Acquainted With the Night
by Topsy and chezchuckles
I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,
But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
O luminary clock against the sky
Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.
-Acquainted With the Night, by Robert Frost
Beckett can't take the Crown Vic to his place in the Hamptons, not when she's got to call in every single movement to Gates. Damn. It's the bike then. All the way there as night falls. Bordering on dangerous, but she has good control of it, and she's got to do this. She has no other choice.
If she sleeps on it, she knows she'll take the coward's way out.
Martha texted her the address; she's got no excuse now.
So Kate pulls her hair back at her neck, puts the helmet on, and straddles the Harley. Her heart is pounding like it's her first ride, but she throttles the engine and lets the rumble of the bike vibrate through her, easing her tension.
She takes 278 to 495; thankfully Castle's place is in Westhamptons, which is the closest strip of beach to the city. She narrowly avoids a careless car in the passing lane, winds around a long-haul trucker, and then cruises into a neutral space, free of the heaviest traffic.
She's going a little fast, but she needs to get there, eat up the miles. On a good day, the drive is anywhere from two to three hours, depending, but she has this sense that every hour wasted is a strike against her.
It's cold, freezing; the scarf around her neck, the leather jacket aren't enough. Her ears are starting to burn even with the helmet over them. Her fingers are frozen to the handlebars, her knees ache. The wind flays her alive.
When she finally exits the interstate, it's a straight shot to the beach; twilight has collapsed into miserable darkness, especially since it's off-season and most homes are empty and lightless. Beckett keeps a close eye on the road to keep from getting surprised by hidden obstacles, finds herself blazing past ritzier and more formal homes as she goes.
At the dead-end of the road is Richard Castle's Hamptons summer home.
Gates are closed. Of course. But Martha sent her the code just in case and all she has to do is lift the brushed nickel panel at the decorative sentry station and punch in the numbers, shamingly, 41319.
She presses enter and hears the whine of gears starting up, then the wheeze of a cold engine, even over the rumble of her Harley. When the gate swings open just wide enough, Kate drives through it; Martha said it would close behind her.
She doesn't want to lose the element of surprise, but the gate was louder than she expected. And she's not sure now where to find him.
She parks the bike in the wide, sweeping driveway, takes her helmet off with stiff fingers. Her bones are brittle with cold.
The wind is brisk even at the front of the house and Beckett starts circling around, looking for a way in that wouldn't require ringing the bell and giving herself away. She needs to surprise him - not a good surprise at that, just a way to keep him off balance in hopes of discovering the truth.
He didn't tell her he was doing this. He just left. In the middle of a case.
He left her.
She needs to stop thinking in terms of herself, stop letting that thought rattle around in her head and thrash in her guts. This isn't about her; this is about Castle. About how he's not okay.
His backyard, such as it is, isn't fenced off. She finds the wide and sparkling pool, blue light and moon reflecting into her eyes. Lounge chairs are folded up and winterized, the cushions gone. Probably in the storage unit made to look natural and appealing just to the back of the pool's tiled edge.
If the pool is anything to go by, his place is breath-taking. She wants to prowl through his rooms, snoop through the drawers, touch all the art.
But first Castle. She glances through the sliding glass doors, but it's dark inside; she can't even see what room the doors lead to. Beckett checks the handle and is surprised to see that the sliding glass hasn't been pulled shut all the way. Which means that Castle isn't inside, but somewhere out here.
She wanders to the right, further around the house, finds a boardwalk that leads straight to the beach - past grass and dunes to the water. Beckett follows the line of sight to the ocean's horizon, spots the lone figure at the edge, hands in the pockets of his jeans, arms pulled tight to his sides.
Her breath catches and she lays the helmet down to the wooden bench circling the back deck. She hunches her shoulders and buries her chin in her scarf, shivering as the wind picks up. She can see Castle's hair ruffle, his own shoulders up at his ears.
