Disclaimer: I claim ownership of nothing related to Castle except love.
A/N: First, let me begin by saying I'm not a writer. I'm just a girl who fell in love with a show and its characters. My words come from that love, not from a textbook or a grammar lesson, so please forgive me that, as all others, if you can. Second, to those of you who look at this Ficathon not as a challenge, but as an opportunity to simply continue to do as you always do, you have my deepest admiration. Third, a special thank you to the readers- you've been so kind and we're all lucky to have you.
Out of the Silence
Kate and Lanie both scowled at the cell phone as it chirped on the counter between them, their wine glasses still in hand, their hopes that the evening might actually go off without a hitch, at once, emphatically dashed. The call from Espo about the freshly discovered body at the motel came in, as was so often and unfortunately the case with the 12th Precinct's homicide calls, at the most inopportune of moments. Not only was it to have been their first girls' night in together in far longer than either could remember, but Kate was in love, had just all but admitted as much, and that conversation wasn't anywhere in the neighborhood of finished.
Kate hung up the phone, pushed it aside with a deep sigh of frustration and then sat, waiting discontentedly for Espo's forthcoming text message with details about where she needed to go. She did her very best in those agonizingly long moments to avoid eye contact with Lanie who, by the demanding arch of her eyebrows, still awaited an answer to the question Kate didn't actually yet know how to answer: What are you going to do about it?.
Kate had no idea what she was going to do, or how to do it, or what she was going to say, or how to say it. And given the state of disconnect she and Castle existed in at the moment, she had no idea if she was even going to be able to do or say anything at all. Just when she'd started to feel truly ready to explore a future with him- ready to try, at least -it was as though the universe had flipped some sort of cruel switch, one that'd suddenly put Castle behind the wall she, herself, had worked so long and hard to free herself from. And, to make matters worse, it appeared he'd willingly taken the escape ladder with him.
Things between them had been different for weeks, and the step forward Kate had one foot poised to take had somehow ricocheted backward with a colossal blow to the gut. She'd spent most of her time of late thinking about it, wondering what'd happened, what she'd done, how to fix something she didn't even know had broken. Castle had grown distant in a way she'd never experienced from him. He'd never been like this, not even in the beginning when they were complete strangers to each other. He'd never treated her like she was just a colleague. He'd never treated her like she was just anything. And the worst part of all of it, the hardest part of all of it, was that, unlike her, the shift in their relationship seemed to have little effect on him at all.
Espo's text message finally came across Kate's phone and broke the awkward silence that'd permeated the room. She and Lanie elected to ride to the crime scene together, seized the opportunity to extend their evening together for as long as the monkey wrench thrown into their plan would allow. More than once during the trip, Lanie glanced furtively at Kate with nagging concern, as she sat all too quiet in the car's driver's seat, her hands gripped tightly around the steering wheel, the lights of the city night dancing across her taut knuckles. Kate's jacket barely tickled the seatback behind her, the tenseness of her body holding her posture nearly fully erect behind the wheel, and she bit nervously at the soft gum of her inner-cheek, as Lanie's earlier words played on an unending loop in her mind like a haunting song lyric, impossible to shake: He's probably tired of waiting.
The words had hit Kate with the punch of a frigid winter air. Worry had set in in an instant, and she'd tried futilely to swallow it down along with the freshly poured wine in her glass. But she knew Lanie was right. Castle wasn't going to wait for her forever, and it wouldn't be fair of her to expect him to, especially given that she hadn't told him of any of the work she'd done since the shooting to ready her heart, a heart that'd truly already belonged to him for so long.
Kate inched the car to a stop at the red light, the street noise outside somehow muffled by the deafening silence within.
"Kate, what're you thinking about?" Lanie knew her well enough to ask, understood her well enough to know she'd never just come out with it. Kate was strong enough to handle anything on her own, and she usually did.
Kate offered no reply, no acknowledgement that her friend had even spoken a word, her eyes laser-focused on the glowing taillights of the car in front of them.
"Kate." Lanie's voice grew more insistent with her second attempt, as did her worry.
"What?" The question dropped out of Kate's mouth with the innocence of a young child. She hadn't heard a single word.
"What is wrong with you, Kate Beckett? And you need to spit it out before you implode because that is one gnarly scene this doctor does not want any part of. No ma'am."
Kate's eyebrows furrowed at the colorful imagery, as the light turned green before them. "Charming, Lanie. Thanks for that visual. And, nothing is wrong with me. I'm just- I'm just thinking. That's all."
"No, that is not all. You're about to rip that steering wheel clear off the column with that grip. Must be some thought you're having." Then her tone grew measurably softer. "Tell me what's goin' on in that gorgeous head of yours?"
