Title: Under New Management

Rating: T

Timeline: Early Season 4

Summary: Beckett returns to the precinct to find that things have changed more than expected. Set early in Season 4.

Disclaimer: I do not own Castle or the recognizable characters who appear in this story. Any other names, for characters or businesses, are fictional, uncompensated, or are in the public domain.

A/N: This is the second of three stories I've been thinking about in the period immediately following Beckett's shooting at the end of Season 3. It's got some common elements than the first, though you'll see differences, too. But fair warning: this story is darker than PT. It's likely OOC, but the direction is consistent with some scenes we saw in Season 5's Hunt/Target. This goes AU during Rise, beginning with some dialog taken directly from there to get things started but diverging during that episode. Finally, as an AU, I'll be slightly adjusting the timing of a few canon developments to keep this story consistent.

"Yeah, well, two months of listening to crickets in my dad's cabin was driving me nuts," Beckett mugs for her teammates, thrilled to be unpacking her things at the precinct again even if she's still nervous about her return.

Her mood sours quickly, though, as the boys share the meager results of their fruitless investigation into her shooting. She knows they would've found a way to get a message to her if they'd made progress on her case while she was recuperating. Castle would've insisted on it, probably would've seized the on the opportunity to finally reach out to her.

That's the other thing that's really bothering her – Castle. She can't believe he actually listened to her, that he gave her the peace she didn't really want. Every day she picked up her phone, hoping to see a text. Every day she thought about calling him. But every day it became more difficult to take that step. She'd created the perfect trap for herself – each day's delay meant one more day for which she'd need to apologize or explain. She couldn't shoulder the weight on the first day and it's only grown heavier since then.

While she's been ruminating on her partner, Esposito's taken the conversation in that direction, wondering why Castle didn't share the details about the DNA sample collected from the sniper's weapon.

"Nothing happened," she hears herself say. "I just needed some time."

"What, and he left you alone for three months?" Espo follow up, seeming to seize on this as evidence of what he perceives as the writer's flighty nature.

"You guys, it's not his fault," she answers in an effort to avoid more trouble with her partner. "I told him I would call."

"Well, why didn't you?" Esposito asks in confusion. Beckett pauses in her efforts at the coffee machine, unwilling to get into this discussion with her team when she's still uncomfortable with her decisions.

"He was here with us, every day, working the case," Espo adds, trying to break into Beckett's reverie.

"Until the accident," Ryan adds mournfully.

That comment certainly earns all of Beckett's attention. "The accident?"

Ryan casts his partner an uneasy look. "You don't know about the accident?" he asks before quailing at Beckett's aggrieved look, since the answer's obvious. "It happened a couple weeks after you were discharged. He kept it quiet, didn't tell us until we called to see why he hadn't been in for a while."

"We thought he was keeping a low profile," Espo adds, nodding towards Gates' office and getting a grim nod from Ryan. "Which woulda been smart, if a little out of character for him."

"But he's okay, right?" Beckett asks, feeling a panic-induced knot in her gut. He should've called her, she thinks, knowing already that she bears the blame for this. But if he was so concerned with her privacy edict that he wouldn't reach out after being hurt, she must've laid the law down more fiercely than she thought.

"Not sure," Ryan answers with a pursed mouth. "He said he needed to drop out to attend to some rehab, but I'd expected him back by now. I'm sure he'll come back now that you're here," he finishes, though neither his tone nor his look are particularly optimistic.

Recognizing her look of concern, Esposito tries to come up with a solution. "Hey, Beckett," he calls out. "Why don't we all go visit him during lunch?" Ryan understands the play immediately and nods in agreement.

"Yeah, okay," Beckett replies, though it sounds like a bad idea. The first time she sees Castle after their summer apart should be private. But, she sighs, at least they won't meet at a crime scene like their reunion after last summer. With that grim thought, she girds for battle and goes to visit her new captain to get her gun and badge back.

"I want my gun," Beckett sulks, still stung by the reception with her new captain. The boys weren't kidding – the cloud of distrust and paranoia that wafted in with Gates from Internal Affairs seems to permeate the atmosphere of the bullpen.

Her moods drops further when she learns that she's got no files on her case to peruse, either. "Castle's got them," Ryan explains apologetically. "What were we supposed to do, leave them here so Gates can find them?"

"The first thing she'd do is open an investigation on Montgomery," Espo adds.

Beckett has to nod at that wisdom, even if it stings. All roads point to Castle today and she'd be a fool to expect a warm reaction. Lunch is looking more daunting by the minute, especially with the boys in attendance.

Ryan steps away to take a call while Espo makes Beckett aware of how things have changed, and not for the better, under Gates. Had she not met the woman, Beckett would've suspected a joke. But it seems like jokes are likely to be in short supply around here under her reign. Especially until Castle returns.

