Pandora's Box 2/? (Castle)
SUMMARY: Spoilers for the season 3 finale of “Castle.” Following the events in "Knockout," Kate Beckett escapes the city for some much-needed R 'n R at an inn in the Adirondacks. Trouble's always hot on her heels, though, and while Millers Kill police officers Kevin Flynn and Russell van Alstyne can help with one of her problems -- the one that's out to kill her -- they're powerless against the problem in the writer-shaped suit.
NOTE: This fic is actually a crossover between “Castle” and the Millers Kill mysteries by Julia Spencer-Fleming. While familiarity with Spencer-Fleming's books is helpful, it will not be necessary to follow along, as the focus will be on Beckett and Castle.
DISCLAIMER: ABC Studios and Julia Spencer-Fleming own their respective 'verses and everything they encompass. This is a work of fan fiction, and thus derives no profit or material benefit therefrom.
Kate eased her legs out of the car and gripped her father's outstretched hand, pushing back against the pain and dizziness with what little reserved strength she had after the long drive from the city as she tried to get to her feet. The eleven days she'd spent in the hospital, attached to tubes and monitors like a scene in a B-grade monster flick, had left her so weak she could barely hold a toothbrush. Sensing her distress, Dad cupped her elbow in his other hand to help her stand, then maneuvered around to her side so she could lean on him if she needed to. "Easy there, Katie girl," he crooned as she took a couple of shambling steps before stopping to catch her breath. "Easy."
She'd laugh, if it didn't hurt so much. "You make me sound like a wild animal you're trying to tame." Steps to a porch reared up before her. "Oh God, stairs."
"Just three, and they're not steep. You can do it, honey. I've got you."
A door opened, followed by the thump of footsteps across the porch. Kate lifted her chin as much as she dared to see a man in a madras shirt tucked into new-looking jeans, stylishly trimmed grey hair and grooves around his mouth and eyes that suggested wary kindness. "Welcome to the Stuyvesant Inn," he said. "You folks need some help?"
"I think we've got it." Dad's arm drew around her waist for additional support as he guided her up the stairs, pausing at each step. Each time she raised her leg, even just those few inches, a tugging sensation inside her chest where a lattice of wires, staples, and stitches kept her knitted together evoked a hiss of discomfort. The painkillers she was taking were potent enough to knock a bull elephant on its ass, but they couldn't keep at bay the fear she might come unraveled at any moment. Perhaps she should have listened to Josh and stayed in the hospital another day or two after all. "We've got a reservation for Beckett?" Dad said to the man when they reached the top.
"Right, you wanted our ground floor en suite with the trundle bed. You sure I can't help with anything?"
Kate had to stop again to catch her breath. Incipient nausea bubbled beneath her rib cage, but heaving her guts out was not an option. She blinked her eyes rapidly, reluctant to let her father see her wiping away the tears that had sprung up as she climbed the stairs. A padded rocker a few feet away beckoned to her. "Chair," she murmured. "Sit." With her father's gentle assistance, she shuffled towards the rocker and eased herself down with a quiet grunt, then leaned her head back and closed her eyes. "Rest."
"Will you be okay here while I get us checked in?" In answer, she flicked her fingers in a "you go on" gesture. His hand patted hers before she heard his footsteps follow the innkeeper's inside.
Alone at last, Kate allowed herself the luxury of yielding a little to the pharmaceutical fog she'd been cocooned in since her surgery. She'd spent all day resisting the urge to give consciousness a holiday; once away from the relative safety of the round-the-clock attention she'd gotten from the hospital staff and her colleagues from the 12th, she exposed herself to another potential attack from the next Dick Coonan or Hal Lockwood. Odds were good the next attempt on her life would succeed where the others had not. She was as defenseless as a newborn, driven to ground like wounded prey and scared as hell. It terrified her that she couldn't take a deep breath or lift her arms above elbow height to dress herself, brush her hair, or even aim a gun. Such unaccustomed helplessness was profoundly unnerving.
She was so tired, though. Tired of fighting, tired of hurting, tired of pretending to be strong because other people needed to believe in her strength. Her entire world, everything she knew, had been narrowed and refined to a black hole created by a high-velocity projectile just seven millimeters in diameter. Anything beyond that was too much to bear.
Up here in the Adirondacks, two hundred miles from the city, where she knew no one and no one knew her, surely she could relax her guard enough to let the narcotics work their magic? Question asked and answered: the allure of soft, cushiony warmth where pain was a hazy memory quickly crumbled Kate's depleted resistance. Lulled by the whisper of a breeze through the surrounding trees, she dozed off.
When she came back around, the angle of the sun where it fell over her did not seem to have progressed much. She felt sluggish, as if she'd awakened from a first night's rest following a bout of insomnia. In her line of work, it was a familiar pattern.
Afraid to stretch, Kate tried to find a more comfortable posture, or at least one that didn't seem to strain the macramé holding her chest together as much. The movement forced an exhalation of pain through her lips; only through a series of shallow, panting breaths, as the cardiac care nurse had demonstrated, was she able to regain her composure.
