Yeah, I know– it's yet another Countdown-related fic. Trust me, this was a bandwagon that I really didn't want to jump on, but in the end I didn't have much of a choice. Other writers out there will understand what I mean; sometimes when an idea gets into your head, the only way to get rid of it is to write it down. And once you've gone to the effort of writing it down, sharing it just seems to be the right thing to do.
Anyway, this is something I threw together pretty quickly (the quicker I get the damn idea out of my head, the quicker I can get back to doing things that I'm actually supposed to be doing, such as studying) but I think it turned out okay, so I'll just leave it to you guys to decide what you think of it.
A glass of water.
That had been the only thing on Alexis Castle's sleep-clouded mind as she slowly descended the stairs to the darkened kitchen sometime in the dim early hours of the morning. Covering a yawn, she carefully made her way through the dusky gloom mostly by touch and instinct, moving as silently as possible across the hardwood floor.
Tonight, the need for silence was even more vital than usual. After all her dad had been through over the past two days, he was finally getting some well-deserved sleep, and she knew she would do anything to avoid waking him; honestly, he needed all the rest he could get.
After coming home looking like the weight of the world still rested upon his shoulders, he'd pulled her into a long, tight hug– one she'd returned without question, considering the events of the past 48 hours– but then he'd let her go, disappearing wordlessly in to his office, where he'd simply sat and stared blankly at his computer for over an hour, his normally energetic form slumped motionless in his chair. For as long as they could withstand, she and Gram had held back and given him his space, before finally giving in to their concern and gently coaxing him into the kitchen for some food.
Although he'd sat obediently in the chair she directed and accepted the plate she'd handed him with a quiet word of thanks, he seemed to be barely able to swallow a single bite. He simply sat there with his eyes downcast, completely unconscious of the troubled looks she and Gram had been exchanging above his head.
Honestly, it had frightened her. He was her carefree, playful dad, the one who was always smiling and always ready to get up to mischief. But not right now.
She'd never seen him look so careworn, so… defeated. He seemed exhausted, not simply physically, but mentally, and emotionally.
Taking Gram aside, she'd suggested calling Kate; after all, no one else knew what he had truly experienced today like she had, because she'd lived through it all right there with him. And Alexis knew for certain that if anyone could help him, it would be Kate.
But Gram had hesitated, pursing her lips slightly for a moment before answering that what he needed – what they all really needed– was to simply get some rest.
There was something in her eyes, however – a shadow of some other knowledge or belief– that made it seem to Alexis that there was something her grandmother understood that she didn't.
Despite her confusion and curiosity, she had obediently followed Gram's instructions and gently suggested to her dad that they all head to bed, since it was already quite late and they should all be trying to get some rest. For several moments he didn't respond, his eyes still staring unseeingly at the table. Just as she'd begun to wonder if he'd even heard her at all, he'd finally given a small sigh, nodding slowly before getting up wearily and taking his plate to the sink.
Passing by her on the way to his room, he'd thanked her and pressed a gentle kiss to her head, then put his hand briefly on Gram's shoulder before disappearing through the doorway to the bedroom, the doors swinging slowly and silently shut behind him.
For a moment, she and Gram had simply watched him go, before both giving soft, matching sighs. Switching off all the lights, they ascended the stairs together in silence, both shadowed by a heavy sense of hopelessness. Bidding each other a quiet "Good night", they parted at the top of the stairs, closing themselves inside their respective rooms and trying vainly to convince themselves that everything would be better in the morning.
That had all been hours ago, but as Alexis padded lightly across the kitchen floor, she could still feel the same worry and sense of futility lingering at the back of her mind. As she reached the softly-humming fridge, she suppressed a sigh, comforting herself with the small fact that her dad was at least finally getting some rest.
Pulling the fridge door open, she blinked against the bright light, then reached for the plastic water jug. It was almost empty, but she was too tired to care much. It would be enough. Leaving the fridge open to light her way, she turned back toward the counter to set down the jug, but had barely taken a step when her eyes registered the large, dark shape looming in front of her.
A gasp tore from her throat, the jug almost slipping from her grasp as her whole body jolted with shock.
"Dad!" she whispered breathlessly, her heart pounding, "You scared the hell out of me!"
"I… I'm sorry, Sweetie," he said quietly, his voice sounding hoarse and so completely unlike him that she immediately tensed, suddenly swamped with a fresh surge of worry. Taking another step forward, she swiftly set the jug down on the counter, her hands still slightly unsteady from the after-effects of her fright. Then she moved straight to the light switch and flicked it on, before quickly turning back to face him.
