Alright everyone - I'm not certain if this is a violation of any of the site's policies - but I'm reposting 'Be Ok' up to Chapter 6 here in chronological order. All of the chapters I've written until now are here in one chapter, in the order that the events of the story took place.
I've done this because many of my reviewers have said that they were hopelessly lost in my convoluted timeline :(
This is clearly a failure on my part as a story teller - and so I felt that I owed it to all of you to re-post it in order. Future chapters will be attached to the original story as they will be pretty much kept in chronological order from here on in.
I'm so sorry for all the confusion!
Kate Beckett, NYPD Detective, relentless pursuer of justice and all around master of hiding her deepest thoughts and feelings, was nervous. Not just nervous – no – if she were completely honest with herself, she might use the words 'apprehensive', 'fidgety', and maybe, just maybe, 'scared shitless'.
Yeah, she thought to herself chewing her lower lip, definitely that last one.
Standing on the elevator on her way up to 'Homicide', she stared at the rising floor numbers, as though they somehow held the secrets to the universe. Somehow, the same elevator ride that she took several times a day now seemed to be simultaneously taking forever and not taking near long enough.
It was the first day back at work with Castle and she wasn't sure what she was more afraid of – how Castle was going to act around her at work, or how the boys were going to act around her and Castle, since she had no doubts that Lanie had relayed the events of their illness 'in gory detail I'm sure'.
Feeling her stomach in her throat at the mocking 'ping' and 'swoosh' of the elevator as it spat her out on her floor, she steeled herself for the worst.
She was not disappointed.
She froze in place, unable to move. It was as though if she were to move, that thing would actually physically gobble her up whole.
Still standing only feet from the elevator, she was only vaguely aware of the same sounds behind her that had just heralded her own arrival. That is, until she heard his voice, only inches from her right ear.
"I'm a dead man, aren't I?"
It was as if his voice had somehow released her and she found herself turning to the man in question, seeing him jump back in fear of her attack.
"Don't worry, Castle. You're much further down my list than you usually are today," she smirked seeing him relax, though he still watched her wary of a trap to lure him within her reach, he tentatively held out her coffee, almost as a peace offering.
Having gathered her bearings, the wheels of her mind turning furiously, she took the proffered coffee, turned again on her heel and marched decisively towards the offending "gift" waiting for her, taped rather aggressively to the murder board.
There, in 3' by 6' living colour, Kate Beckett came face to face with the rather too cozy image of her and Castle on her bathroom floor – her leaning against the cupboards, him with his head in her lap, both totally out cold.
As she struggled to take the poster down, she craned her head around trying to locate the likeliest culprits, all the while glaring down the knowing grins, raised eyebrows and monetary exchanges of the other cops at the precinct. Luckily, however, the two detectives in question and their ME accomplice were no where to be seen.
"I doubt that's a coincidence," she heard him say, reading her mind as usual and moving to help her with the ridiculous amounts of duct tape holding the poster to the board.
"What they don't realise," she turned to him, an especially evil smiling spreading slowly on her face, "is that by leaving their own desks unattended—"
"—they've left themselves completely open to revenge," he finished gleefully, his own eyes lighting up with devious thoughts of revenge. He still owed them for the 'Mummy's Curse' pranks from last year, after all.
Grinning, she realised that she shouldn't have been so worried. It was as though seeing themselves, nearly life-sized, had completely quelled any nascent awkwardness – in nearly every respect things were as they had always been and she was relieved.
Still completely in sync, they turned to the mounds of duct tape the duo had used to tape the poster. When their eyes met, they both grinned.
Yes, though she was, in a strange way, grateful for the little prank, she was certainly not going to pass up her opportunity for a good prank. She doubted she could have talked Castle out of it anyways – not that she would have even tried.
