The kids are what get her in the end. Beckett holds it together for three days as they match a body with a few witnesses, a name, a family, and at last a killer. She makes herself look those two kids in the eye at the beginning, when she's asking them to look at the sketch, and at the end, when they arrive to pick the guy out of a lineup. She writes up all the paperwork and takes a late lunch in the precinct gym, spending herself blindly against the heavy bag.
Afterward, there's nothing left to do. Beckett's waiting for another murder call and pouring herself a coffee in the break room when the memory of the children's faces rises again in her mind's eye. She sets the mug down carefully and breathes. Ten and fourteen years old; too young for this, but no one is ever ready. And the mother's face—to have her husband ripped away so suddenly, and over a pittance—
"Boss," Esposito says diffidently. "How's the coffee?"
Beckett stares down at the pot and mug in front of her, then moves to allow Esposito access. "It's fine," she says, turning away, and he doesn't push.
Esposito and Ryan know she shuts down a little every year around this time. They're always good about not pushing. She's grateful; all she wants is to do her work, to do a damn good job on every case and nail the killers as soon as possible. Before would be preferable, but she's too much the law-abiding and -enforcing citizen for vigilantism to truly appeal to her, though for a while Frank Miller's Dark Knight was almost more fantasy than refuge.
She wonders where Castle's gotten to.
Ryan ambles by with a plate of cake. "Hey, it's Murphy's birthday and there's cake upstairs. I got some for you. If you want it."
Beckett musters a small but genuine smile for him. "Maybe later, thanks." She pulls out some routine paperwork and bends over it. After ten minutes, she realizes she's read the same paragraph several times. She looks at the clock. 2:47, much too early to go home. Not that she wants to go home.
* * *
After an hour, the silence and the inactivity are too much. She's about ready to jump out of her chair and go back to the gym when Castle appears, followed closely by Montgomery. The two exchange a few words before Montgomery shakes his hand and shoots an unreadable glance at her.
Beckett watches Castle approach and settle into his chair. Esposito and Ryan pretend not to listen as he leans forward.
"You can go home if you want," he says. "You don't have to, but Montgomery suggested it."
Of course Castle knows what day it is. She's tempted to be angry with him—no doubt he raised the subject with Montgomery while shooting the breeze—but she can't take sitting here any longer.
"I think I will," Beckett says, rising and snagging her coat.
Esposito strolls over. "Hey, we're heading out for drinks and burgers in an hour or so. You in?"
"Thank you, Javier," she says quietly. "Another time."
He nods, eyes carefully hooded. "You got it. Take care, boss."
Castle walks her out. "You going to be okay tonight? You could come over if you want."
She nods. "Maybe for a bit."
In the privacy of the elevator, she almost lets herself touch him in reassurance.
* * *
The Castles are all considerate of her, giving her quick hugs and making sure she eats something. Rick, especially, is attentive, attempting to distract her with various conversational gambits and cracking dumb jokes. She tries to smile.
Usually watching the Castle show is something she enjoys. Martha's humor has only been sharpened by her stroke and Alexis doesn't let her dad get away with much. And it's always interesting to see how different Castle can be in private—not different enough to arouse suspicions of schizophrenia, but the influence of his mother and daughter is telling when he's at home. Or maybe it's the fact that he's not the celebrity playing to an audience here. Martha and Alexis do laugh at most of his jokes, but he's only the regular kind of special to them, the kind Johanna was to her.
Seeing that dynamic is too much for her today. She leaves around seven, reassuring them she's fine.
* * *
Her apartment is quiet. That's usually the way she likes it. On other anniversaries, Kate's worked until late at night and gone straight to bed, clutching her mother's ring and listening to the silence.
But she's not tired enough today. Tight knots of emotion pull at her throat, chest, stomach. Even a hot bath and one of her mother's favorite books can't help her unwind.
She sets the Derrick Storm novel down and stares at nothing. Her face crumples after a minute. She rocks back and forth a little, but silently, sending ripples through the bathwater. Even alone, Kate Beckett doesn't cry out loud.
* * *
It's eleven o'clock. She can't sleep and is contemplating the nearly-empty bottle of wine in the fridge. She and Lanie put a sizeable dent in it a week earlier and she hasn't bothered to buy another bottle.
Kate closes the fridge door and glances at the calendar. Tomorrow's Saturday. She and her dad will go visit the grave. They never go on the anniversary; both of them usually to work through the actual day and visit on the following weekend. It's just easier with their schedules.
She picks up her cell phone and wanders out to the living room.
"Katie. How are you doing?"
"Doing all right. How are you? Did I wake you up?"
"No, you didn't."
