"Castle. Castle!" Her voice was more emphatic with each repetition of his name. "Damn it, Rick, you're not dead."
"No. Although I'm not sure how."
Rick opened his eyes, tried to take a deep breath, then swore on the shallow one he was only able to manage. At Kate's concerned look, he wanted to smile, but the pain in his chest was too overpowering. "Shit, Kate, what's it like when you really get shot?" he asked, trying to sit up. "And you called me Rick." That made it almost worthwhile.
"Don't move," she told him, her hand pressing gently against his shoulder. "The paramedics are on their way."
"I don't need them."
"He shot you at close range."
Rick managed a small grin, reaching up and undoing the buttons on his shirt. "I may be stupid, Kate, but I'm not that stupid." As he pulled the fabric aside, she could see the bulletproof vest underneath.
"You're wearing a ..." She sat back on her heels.
"Better safe than sorry, as my dear old white-haired mother used to say." He paused. "Actually, she's a sort of dyed reddish brunette, and she'd kill me if she heard me describe her as old, and as for dear ..."
"Castle." The sheer exasperation in her voice had him smiling wider. She stood up, turning away from him, not wanting him to see how relieved she was.
He climbed to his feet, albeit somewhat shakily, the memory of going back to his car after talking to Harrison and taking the vest with the word WRITER emblazoned on it flashing through his mind. He'd nearly got frostbite putting it on under his shirt in the car park before heading up to Canfield's apartment, but the pain of getting shot in it was easing somewhat from knowing Kate cared. He chattered on. "And the truth is, she never said that. She'd always much rather be sorry than safe, as evidenced by her currently living in my apartment, and not being able to tell me who my father is. Or was."
She turned and poked him in the chest. "Bastard."
"Exactly." He realised she'd got him right where the bullet had. "And, ouch?"
"You should put that in your next book," she advised, taking a deep breath. "Wearing a vest doesn't stop it from hurting."
"No, I discovered that." He tried to ease the vest away from the rapidly developing bruises then poked a finger at the hole in the fabric above. "And Alexis isn't going to be pleased. This was her favourite shirt of mine."
"I'm sure she'd rather it was torn to pieces than had blood soaking into it."
"Actually, me too."
Behind them Andrew Canfield was struggling to get to his brother against the two officers holding his arms. "Let me go!" he yelled.
"Which is which, by the way?" Ryan asked, nodding towards them.
"The one bleeding is Merrick," Rick explained. "That one's Andrew. And the gun –" He pointed to the Fender on the floor and winced. "– is the same one used to shoot as us, I think you'll find. By Andrew."
Ryan grinned. "So you have all the answers."
"Know where Sasquatch is?"
"That's in my next book."
Ryan laughed and signalled the officers to take Andrew out of the apartment and back down to the car. They passed the paramedics coming in the other way, who immediately went to work on the fallen man.
Rick looked at Kate. "You heard," he said, gently touching the earpiece.
She nodded. "I did."
"Then you know."
"That you were right? Yes."
"You don't have to apologise."
"I wasn't intending to."
"You know, I'm not above saying I told you so."
"I never gloat."
She fixed him with a look, turning away as Merrick was loaded on the stretcher.
As the paramedics prepared to wheel him out to the elevator, Rick put up a hand and they paused.
"By the way, Merry," he said, looking down at the man who had tried to kill him. "If you're going to shoot, just do it. All this pontificating and explaining how brilliant you were ... it only works in Bond films and bad fiction, not in real life."
"I'll remember that," Merrick ground out, his eyes not leaving Rick's as he was taken out of the apartment.
Rick turned back to Kate, but she still had the same look on her face. "You know, I'd rather you shouted at me," he pointed out. "Or something. This … quiet attitude of yours is very unsettling."
She sighed deeply. "Castle, you can't do this kind of thing. There are rules. Regulations."
"You didn't believe me."
"That's not the point."
"I think it's exactly the point."
"So you're not interested in knowing that we found out about Canfield's twin, then. And the fact that he'd left the Lincoln Centre that day, with his double bass. And took a cab back to his apartment."
His eyebrows almost disappeared into his hair. "You did?"
"Yes. Solid, reliable police work, backed up with evidence."
