Disclaimer: I do not own Castle or the recognizable characters used in this story. As for other influences, please see the author's note at the end of chapter two.
A/N: Down below.
"Here you are, Detective," the pretty young secretary says as she holds open the door and admits Beckett and Castle into the Director of Security's office. Surprised by the unexpected interruption, the director spins in his desk chair to face them, turning away from the computer table beside his desk and putting his back to the wall of security monitors at the far wall. He's an attractive man, still fit and trim even in what appears to be his approach to retirement age. He's dressed casually, though it doesn't take a discerning eye or deep knowledge of fashion to see that his outfit easily costs more than most suits they've passed in the hallways.
The director is about to chastise his secretary for the interruption when she surprises him by exiting silently and without his leave, drawing the doors closed behind her.
"I'm sorry, but I'm far too busy to deal with interruptions today," the director says in annoyance, his face curdling further as one uninvited visitor takes a seat in front of him while the other meanders through the office, inspecting the decorations while paying particular attention to the photos on the wall. "I'll have to schedule a time," he says with admirable poise, "to deal with you."
"You too busy smuggling drugs, laundering money, gunrunning, or ordering assassinations?" Castle asks disinterestedly as he ranges around the office.
It's like the last three years have been practice for this interview. Castle knows his role perfectly.
The director, about to speak, let's out a low growl instead. He's still, but glowering, focusing on Castle with a frightening intensity. When nothing happens, he can't help but utter "How?"
He's so strong. I'm not sure how long we can hold him back.
"What's the matter?" Castle asks from the far side of the office, where he's bent at the waist to closely inspect another photo on the wall, hiding from the director (but not me) the strain he feels at keeping the director in check. "Feeling a little disconnected? Or maybe you're feeling a tightness in your chest, almost as if someone's got a grip on your heart?"
"I was right," the director says with quiet pride, his eyes shifting to Beckett. "I suspected you were a Gamma. You gave yourself away by surviving the sniper. But you don't know who you're messing with," he says with quiet venom. "You're not the only one with a secret," he ends with a shout.
Having expected a wild explosion of power to punctuate his comment, the director looks flummoxed when nothing happens.
How feeble you must feel now, all the more pathetic for your impotence.
"Never been blocked before?" Beckett asks from her place, not even doing him the favor of looking at him and instead studying the wall of security monitors behind him.
"Enjoy yourselves now, because it won't last," the director says quietly, almost conversationally as he tries to regroup. "You and your pet will regret your arrogance. That's the beauty of Gamma interrogations – we can take you to the brink of death and then bring you back, only to repeat the process over and over until you beg for release. And trust me," he says while glancing at them both with a dark look that betrays his attempt at dispassion, "you'll have to beg for a very long time."
"Nice speech. You don't think anyone's coming to your rescue, though, do you?" Castle scoffs, his back now turned to the director as his perusal of the office continues. "Your secretary inspected the document she thought was a warrant. She's quite concerned about what you might've done to justify such a broad scope," he says with a laugh as he moves to the next picture frame. "And if you think that any surveillance or summoning devices in this office remain operational, you're irrationally optimistic."
That's right, you've underestimated us. Now we'll see how you handle a direct challenge without your bodyguards around.
"So you're a Gamma, too. Interesting," the director says, growing more comfortable in this discussion, or at least pretending so. "A union of two freed Gammas. The offspring of such a coupling might be exceptionally useful. In addition to the daughter you've already supplied, of course," he says with a cutting look at Castle.
Don't bite, Castle. Don't let him use Alexis to distract you.
"It's been a while since finishing school," Castle says from where he's inspecting yet another photo, "but I'm pretty sure that referring to guests as breeding stock is generally considered poor etiquette."
As the director falls back on his usual demeanor, so does Castle.
"Don't pretend to be offended," Beckett snarks in reply. "We all know you revel in any circumstance where you might be referred to as 'stud.'"
Having turned to catch the director's moue of distaste, Castle gives Beckett a quick eyebrow waggle before returning to his inspection of the photos. "Should we let him know that there's no point in stalling?"
"I don't know," Beckett asks while watching the director's face. "He might talk voluntarily while trying to buy time for his rescuers."
This seems to catch Castle's attention. Finishing his inspection of the last photo, he saunters over to the other guest chair and flops into it. "Kind of disrespectful if you ask me. Sitting here hoping that Jackson will save your ass when you don't even have a picture of him."
Been a while since you've been interrogated, director? You forget that adopting a blank face is as much of a reaction as a flinch.
"Don't forget the apprentice, or his helper," Beckett reminds her partner, getting a nod in return.
"Congratulations on your reconnaissance," the director sneers. "Any other party tricks to help us pass the time?"
"I prefer stories to party tricks," Castle confesses. "Why don't you tell me about this sweet job you've got here? Talk about letting the fox guard the henhouse."
When his suggestion provides no response, Castle fills the silence.
"You must've laughed yourself silly when the investment banks started hiring from the CIA to help them ferret out rogue traders," Castle speculates. "There you were – bounced from the Agency after doing your jobs too well. Why not see what the private sector has to offer? And then an I-bank wants your expertise?" Castle laughs. "What a perfect base of operations. Convenient funding source, too."
"'Private battles require private funds,'" Beckett quotes, causing an immediate flare of recognition from the director.
