Author's Note: This idea came to me out of nowhere. I almost didn't write it, but it seriously would not leave me alone. It started as a one shot, but I soon found that I'd reached five thousand words and wasn't done. So I split it into two chapters, the second of which is very nearly done. Can I just say that I really love this one? It means a lot to me, and I hope that you all enjoy reading it as much as I've enjoyed writing it. Please take a moment to let me know what you thought!
Disclaimer: Not mine. Just borrowing them for a little play date every now and then.
Spoilers: None, although it is (loosely) set sometime in Season 4.
There was something almost therapeutic about the sight of a nearly blank canvas.
Kate rolled her shoulders a few times, and already she could feel the tension draining away. She rocked back on her heels and wiggled her bare toes in the air before dropping her feet back down, relishing the scratchy smooth feel of the paper beneath her. This was exactly what she needed to forget about the trials of the week; this was exactly what she needed to decompress and get away from all of her problems for a little while. She needed this release; besides, the world with all of its terrors and injustices would still be there in a few hours. For now, she just wanted to focus on the waiting canvas.
She reached a hand under the thick plastic sheeting that rested protectively over her computer and checked to make sure it was still on the playlist she'd chosen before hitting play. The first strains of music billowed out of the speakers and swelled around the room, and for the first time that day Kate smiled.
She took up a handful of brightly colored darts, the fluorescent lighting bouncing off their metal tips in little prisms of light. She set her feet apart, poised the dart in her hand, and then tossed it in a wide arc at the wall across from her.
The bright blue balloon gave an audible pop as the dart pierced it, and a cascade of red paint tumbled down the white expanse of canvas. She tossed another dart and watched as it torpedoed a yellow balloon, this time releasing a fall of burnt orange paint.
Kate was grinning now, alone with her paints and her canvas and her music.
Lost in the world she had created for herself, she didn't have to think about the current disaster that was her life. She didn't have to think about her still frosty relationship with Lanie, or the eggshells she felt like she was always walking on around Castle. She didn't have to think about the fact that there was still someone out there who had tried to kill her, or that Castle had tried to save her from that bullet. She didn't have to think about Roy's duplicity or his death; she didn't have to think about her lie to Castle, or the heartbroken way he'd pleaded with her to stay with him.
In here, none of that mattered. In here, she was free to just let go of reality – even if only for a little while. So she lost herself in the act of throwing darts at the brightly colored balloons on the wall across from her, enjoying the way the paint fell in rivulets down the quickly filling canvas. Every few minutes she'd walk over to the wall and retrieve her darts, relishing the feel of the paint squishing between her toes as she padded back and forth. She was careful to vary her path there and back, deviating as much and as often as she could; she even walked in circles once or twice, just to change it up.
By the time the last balloon was speared, Kate was feeling lighter at heart than she had in days. The smile had not left her face, and when she raised a hand to brush a few stray strands of hair out of her eyes she could feel from the warmth in her face that she was flushed. Still barefoot, she traipsed down the hall and into the bathroom to run her darts under warm water, washing away the remnants of paint that would otherwise stay hidden in the folds of the little plastic fins.
Clean up took a little less than an hour; just shy of four thirty found her standing in the middle of a once again clean room, all traces of paint and balloons completely wiped away. Against the wall, taught and drying in their plain wooden frames, Kate now had two new paintings to add to her collection.
Satisfied that everything was once again neat and orderly, Kate closed her laptop and fished her cell phone out of her jacket pocket to turn it on. Back to the bathroom she went, cell phone still in hand, so that she could wash away the paint that still clung to the bottoms of her feet.
She was sitting on the edge of the tub, scrubbing away at her feet with a bar of soap when the sharp trilling of her phone startled her. She rinsed the soap off one hand, dried it hastily on a towel and snatched her phone all in one quick swipe.
"Beckett," She answered breezily, cradling the phone between her ear and shoulder
"Are you in the shower?"
"Why would I answer the phone if I was in the shower?" She retorted, rolling her eyes at the hopeful way he'd asked
"Always so logical," Castle answered. Then, "You disappeared on us."
"Yeah, I was sick of doing paperwork," She answered evasively, "Did we get a case?"
"No. Apparently even the murderers have decided to take a weekend off."
"Don't say that too loud or you'll jinx us," She chided, grinning even though he couldn't see her
"Everything okay, Kate?" He queried, and his voice had taken on that tone of intimate concern that it sometimes did now
"I'm fine, Castle," She answered automatically. Then, because she knew how much he hated that answer, "Just needed to get away for awhile."
