story idea by Janyl, who left it as a review without signing in, so I couldn't even thank you for such a great concept
Himitsu-Bako is the 19th century Japanese puzzle box called The Personal Secret Box. It can only be opened by a complicated or obscure series of moves. This can be as frustrating as a squeeze in a small, sensitive spot or a series of twists lasting for as long as 1500 movements.
1. I wish wasn't such a coward when it comes to him.
Kate Beckett rubs her thumb over the inside of her crossed arm, studies him from across the bullpen. She's fresh from court, her mouth still full of serious and sober facts, her body thrumming with anxious responsibility. A man's life is at stake in that courtroom, no matter that Beckett knows he's guilty, and she wants him to be held accountable, but blindly, with the facts.
She cherishes her time in court.
The men and women so formal in the jury box, the chrome bar that serves as a footrest, the swinging wooden door that separates the gallery from the court, the two wide tables placed strategically - the prosecution across from the judge, the defense across from the jury. She stands when the jury enters, watches their faces when she gives her testimony, mentally reviews the things the prosecutor needs to hit on.
She might have been a lawyer.
This is her life now. The precinct and her team, the dead and their silenced voices, the man standing at her desk at this moment, the finger of one hand touching the papers, sifting through them as if looking for a clue.
She strides forward, shreds of the court day still wrapped around her like a tattered coat. He hears her heels and lifts his head, for a moment all the old warmth suffusing his face before it melts away.
Polite smile, a nod of his head, the banked embers in his eyes. She smiles anyway, can't help it, all of it rising to the surface.
"Hey, Castle. What are you doing here?" Deja vu swamps her and she mentally stumbles, thrown back to that day a week ago when he came looking - not for her, but for Slaughter.
He holds out coffee wordlessly, and she takes it, curling her fingers around its warmth. And it is warm - hot actually - which means he just got here.
"I heard you were out of court."
Kate glances over his shoulder to Esposito, who is hanging out and trying to look like he's not also eavesdropping shamelessly. She grins, suppressses it to look up at Castle.
"Yeah. You want to get lunch? I'm starving."
"You haven't eaten?"
She shakes her head and leans past him to grab the post-it note she left for herself on the desk, feels her arm brush his chest. He gives a little sigh and steps back.
"Lunch," he says finally. "Yeah."
With the reminder to herself in her hand, she smiles at him again, grateful to have this, however weak and maimed it may be right now.
Kate studies the message she wrote to herself as they step onto the elevator. It's calming now in a way it didn't use to be. Calming because she thinks she's doing something about it, finally.
She's been tempted to write it on her hand in permanent marker - she has, actually. She has. More than once. It washes off entirely too soon. She doesn't need another tattoo - though she wouldn't want this stained on her flesh anyway. She writes it down on a post-it note and carries it around with her and hopes that she gets the chance to prove herself wrong.
She should have written more, an explanation, (like when it comes to him) but it's too much for a note that everyone will see-
He grabs her hand and pries the post-it out of her grip; she gasps and reaches for it back, can't catch it in time.
Castle gives her a soft chuckle, a bit strained, but he's obviously trying again. Trying. Better than the not trying. Better than the actively avoiding her. "Coward? You gonna tape this to Espo's back or something? I thought school yard bullying was beneath you, Beckett."
She shakes her head, takes it from him, curls her fingers around it again. "No."
"Did someone leave that - no, it's your handwriting. What is that about?"
She shrugs. "Just a reminder."
"Oh, a play or something?"
A play? This isn't a play; she's got no deceitful motive-
"Oh, you mean Noel Coward?" she says, her words rushing out on a relieved laugh. "No. Not a play."
He's studying her as the elevator sinks. "You're not a coward, Kate."
It takes everything in her not to react to that statement, spoken softly and with such insistence.
If only he knew. If he knew she'd heard him, if he knew how she couldn't and still can't face him, if he knew that every single day she's afraid he'll disappear, abandon her like he has this whole-
Oh my God.
That's what this is?
"Castle," she gasps, reaches for his forearm with her hand, gripping him tightly. The post-it note crinkles between them, caught between their skins. "Castle." She can barely breathe.