Sounds familiar, does it? Was that a favorite line of Jackson's, or was it something he learned from you?
"He doesn't seem very talkative," Castle says conversationally to Beckett. "We've asked nicely – maybe it's time to focus his attention?"
"We should probably offer him one last chance," Beckett speculates doubtfully. "So, when did you learn that Bracken killed my mother?"
"You're both dead, you realize?" the director answers with a question. "I've grown weary of your interference and your tiresome theatrics. Annoy me further and you families will go first. While you watch."
This sounds a lot like 'you knew the cost of drawing attention.' Time to learn some new lines.
"Would you like the honors?" Castle asks, trying to offer support while maintaining their united front.
"You could've given justice to my mother," Beckett clearly articulates while staring at the director, a prosecutor making closing arguments. "You could've left us alone. You have no one to blame for this but yourself," she says with only a light warble. Extracting her necklace, Beckett lovingly rubs the ring that she carries in remembrance of her mother.
The director continues to look defiant, even as the chiming sound rings out. Unlike what happened at Diane Economides' apartment, though, there is no sickening crunch at the end, no eruption of blue mist. Instead, the director lurches to his feet and thrusts his arms out in attack.
As they'd discussed, neither Beckett nor Castle respond, instead staring in silence at the director, who looks utterly bewildered when nothing happens. After another fruitless attack, Castle lifts an arm. The director is knocked back into his seat as his face contorts from confusion to raw hatred as he finds himself pinned in place again.
"You didn't want to talk about Kate's mother," Castle prompts, again grunting at the effort of keeping the director in place. "So, why don't we talk about my father?"
"I don't know anything about your father, except that I'll enjoy disemboweling him in front of you," the director growls in dark promise.
"Is it odd, so close to your end, to realize how little you knew?" Castle asks as he reaches into his shirt as if repeating Beckett's actions by drawing out a necklace. Instead of a ring, though, there are dog tags on Castle's chain. "You knew my father very well. You recruited him. Mentored him. Planned to kill him. And sent him to kill his son."
"His son?" the director asks in disbelief.
"My father's gone," Castle acknowledges. "He made his choices and carries the weight of his sins. But he saw right, at the end. You wonder why you haven't been able to break free? He's here now," Castle says while tapping his chest over his heart. "And he told me where he thought your nexus might be. He had two guesses. But it was Beckett who figured it out, figured out how you've survived so long, how you could enlist Gammas without fear of betrayal. Figured out how we were perfectly created to bring this to an end."
Time to peel away the secrets you hold so dear.
"Was he your first murder?" Beckett asks calmly from her chair. "Your brother?"
The director gawps at her before steeling his expression.
"I work homicide, as you know. I've never had an in utero case before. But how else to explain a Gamma with an extra nexus?" she wonders aloud.
And so the Gamma with an extra nexus meets the Gamma who was split in half.
"My father thought he had a fifty-fifty chance at containing you, at best," Castle picks up the discussion. "But we didn't have to choose – we each clutched a nexus as soon as we entered. You sat there thinking we were sandbagged, that you'd make your move once we committed to an attack. You've grown so arrogant that you didn't even consider that we had you completely contained before you said a word."
"You're both hypocrites," the director charges, still undaunted. "You sit there clinging to your moral high ground despite coming in here to murder me. Playing with illusory warrants, whining about justice – you're here for vengeance. Naïve vigilantes playing at avenging angels."
Perhaps we're damning ourselves with our decision. But it's one we've agreed to take to protect the people we love, and we'll pay the price.
"We all have to answer for our actions," Beckett replies in a surprisingly calm voice, "in this life or the next. Perhaps you're right. Perhaps I want vengeance as well as justice. But I know I want to protect the innocent – it's been my life's work since Bracken killed my mother, and I won't sit here and let you tear more lives apart."
"And you actually think you can finish me?" the director asks incredulously. "Do you have any idea who I am?"
"No, we don't," Beckett replies, prompting knit brows from the director and an amused huff from Castle. "You've lived your life in the shadows, pulling strings that topple regimes and upend lives. And all in secrecy – we all know the name on your door is just another fabrication, a convenient diversion, a trip-line to alert you to when people are looking at you too closely. So, no, we don't know your name. We don't want to know it, don't need to play your game. To us you're just another nameless evil."
"And yet nameless threats are often the most terrifying," the director challenges. "Besides, names have power. Unlike you, I've guarded mine well."
"Names only have power when they mean something," Castle answers calmly.
"Says the man who had to change his," the director scoffs.
"Exactly," Castle agrees. "My name means something. When I'm gone it will still mean something, because of my family and because of my books," he says without attempting to hide his proud smile. "Yours will mean nothing. Once we leave this office and you're gone, there'll be no proof that you were ever here. All your life, all your accomplishments – gone like a puff of blue mist."
"You and I both know that won't happen," the director says while turning to Castle. "I know you both better than you can imagine. Well enough to know that you lack the resolve to be true players. Well enough to know that you need to know the story," he says with a tight-lipped smile. "Tell me, Mr. Castle – after I'm gone, who answers the questions about your heritage, your father's legacy? Who explains how we've protected this country for decades? Who knows the true history of the Cold War and what followed?"