"Have you talked to Lanie?" He asked after a long pause
Kate sighed and turned off the warm water, swinging her legs over the other side of the tub so that she could dry her feet.
There it was, the ridiculously large elephant in the room that everyone kept trying to step around. The problem wasn't that she hadn't talked to Lanie: the problem was that she had gone to talk to her, and what had started out as a nice conversation had ended … badly. Lanie was still shaken from everything that had happened, but they could have dealt with that; the thing the ME couldn't seem to get past, however, was the fact that Kate had not only left her hanging for three months after the shooting, she'd also waited until she'd been back to work a few days before going to see her. In fact, her friend had only learned that she had returned to duty through and offhanded remark Ryan had made at a crime scene.
Kate hadn't been ignoring her friend, any more than she had been intentionally ignoring Castle. She'd just had some things to work through is all, and she didn't think she could do it without gaining a little distance from her life. She'd had every intention of getting a hold of Lanie right after she talked to Castle, only … she'd been too busy diving headfirst into her mother's case again.
"I called a few hours ago, but she didn't answer," Kate finally answered
"Be patient; she won't be mad forever."
"I know," She agreed, but she sounded a little dejected even to her own ears. Then, "You headed home for the night?"
"Just about. Alexis asked me to pick up dinner on my way home."
"Ah. Well have a good weekend, Castle. I'll see you on Monday."
"Hey, Kate?" He said before she could hang up
"Call if you need anything?"
He could hear the smile in her voice as she replied, "Night, Castle."
Kate tried Lanie's cell again on the drive home, but it dumped to voicemail after just a few rings. She debated on whether or not to leave a message; when the beep sounded on the other line she said, "Lanie, it's me. Call me, please." She knew better than to expect a return call, but at least her friend would know that she was making an effort.
By the time she got home, Kate's head was spinning again. Without the option of painting to relax her, Kate defaulted to her next act of comfort: a hot bath and a book.
She lit several candles as the water filled her beloved claw foot tub. She moved to her bookcase, perusing the titles that stared back at her and trying to decide what she was in the mood for. In the end she found herself reaching for her copy of Heat Rises; she'd already read it once, but she didn't care. She flipped it open to the dedication and felt her heart swell with both love and pain as her eyes roved over the words again:
To Captain Roy Montgomery, NYPD
He made a stand and taught me all I need to know
About bravery and character.
Kate took a deep breath and let the words sink in again, let the memories of all they had been through in the last few months wash over her all over again. She had doubted herself moments ago when she'd pulled the book from her shelf, afraid that rereading it would only make her feel worse, but suddenly she knew that it was the only thing she was in the mood to read.
She retreated to the bathroom once more, stripping out of her clothes and leaving them in a heap in the middle of the floor. She slid under the still steaming water with an audible sigh, rolling her shoulders as the warmth worked its way into her body. This was the perfect end to her day: a hot bath, a good book, and then a night of good solid sleep.
Tomorrow was a new day, she reminded herself.
Kate finished reading Heat Rises for the second time the next morning over a cup of freshly brewed coffee. The ending was still as heavy as it had been the first time, leaving her with all sorts of thoughts about how Castle had handled her stint in the hospital – especially after she'd basically kicked him out.
She came to the Acknowledgements page and almost closed the book, but on a whim decided to read through them. She couldn't remember if she'd read them the first time around – she usually made it a habit to read every page of the Nikki Heat novels – but she figured that a once over couldn't hurt.
She was about halfway down the page when she came to her own name, staring innocently up at her off the page. She didn't remember seeing that the first time around … did she? Then again, she'd had a lot on her mind the last time she'd read Castle's latest book. Intrigued, she read:
Detective Kate Beckett has shown me the ropes of homicide investigation, not to mention how to make sense of all the songs.
Just like that, Kate was finding it hard to breathe all of a sudden. Her thoughts flew backward in time, to a night that felt like eons ago when she'd stood on the other side of the door to Castle's loft. He'd been wearing that silly steampunk outfit when he'd opened the door, and par for their interactions he'd skipped completely over a greeting and asked instead, "How do you know when you're in love?" To which she'd answered, "All the songs make sense", and then breezed past him into the loft.
All the songs make sense …
… Not to mention how to make sense of all the songs …
I love you, Kate.
She worried suddenly that her heart was going to leap out of her chest right that instant and go skittering across the floor it was fluttering so wildly.
Twice now Richard Castle had told her he loved her: once, with those three little words whispered for her ears alone; and once, in a place that anyone in the world could see but would not, because he'd said it in a language only she would understand.