They talk for only a few minutes. Their relationship has never been about words; it's been filling out scorecards together at Shea and throwing the ball around and learning the constellations. Tomorrow they will visit Johanna and have lunch mostly in silence.
She considers her book collection, thinks about calling Lanie next or one of her college friends. She rubs a finger against the phone, taps it against a certain key, then holds the key down and lifts the phone to her ear.
He waits four seconds before saying, "I'll be over in twenty minutes."
* * *
He's there in fifteen, gym bag slung over his shoulder and a grocery bag in his hand.
"I brought ice cream and hot cocoa. There's some more stuff in here too, whatever I could grab."
She wonders how he knows she doesn't have groceries.
The contents of the bag seem to cover the basic food groups of Casa Castle—bread and sandwich fixings; a plastic container of chicken and pasta; an unopened box of Cocoa Puffs; hickory-smoked bacon; a bag of dark chocolate and a few packets of hot chocolate; two tubs of Ben & Jerry's.
"I'm prescribing ice cream," Rick says, setting the tubs on her kitchen counter next to the bag. "Take one bowl by mouth every two to four hours until supply is depleted."
"That's kind of a lot."
"I have faith in your ice-cream eating abilities." He dishes it out into the bowls she sets out. They go sit on her couch, a foot apart, and eat in comfortable silence. She can feel his eyes on her but for once she's not annoyed.
Rick takes the empty bowls back to the sink and washes them. She dries, feeling oddly domestic. When she's done, she turns and sees him looking at her.
"Castle?" she says.
He reaches out to brush a strand of hair away from her face. There's no pity in his face, just a tenderness that's almost a question. Rick comes over and stands in front of her as if waiting for permission. She gives it to him, leaning her forehead against his shoulder. He pulls her into a loose hug and she buries her face in his threadbare T-shirt, breathes and listens to him breathe.
"That case earlier today ... " Rick says, voice rumbling in his chest.
"Yeah." Kate doesn't want to say anything else. She doesn't have to; his arms tighten around her and he bows his head over hers.
They move back to the couch eventually after he fixes them hot chocolate. This time they're touching, leg to leg and shoulder to shoulder. She puts her empty mug down and he lifts an arm for her to duck under.
They stay like that for a while. Kate can feel herself relaxing slightly. In this place, she feels no pressure to process or to be at a particular stage of grief. The pain never really goes away. Sometimes the only thing she wants is to have someone sit with her and say nothing at all.
"She liked skating," Kate says eventually.
Rick pulls the blanket on the couch onto their laps. "Did you go skating with her?"
"Yeah, she taught me when I was eight. We would go every winter as often as we could. When I was a teenager, I went through a phase where I pretended it was lame, but she knew I liked going with her." Kate smiles slowly and leans back into the crook of his arm. "One time, we were skating in Central Park and these two guys started flirting with us. They thought we were sisters."
"I bet your mom was flattered."
"Oh, she milked it for all it was worth. Tried to get them to buy us hot chocolate. But they were poor grad students, so Mom ended up buying it for us after they bailed."
"That's fantastic," he says. "Did it happen often?"
"Being mistaken for sisters? All the time. We went to Coney Island once and ... "
She tells him stories for an hour. Nothing too exciting, just snapshots of a woman who could lecture on law all day, then come home to don neon leggings and have a dance party with her daughter.
Eventually Kate lapses into silence. The tension inside of her, though still present, is diminished. She hasn't talked about her mother like this in a long time.
"Thank you," Rick says.
She hasn't been looking at him much—their heads are too close together and her eyes keep crossing—but she does now. "For what?"
"For letting me be here."
It sounds backwards. She should be thanking him for coming over. But she sees what he's getting at and stays quiet.
"You didn't need me here. But you wanted me here. That means a lot."
"I trust you."
"With your mother." He studies her.
Castle's always known that she's vulnerable there. For a moment she wonders if she was right to let him in this much. But there's nothing triumphant or opportunistic in his eyes. "You're my friend," she says.
Rick holds her gaze from six inches away. After a long moment he says, "Not just a friend." He grins when she arches an eyebrow at him. "Remember, we're pre-engaged."
Kate smacks him lightly on the chest, half-annoyed at him and half-grateful for the joke. "We are not."
"We are so. Remember, you said yes?"
"I said maybe."
"Oh, so you do recall our conversation?"
She remembers the making out that preceded it and flushes a little. "You know what, you're as bad as—"
"My ... first boyfriend."
"And what was this upstanding gentleman's name?"
Kate winces. "Leroy."
"Leroy?" he repeats. "What was he like?"
"A smart-ass who couldn't keep his mouth shut. My dad hated him, and my mom always said ... " Unbidden, an image of Johanna comes to her, with that familiar line between her eyebrows: I'm glad you're having fun, Kate, but the boy doesn't read at all! That's a red flag, right there.
