Title: Ghost on the Canvas
Authors: Sandiane Carter and chezchuckles
Summary & Notes:
AU : Assuming all things are equal, the watch is for the life she saved; the ring is for the life she lost; but the bracelet is for the life she misses. SPOILERS for Boom! from Season Two.
Introducing a new member of the Beckett family, thanks to carolina17's prompting, in the midst of the events of Boom!. It took two of us to make it work. Find Sandiane Carter's author page here: /u/1378996/
"See the ghost on the canvas."
Her feet are a mess; she trails blood-prints down the hallway.
"Got it?" he asks, too quietly after his forced-humorous recounting of how he knocked the door down.
Kate steps on the outside of her foot but that stings as well; Castle holds her up, more than she would wish. She hisses in a breath when her left ankle rolls, but he's right there, catching her.
"Just. . .gotta take it slow," she murmurs back.
Under his coat, she shivers. Her teeth are chattering. But she's not cold.
"How'd you. . .figure it out?"
Castle still has that ravaged silence that makes Kate sick to her stomach. Or maybe it's the trickle of blood in a thin line down the inside of her right thigh instead, a ripple of agony every time she takes a step. Or maybe the slick heat at her temple and the burn of blood running into her left eye. Hard to know.
"Wrong hand," he says, then has to clear his throat and repeat it. "Wrong hand." His voice is raw.
"Ah." Still. How'd he notice that?
He answers her unasked question, mind reader that he is. "Sat up looking at the crime scene photos. It felt wrong."
"It felt done," she coughs, feels the scrape of air in her lungs. "Felt done to me."
He says nothing, but his arms are cords under her elbows, unforgiving. She knows it would be easier on them both if she just let him carry her out, but it would break all her rules. She has to walk out of here under her own steam; she has to reclaim her space, even if it's only just the centimeter above her skin's surface area.
"Kate-" he starts softly, regretfully.
"Why-why does this sound like-like the beginning of a confession?" She forces each word out with a tone of nonchalance. As if she has something to prove. "Huh, Castle?"
"I might have seen a little bit of you naked-" he rushes out.
"But now I'm seeing more-" he squeaks.
Kate stumbles, but realizes she hasn't properly buttoned his coat. A couple have worked free and the lapels gape apart. She draws a hand up to clutch at the sides, but then can't find her hand for a moment, lost in his sleeve.
A helplessness overtakes in a wave, like drowning, but she keeps her mouth shut to avoid swallowing water. Her lungs burn; her knees threaten to give way; she is standing on the ground floor of her apartment building, swaying, trying to find her own damn fingers-
Castle jerks the lapels closed, tightly, clutching a wad of his coat with one hand, carefully not looking at her, holding her up with an arm wrapped around her back, his hand under her elbow.
Kate has no feeling in her fingertips, but she takes over his post with a nod, as if relieving him of duty, reworking the top two buttons. Castle waits a moment to make sure she's really got it, and then he's propelling her forward again, resolutely.
She feels the blast of wind the moment the doors swing wide; emergency personnel are hustling through the lobby, converging on her and Castle. He hands her off to the paramedic, but he doesn't stray. He cringes and whines like a whipped puppy, but he heels.
The bus is heated, but her skin crawls at the dryness, the artificial warmth. Too much. She glances to Castle.
"I think there's a tshirt in the trunk of the Crown Vic-"
"I can get it," he offers immediately. She can see goose bumps rippling up and down his arms, bare where the sweater sleeves are pushed up. It looks like he ran out of his apartment without-
He probably did.
She would offer him his coat back, but it smells smoky, (is she ashamed of that?) and she's not sure she can unfist her hand from those lapels now.
"Have to get keys from Ryan, Esposito, if they-"
"They're already here."
Castle disappears; the medic is motioning for her to turn around, drop the coat, as he moves to shut the bus doors. She finds her body wracked in a bout of shivering she can't stop. She feels gritty without Castle's jacket, like her skin exposed to air makes it real again, makes her vulnerable. She lays down at the medic's gesture.
The paramedic keeps his mouth shut as he rotates her head on her neck, feels her scalp for damage, has her track his pen with her eyes. He gently probes her abdomen with one hand on top of the other, Castle's coat laid across her lap.
