Summer of Light

Two years after her mother's murder, Kate Beckett returns to a special place from her childhood to find light and keep her head above water, and ends up finding so much more. Pre-Series, Meeting AU. For the 2017 Castle Ficathon.

Riding her motorcycle might not have been the best of decisions, given how much gear she's hauling, but the rush of the wind and the thrum of the engine underneath her backside is exactly what she needs.

She can't forget, not for good, but she can certainly try to let it slip her mind every once in a while.

That's the whole reason she had agreed to this at all, really; she needs to let it – her mother's murder – fall away from time to time. Taking a position as a counselor at the same summer camp she had attended as a child is an opportunity to get away for a few months. To get away from her father's melancholy, from watching him pour himself into the bottle each night, from the disappointment of her semester, and the persistent ache of her mother's absence.

She needs to let some light in before the darkness overwhelms her, before it swallows her whole.

Camp Juniper is the way to do that; it has to be. Nothing else in the last two years has worked.

So last night she had kissed her father's forehead as he slept in his recliner – doing her best not to gag at the sharp scent of sweat and liquor – and packed as much as she felt comfortable carrying on her motorcycle, setting out this morning to begin her summer. Now, hours later, Kate allows the bike to slow, not wanting to come roaring up to the main cabin. As much fun as it would be to mess with the director, it's probably for the best that she doesn't start the summer on the wrong foot. That said, she has been looking forward to watching people's eyes bug out a bit when they realize exactly who is on the bike. Little Katie Beckett's not so little anymore.

Heads do turn as she rolls past, some amused, some curious, some just shy of appalled, and Kate smothers a smile. This place certainly hasn't changed; it's still as sleepy as ever. But that's what she needs right now. She needs the quiet, the simplicity, the reminder of better times.

Almost like it was meant for her, there's a parking space at the end of the long drive, close enough to be seen from what she hopes will be her cabin, and she zips into it, killing the engine and setting both feet on the ground. Lifting her helmet and shaking out her hair, she drags a deep breath into her lungs, letting the scent of pine calm the rabbit of her heart.

"Always have to make an entrance, don't you, Katie?"

Twisting, Kate's greeted by a familiar smile, as tender as it is teasing.

"Hi, Andy," she says, easing off the bike. Her legs wobble a bit, rubbery after so many hours on the road (which clearly means she needs to ride more), but she manages to right herself. "What can I say?" she adds, allowing a sly smile to escape as her shoulders lift. "I don't want anyone to forget me."

"As if that could ever happen," Andy chuckles, stepping up to rub her arms with the same affection he'd always reserved for her. The man has been a friend of her mother and father's since before they were married; he's never treated Kate as anything less than family, and as she sinks into his embrace, she's so grateful he still works at the camp.

"How're you holding up, kiddo?" he asks, resting his cheek on her hair.

Her throat tightens, but she forces herself to breathe and attempt a smile for him. It's not his fault that the last time they saw each other was before her mother was murdered, or that the wounds are still open and weeping despite the amount of time that has passed since Johanna's death.

"I'm okay. Glad there was a spot for me this summer."

Recognizing her try for what it is, Andy smiles sadly, the motion deepening the weathered lines on his face.

"There's always a place for you here, Katie. You know that."

Given that she barely feels like she fits at her own home, that helps. It truly does.

"Thanks," she breathes, pulling away. "I know I'm a few hours late, but have I missed anything so far?"

Andy shakes his head, freeing her bags from the back of her bike and tossing them over his shoulder.

"Just the new hire orientation; which you needed to attend about as much as you need a hole in the head."

Kate laughs, shaking her head. "Unless policies somehow changed between my last year and now, I think I'm good. Has anything changed in the last few years?"

"Does anything ever?"

Another laugh works its way from her throat. She had stopped coming to the camp for exactly that reason. It was stagnant, never changing, and as a counselor at the wise old age of eighteen, she had needed to stretch her legs and spread her wings. But now the familiarity is comforting.

"That's okay; it's not altogether a bad thing sometimes," she murmurs.

"True," Andy says, leading her to the cabin one over from the end. She's not too disappointed not to be in the last cabin; she can still see her bike from here, and it's still accessible should she need to make a mad dash to cover it. "They should be going to chow in about an hour, if you want to meet them there after you get settled."