It was well after noon when Ryan and Esposito deemed it safe to return to the 12th. Figuring that Beckett would be in at the crack of dawn, they had set up their little gift for her the night before with plans to be 'away from their desks' for at least a few hours until she had cooled down. She had a sense of humour, they knew, or else they wouldn't have done it; she also gave it as good as she got it. Unfortunately for the two in question, they had forgotten that little piece of her personality, having been too giddy with the thought of the look on her face and how Castle was going to be her unwitting victim – they had specifically waited until the first day that they would both be back at work for just that reason. If she wore herself out taking Castle apart, then she wouldn't have any energy left to take them apart – or at least there would significantly less of it.
Sadly, they very quickly realised that they were sorely mistaken.
The enormity of their mistake became more and more apparent as their own desks came into view.
"What the hell?..." Esposito just stood looking dumbfounded at his desk, now completely and perfectly covered in duct tape without a single exposed inch.
"Well, somebody left all these piles of tape," they looked towards a smirking Beckett standing in the doorway of the break room, Castle standing just behind her, both holding cups of coffee, "it just seemed like such a shame to just throw it out."
Still sporting a self-satisfied smirk, she sauntered back to her desk, having high-fived Castle. As they both plopped themselves down her phone started to ring.
"That must be Lanie," she grinned even wider, leveling a meaningful look at the two detectives who were still trying to figure out what to do with their desks.
She was rewarded with a look of complete panic from Esposito.
Two weeks later…
Javier Esposito had been a homicide detective for the last six years. Before that he had served in Afghanistan. In that time he thought that he had seen the absolute worst that humanity had to offer. He had seen child-soldiers set off road-side bombs. He had seen men slaughter men, women and children by the dozens in cold blood. He had seen every type of homicide imaginable in 'civilized' society.
All of those horrors paled in comparison to what he found when he got to the crime seen, minutes after the ambulance, Lanie only minutes behind him.
By his count there were already four bodies laid out in the alley, two girls and two boys, none of which could have been older than six years of age. What truly horrified him, however, was the realisation that the firefighters present were still sifting through a pile of garbage bags. His first thought was that there were more bodies – his second, the thought that would haunt him for weeks, even months, was that the bodies were actually in the garbage bags.
"Oh god…" he heard his partner moan only a few steps behind him, having just come to the same conclusion.
Sharing a look, they set their shoulders and approached the scene. Hearing the Coroner's Van approaching, he braced himself for the ME's reaction. He wasn't at all surprised when she grabbed her bag and set to work without a word. He could see the tension in her shoulders as she fought to detach herself, the tick in her jaw as she clenched her teeth against the bile rising in her throat. He saw it because he felt it too.
Hearing Ryan clear his throat behind him, he saw him tilt his head in the direction of one of the ambulances – or more specifically to the man hunched down on the sidewalk behind it.
He hadn't thought it possible, but he felt his stomach drop even further.
If Richard Castle has known what awaited him that day, he would've just stayed in bed. Unfortunately for him, he was lacking in any precognitive abilities as well as being plagued by both writer's block and insomnia. It would seem that the universe was conspiring to keep him pacing the loft in a t-shirt and sweats, trying desperately not to pick up the phone to call Beckett, just to see if she might be awake.
Which, of course, she won't be since it's 5.30 in the morning, he reminded himself ruefully, finally turning towards the door, grabbing his cross-trainers and headphones on the way out. Figuring if he couldn't sleep and he couldn't be productive, he could at least get some much needed exercise; with any luck, it might even serve to wear him out and finally let him get some sleep.
Despite the punishing pace (at least by his standards, though he could imagine that Beckett would consider it a gentle jog), he found that he still could not turn his mind off. He just couldn't keep her out of his thoughts, despite the years of suppressing his feelings for her, this time she had wormed her way so far into his stream of consciousness that everything he did or looked at reminded him of her.