Oh, he knows. He knows.
"Is this - are you having a panic attack? Beckett, breathe."
She shakes her head but squeezes him tighter. "Not. Not a panic attack. I just - figured it out."
"You wrote it, right?"
Kate's anxiety breaks in a laugh and she sucks in a shallow breath, finds her chest easing. Somehow, Castle knows and he - oh, the damn interview room, shit, ah, she said - what did she say? something about being close to dying and knowing how it felt, and oh, damn, yes remembering every second.
And he heard that.
So this is - this is the fault of her lack of courage, her failure to be courageous. Her cowardice.
There is a great deal to sift through, to think about - she needs her therapist right this second, stat, but she can't do that, can't disappear on him now, because he's trying again.
He wasn't. And now he is again.
She lets go of his forearm, realizing she's probably bruising him, and then finds her train of thought interrupted by the elevator doors opening onto the garage.
Castle follows her out as she struggles to capture the same urgency, her hands tightening in fists, paper crinkling-
"Let's get lunch to go," she says suddenly.
"Oh? Need to get back?"
She shakes her head, orders her thoughts. "No. I want to take you somewhere."
She feels him reach for her, stop her with a tug of his fingers around her wrist. She turns and looks back at him, her keys already in her hand.
"You want to take me where?"
"A place. I need to show you. Say some stuff."
He blinks and something akin to a smile lightens his face, like a polaroid picture showing up all faint and yellowy on the developing paper.
"Okay," he says finally. "Lunch to go."
She lets him eat in her car. Amazing. Not that she usually won't, but they're scarfing down tacos - the messy ones - and he's got a chili cheese burrito on top of that. It drips down his fingers and puddles in the bowl of his palm. He has to keep finding new napkins to clean himself off.
She does give him the occasional trepidatious look, apprehension carved into the very lines of her bones. Somehow, he gets the feeling it has nothing to do with potential cheesy grease stains on her upholstery.
It's just a cop car, after all.
(CIA retro-fitted though.)
Still. "Your car still smells briny," he grunts, wrinkling his nose.
"I think it's all in your head," she shoots back immediately, old habit. He's glad for that. He wants to get back to their latest algorithm of normal. Beckett and Castle version 4.3.7 or something.
(Not 4.7.1 - that one's bad. Corrupted. Lots of shoddy code and no patches yet made available.)
"It's not in my head," he goes along. "I can smell seaweed and mermaids and city pollution. I bet radioactive waste has seeped into the chassis-"
"Seep? Into upholstery maybe. But you said chassis. How is it possible for anything to seep into a metal framework, Castle? Poor diction. You should know better."
He wants to fist pump, he's so happy with that. Version 4.3.7 rocks. "My bad. Radioactive waste has inundated-"
"To flood? The car was flooded, but radioactive waste would radiate or irradiate-"
"I don't think that fits either. Or well, technically maybe it does, but you can't say both radioactive and also radiate at the same time. Repetitious."
He glances at her as he says it, finds that deep, soul-satisfied smile only hinting at her lips but illuminating her eyes. He's missed that. It feels good to make her smile again.
"So where are we going? We've been driving almost an hour."
"Oh," she breathes out, gives him another anxious glance. Back to that again. "I should have warned you. Do you need to call home? It's another fifteen minutes, and then getting home again too-"
"I'm good. I'll text if it looks like we're - going long."
A flash of something across her face that he would swear was heat - would have sworn, in the past. But he's been mixing her signals lately - he's all messed up. The love stuff taints his reading. He can't afford to make a mistake now.
"Did you say my car smells like mermaids?" she asks suddenly, turning to him with a little laugh.
He feels opened up before her at that look. If he thought he was mixing things up before, he's epically failing now. He can't see her looking at him like that and think anything other than She's in this with me. We're in this.
She's not. She's not. She cares; she needs his friendship and support; she supports him, has his back, won't let him down. But in this? No.
No. He needs to stop his heart. Before it runs away with him again.
When she pulls up outside her father's cabin, her hands are sticky with sweat on the steering wheel. She - she is really doing this.
This is where it starts.
"Where are we?"
"My father's cabin."
