The flashing lights of the police cruisers blurred eerily in the rain soaked windscreen of the squad car. Castle braced himself against the front seat as it screeched to an abrupt stop.
"This is it." Esposito turned and nodded to Castle. "You okay bro?"
"I'm fine." Castle struggled to keep his voice calm as he threw open the back door. "Lets get in there… Now!"
"Okay you follow us in, but stay behind me. No heroics, no rash moves. You know the drill."
Castle could only grunt in acknowledgement, unsure if his vocal chords would even function at the moment. Both anticipation and dread warred in his veins and he had trouble standing still. This could be it – she could be here! But if she were would she be alive? Could this be the wrong place? Had they gotten here too late?
"We'll get her Castle. It's going to be okay."
The hallway was narrow and dark. A musty smell was thick in the air and Castle fought the urge to vomit. With every door kicked open by Ryan and Esposito, every empty room, Castle felt himself die a bit more inside. She was not here.
"Hey! Hold up a second!" Ryan raised his hand and stopped suddenly, causing Esposito and Castle to crash into his back like falling dominoes. "I think I hear something!"
Castle held his breath as the team halted, scarcely breathing. Faint cries could be heard coming from the back of the abandoned warehouse. A door rattled and a female voice yelled something unintelligible but it sounded like heaven to Castle.
"Beckett! KATE!" he took off at a run with Ryan and Esposito hot on his heels, all self-preservation instincts forgotten. She was inside, he could hear her, she was going to be okay…
After repeated kicks the door finally gave way….there she stood. Alive and whole before him. Castle released the breath he hadn't realized he had been holding and enveloped her in a fierce hug.
"Kate" he breathed "Oh thank god!"
She was battered and bruised, pale and shaken, with a deep cut to her left wrist that was bleeding profusely, but she was alive. Castle had never felt more relieved, overcome with gratitude for a god that he didn't really believe in.
"Beckett." Ryan stepped in next to him. "Are you hurt? Medics are on their way."
"I'm okay. Just my wrist." Her hand shook as turned her forearm to inspect the cut. "It wont stop."
"Bus is on its way. They can patch you up at the hospital."
Kate nodded numbly, staring past him into the empty hallway. "Did you catch them?"
"No." Esposito replied softly. "But we will."
"How did you find me?" Kate queried hesitantly, eyes flicking to the door and back as though she were fearful her captors would return.
"Long story. We've had a busy couple of days. Fill you in later."
Kate nodded again, a haunted look in her eyes. Her lip quivered and she tilted her head, hiding her face underneath her matted hair. Castle had never seen her look so small and fragile before, so defeated and lost and it unnerved him.
"Kate?" Castle took her hand apprehensively and felt it trembling. "Kate?... What happened to you?"
"Nothing Castle. I'm fine." She stared at the dirty concrete floor and would not meet his eyes. "I just need to get out of here." Her voice became almost a whisper. "Just get me out of here….."
"Of course. As soon as the medics arrive." He still held her hand and gave it a light reassuring squeeze, causing her to wince.
"Sorry. I forgot about your wrist." Castle turned her hand over to inspect the damage. "When did this happen?"
"Yesterday." She breathed. "Bastard cut me. I couldn't… I couldn't stop it." Her voice was breaking and she tossed her head angrily, as though she might be able to reject her weak emotions. The room was beginning to spin and she staggered.
Ryan and Castle grabbed her arms and led her over to the other wall of the room where a dirty mattress lay on the floor, easing her down to sit on its edge.
"Kate?" Castle eyed her searchingly. "You feeling sick?"
"Just a little. I'll be okay in a minute." She leaned forward into her knees, breathing heavily and clutching her stomach in obvious pain.
Castle squatted down next to her, concerned. "Kate?" He moved to sit down next to her, placing his hand on the mattress but withdrew it quickly.
"Blood?" Castle studied the mattress in the dim light. A large pool of blood lay in the centre of it and he felt his stomach turn. He glanced up at Ryan questioningly.