"I was so disappointed by my first meeting with my father," Castle confesses, eyes going distant as he starts a grim narrative that might not even be related to the director's taunts. "I'd imagined meeting him thousands of times, in thousands of different scenarios. None included him assassinating an elected official. I'd even imagined that he might be proud of me, proud of what I've accomplished. But right from the start, he was telling me that I wasn't strong enough."
Oh, Castle. You deserved so much better. And this guy doesn't deserve to hear any of this.
"It wasn't until yesterday that I realized what he meant, where he was pointing me," Castle confesses. "Even during our fight I thought he was talking about my power as a Gamma. But power is not strength. I didn't understand until he was broken and bleeding, taking his last breath while I held on tight and did nothing. My own father – of whom I'd dreamed my entire life – was dying and I didn't try to heal him," Castle confesses in a low voice. "His final lesson."
I didn't even think about trying to heal Jackson. Did Castle? Is he upset because he didn't think to help his father, because he couldn't, or because he decided not to?
Unable to watch him founder and knowing that a show of support is necessary, both to comfort her partner and to flaunt her humanity in front of the director, Beckett stands and walks behind Castle's chair. Being careful to stay out of Castle's line of sight to their enemy, Beckett bends to kiss his cheek tenderly before standing silently behind him, hands on his shoulders, covering his back literally and figuratively.
"Your father had strength, boy," the director growls in response. "You don't. I know your story. Your life is an ongoing series of mistakes, of people walking over you and you happily bringing them back to hurt you again. Strength," he scoffs. "You'd better hope for power, because that's the best you'll do. And good luck holding onto it."
"You're wrong," Beckett interjects before Castle can parry, squeezing his shoulders to emphasize her belief in him. "Rick's stronger than you can imagine. Strong enough to build a life, to protect and save the people around him."
"We'll see about that. By now," the director says ominously while casting his eyes to the clock on the wall, "there are fewer people around you to protect."
"You'd think a criminal mastermind would pay better attention," Castle complains with his head cocked to the side, getting a nod from his partner. "Weren't you listening?" Castle asks the director. "I don't have his dog tags to prove it, but dad's apprentice didn't survive his attempt to collect the Gates family. Neither did his companion. And if they were supposed to target our family, too," Castle says with more bite, "they never got that far."
The director takes this news stoically, trying not to react, though his face flushes as he surges against the barrier they've placed on his Gamma abilities. Beckett grunts and Castle's forehead is beaded in sweat, but the director remains firmly in place.
Is that fear I see in your eyes? Starting to finally accept your situation? Held down, cut off from your abilities, and alone. Isn't it about time you start trying to deal?
"Perhaps you are stronger than I appreciated," the director admits, his calm tone at odds with the fierce look still on his face. "If you're as strong as your father and his squadmate, you could be formidable with the right training. If you think you've seen wonders," he says in a voice of awe, "you haven't even imagined the vistas available to us."
Here it comes.
"You were always meant to take your father's place," the director says to Castle before raising his head to look at Beckett, "and merit is always recognized. There's a better end for us than a messy battle here in my office. Not when our potential is limited only by our imaginations."
This appeal, too, the partners anticipated. The clumsy inevitability of a cornered ringleader trying to bargain his way out of trouble is so trite that Castle would veer from the hint of such a plot point in his writing. And in this context, the director's offer doesn't warrant an answer. But it does provoke a response.
For the second time in this encounter, a chiming sound rings out. This time, though, it's joined by a second note. Together, they almost form a minor chord, aching and melancholy. The director shifts his gaze back and forth between both partners, a look of desperate determination showing that he's fighting with everything he has to protect his Gamma abilities.
"If you do this you're dead," he groans out. "People know who I am, know I'm a Gamma. You do this and they'll know what you are. You'll be hunted and hounded for the rest of your life. It doesn't have to be this way!"
The only answer to his plea is the sound of his hopes, dreams, schemes, and aspirations shattering as the chiming tones suddenly end with a hideous, ear-splitting crack.
Now for the hardest part.
When Jackson died, Beckett and Castle imbibed so much power that they were literally knocked over; falling here would leave the director enraged, unconstrained, and maybe unhinged. So as they watch the blue mist leaking from him meander towards them, the partners brace themselves to withstand the rush while keeping him under control.
But whether due to focus, terrible anger, or the elevated base of their own power, the process is less overwhelming this time. Shocked by their ability to absorb the additional power without duress, Beckett thinks of a question with troubling ramifications.
Was Jackson strong enough to take the director by himself?
"I'll dance on your graves," the director growls while sounding unhinged, a feral look on his face revealing his rage and suggesting he's lost at least a portion of sanity. "I'll burn your houses to the ground. I'll bathe in the blood of your family," he seethes in a building fury. "I'll find every woman you've ever known," he says while focusing on Castle, "and slaughter each and every one of their children just in case they're related to you. I'll erase every Castle from the face of this planet."
"The odd thing about Gammas," Castle offers quietly while ignoring the threat, "is that we only disappear at death if there's another Gamma nearby. Of course, if a Gamma has already lost his nexus," he continues to explain while the director growls again, "then his body will remain even if killed by a Gamma. So, anyone who knew you were a Gamma will think that you weren't near any when you died, since your body will remain."
