Castle knows he makes a striking picture: handsome face, cool shades, windblown brown hair, crisp white shirt, and bright red convertible. It’s enough to catch anyone’s eye, especially that of the young girl on his right, who’s waiting for the light to change.
Round is the only word for her: round face, round eyes, round mouth hanging open as she stares at him, and since she’s literally as wide as she is tall, and wearing an orange shirt, it all combines to complete the picture of a giant basketball.
Castle watches her from behind his dark sunglasses, and sees that beneath the fascination with him and his car, there’s something else, something sad, something rather hopeless in her face, behind those eyes, and his heart squeezes, but he can’t decide whether it’s with pity or sympathy or simply a paternal instinct to comfort a child so obviously in need of it. She is a child, twelve or thirteen or possibly even fourteen.
He takes off his sunglasses, looks directly into her eyes, and calls, “Beautiful day, isn’t it?” He smiles kindly, his own eyes crinkling at the corners, his charm at full throttle.
Her mouth snaps shut, her eyes get, if anything, even more round, and she blushes, hot, fiery blotches glowing in her cheeks. Her eyes dart away and back and away again, then she lowers her head and nods, uncertainly, hesitantly, like a puppy who’s been kicked and is scared it’ll happen again. Castle’s heart squeezes again. Painfully.
He sees the light’s still red, and he says, “Nice town you have here. Are those your school colours?”
Her blush deepens, and she fidgets nervously as she shakes her head without taking her eyes off the ground.
The light turns green, but there’s no one behind him, so he says, “Well, you’re lucky. Not many people can wear orange, but the colour really complements your eyes,” and that, at least, is true. “Have a great day!” he adds, and drives off with a wink and a wave, and a feeling that that little girl was in a world of hurt, and he hopes his kind words brightened her day, no matter how slightly.
But that haunted expression in her eyes haunts him, and he glances in his rear view mirror to catch another glimpse of her, and sees a dark, faceless feminine form rising out of the back seat, large wings unfurling, and he yells a regrettably high-pitched yell, slams on the brakes and skids into the light pole.
He doesn’t remember the impact, but he doesn’t think he’s out long, because the next thing he knows, he’s blinking and there’s something hot and stinging in his eye, and his head hurts, alternating between sharp and dull throbbing pain, and he’s wondering where all these people had come from, and why they were all talking so loudly.
He closes his eyes against the pain, and the next time he opens them, he’s in a hospital, and there are two people standing at the end of his bed. He’s been hanging around the 12th long enough to recognize cops when he sees them.
The man is tall and lanky, all sharp angles with cheekbones that put even Beckett’s to shame.
“Mr. Castle?” he says, speaking in a laconic drawl, “I’m Nathan Wuornos. This is my partner, Audrey Parker. We’re with the Haven Police Department.”
Bingo, Castle thinks, and barely glances at the badges they flash his way.
“What happened?” he asks.
Nathan and Audrey exchange glances loaded with hidden meanings and entire conversations, and Castle wonders if that’s how he and Beckett appear sometimes.
“We’re hoping you can tell us,” Audrey says. She’s a sweet-faced blonde with a no-nonsense expression and a core of strength that Castle immediately recognizes and respects.
“I’m not sure you’ll believe me,” he tells them cautiously.
They exchange another crowded glance and turn their attention back to him.
“Try us,” Nathan says drily, and Castle wonders what exactly they’ve seen to create such wryly humorous resignation on the other man’s face.
“Witnesses say you suddenly yelled out, like you’d been startled by something,” Audrey says.
“I--yes. I looked in the rear view mirror, and...” he shakes his head, then winces at the movement.
Nathan and Audrey wait patiently.
Once the pain subsides enough for him to answer, Castle grimaces and says, “I thought I saw...well, an angel, rising out of the back seat.” He frowns for a moment, wondering why the words seem familiar before he shrugs and refocuses on the two cops watching him with identical deadpan expressions.
Nathan raises an eyebrow. “An angel.”
“Yes. Well, I’m not sure, but it was humanoid, and there were wings...I mean, what else could it be?” Castle frowns, winces again, and presses his fingers against the white patch of bandage over his right eye. “Shit,” he groans, “am I gonna have a scar?” He brightens. “A rakish scar?”
“Is there any other kind?” Audrey asks drily.
Castle preens, just a little, and says, “Of course, any scar on me is rakish by definition.”
Nathan snorts, and Audrey presses her lips together against a smile, before they exchange another meaning-layered glance, and nod.
“Okay, Mr. Castle. Thank you,” Audrey says, and they move to leave.
“Wait a minute,” Castle protests. “You mean that’s it?”
Audrey shrugs. “For now. We’ll need you to come to the station and make a statement once you’re released, but other than that, you’re free to go.”