For all the things that Castle had shared with her, Kate suddenly felt as though she had not met him in kind. While it was true that she had revealed herself to him more than to anyone else in the last ten years, her offerings looked pale in the brilliant light that was cast by his own. She knew that he loved her, that he wanted to be with her and to have her all to himself, but had she ever given him a reason to believe that she wanted the same? She had promised herself that she would close her mother's case before she dove into a relationship with him, and she stood by that promise: she had meant it all those years ago when she'd said that she was a one and done kind of girl.
Richard Castle was her one and done, and she could not let herself ruin that by going at their relationship like she had all the others, with one foot out the door. No, she needed to be whole and at peace when she gave herself over to him, because she had absolutely no intention of coming back from them. So she would wait; she would not tell him that not only did she remember his confession of love, but that she was willingly keeping them apart until she could put her past behind her. He would probably understand her reasoning, she knew, if she took the time to explain it to him, but that did not mean that he wouldn't be hurt by it. He would not understand why she couldn't allow herself to say it back; he would not understand that if she told him she loved him she simply would not be able to keep herself from giving herself over to him. She would split herself between her crusade and her love of him, and eventually the pull of opposites that she would have created would destroy them. Kate knew that: it was one of the bigger epiphanies she had reached during those two months in her father's cabin. She knew it, yes, but she also knew that she could never adequately explain it to the man who loved her more than perhaps anyone else ever had. She would hurt him, and she simply couldn't abide that: he had suffered enough by her hand.
She was protecting him the only way she knew how: by pretending.
Pretending that she had not heard him, however, did not mean that she couldn't give back. Pretending did not mean that she could not help him chisel away at that wall, piece by tiny piece, so that he had somewhere to start. She had told him that wall was there, and he had promised that they would figure it out and that it wouldn't always be there; she had never said she wouldn't help him break it down.
After all, she didn't expect him to do all of the work by himself.
Kate had pressed the speed dial on her cell phone and was holding it to her ear without consciously making the decision to do so. She listened as it rang on the other end, hoping against hope that it wouldn't kick her to voicemail.
"Good morning, Kate," Castle answered cheerfully
"Well someone woke up on the right side of the bed today," She answered by way of greeting, smiling into her coffee cup
"You sound rather chipper yourself," He fired back
"Do I? Good. Listen … do you have any big plans today?" She asked, hoping she didn't sound as nervous as she felt
"None so far," He answered easily, "Did a body drop?"
"Actually, there's something I wanted to show you," She said enigmatically
"What, like a surprise? I love surprises!"
Kate actually laughed at that. "You sound like such a kid, Castle," She told him, but it was not a reproach.
"I will take that as a compliment. So what is this thing you want to show me?"
"Well I'm not going to tell you, that would just ruin the surprise. How about you meet me in, say, an hour and a half?"
"Deal. Meet you where?"
She gave him time to retrieve a pen and then rattled off the address easily. He read it back to her when he was done, and just before they hung up Kate remembered to warn him about the dress code.
"Oh, and Castle?"
"You might want to bring a change of clothes – preferably stuff you're not really attached to. An old t-shirt and jeans would be fine."
"How deliciously cryptic!"
She was laughing when they hung up.
Castle double checked the address he'd written down against the gleaming golden numbers above the doorway. He was in the right place, but the building itself was a surprise: it was an old fire station. The exterior was red brick, clean and in good repair, and he couldn't resist smiling at the façade: it looked as if it were straight out of an old movie.
The large red door was standing open when he approached, and he could hear music floating toward him through it. He hesitated a moment, unsure if he was supposed to just walk in or not, so he settled for sticking his head in the door.
"Hello?" He called
"In here, Castle," Kate called back
With a growing sense of anticipation, Castle stepped through the door and glanced around in search of his partner.
He didn't search long, however: to his right the vehicle bay stood open and empty, as if waiting for the return of the fire trucks that had once been housed within. In the middle of the empty bay, her back turned to him, Kate stood barefoot in the big empty area; she was fiddling with something he couldn't see, but he could make out the distinct rustlings of plastic sheeting.
"What is this place?" He asked, glancing at his surroundings in wonder
"My secret lair," She answered, only half joking
She turned to look at him, and Castle found that he couldn't resist a lopsided grin. She looked both casual and effortlessly beautiful in a pair of faded old blue jeans, torn at one knee and a plain black t-shirt. Her hair was pulled over one shoulder in a haphazard braid, green eyes bright and expressive as they watched him take it all in.
