And Then I Found You

For months its been more about surviving than living, but a chance meeting could change all of that. Caskett AU. Semi apocalyptic. For #Castleficathon2018

14 Chapters + Epilogue


Chapter 1

October

"Ka-tieee. Wake up Kaaaa-tieeee."

At the melodic sound of her mother's voice, Kate snuggled tighter to her pillow. "Two more minutes," she mumbled, still well within the confines of sleep. School could definitely wait a few more minutes. Well, no, the school wouldn't wait for her, but how important was homeroom anyway?

"Katie, c'mon!"

Now in addition to calling for her, Kate felt her shoulder shaking and groaned. No, no—not yet. Not when she felt so warm and cozy in her bed.

"Katie!"

Kate's eyes popped open when her mother's tone grew sharper. She gasped slightly when she saw not the white-and-lavender floral wallpaper of her childhood bedroom but the tan nylon façade of the tent in which she rested. In one instant, reality came crashing in like a violent roll of thunder.

She was not in her parent's Manhattan apartment—or any Manhattan apartment for that matter. She was in a tent, sleeping on the ground with only a balled up sweatshirt for a pillow. And she wasn't warm and cozy under a blanket. She was hot—already sweating from the humidity despite being dressed in linen pants and a t-shirt.

Groaning and swiping at her brow with the back of her right hand, Kate rolled onto her back and gazed at the dark-haired woman crouching by her hip. Glancing behind the woman, she could see out of the tent's entrance and up into the sky, which was filled with puffy floating clouds on a canvas painted with blue. Looking back to the woman she mumbled, "I slept late?"

She shrugged. "A little."

Kate mumbled out, "Sorry," through a yawn and reached out for the bottle of water a foot away. She emptied the container—not that there were more than a few swallows inside to begin with—and sighed as she dropped it down into her lap. Every time she finished a bottle she was reminded once again of how they no longer lived in a word where quenching thirst was as easy as finding the nearest sink or corner store. Nothing was that easy anymore.

"Don't worry about it—it got us out of laundry duty," her mother, Johanna, said with a smile. Then, she reached out and brushed a chunk of her daughter's hair from her head. "Are you feeling alright, sweetheart?"

She shrugged in response as "alright" didn't seem a terrible descriptor, though probably not the most accurate. Did she feel alright? No—in fact, she felt utterly miserable. She was hot, sweaty, and desperately wanted to wash her hair more than every other week with lukewarm rainwater. She wanted clean clothes, a real bed, and a steak cooked to medium with a side of fluffy, buttery mashed potatoes. Six months earlier such desires would have been considered quite basic and easily attainable, but not then and, the longer this went on she feared they never would be again.

In that moment, Kate was about as good as she could be, all things considered. Her neck was a bit cramped from her awkward sleeping position and her shoulder hurt from being smashed into a particularly hard part of the ground for six-and-a-half hours, but she was alive; she was breathing.

"I'm fine, Mom, just…ready for this damn humidity to go away. I thought it was October."

"It is, but this is no longer New York."

"But we're not in Florida," Kate grumbled. Though it was difficult for them to discern their exact geographical location, they were somewhere in the middle of Virginia and she was pretty sure Virginia experienced fall. Then again, it was quite early in the month; perhaps fall didn't hit until later on.

"C'mon." Johanna backed her way out of the tent crawling on her hands and knees and then beckoned for her daughter to join her. "It's not so bad out here—there's a nice breeze and everything."

With a resigned sigh, Kate crawled out after her mother and stood just outside the tent, blinking her eyes several times to adjust to the difference in brightness. She surveyed the area, taking note of the eight tents spread out beneath the cluster of trees they found. Though this was only their second night camped in that particular location, it was the exact place they liked to be: flat with plenty of visibility, yet far enough off the main road that they couldn't be seen by passers-by (assuming anyone actually passed by, which was unlikely).

At that point in the morning, the only people who remained in the camp were the children under ten and their adult guardian of the day, a woman around her mother's age named Mary. The rest of the group was off doing the laundry or scavenging for food and water. Scavenging would also be the task she and her mother needed to work on that day as their water supply was running low and finding enough food was always a challenge with a group as large as theirs. Kate didn't even want to think about what winter would bring when plucking a piece of fruit from a tree or a bush was not an option available to them—not that they found very much viable food that way, but it happened on occasion. That was a problem for later time, though. For that moment, they only needed to focus on the day ahead.

"Here," Johanna said as she passed over an apple from their shared food supply.

"Thanks. What direction are we heading out today?"

She pointed towards the east. "Away from the road. Someone from yesterday's team said they thought they saw a neighborhood that direction; we should check it out."

"Gotcha," Kate said while munching on her apple. She bit down hard and trapped it between her teeth while she dug into her bag for her last clean t-shirt. She pulled off the one she wore and tossed it to the ground with a wrinkled nose; too bad she'd already missed the laundry brigade because that one was filthy. After pulling on the clean shirt, she took the apple out of her mouth and said, "Okay, I'm ready to go, I guess."

Johanna arched a skeptical eyebrow. "Really? With those on?"

