As dawn broke Beckett's bedroom filled with a muted light that stirred her. She awoke slowly, her dreams jumbling with reality. She was tangled, unable to move, and as she forced her way into consciousness, she sat upright, pushing the covers that had been twisted around her to the foot of her bed.
The alarm on her cell sounded, its pitch sharp at this early hour, and she glared at the device on her nightstand, stabbing at it until the sound was silenced. If only the echoes of her argument with Castle could be so easily hushed.
The sting of the previous night's conversation still rang in her ears.
She just needs a better writer!
Fine, it's settled then.
Was this really it? Did a year of working together really boil down to a single heated argument, closing the door between them forever?
She flipped her bedside lamp on, squeezing her eyes closed in an attempt to shut out the sudden flood of light and the memory of the way his dedication had looked on the page.
To the extraordinary KB.
He thought she was extraordinary?
I meant it, you are extraordinary.
But not extraordinary enough.
I'll do the other book.
A strangled sob escaped, and she brought her hand to her mouth to muffle the sound, swinging her legs over the side of the bed, trying to push away the memory of the way he'd looked everywhere but at her last night. She'd been tempted to overindulge, but every time she'd glanced at Castle he'd had yet another drink in his hand as he worked the room. In response, she'd stuck to mineral water, stubborn in her desire to hold on to the little control she had.
He could do the other book. He could do whatever the hell he wanted.
She still had a job to do, and a murder to solve.
Beckett closed her eyes as she sipped from the paper coffee cup, its weight flimsy in her hands, the sleeve slipping, and she glared as it burned her thumb before she could get her grip right. The elevator shuddered to a stop, the doors opening with a chime, and she straightened her shoulders, bracing herself for the onslaught of the homicide floor. She stepped forward, her stride slowing as she got closer to her desk, unable to tear her gaze from the chair. His chair.
Would he come in today, see the case out? Or, having signed his contract for the certain British secret agent, would he not set foot in the precinct again? Maybe he was in the break room-
She shook her head, trying to clear the thoughts as she approached her desk, pausing when she saw his sunglasses next to the Russian stacking dolls, and, looking around the bullpen, her heart faltered.
He wasn't here. He really wasn't here.
It was over.
Well. That was just fine, wasn't it? This was, after all, what she wanted; a Castle-free precinct.
"Yo, Beckett? Ready to hear the latest?"
Kate nodded at Esposito, draining the rest of the sub-par coffee and dumping the cup in the trash can closest to the white board, before turning her attention to the guys. "What have we got?"
The book launch party had been a success by every external measure.
The days in which he measured success based on whether or not he'd gone home with someone - not every time, but often, definitely - were long gone. But Castle couldn't shake the sense that last night could have been better. It wasn't that it had gone badly, exactly, more that he'd come home with a certain emptiness hanging over him, and the distinct feeling that the party had been a mere bookend to the one the year before when he'd launched the last Storm, and Nikki Heat had been born.
Beckett had wowed the crowd as Nikki; the press had eaten her up, hanging on her every word as she'd joked and flirted. It had been a facade. He was sure it had been a facade. He'd watched her from across the room, his eyes never leaving her for more than a minute. She'd been too stiff, her eyes flashing with annoyance that everyone else had interpreted as sass. And whenever he'd caught her eye she'd averted her gaze quickly - too quickly - and he was sure something was eating at her.
She didn't want to be Nikki Heat? Fine. She wouldn't have to be, not anymore.
"I've got the contract right here, Ricky," Paula had said. With her abrasive voice up in his business, he'd dragged his gaze from Beckett, taking the pen his agent had offered and scrawling his name in all the right spots before taking a deep breath and picking up a sharpie, zeroing in on the closest fans. This was what people wanted, right? Chest signings, flirtation? He could do that in his sleep. And he was done playing at being something more, pretending like he could go deeper.
Shallow playboy had gotten him this far in life, and if Beckett didn't want him by her side any more - not that she ever had - then fine.
He would find someone who did.
He'd turned his dazzling smile on to a group of women across the room, wiggling his eyebrows at them, and, studiously avoiding Kate Beckett for the hundredth time, he'd picked up a glass of champagne and strode across the room to play the crowd.
