The Other Side of Broken
Busy single mom Kate Beckett doesn't have time for unnecessary distractions, particularly from a certain mystery writer she meets on the subway. Then again, he might just be the exact thing she's been searching for.
Trigger Warnings: Reference to sexual assault; domestic abuse. (Note: no assaults take place in the story, but domestic abuse does.)
A/N: 14 Chapters + Epilogue. Please see the bottom of this chapter for an important note.
"Mommy! C'mon Mommy—the train is here."
Kate Beckett startled from her mental haze with the tug of the tiny hand in hers pulled her back to reality. She gazed down at the girl with shoulder-length chestnut-brown hair, tugging at her arm with all her might, but not making much progress since the woman over three times her size remained statuesque on the platform.
"Sorry, kiddo—let's go."
She gave the child's hand a squeeze and they filed on to the subway car along with the rest of that evening's commuters. Fortunately, she spotted an available seat, but just one. Her kindergartener was still small enough to sit on her lap, but growing independent enough to turn her nose up at the idea. Still five years old she did not entirely grasp the dangers of the subway and refuted Kate's attempts to explain it would be safer for them both if they were seated together on public transit. Abby had, unfortunately, inherited her mother's stubbornness.
As she was not in the mood to argue with her daughter, Kate sat down and allowed Abby to stand in front of her in between her knees. That way, she could not only be braced from falling over as the train came to a halt, but she would be close enough to Kate that she could not be lost—not even in the crowded car. As the subway began moving again, she braced her hands lightly on Abby's sides before moving them to her thighs as she once again became lost in the busy thoughts bouncing around inside her mind.
That day was a Wednesday, just three days into the month. She had already paid her rent on the first, but she would not be paid again until the tenth, making that nine day stretch her least favorite as it was the one when money was tightest—particularly since she had also pre-paid the babysitter on the thirty-first for the current month. They had enough groceries at home that she could make lunch for her daughter for two more school days and scrape together something for herself. She'd have something for dinner, too, but would most likely need to go shopping that weekend, which was okay because she had Saturday off and thankfully Abby had not yet grown out of the stage of enjoying shopping excursions with her mother.
Rounding out the list of things to do in her mind were two loads of laundry, the growing holes in two of Abby's three pairs of leggings, oh and the hood that had ripped off her warmest jacket when she pulled it out of the storage unit—she had to fix that too. Sighing to herself and letting her head roll back so that her chin pointed towards the ceiling, Kate thought for perhaps the millionth time that there were not enough hours in one day.
Thank god she'd had the sense to refuse more than forty-hours' worth of shifts at her job—at least until the holiday crunch came around. She knew it was bad for her career; it had already taken her almost a year longer to make detective than she wanted to, but when balancing her job and life with her daughter, the lesser important of the two was the one that had to suffer. Besides, forty-hours usually meant forty-five at minimum when all said and done with her paperwork; that was just as much as she could dedicate at that time and it would have to be enough—until year-end review time came; then she'd see what her CO said.
Just as Kate was trying to remember if she'd finished filing her last report of the day, her thoughts were interrupted by an unpleasant cold sensation against her leg. Gasping slightly, she gazed down at her right side to see that the woman beside her had dropped the McDonald's take-out cup off her lap. The top of the cup had popped off when it struck her leg which resulted in the ice and what remained of the liquid spilling over her pant leg. To make things worse, the woman beside her didn't seem to notice or care.
As the subway car came to a stop, Kate tried to use the minute they weren't moving to assess the damage, but with all the people filing in and out of the car there was no opportunity to do so. Once they were moving again, she lifted her heel and examined the area; thank god she was wearing black pants, but everything south of her mid-shin was soaked—not to mention cold—even her sock!
"Hold on a second, honey," Kate said, guiding the girl to her left with her hands at her waist. She then dug around in the side pockets of the messenger bag slung across her body until she procured a very wrinkled but clean napkin. Within just moments of blotting her pants the formerly white napkin was saturated with a watery brown, sticky liquid. Grimace on her face, she reached in the bag for another napkin, but found none, which meant she would simply have to suffer through the remainder of their half-hour trip home.
"Well that's not—Abby?" the young mother questioned, a wave of panic crashing through her when she looked up to see that, much to her horror, her child was no longer standing beside her. In fact, Abby was nowhere in her immediately scope of vision. As she could feel the train slowing to a halt in front of its next stop, panic coursed through her veins. The soiled napkin fell from her hand as she stood, and gripped the messenger bag strap with white-knuckled hands.
"Abby? Abigail? Where are you?!" She called out over the noisy whoosh of the subway's movements. Just as sweat beads began to formulate on her brow, a soft giggle filtered through the car and nudged Kate's eardrums. She whipped her head towards the sound and saw the back of her daughter's head as she stood beside a man seated half a car away from her. The man wore a black blazer, had chestnut-brown hair and, somewhat alarmingly, was showing the young girl something in his lap.