"No interntal damage," he says. "You can sit up."
She does, shivering, but the medic shakes his head when she goes to put Castle's coat back on. He swabs betadine over all the many cuts and scrapes lining her arms, adorning her neck, the side of her face, her thighs and knees, down her back. She's hunched over in the back of the bus with the paramedic playing connect the dots when Castle returns with a black, short-sleeved turtleneck and a pair of black pants.
His startled intake of breath lets her know both how bad it is and also how bad he has it.
The paramedic takes the clothes from him, pointedly shuts the doors again. Castle has somehow managed to remain inside the bus, but Kate shoots him a look over her shoulder and he meekly cracks open a door and jumps back down to the street.
The ambulance door closes gently, like a touch.
"Let me stitch these two places-"
The medic's touch on her inner thigh is cold because of the gloves; the local anesthetic quickly dulls everything else to a gentle tug. He makes a careful bandage and lets her put on the cotton dress pants.
It feels wrong without underwear; she wonders if Castle is thinking about that too. He found them in the car, she assumes, but can't remember leaving them there. Her hands shake as she buttons them.
The medic helps her with the black turtleneck. No bra. She feels wrong, all over. Her hair is sticky with wall plaster and glass, falling down in her eyes. The medic is trying to wash debris out of the cut on her arm; she hisses in pain.
"Will you-" Kate blinks and rubs at one eye with her free hand. "Let him back in?"
The guy bumps the door with a shoulder to keep the sterile field; Castle is standing right outside. His eyes lift to meet hers, something in his hands. He crawls into the back of the bus and sits down heavily beside her.
The disturbance causes her hair to fall further out of place. She lifts an arm to catch it, winces as something in her ribs burn.
"Pain?" the medic asks, lifting his eyes to look at her.
"Ever have broken ribs before?"
"Yeah. It's not those. Just bruised." She runs her fingers through the dissolving french braid that she'd put her hair in before her shower. . .so long ago now. It all falls apart at her touch.
Castle's fingers are on hers, warm and gentle. She drops her hand, lets him take out the rubberband.
"I learned for Alexis," he says softly.
Kate cuts her eyes to the medic, but he's still intent on cleaning out her forearm. It burns. And Castle's hands are light as he redoes the loose french braid in her hair.
She misses the warmth of his hands as soon as he's done. "Thanks."
"Her hair's longer than yours, so it's not perfect-"
She turns her head to look at him, and that was a mistake. His eyes are too tender, too intense. She needs to change the subject.
"So. . .not Ben Conrad?" she hazards.
"No." But he's not offering more. Something else then.
"Your coat-" she says, and nods toward it. Castle startles and lifts the dark cloth in his lap.
"Almost forgot. Jacket. NYPD. From Ryan."
She takes the blue windbreaker with her right hand, crossing her body to do so, bruised ribs rippling. The paramedic is now stitching her left arm slowly and methodically.
"Stay still," he says.
Castle slips his coat back on; she catches him putting his nose to the collar and inhaling deeply.
"Smells like smoke, sorry about that," she starts.
His eyes fly open, and at the same time, she realizes he wasn't smelling smoke. But her. Fresh from her shower. And a bomb.
The paramedic touches the inside of her elbow with a finger; his sign for be still. Kate tries; the thread tugs at her skin and she has to not look. Castle is looking.
"Thirteen stitches," he says softly, then raises his eyes to meet hers. "Lucky."
She huffs a laugh but it falls flat. Her knees want to bounce in the confined space; she wants to do, act, go. Her hands will tremble until she can get a handle on this, until she can investigate, make the noise quiet.
The paramedic is swabbing the last of his stitches with betadine solution; he is wrapping her forearm in gauze.
A police officer comes for Castle's statement; Kate's hand is jittery on top of her thigh; the paramedic rolls her bandage slowly.
And then she sees Jordan Shaw headed straight towards her.
She wants in on this. She needs this one.
Castle feels dizzy.
He's given his statement, as clear as he can when Kate's apartment keeps exploding at the back of his mind, when his silly writer's brain keeps providing him with scenarios that end much worse than tonight has.
