Prelude (Him)

He walks out of the room, down the stairs, and out the front door for the last time. A flood of rage and grief is so strong that he struggles to find either his breath or his bearings, and he stops after two blocks to lean against a wall. Spring officially arrived a week ago, but the air is raw, and he lets it cool him off. After a few minutes he hails a cab and goes home to his empty loft.

Though by nature a gregarious person, he's glad that no one is there. Alexis is skiing in Vermont with friends for spring break and his mother has taken the opposite route, visiting friends in Florida. He wants to wallow without explanation, and he does, well past midnight, until he collapses into bed, still in his clothes.

He wakes at ten, head throbbing. After two cups of industrial-strength coffee and a 20-minute shower, he phones Captain Gates. They have a brief and remarkably cordial conversation, during which he thanks her and cuts his ties to the precinct, and she says that, despite all, she has appreciated his help. He asks her to keep their call private, and she agrees.

Beckett lied, and she doesn't love him. He'll finish the current Nikki Heat book, but he'll do it without seeing her again.

His vital organs–heart, lungs, stomach, brain–feel as if they're desiccated, shrinking to nothing, as he rides down to the garage. He drops into the driver's seat and presses his forehead against the steering wheel. He has no idea how long he stays that way, but finally buckles his seat belt and turns the key in the ignition. The hum of the engine is vaguely soothing. He'll hole up in the Hamptons for the rest of the week. No chance of running into anyone from the Twelfth there. He just needs to get through the next two months; Alexis will graduate and he'll see her and his mother off on a long European vacation. And then he can decide what the fucking hell he'll do for the rest of his miserable fucking life.

Prelude (Her)

She comes out of the interrogation room one chilly day in late March, and he's gone. He doesn't come back, and doesn't explain. He blocks her calls and texts, and instructs his doorman not to let her upstairs. He won't answer emails or the letter that she writes in desperation. She's sure that the zombie case will reel him back in, and asks Ryan to call him. The detective leaves a voicemail and later gets a five-word text: "Thanks, Kevin, but I'm done."

A sinkhole would have swallowed her after that case, except that it's immediately followed by the one that she's been waiting for: the case with a break in the case that matters above everything else. Her mother's. She almost has him. Almost. She comes so close. But all her training–all the physical workouts and the mental gymnastics–are ultimately worthless. Cole Maddox hurls her off the roof, Ryan pulls her back to safety, and Gates suspends her. She's not taking it. Something, she's not sure what, suffuses her. Some weird resolve. She drops her gun on the Captain's desk, holds her badge in her hand for several moments in a bittersweet goodbye, and leaves it next to the gun. "Keep it," she says. "I resign."

She leaves the place that for years has been more home to her than home, and walks until she's in a neighborhood where she doesn't recognize anything. Not a coffee shop or a drugstore, not a dry cleaner or a church, not a barbershop or a school. There's a dingy bar with an entrance four steps down from the street. It's so dark inside that she can hardly make out the interior, which is exactly what she wants. Two people are on barstools, but not together, and neither pays her any attention as she walks to the far end and sits down.

"What can I get you?" the bartender asks.

"Bourbon." Before he can ask if she has a brand in mind–if, in fact, he was going to ask–she adds, "Any kind. Whatever's nearest."

He takes a few steps to his left, grabs a Jim Beam and a glass, and pours it.

"Leave the bottle," she says, pushing a $50 across the stained, burnished wood. "Please."

She manages to get home on her own, and spends most of the next day in bed, a horde of tiny blacksmiths hammering on anvils in her head. In the early evening she has recovered sufficiently to open her laptop, and does some quick and fruitful research. The next day she packs a duffel bag, locks up her apartment, takes a cab to the cut-rate garage where she keeps her motorcycle, and heads north. She has no idea what she's doing or will do, only what she's done and won't do again.