"Hey," Ryan calls out. "We got a fresh one. 18th and Lex. You coming?" he asks of Beckett.

"No," she answers quietly. "I think I'm going to sit this one out."

Ryan looks confused but follows his partner's lead in heading out. As soon as they're gone, Beckett gathers her things and follows. If Gates is watching, she'll assume Beckett's hurrying to catch up to her team. But she has a different destination in mind.

She hasn't been back at the precinct long enough to get her cruiser, so Beckett's relegated to catching a cab towards SoHo. She feels the lack acutely as she steps out at Castle's building. Had she driven, she could've paused a few moments to gather her resolve before venturing forth to finally see her partner again. Instead, she's forced to march right in.

An unfamiliar face sits behind the security desk, which is yet another unexpected hurdle. Had it been Eduardo or Brian, she could've sauntered by with a wave. Instead, she'll need to check in. She hopes she's still on the precleared list – that way, if Castle's going to turn her away, he'll at least have to do it face-to-face.

"I'm Detective Beckett," she announces herself to the new security guard, flashing her badge and still feeling the lack of her weapon. "I should be on the pre-cleared list to visit Rick Castle."

"Rick Castle?" the man answers with thickly accented English. Beckett would try Russian, since he sounds Eastern European, but understanding the words doesn't seem to be the issue. "I am sorry, Detective, but there is no one in building by that name."

"He's on the top floor," she explains, expecting either the guard is too new to know all the residents or that Castle's going for some anonymity at home in case any fans track him to his building. "He might be listed under Rodgers, his original name."

But the security guard is already shaking his head while turning to a computer console. "No Castle or Rodgers on top floor – just Hughes. Neumans not yet moved in." Beckett's about to interject when the guard speaks again after tapping a few keys on the computer keyboard. "Ah, this explains," he says before opening a desk drawer and detaching a lurid orange post-it note from a block. "Mr. Castle move," he says while he writes on the note. "For detective," he says cheerily, "his new address."

Beckett receives the note with a smile. She doesn't feel happy, but it's clear the guard wasn't supposed to give out Castle's new address. So, one step closer to finding her partner, she thanks the guard and waves on her way out.

But she doesn't leave. There's something deeply disturbing about the idea of a Castle-free loft. The home was such an obvious extension of her partner's personality that she can't imagine him leaving it behind or someone else moving in. Given what's happened to him, either at her hand or that of an errant driver, she wouldn't be surprised if Castle's instead grown reclusive, secreting himself away in the loft. This theory seems confirmed when she does a web search on his 'new address.' It's not a residential address but instead the offices a silk-stocking law firm in a large office building on Broadway near City Hall.

It's the work of short minutes to defeat the lock of the alley egress from the stairwell. Happy her skills haven't diminished after months of rest, any pride Beckett felt at the quick entry (against which she'll need to warn Castle) evaporates by the time she reaches his floor, huffing and puffing and fighting the searing pains from her side and chest. Not the greatest way to approach Castle, but perhaps her wretched state will elicit a little sympathy.

Her hand reaches instinctually for her missing weapon as she treads down the hallway and sees his door ajar. On edge, she creeps close enough to nudge the door, anxious and fearful about what she'll find inside.

Her jaw drops and a quiet moan slips past her lips as she looks into the loft. It's gutted. Everything's gone – the bookshelf walls that housed the creative explosions that birthed Nikki and Rook; the kitchen that held so much warmth and familial love; probably even the room in which she sheltered and rebuilt her life after nearly falling victim to a madman's bomb. The only furniture is a makeshift plywood table held aloft by two sawhorses, at which two men with their backs to her pore over architectural plans.

He's gone, she realizes as she stumbles back to the stairwell, vision blurred by unshed tears. He's really gone.

"Eighteen million," Ryan sighs in awe. "Six weeks ago to Simon and Olivia Neuman," he confirms the sale of the loft and the the security guard's story.

"What about his place in the Hamptons?" Beckett asks, fearing the answer.

"Sold two weeks later," Ryan answers softly, recognizing his boss' fragility despite her typically no-nonsense approach. "Almost twenty million," he provides to Espo's low whistle, "to a corporate investment group."

Beckett absorbs this blow silently, though she probably doesn't recognize the droop in her posture. "The Old Haunt?"

Ryan slaps his head at the oversight, turning back to his computer and working through search screens. He's got the answer in less than two minutes, proving his acumen with financial records once again.

"It's on the market," he explains, eyes still focused on the screen. "Price wasn't listed in the ad, but according to this," he says while tapping a knuckle on his monitor screen, "sale is pending."

Beckett's nodding even as she picks up the phone on her desk and dials a number. Ryan and Esposito watch curiously, but she holds up a finger for quiet rather than explain.

