It's me again! Alright. So. I was in the Support Stacie April Author Auction, and the wonderful YourCaptJack (think I got her username right) won me. Her prompt was that, post TTT/Boom, Beckett had a nightmare and Castle comforted her with hot chocolate. So... that's what this is. Woo!
Disclaimer: Technically, I don't even own this fic. XD But she let me post it, so... here we are.
"They've found another one." Esposito's voice was dark as he spoke the very words none of them had wanted to hear.
Beckett placed both palms on the desk before her and briefly dropped her head, leaning her weight on the reassuring semi-wood, allowing herself to have just that moment of weakness. She'd messed up, again; she hadn't been able to find the killer quickly enough, and now someone else was dead.
She exhaled, slowly, wishing she could just go home and forget all this was happening; but as it was, that wasn't a choice. So she straightened, and she nodded quietly to herself, and then she began to walk.
She didn't remember the drive to the crime scene, probably as a result of the chaos inhabiting her mind; regardless, she and Castle miraculously made it in one piece, and were walking into the fairly nondescript building in short order.
For a brief moment, she allowed herself to simply observe the bustle around her, the ordered busyness and controlled nerves of her colleagues; and then she steeled herself and walked on, trying to ignore the dark ideas swirling around her head.
Far too many people had already died in her name, and still she was failing them. Would this case never come to an end? Would the entire city be slaughtered before she caught whoever was doing this?
She felt a hand rest briefly on her forearm and looked up to meet Castle's gaze, the quiet concern in his pale blue eyes nearly breaking her then and there.
She didn't deserve that sympathy—not until she'd done her job.
"You okay?" he asked her, quietly enough to as not to be heard by the uniforms walking purposefully around the crime scene. A sudden wave of gratitude for his discretion crashed over her and she swallowed, overwhelmed by the need to say that no, she wasn't okay; to let him hug her, just this once; to listen to his voice inform her, in the soothing tones she loved far too much, that she hadn't failed anyone, it wasn't her fault; to allow herself the breakdown she so desperately needed…
Instead, she nodded quietly. "I will be," she told him. "As soon as this bastard's caught."
He nodded understandingly and, abruptly, she turned; one more second of this quiet, sympathetic, self-recriminating Castle and she might start crying for real.
She went on, walking briskly to Esposito and trying to shut off every emotion running through her brain. "What have you got?" she asked him, trying to give her voice an air of nonchalance.
He glanced up at her for a moment. "Take a look," he said simply, motioning her to a doorway crisscrossed with vivid yellow tape.
She was faintly surprised at his lack of exposition, but put it down to the stress of the case; it was wearing on them all by this point. She nodded, thanked him (although what for, she wasn't sure), and ducked under the tape to step inside.
Although she would have expected some small bustle inside the room—things had to be photographed, evidence looked for, notes taken—, it was totally empty. Dingy brown walls, dingy white floor, no furniture, no people, no bodies.
Slowly, she turned around, making sure she hadn't somehow missed something; when she was thus satisfied, she glanced back at Ryan and Esposito. Castle had wandered over to the door at some point and was now peering inside with an air of curious guilt.
"I don't see anything," she said, frowning, confused.
Ryan grimly indicated the ceiling. Castle glanced over at him for a moment, then obeyed the unspoken order.
In half a second, his entire expression changed. Her partner's obvious horror sparking off a deep-seated dread in her stomach, Beckett swallowed and looked up—
—and gasped with the very same fascinated revulsion that had stricken the writer.
The entire ceiling was covered in corpses. Men, women and—Beckett noticed with a kind of terrified guilt—at least one child, all broken, all attached to the surface by whatever would hold them—nails, bolts, knives, ropes; arranged like puzzle-pieces so not an inch of ceiling was visible. Spray-painted in cold capitals across the gruesome scene were the pale words "YOU HAVE FAILED".
Briefly, she wondered how they were staying up there so neatly—surely the haphazard, scavenged objects couldn't have fastened them that securely, nor could the ceiling have held their weight—but such coldly scientific thoughts were disintegrated by the sheer enormity of what had taken place and why.