Pausing for a moment to lift his hands to cover Beckett's hands on his shoulders, Castle prepares for the end. "My father wanted to know if I was strong enough to see this to the end, to protect my family and ensure that when you fall, it all falls with you," Castle replies softly. "Strong enough to live with the guilt. I know you're still dangerous, even without your powers. And for as much pain and heartache as you've caused, I'm still sorry for what has to happen next."
I'm here with you, partner. You can do this – just like the pipes in Diane's apartment.
Just as he's about to issue another dire threat, the director blanches and clutches at his chest.
That's my cue.
"Help!" Beckett shouts as she finally releases her hold on Castle's shoulders and rushes to the doors, wrenching them open to see the secretary approaching. "Call 911! I think he's having a heart attack!"
The ensuing commotion pulls several passing executives into the office, filling the small room with witnesses who can later confirm that despite the heroic efforts of the bank's employees and the quick arrival of emergency medical personnel, sometimes you just can't fight nature.
And now, the last piece of plausible deniability.
"Hello, sir," Beckett speaks into her cellphone as the EMTs drape a sheet over the director and prepare to wheel him out. "I'm afraid our suspect suffered what appears to be a coronary event during our interview. Despite the efforts of the EMTs, he didn't survive."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Gates answers honestly. "Best to come in and file your report."
Their small group clusters in the lounge, all trying to pretend as if they have any interest in the inane movie on the widescreen television. Over the course of their stay here, everyone has drifted off to the bedrooms in an attempt to sleep, but the need for companionship brings them back to the central lounge all too quickly. If the atmosphere at the townhouse was tense, this is oppressive.
"Dear Lord!" Jenny exclaims as her husband's cellphone erupts in a piercing ring that jolts them all, even the detectives. Rather than squeak, though, Alexis trembles.
You poor girl, Jim thinks of Alexis, who's sitting on the couch next to him, with Martha to her other side. Reaching out, he puts a gentle hand on her forearm, chuckling to himself when he sees Martha doing the same thing.
"Hello?" Ryan answers tentatively, looking tense. On the other side of the room, Esposito's hand drifts to his holster while he eyes the gun case on the floor near the entertainment stand. The smile on Ryan's face as he listens to the captain warms the room and convinces them all to breathe again.
"Yes, sir," Ryan says gratefully before ending the call. Looking around at the collected faces, he stops on Alexis. "Go pack up – the bus back home leaves in two minutes."
"They're safe?" Martha asks, the hand not soothing Alexis clutching her heart.
"They're safe," Ryan confirms. "Well, as safe as they can be while facing Gates' paperwork." Jenny's elbow to his side reminds him that the rest of the Gates family is sitting right there, with Gates' husband casting a prim, raised-brow look that looks eerily familiar. "Sorry," Ryan mumbles, prompting chuffs of laughter.
Then, suddenly, the room bursts into frenetic motion as everyone who'd been in hiding suddenly looks forward to returning to life as normal.
Except that someone's normal is going to be radically different.
"Alexis?" Jim asks, noting that Rick's daughter seemed to be dawdling, waiting with arms crossed and a distant look on her face for Martha to clear the room they shared before entering herself. "Will you help me pack?"
Rolling her eyes, Alexis turns to look at Jim without moving her feet, inspecting him in profile.
"Really? You Becketts are the most fiercely independent people I know. I very much doubt you need help packing," Alexis says in an indulgent voice as she enters the smallest room of the suite where Jim has set up. Sure enough, either out of optimism or a desire to be ready, Jim's already fully packed. This warrants another inquisitive look from Alexis.
"I'm not going to ask if you're okay," Jim says kindly as he sits on the corner of his bed, gesturing to a small chair that doubles as a luggage stand. "Because I'm not, and I'd be a little surprised if you are."
You don't have to talk, Alexis, but maybe I can get you to listen.
Alexis doesn't question his statement, instead lowering herself carefully into the chair. She's uncrossed her arms, but her hunched shoulders and lowered head clearly convey her discomfort, as it has since they arrived in Atlantic City.
"Have you ever seen a picture of my wife?" Jim asks, trying to break through and get Alexis engaged.
"Just one," Alexis replies, "briefly. It was a head-shot on Dad's monitor."
As part of their investigation into her murder, no doubt. But maybe it's time to finally let that go. If Katie and Rick are on their way back, then it must finally be over. Time to focus on the light, not the dark.
Pulling out his wallet, Jim opens the accordion-style section and pulls out two pictures from their protective covering. He stretches to give the first one to Alexis.
"She's beautiful," Alexis murmurs, and Jim smiles with pride.
"Which one – Katie or Jo? That was taken at Christmas, just before Jo left us," Jim explains, hardly tripping over the last two words. "This might've been the only two-minute window when Jo and Katie weren't arguing," he laughs. "Take it from someone who's been there – go easy on your old man on your first trip back from college. And don't worry," Jim assuages with a smile, "I'll talk to him, too. I learned the hard way that the last things a college woman wants to hear when she comes home are questions and advice about how she's living her life away from home."
"Good luck," Alexis mumbles, imagining anyone trying to curb her father's curiosity and innate need to protect her.
There's a hint of your smile.
"This one," he says as he passes over the second photo, "is the one that I look at when I'm missing her the most." This time he can't help but choke up a little.
"I can see where Kate gets some of her good looks," Alexis says gently while holding the photo reverently. "And her eyes – that's why you like this picture, isn't it?"