This morning he was paying for it; too many glasses of wine had been chased by one too many scotches once he'd made it home, and now he was left staring at his cell, desperate for a distraction. He opened his contact list before closing it again and putting the phone on the desk. Clearly she wasn't going to call. And if he was so unwanted, well, enough was enough. He wasn't going to slink into the precinct and follow around after Beckett a moment longer. No. He had a certain British secret agent to write now, and in the harsh light of day, he had to admit the contract he'd signed was damn appealing.
He sighed, the sound bitter as it left his lips, and he scrubbed a hand over his face, last night's five o'clock shadow honest to goodness stubble now.
Money wasn't everything.
But Beckett's words were haunting him, and he swore as her voice played in his skull on repeat.
A better writer. She just needs a better writer!
He wasn't going to bother her anymore. He wasn't going to bother anyone. He was going to stay the hell away from the precinct from now on. But when his phone sounded, his heart leaped and he cursed its betrayal even as his hopes were dashed when Paula's name lit up the screen.
"What's wrong with you, Rick?" Paula's nasal tones shrilled loudly through the line and he winced, running a hand through his hair.
"Nothing, I'm okay," he lied, raising his eyebrows as Paula cleared her throat, continuing.
"Good, good. Because Rick, they want you, you know that, and I don't care how hungover you are because we need to talk-"
He wrinkled his nose, his eyes narrowing. "Yeah?"
"They're a little concerned about just how authentic you can make it."
Castle shrugged. "I signed the contract already, Paula," he reminded her.
"I know, I know. They just-now, I told them you wouldn't be able to move, but they just suggested-"
"Move?" Castle blinked. That second - and the third and the fourth - scotch last night had been an awful idea.
"Yeah. Keep up," Paula instructed, and he groaned.
"They want you to move to London, get some authenticity-"
The dull thud in his head increased in tempo and he massaged his scalp, willing the increasing roar of his headache - headache, hangover, heavy sense of shame - away. What the hell was Paula talking about?
"They were so impressed with the way sales for Nikki Heat have already been going this morning, and when they found out you shadowed an NYPD detective, they wondered if you would move to London. Just for six months. They know you shadowed someone at the CIA too, and they had this crazy idea- Now, don't worry, Ricky." As the speed of Paula's speech increased, so did her volume, and he found himself moving the phone away from his ear.
"I told them you wouldn't move. That you couldn't move. Although honestly, if you want my opinion, a change would do you the world of good."
The word echoed and he closed his eyes, imagining it.
He wouldn't need much space, just a writer's garret. The idea had a certain appeal, and he smiled at the romanticism of it all. Some time to himself against the backdrop of an historic and exotic city. It couldn't hurt.
Or would he need a two bedroom? What would Alexis say?
Alexis wouldn't want to move. Would she? Still, if he went for a six month stint - he could let her make her own choice. Although if she wanted to stay in New York, could he really leave her here with his mother for half a year? He snorted. Yeah, maybe the other way around. He could leave his mother in Alexis' responsible hands for six months, that was an option.
He could write the certain - Bond. He could write Bond - he'd signed the contract, he had no more fear of jinxing it - from a modest apartment in the heart of London. Get some travel in, see Europe.
And be halfway around the world from Beckett.
"I'll do it." The words left his lips before he'd finished thinking them through, and he clapped a hand over his mouth.
"You'll- Rick, are you insane?" The exclamation would sound rude coming out of anyone else's mouth, but it was Paula. Rough and ready was her style, so he bit back his retort.
"Some conditions," he added. "Six months. No more. And they need to figure out who I'm shadowing at MI6. I'm not barreling in there without an invitation. And I'll need an apartment, something-"
"Rick?" Paula interrupted. "Really?"
"I'm- a change of scenery would be good," he told her, a thin smile finding its way onto his lips as Paula coughed and spluttered and swore on the other end of the phone.
"What about Alexis?" she asked, triumph resounding in her voice, and he shrugged, well aware she couldn't see him - and grateful for it.
"We'll work through the details. Figure something out." Through the living room he heard the sound of the front door creaking open and then clicking shut, and he cleared his throat. "Just do what you need to do, okay? Let me know, and we'll talk later." He hung up before Paula could get another complete sentence in, plastering a smile on his face as Alexis poked her head around the open bookshelves and into the office.
"Hey, Dad," she greeted him. "What are you doing?"