Desperately, she turned to Ryan and Esposito, trying to find at least a scrap of forgiveness, but there was nothing in their faces but a chill kind of silence. Frantic, she searched for Castle, for his quiet sympathy, his share in their false guilt; but he had vanished, and no amount of willpower could bring him back into her sight.
"I—" she said, but broke off at the total lack of compassion in the eyes of the people at the door.
And then, with a horrible slick squishing sound, one of the bodies—a blonde girl who hadn't been more than twenty—separated itself from its feeble fetters and landed with a sticky thud on the floor in front of her.
She backed away, but more came, as if the first had been a signal; and in incredibly short order it abruptly escalated. She retreated, pressing herself into the corner; it would have been more logical to get out of the room altogether, but by the time the thought occurred to her, one of the corpses hit the open door at just the right angle, sending it careening back into its frame with a terrifyingly loud bang.
She sank down, curling into herself as far more bodies than the ceiling had originally accommodated slid to the ground, blocking her movements; as if that wasn't enough, even more started coming from even more impossible places—the walls, the floor, the doorframe, until there was nothing any one of her senses could pick up that did not shriek of death. Everything was warm and hot and sticky and suffocating and she was going to die here surrounded by blood and violence and—
Beckett awoke with a gasp, sitting suddenly upright in her borrowed bed, the world spinning sharply around her as she dragged herself back into reality.
She hadn't been expecting that. Well, she supposed she had, in a vague, disconnected way; it was only logical to have the odd nightmare after an experience like that. But somehow, it hadn't quite sunk in far enough. She hadn't thought it would stab that deeply, would affect her even after her eyes opened to the reassuring quiet of the real world.
She realised with a start that she was shaking. The room, which had seemed unnecessarily large the first time she'd stepped inside (as had every room in Castle's home, come to think of it), was now suffocating, too small even to take a breath in. Clumsy from her interrupted slumber, she scrambled out of bed, opening the window with as much haste as she could muster, drinking in the cool oxygen as deeply as she could manage.
Not enough. She needed to get outside.
Briefly checking to make sure her pyjamas were acceptable for a brief midnight walk, she opened the door and made her way into the hall. She had to pause and think for a bit, the unfamiliar environment of Castle's house baffling her somewhat.
She ignored the little voice that informed her that it could be quite familiar to her indeed, if she'd just let herself—No. No romantic entanglements just now. Especially not Castle, of all people. Even if he was—No.
She shook her head sharply to reset her thoughts and concentrated on descending the stairs with as little noise as possible. She'd managed to get all the way to the door with hardly a sound, actually had her fingers on the handle, when a tired voice spoke from behind her. "Beckett?"
She jumped, then froze, feeling uncomfortably like she'd been caught out doing something forbidden. "Castle," she replied, voice tight.
There was a pause. "What are you doing?" he asked her, sounding intensely confused.
She turned around, trying desperately to think of an explanation that didn't involve "I'm sneaking out of your house to take a walk in the middle of the night because I had a nightmare like a scared little girl".
"I, ah," she managed, then decided to change tactics. "What are you doing?"
He blinked at her and she took a moment to allow herself to look at him. He actually looked kind of… cute, standing there in his pyjamas, sleep-rumpled and heavy-lidded. She'd known for some time that he was an attractive creature—writer or no, he'd never have gotten such a surfeit of pretty females constantly trying to seduce him, and why did that thought make her nauseous?—, but seeing him in this state, in his home… Well. It was decidedly odd.
She wasn't sure she disliked it, in the end, and that disturbed her a little bit before she realised he was replying.
"Would you like some hot chocolate?" he asked, as if that explained everything.
She frowned a little. "Um, sure?" she said.
The second cup of milk went into the saucepan with a reassuring splash, and Castle turned the stove up a bit to accommodate it. Beckett was sitting—feeling very much at a disadvantage—on one of the chairs, staring at the countertop, drawing absent patterns in her empty mug with her fingers.