It had been two weeks since they had both returned to work. Two weeks during which neither had re-visited the same level of closeness that they had shared during their illness; sitting together in the back of the ambulance as she re-bandaged his hand was the closest they had come. That wasn't to say that things had been awkward; quite the opposite in fact. He felt like she was more open and comfortable around him than ever before. When her mother's case had reared its head again, she had gone directly to him. The kiss that they'd shared that night was entirely different from the one that they'd shared in her apartment their last night together. While that one had been filled with tenderness and time, the kiss in the alley had been tense, passionate but hurried. She had been on guard, even as that one small moan escaped the recesses of her throat.
Since then he reveled in every opportunity to touch her; it never ceased to amaze him when she let him. If they were alone together, sometimes at the murder board, sometimes poring over files, he would move closer to her until their shoulders just touched and he could see that small smile grace her features that he loved so much.
But they didn't talk about it. In many respects, he knew it wasn't because she was running away, it was simply because they didn't have to. The words they had spoken on their last night together during their illness were enough for now. They knew where they stood and they were content to let things develop naturally…most of the time.
Most of the time being whenever she didn't haunt his dreams.
Most of the time being when he didn't wake up in his bed aching for her and reaching over to find the other half of his bed empty.
Sighing, he turned his focus back to the sound of his feet on the asphalt and the sun just coming up over the skyline. As he was passing the playground that he used to bring Alexis to when she was little, he found himself having to leap back to avoid getting hit by a truck exiting the adjacent alley. The driver took no notice as it tore down the street at breakneck speed, nearly causing another accident at a red light only a block further down.
Regaining his equilibrium, a muffled sound from the alley caught his ear. Advancing slowly into the alley, leery of another speeding brush with death, he tried to locate the source of the sound, but found only a pile of black garbage bags next to the dumpster. As he was about to turn around and start jogging back home, however, he heard it again.
It was a cough and it came from the pile of garbage bags. As he approached the pile, it took his brain a moment to register what it was seeing.
One of the bags was moving.
The realisation that there was a person inside one of those bags struck him and without another thought he rushed towards the bag in question, tearing it open. It wasn't until he looked down at the bloody and battered face revealed behind the black plastic that the horror of what he had stumbled across slapped him full across the face.
Holding the child cradled in one arm, he grabbed for his phone with his free hand.
"9-1-1 What's your emergency?"
"My name is Richard Castle, I'm at the playground on 8th Avenue. I need an ambulance and the police."
"Sir,what is the nature of the emergency?"
Fighting back a wave of nausea, he found that he couldn't put into words what lay before him. Instead he opted for a whispered "please, hurry," before hanging up the phone and trying desperately to save the small life that he held in his arms.
"You better get down here. Playground on 8th Ave."
Sighing as she dragged her still sleepy body out of bed, she looks at the clock on the bedside table.
She's about to hang up with a "be there in 10," when Esposito's voice stops her.
"Don't call Castle."
"Why not?" she's perplexed and concerned at the tone of the other detective's voice.
"He's already here. He was here when it happened."
When Beckett arrived at the scene she found herself rushing towards Castle who was sitting on the curb next to the ambulance, covered in blood and looking more lost than she had ever seen. Her heart in her throat, she reached him in only a few strides, dropping down to the curb in front of him, her hands going to his face, his chest, his hands, trying desperately to find the source of the blood.
"It's not mine," she hears him whisper hoarsely, his eyes, disturbingly hollow.
"Castle," she holds his hands in hers, relief flooding through her that he's alright, "what happened?"
Instead of answering he looks up over her shoulder to the alley behind her and she feels a shudder wrack his body. Turning towards the alley, she sees Lanie in the distance, her head bowed, Esposito standing close behind her.
As she stands to move to the alley, she feels his hands tighten on hers.
"Please, don't go in there."
The sadness on his drawn face concerns her and she wonders what she's about to find in that alley.
"Castle, I have to go, it's my job," she feels his grip loosen a little. Squeezing his hands one last time, she promises him that she'll be back as soon as she can get a handle on the situation. He nods mutely, pulling the blanket that the paramedic gave him more tightly around his shoulders.