"Hello," she says in an adenoidal voice as her calls goes through, "this is Dolores, Mr. Wallace's secretary. I was calling to confirm the details for the walk-through?" Grabbing a piece of paper, Beckett starts scribbling. "Yes," she answers after she finishes writing, "I've got it all. I'll be sure to pass this along to Mr. Wallace," she confirms while gracing the boys with a wily smile. "Thanks for your help."

"Who's Mr. Wallace?" Espo asks, still smiling at Beckett's maneuver.

"Who knows?" she answers with a shrug. "With a corporate transaction like this, there'll be a gaggle of attorneys involved on each side. Even if there isn't a Wallace on the roster, I was willing to bet they'd provide the information rather than risk offending someone who gets paid to argue."

"Nice," Espo approves with a chuckle. "So, when's the sale going down?"

"Wednesday at 3:00," she says, thinking about the next two days. "Now, let's solve Sonya Gilbert's case so we've got time for a field trip."

"You got it, boss," Ryan replies, happy to see Beckett moving back towards her assertive role. His partner agrees, based on his happy nod en route back to his desk. "But when we have a break," he adds in a low tone, "I think I might need to run a trace on someone's cell phone…"

Beckett slams the door to her apartment in frustration and embarrassment. Her foray to Castle's 'new address' had been a complete fiasco. After Ryan's trace indicated Castle's phone was at the same address provided by the security guard on Broome Street, Beckett wondered if he'd sub-let space within the law firm or taken out an office next door. So, in another attempt to see him in private before bringing the boys along, she'd decided to visit.

The security desk at the building was the first setback. Uncowed by her credentials, the guards insisted on calling the reception area of the law firm to announce Beckett's arrival. She'd almost bailed out at that point, interested in keeping her name off of any paperwork. But she suffered through, intent on figuring out where Castle was holed up.

Once she exited the elevator to which she'd been escorted, she found herself in the care of the law firm's receptionist. Lisa was pleasant and kind if not particularly helpful. She took Beckett to a small conference room overlooking the World Trade Center memorial, where Beckett spent 20 minutes trying not to recall those days while awaiting the arrival of someone who could answer her questions. Finally, the door opened to admit a middle-aged, nebbish attorney wearing a tweed coat with patches on the elbows.

Jacob Samuelson explained kindly but firmly that his law firm provided many services for companies and individuals. He would neither confirm nor deny any particular client in the absence of a warrant, which he assured Beckett she had no hope of obtaining. If she had reason to believe that someone's mail or other services were being handled by the firm, then the best advice he could offer was for her to send a letter to that person and await a response.

None of her usual interrogation tricks made the slightest dent in Samuelson's demeanor. To her irritation, she couldn't tell if that was because she's lost her touch during her recuperation or because he was used to dealing with officers. Whatever the reason, he easily rebuffed Beckett's attempts to extract information about Castle, ultimately leaving her stymied and fuming.

Now, in the comfort of her apartment, she regrets the trip. She learned nothing. And in all likelihood she announced her presence quite loudly. If Castle's intentionally avoiding her, he knows she's looking for him. And with his mysterious disappearance, she's running out of reasons to believe that his absence is anything but intentional.

She'd hate him for leaving her, and a small part of her probably does. But she knows where the blame for their lack of communication falls. Despite all odds, he honored her request for time, the days that turned into weeks that turned into months. There's little doubt about the origin of the silence between them.

So, releasing as much of her fear and frustration as she can manage, she slowly extracts her phone. Opening the contact she'd looked at many, many times over the summer but never called, she reverently presses the icon and raises the phone to her ear.

After four rings, her call diverts to voicemail. She sights, unsurprised but still disappointed.

"Hey, Castle, it's Beckett," she offers before cringing at her inane start. "It's been… too long. I waited too long. But I'm finally calling. Will you call me back? I'd like to talk. I…," she trails off, feeling exposed and out of sorts. "I've missed you," she whispers before disconnecting the call.

She drops the phone onto the couch and drifts around her apartment, lost in a fog of thoughts and memories. Late afternoon bleeds into evening without notice. Beckett's still lost in her thoughts, ignoring the signals from her body telling her eat and to rest, but habit finally overrides all else late that night. She's just managed to rise from the couch to see what sustenance might be lurking in her refrigerator when a ping from her phone recalls her attention.

She cautiously approaches her phone, trying to rein in her hopes in case it's a text from her father or Lanie. Carefully, Beckett lifts the phone and sees a text from an unknown number. Slowly, she presses the icon to open the message.

Hey, Beckett. It's good to hear from you. Meet me at the Haunt tomorrow at 3:30? You can bring the boys, but leave Mr. Wallace at the office. Castle.