She heard Castle shift, the fridge closing behind him; he stepped over to the stove and very studiously did not look at her, for which she was grateful. However, being who he was, his relative silence didn't last very long.
"So," he said matter-of-factly, "what was your nightmare about?"
Startled, she nearly dropped the cup. When she looked up at him, his eyes were calm, his air that of unfocussed, friendly concern; although the man could be excruciatingly hard to read at times, she rather doubted just this once that he was asking just because he wanted to dig around her head for a while.
He'd been very careful about that ever since he'd started trying to figure out her mother's death against her will. Of course, that had actually worked out for the best—surprisingly—but that didn't mean that it hadn't been incredibly stupid of him at the time.
"What?" she asked him, just in case he'd slipped back into his old habits.
He gave her a look that clearly said that that had been a rather silly thing to ask. "Come on, Beckett," he told her. "I have been studying your personality in incredible detail for an entire year and you think I can't tell when you're upset?"
Her mind stuttered over that thought for a few moments. Sometimes, she forgot the original reason for their relationship. The double realisation that yes, she had known him for an entire year and he had been memorising every detail of what made her tick for every second of that time crashed over her with very little subtlety and temporarily derailed her thoughts.
He sighed for a moment. "You wake up in the middle of the night, looking like you've seen a ghost. You then decide to go downstairs, clearly trying not to be seen, and now that you have you can't sit still."
Chagrined, she tried to stop the subconscious movements of her fingers over the mug. "I can sit still," she muttered vaguely, very much not liking the turn the conversation was going. She'd cracked suspects no one had thought would utter a syllable, but stick her in a room with Richard Castle and unless she watched what she said very carefully the tables were completely turned.
He smirked, just slightly. "You can now I've mentioned it," he rejoined, teasing her.
She glared at him.
"So what was it about?" he inquired, turning back to the stove, adding the chocolate to the milk.
"Um—" She paused for a moment, trying to figure out the most harmless way of telling him—trying to figure out if she wanted to tell him at all.
As if he'd read her mind (which he may very well have done), he spoke again. "You don't have to tell me if you don't want to," he told her, turning to look her in the eye. "It's just… This last case has been… rather odd on several levels, and I want to make sure you're okay."
Several seconds passed, wherein nothing much happened; he stared at her and she stared back, trying to examine his expression for the faintest trace of anything less than the earnestly affectionate concern currently dominating his features. She found none, and eventually relented.
"It was about the case," she informed him. "They—"
"Hang on," he interrupted. She looked at him oddly, slightly affronted, until she realised that he had picked up the saucepan. Neatly, he poured hot chocolate into her mug, then shifted and deposited the rest into his own. She noticed, absentmindedly, that he'd given her more than he had himself, and wondered what Lanie would have to say about that.
"Sorry," he apologised, when he had disposed of the saucepan. "Wouldn't want you to start talking about it without a ready source of serotonin at hand, would we?" And then he smiled at her, picking up his cup and circling to sit at the counter as well. He left a chair between them, but subtly angled his body towards her; she was gratified by his attempt to not make her feel trapped, but just this once she might have liked him to be a little closer.
She blinked, startled by the rogue thought.
"Right," she said. "Anyway." Beckett fumbled around for a bit, trying to find her train of thought again. "Well," she said, "it was about the case, except… I don't think he'd blown up my apartment. He started killing again, except it wasn't just one this time." She took a sip of the chocolate then, needing the raw heat of it to shock her out of the sick feeling the nightmare was still leaving in her chest. "There were… I forget how many. But when we found them, they were bolted to the ceiling."
His eyes widened. "Really? How?"
She couldn't hold back a grin at that. "This isn't the time to be playing writer, Castle," she teased him. "Besides, there was no way the ceiling could have held them all. It would have collapsed."
"Right." He leaned back in his chair, looking decidedly unaffected by his brief slipping into his author-mode, and she wondered for a sharp moment if it hadn't been calculated to put her more at her ease.
