A/N: This story came out of a photo sent to me by a dear friend as a prompt. Thank you for the gift of inspiration, my dear. That photo is the cover art for the story. Set at the time of 4x01: "Rise." Five chapters, all complete, each one posted daily.
A Father's Love
Castle strode past the diner's long bank of windows as quickly as his legs would take him. A bead of sweat trickled down the middle of his back despite the cool of the evening. He was desperate to get inside. Kate's father had called him not a half hour ago and he couldn't get there fast enough. Seemed 'Beckett' was one name that held a power over Richard Castle that, to this day, he didn't quite understand.
When Jim had called him out of the clear blue, Castle had responded in the manner of "how high would you like me to jump, sir?" It had pathetic, Pavlovian overtones, he recognized. But he was too anxious to find out why Mr. Beckett had thought to call him of all people to look any deeper into his own psyche before agreeing to the man's request. He immediately promised the lawyer that he would meet him at this old school diner Jim Beckett suggested on the corner of 73rd and 3rd, known as E.J.'s Luncheonette.
He skidded to a halt as he passed the second to last window. Jim was seated at a booth inside, his wiry frame bent over a half-eaten dish of some kind. He was sporting a baseball cap and a well-worn plaid shirt. He looked at ease, but very much alone. The scene had all the visual hallmarks and the lonely detachment of an Edward Hopper painting. It was as beautiful as it was sad; the lighting a mournful wash of blue, the old framed poster from the nineteen-forties of a red-lipped vamp that exclaimed, "Love that cherry pie," the cold isolation of the subject being viewed from the busy, connected world outside. Castle paused to soak in these details, and then he hurried for the entrance before Jim caught him standing there staring in through the glass like an unhinged moron.
"Stop staring, Castle. It's creepy," he heard the phantom Beckett say inside his head and, not for the first time that day, he felt his heart contract at the mere thought of his injured partner, currently laid up in a hospital bed. He missed her so much.
Castle's leather soled-shoes skidded on the greasy linoleum as he rushed towards Jim Beckett's booth. He caught himself on the high divider between tables before he went sliding on past or hit the deck. He was out of breath and probably disheveled but Jim didn't seem to notice. He just dabbed his mouth with a paper napkin as he stood to shake the writer's hand and then motioned for Castle to take a seat on the opposite side of the table.
Jim pushed the plate containing the remains of his cherry pie to one side. The filling oozed like blood spatter against the white porcelain and Castle had to look away, forcing himself to focus on the older man's face instead.
Without any preamble, Jim began to talk. His voice was quiet and dry, it had undertones of defeat and exhaustion, of battles fought and lost. Castle listened, captivated.
"We're leaving tomorrow. I'm supposed to sign her out of the hospital at ten o'clock in the morning. Against doctor's advice, wouldn't you know. But that's Katie for you. Stubborn as an old mule."
Jim Beckett looked worn out, too. The lines on his face had deepened and his skin was an unhealthy shade of gray that came from too little time spent outdoors, too many sleepless nights lying in bed worrying, and not enough nutritious food. Castle, intimately acquainted with identical ailments in his own personal life, immediately had the urge to invite him back to the loft and cook for him, to fatten him up and force him to rest. But then that wasn't why he had shown up to this meeting. And more than anything, he needed to know what exactly he was doing here at nine o'clock on a weekday night.
"And you think I can help how?" he asked Kate's father. "She isn't even speaking to me. She promised she'd call in a couple of days when I first went to visit her in the hospital. But it's been over a week and a half and…nothing," Castle lamented, being open with Jim Beckett in a way that he never would dare with the man's daughter, and even then only because he was getting desperate for answers by this point.
Jim let his hand fall to the table and it landed palm down on the surface with a bit of a slap. "Go in my place. Make her see sense. Please."
Castle balked at the idea the instant he began to process. "Let me get this straight. You want me to talk Kate Beckett—" He paused a moment, trying to tamp down his disbelief so as not to offend her father. Then he took a breath and began over again. "No offense, sir…but you think I can talk her into staying there against her wishes? Why?"
Jim remained patiently quiet, watching his request soak in, waiting for the moment he hoped Castle would turn what at first seemed like an impossibility into a challenge he couldn't refuse. If he knew the man like he thought he did from all the stories his daughter had shared with him over the last couple of years then his patience would pay off. Eventually, it would pay off.
But Castle laughed, his amusement hardened to brittle by his incredulity. "What about Josh? He's a doctor. Can't he intervene on medical grounds? Talk some sense into her? I don't know, maybe play the concerned boyfriend card for once. Hell, put her on a psyche hold if he has to?"
Jim made a 'pfff' sound of dismissal and calmly waved those ideas aside in favor of cutting to the chase. "I know how you feel about her, son. We all heard it plain as day. Though you'd have to be a blind fool not to have seen it before," he added as a surprise addendum.
Castle sat up straight and then he leaned in. "I— Wait. You…you heard me tell your daughter that I—"
"That you love her, yes." Jim stated plainly. "Everyone within earshot heard you, including a few of the recently interred I would venture."
Castle suddenly felt icy cold. "When I visited her, Kate told me she remembered nothing about the shooting."
"Yeah, well, I hate to inform on my own daughter, Rick, but I think you'll find that's less than truthful."
Castle frowned and stared down at the tabletop, fingertips dancing nervously on the laminated surface. "How…how do you know this?"
Even as he asked the question he found that he was actually fearful of the answer.
"Katie has a tendency to make poor choices some of the time. She thinks she's doing the world a favor by putting herself last. The two things rarely balance out."
Seemed a gift for subtext was a skill learned by the child at her father's knee. But the very last thing Castle needed right now was subtext of any kind.
"But you know this for certain?" Castle pressed for clarity's sake, since it was too important a point on which to be blurry. "She definitely heard me and she remembers?"
Jim nodded. "Talked to her about it myself."
"So why did she lie?" Even the words hurt.
"You'll have to ask her about that, son."
"But if you were to hazard a guess at least? I don't want to be working with one hand tied behind my back here. If I do this," he added as a caveat.
"I'd say she's scared. Shooting gave her one helluva fright. She's always been so darned independent. Needing help to take care of herself is her worst nightmare. My guess, were I to make one, she doesn't want to be a burden."
Castle was appalled. "She could never be a burden. Not to me."
Jim saw his moment and went in for the kill.
"Then show up at that hospital tomorrow, ten a.m. sharp, and don't take no for an answer."