"I'm, uh... writing?"
"Really?" She fixed him with one of her patented I don't believe you looks.
"I was talking to Paula," he admitted. "About a certain- about writing Bond."
"Right." Alexis' eyes narrowed. "I still don't know why you want to stop writing Nikki Heat. I mean, I thought everything was going so well with Beckett."
Castle sighed. "It's... complicated, honey. And an opportunity like this doesn't come along every day."
"So, uh, Paula told me they want me to move to London." He paused. Yeah. Way to ease into that conversation. Alexis, I'm about to turn our lives upside down. Good one, Rick. "Crazy, huh?" He chuckled in an attempt to stave off further conversation, but Alexis' eyes widened and her jaw dropped.
"London! Dad, are you serious! You're going to say yes, right?" He swallowed. Maybe she didn't need to know he'd already agreed. Her eyes flashed with excitement. "I've always wanted to live abroad!"
Castle raised the wine glass to his lips again, swallowing the rich red down to buy himself a moment, but his mother was having none of it as she chastised him, her tone sharp.
"Really, darling? London?" Martha wrinkled her nose and he glared at her.
"Really," he retorted. "Paula thinks it's a good idea, and-"
"Well if Paula thinks-" Martha threw her hands up in the air. "But this all sounds like a knee-jerk reaction to the little tiff you and Beckett had last night, and I just don't want you doing something you'll regret."
He grimaced, his mother's words hitting a little too close to home. "No. This has nothing to do with Beckett. There just wasn't enough to the character."
The words sounded as false now as they had when they'd first spilled from his lips, leaving Beckett looking like he'd slapped her. He swallowed. "Like I said, Paula thinks - and I think - that it's time to try something new. And if new is London, well-"
"Well, you'll go to London," Martha finished, and he nodded. "And what, pray tell, are you planning to do with the loft? Have you even thought that far? And Alexis? Surely you can't just take her out of school for a year."
"Six months," he said. "Six months. And I can. It's not that different to a study abroad program, lots of kids take a semester overseas. As for the loft-"
He hesitated. This was not exactly ideal, but how many parties could his mother host in six months, really?
"I figured on you continuing to live here, exactly as you have been."
"I see." Martha looked mollified, and he hummed his tacit disapproval under his breath. "Well, it really sounds like you've thought of everything, then."
"Well, make sure you say goodbye to your friends at the precinct properly," Martha finished, standing and turning toward the door. "You wouldn't want to burn any bridges."
Castle forced a smile onto his face as the elevator doors opened, striding into homicide for the first time in a month with false bravado.
His expression faltered as his gaze fell on Beckett hunched over her desk, her eyes trained on the computer screen. He knew that look. Her shoulders carried the weight of the world, tension and heaviness dragging on her, and his fists clenched as he fought the impulse to reach for her, ease the strain of her muscles with his hands.
They'd never had that, and they never would.
Something new. That was what he needed. Writing Nikki Heat had been a start, a way of breaking the monotony that Derrick Storm had offered. She'd been a way to escape Gina's hold on him and Storm, and she'd been a way to try his hand at something new by spending time consulting with the NYPD. But that was over. He'd written a dozen books without any input; he didn't need Beckett - he didn't need the Twelfth Precinct - to write a dozen more.
"Castle, hey, man." Esposito saw him first, and he nodded at the detective, noting the way Ryan grinned at him, his smile not quite meeting his eyes as he shot a concerned look in Beckett's direction.
Her head whipped around and as she met his stare, he could have sworn he saw something flare - hope? anger? - before a polite smile painted itself across her lips, her eyes blank.
"Hey, Castle," she greeted him, her tone the epitome of casual, and he forced his own neutral expression onto his face. "You forgot your sunglasses."
She opened her desk drawer, taking them and holding them aloft, and he reached for them, blinking as their fingers brushed, his hand jerking back.
"Thanks," he managed, looking around and focusing in on the murder board to try and avoid staring at Beckett. "So, uh, what's going on?"
"Castle!" Roy Montgomery's voice boomed across the bullpen. "You don't need to be looking at that, you've got bigger fish to fry now!"
"Right," he agreed. "Right."
"So let's get this party started," he suggested, tilting his head toward the break room, and Castle nodded, throwing one last look at the white board and today's unlucky victim, before following the Captain.