And had to stifle another gasp. Something was very, very wrong. Her dad was sitting at the counter with his face buried in his hands, his whole body shuddering. For one brief, terrifying moment she thought he was actually crying– something she could simply not even imagine him being capable of– until he slowly lifted his head to meet her eyes, and with a slight flicker of relief she saw that his own eyes were dry, albeit alarmingly red and bloodshot.
"Dad, what is it?" she whispered urgently, moving around the counter to stand close beside him, placing her hand lightly upon his shoulder, her gaze focused intently upon him.
She could feel his entire body trembling beneath her palm, and felt her alarm begin to increase. He had dropped his gaze when she'd approached, and now kept his eyes down, focused on his hands, which were lying, clenched, on the counter in front of him.
"Dad?" she asked again, more gently this time, and he took a deep, ragged breath.
"I'm afraid to close my eyes," he admitted, his voice a rough, unsteady whisper. Alexis felt sudden tears sting her own eyes and blinked them away, squeezing his shoulder gently.
"It's okay to have nightmares, Dad," she told him softly, then added, "You nearly died more than once yesterday– anyone would have trouble sleeping after that. But you're okay. You don't need to be scared anymore. You're safe."
"You don't understand," he groaned quietly, clutching his head in his hands. "Every time I close my eyes, I see her die, Alexis. Over and over. Dying slowly of radiation poisoning, taking a bullet trying to protect me, freezing to death in my arms, being blown up into human mist by a dirty bomb… and no matter what happens, I always survive, but she dies right there in front of me. And every time, I'm powerless to stop it. There's nothing I can do. No matter how hard I try, I can't save her."
He shuddered more violently, then added in an uneven whisper, "Even when I wake up, it still feels so real. Too real."
His breath was coming slightly faster now, his entire body shaking. Not knowing what to do, Alexis simply gripped his shoulder more tightly and said nothing, allowing him to get it all out. For several moments there was silence between them, before he finally spoke again.
"I'm terrified, Alexis," he confessed in a whisper, so quietly she almost didn't hear it. For another long moment he was silent, then took a deep breath, seeming to be fighting for control.
"Logically…" he began, then paused, taking another steadying breath before continuing, "Logically, I know she's just fine, probably tucked up safe and sound with Josh. But it makes no goddamn difference. The fear just takes over everything, wrapping around my chest so tight I can barely breathe. I've been trying to handle it on my own, but no matter how hard I try to fight it, it just grips tighter still. And I can't even see her or hear her voice to convince myself that she's okay."
A single tear rolled silently down his cheek, leaving a moist track upon his skin. "I don't know how much more of this I can take. I need her to be okay. I need her, Alexis. But she doesn't need me."
Alexis felt tears burning at the back of her own eyes, her control slipping. This was all too much for her to handle. Sure, she'd often been referred to as the real parent in their relationship, but when it truly came down to it, her dad had always been her rock, her unshakeable pillar of support. But right now he was crumbling, and she knew couldn't help him on her own.
"Hold on, Dad," she said urgently, "I'm getting Gram."
Without waiting for his reply, she turned and took the stairs at a sprint, already calling out to Gram. Bursting into her room, she rushed a brief explanation, then begged her grandmother to go to him. Then she was on the move again, racing to her own room. There was only one thing she could do now to help him, something she should have followed her instincts and done hours ago.
Snatching her phone off the nightstand, she hurriedly searched through her contacts, hampered by her trembling fingers. Finally finding the right one, she punched a few buttons and held the phone to her ear, holding her breath.
Normally the idea of making such a call at this time of night would have been unthinkable, but she didn't care about politeness or propriety right now. She cared about her father. And if Kate truly cared about him too, she would want Alexis to make this call.
"Alexis?" Kate's voice was roughened by sleep, but she sounded instantly alert, and even a little alarmed. "What is it? Is Castle okay?"
Alexis swallowed the lump in her throat, blinking back the tears in her eyes as she forced herself to speak.
"Kate, please come," was all she could manage, before a sob rose up in her throat and she began to cry, the tears spilling over to flow swiftly down her cheeks.
"Alexis, listen to me," Kate said quickly, her voice firm but reassuring. "Please don't cry. I'll be there within two minutes. It's going to be okay, I promise."
"Okay," Alexis answered shakily, stubbornly forcing back the tears. "Just hurry."
