It had been a long day. A long week, for that matter. She'd probably managed to get by on maybe a couple of hours a night, all the rest of the time spent either in the precinct or out looking for the murderer.
Jason Giles, a mild-looking man of twenty-nine, quiet and assiduous in his work, no trouble to anyone – at least according to his neighbours – and always willing to lend a helping hand. Yet what he'd done to those children sickened her. She was a cop, and she'd become hardened to seeing bodies shot, stabbed, poisoned, cut up, decomposed, and all the other ways people found to get rid of each other that made life such a joy for a detective. But this …
She swallowed and looked at her clock. 3:12 am. She'd been lying in bed for nearly four hours, and was still wide awake. It didn't help that every time she closed her eyes she saw the last victim, her tiny body in an oversized white nightdress, looking like she was only resting, until the eyes were drawn to the stain of red on the sheet beneath.
She knew she wasn't the only one. She was pretty sure Ryan and Esposito had left the precinct determined to go and get drunk, to bleach the sight from their minds with alcohol. She wouldn't do that, couldn't do that, not with her father being the way he was. Absently she stroked the skin at her neck, but the gold chain was residing back in its box, the ring carefully placed for the stone to face outwards. Watching over her.
A deep sigh forced itself from her lips. If only she'd been able to watch over those other children. It didn't matter that they'd saved the boy, able to send him back to his parents, to fuss over and state he was never going to be out on his own ever again. The girl's parents could only bury her.
She turned over, the room lit by the city outside her window, and the warm glow of the numbers on her alarm clock that were moving at a snail's pace.
Turning again, this time pummelling the pillow, her eyes resolutely shut, willing her body to slip into dreams that would be about good times and not basements that smelled of blood.
Again, and the sheet threatened to tie her legs together.
Was he awake? she wondered, lying on her back and staring into the ceiling. Probably not. It had been his insight that had put the final piece of the puzzle in place, had meant the boy had survived and not joined the others in the cellar earth. And she'd kept him out when CSU were excavating, so he hadn't seen the pitiful remains, but then he has a writer's imagination, and perhaps that made it worse.
And if he was asleep, how could he? He must know how she felt, how it had affected her, affected all of them.
She grunted, just a small sound that seemed to fill the room. It would be just like him to walk into that squad room all fresh and rested in the morning … this morning, as she reminded herself. Shirt freshly pressed, one of those striped jackets he favoured, blue jeans, and far too pleased with the world.
A small smile crept across her face. Maybe she should call him. Wake him up. Give him a taste of what she was going through.
No. You're not like that, she told herself. Not vindictive, not malicious, even though he'd forced his way into her life, taking it over and putting it on the printed page, making her into Nikki Heat, making her famous. Except she wasn't, of course. In either case. Nikki Heat was a fictional character, not flesh and blood (blood again, need to get off this merry-go-round), and as for being well-known, it was the best-selling writer who got all the glory. And all the money.
I bet his bed doesn't feel like it's full of rocks.
Maybe just a little call. Let it ring a couple of times, then hang up. Withhold the number. Then give it a few minutes and do it again.
The smile spread into a grin. That would be mean. Just to get him back for all the slings and arrows he'd put her through. The smirks, the smug looks, the thousands of tiny ways he'd irritated her over the past months …
Who was she kidding? She wanted to hear his voice, for him to tell her everything was okay, because when he said it, she almost believed it.
She reached for the phone, staring at it as it began to ring before she even touched it. Her hand trembling slightly, she picked up the receiver. "Beckett."
"The very same."
"Do you know what time it is?" Even though she'd been on the verge of calling him it still irked her that her intentions had been usurped.
"Well, according to my clock, it's 3:19. What time do you make it?"
She glanced at her clock. Ha! "It's 3:21."
"Well, one of us is wrong." She could tell he was smirking. "And my clock's radio controlled from Geneva."
She shook her head, even though she knew he couldn't see. Boys and their toys. "Maybe they're wrong."
"Sure. The whole world is out of step with Kate Beckett."
"It certainly feels like it." There was more truth in the statement than she cared to consider, and he obviously picked up on it.
There was a pause, then his toffee voice asked, "Are you okay?"
"Only you don't sound it."
"I'm fine. Anyway, why are you calling me at 3:22 in the morning?"
"I thought you might need me."
There. Just six words, and she could imagine him saying them. Six words and the world shifted again. "What makes you think that?"
"Oh, I don't know. How about I saw a penny today and picked it up?"
See a penny, pick it up, all day long you'll have good luck … The old phrase resounded through her mind. "That was yesterday," she pointed out.
"And how come you're awake?"
Of course he was. "Anything interesting?"
She wondered if he tried to wind her up, or whether it was just a happy coincidence. "I meant specifically."
"Nikki Heat, of course."
"Mmn. How she copes with the death of children."
It was almost physical, like a blow to her stomach. "She won't."
"No. I figured that out."
She could tell he was smiling slightly. "And how did you do that?"
"I know you, Katie."
"Don't call me Katie." Automatic, just a reflex, like swallowing back the bile at seeing … "And you don't know me."
"You're awake. You sound like you've been awake for hours. In fact, I'd hazard a guess that you haven't even been to sleep."
No smirk now. Just those blue eyes that made her want to confide in him, to let him take responsibility for a little while. "I'm fine."
"Sure you are." He waited a moment, but when she didn't speak he said, "It's not your fault, Kate."
Maybe if he said it often enough she'd believe it. "Six children, Castle."
"I know. And it would have been seven if you hadn't shot him."
Jason Giles, twenty-nine years old. And he was never going to make thirty.
"I just saved the city the cost of a trial."
"He was going to kill the boy."
"I know." But maybe I shouldn't have shot to kill, the little voice at the back of her mind said.
"You had to, Katie."
This one she let him get away with. "I know."
"But you don't believe it."
"No." She quelled the sigh that wanted to erupt into flames of internal anger. "Are you sure I didn't kill him just because I wanted to?"
"No. Because that would make you like him, and you're not. He was a monster. You're extraordinary."
She had to laugh at that, just a short bark. "I think you need your head examining."
"That's what my mother keeps saying, but I keep telling her I will if she will."
"Maybe I need it."
"Maybe. But all he'd tell you is what I'm telling you. And I'm a lot cheaper."
"Oh? Are you planning on charging me for this session?"
"On if you'll lie down and close your eyes, and just listen to my voice."
In her mind's eye she could see his eyebrows lift. "No?" he repeated.
"I'm not ready. Just … talk to me."
"Anything." It didn't matter who called who, she realised. She knew he'd needed to hear her voice, make sure she was okay. Maybe he was growing up, just a little. She smiled as he spoke again.
"So … what are you wearing?"
Okay. Maybe not.