Dandelions

A story by daphnebeauty


Chapter One: The Weed

Castle leaned forward in the seat of his car, curving and straining his neck to get a better view of the house at the end of the long, gravel driveway. It stood tall and imposing in the late morning light, hard and grey against the gentle blue of the sky. His tires pitched up small rocks into the underbelly of the car, snapping against the metal parts like a snare drum marking his steps into battle.

So much for a stealthy approach.

His stomach flared with nerves as the looming grey stones of the house slowly shielded the 10 o'clock sun. Perhaps this wasn't his best plan. Perhaps he should turn around and drive the four hours back home before anyone even knew this had happened. Before Kate knew it had happened. She had asked for space. Time and space. An entire continuum had stretched between them for the unbearable length of a month.

He hadn't heard her voice in a month. Seen the angles of her face in a month. Smelled the coffee infused in the threads of her clothes in a month. What if everything had changed? What if this chasm that yawned between them had also swallowed the things he loved about her?

She said she just needed to get away, get some space for a few days. A few days had turned into the most painfully slow month Castle had ever experienced. He'd do anything to give her what she wanted, but it physically hurt him to pull back and remove himself from her. It ached deep in his bones, made his motions stiff and his demeanor stiffer. He'd do anything to give her what she wanted, but not if it wasn't what she needed.

Time locked up alone in her father's cabin to dwell on the darkest parts of her existence did not seem like what Beckett needed.

That was before he'd realized that the "cabin" was actually a small manor in south Massachusetts. Although it really changed nothing, the arguments that had fortified his resolve to go after her vanished at the sight of the house. It wasn't what he'd worked up in his head. Control of the situation was slipping away. He'd meant to have the upper hand in surprising her, but the balance was quickly shifting. It opened up an entirely new avenue of unanswered questions in the mystery of Kate Beckett. Questions that felt hot and insistent in the base of his throat.

His hand was perched indecisively on the key still in the ignition. He could still kick the car into reverse and leave before he was seen. He could hightail it home and let her have all the space she needed for as long as she wanted it. He could. He should. It was the smart thing to do. Never push Kate Beckett. Had he not learned a thing in three years?

And just as his thumb and forefinger had finally come together in an unsure motion to restart the car, his eyes caught movement along the side of the house. He let his focus fly to what it craved, desired, and feared. He knew the long lines of her, even at this distance. He knew the curving brushstroke of her hips and the fluid space between her arm and torso. He knew the halo of sun that flickered on the golden wisps of her hair and he knew the nervous way her hands pushed them back behind her ears.

He did not know this stride of her walk, slow and uncertain. He did not know the lean of her body, curving into the left. He did not know the thin bones that pushed out against the skin that contained them.

He should have come sooner.


She'd known who was in the car the moment she heard the spin of tires against the lengthy path leading up to her family's house. She was surprised it had taken him this long. The silver sedan slowed as it approached the impressive façade and she heard the distinct silence that follows the cutting of an engine. She waited for the car doors to close and his feet to hit the driveway, but it never came. Looking up from the flowerbed on the side of the house where she had spent the majority of the morning, she watched as Castle sat unmoving in the seat of the car.

Standing, she pulled the soiled gloves from her hands and tossed them on top of the uneven and moist earth she'd just buried tulips bulbs in. Swiping her wrist across her chin to move a runaway piece of hair, she walked towards his still unopened vehicle. The tight cord that seemed to pull from her rib to her hip gave a fierce tug. She slowed, bending to the left to ease that wrenching tension.

She was well over halfway to the car before he finally opened the door and stepped out, rounding the hood slowly, hesitation in every shadow of his face. They were too far apart for vocal greetings and it made the distance between their two points seem much longer than it actually was. A bird chirped in the distance, mocking their silence, mocking their severity.

Finally close enough to speak, she found she had no idea what she wanted to say. She wasn't angry. She wasn't happy. She wasn't surprised. Meeting his half apologetic, half defiant gaze, she waited as his mouth seemed to try and push forth some sort of sentence. An explanation or an accusation, she was sure.