Jim nods silently, glad that Alexis noticed but still trying to get himself calmed down. After all, he's the one who's supposed to be providing comfort. Blast that troublesome Castle ability to find and soothe exposed emotional nerves. No wonder Katie fell for Rick.
"Yes," Jim finally confesses. "It's her eyes that ground me. That help me remember. That still haunt me to this day," he says while pasting on a brave smile, which Alexis sees right through. "It's why I looked at Kate's eyes back at the townhouse. They are what told me, immediately, that the person there wasn't really my daughter."
"Me, too," Alexis answers in a low voice. "Dad's always talking, using his writing skills to fill the air with clever words – sometimes past the saturation point," she says with a small laugh, which Jim joins. "But his eyes say more than his mouth. That's how I knew."
Aside from his nodding, Jim sits still and quiet, letting them both think about their beloved family members. Finally, he reaches out a hand. Misunderstanding his intent, Alexis hands the photos back. He drops those on the bed beside him and then reaches out again. This time, Alexis understands and clasps his hand.
We can do this, Alexis. We can get you back in your father's arms without a flinch or shadow of doubt.
"This's what I'm going to do," Jim says after giving her hand a squeeze. "I'm still a little nervous about seeing Katie after what happened in the townhouse. But I need to see her," Jim says fervently, getting a sympathetic nod from Alexis. "So, I'm going to focus on her eyes. As long as I can see into her eyes, I'll know it's really her. I'll know it's really my girl."
A knock on the door disturbs them, but their hands remain linked. "Sorry," Esposito calls from the doorway, "but we need to roll."
"Of course," Jim says while he stands, still holding Alexis' hand. Esposito recognizes the power of the moment and turns quickly to restore their limited privacy.
"Ready to go?" Jim asks as he gives a light tug on Alexis' hand and then helps her rise. He's shocked when Alexis moves in for a hug.
"I'm ready," she says after a few long moments in his embrace. "Thank you, Grandpa."
"I don't suppose there's any point in telling you to settle down?" Beckett asks with some indulgence as Castle hovers around. The food that they ordered when Gates finally forced them out of the precinct has arrived, and Castle's already fussed with the table setting three different times. At present, he's toying with one end of the Welcome Home! banner that he already had in the linen closet for some reason.
I'll settle as soon as I see our family again. Okay, maybe not right away, but before then? No way.
"Babe, it looks perfect," Beckett says in reference to the sign. "And the food's all set. We've still got a little time – they're still on their way from dropping off the Gates family. Come sit with me?" she asks while holding out a hand, sounding a little girlish and looking at him with wide, inviting eyes.
"No fair," Castle whines. "You know I can't say no to that."
Laughing, Beckett seizes his hand and pulls him toward the sofa. "I promise I'll try not to abuse my powers," she jokes, making light of a situation that caused such duress yesterday. "But I need some time with you before everyone arrives," she says as she sits and curls into his side. "And I want to talk to you about something."
Oh, Kate. I know we need to talk about what happens next. Your mother's soul can rest in peace, your long quest is done, our future looks both brighter and more perilous than we could've expected based on our abilities… But I need to see my girl before I can focus on a serious conversation.
Castle pulls Beckett closer with an arm around her shoulder while releasing a large sigh. "That doesn't sound good."
"It's not bad," Beckett promises, rubbing his thigh with an open palm but being careful to stay south of anything they don't have time to pursue right now. "We just need to be ready for a rough welcome."
"What?" Castle asks in surprise. "I can hide her when she arrives, and we can teach her how to hide her light a little later, after things have settled down. If she hasn't already figured it out from the notes I left her. We'll be fine."
"I'm not worried about that – you're an excellent teacher and she's an even better student," she praises, watching Castle inflate proudly with both comments. "I'm talking about her arrival. I know you, Rick," she reminds him softly. "I love you, remember? I know you're keyed up, desperate to see Alexis again," she says while placing a sweet, gentle kiss to his cheek. "But you can't rush in and sweep her into a hug like I know you're planning," she says while pulling back enough to get a good look at him. His look of confused embarrassment confirms her assumption.
"Let her come to you, Rick," Beckett advises softly. "Just as I'll let dad come to me. The last time they saw 'us,'" she says with air quotes, "we tried to kill them. They know it wasn't really us, but it might take a little while for them to remind themselves that we're safe."
Castle's head falls as he stares at his feet and Beckett, who was expecting this reaction, is still nearly undone by his heartbroken look. "Don't worry, Babe. It'll work out, we just need a little time."
Okay, Kate, okay. I can wait, if you're there beside me.
Castle pulls her tight and has no doubt she knows what he's thinking.
"Once things have settled down," Beckett breaks into their calm quiet, "can I borrow Alexis for a minute?" Beckett asks, surprising Castle. "I want to thank her," she explains. "Before we met your father, you said that she set us up to get me here in the loft – I want to say thanks," she says while looking alluringly shy.
Castle's moving in to deliver his own gentle kiss when the rattle of the doorknob shortly precedes the door opening wide. They're both on their feet and moving toward the entryway without thought, but it's actually Castle who stops first, extending a hand to Beckett to get her to stop beside him.
And to help hold me back.
Martha's boisterous voice, which sounded like it was cheering their group along, trails off as she ushers Alexis through the door. The young woman takes a few steps then stops short, staring at her father. Beckett squeezes Castle's hand in support before releasing it, proud that he's not rushing Alexis.
