Someone to Walk Beside

Partners Kate Beckett and Richard Castle bond over their unhappiness with their respective marriages. Non-Soulmate-Soulmate-AU. For Castle Ficathon 2022


A/N: There are 10 Chapters + Epilogue. I will update 2x per week.


ONE

Kate Beckett rushed into her apartment juggling her purse, work duffle bag, and the hastily wrapped gift she'd picked up on her lunchbreak. "I'm sorry, I know, I'm sorry." The words exploded from her mouth the moment she'd cleared the threshold. She didn't even need to fully enter the space to know how irritated he'd be with her; she could feel the distain from the moment her key grinded into the lock.

"It's 6:57."

She heard his exhausted tone as she leaned down to drop all the items she carried just inside the door. The strap of her purse caught against her watch, and she cursed under her breath while shaking her wrist. "I know and all I need is three minutes—five minutes tops!"

"Our reservation is for 7:15."

As she wasn't facing him (and refused to do so for the disapproval on his face would not make her feel better or move faster) she couldn't stop herself from rolling her eyes. Yes, of course she knew what time the reservation was. He'd checked with her before making it, asking if the time would suit and she agreed. It wasn't her fault that something had come up with an older case, and then some of her warrant paperwork had been rejected which meant—well, that didn't matter now. With a dismissive wave of her hand overhead, she repeated, "Five minutes—tops!" as she scurried towards the bedroom. She really wasn't quite sure why she bothered with any semblance of a defense for she knew in his eyes there was none; Grant Symon hated nothing more than he hated being late.

Standing in the small space between her side of the bed and the wall, Kate efficiently stripped out of her trousers and button-down, leaving them in a pile on the floor to be cleaned up later. Silently thanking her past-self for having the forethought to pull a black dress out of the closet and leave it hanging off one of the knobs on her dresser, she pulled the dress free of the plastic hanger and shimmied into it. While still pulling the zipper up the back, she dashed across the room to the other dresser, on which sat her jewelry case and a mirror.

From the bottom drawer of the case, she pulled the green velvet box that held the diamond stud earrings her husband had given her for their prior anniversary and efficiently popped them into her lobes. Then, she crouched down to get a full view of her reflection. The makeup she had applied first thing that morning was still passable: the liner had smudged at the corners of her eyes and her lipstick had been gone since lunch, but she was pretty sure she had something in her purse she could use for that. The eyes could be cleaned up with a few swipes of toilet paper. Speaking of…

Once again moving at a near jog, Kate exited the bedroom and said, "Just need to pee really quick then we can go!"

She crossed the hall to the bathroom, used the facilities efficiently, and used her freshly washed but still damp fingertips to clean up the rest of her under-eye makeup smudges. When she exited the bathroom, she finally met her husband's eye and managed a smile. "See—under five minutes."

"Shoes." He reminded her tersely.

Shit—she had forgotten dress shoes and the scuffed-up boots she'd been wearing for work certainly would not be husband-approved.

Dashing once again, she grabbed the first pair of black pumps she found in her closet and hopped her way into them while returning to the apartment entryway. Her dark-haired, stern-faced husband stood there holding her dressy trench coat out for her to slip her arms into. She did so and then spun around with a smile. Brushing her hand along the stubble at the edge of his jaw she said, "So we'll be a minute or two late. I'll just flash my badge and it'll be no big deal."

He did not smile or react in any other way but to say, "C'mon; I already called us a cab," before hurrying her out the door.


"Bienvenue a Per Se. Do you have a reservation?"

"Yes, it's under Symon with a 'y.'"

The petite blonde with short curly hair and an uppity expression gazed down at the computer screen in front of her. Her lips flattened as she looked back up to them and said, "Your reservation was for 7:15."

Kate could feel Grant's glare burning into her left cheek, but she didn't turn his way. Instead, she plastered on the sweetest smile she could muster and pulled her badge from the side pocket of her purse. Lifting the badge so it could be seen above the check-in desk, she said, "Yes, and I'm so sorry that we're a little late. My fault—an urgent matter with one of my cases."

Though Kate imagined a restaurant as popular and well-reviewed as this one could have any seating policy they wanted, she hoped that with the extra encouragement of her badge they might adhere to the standard fifteen-minute reservation grace period that most restaurants allowed. Considering it was 7:28 they were teasing the very edge of that window, but technically still inside of it.