Beckett had never been in such a slow-moving elevator in her life.
As the numbers gradually ticked up towards Castle's floor, she paced the lift like a caged lion, trying to control her agitation. She felt as though a heavy weight was pressing in upon her, crushing her heart and lungs. Alexis' phone call had terrified her, only confirming the unrelenting sense of fear that she'd been battling all night. Castle was not okay.
And she felt like she'd never be okay again. After Castle had made his sudden departure from the Precinct, a gnawing anxiety had slowly overcome her, until her every thought centred around him and how utterly wrong everything felt without him there.
Oblivious to her turmoil, Josh had taken her straight home, and had clearly intended on staying with her, until she'd sent him away with a distracted apology and a vague explanation of wanting to be alone. He hadn't liked nor understood it, but eventually he'd given in, leaving her all alone with her thoughts.
At first she'd believed she could deal with them on her own, but despite all her efforts her thoughts had only grown steadily more vivid and tormenting, until she'd simply grabbed her keys, gotten in her car, and started driving.
She was at Castle's apartment before she'd even consciously realized where she was going.
Knowing there was no way she could go in– how the hell would she justify showing up in the middle of the night and disturbing all of their sleep?– she simply switched off the engine and wrapped her jacket more closely around her, leaning back in her seat. The dread and worry she felt were still just as strong as ever, but just knowing that she was near Castle made it slightly easier to endure. Telling herself that she'd only stay for twenty minutes, she'd made herself as comfortable as possible, then concentrated on assuring herself that he was fine.
When Alexis' call had woken her hours later, she'd known immediately that something was wrong, and was out of the car before she'd even finished speaking.
Now, as the elevator slowly ground to a halt at Castle's floor, she found her heart racing with anxiety and fear, and sent up a silent prayer. Just let him be okay.
Slipping quickly through the still-opening elevator doors, she knocked sharply on the door to Castle's apartment, which opened immediately.
Looking uncharacteristically grave, Martha beckoned her in, softly closing the door behind her.
Immediately Beckett's eyes fixed upon the broad-shouldered figure sitting slumped at the counter, head bowed. Her heart suddenly in her throat, she swiftly crossed the floor towards him, tears burning the back of her eyes as she saw that he was trembling violently.
Pausing a couple of feet from him, Beckett took a deep breath.
"Castle?" was all she could say.
He jolted suddenly, his head snapping around to look directly at her, his eyes locking onto hers. And then instantly he was on his feet, crossing the space between them in two swift strides.
His arms wrapped tightly around her, enveloping her in a fierce hug. Returning the embrace, she clung to him just as desperately, burying her face in his shoulder.
"You're okay," he said hoarsely, his voice breathless with pure relief.
"Yeah," she confirmed unsteadily, her voice a ragged whisper. "You?"
He drew in a deep, shuddering breath, his face pressed against her hair. "I am now."
Neither of them noticed as Martha and Alexis exchanged a swift, relieved glance, then silently retreated back up the stairs, leaving the two of them alone.
Blinking back the tears that were filling her eyes, Beckett pressed her face closer into his shoulder as she clung to him even more tightly, their bodies trembling together from emotional strain and relief.
He was okay. Slowly, the sharp pain in her chest lessened, and all the fear and agitation and dread that had been choking her gradually ebbed away, leaving her able to breathe freely for the first time in hours.
Her throat tightened again slightly as she remembered that moment just hours ago; those elevator doors slowly and uncompromisingly cutting them off from one another, sliding shut with such an ominous sense of finality that it had hit her like a physical blow.
As if sensing her need– or reacting to a need of his own– Castle tightened his grip ever so slightly, holding her so close that she could feel his heart beating against her chest, its slightly erratic rhythm synchronizing with her own. His arms were so comfortingly warm and strong around her, and gradually Beckett felt herself calming, surrounded by his soothing, protective embrace.
Eventually, as the trembling slowly subsided and their combined heartbeat finally settled into a steadier rhythm, Castle took a deep, shuddering breath and then slowly let it out, the last of the tension fading from his body.
For several seconds they remained silent and still, until Castle shifted his head just slightly, putting his lips closer to her ear.
"I'm sorry," he whispered, the faintest trace of a quaver in his voice.
"Why?" Beckett frowned, not understanding.
"Alexis shouldn't have called," he said quietly, sounding almost ashamed. "I was just… well, I never meant for her to disturb you like that."
