A/N: Set around the (unhappy) time period of "Headhunters," and going AU from there. Time will flex a little at points to aid the story. Nothing major. Chapters one to eleven are written. Should be around fourteen in total.
Somewhere No One Knows My Name
She's sick with it. Heartsick. For days now she's been coming in to work and he's either absent altogether or he's there but he's still not really there, still absent. And no matter how she tries to get to the bottom of it, in fact, the harder she tries, the surlier and more distant he becomes.
The hammer blow comes when she least expects it, and it's devastating. He wants to follow another cop, and not just any other cop. He wants to follow Ethan Slaughter, this uncouth meathead from Gangs whose last three partners all died on the job under questionable circumstances, earning Slaughter the unfortunate nickname:"The Widowmaker."
He's leaving her, breaking up their partnership, though he plays it off as no more than hunting for fresh character insight to spice up his next Nikki Heat. It's painful to watch him act so recklessly, to behave so out of character, to see him allow himself to be put in danger, used and abused by this foulmouthed throwback, who should never have been allowed a badge, let alone a gun.
A couple of weeks in, she finds herself exhausted and in tears one afternoon during a session with Dr. Burke. And that's it. She's done all her crying – over her mother, over her father's addiction, over being shot, over men. She's angry and confused and she is done.
So the very next day she goes to see Gates.
The deal is a month to start with, if she agrees to her leave being unpaid and to her benefits being suspended. Gates fights her a little but not very hard, and that fact is telling in itself; how her attention has wandered, how her heart is broken. How it's starting to interfere with her work. She believes she's waited too long, missed her window with Castle, and now he's picked up his toys and moved on to something shinier, easier, less complicated. They can all see it – her hurt, her disappointment and frustration with herself. Lanie, Ryan and Esposito have all had ringside seats to the Slaughter insult. Even her father has picked up on something during their infrequent phone calls and rare Sunday brunches.
So she calls her aunt, packs a suitcase with enough clothes to last her through the end of summer and into early fall, and she books a flight.
Castle breezes into the precinct with the newfound swagger he's been trying out ever since he teamed up with the Gang Unit's biggest jackass.
"Hey, Javi. Seen Beckett?" he asks, his face a hardened mask, part sneer, part bluff that has, in truth, been fooling no one.
Esposito doesn't even look up from his desk when he answers. "She ain't here, yo."
"So…where can I find her?" He looks around, feet ever shifting like he can't quite stand still and he hopes she'll just materialize out of thin air to help with whatever shit Slaughter has dropped him in the middle of now.
Esposito gives him a glare that says, "Not on my watch," and Castle's eyes immediately slide towards the softer target of Ryan's face.
"What about you, Kev? Any ideas?"
"Can we help you with something, Castle?" he asks coolly. "Thought you were working Gangs now?"
"I am…I am. I just need to ask Beckett something." He sounds cagey as hell, moving around all the while. Like a shark - stay still and you die.
"You mean you need to ask Beckett for something?" Ryan corrects, surprising the crap out of everyone. Himself included.
"Can't a friend ask another friend for help? Come on. What about all those Knicks tickets I got you guys. And my Ferrari? That worn out clutch has got to be worth something."
"Loyal friends can. Guys that break the code?" Esposito shakes his head. "Nah."
"If she's not in court…" Castle pauses, looking from one cop to the other for clues or facial ticks that might give them away. He gets nothing. "Then she must be on a day off maybe. Doing laundry at home or…"
"Aw, come on, guys. Tell me I don't have to go ask Gates."
Before either Ryan or Esposito can comment, the Captain pops her head out of her office. "Ask Gates what?" she demands in her trademark clipped tone. "And that's Captain Gates to you, Mister Castle."
Castle's eyes pop wide and he spins around. "Yes, Sir. My apologies."
"I thought you were off fanboying with that schoolyard bully from Gangs?"
"Not you too," Castle groans, scrubbing a hand down his face, over his stubble-covered jaw.
"In fact, why exactly are you here, Mr. Castle? My men have work to do. I hope you're not keeping them back."
Ryan and Esposito smirk from behind their monitors while Castle gets a dressing down from their boss.
"I was looking for Detective Beckett, sir. And I have no intention of keeping your men back in any capacity."