"My wrist has been bleeding since yesterday." Kate glanced towards the mattress. "I couldn't staunch the blood. I didn't think…"
"Beckett!" Esposito called from the hallway. "Medics are here."
"Think you can stand up?" Castle offered her his hand.
"Yes Castle I already told you. I'm fine".
Pushing his hand away, Kate stood gingerly and moved towards the door. Every step was pure torture, but she did her best to hide the pain, desperate not to look weak in front of her friends.
The medic pushed the door open with a bang and Kate jumped backwards, unnerved. Waves of nausea rose within her and she felt her knees giving way.
"Kate? KATE!" Castle grabbed her shoulders, arresting her fall as she collapsed onto the floor.
"Kate? Can you hear me?"
Placing one arm under her arms and the other behind her knees Castle hurriedly hoisted her onto an awaiting gurney. The medics flew into action, pushing Castle and Ryan out of their way. Esposito hearing the commotion had entered the room, and gaped at Castle alarmed.
"She fainted. I think that..."
"No. I mean you're shirt." Esposito pointed to the sleeve of Castles shirt. Where once had been white the shirt was now heavily stained with blood. Beckett's blood- they both realized simultaneously. Castle gawked at him in horror before chasing the medics, who were now on the move, down the dank hallway.
"I'm her partner! I'm coming too." He hoisted himself into the back of the ambulance just as they were shutting the door. Castle didn't feel the need to explain that he was only her "work" partner and neither of the medics seemed interested.
The drugs and oxygen mask were having their desired effect and Kate began to stir on the stretcher.
"I'm right here Kate." He took her uninjured hand in his and held it gently.
One of the medics unbuttoned the fly of Kate's dark trousers and flinched violently, sliding her hand from Castle's in an attempt to slap the medics hand away.
"Kate… there's blood all over the back of your trousers." He glanced down at his stained sleeve. "Did they cut you anywhere other than your wrist?"
Kate bit her lip and shook her head slowly, fighting back tears as Castle's trepidation grew.
"Did they hurt you?"
Kate remained silent, staring down at the blanket covering her.
"You need to tell us Kate. You know I would never think any less of you. No one would." He grasped her hand again, stroking it tenderly. "What did they do to you?"
She had squeezed her eyes shut, biting her lip and shaking her head. "Just leave it Castle… leave it."
"They raped you didn't they?" Castle asked quietly.
Kate was silent for a moment, frozen, before she nodded. The tears spilled over and she shook as her body was racked with sobs. Castle held her hand a little tighter, gently brushing the loose curls off her tear streaked face.
"It's okay Kate. You can get through this. It's okay…"
Castle sat alone in the hospital waiting room he had been ushered to, immersed in his own private cocoon of gloom. Ryan, Esposito and Lanie had arrived at the ER within seconds of each other and he stood up as he noticed their approach.
"Hey how is she?" Esposito's face was grim.
"She's in surgery. I don't know how long…"
"SURGERY?" Lanie and Esposito both exclaimed in unison.
"What the hell happened?" Lanie demanded.
"Uh. There was a lot of blood." Castle stammered. "When they tried to examine her, she hemorrhaged and they took her upstairs." Castle sounded totally defeated. "I told them to get a kit." He couldn't bring himself to actually say the word.
"WHAT?" Lanie couldn't believe her ears. "A kit? Oh my god." She clapped her hand over her mouth and stared at Castle in horror. "Oh my god. Kate…"
"Is she gonna be okay?" Esposito enquired quietly, recognizing that Castle was ready to break at any second.
"Why didn't you tell me this on the phone?" Lanie screeched at Esposito. "I could have been down here sooner!"
"I would have if I…."
"Kate Beckett." A doctor in scrubs approached them. "Are you the family of Kate Beckett?"
"I'm her partner." Castle could get quite used to using that title.
"Oh. Okay then. Kate's going to be fine. She's out of surgery. There were some serious internal lacerations but we've repaired the damage and she should be just fine in a couple of weeks."
"Thank god." Castle sat back in the plastic chair allowing his head to tip backwards against the wall. "Thank god."