He looked into her eyes, seeing something he wasn't used to, something he didn't much like. "Are they going to walk? Is that it? Did I fuck it up to the point that the Canfields are going to get away with this?"
She stared at him for so long he really began to be afraid of the answer. Finally she spoke. "No. But not for lack of trying. Judge Markoway signed the search warrant just before you broke and entered."
"I didn't break anything."
"Do not split hairs. What you did was unethical, technically illegal, and their lawyers are going to fight it all the way, but … no, I think we're safe. Just."
He let out a long lungful of air. "You had me worried there for a minute."
She stepped close, so close that barely a breath separated them. "You do that again, and I will shoot you. And you won't be wearing a vest at the time." Letting her message sink in for a moment, she turned away.
"We couldn't have saved her."
But he knew she didn't believe it.
"Are you sure you don't want me to come in?" Rick asked, leaning on the wall as Kate unlocked her front door. "Make sure there's nothing untoward happened. No burglars or anything."
"Thanks, but no. And just consider yourself lucky. I should really be arresting you."
"I told you, I didn't break anything," Rick protested.
It was late, Kate having spent hours back at the precinct interrogating Andrew Canfield then writing up her report. Rick had sat with her, keeping her company, prompting her with any little details she'd overlooked until she'd threatened him with irreparable harm.
"Anyway," he went on, "you got a result."
"You mean Andrew saying it was all down to Merrick?" She managed a slight smile. "That was a given."
"At least he admitted it."
"And when Esposito gets in to talk to Merrick, he's going to say it was all Andrew's idea."
"Even though you heard the truth on my phone?"
The smile grew somewhat. "That just gives me ammunition." She shook her head. "Anyway, all I want now is a hot shower and my bed."
"Sounds good. How about I come in and wash your back?"
A door further along the hall opened.
"Kate?" It was Greg Albery.
She rolled her eyes. "I can't be dealing with this right now," she said, all the same starting to push past Rick to get to her neighbour.
"Then let me," Rick said, half-smiling. He turned. "Hi." He leaned on the wall, cutting off Greg's view. "I'm Rick."
"Rick?" Greg blinked, twice. "No, you're not. You're Richard Castle."
"Guilty as charged."
Greg's mouth was open, his eyes wide. "My God, I've got all your books."
"That's nice." He leaned forward. "Now, I believe Kate said you're a writer yourself."
"I ... yes, I try."
"Then let me give you a piece of advice." Rick put his arm around the younger man's shoulders, steering back towards his doorway. "Write. All the time. Morning, noon and night. And don't let anyone or anything interrupt you. It's the only way."
"But Kate –"
"Is my partner. If you get my drift." Rick allowed one eyelid to close, very slightly. "Not that we like to broadcast it, of course."
Greg was taken aback. "No. Of course. I can see ... yes."
"Good." Rick smiled. "Then I'm sure you'll understand it that I can't allow anyone else to ... profit from her talents. Her lovely, very luscious talents."
Greg swallowed. "No. Yes. Right. I ... yes." He was already back inside his own apartment, although he wasn't sure how he got there."
"I knew you'd understand. We writers are like that. Empathic." The smile widened into a grin. "So nice to have met you." He began to pull the door to.
"Yes, it was nice to ... if there's anything I can ... wait, don't –"
His words were cut off as the lock engaged.
Rick turned back to Kate, a Smug No. 5 on his face. "And that's how you do it."
"I'm sure that was illegal."
"Immoral, maybe. Illegal, no."
Her lips twitched slightly as she pushed the door open and walked into her apartment. Rick followed.
"Go home to your family," she said over her shoulder.
"I called them. They know I'm all right." He grinned. "Besides, I thought you might let me take a look at your manuscript."
She shrugged out of her coat and dropped it on the floor. "I threw it out."
Picking up the offending article of clothing, he hung it up. "I don't believe you. And were you born in a barn?"
"I don't need to write fiction." She sat down in the chair, pushing her boots off her feet. "Not with what goes on in real life."
"You know it can be cathartic. Getting it all out on paper, before it does something nasty in your brain."
"Is that what your brain is filled up with? Crap?"
He grinned. "Totally. Barely enough room in there to remember my own name." He pushed his hands into his pockets. "But it works."
