The Richard Castle that the world saw, that flirtatious, man-child playboy, was really only like the ten percent of an iceberg that you can see above the waterline: underneath his media-hyped surface lay much more substance than many unsuspecting onlooker might suggest. He hid his depth, an unwanted characteristic in the world of fame and fortune, with the skill of a master poker opponent, but he invariably had a tell: his eyes.
Unlike his tenuous colleagues at the New York Police Department, his brown eyes hadn't been trained to scan for danger out of necessity. Rather, he was always on the prowl for the next addition to a bestseller. Whether it was the curious obsessive-compulsive routine of the woman in the grocery store, the nuances of a particularly distinct accent attributed to a minor character or the interaction between two old ladies on the subway, Rick filed them all away, neatly into his in-built filing system for future reference. After all, the best novels, the ones that had critics drowning him in praise, were born from the banal details that made his characters real.
But as the unflinching steel burrowed between his ribs and the muscle in his arms felt about ready to bend the bone beneath it into all kinds of unnatural angles, he wasn't cataloguing nuances, emotions and sequences into his memory for neat repackaging onto Nikki Heat.
Far from it.
As the trio, prisoner, executioner, and his modern day equivalent of Robin Hood, shuffled awkwardly towards the elevator at the end of the hall, his mind was frozen, overloaded.
It wasn't like he had never had a gun pointed his way before. Since working with Beckett he had found himself in the firing line more times than he was happy with, especially when Alexis and Martha were waiting at home for him. And before that, even, he had been a fairly wild teenager, and his book research took him to underground poker games and seedy bars rather than the tax write-off European jaunts of his counterparts.
But this time the stakes were higher.
The other times he had faced a barrel down with Beckett, the objective had been to ensure their own safety, and if the gunman got hurt in the process, too bad.
This time, the Coonan had an intangible shield, an ace up his sleeve.
That made things tricky, and all three of them knew it.
As they walked past the offices, like two kids in a three-legged race because of the gun under Coonan's jacket and his grip on Castle's arm, Castle looked at Montgomery for a second. Not a passing glance, but a stare. A grave stare, full of his newfound gravity.
Rick Castle didn't stare. The female half of the population described his eye-contact as at one of two ends on the spectrum – positively smouldering, or utterly twinkling.
Roy Montgomery had played enough poker with the man to be well versed in this basic facet. And although he denied anything remotely related to spidey senses, his gut had let him down few times, and it felt as though he'd eaten uncooked chicken for lunch.
The gun moved from its well worn position on his belt to his hand in a graceful second, as he strode in front of the trio to block the elevator.
The bluff, as pathetic as it had been, was up.
Although, for a room-full of New York's finest, they were fairly slow to react.
Beckett wheeled off to her right and added yet another gun to the standoff with enviable speed. But then again, she did have a bit of a head start on Javier and Esposito and the collection of other officers.
Coonan tightened his grip on Castle's arm, giving up the pretence of a friendly stroll, and yanked it up behind his back. Castle could feel the muscles pulling taunt, stretching and yielding to their limit.
He stared at Beckett, past the gun that was being held in hands that were, for the first time in a long career, shaking slightly, and into another pair of eyes that reflected his fear and concern back at him.
"Back off," Coonan growled past Castle's ear, "Back off! Or writer-boy gets a slug to the chest," he yelled, his eyes boring into Beckett's, "and you never found out who ordered the hit on mommy."
Javier and Esposito joined the face-off in the hallway, guns outstretched.
"Have you got the shot," Montgomery asked calmly, never taking his eyes of Coonan to direct the question to Beckett.
She was silent, torn. In some terrible twist of fate it felt as though she was being forced to choose between Castle, the man how had inexplicably carved out a place in her life that she hadn't yet defined, and her mom.
"Beckett!" Montgomery hissed.
Castle was sure that by this point his arm had reached the point where it would helplessly dislocate if it was forced up another millimetre. But he ignored the burn in his shoulder and squared his eyes on the detective.
"Beckett." Her eyes didn't leave Coonan. "Kate." They flicked over to him. "Don't shoot. Don't risk it."
"Listen to your little consultant, Kate," Coonan sneered, "because this isn't a democracy. You don't get a say in what happens from here on. You move out of the way, and we jump in the elevator. That's how this thing plays out."
In the face of half a dozen glares, the man didn't flinch. Cops, Castle had noticed, didn't like taking orders from the opposition. Javier readjusted his stance and clenched his teeth.
Behind him, Coonan cocked the gun and poked it in between his ribs again, leaving what was sure to be an ugly bruise, Castle was sure.
Grudgingly, the Captain nodded, and the detectives lowered their guns to the ground, hands up in the universal gesture of non-intimidation.
Coonan manhandled Castle over to the elevator and jabbed the down button half a dozen times.
After an eternity, the old doors shuddered open.
Coonan gestured to the cavity with his head. "Kick your guns in. Slowly!"
One by one, like strikers lined up at a penalty shoot-out, Montgomery, Beckett, Esposito and Javier all punted their weapons from the hallway into the waiting lift, helpless to do anything but watch as Castle disappeared between the closing doors, clutched in the hands of an assassin.
As the elevator doors closed, Castle steeled himself for a blitz attack, hoping that Coonan might loosen his grip on the innocent arm he had wrenched at unnatural angles.
Castle was still cursing the larger man's experience when the elevator chimed gaily and the doors slid open. Confused, he glanced at the panel of buttons. Level 4. They had stopped on Level 4, which didn't make any sense at all, because the Homicide department was on the fifth floor, and if Coonan was wanting to make a clean escape, one level when he was still in a police building wouldn't make much difference.