The woman nodded, picked up two menus, and handed them to another girl, probably barely more than eighteen, with an auburn ponytail and black-framed glasses. "Right this way, please."

Kate returned her badge to her purse and smiled at her husband, but he merely looked annoyed as he began to follow the woman leading them through the tightly packed restaurant towards there seat near the center of the dining room. As was typical with these over-stuffed eateries, there was hardly enough room to pull out a chair and slip into the seat, so Kate slipped out of her coat as best she could without moving her arms too much, lest her sleeve smack another patron in the face.

With her coat on the back of her chair, she sat and gazed over at her husband, hoping to smooth over his annoyance with a little flattery. "Is that a new shirt? It really brings out the green tones in your eyes."

He shook his head. "Just haven't worn it for a while."

"Well, it's a good color for you. Did you have a good day at work?"

He grunted a neutral response as he flipped open his menu. He let his eyes scan across the page for a moment before looking up at her and asking, "So, what was the 'urgent matter' that kept you from leaving at an appropriate time?"

Kate pressed her lips together tightly and sucked in a slow breath through her nostrils. She would not let the final two words of her husband's question rile her up—not again. They had this argument before; dozens of times over their now six-year-long marriage. Grant simply could not accept that her job required her to work over her official end-of-shift time on occasion, which was terribly ironic given the late hours Grant put in on his cases. But how could she forget? That was different. His goal was to make senior partner, which of course was not even close to the same as leveling up from officer to detective grade one, then grade two, and so on.

But she wasn't going to have that fight. Not tonight.

Instead, she explained her tardiness with a simple, "I was getting ready to leave but then a victim's father called me, asking for updates."

"For your current case?"

"No, one from last year."

Grant huffed and reached for his water glass. After taking a sip he said, "Then you should have let it go to voicemail. You don't owe anyone your time after hours, Kate."

Billable hours, she thought, because that was the difference in Grant's eyes. He didn't technically have set working hours like she did, which meant that him "working late" was definitively a gray area. It was guaranteed, however, that no matter how many hours he worked, they were all charged to the client he was working for. Unlike in her case, when hours walking a beat or scouring through traffic cameras didn't really matter, did they? As Grant liked to say: there would always be more crime.

This was a point on which Kate and her husband fundamentally differed. He could never see her point of view and she could never see his. In part she felt that was because Grant simply didn't want to see her point of view, but she also believed there was the element of him never having been on the other side like she had. Many years before—a different lifetime ago, or so it seemed—she had been that victim's family member calling for an update on her loved one's case and hoping for an answer better than, "Sorry; there's nothing new." She knew just how important it was to answer the call and not send it to voicemail even if the response was the same as it had been the last time.

"Good evening." The server interrupted Kate's thoughts and she realized that she'd been gripping her menu so tightly her thumb and index finger had turned white. Loosening her grip, she glanced up at the server, a young man with short cut dark hair and handsome face that made her wonder if he was many of the struggling actors of New York working in a restaurant to make ends meet.

"Can I interest you in some drinks to start off the night?"

"Champagne, I think? It's our anniversary." Grant told the man proudly.

He smiled. "Congratulations! You can find our list of champagnes available on the very bottom of the back side of your menu."

After Grant selected a champagne, the server departed and left them both to review their food options for that night. Kate skimmed her teeth over her bottom lip, considering. It wasn't that she didn't like fancy food at all, but sometimes it was just so…fancy. Sure, it could be fun to order something that she could not fully understand, making her meal a pleasant (or, on occasion, not so pleasant) surprise, but sometimes she just wanted a greasy burger and fries with no surprises. Sadly, Per Se had neither burger nor fries on the menu, so she decided upon the roast duck.

After the server delivered their champagne, took their orders and menus, and departed again, Grant lifted his glass in a toast. She mirrored the movements.

"To us—six years of marriage and still going strong."

"To us." Kate echoed, tapping her glass against his before taking a sip. She couldn't bring herself to repeat all his sentiments as she didn't feel they were true. Were they still "going strong" when she had very few feelings of love left towards her husband? Were they "going strong" when they didn't speak more than ten words to each other most evenings after work? Were they "going strong" given the amount of effort she put in to avoiding their intimate activities? Yet despite all those misgivings, she suspected they'd probably be married for another six years—or sixty.