He's standing in moonlight, perilously close to that frigid water; he seems to be staring at his feet, not even out to the brilliant waves. He's not looking for inspiration; he's looking for oblivion.
Beckett presses the heel of her hand to her chest, tries to steel herself for the coming fight.
He left her. In the middle of a case. She's got to get through to him.
When she gets close enough that she thinks he can hear her over the crash of the waves and the roar of the wind, she calls out his name.
His head snaps back and he jerks around to face her, losing his footing and stumbling back. His arms wheel out, try to snag his balance, but he doesn't manage it, and drops like a stone to the sand. She hears him grunt with the force of it, even over the noise the beach at night.
"Castle," she gasps as she hurries towards him, dropping to her knees next to him. "Are you okay?"
At that moment, a particularly large wave breaks only a foot away, and the salty water races up over Castle's legs and into her lap.
This time they both gasp.
"Oooh, cold!" Castle yelps, and then struggles to push to his feet, bumping her in the process. She stumbles back, catches herself in wet sand. The awkward move makes her bones ache, as cold as they were from the wind and now the water. Her teeth start chattering, and then suddenly she's being lifted up by her elbows, propped on her feet.
"God, Beckett, are you trying to kill me? You scared the shit out of me."
"Sorry," she chatters, and brushes at her hands, gritty from the sand.
Her shivering seems to resonate through her bones and into his hands as they grip her elbows; he starts to shake right along with her.
When she looks up to his face, she feels the breath leave her. There, dancing in his eyes and along his curved lips is his laughter. And God, she's missed it. She can't help the corresponding tilt to her own lips, and then they are both laughing, shaking with merriment instead of the elements.
"That was like a cartoon—like something straight out of Tom and Jerry!"
And then the tide comes in stronger, a wave falling apart at their feet as she and Castle have the sand sucked out from under them. His arms flail, and his body teeters even as she reaches for him, grabs his arms so he doesn't go down again.
But she's laughing, and it feels so good, feels right again even in the cold. The fight has left her. She knows once they go inside, once they're warm and dry, they'll have to talk. And they will. And some of it might hurt. But for now she's thrilled to see the light back in his eyes, the real Castle she's been missing.
One of his hands wraps around her upper arm, pulling her forward, back up the beach and away from the water's edge. "C'mon, let's go inside. I need coffee, like two minutes ago."
"Don't be a wuss, Castle. This is nothing compared to being locked in a freezer."
The memory must make him shudder, but he's nodding and rubbing his hands up and down his arms. "True. Very, very true."
When they reach the back deck, Kate grabs her helmet and straightens, intending to follow him into the house. But he's stopped, turned to stare at her, and she hunches her shoulders under his scrutiny.
"You rode your motorcycle?"
"Um, yeah. Why?"
"Are you insane? It's freezing! I'm surprised you're not frozen solid by now - between that and the water. Come on, come on, get in the house."
He ushers her inside, pushes her really, but then she's jerked to a stop because he's flicked a light on somewhere and she's assaulted with gleaming oak floors, white walls, and tall, pointed ceilings with rafters in a maze of geometric shapes. The ceiling itself is a work of art.
The couches are huge, and look like giant clouds that you could sink into. And now that she sees them, she plans to, as soon as possible, as soon as she's warm again. The space is incredible, even with the oversized furniture and huge paintings on the walls. The windows are plentiful, and she can tell the light would be amazing during the day. The view, as well.
The living room here is bigger than her whole apartment.
Castle moves around her, headed to the kitchen to start a pot of coffee presumably, but she's not following, rooted to the spot, her eyes roving over every angle and line of the place.
"You coming?" he asks, tossing the words over his shoulder as he heads away from her.
She nods mutely, and follows him, even though her jeans are practically soaked through, nearly trotting to catch up with him and see the rest of his place.