"Hi."

Her stomach turned in on itself and something squeezed tight in her chest. Somewhere in her mind "Hi" had sounded like the echoes of words spilled forth in a graveyard, impossible to bury. I love you, Kate.

She breathed.

"Hey, Castle." The confidence she'd meant to soak her words in was mysteriously absent, leaving behind something questioning and far too quiet.

He flexed both his hands once. Twice. His eyes were having trouble finding a focal point, moving from her face to his feet to her chest to the house. They didn't dart nervously, but seemingly sought a destination that might impart some semblance of normalcy. Leniency. He looked lost and entirely out of place. Speechless and insecure.

Did he really come here without a plan?

"So are you taking polling data for the next census or is there some other reason you've shown up at my house? Uninvited."

"I, uh..."

"Because I seem to remember asking for a little time and space. Alone."

"You did." He took a step closer and she could see the shift in him. He'd gained his words back. "But it's been a month, Beckett. "

She forced the flare of indignation down, clenching her teeth against the defense that pushed against her lips. His entire being seemed set for a fight, muscles clenched in isometric tension and tugging at their bones. She would do this later. Turning her head, she looked out at the line of trees in the distance, trying to decide exactly what was the right thing to do. Bringing her hand to her face, she ran her fingers over her top lip an then hooked them into the bottom in thought.

"What am I supposed to do, Castle? I can't just…"

She felt the soft swipe of fingers against her chin and turned back to face him.

"You had some…" he rubbed at his own chin to explain, "dirt or something there."

Wide-eyed, Kate held up a trembling hand to her face where he had brushed her with his large, familiar hand, a spot of warmth lingering there like that one small patch of skin had been very gently set on fire. She swallowed.

"Gardening."

"Gardening?"

"Yeah, I was gardening when you pulled up. That's why the dirt."

"This place doesn't have its own gardeners?"

"I like doing it."

"And when you're not here?"

She rolled her eyes. "Yes, Castle. We have gardeners."

He tilted his chin forward and raised an eyebrow, telling her without words that they were far from done talking about the house and how it fit into Kate's history. She pursed her lips and stared him down. Not now, Castle.

He seemed to get the message and rocked back on his heels, shoving his hands in his pockets and looking up at the house, taking in the orderly rows of large glass windows and steeply sloping roof.

"Are you going to invite me in?"

Always pushing to be let in. She walked past him and led him towards the house.

"It's not exactly set up for visitors. There haven't been any guests here since I was a kid…Fancy china is probably in a box in the attic somewhere."

"Shame. No way I'll be impressed without the fancy china."

She smirked and opened the beveled glass front door. The rush of cool air conditioning felt glorious as it snaked fluidly along her skin. The sun had toasted her all morning, drawing a slight sheen of sweat from her arms and forehead. The inside air flew by and sapped the heat right off the surface.

"You can go ahead and have a seat in the living room. I'm going to put some coffee on and go change."

"Don't you have a butler or something for that?" His eyes were sweeping over the high ceilings and wide staircase.

"Yeah, the butler will be right up to help me get my clothes off."

His eyes shot to hers. "I meant for the coffee."

"He likes the other job more."

He narrowed his eyes. "You are a cruel woman."

"And I also do not have a butler. Or any other kind of wait staff."

"Except gardeners."

She rolled her eyes. The joking came easy for them. It was familiar and could fend off more serious topics until the defense wasn't needed. She directed him towards the living room and headed off to set up the coffee maker before coming back out and starting up the stairs slowly. Stairs required a lot of muscle work that her body still wasn't comfortable with. She'd shown massive improvement from her status upon arrival, but they still left her aching and a little winded.

Before she had even climbed four steps, she felt a hand at her elbow. Firm, supportive, and slightly annoying. She turned her head to tell him exactly how much she did not need help getting up.

"I already know you don't need it. Please let me help anyway."