"Oh, darling, I completely forgot about something I wanted to tell you." Grant broke into a smile for the first time that evening, so Kate folded her hands in her lap and tried her best to focus on him, figuring it was the least she could do to make the rest of the evening go well.

"You remember Malcom? Short guy with the thick, dark glasses? I worked with him last year and I'm pretty sure you met him when we were out one time. Anyway, he comes into my office, and tells me that I must hear about his latest case…"

Though she tried to focus on Grant's story, Kate did not, in fact, remember Malcom, and didn't much care about whatever ridiculous thing he said, so it was difficult. Her gaze lifted to focus on the new patrons entering the restaurant: a red-headed woman and an exceptionally tall man with a shaved head. Kate was momentarily distracted by the man, wondering if his height actually reached all the way to seven-foot or maybe in the high six-foot range, but then her gaze drifted towards the woman when the man bent down to kiss her on the head. She thought the woman seemed familiar, but Kate could not completely see her face as the curtain of her hair blocked it. When the couple went to sit at a table several rows away, however, the woman sat such that Kate could see her face.

"Oh god," Kate gasped, trying to keep the noise under her breath, but her husband was still able to hear.

"What is it?"

"There's a woman that just walked in—no, don't look," Kate hissed towards her husband, who was turning like he was about to look over his left shoulder. "She's facing this way and she could see us."

"Do we know her?"

"It's Castle's wife, Meredith."

Grant's mouth tightened. "Castle is here?"

"No. She's here with another man," Kate said sadly. From the way her partner spoke about his wife, Kate gathered that the Castles' marriage was just about as happy as hers, but that didn't make it easy for her to watch his wife hold hands and canoodle with another man.

"Perhaps they work together."

"They're kissing."

"Oh." Grant was silent for a moment, but then shook his head. "Anyway, Malcom couldn't believe that I—Kate, stop staring."

At her husband's scolding tone, Kate whipped her gaze back in his direction. "Sorry, I'm just—I'm shocked."

Nodding, he said, "It is unfortunate, but it is also none of our business. Besides, darling, it's our anniversary. You don't want to think about Castle during our anniversary, do you?"

Though his tone was pleasant, Kate could hear the underlying edge. Grant disliked her partner just about as much as Castle disliked her husband. The two men simply would never see eye to eye, and Kate had come to accept that since, a year after his tenure began, Kate did not see the mystery-writer-turned-police-consultant leaving her team any time soon. Not that she was eager to throw him out. They'd found their rhythm despite their rocky start. Besides, he was actually surprisingly helpful—most of the time, anyway.

Plastering a smile across her face, Kate reached out her hand towards Grant's, gave it a squeeze, and said, "No, you're totally right; let's just focus on us."

He squeezed her hand back in agreement. "What an excellent idea. Now, as I was saying…"


Richard Castle groaned when he awoke to the buzzing sound of his 7:15 a.m. alarm. He used what conscious brain activity he had to lift his arm up from where it lay at his side and flop it around like a fish pulled up onto a dock until he pressed the correct button to make the sound stop. Then, with great effort, he slid his left leg out from under the sheet and allowed his foot to make contact with the far-too-expensive rug beneath the bed. He wiggled his toes around on the plush surface for a moment until he used the grip of his toes and heel to walk his foot further away from his body. He then slid his right leg out from the covers so that his heel rested against the bed frame in a position that twisted his back just enough that was uncomfortable—just enough so that he wouldn't fall back to sleep.

Fatherhood had stolen away Castle's ability to lounge about on weekday mornings during the school year, but that didn't mean he gave up all of his sloth-like tendencies. He couldn't hit the snooze button dozens of times anymore (that was assuming an alarm was even set, which for many years it had not been), nor could he risk falling back to sleep without the security net of the snooze feature. Alexis was still too young to travel to school without someone walking with her or driving her on those frigid winter mornings. Maybe in a few more years she would be able to navigate on her own. Then again: was another forty minutes of sleep really worth missing that fabulous one-on-one time with his daughter? Castle didn't think so.