Alexis takes a tentative step, then another, while staring into Castle's eyes. After the third step, she throws herself forward, nearly tackling her father who can finally, finally wrap his arms around her.
"Daddy," Alexis murmurs over and over, relief and love and fear and longing all swirling in that simple word.
"Welcome home, Baby Bird," he mumbles into her hair.
Beckett can barely see them through the tears in her eyes, so she's surprised by a gentle tap on her shoulder. Turning to see her father looking shy with arms slightly extended, Beckett greets her father as Alexis greeted hers.
Then it's almost a square dance, with tearful hugs extended with a constantly changing set of partners. With an "Oh, Katherine!," Beckett's greeted by a tearful Martha, who thanks her generously for protecting her son. Jim, while flatly rejecting Castle's heartfelt thanks for protecting Alexis, instead thanks him for helping 'Katie-Bug.'
No need to thank me for that. It's something I hope to do for the rest of my life. Which probably won't be long if I call her Katie-Bug.
Jenny, feeling a little out of place, is shocked by the enormous hug bestowed by Castle, who lifts her into the air and spins her around while thanking her profusely for her sneakiness. Kevin gets a cuff on the shoulder for the same thing before Castle bestows a hug on him. Even Esposito suffers through a brief bro-hug with a minimum of grousing. But it's Beckett who shocks her team the most, both by letting her happy tears fall freely and by the thankful kiss that finds a cheek of each of her partners.
Don't get any ideas. She's taken.
"We're gonna let you all get settled in," Esposito says uncomfortably while failing to realize that he's wearing a dopey smile. "Enjoy some family time. From what Gates said, things are going to be busy for a while – sounds like you two really stirred something up," he says with an inquisitive look before Ryan swats his shoulder.
"Later, Javi," he says while Jenny takes his hand. "Let them relax first. Then we'll bury them in stakeouts and paperwork."
With rolling eyes, backslaps, and another round of hugs, the small, mixed family sees Esposito, Ryan, and Jenny to the elevator after their kind refusals to stay for dinner. The walk back to the loft is quiet and nearly surreal for the stark difference from the stress, tension, and terror of the last several days.
Here you go, Kate.
"Mother, Jim, will you give me a hand in the kitchen?" Castle asks slyly after they're back in the loft with the door locked and alarm set. Beckett casts him a grateful glance before drawing Alexis aside, moving into his office for a private chat.
"Are you really okay?" Castle asks as he sets out the food, which Martha and Jim ferry to the table.
"We're fine, Richard," Martha assures him, though the lack of a teasing or acerbic follow-up comment suggests that she's still a little out of sorts. Castle, showing uncharacteristic restraint, says nothing and instead extends a gentle hand to cup his mother's cheek before replacing it with a kiss.
"Thank you both for taking care of our family," he says before turning to withdraw the ceramic container from its place in the warm oven, using the movement to distract himself. Standing up, he sees Martha dabbing at her eyes with a tissue Jim offered.
"Stop it, Richard," she chastises her son with a laugh. "We're going back to normal, right? No more maudlin discussions or emotionalism. Back to tough love," she says with gentle, pretend slaps to his cheek as she floats by him to take her place at the table.
"Right," Castle says with a laugh. "Because the last family dinner we had here ended up being so normal," he says while shaking his head and recalling his ex-wife's eventful surprise visit the first time Jim dined at their home.
"Please," Martha says waspishly, "the less said about that visit, the better."
"I don't know," Castle disagrees, his recollection of that evening reminding him to retrieve candles for their dinner, "that evening turned out beautifully."
"It was certainly interesting," Jim says with a laugh, which Martha gladly joins.
Castle's just trying to decide between taking a seat at the table and calling to Beckett and Alexis when his office door opens and they emerge. Beckett has her left arm around Alexis' shoulders while she holds a small, wooden box in her right hand. Alexis is laughing, looking lighter and happier than Castle would've expected after their emotional reunion.
Thank you, Kate. This is a perfect example of why it should be "sooner" now. There's a ring in my office that you and I are going to talk about very, very soon in the hope of making scenes like this happen more often.
"So, another successful Beckett interrogation?" Castle asks as they approach the table, prompting a blush from his daughter. "Did she confess to using her devious wiles to orchestrate our current living arrangements?"
"What's this?" Martha asks, watching her granddaughter carefully before turning to Jim. "Don't tell me they finally figured it out?"
Are you kidding me?
Her comment causes a laugh from Jim and incredulous looks from Castle and Beckett. "You knew?" they both ask at the same time, Castle of his mother and Beckett of her father.
Looking put out when the other three laugh, Beckett and Castle just look at each other and shrug, too happy with the outcome and the comradery to complain about being the only ones unaware of the ruse.
Joining their family at the table, Beckett and Alexis take their places. Beckett places the box on the table in front of her before looking up. "Oh, good, you remembered," she says while inspecting the table and taking note of the candles. "May I?" she asks with eyebrow cocked.
"Please," Castle answers with a grin. As they did at the last dinner, the candles flicker to life, Beckett standing to bow at the smattering of mirthful clapping offered by the four around the table. Just to show off, she dims the regular lights to make the evening a little more cozy.