"I really don't need help, Castle. I do this every day."

"Yeah, but I don't. Don't make me sit and watch you from a chair. I feel like an ass."

She could understand that. Nodding, they proceeded to climb the stairs with Castle's right hand at her right elbow, arm around her back. It was nice, even if it was unnecessary. She could faintly smell his cologne, a scent she'd somehow missed without knowing it.

"You smell like dirt, Beckett."

He startled a laugh out of her, the clench of her diaphragm releasing a bruising ache, not quite painful enough to express on her face.

"Gee, thanks."

"It's nice. Earthy. Kinda sweaty." He waggled an eyebrow that told her sweaty did not have a negative connotation for him.

"Stop."

He surprisingly did.

"What were you planting out there?"

"Tulips."

"Nice."

"I doubt they'll bloom. I think I planted them wrong, but the bulbs were there and I was impatient."

"Gotta have patience with that kind of stuff if you want to get the good bloom."

She'd reached the top of the stairs and he had stopped on the one beneath her, ready to part ways.

"I'll be back down soon. Thanks for the…help."

"Thanks for letting me."


Watching her stiffly climb those stairs, slowing each time something tore at the tender parts of her had been…unbearable. Of course he'd come straight to her. Of course he'd followed. Of course he'd put himself directly where he knew he wasn't wanted.

Wasn't that what this whole trip was?

He'd barely stopped short of lifting her into his arms and carrying her, just to save his eyes the sight of her obvious pain. He had settled for a single hand on her elbow, probably helping to stabilize his thrashing emotions more than her unsteady climb. His throat felt raw with something like anger, but it pulled at his guts like love.

Pouring the coffee in the two small cups he found (too small for the Beckett he knew), he carried them out into the living room to wait for her to come down. Maybe she'd already be there and spare him the long moments watching her struggle back down the stairs. He wasn't sure she would let him help again and he sure as hell wasn't sure if he could bear watching.

When he entered the room, she had yet to descend. He set her coffee on the low table in front of the couch and his own on the side table by the chair he'd chosen. Nice stuff. Quality furniture. Not exactly in the style that he'd come to associate with Kate Beckett, but definitely appealing. The huge windows in the back of the room let a certain amount of afternoon light filter through and bless the rich woods with a feeling of pure warmth and the creamy furniture with a feeling of warm purity.

He looked over to the staircase as Kate came to the edge and started what looked like an arduous climb down. He leaned forward in his chair, eager to stand and do something. His hands grabbed at each other in the open space between his knees to keep from pushing up on the armrests.

"If I get up to help you, are you going to make me sit back down?"

"Yes."

"What if I do it anyway?"

"I'm halfway already."

"Does it hurt?"

"Not really. It's harder than walking, but it's good for me. See how fast I go?"

"Yeah. Super speedy, Beckett." He refrained from rolling his eyes and watched as she stepped off of the final stair and made her way into the living room. Her clothes were loose and comfortable looking. Free of dirt. She'd let her hair down and it was curlier and more natural than he'd ever seen it. Gorgeous.

She sat down on the couch next to him with a sigh, picking up the cup of coffee and crossing one leg over the other. Her stare wasn't cold, but it was definitely calculating. She was trying to read him, gauge him, draw confessions from him.

"So why are you here, again?"

"You've been gone a month."

She leaned back and crossed her arms over her chest, her body language so defensive he felt like he was talking to a barbed-wire fence. "I'm fine."

"You didn't call."

"I needed space, remember? Time? This doesn't look like you giving me either of those. I know you are just doing what you think is best, but I asked for those things for a reason. I came here alone for a reason."

"You left people behind who needed more from you."

"I got shot, Castle, and if you don't get what tha—"

"Oh believe me, I understand what it means. But healing is one thing. Hiding is another."

"I'm not hiding." She uncrossed her arms and legs to subconsciously somehow prove it.

"Yes you are. You hide. I seek. That's the game, right?"