Filled with apprehension, she starts to walk towards the ME and the detective. What she sees stops her dead in her tracks. She wants to turn around and run back to Castle. She wants to pretend that she never took the call. She wants to throw up.
Spread out in the alley are the bodies of six children, all beaten, all bloody, and not one of them breathing. When she meets Esposito's gaze, she sees in it all of the emotions that are coursing through her own veins.
She feels her blood boil and she sees that he feels the same. As Ryan enters the alley, the three share a look that speaks the same for them all:
We're going to catch this sick son-of-a-bitch and when we do, he's gonna fry.
Fourteen hours later...
Detective Kate Beckett was not simply exhausted, she was drained in every sense of the word. Just when she thought that she had seen the worst that people could do to each other, she came across a case like this.
Not quite, she thought silently, staring at the murder board. This one was without a doubt the most horrific scene she had experienced in all of her time as a homicide detective. She prided herself on her ability to compartmentalise, to both empathise with the victims and their families while remaining emotionally detached.
One foot out the door.
This case, though, she could feel that this case could very well break her.
Rubbing her hands over her tired face, she stood up and moved to the murder board, her eyes scanning the faces of the six victims' autopsy pictures.
It had been fourteen hours since Castle had made his horrifying discovery and they hadn't so much as identified a single child.
Her shoulders sagged under the weight of her worries. She had dropped him off at home on the way back from the crime scene late that morning. That he hadn't argued with her had raised a red flag in her mind, but she had shoved that to the back her mind too. She couldn't keep him with her on this one – she was struggling to keep it together on this case, and she was trained to cope with these types of situations. He neither had the benefit of her training, nor the ability to look into the faces of those children and not see his own daughter reflected back. That one of the children had literally died in his arms before the emergency crews could arrive furthered her commitment to protect him from having to live through this case anymore than he already had.
She had been grateful that Martha had been home when she had walked the listless man up to the loft – though it didn't fully quell the guilt she felt at leaving his side, it helped to know that he wasn't alone. Together, they had convinced him to take a sleeping pill and to get some rest until Alexis got home from school.
She frowned thinking of the text message she had received from the redhead hours ago. It was clear that she was worried about her dad, but Beckett felt like there was something more that the girl was trying to keep to herself, as though she was afraid of bothering the busy detective.
As though she could see inside her thoughts, the caller ID of the girl in question suddenly appeared on her cellphone.
"Hi Alexis," she tried to answer with a reassuring levity that she didn't feel.
"Detective Beckett?" she heard the hiccup in the young girl's voice that told her she'd been crying, "can you come over? Please…he needs you and I don't know what to do. I'm scared."
Feeling her stomach sink to her feet, she was already grabbing her coat and walking towards the elevator before she had even heard the girl's last quiet words.
"I'm on my way right now."
Normally she would never abuse her power as a cop for personal business, but tonight she made an exception. Running lights and sirens nearly the entire way, she made it to Castle's loft in record time, a mere five minutes after hanging up with the young lady. After an elevator ride that felt like it lasted an eternity, she found herself quickly being ushered into the loft by his mother, who looked to have aged ten years since she had seen her earlier in the day.
As much as she had thought that nothing could possibly break her heart more than her arrival at the scene that morning, what she saw upon entering the loft cut her through to her very soul. Every horizontal space in the living room was covered with shoeboxes and photo albums. Pictures of Alexis at all ages were scattered throughout the space and at its very centre was the man himself, arms wrapped tightly around the girl herself.
As she stepped closer she was able to see that he had fallen into an agitated sleep sitting up on the sofa with his arms clutched tightly around the teenager. Alexis, on the other hand, was wide awake, holding on to her dad as tight as she could as though she could hold him together. Seeing Beckett's entrance, the girl's eyes widened in relief and filled with silent tears.
"Kate," she hiccupped softly, trying not to wake her dad.
"It's okay sweetie," she found herself adding the endearment without a second thought as she approached, running her hand assuredly through the girl's hair, "tell me what happened."