The uniform – a young guy he's run into a couple of times at the precinct, but whose name he can't, for the life of him, seem to remember now – was very patient. He bore with Rick's dazed stretches of silence and didn't comment on his furious blinking when he explained the blast, the banged down door, Kate diving in the tub.
The tub. It makes him want to laugh, but not a good, honest laugh – more the hysterical, manic kind. He'd never have dared to write something like this into Nikki Heat (the tub, really? Can it get more cliché?) and the reality of it is unsettling; the knowledge that without that protective layer of cast iron, she might have –
Stop. He needs to stop. But the commotion around him, the blue and red flashes of the lights – they keep his gears turning, his mind jumping from one feeling to the other, from one image to the other, in a seemingly random sequence.
The flames bursting through the windows, Kate's bare back, the adrenaline pumping in his veins when he rushed up the stairs, the fierce denial – she can't be dead – the blood trickling down Kate's cheek that he had to talk himself out of wiping away. Goodbye, Nikki.
Jordan is standing in front of the ambulance where the medic was – is? – stitching Kate up, and he hesitates, itching to hear what she has to say, but also uncertain whether she wants him there. He's still a little impressed with Agent Shaw.
That's when he catches sight of Ryan and Esposito, and the guys gesture him over. Rick obeys readily; he could use some gallows humor right about now.
"What the hell, Castle?" Esposito growls, almost as if the writer's responsible for this.
They all know better, of course; they all know the real reason why he's snappy and nervous is because his boss was almost killed, and they thought the case was closed. And without Castle –
Rick explains as best as he can, Conrad and the gun in the left hand and the setup, but before he's had time to do more than answer their questions, Shaw and Beckett are walking towards them, their faces determined, their shoulders set in a similar way.
If talking to the guys has helped tune down the confusion in Castle's brain, seeing Kate quiets it for good. Her stride is as purposeful as ever, which triggers something like indignation inside him. She was leaning on him heavily, what? An hour ago? So he fully measures what it must cost her, to pull off this "I'm perfectly fine" vibe.
Of course, he knows better than to suggest she stay here while they go through her burned down apartment. Up they go again, Beckett not faltering once, he notices with a burn of pride to his chest. He seems unable to settle on a consistent emotion.
Esposito and Ryan are exchanging hushed comments next to him (cursing at their runaway serial killer, mostly) and Rick lets himself focus on that, even though his eyes don't stray from Kate's form.
The higher they get, the worse the smell. Most of the smoke has dissipated by now, but the walls in the corridor leading to Kate's place are blackened, and Castle's heart tightens when they walk into the wreck that was her living room.
Was it only last night that he was here, offering her a glass of wine? "I will have you know, Mr. Castle, that I sleep with a gun." Alas, a gun is no use against a bomb. He should buy her a bomb alarm. If that exists. He makes a mental note to find out. Not that it makes him feel any better; after all, he's half responsible for this.
Yes, even if he hadn't started the Heat series, Ben Conrad or whatever his name is would still be killing. But Kate's apartment wouldn't be ashes right now. And she wouldn't be looking around, her face an impassive mask, but her shoulders slightly sagged like she doesn't know where to start.
CSU is already sweeping the place, so Rick tries to make himself useful (or maybe he just can't bear to watch her stand in the middle of that mess) and he follows an FBI agent into the bedroom.
The lack of light – the wiring hasn't survived the explosion – seems rather fitting to the author. Darkness makes the disaster a little more bearable than lamps or daylight would.
There's a photo frame on the floor, completely ruined. Rick kneels down (his pants are ruined anyway) and he grabs the frame. He can make out Kate's face, young and smiling, and an arm thrown around her shoulder – her dad, maybe? He sighs, lets go of it. Nothing to be done there.
"Man, look at this," Esposito swears from a couple feet away. He's directing a flashlight into what must be Beckett's wardrobe, examining her clothes. The desolate look on his face would make Castle laugh under any other circumstances.
"Smoke damaged. I'm not sure she can use any of those again," the detective says tightly, radiating anger.
Suddenly it strikes Rick how wrong it is, to be standing in Beckett's room – the space she forbade him to enter only last night, her private, personal space, that has now five different people in it. He takes a step back, then another, and hears broken glass crunch under his feet.