And sure enough, Leroy hadn't worked out. Her mother had provided chocolate, tissues, a movie, and sympathy, all without saying I told you so.
"I'm fine," she says. "Just tired. It's late; think it's time to go to bed."
She gets up and washes the mugs while he fishes a toothbrush from his gym bag and uses her bathroom. After her turn in the bathroom, she digs around in the linen closet and finds him a pillow. Kate comes back into the living room to hear him on the phone with Alexis.
"And there are plenty of leftovers in the fridge," Castle's saying. "I left you the other credit card, so you can order something tomorrow if you want."
Kate leans against the wall and watches him. He's half-turned away, smiling. "Yes, I am aware that you could steal my identity. But then there would be police involvement and the bank; everything would just get messy. And you know I have connections with the police ... Haha, yes, she would. Yep, I will. Okay, love you t—hmm?"
There's a pause, and then he says, "I don't know, sweetheart. As long as she needs me."
Hearing that, Kate feels the weight of the year after Martha's stroke, and of the things he's been saying lately. Things like You are not just a friend. Like We'd work. Like You keep me grounded and I make you lighter.
Rick's standing by the couch looking at her. Kate realizes she's still holding the pillow in her arms. She comes to a decision.
"You coming, Castle?" Her voice is steady.
He's slow in following her into the bedroom. She sits down on her side, close to the lamp and the nightstand, keeps her back to him as he circles around to the other side. He settles carefully onto the bed, weight making the mattress creak. Kate switches the lamp off and slides under the covers. She can tell he's waiting for her to speak first.
"I have nightmares sometimes. Or insomnia. Just so you know. I've never ... " Kate bites her lip. She's never had company on the anniversary, except for the years she's stayed with her father. A year or two ago, Castle would've been the last person she'd pick to be here.
"Kate." He scoots over on his side and looks down at her. It's hard to tell in the semi-dark, but she thinks it's that look from the kitchen again.
In answer, he lowers his head and kisses her. His mouth is gentle, undemanding. She pulls him closer and allows herself to get lost in the moment. It's nice. God, it's nice.
Castle's starting to increase the intensity, alternating between her lips and the hollow of her neck. Kate feels herself responding and forces herself to push him away. She can't do this tonight.
"Rick," she says.
He hovers over her for a brief moment. "Okay," Castle says, without a trace of frustration, though he has to be feeling it. He rolls back to his side.
Kate listens to their breathing, harsh in the small bedroom. "I didn't want to give you the wrong impression."
"No, I tend to get ahead of myself. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have pushed."
"It's fine, Castle."
Their breathing slows. Kate stares at the ceiling and wonders if she made the right choice. Then he reaches for her hand and entwines his fingers with hers. The silence grows comfortable again.
She turns on her side, away from him, but tugs on his hand. He scoots over again and curls around her. The last thing she remembers is the solid warmth of him against her back and his thumb rubbing her hand.
* * *
The smell of eggs and bacon wakes her. After freshening up a bit, she makes a beeline for the kitchen.
"Hey," Castle says, shifting the pan on the burner. "I hope you like bacon and cheese in your omelette."
"That sounds fantastic." Beckett comes over and peers down at the eggs.
"How'd you sleep?"
Castle grins and pokes at the eggs. "'Well,' not 'good,' huh? I like you."
"I'd suspected as much."
"With your keen detecting skills?"
"My keen detecting skills detect that you forgot to start the coffee." She adds water and a new filter.
"That instant stuff you drink hardly qualifies. Hey, are you busy today?"
"I'm going to meet my dad around noon. Why?"
Castle snags her with an arm around her waist. "Because I don't have anywhere to be this morning. We could go out for real coffee somewhere. Or—" his eyebrows perform a little dance—"we could just stay here and ... "
She pokes a finger into his solar plexus and extricates herself from his hold. "Or I could handcuff you to the stove and steal your credit card."
"A cop-slash-con artist who wants a cook-slash-love slave. You're the perfect woman. Marry me?" He's teasing her as usual, as if to let her know it's okay if she wants some space this morning.
Kate can't help herself. She leans over and kisses him briefly yet thoroughly, sliding her tongue against his. She turns away to hide a smile at his gobsmacked expression and observes, "Your eggs are burning."
Rick frantically gropes for the spatula, but he's smiling too.
It wasn't a yes. Wasn't a no, either.
Author's note: I let this one rattle around in my head for a few weeks before attempting it. Wanted it to make sure it felt right, especially after my struggles with the last two chapters. I'm not sure how many more chapters are left since my ideas for the series ended at that kitchen scene. We'll see what else the muse deigns to give me. :-) Enjoy!