AN: Hello. Yes, I'm aware that I have an unfinished Castle story out there, but this idea popped into my head after I watched "Always" and refused to get out.

This story picks up where "Always" left us. There are no spoilers here. You can expect updates to appear twice a week, maybe more.

Before I skedaddle – JSQ, thank you loads for reading and for telling me things that encouraged me to post.


No Time For Goodbye

The rain hitting the window felt like time running out. Each drop, each second, brought home to him that there was no going back. Not this time. There would be no last minute reprieve, no second, third and who knows how many more charmed chances. What he'd done made it final. And even if his brain didn't want to accept the truth of that, the stone cold heaviness in his chest told him better.

He finished his drink. The aged amber liquid no longer burned, the weighted-bottom glass no longer filled his hand – he couldn't feel anything. Not yet. Not until he was clear of New York. He sealed the padded brown envelope and scribbled her name and address on the front. He slid his jacket from the back of his office chair, grabbed the envelope and made his way out of his sanctuary.

Delaying the inevitable for just a few precious minutes more, he jogged upstairs and took a look in the three bedrooms that took up most of the sprawling apartment's second floor. He'd checked them over twice already, but just in case something had been left behind that was needed, he'd check again. Alexis's room stood bare, apart from the mismatched furniture that she could never bear to part with – this despite his many offers to pay for an interior decorator to make over her room in whichever style she liked. His daughter had refused to replace the too-small bookcase he had bought her when she turned eight, tired as he was at the time at seeing piles of paperbacks stacked all over the bedroom floor, or the dressing table that she could barely squeeze her legs under now, or the wardrobe that better accommodated clothing sized for a young teen. He swallowed against the lump that formed in his throat as his blue eyes scanned the empty surfaces, devoid now of the many mementoes that she held so dear. Turning away, he walked down the corridor, past the guest room, and paused outside his mother's room, which also was depressingly empty and cold; the flamboyant, brightly coloured and $400-a-roll wallpaper the only clue as to the type of person who had once inhabited it.

Satisfied that despite the urgency with which they had packed up their lives, nothing important had been left behind, he made his way back downstairs. He grabbed his car keys (not that he'd be using them any time soon), his airline ticket and wallet from the dining table and tried to steady his nerves and calm his heart. Using his free hand to pick up his cell phone, which he held onto for only for a moment, he let it fall to the floor with a sickening thud. Then he brought the heel of his foot down on the black rectangle, wondering as he did so, if it would be enough.

Outside now, and the rain continued to fall. Droplets of time splashed onto the shoes of his quick-moving feet. His fast walk became a run. He ran and ran until he reached the post office a block and a half away.

xxx

The sky blue ceiling, turned upside down, stretched below him, and despite wanting to race in the opposite direction, the jet skimmed its surface and took him away from her.

He felt a sob wedge itself painfully at the base of his throat. He swallowed hard and looked for distraction outside the window, but the tears were always going to fall. Rick Castle didn't even notice when the stranger sat in the first class seat next to him, having studiously ignored his silent misery for as much as he was able, got up and headed to the bathroom. He was spiralling into regret and drowning in reality – both, states of mind that he always worked hard to keep at a distance.

Reality, he learned as a child, represented a failure of imagination. He knew his determination to always spin a better story than the one he was confronted with, the one he lived, drove his mother nuts. He would often, as Martha pursued her acting career all over the country, return home at the end of another new school day with a split lip or a bruised eye, sometimes both, and instead of coming clean about what had happened, he'd deny her information and a chance to help him. Instead, he'd lock himself away in his room and lay on his bed, eyes closed, until the fantasy that took shape in his mind made the pain and humiliation slip away. He didn't fit in at school. Friendships had already been formed by the time he enrolled, and even when he managed to find one or two kids to hang around with, she would take off again, him in tow. It didn't help that he was a smart ass, with a mother who made it her life's mission to be 'noticed'everywhere she went and a home life more akin to one of the crazy soap operas she would sometimes land. So, when at the age of fourteen his mother sent him to Edgewick Academy, he grabbed onto it, despite the fact that he really didn't want to go. Yes, he had been lonely to the point of desperation, but at least he had constancy, and that's all he ever really wanted.

And for the past few years, hanging out at the 12th, writing adventures for Nikki Heat and shadowing her real life inspiration offered the type of constancy that made him realise that sometimes reality was better than anything he could imagine onto the page. But that was all going to end. Because tomorrow, she would know that he was gone. Tomorrow, it would be far too late for her to follow.

Tears stung his cheeks; his whole body was racked with upset and frustration, and because there was no sidestepping it this time, regret spread like poison outwards from his heart until he tasted its bitterness and felt its possessive fingers clutch at his throat.

Because tomorrow when she opened her mail, she wouldn't want to follow. The fact that he'd planned it that way made her inevitable disappearance from his life all the more painful.

xxx

The plane touched down onto the scorched, grey tarmac and the pilot proudly informed them that they were twenty minutes ahead of schedule. But what did time mean now? What good was the perception of time when you knew that yours had run out? Exiting the aircraft, the thick, humid air enveloped him – an unwelcome blanket that was impossible to shake off. And the much-too-bright sunshine made his eyes sting and water; all he could think about was New York in the rain. Home.

Alexis threw herself at him as he made it into the arrivals lounge; the chilled air inside a very welcome contrast. He hugged her back, tight. He inhaled the scent of her, felt her breathing against his chest and finally, finally, let himself believe that she was safe now.

"So where is she?" He breathed into her familiar, sweet-scented hair before bending down to her eye level and placing a kiss on her forehead.

"Outside. Holding a cab for us." He felt her much smaller hand work its way into his own, and he let himself be led from the blissfully air-conditioned terminal building.

xxx

They sat either side of him, his women, as the sparkling-white taxicab carried them away from buildings and decent roads and into the dense jungle of green. They bounced around on the grey leather backseat as their driver navigated his way deeper into the middle of nowhere. Nobody spoke. Castle held his mother's hand in his right and in his left was Alexis's, which he honestly couldn't imagine ever being able to let go of again.

Half an hour later, they reached the house. White wooden slatted walls, baby blue painted window frames and a double-width front door, also blue, rested atop a quadruple run of stilts. It looked like an oversized tree house. A tree house nestled against a thick wall of trees on one side and open to a beach on the other.

Still holding onto his daughter's hand, they together walked into the large house, which was to be home for as long as it needed to be. The windows at the back were all wide open, held in place by small loops of twine that fastened to the walls either side. The breeze from the ocean swirled around them, and for the first time since landing on the island, Castle felt like he could actually breathe.

"Did you take care of everything, Dad?"

"Yes, pumpkin. Don't worry. There's no need to worry anymore, okay?"

Her clear blue eyes looked into his, searching for the truth, and he wondered when his words stopped being enough for her.


Thanks for reading. :)