Her heart was pounding in her chest as her eyes darted around the cafe, and, satisfied that she was the first one to arrive, she let one of the waiters direct her to the back of the room with a nod of his head. She stepped past the free end of a long, communal style table, watching and waiting with narrowed eyes as a couple vacated the smaller table behind it. She slid into the chair against the wall with an impatient huff, the front door now in her line of sight.
The menu, folded beneath the sugar bowl, peeked out, and she tugged at it with shaky hands, bringing it into her field of vision. She clenched her fists in an attempt to steady herself as her gaze swept over the page; varieties of coffee and tea were listed one after the other, and the choices were overwhelming.
Her gaze snapped up as a shadow fell across the table, the face smiling down at her shocking in its familiarity.
He beamed at her as he took the seat opposite her, his grin lighting up the room and she swallowed. This was nothing like the last time they'd met; she'd been just one anonymous girl in a room of many, waiting impatiently in line in a midtown bookstore, her hands gripping the latest of his bestsellers.
But alone with him in one of Tribeca's trendiest cafes?
That was intimidating.
He offered his hand, and she took it, putting a little more force than necessary into the handshake in an attempt to override her nerves.
She wasn't freaking out.
Absolutely not. This was normal. Completely and utterly normal; taking a phone call from a famous author in the middle of the day and meeting him for coffee three hours later was nothing out of the ordinary.
She shook her head slightly, her lips curving up in a smile of their own.
Like hell this was normal.
"Katherine Beckett?" he asked, confirming her identity, the hint of laughter playing at the corner of his mouth, and she nodded, her hand still firmly ensconced in his warm grasp.
"No," she said, aware she was still nodding like an idiot. "Yes, but, I mean- no. It's Kate. Kate Parker, now."
"Rick Castle." His eyes widened as he took her in, releasing her hand at last. "I know you!" The exclamation was one of accomplishment, his face the picture of pride, his eyes piercing and clear. "I've seen you before!"
It was all Kate could do to stay upright, her concentration diverting from his face to her own lap as she focused on remaining seated in her chair. He remembered her? From a book reading? But it had been years since she'd sneaked away to one of his signings.
"Yeah," he continued, his gaze still on her, his lips parting slightly as he studied her. "I fell in love with you on the subway one time!"
Well. That was different.
Different and creepy.
It was totally her, wasn't it? Rick narrowed his eyes, staring into her hazel ones. The face was the same, he was sure of that; beautiful eyes hidden beneath lashings of eye make-up, full, soft lips that would curve into a sweet smile. Then again, he'd fallen in love with so many random women across New York; five seconds of wonder, before the moment was gone, and the woman in question was swallowed up in the anonymity of the city.
Those who stuck with him got a line in a book, usually; that was how he remembered them. Katherine Beckett - or Kate Parker, if that's who she was now - had caught his attention and he'd grabbed his notebook, scrawling down a few words that would immortalize her in one of the Storm books.
She'd become Karen, one of Derrick Storm's associates, a bit player who - to anyone other than Rick - was nothing more than a plot device; a dark haired woman whose shimmering tears had echoed in Storm's memory.
Certainly Kate would never recognize herself as the inspiration. If his Karen really was Kate Parker? Well if she was... he mentally congratulated himself for choosing a name so similar to his inspiration.
"I don't know if you know who I am-"
He ran a quick hand through his hair, as he rushed to explain.
"I write. I wrote you. I mean- it might not have been you, I get that-"
Kate's eyes were wide now, her hands folded together as she leaned back, her spine as stiff as a rod, looking for all the world like a deer in headlights, ready to flee, skittish at any moment.
"And you just- if it was you- I know it's a long shot- you really caught my attention that day. You have beautiful eyes, you know." He frowned, doing the math. Karen had appeared in which Storm book? "It would have been in the middle of 2005. You were crying, but you looked really happy, you know? You kept looking down at whatever was in your purse, and it was making you smile."
Was it her? He really didn't know. On the one hand, it was a one in a million chance, but on the other hand, wasn't that what life was all about? A series of coincidences, twists, and turns that brought individuals to their fate, no matter the roundabout paths it took to get there?
She leaned forward, a lock of her chin length hair falling free. It was her. It had to be. He tapped his fingers across his thigh, tensing as he resisted the urge to push the hair back from her face and out of her eyes, surprised at the impulse.
"It wasn't me," she mumbled at last, her eyes dropping to the menu in front of her. She was giving the distinct impression of someone who was forced into a situation she didn't want to be in, and he shook his head in apology. "Thousands of people ride the subway at any given moment."
"My name's Adam, and I'll be your waiter today." The interruption was a welcome relief and Rick grinned at the man. "What can I get for you?"