"The last time we were all together at this table," Beckett says, slowly making eye contact with everyone at the table, "we were trying to create a new normal, a chance to just spend time together. We tried not to make a big deal out of the evening, but we still started with some announcements."
Each person at the table remembers the evening, the discussion of Jim's recovery and Martha's beautiful toast on the occasion of Beckett and Castle finally finding their way to each other. Even Alexis, who'd been reticent back then, looks happy in her recollections.
"I know we have harrowing stories to tell about what happened to us the last few days," Beckett continues, her somber tone dampening the smiles a bit. "But maybe we can save those for later, after a happy meal together?"
What are you up to, partner? Castle thinks as the heads at the table nod to Beckett's suggestion.
With the consensus of the group, Beckett slides her plate forward to make room in front of the box in front of her. Gently lifting the hinged lid, she pauses a moment, not letting the lid fall open lest people see inside.
"So, show-and-tell instead of announcements this time," she says with a mischievous smile. Reaching into the box, she retrieves a pair of handcuffs and sets them on the table.
Beckett! Not in front of our family!
"Oh, come on," Alexis complains. "You're not going to have a go at me for deceiving an officer of the law, are you?" she teases. "I thought you said you were glad I tricked you!"
"I am," Beckett confirms with a laugh. "No, these cuffs had to be retired after they went into the water. Rick was wearing these cuffs on the night he told me about his abilities, when he went into the river to heal after saving us from a very hungry tiger."
From the shocked looks around the table, it looks like their family might not have realized how close a call they'd had with the tiger, even though they joked about it later. Before anyone interjects with unfortunate questions, Beckett keeps talking.
"Don't worry about the tiger," she says with a laugh, "it gets worse. This," she says as she extracts what looks to be an ordinary electrical wire, "was part of the detonator on a nuclear bomb that Castle disarmed as part of our case that led to him being freed."
"Nuclear bomb…," Jim murmurs in shock as Martha and Alexis look on in disbelief.
Um, Beckett? What are you doing? My family will never let me near the precinct at this rate.
"These," Beckett continues, ignoring the shocked looks to continue her presentation by setting a few tiny metal fragments on the table between the cuffs and the wire, "are bullet fragments that they pulled out of my chest, the day Castle saved my life and made me a Gamma, not that we figured that out for a long while," she says with a laugh, even though everyone else at the table is too shocked to react.
"Those were in you?" Alexis asks in a low voice.
"And this," she says while continuing her presentation by extracting a shiny penny, "could be my downfall. This penny is evidence of my theft, of me turning my back on my professional responsibilities and stealing something in front of a roomful of witnesses. This is the penny I knelt on after finding Rick and Martha in a bank's vault after Rick used his abilities to keep everyone safe from the explosion. It's the penny I was kneeling on when Martha interrupted the kiss that I was so desperate to give her son."
Thanks, Mother, Castle thinks, while Martha has the good grace to blush.
"An explosion at a bank?" Jim asks in concern.
"All of this," Beckett says with a small sweep of her hand, "is evidence of our story – the connection we share. Each piece is significant because of our Gamma abilities. But each one is more important because it's a small piece of a perfect moment of love or devotion."
As she trails off, it's obvious that Beckett's now concentrating on the objects before her. Slowly, the cuffs lift into the air, floating a foot above the tabletop before they stretch taut. Something unseen severs the chain so that each cuff floats with a dangling set of links. While those return to the table, a piece of the severed link remains floating. It's joined by the wire, from which a small piece is detached. The penny receives the same treatment.
As Castle is so fond of doing with his fireballs, Beckett extends a closed hand so that the three bits of metal hover above it before compacting into tiny balls that start to orbit her hand. The bullet fragments lift and join the dance, so that her hand is surrounded by six tiny planets.
"Ready?" Beckett asks in a playful voice. She then opens her palm, revealing a larger bead of a shiny silver metal. As that bead rises, the six smaller bits follow, dropping into a tighter and tighter orbit until they melt into the shiny bead. Then the bead itself flattens into a disk before starting to spin in the air.
"I call heads," Castle jokes as he watches the twirling metal. Following his lead, Beckett catches the metal disk in her hand and slaps her other hand atop to hide the result. Peeking into her hands, she looks at Castle before peeking again into her hands. With great fanfare, she removes the top hand, revealing not a disk but a shining metal ring.
"There was another announcement at our last dinner that we need to revisit, a promise that I made. One that can't wait any longer," Beckett says with a blinding smile accentuated by the happy tears running down her cheeks. "Richard Edgar Alexander Rodgers Castle, will you marry me?"
Not for the first time, the beautiful woman in front of him seems to have rendered Castle completely speechless. He's looking into Beckett's eyes with such unbridled hope and affection that she can't help but let her smile grow even wider.
Their silent communion isn't sufficiently satisfying for the others at the table, though, especially Alexis, who gives her dad a whack on the shoulder. "Dad! Wake up! Say yes before Kate comes to her senses!"
So, with Jim and Martha laughing in the background and Alexis almost squeaking in excitement, Castle stands and offers a hand to Beckett. Still staring at each other, Castle finally manages to find his voice. "Kate," he murmurs in a low, dazed voice. "I can't imagine my life without you," he confesses. "Yes. Yes. Yes!" he says with building volume, ending in an exuberant shout.
