett's gaze jerked involuntarily towards the water where the surfers were visible. Two of them were sitting up straddling their boards, bobbing in place at a fair distance from one another. A third was cutting his way across a breaking wave. None of them struck her as familiar, but they were a good stretch from shore.
"Anyway," Kally drawled with a squint at her fellow, and then looked at Kate, "he's out there too, yeah. That's him on the far left, marking the hazards for Goose."
Once it was pointed out, Beckett could see the dispersal for what it was. The pair awaiting their turn were drifting at roughly parallel positions with about fifty yards between them. Both were nearby to jutting rocks that were only visible between waves. The unobstructed shoreline between them, though significant, seemed as narrow as a tightrope given the punishment waiting if the gap was missed. As she was watching, the guy currently riding—Goose, she presumed—was swallowed up under the curl of frothing sea foam at the wave head. The thunder of its impact into the sea made her cringe on his behalf.
"Brutal," Kally sympathized, but her tone was business-like.
The guy who fell surfaced within a handful of moments, safely distant from the rocks. He waved off Castle, who'd started paddling his way, and gave an all-clear in the form of a waggled shaka.
"Classy," Kally continued in succinct commentary and nodded in approval.
"This bitch is really rolling," Dina muttered with an encompassing look over the cove. "Goose isn't ready for swells like these. Your boy's up, Kate," she added with a hand clutching her blanket rising to point. Beyond them, the rotation shifted and the next surfer was paddling farther out to sea. Even with Castle having been pointed out to her though, there wasn't enough clarity to be certain. As if privy to her thoughts the brunette observed, "It's easy to pick him out of a lineup, especially this time of year. Sway doesn't bag it."
Beckett's eyebrows soared. "Excuse me?"
"He doesn't—oh. Right. Um, he doesn't wear a wet-suit."
"Oh. He's not my boy, by the way. I mean, man. We work, er, used to work together." Beneath the words lay a sheltered yearning that both corrections were a mistake on her part. Another mistake. Thankfully, neither of the young women were disposed to go digging for underlying meanings.
"He says he doesn't like anything between him and the sea," the blonde tacked on instead, lagging a little behind in the conversation, and then sighed with patient longing. "Suits me. No pun intended."
Dina giggled. "Summer was very kind." Only a second later she squinted with sudden seriousness and leaned forward. "Ah, crap. Kally, look'it your tourist."
"Stop calling him that. Boomer's—oops. Well shit."
Beckett turned as well, watching as the other surfer who had been waiting also began paddling towards the break-line, apparently out of turn. Goose, laid prone on his surfboard, was paddling back towards their general area. He seemed to be trying to flag his friend down, but without success.
"Do something, Kally!"
The blonde's lips pursed and spread in a plump line of sedate disapproval. "Like what? Smoke signals? He's already moving now. There's nothing we can do about it."
"That paddlepuss is gonna get smeared, by Sway if not those trips."
Kally shrugged one bare shoulder. "I told him to stay in the tent until it calmed some. Let 'im learn."
It seemed like their concern would prove unnecessary at first. Both men turned on what the girls deemed a seven-footer and popped up well apart from one another. It was surprisingly easy to get lost in watching Castle move out there. Truth be told, the act in and of itself only served to make him less recognizable; he'd never mentioned the hobby before. The author wove a sinuous trail across the wave that alternated here and there with swift, almost elegant little turns against it.
"I could watch that all day," Dina remarked.
"Carves a wave like a Thanksgiving turkey," Kally agreed. She pointed as if Kate wasn't already watching and explained, "That little backward cut he makes when he's pumping for speed? That's where he got his name. Everyone does it, but not the same way. Most people work a hard slash. It's downright surgical at the pro level where speed really counts. But your boy there more glides through the water, like a lover rather than a fighter."
Dina giggled again and her friend, seeming surprised by her own choice of words, mantled a light pink.
Beckett was surprised she had enough shame to do so. "He's not my—
The collision between both surfers happened fast. Kate didn't even notice where the other one had come from. All three women jerked in surprised unison, watching as the pair tumbled head over heels and were promptly rolled by the wave. Another pounded in mercilessly after it, and then a third.
"Oh shit," Dina fretted, dropping her blanket, but paused in the act of stepping towards the shore when someone surfaced.
Beckett squinted, her heart thumping hard again, but it was an unrecognizable blob of a person at that distance. Then even that much vanished under the next wave. Instinct flared, seeking to propel her forward like a load being shot from a cannon, but God, the sudden tension of anxiety alone made her chest ache. Swimming for long against waves like those was still beyond her capability.