July 2012

The rough-hewn cabin that she's rented in the Catskills suits her well. It has a bathroom with a stall shower but no tub–which takes a little getting used to–a bedroom, and a living room with a makeshift kitchen tucked into a corner. There's no insulation and no A/C, but it's so cool at night that she doesn't miss it. The spring on the screen door is broken, and if she forgets to hang on to the handle when she goes out the resulting slam makes her jump.

She forgets a lot lately, more than she had when she arrived in May. But things are different now. She's different. When she landed here she thought that she'd use the unbroken swaths of time to read all the things that she'd set aside over the last few years. She had, at first. She'd cover a few chapters in the morning, maybe eat lunch, take a walk and hope not to see anyone, read some more in the late afternoon with the sounds of bugs and birds as a backdrop. She'd make herself a drink, and read. And then another drink. She willed herself not to think of Castle, and at first she'd succeeded.

Two months in, she is reading less and less. Sometimes she reads the same page–or paragraph or sentence–more than once. Probably a lot more than once. Sometimes she suspects that she hasn't taken a shower that day, and is still in yesterday's clothes. She begins to miss more meals than she eats, and her will not to think of Castle disintegrates. What did she do to drive him away? The phantom version of him begins to creep into bed with her at night but abandons her if she moves; glares silently from the chair opposite her while she has her bourbon or wine; whispers accusations in her ear while she tries to read.

It's July 14th. Bastille Day. The cabin has felt like a prison today, felt like the unliberated Bastille prison in Paris: it's hot and pouring and she hasn't been able to spend time outdoors. There's no wifi or TV, and radio reception is almost nonexistent. She has a portable DVD player and some movies, but none appeals to her. At seven o'clock she yanks open the door of the cabinet to the left of the fridge. What the hell? Where's the booze? She bought some, a lot, she doesn't remember exactly, a few days ago. Hadn't she? Yes. So where the hell did it go? She opens the door to the little cupboard under the sink and pulls out the bucket. Oh. It's full of empties. Shit. She wants a drink. She's going to have to go into the town and the damn liquor store is about to close. She'll drive fast. Who's gonna stop her? Nobody's around up here to give her a ticket. Besides, she's a cop. It's Bastille Day. Liberté, égalité, fraternité. Okay, so she's no longer in the fraternity of cops. But she's a retired member of the blue line, still part of the blue line. She gets on her bike and roars onto the potholed, two-lane blacktop.

Dammit. Goddammit. The liquor store closed five minutes ago. In the glass-fronted door the faded CLOSED sign sags at an angle, one corner bent at a similar angle. The lights are off. She wants a drink. Needs a drink. Leaving her motorcycle at the curb, she walks to the end of the four-block-long Main Street which gives on to Prospect Avenue. She grimaces. Some prospect: it's totally bleak. Except, yes, yes, there's a bar about a hundred yards down.

She's not prepared for small-town Saturday night, especially a small town that's unknown to developers or searchers of the quaint. There's not much to do here, and very little hope. That's fine, because she doesn't want to do much and the only thing she's hoping for is a drink.

It's crowded and noisy, but she finds a stool near the door and takes it. She's sipping on her surprisingly not-too-bad bourbon, surrounded by bad music from an old jukebox, when some guy shoulders her. She turns to look– he's wearing neatly creased Levi's, a tee shirt with the legend YOUR PRAYERS ARE ANSWERED, and minty aftershave so liberally applied that it almost overwhelms the music–and turns back. She takes a healthy swig of her drink and he almost nuzzles her ear.

"I like a girl who likes her liquor," he says.

"I'm not a girl," she says, hoping that will drive him as fast and as far away as she had driven Castle.

A large hand cups her shoulder. "Ooh, a women's libber, huh? Well, I like a woman who likes her liquor."

She shrugs his hand away. Women's libber? How old is this guy, anyway? "I'm a woman who likes to drink alone," she says firmly.

"Don't look like you wanna drink alone. Way you're dressed and all."

The way she's dressed? She's wearing jeans and a tee shirt for God's sake. She raises her eyes to the mirror and sees his focussed on her chest. Oh, wearing a tee shirt and no bra. She hadn't even noticed. Worse, the tee shirt is white and very sheer. Even in the dim light she can make out the color of her nipples "Look, no offense, but I really do want to be alone. I'm sure there are plenty of other women here whose prayers you can answer."