Kate glanced down to where her mother pointed and let out a laugh as she still wore the hot pink Adidas slip on sandals she wore overnight. Given their current predicament, she never wanted to be in a situation where she could not easily flee, thus shoes were a necessity at all times; however, as her feet spent many hours cramped in boots or sneakers, sweating through sock after sock, she did like to give them the chance to breathe whenever she could. "Oops. Hang on."

As she climbed back into the tent to put on her boots, Kate considered for perhaps the tenth time how bizarre her situation was. She never in her life would have anticipating wearing shoes she scavenged from a random, unknown individual's home instead of those she purchased from a store. She never would have expected to feel excitement upon discovering a plastic bottle along the side of a road that still had water inside of it—and she certainly never would have considered drinking from said bottle, but the apocalypse did funny things to people.

Six months earlier Kate was happily living her life as a lawyer in New York City. She had a good job, caring friends, and a small, but loving family. Then, seemingly overnight, the world fell apart. A bizarre and highly-contagious illness began to consume most of the city's residents. The fatality rate seemed around eighty percent, which would have been horrific, but that was not the worst part. Somehow, those that succumbed to this illness did not remain dead, but reanimated into flesh-eating monsters hell-bent on destroying what remained of humanity.

Within days the city was chaos and Kate knew escaping would be the only way to survive. As her father had died nearly a decade earlier and she had no siblings, she and her mother packed up all they could carry and entered the fray of those attempting to leave the doomed island. For the next few weeks in addition to the monsters they faced human adversaries trying to steal what little they had, but the further away from New York they moved the more they saw that the world had changed, and thus the way in which they lived would need to as well.

Though neither Kate nor her mother considered themselves well-versed in survival knowledge, they learned quickly both from picking up books (Kate was convinced they were the only people to ever break in to a library) and asking questions of those trustworthy individuals they found. Their days were exhausting, frustrating, and could be very, very sad at times, but they had made it six months and hoped to make it six more, and then six more after that. Sad as it seemed, Kate no longer planned for the distant future. She thought about the next day, maybe the day after that, but no longer as things could change in an instant and they knew that better than anyone.

"Okay." Kate stood after lacing up her boots and picked up her scavenging rucksack from the ground, tossing it over her right shoulder. "Now I'm ready."

Johanna nodded and picked up her own bag. "Okay then; let's go."


Richard Castle awoke not to the honk of a car horn or even the obnoxious beeping on an alarm clock, but to the snarling noises of an inhuman creature seeking to bite down on his flesh. He yelped loudly and scrambled to his feet, searching frantically for the source of the noises. He'd long since learned that sleeping out in the open was a terrible idea, so he'd holed up in a detached garage for the night. He'd feared one of the creatures had breached the door, but it had not; it remained on the outside, scraping and biting at the glass.

Castle heaved out a relieved breath and bent forward, resting his hands against his thighs as he waited for his heartrate to calm down. After a few deep, calming breaths he crouched down and began to roll up the blue tarp he was using as makeshift bedding. It did absolutely nothing to add to his comfort other than protecting him from any ground moisture that might exist. Considering he no longer had a change of clothing, a moisture barrier was a practical necessity. Of course, the concrete garage floor was not wet, but he hadn't wanted to sleep on the oil drippings, either.

With the tarp collected as neatly as possible, he then picked up the gray duffel bag he'd discovered on a high garage shelf and tucked it inside so that he only had one item to carry with him. The prior day he'd been relieved of his backpack—and the food and clothing inside—by a passing band of hoodlums intent on ruining his day. Castle liked to think he could hold his own in a fight (he had written about dozens of them, as it happened), but when it was four against one, he had no chance and had simply chosen to toss over the bag and save himself from getting too bloody. They'd landed a sharp jab in his gut for good measure, but otherwise left him unscathed for which he remained grateful. Still, losing the soup cans and candy bars he'd managed to collect felt like a secondary sucker punch, especially to his cramping stomach.

Gazing around the garage, Castle considered his situation. Thanks to the stifling heat and the literal concrete floor, he had slept rather poorly, but at least he had slept some, which was more than he could say for at least half of the prior weeks' worth of nights when he'd been outside, exposed and afraid. His stomach ached with such voracious hunger it was beginning to feel like a gaping open wound that might never heal. His head ached, which he felt resulted from poor sleep in combination with hunger and dehydration, but it wasn't any worse than what he'd become accustomed to.

Sighing to himself, Castle shuffled his way towards the window on the opposite side of the garage from the one the undead were scratching at. Though the garage had not contained anything edible, it was filled with plenty of tools that could be used as defensive weapons. He'd taken two screw drivers and a bent, but still useable, knife for later use, but he was not in the mood for a fight just then. Fortunately, when he pushed open the window and poked his head out cautiously, he saw the path was clear. It was a tight squeeze, but he managed to hoist his large frame through the opening and clamber out onto the ground without drawing the attention of any of the snarling creatures. Then, throwing the bag strap over his left shoulder, Castle headed back towards the street sending a silent prayer towards the heavens that one of the nearby houses would contain something he could eat.


A/N: Thank you for reading!

Yes, this is another zombie apocalypse AU, but this one is even more zombie-lite than the other one.