The sound of tires on gravel reached her ears. Behind her the screen door opened and she heard Dad say, "That'll be Officer Flynn, I reckon." Unable to get her brain and tongue cooperating with each other to voice her question, Kate squinted at him in peeved confusion. He seemed to have anticipated her reaction, though, explaining, "I called the number Detective Ryan gave me, explained the situation. Seems he'd already been told to expect us and said he'd drive right over."
Understanding dawned when a police cruiser, light bar off, crested the hill and came to a smooth stop in front of the steps. Two tall men in matching tan uniforms, the passenger with a dark brown campaign hat -- the kind Kate usually associated with park rangers and state troopers -- got out. The driver, the younger of the two, had bright red hair whereas his companion wore steel-rimmed glasses and heavy, square-toed boots instead of regulation footwear. The older cop leaned against the cruiser's hood, thumbs hooked over his belt, while Red Hair bounded up the steps with his hand extended.
"Mr. Beckett? Kevin Flynn. I'm glad you made it. I've been waiting to hear from you since One e-mailed me yesterday." After releasing her father's hand, he turned to Kate. "You must be Detective Beckett. I'm Officer Kevin Flynn, Millers Kill PD." He grasped her hand firmly, but to her relief did not shake it. "That's Chief Van Alstyne," he added, indicating the man by the car, who touched his brim in acknowledgement.
Kate gave Flynn a puzzled frown. "I'm sorry, who e-mailed you?" Her voice was hoarse, her tongue thick in her mouth.
He thought for a moment, apparently rewinding what he'd just said, then his eyes widened and a sideways grin cracked his face. "Ah, my bad, sorry. Old nickname. Your colleague, Kevin Ryan." Her expression must have encouraged him, because he went on, "We were bunkmates at a tac workshop a few years back. Two Irish cops named Kevin -- what are the odds, right?" He chuckled. "So he became Thing One and I was Thing Two, which soon got shortened to One and Two, and, of course, they stuck. Beats Tweedledum and Tweedledee, I guess."
Kate's smile was appreciative if strained. She could tell her last dose of painkillers was wearing off. "Thanks for the welcome. Did Ryan explain why we were coming?"
Spotting another chair, Flynn dragged it closer to hers and dropped into it, leaning forward with his elbows on his thighs and hands clasped loosely between his knees. "He said you'd been shot in the line of duty and that the shooter remained at large?" His voice was gentle, his eyes full of concern, but Kate noticed the sharp attentiveness in the way he studied her. Figuring him to be in his mid-twenties, maybe a couple years younger than Ryan, she wondered what he was doing out here in the sticks.
"That's the gist of it," she told him. He didn't need the background stuff about her mother's murder, Roy Montgomery's role in Raglan's and McAllister's schemes, or the shadowy puppetmaster who hunted her. He didn't need to know, nor did she want to talk about it. She wasn't seeking protection or someone to take up her cause for her, simply a place to lie low and lick her wounds.
She touched her hand to her chest, hearing the faint crackle of the dressing beneath her shirt. "Bullet missed my heart by a hair's breadth." That had been Josh's figure of speech, though she suspected he'd exaggerated a little. "We all agreed it would be best if I left the city to recuperate while my guys try to find the guy who did this to me."
Actually, the decision had been made without her input, though she went along with it without any fuss. When Dad told her what he'd arranged with Ryan's and Esposito's help she hadn't had it in her to put up any resistance or suggest an alternative. After everything she'd been through, she didn't give a damn where she was. In the end, as she watched the skyline shrink in the sideview mirror, she'd been grateful to put the city and the memories of broken trust it held behind her.
"Makes sense. It's quiet up here, so you should be able to get lots of rest -- unless you're so used to city sounds the quiet makes you stir crazy."
"I think the meds I'm on will take care of that for the next few days, at least."
"Did you see anyone who might be following you on the drive up?" the older officer asked. He'd moved away from the cruiser and now stood with his foot on the bottom step, one hand leaning against the railing, the other holding his hat down by his knee. "Any cars that seemed out of place for this area -- pricey late-model, tinted windows, no mud splatters?"
"No more out of place than ours." She indicated the nondescript sedan her father had rented. "We used back roads most of the way to make it easier to keep an eye out." Granted, her father, saddled with that responsibility since she'd slept most of the way, wasn't trained to spot a tail the way she was, but that was exactly why they'd avoided the interstate. "I don't remember seeing anything other than pickups and older SUVs for the last thirty miles or so."
He turned to Flynn. "Kevin, add the Stuyvesant to our regular patrol route. Let Harlene know, but let's keep it off the airwaves, understand? Radio silence on this one." The tension that had lain coiled at the base of Kate's spine ever since she left the hospital that morning eased a little. These might be country cops, but they weren't complete rubes.