Kate made a conscious effort with a number of deep breaths to try and relax her body, thanks to Lanie, now acutely aware of the ache creeping through her hands courtesy of the death grip she had on the wheel. "It's just what you said before about Castle and about his being tired of waiting. I don't want to lose him, Lanie. I can't. And the thought of him moving on because I couldn't-"
"Kate, don't. Don't do that. You said it yourself. You don't know what's going on with Castle any more than I do. You just need to get him to tell you what it is, that's all, and you're good at that, Detective Beckett. Put him in the box, pin him down- figuratively speaking or not- and make the man tell you. And do it now, Kate."
Kate's head snapped sideways with a grimace. "You're bossy, you know that?"
Lanie chuckled, accepted the label without dispute. "I'm just fighting for love here, Kate. Your happiness means a lot to me, and so does Castle's, for that matter. And whether or not all of this works out for the two of you, he should know how you feel and vice versa. All cards on the table. Once and for all. Truth."
Kate agreed with only a nod of the head, her words lost in the maelstrom of emotion swirling somewhere between her heart and her brain.
Just ask him. Just tell him. Sure.
But there wasn't anything just about either.
Kate and Lanie emerged from their vehicle at the motel to find the police and emergency teams busy at work on the scene. They ducked under the yellow crime scene tape, passed Ryan and Espo's car parked next to the van of the medical examiner, and crossed the lot toward room number eight.
"So, were you going to call Castle or-"
"Lanie!" Kate barked in interruption. "I promise I'll deal with that later, okay? I need to just try and focus on whatever this case is right now and do my job."
"Hello! Touchy! I meant about the body, Kate. You know, how a vic drops and you usually call your partner?"
Kate's cheeks flushed with embarrassment. "Right, sorry. No, but I forwarded Espo's text to him from my place, and he hasn't replied, so I have to assume he's not coming. Shouldn't surprise me, I guess." There was profound melancholy in her voice. She hated that she'd begun to think that way.
"You need to get this thing worked out, girl, or the more time that goes by, the worse it's going to get, and the worse you're going to feel."
"I know, Lanie, and I will, okay? Hey, there's Ryan."
Ryan stood a short distance from them in the motel room's doorway. He waved them over and was in the process of grabbing for the notebook in his jacket pocket when Castle abruptly jogged up and tried to get a peek inside. Kate and Lanie stopped in their tracks, the breeze from his dash past churning around them. He hadn't said a word to either.
"Seriously?" Lanie's question was more rhetorical than not. "Nice of him to say hello."
Kate stood motionless, not as shocked by Castle's slight, yet wishing desperately she was, her breath trickling into the night air by way of her slack-jawed expression. It was anger she wanted to feel, but it couldn't rise to the surface, its path obstructed by hurt. This- whatever this was- had to end. She didn't know how much more she could take.
Castle's barrage of questions hit Ryan fast and furious. "So? What's going on? Drug deal gone bad? Lady of the night get caught with the wrong John? Return of Norman Bates? What? Come on, man!"
Ryan tried several times to interrupt the colorful ramble, but to no avail. "Chill out, Castle. Beckett's right there. How about I only do this once, huh?"
"Whoa, a tad prickly tonight, my friend. Everything okay?"
Ryan sighed. "Just another romantic night at home with Jenny ruined is all. No big deal." His voice dripped with bitterness. Clearly, it was a big deal.
"Well, murder nev-"
"Ryan, what've we got?" Kate jumped in front of Castle's, no doubt, less than comforting imminent retort, as Lanie stepped between the men and disappeared into the room.
"Caucasian female, looks to be in her early twenties, no wallet or purse, so she's Jane Doe for now. The clerk at the front desk didn't recognize her, so she must not have checked in herself. He's in the office gathering security footage for tech to review, just in case it may have caught something. The rooms on either side are unoccupied and the charming man in the room upstairs smells like he's been drunk for a week. Needless to say, we got zero from him."
With the preliminaries shared, Ryan turned and ducked back into the room, leaving Kate alone outside with Castle.
"Sounds like you have your hands full, Detective Beckett," Castle remarked, playful yet pointed.
And the words hit their mark.
Her brain had caught the "you" and it'd echoed in her ears like thunder through the canyons. Not too long ago, it was we.
"I didn't think you were coming, Castle."
He looked at her with exaggerated disbelief at the mere suggestion. "Why wouldn't I?"
"Well, I texted you and you never responded, so I just assumed-"
"And there's the problem, Detective. You assumed." One final jab before he, too, left her standing there. Alone.