She shook her head. "I don't need your advice, Castle. I handled things before you arrived, and I'll handle them when you finally leave me alone."
"Ah, Katie, you don't mean that."
"Call me Katie again and I'll show you exactly how much I mean it."
He laughed. "Okay, okay. I know when I'm not wanted."
"Because people tell you."
"Usually you." He sauntered to the door. "Are you sure you don't want company? I'm a good listener."
"No. Go. Away."
"Fine. See you in the morning."
"Not if I see you first."
She watched as he walked out laughing, closing the door firmly behind him, and she sighed. She hadn't been lying, of course. She wanted to be on her own, to get her thoughts in order before she tried to sleep, but she had an idea it was going to take a long while.
Another sigh was wrung from the depths of her soul, and she stood up. Maybe a tea would settle her more. Padding into the kitchen, she filled the kettle and put it on to heat, leaning on the counter and closing her eyes. That didn't help, though. All she could see was Amanda and Michelle Tyler, lying cold on the slabs in Lanie's morgue.
Then she flashed on Castle lying on the floor of Canfield's apartment, the smell of cordite in the air. She was never going to admit it, and most certainly not to him, but her heart was in her throat when she saw that. She thought he was dead, dying at the very least, and it shocked her how much even the idea hurt. Of course, she'd have felt that way about anyone, but still …
Instead he'd been wearing a vest. A bullet-proof vest. She could have shot him herself just for that. But the relief had been palpable, and she'd been rather shaken by it. Still was, if the truth be known.
She shook her head as the kettle boiled, and she opened her eyes. No, that wasn't the way to be thinking. She must be more tired than she realised. Making the tea, she tried to think of something else, anything else except Castle, but as she went to drop the used teabag into the bin, he came back full force.
Okay. Fine. Maybe he was right. Not admitting anything, but … She leaned over and reached inside. Brushing the coffee grounds off it, she flicked through the pages, and had to smile. Maybe it wasn't great literature, and it would never sell – not that she'd try – but perhaps it wouldn't hurt to work on it a bit more.
Rick opened the door to his apartment, half expecting to find Maggie waiting for him, or Alexis, or at the very least his mother. But the hall was empty, and he found himself oddly disappointed. Not that he wanted a fanfare, or a party or anything. But it would be nice to know that someone cared enough to miss him.
Although there was something, just on the edge of his hearing. It sounded like the TV in his study. He moved forward, for some reason tiptoeing in his own house. He looked in, and saw one of the twenty-four hour news channels playing quietly.
Alexis was in the armchair, her feet drawn up under her like a cat, watching the anchor man holding forth about how the recession was biting, while Maggie was on the sofa sleeping, if the light snores were anything to go by.
"Hey," he said softly.
"Oh. Hey, Dad." His daughter muted the TV and smiled at him.
"Shouldn't you be in bed? It's a school day tomorrow."
She nodded towards the TV. "This is called doing research."
"Maybe you are my kid after all," he said approvingly. Then he sniffed. "Do I smell Scotch?"
"Mmn." She pointed to an open bottle on the coffee table. "Maggie had some while we watched a film."
He picked it and read the label. "Pure single malt. An expensive pure single malt." He fixed her with a stern glare. "Where'd you get this?"
"Ordered it in. I put it on your bill."
"Clever." He grinned. "How come you're not …" He indicated Maggie.
"She said I was too young. Besides, she only had a small glass herself."
"Then how come she's asleep."
"Because she was worried about you, Dad."
"And that means -"
"That she exhausted herself worrying about you."
"And you didn't."
"I know you. And you did call to let us know you were okay. Almost like a grown-up."
He knew he was being insulted, but he was too tired to care. Instead he sat down next to Maggie and carefully lifted her feet onto his lap. "Well, I was told off for not doing that before. And I am fine. Bruised, but okay." He went on quickly. "So … why the scotch and the film?"
"I wanted to find out why she said no."
Rick smiled ruefully. "She won't tell anyone, not even me. And I asked." He glanced at the sleeping woman. "Did you find out?"
"No." Alexis smiled. "I now know more than I ever wanted to about your exploits in college, but as to why she turned you down … not a word."