"Hey." Castle entered the small ward, pleasantly surprised to see Beckett sitting up and awake in her bed, chatting with Lanie.
"Hey yourself." She smiled at him, but he didn't fail to notice that the smile did not reach her eyes.
"How are you feeling?"
"Fine Castle. I'm fine. I've just been chatting with Lanie here about when I can go home." Her voice was flat and lifeless.
"Home? Kate you've just had surgery."
"That's what I keep telling her!" Lanie chimed in. "Maybe she will listen to you."
"I had surgery yesterday. I'm fine Castle. I just want to go home."
Castle shook his head ignoring the petulant look in her eyes. "You know its not up to me, but Kate, you were raped and…"
"Please DON'T use that word!" Kate spat back at him, shuddering. She shut her eyes and breathed deeply, as if to compose herself.
"Who else knows?" she demanded through gritted teeth, glaring at Castle.
"Only me, the boys and Lanie." Castle nodded in Lanie's direction. "Oh and Gates I guess, from the report." He shook his head slightly. "Don't worry about it."
"Don't worry about it?" Kate's voice rose abruptly. "How the hell can you say that? If I couldn't protect myself who's going to trust me on the street?"
"DON'T! Don't try to pretend you could possibly understand. Because you don't."
"No." Castle conceded. "You're right. I don't understand it. But Espo and Ryan- they'll keep it to themselves- and Gates, she wont tell anyone. You know she rules 'by the book'. Only the people who care about you know. And we're here for you Kate. All of us.."
Castle left Beckett and Lanie a few minutes later, Kate demanding to be alone and rest. Castle sensed her pulling away from him and felt powerless to help her. Her behavior frustrated him. Two men had attacked her, kept her confined for two days, stabbed and raped her. How could she feel as though it was due to her own weakness?
Castle was absorbed in his own thoughts and did not notice the young dark haired doctor heading towards him.
"You." He scoffed. "I might have known…"
"Josh...?" Castle was caught momentarily off guard. "I…"
"I might have known that if Kate was injured you would be involved! How could you let this happen to her? First shot, now… now this!"
Alexis bounded down the stairs upon hearing Castle enter the loft.
"Dad!. You found her. I told you you could! You did it! So what happened, I mean, is she okay…?"
Castle found himself slightly overwhelmed by her teenage exuberance. He sighed, unsure of exactly how much he should tell her.
"Kate's in the hospital. She's had surgery and she was badly beaten.."
"But she's gonna be okay?"
"I thought I could her you two talking down here. So how is our girl? When will…"
Martha was interrupted by Alexis's mobile ringing. "Gotta go – that's Ashley."
Alexis turned and ascended the stairs, mobile in hand, talking incessantly. Castle watched her disappear into her room, sadness filling the pit of his stomach. To Castle she was still a child, a child who loved to laugh and dream and believed the world was still a safe place to live. Castle would hate to see the day that her youthful innocence was shattered.
"So details Richard. How is she? When will she be visiting?"
"She's in the hospital. Had surgery last night. I'm not sure when she will be released." Castle sounded flat and defeated.
"Surgery? But..? She's okay isn't she." Martha studied her son carefully. He looked so desolate and exhausted. She could tell he was holding back.
"It's… It's bad Mother. The two guys that held her. They…. She was… raped."
"But…" Martha stared at him in horror, her eyebrows rising to her hairline. "You found her…? Were you too late? Oh Kate."
Castle felt the sudden urge to smash something, but settled for kicking a barstool out of the way as he leaned over the counter, burying his face in his hands.
"Yes we were too late." He stammered. "I was too late."
"Oh Richard.. I didn't mean.."
He shook his head numbly. "I know. I should have…. I just can't believe this could…." He struggled to find the words as his emotions overwhelmed him.
"Now I….. She barely even looks at me. " The words came jumbling out. "I couldn't protect her. I just really really wanted to protect her. " His voice broke and he returned his face to his hands. "Oh god Kate…."
To be continued…..