Kate nods, taking a careful step into the cabin. Her riding boots thud heavily on the oak floors, the sound echoing across the bare walls. This is her home for the next nine weeks. The space is barren save for two sets of battered maple furniture, but she'll fix that once she unpacks and brings out her own things. Of course, she'll have to compete for space with her roommate, but she's been doing that every year since she started college, so it shouldn't be a big deal.

"My roommate's not here yet?" she asks, taking her bags from Andy and tossing them onto the bed at the far end of the room. As late to arrive as she is, it's surprising that the other girl is even later.

Andy shakes his head. "Flying in tomorrow. She's not a newbie either, so she'll be here in time for the campers to arrive on Sunday. Good news is you got your choice of bunks, and I can help you rearrange the room while I'm here, if you want the furniture some other way."

Kate chuckles. "This is good, but thank you."

He nods, leaning against the dresser she decides to leave for the other girl, watching as she surveys her stuff.

"I may have to duck into town at some point for another blanket," she muses, tapping the side of her bag. "The one I brought is pretty small."

Her friend smiles. "Need a ride? I have to make a run myself to pick up some supplies in the next few."

As tempting as it is, she declines. "I'll survive for tonight. Thanks, though."

"You sure? It'll be a short trip, get you back before afternoon activities. You might have to skip lunch, but I think I can spring for buying you something in town."

She hesitates; she had considered skipping lunch anyway, but her plan had been to use that hour to wander, reacquaint herself with the grounds. To attempt to find her equilibrium. But having the added cargo space of Andy's truck would mean she can pick up more of the things she hadn't had room to pack, making it so she won't have to make a second trip into town until it's unavoidable.

"Oh, what the hell? Better to go now than have to try to sneak away once the campers are here."

Andy grins, his face lighting up. "Great. I'll give you a few minutes to get settled and meet you at the truck?"

Kate nods, hoping the smile she gives him isn't as painted as it feels. It's been a while since she's exercised the muscles in her face to do anything but frown.

"I'll be ready in a sec; I just want to make sure I know what I need."

Andy nods. "See you then. Truck's parked where it always is."

Kate smiles. "Thanks."

"Anytime, Katie. You know that." With that, Andy slips out of the cabin, leaving her to her bags and her thoughts.

They're barely two hours into their trip, and his daughter's eager, fast chatter has slowed almost to a halt. At first, he thinks she's fallen asleep, or has opened one of the many (and he means many) books she had somehow managed to shove into her bag, but a glance in the rear-view mirror finds her staring out the window, her lip between her teeth.

"Hey, pumpkin, what's the matter?"

Alexis looks up, straightening in her booster seat. "Nothing, Daddy. I'm great."

Except for the fact that her body language tells a completely different story. A story he recognizes from his first time going to boarding school.

"Are you sure? Did you get bored playing the license plate game?"

She heaves a sigh, dropping her head back against the seat. "There aren't enough cars to play it, Daddy."

"That's part of the challenge. And we both know you're going to beat me if you don't get more of a challenge."

Alexis giggles, looking away quickly, the unsettled frown returning to her mouth.

"Alexis, hey," he prompts, getting her eyes again. "Do you need me to stop?"

Her head thrashes. "No! No, don't stop. I'm okay, Daddy."

"Just a little bit nervous?" he guesses, seeing her shoulders sag. She nods, looking at her hands.

Rick nods in return, even though she can't see him. He's glad they'd decided to drive up a day or so early, because there is no way he would be able to drop her off and leave when she's feeling like this. "That's normal, Sweetheart, but you're going to be great. And you're going to have so much fun."

"What if nobody likes me? Four weeks is a really long time to have no friends."

"Impossible," he insists. "You'll make so many friends, you won't even know what to do with them. And you won't even notice the month going by."

His daughter slumps back against her seat. "I hope so, Daddy."

He does, too. This is the first time she's been away from home except to visit Meredith, and he'd been reluctant to commit to a month for that, let alone for camp. Alexis had done everything she could to convince him, swearing it would be awesome like her favorite book. He'd relented when she'd brought Kelsey and Taylor on board, but he's having second thoughts now that the other girls have dropped out; he's even considering switching her to the two-week option, even though he knows she'll argue.

Rick bites his lip. "Tell you what." He waits to continue until she meets his eyes in the mirror. "If, and this is a big if, you're not having fun after a couple of days, you can call me and I'll come get you. Or, if you're having fun, but you decide you want to come home after two weeks, I'll come get you then."