"Okay, Wonder Woman, is this the surprise you wanted to show me? Your 'bat cave', as it were?"
"I'll give you points for keeping it in the D.C. universe, Castle, but 'Wonder Woman' and 'Bat Cave' in the same sentence?"
"What's this? Kate Beckett, a fan of comic books?"
"I happen to love Wonder Woman, thank you very much," She retorted, smiling, "But to answer your question, no. This isn't the surprise. Did you bring a change of clothes?"
He held up the bag that he'd slung over one shoulder, but his attention was no longer on her. He'd been taking in the vehicle bay during their banter, and it had occurred to him that there was something strange about the wall across from them. Instead of the smooth white expanse of the walls surrounding it, this one looked almost … textured. Not completely unheard of, he knew, but it was enough of an anomaly to catch his attention.
"Bathroom's down the hall," Kate said, gesturing behind him, "Go change. I'll wait."
He refrained from asking questions, although he had a nice store of them just burning to be asked; she obviously had a plan in mind, and he didn't want to steal her thunder. Kate only let him peek over that wall of hers every once in awhile, and usually in small doses, so he had long ago learned to take whatever she chose to give him.
"Castle?" She called before he'd gone too far
"Don't bother with socks and shoes."
His confusion must have shown on his face then, because Kate's grin turned into a throaty laugh and she turned back to whatever she had been doing before he'd interrupted her.
When he reemerged from the bathroom a few minutes later, the music had changed. The relaxed beat had changed into something with a quicker, lighter tempo and Castle found himself unexpectedly excited. This was not what he'd been expecting when she'd called him earlier.
"Alright, dress code complied with," He told her happily as he reentered the bay
"Great. Now grab those balloons over there and come help me."
"Balloons?" He repeated
Kate was reaching up to attach a balloon to the far wall when he came to stand next to her, box of balloons in hand. She had made steady progress in the little time it had taken him to change; he set the box between them and reached for a balloon, laughing at the way it unexpectedly squished in his hand.
"They're full of paint!" He exclaimed in delight
Kate said nothing, just grinned at him and continued to affix them to the wall. He set out to help her and quickly realized that the texture he had been seeing was not the wall itself, but a great blank expanse of canvas set against the wall. Between the two of them, they had the remainder of balloons hanging against the canvas in record time; Kate grabbed the box and they padded back to what Castle now realized was a laptop computer, safely encased in a plastic housing.
"Here, hold this," Kate said then, holding out one end of a giant roll of paper
He took it and watched as she backpedaled across the floor toward the wall, the giant sheet of thick white paper unrolling between them as she did so. When she had reached the wall, she set her end down and placed a heavy paperweight in each corner, then motioned for him to do the same. When she was satisfied that the paper was held firmly in place and flush against the bottom of the wall, she made her way back to him.
"Ready to create a masterpiece, Mr. Castle?" She asked playfully, holding out a hand full of darts
"Absolutely, Ms. Beckett."
She had chosen an array of wild and bright colors this time, and as her dart pierced the first balloon a ribbon of neon pink split the air. Next to her, Castle's dart smashed into one of the balloons at the top and released a fountain of emerald green. His easy laughter bounced around the empty vehicle bay and took root in her heart, bringing an answering laugh from her.
The air was full of laughter and darts and music then, the mixture of easy companionship and innocent joy doing wonders for Kate's state of mind. For the first time in a long time, she was more of the woman she'd been before the loss of her mother had erected that stupid wall: she was young and carefree and alive and it was such a wonderful feeling.
"Gimme your darts!" Castle said then, grinning
"What? No! You have to go get yours from the wall!" She retorted
She tossed her last one just before he could reach for it, grinning in the face of his mock pout. She started across the floor, Castle close behind her; he stopped as they came to the puddles of paint, looking as though he were trying to find a way around them. Grinning slyly, Kate pushed him straight into the middle of one. Just as he was turning to glare at her she hopped the last few inches and landed square in the midst of another puddle. A spray of paint leapt off the paper and splattered their pants.
"C'mon, Castle, grab your darts!"
Castle watched in childlike delight as their trek back left a trail of painted footprints in their wake; Kate wandered back in a lazy arc and Castle took her cue, crossing behind her so that their footprints interlaced.
Hours must have passed. By the time the last balloon was popped, both the canvas on the wall and the paper beneath them were covered in layers of bright colors; their clothes were splattered several times over, and when Castle pointed out that Kate had a streak of bright purple paint on one cheek she laughed and told him that his hair was a speckled rainbow.