"Castle, you're my partner," Beckett responded firmly, her voice slightly muffled against his shoulder. "I'll always come when you need me. No matter what."
She paused for a moment, then sighed quietly. "But tonight, I think I needed you even more."
For a few moments they were silent, simply drawing comfort from each others' embrace. Then Castle swallowed almost inaudibly before taking a deep, steadying breath.
"Could you… would you stay?" he asked slowly, his tone slightly pleading. "Please. You can take my bed, I'll have the couch. Just for tonight. I just… it would make it easier, knowing that you were nearby, and safe."
"Castle, I'm not going to make you sleep on your own couch."
"I understand. You need to go. You've got…" he trailed off, taking a deep breath before continuing in a low voice, "…things… waiting for you at home. I'm sorry, it was a stupid suggestion."
He'd fought to keep his voice level, but Beckett had heard the hurt and dejection beneath his tone. Her heart squeezed painfully, and she gripped him slightly tighter as she responded, her voice quiet as she corrected his misunderstanding.
"The only things waiting for me at home are nightmares, Castle. Please, I want to stay."
Castle squeezed her gently, his lips pressing softly against her hair. "Stay as long as you want."
She could hear the utter honesty in his words; she couldn't doubt for a second that he meant it. Smiling a little, she answered, "Okay. But I'll take the couch. It's your house."
"Exactly. My house, my rules," Castle responded, sounding almost like his normal self. "You're taking the bed."
With that, he released her, ignoring her half-formed protest as he gently but firmly tugged her arms until they surrendered their hold around his back. Then, just as gently, he turned her away from him, placing his warm hands on her shoulders as he shepherded her towards the bedroom.
Although she already missed the warmth and comfort of his embrace, she had to be honest that his presence so close behind her was oddly reassuring. It reminded her of all those times they'd visited crime scenes and met suspects together, when he'd instinctively take up position just behind her, like a large, protective shadow. With him there, she had always felt safe, knowing he always had her back.
Now, reaching the doorway to his bedroom, she put a hand against the frame to halt them, looking over her shoulder at him.
"Seriously, Castle. Why can't I just…" she began, but he cut her off, releasing her shoulders to lean against the other side of the doorframe.
"I am not making you sleep on my couch, Kate. Now go on," he said, tilting his head toward the bedroom.
Looking up at him, Beckett opened her mouth, about to offer to share the bed. But then she closed it immediately, realizing straight away that that was most definitely a bad idea.
It was not that she didn't trust Castle; she knew he would be the perfect gentleman, no matter how strong the temptation. No, it was herself that she didn't trust. Her self-control and force of will were strong, but Castle was – always had been– her weak spot. And the idea of sharing his bed, in the privacy of his room, with both of them already in such a vulnerable state– it was more than just a bad idea. It was a recipe for disaster.
She knew exactly what the problem was. She was far too attracted to him. A few years ago, she would fantasize about him occasionally, back when he was simply a ruggedly handsome picture on the back cover of a well-loved book. Even during the Tisdale case she'd been completely unembarrassed to let her mind linger upon him, playing out various creative scenarios of just what being one of his conquests would entail, because she'd known already that she would never allow any of the fantasies to come true.
But then he'd gone and forced himself into her life, and so she'd forced him out of her head.
As he'd made the gradual, and still somewhat unbelievable, transition from her irritating, ever-present shadow to her best friend and partner, she'd gotten even better at controlling her thoughts, until it was only rarely– when her defences were at their lowest– that some of the old thoughts and desires managed to slip through.
Admitting it to herself now, she knew she was damn tired of holding herself back. But now was most definitely not the right time; after all, she was with Josh. Although, to be honest, not for much longer.
After the freezer, she'd thought for a moment that maybe, just maybe, they had a chance. But even then there'd been a nagging feeling lingering at the back of her mind, one that grew steadily stronger and harder to ignore with each passing hour.
And then, as the timer had counted down into those final seconds, she had once again come face to face with certain death. But this time was different. As the last few seconds ticked down, images had streaked through her brain, just like in stories of near-death experiences when survivors recount seeing their life pass before their eyes.
But, in her case, it was not her entire life that flashed before her eyes; instead, in her mind she saw dozens of images from the past two years, each focused on a single, shared subject.
In those final seconds, her mind had relived her every memory of the man she loved.
The man standing before her, gripping her hand hard as they both prepared to die.
She'd known then what she should have known all along; she and Josh had never had a chance. Not when her heart already belonged so completely to someone else.