His daughter considers his offer, her eyes wide. "You promise?"

"I promise." Even though it's a pretty long drive to camp from Manhattan, he will be there – day or night – if she needs him.

Alexis nods. "Okay, you've got a deal."

"Okay," he echoes, returning his attention to the road. He just hopes she'll be okay, regardless of how long she stays.

The trip into town is exactly as she remembered. Same bumps in the road – grooves that have obviously been patched and worn down again – same row of weather-beaten storefronts, same tiny town square. The general store hasn't changed a bit either, save for the fact that it's cleaner and brighter inside, and there's a surprising amount of contemporary merchandise resting on the shelves.

"Finally joining the 20th century, I see," she teases, checking her pockets to be sure her wallet hasn't fallen out during the short walk across the parking lot.

Her friend snorts. "I seem to remember someone saying something about a town needing more than single ply toilet paper and generic bug spray to survive," Andy shoots back, lifting an eyebrow. Kate laughs at having her younger self's words thrown back at her, but lifts a shoulder anyway.

"I had a point, didn't I?"

Andy chuckles. "Think you're so smart, city girl."

"Well, I kinda am." She grins, grabbing one of the store's ancient, rickety carts and steering it down the closest aisle.

Andy shakes his head. "Okay, smarty pants, get what you need and meet me back at the truck in twenty. Holler if you need more time."

"I will," she agrees, already looking around.

She finds what she needs in five minutes flat; the general store isn't that big and she refuses to buy too much anyway. After that, she just wanders, surveying the rest of the new merchandise before heading to the checkout. On a whim, she tosses a few bags of candy onto her pile; she'll need the sweets, she knows, and maybe her roommate will reciprocate if she shares.

See? She can make friends. Provided she doesn't say too much or make things weird with her "sob story," as her most recent former friends had said she's wont to do. Yeah, her mother being murdered has been awfully inconvenient for others in her social circles; she'll try to keep their discomfort to a minimum from now on.

Shaking the thought away, she adds another bag of Skittles – just in case. If nothing else, she can make them rewards for her campers when they go above and beyond. She had always loved it when her counselors did that, so it's a tradition she'll try to continue.

Andy's already waiting when she emerges with too many bags hanging from her wrists. He knows better than to offer to take them, so he simply lowers the tailgate of his truck and points to the partition she knows he'd created specifically to transport groceries and smaller items to and from the camp.

"Thanks," Kate breathes once her hands are free again.

"Get everything?" he asks, his smile easy.

"And more," she says, looking a little sheepish. "But it's good. Means I won't have to bug you again for a while."

He shakes his head, patting her shoulder. "The last thing you do is bug me, Katie. Except for that time I had dinner with you and your parents when you were six and you asked 'why' questions for two straight hours."

"Yeah well, we'll see what you say in a month or so." She grins, moving around the truck and hauling herself into the cab. Andy joins her after a moment, patting the dash when the vehicle rumbles to life.

"Atta girl. Gotta stay with me until the end of the summer, at least."

Kate tilts her head. "What's wrong with the truck?"

"About 250,000 miles and twenty-five years of abuse," he chuckles. "But she'll hold together. She's tough."

Kate nods, allowing a half-completed thought to escape from her head. "I'll probably need to do some work on my bike while I'm up here, so if any of the issues with the truck are fixable, we could work on both at the same time. Maybe at the end of season?"

"Yeah, we could make that happen. What do you need to do to your murdercycle?"

He doesn't mean anything by it – she's heard the less-than-affectionate nickname for her bike many times before – but still she winces. Hard enough for Andy to take notice.

"Oh, honey. I'm so sorry. That was… a terrible choice of words."

She shakes her head. "No, no you're fine," she croaks. "Been a while since I've heard it, that's all; Mom used to call it that. Dad just calls it 'that damn thing.'"

Her friend's hand covers hers, his palm rough against her skin.

"Still, I'm so sorry."

"Thanks," she breathes, sliding her hand from under his and looking out the window. She'll be fine once she gets a handle on herself.

Hi, everyone! I'm sorry to have been so absent from posting this summer, but I hope this makes up for it. The story isn't too long, so I hope you'll come with me on the ride for this one! I'll include the prompt that inspired the story at the conclusion of the fic.