But Castle thought that, for once, it might be smart to keep his mouth shut.
Again, Coonan's suit coat came in handy as a gun disguise, as the two manoeuvred back into the badly choreographed dance of moving in tandem. Leaning close to Castle's ear, Coonan's breath washed over the hairs on the back of his neck. "You so much as squeak as loud as a mouse in a freaking church and you'll be full of lead."
Castle nodded tightly.
They turned down a corridor, and at the end, Castle could see the glass half-windows typical of stairwell entrances all over the world. The pounding of feet grew louder as they moved down the corridor, and when the first pairs of suit pants and polished shoes came into view on the metal platforms, Coonan pulled him back into the recess of a janitor's closet.
"See," he whispered, revolting breath spilling over Castle's face, again, "you're little friends think we're gonna pop right out of that elevator on the ground floor. And they're gonna be there waiting, ready to rescue their beloved consultant with the advantage of surprise."
He stuck his head out to see that they had passed, and when the coast was clear, the ever-present poke of the gun urged Castle forward.
"But what they aren't expecting, is for the nasty drug dealer to come down behind them."
A look of realisation crossed Castle's face, and he gulped nervously.
Coonan laughed uproariously as he forced Castle down the stairs two at a time.
"Yep, they're gonna be waiting in front of the elevator, to cut us off, but the stairwell puts us right smack bang between where they'll be waiting and the lobby exit. And all I do, is back out with my human shield, and disappear." He laughed manically again. "Which is what I do best."
Castle just prayed to the god he had abandoned before he hit puberty.
Beckett hated waiting. She hated wasting time, whether it was waiting on forensics reports, in traffic on the way to a crime scene, or in line at the grocery store. Standing around aimlessly meant that there was no hope of progress on the latest case – and there was always a latest case, as New York is, after all, a city that doesn't sleep – and when you've been on the other side of the death call, waiting by the phone for updates, being able to do something to fix a problem is refreshing.
And yet, Kate Beckett was waiting.
The elevator was an old-fashioned sort, old-fashioned, rather than old, the higher-ups insisted, and the numbers above the doors lit up in decreasing order incredibly slowly. As the travelling casket reached the floor above them, the three uniforms they had picked up on their flight down the stairs raised their guns with practiced resolved.
The old machinery clanked and groaned as it brought the cubicle to a rest on the ground floor, and as the doors began to shudder open, Beckett found herself holding her breath.
Castle was annoying. He was all too chirpy when the situation demanded sobriety; he couldn't even take death seriously. And yet, the first spark of interest had kindled as respect, when, over their first few cases, his wild antics and obscene imagination proved themselves again and again as contributing something worthwhile.
He could annoy her all he wanted, so long as he was helping her do her job, she figured. That couldn't hurt. Anyone but her, that is, and him, if she snapped one day.
But Beckett wasn't naive, she knew that between the combination of that shallow respect for his detective skills, and her hidden long-held respect for his writing skills, there was a fairly good chance he would become more than a consultant, whatever that entailed. Not that she was a betting woman.
But, for the sake of her damned peace of mind, she decided to let the chips fall as they may, and locked the little part of her brain that dared wonder about Castle out in the cold. See, she wasn't naive or oblivious, she just chose to deal with the situation by ignoring it. Maturely.
Hard to ignore your feelings when they start bubbling beneath the surface of your skin.
And all while she had to be goddamned waiting!
Trust Castle to find a way to annoy her even when he was staring down the wrong end of the barrel.
The shuddering doors finally slid open, and the uniforms cocked their guns amid the calls of NYPD. All fairly surreal in a police station. But when they were greeted with the confused expressions of two colleagues, instead of a madman assassin and an annoying writer, it didn't take long for the situation to crumble down around them.
From across the lobby, an all too familiar voice rang out.
"Oops. How rude of me to change my plans without letting you know."
Beckett, a veteran of stressful situations, had a good poker face, but she was finding it all too hard to remember how to do the simple things. Like breathe. And think. Let alone rescue Castle, leave Coonan unscathed and find out who ordered her mother be killed.
A glance to her left told her that Javier, Esposito and Montgomery weren't coping much better with the turn of events than she was. Between their gossiping and poker nights, the three men on her team had become fairly close, even if the annoyance of Castle coming out on top every time had become unbearable.
"Once again," Coonan said, "you will stay right where you are, while writer-boy consultant and I take a little joy-ride. I hope you don't mind second hand goods, detective," he sneered, as he edged out of the door, flicking suspects and witnesses out of the way with the power of a pointed gun.
Castle locked his eyes with hers. For once, she was sure she was seeing a reflection of exactly what was flying through his head, rather than the censured version. He was scared. Well, that was the understatement of the year. He was terrified. With a healthy dose of pain, from the metal in his back and the arm that was reaching for the ceiling. But most unsettlingly was the determination. Determination not to ruin her chance, her one chance, to find her mother's killer. He had already dropped a hundred grand, but it seemed like he was willing to risk much more. She suppressed a shiver as she thought of what he must be reading into her in this unguarded second. Castle was wrenched away as Coonan angled to look toward the front desk.
"You," he demanded, looking at the receptionist. "The key to the door."
The poor girl, hardly a day over nineteen, and with all the experience of two secretarial courses at the community college, couldn't form anything but random syllables. But with some animated direction, she yanked the lanyard off her neck and threw it to Coonan.
Slipping out the door, he locked the only exit on this side of the building from the outside, rendering it useless for the five minutes it took to find another key.
And for the second time, Richard Castle was yanked from Kate Beckett's grasp, lost to a madman assassin in an old white Camera bomb.