Kate looked around her, the blue and red lights of the patrol cars reflected in the pavement's puddles, the medical examiner's gurney awaiting its burden, the gawkers hovering with nothing better to do. She felt thankful for all of it, thankful for that moment's distractions, however temporary.
Castle was huddled in a corner with Espo when Kate finally entered the room, Castle showing him something on his phone, both chuckling like a couple of kids enjoying the dirty punchline of a joke no one else around them was supposed to hear. Kate shot them a look, one that required no added commentary, and after a conspicuous nudge from Espo, Castle's phone went dim with the flick of a finger. She wasn't in the mood for much of anything at the moment, and at least one of them understood that.
Kate gingerly approached the victim's battered, lifeless body, one visual sweep of her surroundings under her belt. It was clear that something dreadfully ugly had taken place there, something unimaginable.
Castle and Espo fell in and stepped up behind her, stood watchfully as she crouched to meet Lanie at eye level. "Any idea about time of death?" Her eyes scanned the young woman's body left bruised and bloody on the floor.
"It's pretty fresh. Looks like just a couple of hours maybe. Someone really did a number on her."
Kate shook her head in disgust. "I'll never understand how people can do this to one another."
The obnoxious ring of a cell phone cut into the hush of the somber moment, and realizing it was his, Castle reached into his coat pocket to retrieve the guilty device. He glanced at it unapologetically and reacted with a less than masculine squeal of delight. Everyone in the small group snapped their heads in his direction, their disapproval unmistakable.
"I'll just take this outside," Castle announced, shuffling a few steps backward. As he turned away from them and toward the door, the phone to his ear, he left his "How's my favorite flight attendant?" hanging in the air for all to hear. And they all did.
Espo wasted no time at all. "What the hell was that?"
Ryan shrugged. Lanie watched Kate watch the door.
"Just- can we just focus on the damn body, please?" Kate pulled on the pair of blue latex gloves Lanie had handed her and did the one thing she knew how to do: hid in the work.
The three detectives finished their initial work at the scene nearly an hour later, and they filed out of the room into the damp air of the motel's lot. A spring thunderstorm had passed over while they were inside, and the resulting scent of ozone helped to mask much of the foulness emitting from their less than desirable surroundings. The body was already on its way downtown, and Lanie along with it; the hand she'd rested at the small of Kate's back before she'd left an unspoken gesture of comfort.
"I'm going to head over to the precinct and try to work this stuff up for a bit. You guys headed home for the night?"
"We're not headed home if you're going to the precinct," Espo assured her, in a tone suggesting he was confused that she'd think otherwise. "Wait, where the hell did Castle go? He came out here, like, an hour ago." He and Ryan surveyed the lot as though he might actually still be around after all that time. Kate didn't make the effort. She knew he wasn't there. After all, he hadn't really been there in weeks.
Kate turned and headed for her car. "I'll see you guys over there, okay?"
"Yeah," Ryan hollered after her. Ever the gentleman, he kept watch as she climbed safely into her car and drove off. "Javi, what's going on with her? Is she okay?"
Espo knew Kate and knew Kate well, and he also knew unequivocally that she wasn't at all okay. "Come on. Let's get outta here."
Their ride back to the 12th wouldn't be a long one at that hour and Ryan knew it. He was faced with a limited amount of time to question his partner about what he knew. "So, what was up with Castle tonight anyway? Just disappearing like that?" He intended it to sound smooth and casual, but instead it fell awkwardly out of his mouth with the undignified intonation of a pre-teen in puberty.
"No idea, bro. Maybe it was Alexis or his mom. Or maybe it was an emergency." He wasn't convincing Ryan or himself.
"Maybe, yeah, I guess." He let it drop. But then he picked it up again almost immediately. "But you did hear him say 'flight attendant' too, right? I mean, Beckett didn't look happy at all."
Espo knew it would come eventually, this conversation. He'd noticed the shift several weeks back, a crack in Castle and Beckett's cohesion, changes in the demeanor of each. He'd made mental notes: Castle doesn't stay late these days, Beckett's distracted and quieter than usual, Castle doesn't bring Beckett coffee in the morning, Beckett seems tired and on edge- Castle and Beckett don't act like partners anymore. He'd kept it all to himself, assumed that if Beckett needed him, she'd come, and assumed that if Ryan picked up on any of it, he'd say so. And here it was. "Look, I don't know what's goin' on, bro, but whatever it is, it isn't good."
"You've seen it too then, huh?"
"Yeah, I've seen it."
They sounded like children, worried their parents might be dancing on the edge of divorce- confused and crestfallen.
The final ten blocks of their journey to the precinct were traveled without another word about it. Without another word at all.