The kitchen is beautiful, all granite countertops and brushed nickel appliances and delicately carved cabinets in a beautiful oak that matches the floors. She wants to live here—just in these two rooms she's seen, and it suddenly reminds her of that day in the precinct as Castle walked away with his ex-wife. Her stomach flips, but she pushes the memories, the nerves, away and focuses on the design (and not her plan), on the this gorgeous house the man in standing in.
"Castle, this house… it's… How much did this place cost you?"
He grins at her, pleased. "You don't want to know," he says with an arch of his eyebrow.
She nods. He's right. She just wants to appreciate it.
"You like it?" he asks as he starts the coffee, and then turns back to her.
"Yeah." She does *not* sound breathless; it's just the cold.
He smiles and she's once again reminded of why she came. Because she's missed this smile, this face he's showing to her now. And she wonders if maybe he's better already, if just coming out here is some sort of therapy for him, if getting away for a couple of days was all he needed, change of venue.
But then, under her careful study, she sees the shadows come creeping back over his face, and he's clearing his throat, and shifting on his feet, and not looking at her anymore.
Her heart sinks, an anchor to the ocean floor.
"Let's get some dry clothes - your jeans are soaked. I'll look and see if Alexis has anything here, but I bet it's mostly swimsuits and shorts, so maybe I'll find you something of mine. Sweatshirt or something."
He's rambling, and it causes nerves to start churning in her belly. "Whatever you've got is fine, Castle."
He nods, and then he's slipping past her, heading for the stairs, and she follows him because she doesn't know where else to go.
Once they're settled, each of them dressed in one Castle's sweatshirts and pajama pants, their hands wrapped around warm coffee mugs, they stop to stare at each other as they stand awkwardly in the kitchen.
His clothes are much too big for her, but they're comfortable and warm - though not warm enough - and her feet are on bare tile. And this isn't where she wants to do this - standing across from each other in his kitchen like they're about to have a duel. She doesn't want to start this off like a battle, even though it's bound to get there.
"This is great, Castle," she murmurs and lifts her mug towards him. "But I'm dying to sink into one of those couches in the living room." She's trying to be light, trying to make a joke, but then she realizes what she's said when she sees the shutters come down over his eyes.
He clears his throat and nods, indicating she move into the living room. "They are pretty cozy," he says, but his voice is rough, and it gives him away.
She sighs quietly into her coffee and moves into the living room. She cradles her mug to her chest as she sinks carefully into the couch and nestles into the pillows, finds a place to rest her still frozen joints. She closes her eyes for a moment and then smiles. "Mm, that's more like it."
He sits across from her in one of the matching arm chairs, and she tries not to let it bother her—the distance he's putting between them. And then, before she can say anything, he's jumping into it, headfirst like usual. The writer and his words.
"Why are you here?"
She swallows, tries to ignore the blunt tone to his voice. This is about him. Him. She repeats the mantra in her head, uses it to push out the hurt.
"You weren't answering."
"I told you I had stuff to do outside of the city, that I would see you later."
"You failed to mention that it was going to be a week-long thing. You left in the middle of a case." She tries for ironic, smirking, but she's afraid she's failing.
"When you needed 'a little bit of time', Kate, it turned into three months. A week seems small in comparison." His voice is low, deep, gutted with emotion he won't let her see. He avoids her eyes.
"I - yes," she murmurs finally, dropping her eyes as well. Already. So quickly they've arrived here.
He isn't angry, his tone isn't insistent. He sounds resigned, accepting, like he knows where this is going and he's just waiting for it to unfold. "I'm just tired, Kate. I'm tired of doing everything I possibly can to make it okay, but getting nothing in return. Not even a hint."
The shock of his dull confession paralyzes her. This is worse, much worse than she'd anticipated. He sounds like he's giving up, like he won't wait. Her heart hammers in her chest, pounding against the coffee cup she's still got pressed against her scar; she might be sick. But before she can find words, make them form around her frozen vocal chords, tongue, lips, he continues.
"You get three months and I can't even have a week. Why are you chasing after me now?"
His eyes are grey, flat. Lifeless. She's seen too many dead bodies, peered into too many sightless eyes; she shudders under that gaze.