"Got it, Chief." Flynn pulled a piece of folded paper from his breast pocket and handed it to Kate. "Here's my cell number. Don't hesitate to call me anytime, for any reason." She palmed the note. "Someone -- me, most likely -- will stop by at least once a day to see how things are going. Hopefully I'll be able to keep Ryan in the loop without tipping our hand to anyone who might be tracking you. I may not always be on duty when I come by, so don't be alarmed if you see an Aztek truck coming up the drive."
Kate gave him a grateful smile. "Thank you. You'll also pass along any messages they might have for me?"
"Anything I can do to help. Ryan's a good guy; I'm happy to do what I can for a friend." He stood up to go, adjusting his duty belt around his waist. Kate was reminded of what a nuisance it had been, back when she was still a patrol cop, to keep her rig properly aligned and the weight of it from dragging her uniform pants down. She might look back on her early years on the force with fond nostalgia from time to time, but the constant wrestling with her gear was generally excluded from those memories.
"Officer Flynn," Dad interjected, halting his descent to the cruiser, "do you or the chief know the name of a good local doctor, preferably an internist? Katie's cardiologist gave her the green light but her surgeon says she needs someone to monitor her--" His fingers traced a line down the center of his chest. "She'll need to get her bandages changed regularly and the incision checked to be sure it's healing and clear of infection. If you know of anyone, I've got her medical file with me."
Josh had been visibly unhappy about surrendering a copy of her file. He'd tried to argue that she should have a doctor up here contact him to have the charts and notes faxed directly, but Esposito had pointed out that doing so could possibly lead someone to Kate's location. In the end, only Dr. Najjar's intervention and her assurance that Kate's heart was not in immediate danger had persuaded him to give in, though he'd continued to grumble about it right up to helping her into Dad's car. If she'd had the strength, Kate would've told him to stick the file where the sun didn't shine.
Flynn deferred to his companion. "The chief knows the hospital staff better than I do."
"How long do you folks think you'll be staying in Millers Kill?"
"That depends on Kate, really -- how quickly she heals and gets her strength back, how long before she's climbing the walls to get back to the city, how soon the new captain will let her return...." Kate saw the look the two cops exchanged as her father's voice tapered off and closed her eyes, guessing what they were probably thinking and lacking the strength to stare down their unspoken questions. The replacement of a squad commander was never good news, no matter what precipitated it; that she had fled the city less than two weeks after being gravely wounded and had a new captain on top of that was not the kind of double play any smart cop liked to see.
A spasm of pain rippled through her body. Caught unprepared for it, Kate cried out. Instantly her dad was at her side, taking her hand in his. "Katie, what is it?"
The recoil as her neurons tried to escape the barrage of stimuli, her muscles tensing and clenching in classic flight-or-fight contractions only made the agony more excruciating, but she couldn't stop it. "Painkillers," she hissed through clamped lips. "Quick." Wood creaked and a door slapped against its frame as her father released her and hastened inside the inn.
"Are you okay? Can I--" she heard Flynn ask, his voice taut with concern.
Her jaw refused to unclench so Kate tried to shake her head, but the tendons in her neck seemed to have turned into iron bars, pounding into her shoulders and upper chest as she moved. Her eyes snapped open, revealing the two officers gazing at her worriedly from the bottom of the steps.
The screen door slapped again and Dad was by her side, touching a capsule to her lower lip. "Open your mouth, darling," he said gently, then, speaking up, "I've got it under control, officers. She just went a little too long between doses is all. Thank you for coming." The water in the glass he tipped against her mouth was bracingly cool. She dribbled a little down her front, but managed to push the pill to the back of her throat with her tongue and wash it down with water. The second pill was much easier to swallow, and the third even more so. "Steve's bringing a dinner roll from the kitchen," he said when she had taken the last pill.
"Not hungry." Already she could feel the analgesic working its magic.
"Josh says you need to take these with food. Besides, you haven't eaten all day. You look like a scarecrow." She'd lost weight in the hospital. She couldn't blame it on hospital food, which wasn't bad, all things considered. More likely some combination of her meds worked to suppress her appetite.
"You sure you don't need any help, Mr. Beckett?" the older cop asked.
"Thanks for the offer, Chief, but I think I'm just going to take Katie inside and get her settled. She's had a long day. You'll get in touch about the doctor recommendation?"
The officer brushed dirt too small to see from his hat and settled it back on his head, then nodded. "I'll make a few calls when we get back to the station, see what I can line up for you." He looked across the cruiser's roof at his partner. "You got a number for the Becketts?"
"Already stored in my cell." His grin seemed to Kate to hint at a prior conversation between them, perhaps one that was still ongoing. The chief grunted, then climbed into the cruiser and shut his door.
"You have my number," Flynn said. "Call if you need anything, or see or hear anything suspicious."
"Will do," Dad said. That seemed to be enough, so with a tap of his fingers to his brow -- not quite a salute -- Flynn got got behind the wheel and backed away from the porch in a neat circle. Kate watched the brake lights fade away behind a cloud of dust until she could no longer see them. After the sound of tires crunching gravel was gone, Dad braced his arm around her waist and lifted her from the rocker. "C'mon, let's get you inside."