"Oh. Pity." He closed one eye and peered at her. "Did she tell you about the wetsuit and the hairdryer?"
"What about the ten chihuahuas and the science lab?"
"The rowboat and –"
"Even that one." She shook her head. "I'm surprised you ever had time to study."
Alexis got up, stretching. "Well, I'm going to bed. Like you said, I have school tomorrow."
"Me too." He grinned. "You sure you don't want some hot chocolate? I think there's some marshmallows around, if your grandmother hasn't eaten them all."
"You mean like you used to make me, when I couldn't sleep because of the monsters under the bed?"
"And I'd check before tucking you back in." He sighed. "Ah, happy times." He grinned at her. "Sweet dreams, Ally Pally." He hadn't called her that in a very long time.
"Probably about the chickens and the administrator's car."
His eyebrows raised. "I'd forgotten that one."
"I wish I could. When you grow up, let me know."
"I did. The day I held you in my arms for the first time."
"You should try it again. Once in a while." She kissed him on the top of his head then glanced at Maggie. "You know, if she'd said yes, I wouldn't be here."
"No," he said, leaning back to look into her face. "I think I was bound to have you, sooner or later."
"Broke a lot of mirrors in your time, huh?"
"Hundreds. Just to make sure."
"It had to be something like that."
"Besides, I gave you a wicked stepmother. Not many little girls get one of those for their birthday." His eyebrow twitched.
"That sort of present I could have done without." She smiled. "Oh, and, by the way? I figured out quite quickly there weren't monsters under the bed."
"And you didn't tell me?" He pretended to be shocked. "You mean I wasted all that hot chocolate …"
"Better than the twenty grand in therapists' bills you'd have had to shell out otherwise," she reminded him.
"I wouldn't have minded. Although I preferred the chocolate."
"I know. Me too." She sighed happily and headed for her bedroom. "Good night."
"Night." He watched her go, then looked down at Maggie. "Why didn't you say yes, Mags?" he asked, wondering if he'd ever get an answer.
"I'm not asleep," she said, surprising him. "And I'm not telling." She opened her eyes and wriggled around so she was sitting up.
"I hear you were worried about me."
"Lies. All lies." She rubbed at her eyes.
"No truth to it at all." She smiled tiredly. "Well? Did you get them?"
"Yes," Rick admitted, grinning. "They're going to blame the other, of course, but we know Andrew was the killer, even though they're both technically responsible for Michelle Tyler's death." He settled more comfortably against the leather. "So, did you and Alexis have a good chat about me while I was out saving the world from serial killers?"
"Is that what you were doing?"
"Well, me and Kate." Something changed in Maggie's face, and for an instant he was back in the precinct, watching the elevator doors in front of her. "Okay, what have I said now?"
"Nothing." She shook her head and stood up. "I think I'd better go to bed."
"No. Tell me. You've been having these funny moods since you arrived. You're not pregnant, are you?"
"No, I'm not!"
"Because if you were, I'd be happy to make the bastard marry you."
Her lips tightened. "I'm not pregnant. And if I were I wouldn't need your help."
He touched her hand. "Maggie, you're not going anywhere until you tell me what's wrong."
"If it was nothing, you wouldn't be behaving like a kid."
"You." He got wearily to his feet and put his hand on her shoulder. "So 'fess up."
"I think that's rich, calling me immature, when you're -"
"Maggie. What. Is. It." He punctuated each word with a slight squeeze.
She glared at him, then in a moment the words were spilling from her mouth, no matter how hard she tried to stop them. "You … you treat me like one of the boys!"
He looked surprised. "And that's a problem?"
"Sit down." He took her arm but she resisted. "Sit down," he repeated, pulling her gently back towards the couch.
With ill-grace she dropped onto the cushions. "We don't need to do this, Rick."
"I think we do." He composed his face in a suitably receptive expression. "So. Tell me."
She glared at him. "It's just …"
"You asked me to watch porn with you!"
"Like we've always done."
"I know. That's the problem."
He had an inkling, the same inkling he'd always had over his relationship with Maggie. "You said no," he pointed out, keeping his voice quiet. "Are you regretting that?"
"Rick, we were too young."
"Not that young."
"Barely out of our teens, and full of the confidence of youth."