Castle’s confused, but he puts the officers’ lack of curiosity down to skepticism. The detectives of the 12th have their poker faces down to a science, but he has to admit that these two even have those hardened cops beat. If Castle didn’t know better, he’d think they heard stories like his every day.
They leave, and he gratefully swallows the painkillers the nurse gives him and slips into sleep. He’s woken every two hours, so he’s heavy-eyed and sluggish when the doctor examines him the next day and tells him he’s good to go.
He thinks about the two cops and their strange reaction to his story, or, rather, their non-reaction, as he dresses, then goes through the formalities of getting released from the hospital. He must have been really out of it yesterday to think he’d seen an actual angel in his back seat, because in the bright light of day, he realizes he must have been confused by something reflected in his rear view mirror. He’s almost embarrassed, but then he remembers being naked while riding that horse, and dressing as Elvis when it wasn’t Halloween, and thinks this incident barely registers on the Castle Embarrassment Scale.
He steps out onto the street and considers the town. Bustling at mid-morning, clean, seems nice enough.
His headache is dulled by the meds the doctor prescribed, so now all he needs to do is find a place to stay, then he can head to the police station, make his statement, and find out what happened to his car. He wonders how long it will take to get fixed. If it takes too long, he thinks, well, he can always have it towed to New York while he rents a car and continues his trip to Canada. Neither light pole nor hallucination will stop his plans.
He puts on his still-intact shades and strikes off towards what looks like the centre of town. As he strolls, he begins to spin a tale for his insurance company...although they’ll get a copy of the police report. All right, the insurance company gets the truth, but Beckett, on the other hand, not to mention Ryan and Espo, and Alexis, and dear God, his mother, will all get a thrilling, action-packed story that ends with him running into a light pole while still catching the bad guys. He’s not quite sure of the details yet, but he’ll figure it out. He has time after all.
He’s vaguely aware that people are staring, some even turning to watch him go by. Well, he is Richard Castle, he muses, absently patting the withers of the horse he’s riding, his armour clanking as he moves, of course they’re staring.
Wait. Withers. What?
He stares down at his hand, encased in a gleaming white metal glove, and it’s resting against the muscled, chestnut-coloured shoulder of a horse. A shoulder that flickers orange-red-yellow-white, as if it were on--
“Fire!” he yelps, another unfortunately high-pitched scream, and throws himself off the horse, landing on his right side with a bone-jarring thud and a deafening clash of the metal armour that encases him, and which now seems to have been shoved against every inch of his body, especially the side that hit the sidewalk.
He groans as pain radiates from his previous injuries and what he’s sure will be some spectacular new bruises. He mentally strikes ‘Role Play: Jousting Knight and Lady’ from his list of plans for Beckett once she’s out of training, because hitting the pavement while encased in gleaming white armour absolutely sucks.
The fact that he’s encased in gleaming white armour is something he’s really going to think about once the pain stops. Not to mention the horse. And the fire.
“Detective Parker,” he says without opening his eyes. God knows, he’s no coward, but right now, he has no desire to find out what he’ll see.
“Care to explain what you’re doing?”
Detective Wuornos. Of course. He suspects one is seldom seen without the other.
“Waiting for the pain to subside,” he says. “Is it gone?”
“Is what gone?”
“The horse! The horse that’s also on fire! And how the hell did I get into this armour?”
There’s a pause, and Castle’s too busy trying to tell if anything’s broken to really care if they were starting to think he was insane. He was starting to think he was insane! If he ended up in some psych ward, Beckett would never forgive him. Or marry him, come to think of it. He fervently hopes the last few minutes were an hallucination brought on by lack of sleep and an allergic reaction to his pain meds.
He hears the murmur of voices and it calms him. He can’t hear the words, but the tones are familiar: the calm, professional sound of cops getting statements, and it soothes him enough to cautiously open his eyes and blink up at the blue sky and the blinding sun.
He realizes Detective Parker had been quickly and professionally checking out his arms and legs, and--
“Where’d it go?” he asks, his voice strident. He’s glad Ryan and Espo aren’t there to snicker at him; he’s having more than enough problems at the moment.
“The horse?” Audrey asks absently, moving her attention to his neck and head and checking the dilation of his pupils.
“No! The armour!”
“Ah, yes, I’ve heard about that.”
Castle’s eyes open wide. She looks blandly back.
“What--” and he stops, for once at a loss for words, because she doesn’t seem surprised, and she doesn’t have the ‘let’s-humor-the-crazy-man’ expression he’s seen often enough on Beckett’s face, and Ryan’s and Esposito’s.
“Am I dreaming?” he demands.
Audrey chuckles. “I wish I could say yes, Mr. Castle. Do you think you can stand?”
“Good. Because I think you need a drink.”
She stands, then holds out her hand and helps him to his feet.
They walk over to Nathan, who glances at Audrey and nods.
Part One Part Three