She hears his rush of breath out, the echo of silence, waits but never hears him draw a breath back in. Kate turns her head towards the cabin, stares it down, then gets out of the car.
"You coming?" she says, glancing over her shoulder at him.
"Yeah, yeah," he hurries, coming out after her, his face twisted in confusion, surprise, worry. All those things. She can see them.
Kate starts for the cabin, fiddles with her key ring until she can touch the smooth, cold metal she needs, the key she knows so well as she mounts the four steps to the porch. She didn't tell her father she was coming out here, but she sent him a text while they waited on their lunch.
Castle is at her back when she goes inside, his curiosity practically shouting. She leads him on a tour, kitchen, breakfast nook, living room, then she takes him down the back hallway.
"This is where you were all summer," he says softly as she opens the door.
"This is it," she affirms.
He steps up to her side as he takes it in: the sheer white curtains over the double window, the writing desk pushed up against the opposite wall to catch the light, the narrow, twin bed covered in the fading blue quilt a great-aunt made fifty years ago or more. It's entirely unremarkable.
"All summer," he murmurs, as if talking to himself.
She steps inside and he comes after her, like he's attached, turns around slowly to get a look at the small room.
"I did something this summer," she starts, hesitates because she wants the right words. "Therapist's idea. A way to figure it out, heal."
She can hear him turn sharply towards her, but she can't look at him. Instead she goes to the writing desk and opens the middle drawer. From inside, she pulls out a puzzle box - wooden, with a kind of parquet along the sides and top in various stains, complicated and held together. She has to slide a piece towards her like a Jenga game, then a piece at the back, then the bottom slips forward, and finally she can slide the top halfway open.
A Japanese puzzle box, given to her long ago by her mother.
The jumble of tightly folded paper still brings saliva to her mouth, like she might throw up. All her secrets.
She lifts her head and catches his curious, fascinated gaze, holds the box out, but takes it back, shaking her head. "Wait. Before I - before you start. Maybe just one a day. So you won't - it might overwhelming."
"What is this, Kate?" he says softly, regarding her. But he takes it from her, takes it off her hands.
"Secrets," she says finally, her heart vibrating in her throat, tense on a string.
His face goes blank; something of the weight of this must sink into him. "Secrets," he echoes flatly.
"You should read them. Some are - a lot are - written to you," she gets out. She's sweating like crazy, her hands trembling. She can't read the look on his face, but she needs to, needs to know what he's thinking because it is eating her up-
He is studying the box in his hand.
She has to - she needs to explain maybe. "The note I carry with me - that's one of them. One of the ones I don't like so much. How I've been a coward. Was all summer and now-"
"Now you're not," he says, quietly, lifts his head to look at her.
"Open one," she says back, insistently. She wants to get it over with.
All the notes are torn from notebook or computer paper and wadded up tightly, folded over and over. It takes him a moment, trying to get it unfolded one-handed, but even as she reaches out for the box to hold it, he shakes his head and tucks it up under his arm, all awkward pieces and half-opened, as if he's loath to let it go.
She waits, hands at her sides, guts churning, telling herself to breathe, telling herself to calm down, she's an NYPD detective, she has a gun, and for the love of all that's holy, Castle, just open the damn thing-
He spreads it smooth with a thumb, the paper held at his waist, his head bowed over it, and she doesn't even know what it says. It could be anything at all. Anything, and she has no idea, she's just standing here waiting on him and-
Castle lifts his head, something completely unknown in his eyes. He works his mouth, looking at her, and shit, it's probably one of the very worst, the worst, it would be her luck-
"You're a coward - when it comes to me?"
She lets out a long breath, a hitch at the deepest part that keeps her from finding her voice for a moment.
"Why, Kate? Why would you be afraid of me?"
"No," she croaks out, shaking her head. This isn't how - it's not supposed to be this hard. She's not supposed to have to explain. "Not of you. When it comes to you. About you."
Don't ask me for more.
But in a moment, he's grabbing for the box under his arm, fingers already digging in for more, and her whole being flinches, crying out for mercy, but she should have known better.
There was no way on earth, no way in hell, that Richard Castle would leave all her secrets for later.