"Is this where you've been disappearing to?" He asked her as they were cleaning up
She nodded. "It helps clear my mind."
"What gave you the idea?"
Kate's smile was tender when she answered, "My mom and I used to paint together. You'd never guess it now, but I used to be quite the artist, Castle."
"That's not hard to believe," He answered, smiling in return, "You look like you belong on a Paris balcony, sipping cappuccino in front of an easel."
"How Bohemian," She said, laughing, "I'll have to remember that if I ever make it to Paris."
"I'd take you," He said softly, cerulean eyes wide and honest
Kate felt her breath hitch in her throat. He really meant it, she knew, and for just a second she let herself picture the two of them half a world away. She wanted to say, "I'd let you", but that would be taking her too close to that edge she'd sworn that she wouldn't jump over yet.
"I know," She said instead, her voice just as soft, "But until then, the firehouse will have to work."
"Do you own this place or what?" He asked then, changing gears easily
"No, just rent it."
"You rent a fire station and you're apartment? Isn't that expensive?"
"It definitely took some adjusting of the finances, but I manage."
He helped her stretch the footprint painting into a thin wooden frame, and when both that and the canvas painting were set against the wall to dry he stood back to admire their work. The balloons had created a wonderfully abstract tangle of bright colors, pink and purple and green and a myriad of others that splashed across the canvas. He was biased, yes, but he didn't have a hard time imagining it hanging on the wall of some ritzy art gallery somewhere.
Despite his affection for the painting the balloons had created, Castle's favorite was the other one: their many colored footprints, twisting and arcing carelessly across the heavy paper. Kate's tiny feet and his larger ones filled the entire paper, shapeless in some spots because they'd walked over each other and perfectly formed in others.
"What are you going to do with them?" He asked then, clearing his throat over the sudden emotion that tried to constrict it
"Leave them to dry for now, and put them with the rest later."
"The rest?" He repeated, arching a brow at her, "There are more?"
Kate nodded, smiling a little. "Would you like to see them?"
Still barefoot, he followed Kate down the hallway and past the bathroom. She lead him to what he assumed had once been some sort of office, although it no longer had any furniture to suggest the purpose it had once served. Instead, a number of canvases in varying sizes leaned against one wall: he was surprised at how many of them there were. He had stopped just inside the doorway, but Kate had continued across the room and was now pulling some of the paintings away from the stack, leaning them carefully against bare spots on the wall so that he could see them.
Castle was completely awed. Quite the artist was a gross understatement, almost grotesque in its completely inadequate description of Kate's obvious talent. Many of them were abstract, no doubt made the same way they'd just made the one in the other room, but there were also smaller ones that were actual paintings: landscapes, birds, even animals adorned the more traditionally sized ones.
As he stood there, taking it all in, a pattern revealed itself to him: the majority of the animals were elephants. One was a stunning portrait of a baby elephant, huge ears adorably unfurled, done all in shades of purple and grey. He was about to mark that one down as his favorite when his eyes found the last one in line, easily the largest of any of the other animal ones. Muted shades of blue and black and purple were splashed across it in a way that he now knew meant she'd used balloons, but in the midst of all the color she had left thick strokes of unmarred white canvas. At first glance they looked almost random, but when he stopped focusing on the blend of colors he saw exactly what it was: an elephant. She had created a portrait of an elephant by painting everything except the animal, and it was perhaps the most beautiful painting he'd ever seen.
"These are … extraordinary, Kate," He finally managed to murmur, "You could sell these to a gallery!"
"I don't know about that," She answered modestly, coming to stand next to him, "But I'm glad you like them."
"I can't decide which one I like more, the negative space elephant or our footprints," He told her offhandedly, still studying the former
He was staring at the vast array of elephants before him when his mind suddenly called forth an image of her desk at the precinct, where she had several figurines of elephants spread out across the space. He had never really paid them much attention, assuming – wrongly, it would seem – that they were just something to take away from the uniformity of it.
"Why elephants?" He asked suddenly, glancing over at her
"I don't know, actually. I've always loved them; guess it just stuck with me."
They stood in companionable silence for a few minutes then, their shoulders just barely touching as they were lost in their respective musings.
"Kate?" He said softly
"Thank you. For sharing this with me," He elaborated when she looked at him questioningly
"Thank you for being here," She answered, bumping his shoulder with her own, "Now what do you say we go get some lunch?"
"I say that is a fantastic idea," He replied brightly, "Remy's?"
"Remy's," She confirmed