A/N: I wasn't even going to write anything Countdown related, but in an attempt to get rid of this massive writer block I've got for Of Bars and Secrets, this is what I came up with. Hope you guys like it.
Special thanks to Beetlebug who came up with the title for me. Thanks a lot, girl!
Disclaimer: Castle is still not mine.
Into The Night
As soon as the elevator doors close, he makes a decision.
He wants her to be happy; even if it's not by his side. After everything she has been through, she deserves joy in her life and – as much as it hurts him – Josh seems to be doing just fine in that department. He couldn't bring himself to stay and watch her smile at her perfect boyfriend, not when he had been so close to spill out his feelings to her. The intensity of that day, how close they had come to fall into the dark embrace of death, made him realize that life is too short. But then Josh turned around the corner and was walking towards them when he decided he couldn't do that to her.
It wouldn't have been fair. Not after the last couple of days.
So he decided to bow out gracefully, dignity still intact. He wouldn't have been able to handle rejection from her right now. He made up an excuse that he was tired and needed to go home and turned around, not daring to look back. He couldn't. It hurt too much.
Once inside the elevator, he pulls out his phone and calls his daughter, letting her know everything was fine and that he is on his way to the Hamptons to meet them. He figured that spending some time away from the precinct, from New York, from her would do him good. Would do them both good.
The lines were starting to blur in their relationship, at least for him. He couldn't tell if the same was happening to her. At times, he felt like they were so in synch that the only thing that was missing from their relationship was the physical aspect. Back in the freezer, when they both were certain they were going to die, he had been so sure she was going to tell him she loved him. Even now, he is not sure what could have possibly happened if she hadn't passed out then. And when she had lost consciousness, he had lost all hope. They were going to die and he hadn't told her he loved her, that he would do anything for her.
That's why he is leaving now. He loves her and he will do anything to see her happy, even if it hurts him. The Hamptons seems like the perfect place to hide out and wallow in his misery. He can just tell her he needs to get away from the city because of everything that has happened (their near death experiences; not the fact that his heart feels like it is broken beyond repair) and that he will be back soon.
As he drives to his beach house, he tries to empty his mind of every thought pertaining the last couple of days. He can still feel the cold seeping into his bones, even if the heater in his car is maxed out. He can't shake this feeling of gloom and every time he closes his eyes he sees her in that slightly blue environment, her hopeless eyes begging him to tell her they are going to be okay.
He shakes his head, as if the action is going to banish the image from his mind. As soon as he tries to think of something else, another image appears before his eyes and she is looking at him, fear written all over her features, her hand clutching his so tightly that he thinks she might just break a couple of bones if she keeps that up. He didn't know what made him reach out and pull all the wires loose, but he thanks whatever higher power had possessed him to do it.
Because he can't imagine a world without Kate Beckett. Hell, he can't imagine his world without her.
His phone chimes and announces the arrival of a new text message.
He knows it's from her and he fights the urge to reply immediately. He can text her back when he gets there.
When he turns in the driveway next to his house by the beach, Alexis is waiting for him, bundled up against the cold wind that is blowing from the ocean. He steps out of the car and the cold temperature nearly takes his breath away and sets his mind reeling back to the freezer and his close encounter with death.
His daughter runs to him and throws herself into his waiting arms. He holds her tightly against his chest, sighing in relief that she is okay, that his mother is okay. New York is still intact and everyone is carrying on with their lives with no clue that they came so close to death that afternoon. The world didn't end.
It is only his world that is crumbling down.
He texts her back before going to bed. Doesn't give many details; just lets her know that he is okay and he will be out of town for a while. She doesn't text him back and he assumes that she is busy with Josh, letting Motorcycle Boy comfort her to help her forget about today. The image that his brain conjures up to go with that thought nearly makes him sick. He has never been a jealous man, but when it comes to Kate Beckett, he can't help himself.
A week later, he still hasn't heard from her. He figures it's for the best. He knows she is okay, otherwise Ryan, Esposito or Lanie would've called him. But he misses her and he doesn't like not being able to see her every day and making her smile.
He has been writing incessantly. Misery seems to be a great source of inspiration because the words are flowing like magic from the tips of his fingers onto the computer screen. He writes a third of the new Nikki Heat book during that week. It almost feels like he is torturing himself because thinking about Nikki is thinking about her and he realizes he can't free himself from her one way or another. It's like she's a permanent image in his brain and no matter how hard he tries, he can't bury that thought into the darkest corner of his mind.
He has been resorting to drinking a healthy dose of scotch on the rocks before bed to try and relax (okay, numb) his overworked mind. Not that it works, but he tries every night, anyway. He stays in bed for hours on end, staring at the ceiling. Only when it's close to dawn, he manages to take a short nap.
Things start to change in his tenth night away from her. He is alone that night; Alexis and Martha went back to the city a few days before, back to their normal lives. But he can't. He is too much of a coward and he can't even bare the thought of facing her and her happiness right now. It still hurts too much. He had honestly thought that they had a chance after the bomb threat. She had been so open, so candid with him that he had thought things were finally working in his favor.
He had never counted on her giving Josh another chance.