The bullpen was empty when they stepped off the elevator, and though they didn't see her anywhere, Kate's jacket hung from the back of her chair. The whole place was dim, a few scattered lights and the mounted television sets the only sources of illumination. It was actually a welcome change from the usual bustle of any given day in Homicide.
"I'll go put on some fresh coffee," Ryan mumbled through a yawn, grabbing the mug from his desk.
Espo dropped into his chair, exhausted by a day that offered no promise of an end in sight. His head fell back against the rest and he covered his eyes with his hand, embraced the rare stolen moment of stillness.
"Go home, Espo."
He hadn't heard the clack of Kate's heels on the wood floor, and he nearly fell out of his chair in surprise, the wheels rolling him awkwardly into his desk. "Hey, sorry, I was just waiting for Ryan. He went to make us some coffee."
"Skip it. I'm going home. You guys should too. I'll be in early."
"You sure? What's up?"
"Yeah. I can't focus. I just need to- go. Sorry you guys came all the way back in."
"Nowhere else we'd be." He wanted to say more, wanted her to know they noticed something was off, that they felt it too, that they were there. But he didn't want to push. It was better that way.
She nodded and offered a feeble smile, one that took everything in her to muster. Ryan watched from the doorway of the break room, coffees in hand, as she grabbed her jacket and disappeared into the elevator. "'Night," was all he said, in a voice she never heard.
Kate arrived home a few minutes past 1:00 A.M. to an oversized envelope propped against her apartment door. Her initial reaction- a by-product of job-instilled wariness- was one of suspicion, as she crouched to try and locate a return label.
The light on the wall in the small hallway was just adequate enough for her to make out the address, and then to realize exactly what was inside. She'd forgotten all about it. The entire transaction had taken more time than she'd ever expected it would- even given that the party selling it was overseas- and with everything else going on as of late, the anticipation she'd felt had somehow fallen away.
It wasn't something she and Castle did with any regularity, exchange gifts- unusual for friends, perhaps, but not as much so for a nebulous two without a defined label. But she'd come across it on the internet a couple of months ago, and she just knew she wanted him to have it, knew that she wanted to be the one to give it to him. He loved James Bond, spoke of the books' influence on his own writing many times over the years, almost left her side for good once because of him, and it gave her butterflies inside to imagine presenting him with the first edition, made her blush to meditate on the personal significance of the title: For Your Eyes Only.
Kate picked up the envelope and let herself in, shut her eyes as the sharp click of the deadbolt echoed off the ceiling above her. Everything in front of her was dark, and she stood, her back pressed against the stiffness of the door, until the pinch of her toes in the impractical leather that bound them became too painful to ignore. She unceremoniously kicked off the heels and dropped her messenger bag in their wake with a thud. Her eyes, finally accustomed to the darkness, guided her safely to the bedroom, the package from London still in the tight grip of her fingers.
Kate carried it into the bathroom with her, and with her free hand she flipped the light switch on the wall, sending her temporarily startled pupils into virtual hiding. Once in balance, she placed it, unopened, on the corner of the porcelain pedestal sink as she washed her hands of the entire day, drew her hair up into a clip, and undressed, the discarded clothes left in a heap where she stood. But she never took her eyes off of the parcel. She watched it and wondered now if Castle would ever see what was inside. She watched it as though it might, too, disappear.
When she finally broke from it, with her eyes driven to blur and back by her stare, she caught her naked reflection in the mirror. With no idea as to how long she'd been standing there and with no explanation as to why, she plucked the envelope from the sink, retrieved her phone from the pile on the floor, and climbed into her unmade bed.
Lanie had texted at some point, so Kate sent a requisite I'm fine reply, just enough to suspend any further conversation for the time being. She didn't want to talk anymore, not to anyone but Castle, not to anyone but the one damn person who surely had no interest in talking to her.
The wrapped book balanced on her knee as she sat cross-legged in bed. It weighed next to nothing, and yet she felt smothered by its mass. She stared at her phone, clutched it tightly in her hand as the debate about whether or not to reach out to him raged furiously in her mind.
And then, as though the decision had been made for her, she began to type:
Not sure why you even came tonight. Obviously you didn't want to be there. This is our job and it should be taken seriously. If you don't want to do that, you should just stay home.
Kate sent the message and was instantly struck by a wave of regret, read back what she'd written as her heart thumped with worry. She hadn't intended it to come out like that. She hadn't intended it to sound like…
That was all he said.
She waited for something else, anything else, more words. The knot in her throat pulled tighter and tighter until it forced her to release a cough, until it disintegrated from the pressure and rolled from her eyes as tears.
The phone went dark, his message still open on the screen as the light faded. And she sat with it in her hand, the package having fallen from her knee somewhere along the way.
Okay. That was all he said.