"Kate?" Rick asked, gesturing to her, and she glanced again at the menu, one finger making its way to her mouth as she decided.
"Earl Grey tea," she said at last, and he raised an eyebrow; she was obviously nervous and from the expression on her face, her mind was running a mile a minute. He'd definitely picked her for a coffee drinker.
"Cappuccino for me, please," he said, his attention back on the woman in front of him.
"So what can I do for you, Mr. Castle?" she asked, and his forehead creased, dismayed to see that her eyes had clouded over and she appeared to be bracing herself.
"Rick," he insisted. "I've been working with the NYPD-"
"You work for the NYPD? Aren't you an author?" Her voice had the practiced coolness of someone used to dismissing stupid ideas and he shook his head; he needed her to hear him out.
"I consult with the NYPD," he corrected; if he was lucky she wouldn't ask how long, exactly, he'd been 'consulting' with the police. He doubted she'd be impressed when he told her he'd spent a handful of afternoons at the Twelfth precinct pouring over old cases. "And yes." He straightened, pride that she did, in fact, know who he was touching something inside him. "I am an author."
"And you killed Derrick Storm?"
"What?" He held a hand up, his mouth falling open. There was only one logical explanation for how she would have known that - she was a fan, and a serious one at that. "Why, Kate Parker, do you read my books?"
She was saved from answering when their waited unceremoniously dumped their order in front of them, and she plucked a napkin from behind the sugar bowl in irritation, wiping at the table where Rick's cappuccino had sloshed over the edge of his cup. For all its hip vibe and specialty blends of coffee, apparently it was asking too much of the waiters to carry a simple cup of coffee.
The snap in her voice was a little colder than she would have liked, but they'd been sitting here for ten minutes now and she was none the wiser as to why he called her just after lunch, insisting that he needed to interview her. She was none the wiser as to why she agreed, either, except that was a lie that she couldn't quite feed herself, and she snatched the napkin away, crumpling it in her hand and discarding it on top of the menu.
She was never going to say no to this meeting.
Not when Richard Castle was on the other end of the line, rambling about case files and research.
She worked on breathing - in and out - because come on, Kate, it was just oxygen and your lungs know how to do this. It wasn't like sharing this space with her favorite author should have any kind of effect on her.
"You must be a fan, if you know that, since the book hasn't come out yet." He smirked, and she found herself wanting to bridge the distance between them and wipe the smile off his face. She swallowed. No. No, there would be no bridging of the distance, metaphorically or otherwise. Just because he was the very picture of attractive, there was no reason to let her mind run away with her.
"I've read a couple of your books," she conceded, pouring her tea slowly and deliberately. "I'm more a fan of the genre."
"Uh-huh." A smile played on his lips and she shrugged. So she hadn't fooled him. Well, it wasn't quite time to give up her identity on his fan site just yet.
"So what can I do for you… Rick?" She glanced at her wrist-watch in a not so subtle attempt to let him know she didn't have all day.
"Busy day?" he asked, and she frowned. She didn't need to get back to the office this afternoon, but he didn't need to know that. Besides, the sooner she got home, the sooner she could make a start on the advice that was due tomorrow.
"Aren't they all?"
"So… what do you do?"
"I'm a lawyer." She raised the tea cup to her lips.
"Awesome. What area do you practice in?"
She swallowed, the warm beverage sliding down her throat. "Corporate."
"I thought- I don't know. You're not what I expected."
"You just met me. How could you expect anything?"
He leaned back, settling into his chair and placing his cappuccino back in its saucer. A smudge of foam decorated his upper lip and she nodded at him, bringing her own index finger to her lip to let him know.
"Oh. Uh- right."
Rick reached for another napkin, wiping the milk from his mouth, and she found herself staring a second longer than necessary, her eyes flitting to his mouth of their own volition. The book jackets and promotional photoshoots from his fan site really didn't do him justice, and she didn't think he'd aged a day since she'd last been to one of his book signing events. His dark blue shirt fit in all the right ways, and she found herself wishing the day was a little warmer because she wanted to know just what those arms looked like beneath his shirt… no! She snapped her eyes back up to his face and sighed, brushing the hair out of her eyes.
If only she could say the same for herself, but too many late nights and early mornings were taking their toll; she'd dashed into the restrooms at work and smeared another layer of concealer over the dark circles under her eyes before grabbing her purse and jumping in a cab to come here.
"So like I said, I'm working - consulting, really - with the NYPD at the moment. I helped them close a case a few weeks ago and offered to give them a hand-"
"And so I was going through a few of their older files, and I came across your mother's case-"
"And you thought you'd call me up, expose old wounds?" Kate couldn't quite manage to keep the bitterness out of her voice, and he lifted his hands in protest.