She clears her throat. "Because I've never seen you like this."
She can feel things slipping out of her control, so she bites her cheek, swallows hard. She takes a sip of coffee to ease the knot in her throat.
"Because I'm trying to be more, trying to get past my mother's murder and be a real person again. I can see that you're hurting, and I… I want to help."
"I don't believe you."
She sits up straighter, staring at him. "Castle—" She takes a steadying breath, presses the mug tighter against her chest, as if to press the scar flat, make it go away. "You're my partner. I-"
"Beckett, look, I'm not going anywhere; I'm still your partner. Perhaps I'm a glutton for punishment." Then he pushes up off the chair, sets his mug down on the coffee table. "It's late, and I'm sure you're probably tired. We should both get some sleep."
"No, Castle. Wait." When he doesn't stop, she abandons her own coffee next to his, follows quickly after him. She grabs his bicep when he tries to turn away from her. "I did not come all this way just to get coddled and put to bed—" She pokes a finger into his chest, stepping up next to him at the bottom of the stairs.
He glances at her finger, moves away. "I'm well aware that you don't want me to put you to bed."
She's struck by the choked emotion in his voice. He's not angry, no, but he might be falling apart. Her heart squeezes tight in her chest, a fist cutting off her aorta. "Castle—"
"I get it, Beckett. I really do. It's my fault. I'm the one who made you reopen your mother's case. And then your father asked me to stop you, so I tried, but it only made you kick me out. I dragged you out of a hangar to save your life, but Montgomery died instead, and you have every right to blame me. I was too late in the cemetery; I'm just. . .too late."
She gapes at him, blindsided by the guilt in his eyes, the shine of both grief and resignation, giving up. "Castle-"
"I told you I love you," he closes his eyes. "And you told me some things are better not being remembered. So believe me, Kate, I get it." He stands in front of her, not looking at her, his chest heaving as if he's run miles. "I get it," he murmurs, and then he turns and walks away, up the stairs, out of view.
She's so completely dumbfounded that she's salted in place, her mouth open in surprise, horror, and her eyes burning. She stands there for an eternity, not rememberng how to breathe, finding the heel of her hand pressed against the scar at her chest, sucking in air.
And then she stumbles back, sinks down onto the couch, wraps her arms around the icy, heavy thing in her stomach. She leans all the way forward and presses her forehead to her knees, doing her best to breathe.
What has she done to him?
When the tears no longer burn at the back of her eyes, when she thinks she can stand without shattering-
She realizes she should go.
She's intruded on the space he's asked for himself. She's being completely hypocritical in coming out here after him, when she herself took three months - just as he said -
She swallows down her pride and looks at the accusation. She took three months to escape, to recover, but she can't say she could have done it differently. Not even with Castle, not knowing what she knew - knows - to be true.
(Maybe a text. Maybe she could have gotten her father to call him, leave him updates? There were other ways. Okay. She can acknowledge that.)
Doesn't change the fact that she needed that time.
But he doesn't heal the way she does. He doesn't work like her; Castle, above all, is a social creature, a man who thrives on people and their stories, people and their messy emotional entanglements. He gives his heart so willingly, and she so sparingly, and yet she has to look at it from his angle.
He needs people to heal. She does not. She should have. . .seen this earlier.
This isn't watching her partner's back, let alone, let alone anything more.
Kate scrubs a hand over her face, angrily shoves the sleeves of the sweatshirt up to her elbows. She's glad he had pajama pants with a drawstring, because at least those stay up, and if she's going to do this - have this out, here and now - she needs to not feel completely ridiculous.
Except she knows that no matter what she's wearing, high-heeled kick-ass boots or not, she'd feel like this.
Hollowed out. Not enough.