"Detective Beckett?" Gates purrs, her mouth twisting into a feral grin. "You came in here looking for Detective Beckett?"
"Y—yes. Is there a problem?" Castle's anxiety levels begin to rise. "S—something wrong with Beckett I should know about? I am her partner after all."
Gates crosses her arms, leans against a file cabinet to enjoy this moment of torment for the writer. "Are you sure about that, Mr. Castle?"
"What do you—?" he frowns, his hairline beginning to bead with sweat, his stomach starting to cramp. He glances at the boys and back at their boss again. "Of course I'm sure." He doesn't sound sure.
"Well, if Detective Beckett hasn't seen fit to keep you up to speed with her life, it's not my place to betray her confidence."
"What are you talking about? Just where is Beckett?" He's starting to sound shrill and panicked. He needs to tamp it down or this woman will give him nothing. She does not respond to weakness, as he knows from past experience.
"I think it's time you left my bullpen, Mr. Castle. I'm sure your new partner has some crazy, dangerous, borderline illegal scheme he wants you to help him pull off. Good day to you. Oh, and good luck. I get the sense you'll need it."
Gates turns on her heel, goes back into her office and closes the door firmly behind her. This act is meant to signal Castle's time to depart. He has a massive creeping unease scaling his spine, his shirt suddenly feels damp around the armpits and it sticks to his back beneath the new brown leather jacket he had to buy after trying to bribe Slaughter with his old one.
He turns around to face the guys, only to find both heads buried behind their computer screens, eyes downcast on open files, though no typing or writing is taking place.
"Guys, where is Beckett? Look…you've got me worried now. Is she out sick? What did Gates mean about plans?"
"Castle, Captain's right," Ryan tells him somberly. "If Beckett had wanted you to know, she'd have told you herself."
Castle spins in a frantic circle, raking both hands through his hair. "This can't be happening," he mutters to himself.
Esposito is the one who pipes up first. "Slaughter's really got you on the hook this time, huh? You look like you need Beckett's help real bad. Just what did you promise that goon?"
Castle shakes his head. "It's not about that, I swear. Look, if she's hurt or sick or in trouble of some kind—"
Esposito snorts. "You're the guy who's gonna save her?"
"I'm her partner. I'm her friend," he insists, indignant at the way he's being treated by two people he also considered friends.
"Yeah, some friend," Esposito mouths off.
"She's gone, Castle," Ryan finally offers. "Took off. Best thing you can do is just forget her. Keep moving on like you already started."
"Yeah, keep walking," Esposito chips in, nudging his chin in the direction of the elevator.
Castle stands his ground. "Forget her?" he asks, horror and confusion woven through his words. "Forget her? Are you two serious?"
"As a heart attack, man," Ryan says, making his face look tough lest he cave and tell Castle what he wants to know.
"I can't just forget her."
"You've been doing a pretty good job until now," Esposito points out.
"You…you all think I forgot about Kate?" He looks dumfounded by this news.
"You walked away, Castle. Started following another cop."
"She's my partner," he says, fathomlessly.
"No, see, she was your partner. But you broke the code when you started riding around with that wahoo from Gangs."
"I was just looking for a fresh angle, a new character."
Ryan makes a scoffing sound. "You used her and you walked away. Found a new muse to run after."
Castle looks horrified. "Slaughter was never my muse. That guy could never be anybody's muse."
"You've been gone awhile, bro. Even before your trip to Gangs. You think she didn't feel it?"
Feel what?" Castle asks, sounding edgy and uncomfortable.
"How cold you got."
His expression hardens, all emotion forced from his eyes which become unreadable, guarded. "I had my reasons," he replies, grimly. Bitterness, which he's unable to hide, seeps into his words.
"Yeah, well, now Beckett has hers."
"Where is she?" he asks again, his bitterness turning to worry.
"What do you care?"
"I care. I care a lot."
"You sure you're not just worried about your books?"
Castle sighs, sinking down into his old chair. He tips his head forward, suddenly exhausted. "It stopped being about the books a long time ago. Everyone knows that," he admits, staring at the floor. "Even my mother knows that."
"So…why'd you hurt her?"
He can't tell the truth and say, "She hurt me first." Though this is a fact, it sounds pathetic, petty and vindictive.