"Bitch," he says, before he walks away.

Her prayers were answered, after all, at least that one. She signals to the bartender for a refill. Halfway through she starts wondering what kind of pick-up line Castle would use in a bar. Course he'd never be in a bar like this. He'd be in the kind with velvet-covered banquettes decorated with nail heads and sleek lighting fixtures that cost more than her annual pay. Assuming she had annual pay, which she doesn't. She has no pay of any kind. Her glass is empty, and she lifts it to her chin and tilts it towards Bryce. Bryce is the bartender, who hustles over. "Double," she says. "Make this one a double." He pours her the stronger drink.

What if Castle nudged her shoulder the way Mr. Answered Prayers had? What would he say? She swirls the liquid in her glass, watches it eddy. It looks like water going down the drain. That's appropriate. She takes another sip, and another, then dips her finger tip in and licks it off. What would Castle be wearing? The Levi's maybe, but the shirt? No way. He's very sure of himself, but no. He might have boxers that say YOUR PRAYERS ARE ANSWERED, though. She snickers at the idea, and covers her mouth with her hand. She'd love to see him in those. Love to see him out of them. That would be an answered prayer, wouldn't it? Not that she'd tell him. It would swell his head even more–she chokes on the bourbon and spills a little. Not that head, she says to herself. Not that swollen head. Get a hold of yourself, Kate.

She'd spilled more than she thought: her glass is dry. "Bryce?''

The bartender, more harried than he had been earlier, looks her way.

"'nother, please."

Bryce returns, wiping his hand on his apron. "You sure?" He sounds tentative.

"Don't I look sure?"

"Um, yes. Just."

"I've got a hollow leg, Bryce." She looks evenly at him. "Don't worry about me."

"Okay, but–"

"Just gimme another double, please. I promise that I'll behave. You can trust me. I'm a cop."

He wipes his hand on his apron again, and swallows hard. "Okay."

The bourbon goes down easy, and fast. It's getting hotter and noisier in here, and she's going to go home. Why don't bars have take-out? She could get one to go. It'd be great. She wouldn't drink it on her bike. She's not stupid. But she could put it in the fridge and have it tomorrow.

Waving a hand to let Bryce know she wants to pay up, she uses the other to fish her wallet out of her bag. "Thanks, barkeep," she says, adding a tip that's probably bigger than any he's ever gotten. He's a sweet guy. Worried about her. She slides off the stool and goes out into the fresh air.

It's blissfully quiet, the kind of stillness you never get in Manhattan, no matter what time it is, or what the weather. She's just turning onto Main when someone steps out of a shadowed doorway and stops in front of her.

"You turned me down in there," the answered-prayer man says. He's bigger than she'd realized. Menacing, too.

"Told you nicely that I wanted to be alone." She moves to the right to get around him, but he grabs her elbow, hard enough to make her stumble, though she doesn't fall.

"Not used to being turned down," he says, his stale breath a miasma on her face.

She straightens up and gives him her steeliest look. "Let go of me."

"Nuh-uh, honey. You're not from around here. I'm gonna show you how things are in my town. You'll like it."

Strong enough for this, she wrests her elbow from his hand and starts striding to her bike. He grabs her from behind, his arm locked across her chest.

"Where you goin', gorgeous?"

"Away from here."

He spins her around and kisses her, rough and messily, his hand under her shirt. Every bit of training she has ever had kicks in, and she unleashes all the anger that she's been holding since May. She knees him in the crotch and with an almost simultaneous upward thrust of her arm breaks his nose. He goes down like a rock, but his blood is all over his face and her hand. He screams as loud as anyone she's ever heard, and she takes off. She's almost at her bike when she hears a siren and sees the flashing lights coming her way. Oh, fuck. The cops.


A/N A birthday present for a friend in the frozen north. Also: I've learned not to say how many chapters a story will be, but I expect this to be four or so.