She decided she wouldn't put it past him, and a second later that she really didn't mind; whether intentional or no, it had gotten her to relax somewhat, and she managed to continue her tale for some time with tolerable equanimity. Well. Tolerable considering the subject matter; if a cold lump started to solidify between her lungs around halfway through the recitation, it wasn't his fault.
"And then?" he prompted her gently, and she was surprised to realise that she'd been quiet for some seconds. She thought for a moment before she managed to remember where she'd left off.
"The door closed," she said, brow furrowing a little bit as she tried to keep her voice level. Small words, she told herself. "And they just kept coming." She gestured vaguely with one hand. "I panicked, and then… I woke up."
He regarded her silently for a time. "I'm sorry," he eventually said.
"Yeah, well." She ran her eyes over the countertop, suddenly unwilling to look him in the eye after her confession. "The chocolate helps."
He brightened. "I'm glad," he said. "I used to make it for Alexis, before she stopped telling me when she had nightmares."
Kate smiled a bit. "Yeah," she said. "My parents did that too." She laughed, just a little, staring bashfully into her cup for a moment. "I actually remember one time when I faked a bad dream, just so they'd make me some."
He stared at her. "Beckett, I am shocked at you. Faking emotional turmoil to get your way?"
She shook her head happily at him, giggling. "Oh, yes," she said. "Because tricking your parents into giving you chocolate is a horrible thing that no child in their right mind would ever do."
"No," he agreed cheerfully. "You're a terrible person, Kate."
"I am. It's amazing no one's found out, really."
He raised his mug to his lips. "You trick them with your amazing mastery of emotional manipulation."
"Mm," she agreed.
There was companionable silence as they mutually sipped their cocoa.
"So I've told you about my nightmare," she said conversationally. "What was yours?"
He glanced over at her. "What—"
She raised an eyebrow at him, smirking just a little bit. "Really, Castle?" she inquired. "You just told me that you do this—" she nodded towards her half-empty cup—"for nightmares, and you couldn't have known I was having one at that specific time."
"I could've," he said. "If I was watching you sleep."
She nodded at that, taking his point. "Except you were only heating enough milk for one."
He thought about that for a moment. "Touche."
"Also, you're not that creepy."
Castle grinned at her. "Really?"
"You do realise that I'm locking the door from now on, right?"
He pouted playfully at her.
"Seriously, though." The sudden earnestness in her voice surprised them both. "You wanted to make sure I was alright, and… Well, I kind of… want to know the same."
His eyes softened at her words, and he nodded quietly. "'Kay."
She turned towards him, resting an elbow on the countertop as she waited for him to begin. He wasn't looking at her now; instead, he was staring at a nothing just past the edge of the counter, lips slightly parted as he worked out how to begin.
When he finally did speak, his voice was bleak. "I was too late."
She blinked at him. She didn't need to ask him what he'd been late for, and a little frisson of emotion trickled down her spine. He sounded so haunted… and it was for her sake.
She wasn't sure what to make of that.
"You had gone outside the bathroom," he continued, seeming almost hesitant, "to answer the phone." He swallowed, gaze still unfocussed, locked on something only he could see. "You answered just before the bomb blew."
Despite herself, she flinched. They had been so close to actually having that happen, too; if Castle had called just slightly later, if she had let her phone ring one more time before answering, if he had realised the killer was still alive a moment after he had… this would have been no dream, but a very painful reality.
"You screamed, just once… I went inside the building to see if you were…"
Overcome with a wave of sympathy, she reached out, her fingers curling around his. He looked at her, the faintest ghost of a smile flickering over his lips in thanks. He turned his hand over, pressing their palms together gently before he went on.
"There wasn't much left when I got there," he said shortly. A breath hissed between his teeth and something in the vicinity of her heart cracked a little. "You were right next to the bomb. If I hadn't called, maybe you would have still been alive…" He paused. "And I thought I'd never…"
He fell silent. After a time, she let go of her mug, moving her other hand to cover its twin, squeezing his fingers gently.
He thought he'd never… "What?" she prompted, as quietly as she could.