"Come on," Kally groaned and pressed her fists against her stomach while her blanket also fell to the sand.
"There!" Dina spouted moments later, pointing to their left. Both men were visible. They had been propelled towards the shore fast, thankfully in the gap between the rocks. The young women hurried down the shore towards them and Kate followed along as hastily as she could in her boots.
Castle became recognizable as the distance lessened. Yeesh. That is, he was and wasn't. 'Summer was kind' Dina had said. That was no exaggeration in the spirit with which the observation had been made. During the five months that they had been apart, the writer had carved more than waves. He was dragging the other surfer by the stretchy scruff of his wet-suit, hauling him towards the shore while the poor guy coughed and sputtered.
Beckett's hazel orbs snagged on the bulging bicep of the arm doing the hauling. They danced across different kinds of swells at the abdominal rack, hard and wet above his black board shorts, and on up to pectoral meat wrought into steely shelves and a glistening valley. Every inch of him was still summertime bronze. Dark bristles, a few full days' worth, marred the view of features that had likewise slimmed.
Castle dropped his burden with an unceremonious splash into the knee-deep water nearer to shore and kept moving sluggishly onward without so much as a backward glance. No gratitude needed or wanted apparently.
The girls had stopped ahead still some distance from the pair. Beckett did the same, compelled into cessation as her eyes roved over her partner's form.
Boomer, the guy resembling the catch of the day, rose laboriously. He was similar to the girls' ages, mid-twenties maybe, with a lean swimmer's build. "Hey!" he fired at Castle. "Get your own fuckin' wave, bro!" The next moment he flew at his rescuer, slamming both palms into the other's back in a shove that stumbled Castle a few steps forward.
Beckett tensed within but hesitated to interfere.
Richard turned slowly, as stoic as the morning was grey. The lack of reaction was somehow more unsettling than anger might have been. His opponent seemed to think so too because he didn't try anything else during the brief stare-down that ensued. Rick turned without a word and sloshed back out towards the sea. A long orange and white surfboard was pulled out of the waves. He carried it back to its owner, looked Boomer square in the eye, and snapped it in half over his right knee.
The sound was like a gunshot on the air.
Beckett and the duo nearby twitched at the report. Dina murmured a breathy, "Fuck."
It was barely audible above the surf, but she heard Castle say, "Drop in on me again and it won't just be the board to feel the consequences." He thrust the halves into the younger man's chest and turned ashore. Boomer didn't follow him with anything more than his eyes, which were wide at first, then sheepish, and at the last somewhat put-out as he regarded his shattered ride.
"See?" Kally asked quietly, with surprising seriousness. "There's no better teacher than experience."
"He didn't ask to be—shouldn't have to be," Dina replied, frowning.
The blonde walked on ahead. "Boomer, what the fuck?" she screeched and started kicking at the water, splashing the shaggy-haired surfer. "What was that? I told you how this works!"
Her victim lifted his broken board like a shield to fend off the watery assault and then the slapping of the young woman's hands when she went right out into the waves to get at him. "Alright already!"
"Ah, young lust," Dina observed dryly. "Looks like Goose has had enough out there too. Good. Thank Sway for me, would you, Kate?"
"Uh, yeah, sure. See ya, Dina." She watched the group a moment longer before switching to the broad back of the man she'd come looking for. His shortboard was being swept inexorably in by the tide a little further along. Kate half jogged after him, still mentally replaying the scene in her mind.
Castle stopped ahead of her, but she closed within a handful of feet before realizing as much and jerkily doing the same. He turned at the sound of her approach, frowning at first, surely expecting more trouble.
The expression faded swiftly, gone as if it had never been. For a moment, she found wide-open glimpses of the cerulean skies denied thus far that morning. "Beckett?"
A/N: Hello again. Welcome. I have a few quick starting notes.
First, this story is (as the date implies) an AU set in the Season 4 slot. It assumes that Kate took a bit of extra time to at least begin addressing her PTSD before returning to work (I don't plan to dwell on that subject at great length).
Second, this piece is technically a continuation of the mythology already established in Secret (a Season 2 finale AU). It is not necessary to have read that story first. I will be reintroducing the major deviations I made from canon in that story as we go. This tale (and any that might follow) is meant to stand on its own. Having stated that, I'll add this: it's a full-length story, not a collection of related one-shots. There is an intended pace at which things unfold and become clear. For now...imagine Caskett as they were in the actual early-to-mid Season 4, hopeful and unobstructed, but with more certitude regarding one another.