Kate surged forward, pushing her way through the groups of people standing to exit the ever-slowing train until she was able to latch her hand around her daughter's shoulder in a grip that was probably uncomfortably tight. The car stopped and Kate held Abby flush against her side as people moved out of the way; the black blazer wearing man was not one of them. Only when the car was moving again was Kate able to drop to her knees and spin her daughter around.
"Abby! You can't walk away from me like that!"
"I just wanted to see the mouse, Mommy."
"M-mouse?!" She had heard of rats on the subway, of course, but never mice. Then again, she tried to turn a blind eye to the vermin population as best she could; it was better that way. Abby had never before show interest in any—oh. Kate realized when she glanced around her daughter's head that the strange man held a clear plastic cage on his lap. So it wasn't a subway mouse, but a pet mouse. Was that really any better?
"It's a gerbil actually."
The man's smooth baritone pulled Kate's gaze from the cage to his face where she did a double-take. This man with well-coiffed brown hair and sparkling blue eyes was not a stranger at all. Well, he was in the sense that Abby had never met him before, but he certainly was not unknown to her. Unless her eyes were playing tricks on her she most definitely knew who he was. In her shock, she couldn't respond, at least not until Abby said, "Gerbil—I wanted to see the gerbil, Mommy."
"I'm sorry, ma'am; I thought you knew she walked over here. I never meant any harm."
His eyes were warm and his smile gentle as he spoke. For the first time in quite some time, Kate's heart did a summersault in her chest. She cleared her throat and shifted her gaze back to her daughter, silently cursing the betraying organ. Loosening up her death grip on Abby's shoulder, Kate stood and shook off the man's apology. No, she doubted very much that Richard Castle meant harm. After all, minor celebrities were generally not arrested for kidnapping and, thanks to Page Six, she already knew his attraction was fixated on large-breasted, blonde women not pre-teen girls. Still, Abby should not have wandered away from her and they were definitely going to talk about that once they'd said goodbye to the writer.
"What's the gerbil's name?"
"Well, I don't know yet." The man held the cage up at eye-level and Kate was able to see the creature scurry about for the first time. She cringed inwardly; it certainly did look like a mouse. Well, maybe a mouse crossed with a hamster, but that didn't make it any better in her mind.
"I'm going to let my daughter name him."
"Oooh!" Abby cooed, standing up on her toes to see in the cage again. "Is he a present?"
The writer lowered the cage to his lap once more. "Yep! He's an upgrade for her pet fish." Then, turning to Kate, he added out of the corner of his mouth. "The fish recently met a watery grave, so we'll see how this goes."
Despite her lingering concern over Abby, a blip of laughter did burst from her lips at this comment. The noise almost startled her as it had been quite some time since someone other than Abby made her laugh—particularly a male someone. She briefly wondered if the pet fish had met its end due to age or negligent care; for the sake of the gerbil, she wished for the former. "Good luck with that, Mr. Castle."
His eyes flashed with surprise and then his lips curled into a smile. "You know my name—does that mean I can know yours?"
"Kate!" Abby blurted out before Kate could even open her lips.
Feeling the subway slowing once more, Kate reached up and grabbed on to the overhead handle with her right arm while snaking her left around Abby's front, bracing her against her legs. "My name's Kate; hers is Abby."
The man stood, cage in hand, and nodded towards both women. "Well it's nice to meet you both; I hope you have a great evening."
"You too!" Abby chirped. The writer nodded and then exited the car, new pet in hand. The little girl tilted her head back to she gazed up at her mother in an upside-down-and-backwards way. "Can I get a gerbil Mommy? For my birthday?"
Kate sighed and combed her hand through her daughter's hair. "Not this year, kiddo."
Dropping her chin, the young girl let out a long sigh. "Fine…."
Her heart thundering her in chest, Kate practically shoved her daughter though the open doorway of their apartment and then slipped inside behind her, spinning around and slamming the door shut. She clawed at each of the three locks until they were secure and only then did she let out her breath. She leaned forward, pressing her forehead against the cool surface of the door, and sucked in a dep breath through her nose, pressing it out between her lips, finally feeling safe.
She hated this. She had never wanted to become this, but things happened; life happened.
Of course rationally she knew the man trailing ten feet behind them walking a golden lab on a navy blue leash probably was not stalking them with the intent to attack. He was simply taking his pet on a walk before it grew too dark. She knew this—but did she? He had been behind them for several blocks—even turning down their street. To the best of her knowledge she had never seen the man or dog before—and she noticed these things. She always noticed the men immediately around her; always was on high alert. And she hated it. Yet, that didn't stop her from thinking that way. She had to since, in her mind, it was the only way to keep them safe.
"What's for dinner Mommy?"
"Ah." Kate hedged as she lifted her head from the door and turned to see her daughter pulling off her shoes, her coat already deposited on the floor. She picked up the object and tossed it over the clothes tree before shedding her own. "Chicken. And rice."