"Gram called me during lunch to warn me about the scene that dad found this morning," she began to recount her story between hitches and sniffles, "so I came home straight after school cause I knew he'd be going crazy worrying about me. When I walked through the door he was sitting in the living room and had pulled all this stuff and when he saw me it was like he was seeing a ghost and he ran over and just hugged me and started to cry and shake and couldn't let go…" she stopped in her story to catch her breath as another sob shook her body, "he just kept saying over and over again how sorry he was that he couldn't save me. I didn't know what to do, so I just held him back until he just stopped and fell asleep."
Disturbed, she looked to Martha who nodded to confirm the young girl's story.
"Two hours," the older woman replied in a voice that betrayed her own exhaustion, anticipating the question.
Sighing, Kate realised that she was going to have to put her own feelings and apprehension aside if she was going to be able to help the man that meant more to her than anyone else in the world. Tonight, it wasn't about her, it was about a broken man, the scared daughter who loved him and his worried mother. Laying her hand on his shoulder, she shook him gently to wake him.
He jolted awake, nearly dropping the distressed teenager on the floor with his sudden movement. Seeing the look of panic and confusion so clearly expressed on his usually jovial face, she quickly steadied Alexis with one hand while grabbing his chin gently with the other, forcing him to meet her eyes as his breaths started coming more short and rapid.
"Castle, look at me. You're ok. Alexis is ok. I need you to listen to me. Everyone's ok."
It took a few seconds before comprehension registered and his breathing slowed. Unfortunately, as it did, the look of heart wrenching sadness and loss that replaced the previous look of panic tore further at her guilt for leaving him alone when he had so obviously been hurting.
Seeing Alexis still perched in his lap, his eyes widened as he remembered the events of the afternoon. Pulling her close, though with far more gentleness than he had earlier, Kate could hear him apologising for scaring her.
"It's ok Dad," the teenager smiled bravely, returning the hug, though pulling back after a few seconds. "I love you, Dad. I'm not going anywhere, promise."
For just a brief second, Kate was relieved to see a small smile of relief grace his face.
Seeing the toll that the day had taken on Alexis as well as her father, and glad that the situation had been diffused for the time being, she found herself helping the young girl up out of her father's lap and into the arms of her grandmother for a brief hug before the two turned in for the night.
Alone now, Kate turned back to Castle and saw that he had returned to his sitting position, though he was now leaning forward, his head in his hands, his shoulders shaking slightly. Kneeling in front of him, she held his face gently in both hands forcing him to face her. The myriad of emotions flitting across his moist eyes took her breath away. Before she knew what had happened, he'd clutched her hands in his own and pulled her down to take the place that his daughter had only just vacated. Wrapping his arms around her frame, he buried his head in her hair and breathed her in as though she was his only link to sanity.
"Castle?" she asked softly, running her hands through his hair.
"God I fucked this up, didn't I?" he muttered shakily.
Sighing, she wrapped her arms around him replying with a simple "no, Castle. You did what any normal human being would do after what you saw and lived through this morning. You broke, Castle, simple as that. I've been trained men, men who I've considered to be as cold and heartless as anyone I've ever met break under lesser circumstances. Nobody blames you for that."
"I terrified Alexis," he pulled back looking at her with doubt in his eyes, "how can I possibly consider myself a good father after doing something like that? I'm no better than the monsters who put those children—"
"Stop it!" she cut him off brusquely, "you listen to me, Castle, because I'm only going to say this once: you are nothing like those monsters. You are a good man and an amazing father. Alexis doesn't blame you for what happened, none of us do."
Making sure that he was looking her straight in the eyes as she spoke so that he could see the truth in her words, she felt the muscles of his body relax just a fraction and she smiled faintly leaning in to touch her lips briefly to his. Pulling back she said "if I ever hear you talking like that again, I will pull out my gun and shoot you."