For him, she admits, leaning back against the couch and closing her eyes. For him. Not enough of what he needs - openness, honesty, a woman who can laugh. She can't even laugh-
Well, except when he makes her laugh. Does that count? He used to drag it out of her, and now it just comes, unbidden, to her lips. She can't even control the smile anymore and-
Okay, so maybe that counts. And she's working on the honesty and the openness at this very moment, and she wants to be enough - she wants -
She wants him.
Kate sits up, mouth suddenly dry. Him. But he's not down here, is he? This is ridiculous, swamped in fear on his couch while he's upstairs, miserable, guilt-ridden, dealing with it alone.
His mother said they needed to heal together. Well, Kate doesn't heal well with others, but she can definitely help him along. Can't she? She can do that. She can. . .be honest with him.
She takes the steps two at a time, pauses at the top when she realizes that she has no idea where his bedroom is, where he's gone. And she's not going to tap on every door and wait for him to reply, lose the element of surpise (it's all about tactical advantage with her tonight, isn't it?), nor is she going to barge in on every bedroom, opening and closing doors, readying herself for that big moment only not to find him.
"Castle!" she yells, waiting a beat before calling his name again. "Castle."
She hears the door on her left open and turns her head. He's staring at her with something like disbelief, but instead of rebuking her, he sighs instead. "Any room you like. I'll go get sheets."
Kate starts forward, not even bothering to say no, to tell him to stop; she grabs him by the arm and pulls him back. He stumbles, and she remembers that moment on the beach only hours ago, and how good it felt to laugh with him. How easily he makes her laugh.
She can do the rest of it too.
"I'm sorry," she says first, not knowing what else to say. Not knowing what the magic formula is that will make him like her again. He may be in love with her, but he certainly doesn't like her. "I'm sorry that I hurt you, and that I keep hurting you, and all you've done is love me."
He stills under her hand but won't look at her. She wishes she *did* have her heels so that she could make his eyes meet hers, but as it is, nearly four inches off in her flat feet, she only has her body, her closeness, to garner his attention.
So she uses it.
Kate steps in closer, her hand still wrapped around his elbow, lets her fingers feather against the inside of his arm, the soft skin, her thumb stroking the ninety degree angle. It presses the back of her forearm against his chest like this; she feels his ribs expand and collapse with a stunned breath.
"I didn't know how to live with it - no, not you," she says quickly, seeing the flicker in his eyes, hurt or despair. "I can live with you just fine." She moves in a little closer, his arm now brushing her ribs as well, a lick of heat flaring between them. "I didn't know how to live with the bullet, with the case, with being. . .a victim."
"You're not a victim," he gruffs, his head swiveling towards her. Always trying to prove her wrong.
"Mm, well. Either way. I'm. . .damaged. But I didn't want you to have that on your hands, to have to love a damaged-"
He shakes off her light touch but drags her into an embrace, hugging her too tightly, too good, his voice choked at her ear. "Kate. Kate - no, God, no - don't ever think-"
She can do this too. It's not so hard. All it takes is a lift of her toes and the release of her iron self-control, like a privacy gate swinging open, let her chin raise so that her mouth-
He startles when she touches his lips, clutching at her as if for balance. She breathes against his mouth and tries again, finds him, feels the current connect between them, two live wires, electricity sparking under her skin, starting her heart's hard beating.
Castle's lips part, his tongue touches hers, retreats; she chases after. It's never enough, never enough. She wants all of it, him, the flashbacks gone and the forward to remain.
His hands cradle her cheeks when he pulls back, his eyes liquid and curious and vulnerable on hers. She can taste him in her mouth, even so far away. She doesn't understand why he's stopped.
"Can you still?" she murmurs, her chest tight with it, not knowing.
"Still. . .?"
He's going to make her say it. She can do this too. "Love me. Can you still love me even when I'm-"
"I'll always love you, Kate," he says, reverent and awed and coming back to press his mouth to hers in little, light kisses, beseeching, dissolving now along her jaw. She breathes in a ragged sigh and can't figure out how this got to be turned around again, how it got to be about her, when she meant to help him-
"I don't know if you even want this, or if you should, not when you see now how it's going to be for you," she murmurs, pulling back so that he'll stop a moment, he'll see her. "It's not enough, it's not at all enough, or even close, and I want it to be, but it's not fair to make you wait when we're both-"
"Miserable." His voice is rough with it, the grief leaking out of him.