After several minutes his back ache was sufficient enough to motivate Castle out of his twisted position, so he sat upright, yawned, and then shuffled his way to the bathroom. After emptying his bladder, he pulled his robe from the hook off the back of the door and sloppily stuffed his arms into the sleeves. As he walked through the bedroom, Castle's eyes fell onto his wife for the first time that morning. She lay on her back with a frilly pink eye mask across her face, snoring softly. At one time many, many years ago he probably would have found her soft snores adorable. Now, he simply felt nothing, and continued on his path towards the kitchen—and coffee.

As Castle stared bleary-eyed at the machine dripping precious black liquid into a pot, he regretted his choice to stay up until after one-thirty working on his second Nikki Heat book. He'd been so inspired the night before, which was a first in days as Nikki Heat's sophomore tale was off to a much rougher start than the first, he just hadn't wanted to stop the creative flow. He'd wrote, deleted, re-wrote for several hour before his writing trance was interrupted by Meredith arriving home. It was only then he looked down at his watch and saw that it was around midnight. He watched her shuffle around in the bedroom for several moments, half waiting for her to say something to him, but she never did. When she flopped down in bed, he promised himself he wouldn't be long behind, but it still took him another hour before the frequency of his yawns won out.

Though he was tired and knew he would need more than just one or two cups of coffee that day, Castle still was proud of himself for his bedtime habits. It had been several months since he'd staid up past one on a weeknight—that was progress! Sadly, now that he was approaching his fortieth year, getting only four or five hours of sleep during the night and expecting to be a functional human capable of interacting with his daughter and getting everything done he need to around the apartment was no longer possible.

After a few caffeinated sips, Castle felt alert enough to begin preparing Alexis's lunch for that day. He made her a turkey sandwich with mustard (not mayo!), a slice of cheese, and a small amount of lettuce between the meat and cheese (because who wanted soggy bread?). He rinsed off some grapes and put them into a small plastic container, and then grabbed a little bag of veggie chips from the pantry, all of which he put into her purple and pink insolated lunch box.

Before beginning breakfast, Castle took a few more sips of his coffee and then walked upstairs to check to make sure his daughter was awake and getting ready. He needn't have worried, though, as he found her sitting at her desk, fully dressed and with a textbook open in front of her.

"Morning pumpkin," he said to her.

"Morning," she echoed, her eyes never leaving the book.

"Still studying for your test?"

"Uh huh."

"Well, I'll leave you to it; I just need your breakfast order."

"Just toast."

He hummed, doubtful that her one slice of toast would get her through her mid-morning exam. "How about peanut butter banana toast?"

"Okay."

"Okay. Come down in a few minutes please."

Ten minutes later, just as he was finishing up slicing the bananas atop the toast, Alexis came downstairs with her backpack dragging on the steps behind her. She left it at the foot of the stairs and then climbed up on one of the stools at the eat-at counter, where she preferred to have breakfast. "Where's Mommy?"

"She's sleeping."

"I hope she had a good rehearsal last night."

Castle forced a smile as he put his daughter's breakfast plate in front of her. "You can ask her about it after school, okay?" He told her, then debated whether or not he should warn Meredith ahead of time that Alexis intended to ask about her night. Then again, why should he help cover up the activities she didn't think he knew about? Meredith would just have to make something up on the fly just like all the other times.

"What are you going to do today, Daddy?"

Castle hummed and sipped his coffee. "Well, I got a lot of writing done last night, so I think maybe I'll go visit Detectives Beckett, Ryan, and Esposito."

Alexis's brow rose. "Will you get to ride in a police car today?"

He chuckled. Though he'd been shadowing the detective team regularly for over a year, his daughter always found the most thrilling part of his tenure to be rides in police cars, which he found very amusing. Then again, given her tender age, it was probably best she was focused on flashing lights and sirens than bad guys with guns.

"Maybe I will; it depends on what cases they're working on. I'll be sure to let you know if I get to turn on the siren," he said with a wink. "Now, finish up your breakfast so we can get you to school on time."

"Yes, Dad," she said softly before taking a big bite from the center of her toast slice, which resulted in her smearing peanut butter on both cheeks.

Chuckling again, Castle said, "That's my girl." Then, he picked up his coffee and sat down beside his daughter as she ate


A/N: Thank you for reading!