"I didn't mean to hurt her. If I hurt her I'm sorry. Just tell me where she is and I'll apologize. Make it up to her."
"A weekend loan of your Ferrari's not going to cut it this time, Castle."
"And Beckett doesn't like the Knicks," Ryan adds.
"Look, I'll do whatever it takes to win her back. Just tell me where she is," he pleads.
But Esposito is unimpressed. "Win her back? You think you ever had her in the first place?"
Castle stares his friend in the eye. "For a while, yeah. I thought I did."
"So why'd you let her go?"
"I found out she doesn't exactly feel the same way."
Esposito doesn't even blink. "She tell you that to your face?"
"No, not exactly.
"So, how'd you figure?"
"I overheard something." He doesn't want to elaborate and breach Beckett's privacy.
"Mrs. R never tell you not to listen at keyholes when you were a kid?"
"I know what I know, okay. Now will you help me out or not?"
"Why should we?"
"What do you guys want? Shake me down? Okay, lay it out there. What will it take this time?"
"We don't want anything from you except the truth."
Castle looks wary. "What truth?"
"How do you really feel about Beckett?"
"Right now, pretty damn frantic."
"Castle…" Ryan warns.
"Okay, okay. I…I love her. But she already knows that." He looks utterly dejected.
"You told her?"
"At Montgomery's funeral."
"Perfect timing," Ryan mutters, rolling his eyes.
"When she got shot," Castle clarifies, shooting Ryan a look.
"What she say?"
"What do you mean, what did she say? She told me she couldn't remember any of it."
"Does that sound like the Beckett you know?"
Castle sighs, exhausted. "No. That's what I overheard her telling Bobby Lopez in interrogation. She said she remembered every second. I guess she just doesn't feel the same way and she's too embarrassed to admit it."
"And you've decided this all by yourself? Without even asking her about it?"
"What's to ask? If she loved me back we wouldn't be in this mess right now."
"Why do you think she left without telling you?"
Castle shrugs. "Who knows. She doesn't care. I just don't factor in her life anymore."
"Ever think it might be a cause and effect thing?" Esposito suggests.
"You know, for a smart guy you can be remarkably dumb."
He laughs, drops his face into his hands. "I get that a lot. Mostly from Beckett."
"Let me put it another way. You think she enjoyed coming in to work everyday, looking at that empty chair where her partner used to sit, watching him pal around with the NYPD's biggest thug with a badge? Huh? No more coffee, no more stupid jokes, no more crazy-ass theories. Just sitting at her desk day after day waiting for you to end up in the hospital or worse…on Lanie's slab?"
Castle presses the heel of his hands into his eyes. "I'm telling you, she doesn't care."
"And I'm telling you, that is utter bullshit and you know it."
"So, what? You're saying she left because me not being around anymore upset her?"
Esposito clapped his hands. "Give the man a round of applause. Took you a while, but you got there in the end."
"So…what do I do now?" Castle stands and starts to pace the floor again. "Assuming you numbskulls are right."
"You're asking us? Cagney and Lacey, I think he called us once," Ryan says, consulting with his partner.
"I'm asking my two good friends for help. If you think I still stand a chance with Beckett…" He turns away to look at his partner's desk, at his own empty chair, and then he turns back again. "And you still think I'd be any good for her."
"Get your head out of your ass and, yeah, maybe."
Castle takes a deep breath and puffs up to his full height. "Look, forget Slaughter. Slaughter is gone as of right now. Just tell me where I can find Kate and I will be the best damned partner any cop and any woman has ever had."
"Those are big promises, my friend. How do we know you can carry through?"
"You don't. You'll just have to trust me."
The two cops look at one another for a second. They seem to communicate via telepathy, and then they nod once, in unison, temping Castle to crack a joke about how in sync they are. But this only makes him ache for Beckett all the harder, and he's afraid to push his luck by annoying them right now.
"If you care about her like you say you do, start acting like it. Go after her, man, before she makes the biggest mistake of her life and stays up there," Esposito implores him.
Castle nods vigorously, turning on his heel immediately to leave in a hurry, before he stops dead near the door and turns back. "Where exactly is there?"
"Maine. Beckett's gone to Portland, Maine."