She nods, feels it breaking in her, like ice cracking apart. Her voice does the same. "Miserable with each other."
"Even if I'm miserable with you, Kate, I'm more miserable without." His lips find her cheek, her ear; she tries to remember what she meant to say, what else she needed to be honest about.
His mouth on hers, the heady movement of his tongue, the sudden exploration of his fingers at her waist, thumbs stroking her hipbones.
"You don't need to find clean sheets," she whispers, sucking in a breath at his touch. just below her belly button.
"I'm not sleeping in a guest room."
"It's too late to head back-"
"Castle," she says gently, detaching herself from his grip so she can look at him, let him see her eyes, the amusement on her face. Tenderness in there too, she supposes, because he's handsy as hell, and yet he doesn't seem to think it will go anywhere - and that's sweet, and beautiful, and so not accurate. "Castle, I'm not sleeping in a guest room because I'm sleeping with you."
His mouth drops open; she leans in against his chest to kiss it closed, but he falls back, off-balance, his shoulders striking the wall behind him, his arms startling up around her, holding her there. As if to protect her. Like that day in the winter sunlight, only this time he's the one against the wall.
She smirks, bites her lower lip when he continues to just stare at her.
"Didn't you know?" she laughs, the whole glacier in her chest breaking up, drifting away, melting at the force of his eyes on her. Ravishing. Undressing. Worshipping.
"Know?" he croaks, and actually blushes, two red stains low in his cheeks. He clears his throat, shakes his head slightly. "Know that you. . .you. . ."
"That I'm not letting it stop me. That I'm tired of being without you, when you're the only thing I want, when it makes me miserable to hold back, miserable to see you holding back as well." She rubs her thumb over his slack lower lip, lifts her eyes to his. "You've got a head start on me, but I'm in this."
His hand comes up to cup her cheek, fingers around her ear, absolute amazement in his features as his thumb traces the bones of her face.
Any man who looks at her like this, any man who takes the pittance she can give and treasures it like something of infinite worth. . .
Everything she can give, because he'll cherish it, treasure it.
She can be more in his hands.
Kate balances on his chest to press her mouth to the puffiness under his eye (sleepless because of her), to the eyelid that flickers shut over the red-rimmed pupil (because of her), to the deep groove at the side of his mouth (frowning because of her). She wants her touch to transform him.
His hands slide up her back, he murmurs something against her skin that she doesn't hear. It sounds like confessions, cemetery confessions, but that's okay. It's good. He needs to say it and she needs to hear it.
She needs him to know the truth.
A last kiss on his seeking mouth, breathing there, and then she drops back down to her bare feet, slides her palms down his chest. "Rick."
He swallows, and she knows it's because using his first name has become a signal of the serious and often difficult conversations.
"If you give me some time. . ."
He frowns at her, questioning; she trails a hand down to his, laces their fingers together.
"If you give me some time, I could be in love with you." She closes her eyes, sucks in a breath. Be honest. "I am in love with you."
His fingers contract around hers, making her open her eyes; his chest lifts and falls on a deep release, breath and burdens both. One of his arms hooks around her shoulders and pulls her against him, warm and tight.
"That's all I need," he murmurs, his breath catching, tangling his words against her ear. "All I ever need. Hope."
She sighs and presses a kiss to his still-murmuring mouth. "It's a lot more certain than hope, Castle."
His arm tightens.
"It's a sure thing. We're a sure thing."
"Kate," he starts, his voice breaking, and she hates to hear it like that. Not now. No more of that.
She lifts her mouth to his jaw, grazes the bone before hovering at his ear.
"Why don't you show me how high the thread count is on your sheets?"