A/N: Um, so, hi. Remember me? Would it help if I stood next to my high school photograph so you can better identify me? Suffice it to say that real life - moves, blood clots and the perfection of season four, oh my- took over for a little while. I hope the rust isn't too noticeable.
This piece stems from a conversation in "A Death in the Family" and has references for "Flowers for Your Grave," "Knockout" and "Rise."
As always, I would love to hear what you think, and thanks for reading.
She can't believe he doesn't remember.
She shouldn't let the thought nag at her whirlwind brain, clunky disbelief catching between the grooves and gears. But she's paid to pay attention, to pull up black and white details to frame Richard's colorfully evocative language, and the fact that he doesn't remember meeting Kate Beckett far before she arrived at the Storm Fall launch party baffles her beyond description.
She can still remember the smell of the not-from-a-forest-she'd-ever-like-to-visit-if-it-smelled-like-that pine cleaner the Borders staff had used in their ultimately overzealous attempts to both greet and invite him to stay curled up in the welcoming confines of air-conditioning and a worn leather chair perched in the back corner. It had been mid-July and the city was ensconced in a thick heat wave (later, she will sidestep the heavy iron weight of the irony like a tightrope walker, a bemused and knowing smile adorning her face) and her stomach was rolling as the audience's impatience mixed with the weakening strength of their deodorant. But Richard, focused on enduring the signing only because she and Paula had tag-teamed him with heavy-handed chastisement (oh, how the more things change, the more they just stay the same) took long sips from his water and surreptitiously rubbed at fingers sore from so many autographs, smiling as genuine an indulgent smile as he could, asking for name after name and thanking people for coming out to see him.
Gina had never quite figured out why she'd turned when she did. She'd been engrossed in the buzzing of her Blackberry, and frankly, she didn't care who was in line as long as they paid for their books beforehand.
(There is a part of her – a very small part, mind you, that only comes out in the darkest minutes before dawn – that thinks it's because the universe needed someone to bear witness.
After all, the greatest love stories have to begin somewhere. Who cares if it starts with once upon a time or remember when you walked up to me in Borders and I misspoke, asking your name when what I really meant to say was 'so what are you doing for the rest of your life?')
Phone forgotten, she'd glanced up at a brunette who could have been stunning were it not for the lines more consequences than truths had sculpted into her face. She'd been dizzyingly confused when Richard's simple inquiry as to the other woman's name was met with nothing but silence.
On the few New York signings she'd visited both as a wife and then solely as publisher, Gina had seen fans become overcome with meeting Richard before. But there was a way in which this particular admirer carried herself – the way the sorrow wrapped around her shoulders like a fur wrap, like she'd seen the things Richard had only envisioned in his imagination – that was so unlike the other fangirls. This woman was well-dressed, clad in a black off-rack Donna Karan suit as though she'd used her lunch break to stop by, and the jagged ends of her dark hair sliding protectively against her chin, her professional façade juxtaposed by the way in which she played with something resting near the hollow of her throat. Gina watched as the other woman swallowed, then tightened her posture as though she were working up the nerve to say something far more important than a simple introduction.
Gina's eyes had then moved to Richard, who had yet to say anything in prompt. Behind her, she felt the air shuffle and figured Paula was on her way over to lay bets on whether or not he'd write his phone number on the title page instead of just his signature. But the way Richard was looking at the woman standing in front of him was not lustful or even charming; there was no sign of the telltale mirth that always accompanied Richard's bad boy streak – and if there was ever anyone who should recognize it, it would have been Gina. Instead, it was almost like he knew that this would be the last time she'd take such a position with him; like he knew that from this day forward, a vow made between the mystery and young adult aisles, that they'd stand together, protecting the streets of a city built on bones; that there would be time for as much or as little discussion of history as their self-preservation would allow.
In all the time they'd been together, not even a hint of that inevitability had graced Richard's features, and Gina had felt it like a glancing blow. But later Gina would be glad of it; Kate Beckett turned out to be the one person who had cried at so much more than that, one person who had already loved and lost and could weigh the risks and rewards far better than Gina ever would.
One person who would appreciate the gift of taking control back when it had been so viscerally taken away.
In the end, the woman Gina would come to know as Kate Beckett finally decided to utter only her name, offer a small, sad smile of thanks as Richard handed the book back to her, and started to make her way back to the front doors, Richard's eyes following her all the way out.
(Perhaps the real reason Gina remembers that day is because it's the last time she'll ever see Kate Beckett give up.)
Gina never finds out what, if anything, Richard wrote in that book; sadly, it's lost in a pile of cinder and ash, but in a way that almost seems fitting, given how the phoenix is born in such a pile. In the months after Beckett is shot, the synchronicity is almost as pressingly palpable as the haze and humidity that had blanketed the city the first time around, because Richard never does sign her copy of Heat Rises, his hand not wielding the exhaustion, but instead his heart.
(Not that he could ever put into words just what the detective truly means to him anyway.
Not that he'd ever be able to escape the fact that the reason his heart beats is found in her existence.)
In the beginning, Gina had wanted to point out just why Kate Beckett strode up to him so easily in that bar. Yes, the reason behind her attendance at the party had something to do with the determination in her step – Gina will come to learn that the only thing that means more to her than Richard is the sanctity she puts in her job, her faith not found in a chapel or a crucifix but instead with her 9MM and crime scene tape – but the editor can't seem to shake the feeling that with their awkward first meeting behind them, Kate was better equipped to approach him with something resembling confidence.
But with time, Gina's become quite certain the Kate Beckett that stood in front of Richard Castle in Borders then is not the same Kate Beckett that stands in front of a murder board now. Instead, she has replaced the editor as the one who tries to build fences around Richard Castle only to have him knock them back to the ground, all the barriers she tries to utilize to keep him at bay toppling into a pile. The only difference is, while Gina and Rick tripped over the obstacle, he and Beckett are awaiting the inevitable spark that will set it alight – just as they have set each other's souls – and around which they'll tell the stories of all the times they met – the first signing, the first crime scene, the first investigations into Kate's mother's death and then the threat of her own.
In the end, it's not about the when or the where, it's about the why.
In the end, it's just about the places to begin.