The author reaches for his phone and turns his flashlight app on, crouching to get a better view.
Oh. Oh, no. With gentle fingers, he gathers the watch – Kate's father's watch, for the life she saved – noting the broken face, and the damage done by the fire to the watchband. His first instinct is to call to the dark-haired detective, but he stops in time.
If the sad spectacle of the broken watch is enough to break his heart, what will it do to her? And this is an old piece of jewelry, that she might not be able to have repaired immediately. She's going to have enough expenses, replacing clothes and valuable items; he won't burden her with this on top of the rest.
He'll give it back to her when the watch is fixed and as good as new. His heart lifts a little, and as he pockets Kate's possession and turns the flashlight off, he catches a sparkle of something among the blackened debris at his feet.
Castle squats down, feeling very much like an archeologist about to unearth an old and invaluable item. It's not quite a Mayan artifact, but he does believe the bracelet that he carefully extracts to be gold, beneath the layer of soot.
He checks the clasp, is absolutely delighted to find it working. This, he can give back to Kate now, and show her that she hasn't lost everything. Walking back into the corridor, Rick can't help being distracted when his gaze lands on a small bookcase.
Some of its contents are probably worth rescuing, right? The thing is, the spines of the books have all suffered from the blast, so identification is made a little difficult. Castle slides a book out, flips through the pages. Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie. He likes that one.
He puts it on the top of the bookcase, takes another book out, looking around to see what the others are up to. That's a mistake. There's the bathroom on his left, the bathroom with the providential tub that the writer vaguely thinks should be exhibited in a museum, and suddenly it's all much too real again.
The explosion and the fire, and Kate's mortality. He's so used to thinking of her as some sort of superhero, Badass Detective Beckett, who chases perps down the streets and always wins. But tonight, she came very close to losing. His stomach – thankfully empty – heaves, and he has to lean on the wall, fight for breath.
God, she could have died tonight. What's he doing here, in the corridor, where he can't see her? He needs to see her. He needs to see that she's all right.
Castle hastens back to the living room, a relieved sigh escaping his lips when he catches sight of Kate's dark hair. He wants to hug her, crush her against him until there's no space left, until they're one, or as close as they can come. But she's surrounded with CSU people and FBI agents, and she'd kill him, and –
He needs to get a grip on himself. From where he stands, he can see the hall is empty, and he makes his inconspicuous way towards it, aching for an out. The burned-down apartment is more than he can handle at the moment.
Rick controls his breathing as he steps outside, runs a tired hand down his face. He feels so helpless. At least the panic has started to recede, leaving only a bitter taste in his mouth. He's reminded of that time he lost Alexis in the mall; it's the only moment in his life that can compare to this. And even it falls short.
The book he took off her shelf is still in his hand, he realizes, surprised. Flipping through it, he doesn't have time to identify the novel: a piece of paper that must have been tucked between the pages now falls to the floor.
Rick bends to retrieve it, quickly sees his mistake. It's a postcard, not some random bookmark. A postcard from France.
Curiosity takes over, and he flips the card (a nice picture of the sunset on one of Paris's bridges) to peer at the text.
Dear Katie, it starts. Castle feels his interest shooting up. From what he's gathered, the only people Beckett allows to call her Katie are the ones who knew her before her mother's death. It's a woman's handwriting, and the letter is signed, Beth. Who the heck is Beth?
He skims over the first lines that ask how the detective's doing, recount what life in France is like, what working in a fancy hotel is like. It's only temporary, the mysterious woman writes, but the paycheck's worth it. She goes on to mention a certain "Antoine", who's "adorable" and "a real gentleman." Not like Dick. Remember Dick, Katie? God, you hated him so much. What did you call him? Brainless Muscle Guy?
Castle's brow furrows. Whoever Beth is, it sure sounds like the two of them are close. 'Were' close? He checks the date on the stamp. February 6th, 2010. That's fairly recent. He goes back to the text, scans to the end quickly.
He almost misses it. It's right there though, glaring at him from the last line.
I hope Dad is doing okay. Not worried about you, though: I know you're one tough cookie.
What the –
Rick stares, unable to help himself.
He wanted a distraction from Ben Conrad and the case, but this? This, he feels, is more than he bargained for.