You might have gone first, Kate, but you're not going alone.
Beckett looks at him oddly when he keeps his hand extended from his celebratory fist-pump. At least until a blue box floats in from the office, settling gently into his palm.
"Great minds think alike," he says as he opens the box to display the exquisite ring within. "It's almost like we're connected or something."
Sobbing a laugh, Beckett joyously and quickly plucks the ring from the box, goggling at the size of the diamond. Then, as if standing before an altar, they quietly slip the rings onto each other's fingers, with Beckett showing off again by adjusting the size of Castle's ring to make sure it fits well. The following kiss is passionate enough to cause groans from Jim and Alexis and loud whistles and catcalls from Martha.
When they break apart they're surprised to find themselves surrounded, their family unwilling to let the moment pass without sharing in hugs and fawning over the new jewelry. It takes several long minutes to calm down and return to their seats and a few more minutes before their hunger fights past their happy smiles to encourage them to finally serve the meal and start to eat. Both Beckett and Castle occasionally drop their food or miss their mouths with their forks, their aim disrupted by gazes that drift to their rings.
"I take it," Castle finally speaks over the general bubbling of contentment while looking from Beckett to Alexis and back, "you two spoke about more than our living arrangements when you retreated to the office?"
"Perhaps," Beckett answers cryptically while Alexis giggles.
"Uh oh," Castle adopts a fake frown. "What else did you talk about?"
"Well," Beckett drawls, catching eyes with Martha and Jim to make sure they're paying attention to this discussion, too, "we might've talked about one other thing, too."
"Dare I ask?" Castle hazards, recognizing that he's being set up.
"We've met incredible Gammas," Beckett answers, looking around the table. "But as much as they knew about what we can do, no one had ever heard of a connection like ours. No one had even considered that it might be possible," she confesses proudly.
"And…?" Castle prompts, knowing that he's walking into a trap but unable to contain his curiosity.
"And that made us think," Beckett answers, sharing a quick wink with Alexis. "Remember how I felt the sting when Meredith slapped your cheek, or how you felt it when I got hurt?" she asks, getting a hesitant nod in return. Martha's biting her finger, apparently having figured out what Beckett's talking about and driving Castle's curiosity to fever pitch.
"We can feel what happens to each other," Beckett reminds all of them around the table. "Thanks to our connection, when we choose to provide Alexis with a sibling," she says with a saucy look, "it's entirely likely that you'll be the first man in the history of the world to actually experience labor and delivery pains."
A/N: You made it! For all of those who followed this crazy story to the end, you have my sincere thanks. Reading this story required a bit of a leap of faith considering the bizarre start. The PMs, reviews, and follows provided fantastic encouragement to see it through to the end. You might remember that I thought about closing the story after Chapter 10. I'm glad that it went a bit longer.
For those who've asked, this might not be the end of stories in this universe. I've left a few plotlines open for sequels, and the characters themselves provide plenty of opportunity for further exploration. Or maybe just an epilogue with a hapless Castle being run in circles by little Gamma-tots.
Before I finish, though, a few comments:
- I'm still blown away by how kind people have been in helping nurse this story along. GeekMom, Aalon, WRTRD, and Garrae especially have provided great help, even if they don't know it. And CaskettFan5 was kind enough to read the first three chapters way back before I started posting this. He could've easily said 'what is THIS supposed to be?!' but instead provided great encouragement. His PMs also kept me honest and thinking along the way! I'm also really grateful to the reviewers who commented throughout the story, especially those who commented in a foreign language – that's dedication!
- Epilogue/sequels or not, it goes without saying that one of their undisclosed Gamma powers is an ability to warp space-time to remove any ridiculous unknown marriages that might later prove inconvenient.
- A few people were fundamentally disturbed by Castle's dad being an adversary, especially after the arm-breaking departure. The opportunity to re-cast him appealed to me, though, so I followed through. I mentioned in a few PMs that I had a crazier option for Jackson that ended up on the cutting-room floor, but that I'd share when the story ended. So, here it is: during a brief fit of lunacy, I actually thought about having Jonas reveal himself as Jackson in disguise. Aside from the pure shock value, though, that didn't really fit and it cheapened some of the interactions (particularly the discussion following the Gates-Jonas meeting), so I shook off the thought and kept going. It was a fun thought experiment, though.
- I appreciate that folks might not like the decision to leave Bracken's partner unnamed, but I liked that approach better, for the reasons Beckett explained. I don't think "LockSat" appears anywhere in this story, by design.
- For those who asked, yes, that was a reference to Elena Markov in Chapter 29.
So, what's next? First, a small break to catch up on some other stories and to read a book. If you've read Running Water, you've seen a few notes about Neil Gaiman. Well, I've been so wrapped up in writing that I haven't taken the time to read his new book. After that, though, I'll turn back to Her Own Worst Enemy. Next or at the same time is a season 3 story tentatively entitled One Quarter. That'll be my first story that's completely outlined at the start. I've also got another season 8 story in mind and an AU, but we'll see where things go and what time allows.
Finally, I'll repeat the request I made at the end of another story. If you've made it to the end, I'd really appreciate a note on what you liked or what you didn't, whether the shifting perspectives worked or was a distraction. And for those of you who expressed justified doubt at the outset of this odd story, I'd like to know if you made it through to the end!
The End (at least for now).