"Some of us haven't lost that."
"I know. And it's one of the things I love … I like about you."
He was a gentleman and didn't jump on her slip of the tongue. "Just so long as there are other things you … like about me."
"A few," she admitted.
"So what's wrong with me asking you to watch porn with me?"
"Because I'm female."
"Isn't that sexist?"
"That's not the point."
She gazed at him, her forehead puckered. "How do you see me?"
"Is this is trick question?"
"I mean, what as? A woman? Or just a friend?"
"Can't you be both?"
"Yes, and I want to be. But …"
"You know, you're not exactly making sense."
She sighed and slumped back. "I should be able to deal with this but … I'm jealous."
"Dare I ask who you're jealous of?"
"Damn it, Rick, do I have to spell it out?"
"You weren't jealous of Meredith. Or Gina."
"I was. Sort of."
"Maggie, you introduced me to Meredith. So it's actually your fault we got married."
"I know. Although I think you should take some of the blame for asking her." She laid her head on the back of the sofa and stared at the ceiling. "Do you have someone who comes in and dusts up there?" she asked inconsequentially.
"Yes. And you're not going to change the subject."
"Maggie, I asked you to marry me. If you'd said yes, I think we'd probably still be together."
Surprise shot through him. "You don't?"
"No. I think you'd have got tired of me and you'd have gone off with someone else."
"I haven't got tired of you now."
"But we're not married."
"You really think that makes such a big difference?"
She rolled her head so she could look at him, her green eyes suspiciously bright. "It's why I said no. I could take being your friend. But I couldn't take you leaving me for someone else."
"Despite the fact that I've been married to two different women in the meantime."
"So because I've been married and divorced – and I'd like to point out that only doing it twice in this town is conservative – just goes to prove that you were right in the first place."
"Rick, I loved Meredith, despite her somewhat scary and insane nature. Gina … well, I could happily have throttled her, and the inclination has never gone away. But you've got Alexis from your first marriage, and a headache from your second, and we're still friends. I think we can look on this as a win-win situation."
"Maggie, Kate isn't going to come between us."
"I think she might."
He paused, wondering whether to say what was on his mind, or whether to take the more politic path and change the subject. In the end he went with what he always did and damn the consequences. "Did you want to marry me?" he asked.
She went bright red. "I … Rick, that's not …I … If …" She couldn't finish a single sentence.
"Simple question, Mags. Do you want me to go down on one knee and ask you to marry me?"
She licked suddenly dry lips. "Do you want to?"
"I asked first."
"Can we fight about that later?" he asked, smiling. "Look, Mags, honestly, I don't see myself getting married again. I haven't grown up enough for that, and I wouldn't want to impose my insecurities and immaturity on you anyway. I love you too much for that. And yes, before you ask, I do love you. Always have. And it's why I won't ask."
"But if you did. Would you want me to say yes?"
He got up and walked to the wet bar, pouring them both a large scotch. In the time it took to come back, he knew what the answer was. "Yes. I think I would. I think we'd be good together. That's why I asked back in college. Why I married Meredith on the rebound. And whatever happens with Kate … we have what's best in a marriage anyway. Friendship."
"But not sex."
"You want sex?" He laughed. "Hell, Mags, you want sex you only had to ask."
She went pink again. "And be another notch on your bedpost? I don't think so."
"You're already there. One of the first."
She ignored his comments. "In fact, I'm surprised your bed's stayed in one piece. It must be down to matchwood by now."
"Why don't you come and find out?" He twitched his eyebrows at her.
She couldn't help it. She hit him.
Third morning in a row, and yet again he woke up next to Maggie, this time on his office sofa. This was getting to be a habit, but one which he didn't mind keeping for a while longer. Glancing over at the clock, he was surprised to find it was gone eleven, and the sounds and smells from the kitchen suggested his mother was making brunch.
Easing out from under Maggie's head, he padded to the window first, looking out at the city. His city, he'd always considered. And for once it looked clean, the snowfall having smoothed out every grimy detail. It wouldn't last, of course. But for a while New York was pure, unsullied. People would sully it again soon enough, splash red across the white, until those same people couldn't wait for a thaw. Right now, though, he knew if he opened the window he'd be able to hear children laughing, having snowball fights, taking hold of the fun with both hands.