She was rewarded with a smile that nearly reached his tired eyes. Untangling herself from his arms, she stood, pulling him up with her and leading him towards his bedroom. The door was scarcely closed behind them when she found herself pushed up against it and his lips were on hers, fierce and passionate. She felt herself responding in kind, pouring her own emotions into the kiss.
"Help me remember," he whispered hoarsely pulling back, though his hands continued to tug at her clothes.
"Remember what?" she asked breathlessly, tugging at his t-shirt and pulling it over his head.
"Help me remember that I'm alive – that we're alive," he all but groaned, moving his mouth to the sensitive places of her neck.
"We're alive, Castle," she moaned in returned as he continued his delicious assault her neck, "we're oh-so-very much alive."
Pushing him towards the bed leaving a trail of discarded clothing in their wake, they proceeded to remind each other again and again throughout that long and sleepless night that yes, they were still alive.
The next morning...
He lie in bed, his arms wrapped around the extraordinary woman who smelled like cherries and brought peace to his tortured mind when nothing else could break through his own personal hell. He still didn't know what he ever did to deserve her, but he wasn't going to question it at the risk of tempting fate into realising that it had somehow screwed up and decided to take her away from him. He shuddered at the thought and buried his head into her neck and hair, breathing her in.
Feeling his shudder, she rolled over to face him and he was stunned at the depth of the emotions that he saw in her green eyes...
What shocked him more, however, was what he didn't see –
"Castle?" she whispered softly, reaching up to smooth her hand over his brow.
She looked exhausted, the dark circles under her eyes reminding him of the meltdown that had brought them to their current position. He broke from her gaze, feeling shame and guilt well up in him.
The tone of her voice startles him into meeting her gaze again.
"You can't keep doing this, Castle. You can't blame yourself for any of it."
He feels his emotions rise up to the surface again, his eyes becoming moist. He knows, rationally, that what she says is true. He's not the monster that threw those children out like trash, that starved them until they were too weak to fight back, that beat them bloody, again and again, breaking their tiny bones for no other reason than to cause pain...
Feeling the bile rise up in his throat, he breaks from her embrace, barely making it to the adjoining en suite before the heaves over took his body.
He's not sure how long he's been hunched over the toilet battling dry heaves before he feels her gentle hand on his naked back.
"I'm sorry," he mutters not looking up, "I just keep seeing them…seeing her…watching the life go out of her eyes…"
"Oh Castle…" she whispers, wrapping her arms around him from behind, remembering how much the little girl who had died in his arms had looked like his own daughter – her long red hair, matted and dirty, her blue eyes, closed now forever. She understands perfectly his actions from the day before – if anything, she's surprised that he's doing as well as he is.
"There was nothing you could've done to save her—"
"That's not it," he cuts her off, looking up from the toilet for the first time since he got there. "It's not that she died," he looks her in the eyes, begging her to understand, "she gave up…"
He sees understanding in her eyes, understanding and sadness. As he'd held that little life in his arms, he cradled the girl, begged her to hold on until help arrived, but in her eyes all he could see was a hollow deadness – her spirit already broken. He wasn't sorry that she had died – in a way, he was glad of it since it was the only way she would ever find peace. What sickened him was that somebody, something had so destroyed her, mind, body and soul, that had she lived, nothing could ever have given her peace again. That is what breaks his heart the most. That is what fills him with revulsion and loathing on a level that scares him.
Sitting down on the floor, he pulls her into his lap so he can wrap his arms around her. He's reminded of another time they spent like that, their positions reversed, and he realises that she's not going anywhere and he feels the noose around his heart loosen and the words begin to flow.
"I kill people for a living," he begins as she turns in his arm to level a questioning look in his direction, "—in my books. I am highly paid to think like a criminal and a murderer. You know, Tyson asked me, when he had me tied to that chair," she shivers at the memory of almost losing him, "what it was that drew me to death. He asked me how close to death I really wanted to be." She doesn't say a word, waiting to see where he's going, and he's grateful that she's willing to let him get the words out. "I've thought about any number of gruesome ways to kill another person – heads in microwaves, explosive decompression, impaling by a hundred #2 pencils –" he sees her smile a little at this last one. "I just can't help but wonder," his voice becoming a hoarse whisper, "how little separates me from the people who did this."