"It's not a game."

He leaned back in his chair, giving his response a pause so that she would hear his words and not just the heat of the argument.

"No, you're right. It's not a game, is it? It's a pattern. Don't keep pulling away, Kate. You're not the only one in this."

The veins in her neck were pulsing as if they too needed to be heard, needed to make their argument. "But I'm trying to be. I don't want to bring more people into this—this thing! My life! Everything is broken right now, Castle! I'm trying to fix it before I take everyone down with me. I just need—"

"Space. Time. Yes I've heard. But we are already in this with you, Kate. We are already here! What about Ryan and Esposito? You think they don't miss their Captain too? You think they aren't still hurting from watching their friend get shot at a funeral and bleed out on the grass? What about me, Kate? I watched you die! What about me?"

Everything quieted. He'd said too much. Again.

"Castle, I…" She moved towards him, but had no other words to offer. She was at a loss to comfort the partner she'd died in front of and then abandoned after her resurrection.

His voice had quieted too. He was resigned to the impasse, but still couldn't stop the words. "You just left and didn't call, Kate. I had to ask your dad to even get an address to this place. I watched you die. I thought I'd never see you again. And you left."

And that was the crux of it, really. He'd thought he'd lost her forever, gained her back in a single victorious, miraculous moment, and then lost her again. She kept slipping away from him.

He just wanted to keep her.

Their coffees sat forgotten on respective tables, cooling quickly in the small cups. He couldn't quite look at her yet and he knew she wasn't looking at him. He'd felt the last of his words leave him in a capillary pull, so if more were to be said, she would have to do it. He was wrung dry.

The silence lasted just long enough for him to believe its permanence, before she spoke again. Calm and determined, her eyes bore into his, desperate for him to understand.

"After my mother was killed, something inside me changed. It's like I built up this wall inside. And I don't know, I guess I just didn't want to hurt like that again. I know I'm not going to be the kind of person that I want to be, I know that I'm not going …"

She paused, searching for words that seemed reluctant to be exposed.

"I'm not going to have the kind of relationship that I want until that wall comes down. And it's not going to happen until I put this thing to rest. I'm here trying to reconcile myself to that fact. "

Wow.

That was…open.

He scooted forward so far in his chair he might as well have not been using it at all. He took in the hair that curled over her downturned face as she looked into her lap at hands that twisted at themselves. Stretching across the distance, he rested a hand on top of hers, sedating them. He focused a moment on the smooth skin that spread so perfectly over the bones and muscles of her hands. Hands that could pull a trigger just as easily as they could plant a tulip bulb. He just wanted her to be happy.

She'd come here to heal and to try to find a way to sort her life so that she could be happy. He wanted to help. He wanted her happy.

"Kate, it's fine. I sort of knew about the wall and I'm sure Josh does too. He'll wait. You and me, Beckett. We can end this thing and you can be…happy. That wall won't be there forever; I can help you break it down. You just have to let me."

Her closed lips spread in beautiful smile, her entire face coming to life even as she tried to hide it from him. She nodded and her eyes met his, sparkling with something closer to happiness than he'd seen since…too long. Far too long.

"Thank you for understanding, Castle."

"I want to be here for you. That's all I want. Don't shut me out and we can do this together."

She pushed up from her seat and slowly stood, her hands sliding out from underneath his. He instantly missed the physical connection that he had forgotten even existed.

"Come on, Castle. Let's go for a walk."

"A walk?"

"Yeah. Doctor says it's good for me. It'd be nice to have some company this time."

"Sure. Show me the hills and vales of your family's extensive property. Introduce me to the serfs."

She rolled her eyes as he had hoped and he stood to follow her to the front door.

"Oh and Castle?"

"Yeah?"

"Josh and I broke up. He just wasn't the kind of relationship I want when the wall comes down."

With that, she stepped out of the door, leaving him trying to put the right foot in the right shoe, his head filling rapidly with endless questions and his heart with rampant hope.