He smiled, and walked out into the kitchen.
"Hello, darling," Martha said, holding up a spatula. "French toast?"
He wrinkled his nose and shook his head at the same time. "Coffee," he grunted.
"You always were a grouch before that first shot of caffeine," she admonished, expertly flipping the bread in the frying pan. "Now me, I'm always bright and breezy first thing in the morning."
"That's because it isn't first thing in the morning, Mom. It's practically time for supper." He poured a mug of coffee and took a huge mouthful.
"Grumpy, too." Martha sighed. "You must get that from your father, whoever he was."
"It's a wonder I turned out as well adjusted as I did," Rick said, heading for the chair, having to swallow hard to get the coffee down. "I blame you."
"Nothing new there, then." Sliding the toast onto a plate, she picked up a fork, breaking off a fragment. "Dare I ask if you and Maggie came to a decision?"
"About what?" He laid his head back, letting the caffeine filter through his system.
"Whatever." She waved the fork. "Do I have to go and buy a wedding outfit?"
"No." He turned his head enough to look at her. "No-one's getting married. Only don't let me stop you from considering that as an option. I'd even pay."
"What, and miss all this happy banter? Perish the thought."
He had to smile. "Anyway, no. Maggie and I are best friends. That's more important."
"Does she agree?"
"She did last night. In fact, she came up with it."
Martha sounded so relieved that Rick stared at her. "Why? What did she say to you?"
"Hmmn." He didn't look like he believed it, but wasn't going to pursue the matter.
"So is she going back to Los Angeles?"
"Not yet," Rick admitted. "Her next book is set in New York, so she said she was going to stay for a week or two. Do some research."
"No 'of course' about it." Martha came and sat opposite him. "What about Kate?"
"What about her?"
"Sweetheart, I'd have to be deaf, blind and ... actually, dead not to know you're interested in her. We all do. It's not like you've made a secret of it. How does Maggie feel about that?"
"She wants me to be happy. Because she cares."
"Hmmn." It was Martha's turn not to believe him.
He grinned. "Besides, two women fighting over me. That hasn't happened for a while. Might be fun."
"Now, Richard, that's not a good idea." She waved her fork at him again. "Maggie is very strong-willed, and Kate has a gun."
"Nobody's going to get hurt."
"Famous last words."
"No, actually, I plan my famous last words to be 'Nurse, would you mind bending over here and helping me blow out all one hundred and twenty eight candles on my birthday cake'. Possibly followed by 'Nice cleavage'."
"If you're not careful it's going to be 'Ouch'."
"Such concern for my well-being."
"If either of them killed you, who else would I have to embarrass?"
"Alexis. She's next in line."
"Now you know I wouldn't do that to her. It's much more fun doing it to you."
"I figured that out a long time ago." The phone next to Martha rang. And rang. "Aren't you going to answer that?" Rick asked finally.
"It won't be for me. All my friends know not to call at this ungodly hour."
He narrowed his eyes and levered himself to his feet. Grabbing the phone off the cradle he said, "Castle."
Rick half-smiled. "How's it going?"
"Cold. Look, you might want to get over to the old pinball machine factory on Lexington and 17th."
He straightened up, coffee and mother forgotten. "A murder?"
"Yeah. Kate's on her way, but ... you're going to like this one."
"Let's just say ... tilt."
Rick raised one eyebrow. "I'll be there as soon as I can." He hung up. "Mom, can you –"
"I'll explain to Maggie," Martha agreed.
"Thanks." He grinned and hurried towards the door, finding his shoes and slipping them on before grabbing his overcoat.
Martha shook her head. "Here we go again …" she murmured.
Okay, there are things that don't quite look the same as the show. For instance, the loft where Rick lives isn't quite as I imagined it. I can only apologise, hope it didn't detract too much from the story, and say that until 7th May I had not seen a full episode, just the clips on . Living in England made it difficult, to say the least. Due to this, please take the timeline as being mid Season One.
This particular tale got told because I agree with Rick in the last chapter – sometimes you need to get an idea out of your mind before it does something nasty on the floor. But I hope you enjoyed the story, and I want to thank all those who reviewed. There might be more …
Thanks for reading!