The mother's heart twitched at the sight of her daughter's scrunched nose. It was the…fourth, maybe fifth night in a row they had chicken, but it had been on sale so she'd bought in bulk—same with the rice. She tried to mix up the spices and flavorings she used but, in all honesty, she was not the most creative cook—especially with the limited amount of time she had. She was doing the best she could, even if it never seemed to be enough.
"How about I let you use barbeque sauce instead of ketchup tonight?"
Abby shrugged. "Okay."
"Take your backpack to your desk, please." She called after the girl now dragging the pink-and-purple object across the hardwood behind her.
Stepping into the kitchen, Kate skimmed her eyes over the calendar hanging on the front of their refrigerator. Her face flushed for the third time that evening when she saw in block letters the word "JOHNNY" beginning on Friday with an arrow dragging all the way through Sunday. How could she have forgotten that this was her daughter's weekend with her father? First and third weekends—like clockwork. Just the thought of seeing his smirk and his—no. No she wouldn't do that to herself. Not tonight. They were going to have a good evening together until Abby went to bed. Then, she'd deal with Johnny.
"Pumpkin?" Richard Castle called out to his only child when he slipped inside his apartment still carrying the unnamed gerbil in his hand. As she was not in the immediate vicinity, he smiled to himself and tip-toed his way into the living area, cage in hand. He had hoped to surprise her and it seemed he would be successful.
He felt bad—really, he did. All Alexis had wanted for her birthday that year had been a pet, but he thought it best to start small, especially since she was far too young to walk a dog alone outside in the city and he was pretty sure his mother was allergic to cats. Though she'd seemed slightly disappointed, she was excited about the fish—even requested to keep "Spot" in her room. At the time of purchase, the pet store owner had told him the fish would be a piece of cake to take care of. Piece of cake—yeah right.
Two days later, the fish's container was so filthy they could hardly see him in it. Even with regular water changing, their aquatic friend only lasted two weeks until Alexis's shriek awoke him on a Friday morning and he raced upstairs to find Spot belly up in his bowl. He hoped they would have more success with the rodent though, once again, the pet store owner had promised care would be simple; that remained to be seen.
Castle walked over to the stairs and called out for his daughter. She responded with, "Be down in a sec, Dad!"
He waited patiently for her, his thoughts drifting back to the smiling little girl on the subway—Abby. She was so adorable when she walked up to him with her big, curious brown eyes and said a meek hello. He would have been concerned, but he'd seen her walk onto the car with her mother at the prior stop and figured she'd asked permission to come see what was in the cage. That had, as it turned out, been a wrong assumption, but it had worked out in the end, particularly when he'd discovered her beautiful mother was a fan of his books. Well, at least aware of them—otherwise, she probably would not have recognized him.
As he'd been trying—and failing—for several months to come up with a new character to begin a new book series, he had been contemplating riding the subway somewhat regularly over rush hour as a way of doing research; there was no better people watching experience than on a New York subway. If, perhaps, he did decide to do that, he might have the pleasure of running into Abby or Kate again, and that was certainly an attractive notion.
"What's up Dad?"
Castle gazed up the stairs and smiled at his little girl. "C'mere—I have a surprise for you."
"What kind of surprise?" she asked, the brown of her blue eyes arching in curiosity.
"It's on the table; go look."
She hurried over to the living area, but stopped a few feet short of the table, crouched down, and gazed in through the side of the cage. Turning back to her father she asked, "What's in there?"
"It's a gerbil. Thought he might be more interactive than Spot. You can even take him out and hold him!"
At her dejected sounding tone, he asked, "What's wrong, Alexis? I thought you wanted a pet."
"I do…but what if I kill the gerbil too?"
Shaking his head, he patted her arm and sat on the edge of the couch so he could look at her. "You didn't kill the fish, Alexis. We…we didn't have the right equipment to take care of him properly, which was more my fault than yours. We'll work together to take care of this little guy and it'll go much better—I promise."
That, or he'd revert to his backup plan: stealthily replacing this gerbil with a look-alike one on the off chance the gerbil failed to thrive.
She shrugged and dropped down to the floor to gaze at her new pet. "Okay; thanks, Dad."
"No problem, pumpkin. Now, why don't you think of a name while I start dinner?" After giving her shoulder another squeeze, Castle made his way to the kitchen where the makings for dinner awaited him in the refrigerator.
A/N: It is with a heavy heart that I must tell all of you that this story will likely be the last I post on this site. I'm not saying it will be the last, but it could be and I wanted to give everyone fair warning.
Because of the personal attacks I've received on social media sites and previously on this site, here's how this is gonna go:
Guest review moderate is on. There will be a zero tolerance policy for reviews that personally attack me or are extremely off topic for this fic.
This story has extremely serious subject matter and if that's not your cup of tea; that's fine-you don't have to read it, but it also should not detract from other's experience.
Thank you for your consideration; I hope you enjoy the story.