"No. Not at all. But I saw your mother's case and it made me curious. Most of my books are in the moment, and I want to go deeper. I want to know what makes people tick, and I want to know how they move on after an event like that in their lives."
"The last thing I want to do is bring up old hurt. But I just had this idea and - as you rightly pointed out - I did in fact kill off Derrick Storm. So I'm… between projects, I guess you could say."
"Between projects? Is that code for writer's block?"
He chuckled; she may not have been what he was expecting - Kate Parker was not exactly the superhero he'd dreamed up in his head on the cab ride over - but she was no shrinking violet either, and the bite to her words was so obviously a mask of some kind. It was all he could do to not reach over and shake her, demand to know what she was so afraid of him seeing.
"I don't believe in writer's block," he defended. "But this is a good opportunity for me to dig a little deeper. Investigate the human psyche."
"And how did you choose me, exactly?"
He reached for the sugar bowl, stirring a spoonful into his coffee. "I told you. I was going through files at the Twelfth. I came across your mom's and it was all just so… senseless, you know? A random gang killing gone wrong? When I write-"
"Senseless. You think?"
"Yeah. Well. When I write… there are always reasons. Nefarious plots, and so on-"
"Nefarious- you mean ridiculous, right?" Her eyes darkened as she glared at him, and he chuckled.
"Told you that you were a fan." He grinned. Kate was… different.
She rolled her eyes, and his mouth fell open; she may have been mad, but he didn't think she had a clue just how sexy she was. Sexy? He shook his head, his eyes dropping to the thin gold band on her ring finger. No. Not sexy. Off limits. And an interview subject, more to the point.
Usually when he was confronted with a beautiful woman it was easy to find the right words to make her smile. Or the right words to get into her pants.
With Kate it most definitely had to be the first and he found himself wanting to make her smile; if she was married he wasn't going to be an asshole - hot as she was - but if a little lighthearted flirting could bring a smile to that mouth of hers...
"I know who you are," she retorted. "I wouldn't have agreed to meet you if I didn't."
"I just… had this image of you in my head, okay? I was looking at the files this morning, and I thought, a girl like that - my daughter is just fourteen, and the idea of her ever going through what you must have gone through…" He shuddered, the shiver running like ice down his spine. "I thought you would have to come away from it changed. And I started to wonder what you were doing with your life."
He shrugged. This whole thing was stupid. Kate Parker was hardly the woman he'd imagined her to be. She wasn't some cop bringing justice to people like herself, and she wasn't a social worker working from the ground up. She was an ordinary corporate lawyer hiding behind her business suit and long hours, living an ordinary life.
What was she doing with her life?
What was she supposed to tell him? That she hadn't spoken to her father in months? That every time she saw him he seemed to have fallen further into an alcohol fueled void? That she was failing as a daughter? That she was cramming full time hours into a part time job and that she didn't know the last time she'd spent an entire day with her daughter without one of the partners from her firm calling her and throwing another deadline her way? That she barely spoke to her husband? That she'd made vows to a man who was now nothing more than a roommate, someone she made small-talk with over dinner every couple of weeks when their paths crossed?
She could almost see the disappointment in Rick Castle's eyes as he evaluated her, his piercing stare getting a read on her as she sat there, silent. She wanted to protest, cry out that she was extraordinary; she wanted to be able to stand proud, tell this man in front of her that she had fought, that she was making her life count.
She wanted to be able to tell her mom that, too.
The protest died on her lips though.
"I'm just ordinary," she told him, her voice low as she made the confession.
All those dreams she'd had? Long gone.
But this was what she'd wanted, wasn't it? To be ordinary. To be normal. To be safe.
Something inside her nagged, still, and she shrugged, pushing the thought away.
Those dreams were gone.
So often she'd been tempted to drive upstate to the prison, stare into the killer's eyes - she wanted to beg for a reason - but delusions of ever being able to understand her mom's murder were useless.
The younger Kate Beckett had grown up, and she had other people to think about now. That girl on the subway - and she remembered, very distinctly, riding the subway, tears in her eyes, in July of 2005 - was gone.
The pull of day to day life, of balancing a career and marriage and parenthood had forced her to reevaluate.
Ordinary was enough.
It had to be.
A/N: Welcome to my Ficathon 2014 entry. I was prompted to write dark… as you see, this isn't dark dark, per se, but it's a challenge for me. It's also a massive challange for me to write this a chapter at a time and publish as I go, it's been a while since I did that. I hope you enjoy where I take this version of Caskett. Kylie has been a super-beta, thank you, and thank you to my girls for the chats!