Which was exactly why she couldn't share a bed with Castle tonight. Her feelings for him already caused her to feel like she was cheating on Josh in an emotional sense; she simply couldn't bear to do it in the physical sense as well. Such a betrayal would be cruel to them all.
She'd been silent for only a few seconds, all the thoughts racing swiftly through her mind in a turbulent, confusing stream. Then she blinked, and nodded slowly. "Fine."
"Good," Castle responded approvingly, seemingly having no idea of the direction her thoughts had taken. "Now go get some sleep."
She nodded and took a step through the doorway, but his voice stopped her.
"Kate… I'm glad you're here."
Looking up to meet his eyes, she saw that they were finally regaining their old warmth, no longer hollow and haunted like they had been. Giving him a small smile, she allowed herself one moment of weakness, lifting her fingers to gently brush against his cheek.
"So am I."
Then, before her control had a chance to waver, she turned away, stepping further into the room and putting some distance between them. A moment later she heard the quiet click of the doors closing behind her, and breathed a soft sigh that was part disappointment, part relief.
She was still wide awake over an hour later, lying curled up in the giant bed that smelt so enticingly of Castle. She'd tried over and over to force herself to sleep, but rest still remained elusive. Earlier, pure exhaustion had enabled her to experience a few short hours of fitful sleep, but now that her exhaustion had eased, sleep was not forthcoming.
Despite the safe, comfortable surroundings and the reassuring knowledge of Castle's presence so nearby, haunting images still flitted behind her closed eyelids, making falling asleep a near impossibility. Pulling the spare pillow closer to her chest, she buried her face in the soft fabric, inhaling deeply. Almost immediately she felt some of the tension in her muscles ease just slightly, and she breathed in again, distracting herself with thoughts of Castle.
Just as she was beginning to relax, she heard a sound that caused a sharp stab of fear in her chest, her body bolting upright in the bed.
"Kate!" Castle cried out once more, his voice heavy with distress. Instantly she was on her feet, fear and alarm constricting her lungs until she could barely breathe. Within seconds she was out of the bedroom, moving swiftly and silently, her eyes sweeping the room for Castle and any possible danger.
Seeing that he was still on the couch– and seemingly unharmed– she felt the knot of fear in her chest lessen slightly, and breathed out a small, shaky sigh of relief. Crossing over to him, she crouched beside his head, seeing that his eyes were closed, his expression troubled.
"Castle?" she whispered quietly, reaching out to brush her fingers lightly against his creased brow.
His frown deepened, his breathing growing more unsteady. "Kate," he groaned softly, and she reflexively pulled her hand back, holding her breath. Studying his face closely, she saw the rapid movement of his eyes beneath the closed lids and exhaled sharply, realizing he was sound asleep. Before she could do anything to soothe him, however, he drew in a sudden, jagged breath, writhing against the couch.
"Kate, no, please! Stay with me!" he begged suddenly, his voice laced with panic. "Please, Kate! I can't lose you."
He shuddered, breathing unevenly, as if on the verge of tears. "Kate, I love you… Please, no, no! Don't leave me! Kate… don't leave me…"
Tears were streaming silently down Beckett's cheeks, but she barely noticed, focusing only upon the man before her. The man who was just as broken as she was, the man who loved and needed her as much as she did him. Stroking his cheek gently, she leaned in close, brushing her lips just lightly against his.
"I'm not leaving you, Castle," she whispered, "I promise."
His breathing eased just slightly, his troubled expression slowly fading. Carefully she lifted the blanket that covered him, then slipped underneath, settling in beside him on the wide couch and shifting slightly so that her back pressed against his chest.
Reaching back, she gently grasped his arm and drew it around her, her breath catching in her throat as his body responded, his arm tightening around her waist and bringing her still closer, his face burying into her hair. Resting her hand over his, she took a deep, slow breath, feeling his chest expand against her back as he did the same.
"I promise, Castle," she said again, her voice low and uneven. "I'm staying right here."
Closing her eyes, she snuggled even closer, feeling at peace for the first time in a very, very long time.
As she slowly slipped into sleep, one last word made it through her lips, a soft whisper that came directly from her heart.
Well, that was it. I'm amused by the fact that it was originally so angsty but by the end was just a massive pile of fluff haha. How did that happen? Anyway, I know it may have gotten a little corny in places, but oh well... I hope you enjoyed it anyway, and if you did, I'd love to hear from you :)
As always, thanks heaps for reading!