He seemed to come back to himself at that, gaze returning to her face and countenance brightening somewhat under forced levity. "I thought that I'd never get the chance to get you back for last Saturday," he told her.
She laughed, the tension between them rapidly unravelling and making her somewhat giddy. The last sentence may have been in jest, but the rest was painfully real; there was no way he could have tricked her again. But she played along, not wanting to disturb him, not wanting to reawaken the hardly newfound but still unsettling urge to comfort him when he was upset.
"I don't know why you need to get me back, Castle," she said. "It's not like I cheated."
"You did cheat!"
She looked at him, sceptically amused. "How? And before you say anything, 'feminine wiles' doesn't count."
"But," he retorted, "asking my mother what my gorram tells are—"
She couldn't let that pass. Also, she really didn't want to discuss the fact that she might have cornered Martha once and asked her how to beat the writer. "Really, Castle?" she interrupted instead, incredulously amused. "You're using Firefly slang now?"
His eyes flew to hers, startled. "You know it?"
She hesitated, blinking, and then felt herself blush a little. "I might have heard of it," she admitted.
His expression brightened. "When'd you start watching?"
She thought for a moment, the red tinge to her cheeks stubbornly refusing to abate. What to tell him?
Finding her imagination unfortunately sapped, she reluctantly decided to tell him the truth.
"I will admit, your little cosplaying stint last Halloween did kind of—"
"Make you maddeningly attracted to me and my space-cowboy counterpart?"
She was absolutely not answering that. "You just watch it because Mal looks like you, don't you?" she drawled instead, sipping her chocolate, trying to bring the conversation back under her control.
He grinned at her outright, utterly unrepentant. "Isn't it great?"
She rolled her eyes at him, shaking her head gently.
They continued talking until long after the remaining chocolate was stone-cold and the last remnants of their respective nightmares had faded into nonexistence. No notice was taken of the sun's reappearance or, indeed, any other indication of the passing of time; all of their attention was focussed on their conversation, on all the discussion of everything and nothing that passed between him as the seconds gradually ticked by.
Inevitably, they were interrupted by the appearance of a very sleepy Alexis. "Hey," she said, looking a little confused.
Kate started, not expecting either the intrusion or the source of it; however, the writer seemed to take it in stride. "Hey," he replied, leaning back in his chair and regarding his daughter with an air of mild befuddlement that was almost comically similar to hers.
Alexis smiled happily as she saw the detective. "Hi," she said, voice a little quieter, almost shy. Something Rick had said to her once edged through her head—the girl really did seem to look up to her, didn't she?
She wondered absently what that might mean before she answered. "Hello, Alexis," she answered, feeling a little off-balance.
"What are you guys doing up?" the teenager asked, making her way to the fridge.
"We've been talking," Castle supplied.
"Why?" asked Kate. "What time is it?"
Alexis pulled milk out of the appliance and put it on the counter before crossing to one of the cupboards. "Just after seven."
"Ah." She winced.
Castle looked at her. "Sorry," he apologised merrily, looking anything but. "I'll make you coffee."
"Well. Think it's going to take a bit more than that for me to be any use at all at work today, but thanks." She hadn't noticed how very tired she was while they were talking, but now that she realised how late she'd stayed up, she felt every lost hour of sleep acutely.
He grinned. "You're welcome," he said cheekily. Kate chuckled lightly at him; Alexis smiled as she poured cereal for herself.
As the writer made the promised coffee, she was slightly surprised to note that she was perfectly content. If it hadn't been for the fact that she was here at all, very firmly awake and missing several hours' sleep, she would have never known she'd been forcibly torn into awareness by the terrifying images her unconscious mind had conjured for her. Where normally it would still be holding on to the edges of her psyche, there was no emotional evidence to indicate that she had ever had a nightmare in the first place; though she couldn't pinpoint the time in which it happened, her conversation with Castle had completely erased the residual fear from her mind.
Whatever trouble he might also be, she decided, the writer was good for her.
That didn't stop her blaming him for her nearly falling asleep over her paperwork later that day, though.
And... yeah. That's it.
Be well, everyone!