When his phone rings that night, he is startled out of his thoughts. Once again, he can't sleep so he is putting his insomnia to a productive use and is writing away in his laptop. At first he thinks it's Alexis calling to say goodnight, but then he remembers that she has already called and it's incredibly late. He looks at the time on his laptop and is surprised to find that it's close to 2am. Then he stares at his phone blankly for a moment before reaching out to grab it. When he sees her name flashing on the screen, he thinks about ignoring it. That idea is dismissed quickly, though, because she wouldn't call this late at night if it wasn't important.
Taking a deep breath, he presses the answer button.
"Hello?" he says quietly and hears her breath catch for a moment on the other side of the line.
"Hi." She breathes and silence falls between them for a second. "Did I wake you?"
"No, I was awake. Don't worry. Are you okay?" he asks, concerned, because he can tell there is something off about her tone, an edge to her voice.
"I…" she pauses and he can picture her biting on her lip in frustration. "You know what, never mind. I shouldn't have called."
"No, wait. Kate, what is it?" he stops her from hanging up on him and he has no clue why. Isn't he trying to get her off his mind? This is not helping.
"I just…" he hears her take a deep breath. "I can't sleep." She confesses and her voice is so low that if he hadn't been paying attention he would have missed it entirely.
"Me either." He admits and she lets out a sigh. "Can't Josh give you something to help you relax?" he asks and closes his eyes at an attempt to block any images from his mind.
"He is gone. To Haiti." She tells him with a resigned tone. "We broke up. He left about a week ago."
That's all he manages to say. His mind is working at the speed of light.
Josh is gone.
"I haven't been able to sleep well since everything happened. The freezer, the bomb…" she trails off and he wishes he was there to comfort her.
"Me either. Every time I close my eyes, it feels like I'm back in that freezer or…" He confesses and puts his laptop away, settling more comfortably in his bed.
"Or watching the timer on the bomb count down to zero." She finishes for him and sighs.
"Yeah." He whispers.
"When I woke up after they found us in the freezer, I thought I'd lost you." She whispers and he thinks he can hear emotion in her voice. "You weren't next to me and they said you were still unconscious. Scared the hell out of me. Don't ever do that to me again."
"Same goes for you, KB. It's only fair." He says lightly and although their conversation is serious, he is relieved when he hears her quiet chuckle.
"When are you coming back to the city?" she asks after a moment of silence.
"Why, do you miss me?" he teases her.
"Yes." Her honest answer knocks the air out of his lungs and he can't think of a response to that immediately. "So when are you coming back?" she insists and he lets out a sigh.
"Soon." He finally manages to get out. "For the record? I miss you too."
There is a lull in the conversation and he listens closely to her steady breathing. He thinks she has fallen asleep before she speaks again.
"Castle?" her voice is timid and he thinks that if he was there with her, he would gently kiss her forehead and hold her tight against his body.
"I still can't sleep." She says simply and before he can formulate a response to that, she interrupts his thoughts. "And when I do manage to take a nap, I have nightmares." She sounds almost embarrassed and he wishes more than ever that he was there so she wouldn't have to sleep alone.
"About that day?" he asks gently and he knows all too well what that feels like. He has been visiting his own personal hell whenever he manages to fall asleep.
"About you dying." Her voice breaks and he hears her taking a shaky breath. "When they pull us out of the freezer, you're dead. Or you're the one driving that van and I watch it explode." Her voice shakes so hard that he almost doesn't catch the last few words.
"Kate, I'm okay." He says soothingly. "We're both okay. It's over." He swallows hard, trying to reign in his own tears.
"I just…" he hears her take a deep breath and waits until she is ready to talk. "I don't want to lose you, Castle. I don't think I'd survive that."
"You're not going to lose me, I promise." He reassures her.
"Don't make promises you can't keep."
"I'm not leaving you. Remember how I said I always got your back? You can count on that. I care about you too much to walk away now."
"Promise?" her voice is almost childlike and he smiles at the contradiction of her thoughts.
"Cross my heart." He says and she sighs in relief.
"Okay." She says and lets out a yawn. "I'm so tired." She admits and he replies with a yawn of his own. "I should let you go."
"No, don't. Stay. Please?" he lies down and pulls the comforter close to his chin.
"Alright." They listen to each other breathing for a couple of minutes and he is content like that, knowing that she is okay. "I'm still so cold." She says after a while. "No matter how many blankets, sweaters, socks… I can feel it in my bones."
"I know. Me too"
"I wish you were here." She says quietly. "I don't want to be alone."
"I can go back to the city tomorrow morning. How's that?" the suggestion that he would go to her place implicit.
"I'd like that." She answers with a sigh that he interprets as happy. "Don't forget our breakfast." She says with a yawn and he chuckles sleepily.
"You got it, KB."
"Will you stay with me?" she asks shyly and he is not sure what she is referring to. It doesn't matter, though. He will stay with her in any way she wants.
"Always." He tells her and she sighs contently.
"Night, Castle." She says sleepily and he fights a yawn.
"Until tomorrow, Kate." He promises and listens to her breathing, until he is sure it has evened out and she has fallen asleep. Only then he allows himself to say what has been on his mind for months. "I love you." He whispers into the phone and closes his eyes, sleep finally creeping up on him.
"Love you too." He hears her mumble groggily and he is not sure if it really happened or if was just his imagination.
Whatever it was, it makes a smile appear on his lips and his heart lighter.
And he finally falls asleep.