"London, huh?" Ryan asked. Castle nodded, grinning at the note of envy that entered the detective's voice. "I wish I could travel for work."
"What are you talking about, Bro?" Esposito asked. "We were in Jersey yesterday. Crossed a state line and everything."
"Whatever." Ryan shook his head at his partner. "Doesn't count."
"Where would you go?" Castle asked, grabbing a beer and closing his eyes as he leaned back against the counter. He breathed in; the sour smell of the bitter coffee, the comforting scent of the old air-conditioning, and the faint hint of cherries-
He jerked his head up, his eyes snapping open again as he took a sip of his beer, letting the clean, hoppy smell of the liquid overtake everything else. "...And of course, I have hundreds of relatives in Ireland," Ryan continued, and he nodded, blinking. He'd been listening. He'd totally been listening.
"What about you Beckett?" he asked, and she shrugged, her hand wrapped around her untouched beer.
"I haven't traveled much since my semester abroad," she said. "Maybe one day." She lifted the bottle to her lips, effectively ending the conversation, and Castle felt his brow tighten.
"Hey," he started, stepping toward her and extending his hand to hers before dropping it, the peculiar look Esposito shot him enough to stop him in his tracks. But his mother had insisted he make peace, and he knew she was right. It wasn't okay to just skip out like this. Not on Kate. Not when they could part on good terms. "You okay? Are- are we okay? Because we-"
"Sure." She was frowning though, her lips pursed, her expression in opposition to her words. Her free hand drifted up to the bottle enclosed in her left and she slid a nail under the label, picking at it as she refused to meet his eyes.
"I just- I don't want you to be mad at-" he started, but her phone buzzed, silencing him and she set her drink on the counter, pulling the device from her pocket to check the message.
"It's fine, Castle," she said, finally looking up at him, her expression softening at last. "We're fine." She shrugged. "But I have to go."
"It's seven pm. I thought you were off-duty," he protested, holding his own bottle up, and she shook her head.
"We're mid case. You know that means we're never really off-duty."
He nodded. Yeah. He did know that.
"Come on, guys," she said, and Esposito and Ryan set their own barely touched drinks beside Beckett's. "Good luck in London." Her smile didn't reach her eyes as her fingers ran over the metal shield clipped to her belt.
Montgomery chuckled. "See. This is why being Captain has its advantages. These guys think I'm chained to my desk, but really, I just like to go home at a reasonable hour, and enjoy a drink now and then."
Castle laughed with him, the sound hollow as he watched the team file out of the room without him, the unvoiced 'you coming, Castle?' causing a clenching in his gut that had him take a step forward as if stumbling at an assault.
He took another sip of his drink but it was stale in his mouth now. "Guess I'd better go too," he mumbled, his gaze still trained on Beckett's back as she stepped into the elevator, and he watched as she turned, raising a hand in farewell before the doors closed on her.
So much for goodbye drinks.
He tipped the rest of the beer into the break room's sink, tossing the empty bottle into the recycling before clapping a hand into Roy's.
"Thanks for everything. "
The word traitor echoed in his mind though; thanking Roy was fine, but really, he needed to thank Beckett. The total of ten seconds half-assed small talk was not enough; he couldn't shake the feeling that leaving things like this was leaving something unfinished.
He cleared his throat, forcing the smile back onto his lips as he turned to go.
This was just the end of one story.
Next up, James Bond, super-spy.
But as he made his way to the elevator, his eyes lingered on the elephants displayed on Beckett's desk. Beside them, the Matryoshka dolls he'd purchased during their last case together held court.
Why did he feel like, instead of a new story, he was closing a book mid-chapter?
A/N: I have been working on this longer than I care to remember (I stopped to write Come with me) but it's close enough to done now that I feel confident hitting publish. Not too much more for me to write. A quick disclaimer... someone wrote a fic in which Castle was going to move to London when he got the Bond offer, and at some point in my head I thought that was canon. I know now it's not, and so to that part of the idea I thank whichever author wrote that... thing is, I have no idea who it was, or when, or what fic. So... thank you. And if anyone knows where I borrowed the idea from, please let me know.
Thanks to Jamie and Kylie for their beta-prowess.
And thank you for reading... as we enter the unknown for the next hiatus tomorrow I figured that wasn't such bad timing for an old school season two AU!