"Castle, listen to me," he sees pain in her eyes, "do you know what separates you from them? You've never actually taken a life, and you would never, ever hurt a child." She turns fully in his lap so that her legs are straddling his, seeing his eyes widen at the contact of their still naked bodies. "You might kill people in your books, Castle, but you don't break them first. Do you know what it is that drew me to your writing?" she sees him shake his head. "What you write – it's not about death. Yes, somebody always dies – but that's not the point. You write about those who are still living and you give them closure. Always."
His eyes widen, stunned blue meeting glistening green. He'd never thought of his writing in that way before. He'd always felt that his writing was an expression of some repressed darkness tainting his soul. What the Triple Killer had said to him had struck a cord because it spoke to his own fear that the line between himself and the people this extraordinary woman brought to justice was far thinner than he would have liked.
"How is it that you're always able to see the best in me?" he asks in amazement.
Her eyes glitter in mild amusement, "well, I wouldn't take it quite that far-"
Her words are cut off as his mouth crashes onto hers. Though surprised by his intensity, she responds immediately, exploring his mouth as he does hers. He breaks away from her lips to make his way down her neck to her breasts, thrusting his hips up to join their bodies as one. As he feels himself enter her warm folds, he surprises her by wrapping her legs around his waist and standing up, pushing her against the plexiglass shower door.
"Thank you," he whispers into her heated skin.
Those are the last words spoken by either of them as they hurdle over the edge together.
Two hours later…
Nine o'clock finds the two partners emerging from the elevator. As they beeline towards the murder board and Beckett's desk, they're stopped in their tracks by the sight that greets them. While they had certainly expected to see her there, undoubtedly looking like little more than death warmed over from lack of sleep, they are astonished to see him there too, and he looks like hell.
Exchanging looks of surprise, they continue their approach.
"About time you two get here," she smirks, though it doesn't quite reach her tired eyes, "I was starting to think that Castle and I were gonna have to catch this slimeball all on our own."
Esposito turns to meet Castle's gaze. Despite the dark circles under the other man's eyes, he's relieved to see determination there instead of the devastation of the previous morning.
"And let Castle here take all the credit? No way!" he returns the half-hearted smirk at his boss, and, fist bumping his partner, the foursome return their attention to the murder board.
"We've gotta catch this son-of-a-bitch," they hear him say softly, his voice edged with conviction, their eyes fixed to the faces of the children.
"Damned right we will, bro. You're damned right."
Two Days Later...
Castle turns his eyes from the murder board to watch the detective as she nods gently, listening to the person on the other side of the phone. After telling whoever had called her to 'send them up', she hangs up the phone, immediately dropping her head into her hands and letting her shoulders sag a little in exhaustion. Feeling Castle's gentle hand on her back, she immediately straightens up, meeting his questioning gaze.
"The relatives of one of the victims have given us a positive ID. Lanie's sending them up from the morgue now."
The smile that started to grace his features quickly dissolved as he saw the look of apprehension on her face. There was something she wasn't telling him.
They had been struggling to ID the children for four days now. Three of the children had come up in files from Child Protective Services. His stomach turned at the thought of how not one, but three children had slipped through the cracks of a system who's sole existence was to protect the people who could not protect themselves. He had always known that the system was imperfect – he'd heard his share of stories about kids being placed in bad foster homes, about how these kids often became runaways and ended up on the street mixed up in drugs. For whatever reason, though, his mind had never considered that this could happen to children so young, still so innocent.
Yesterday, the relatives of two of the children, a brother and a sister, had come forward to claim them. When asked why they hadn't come sooner, the woman had tearfully explained that she'd had no idea that her cousin and his wife had died in a car crash months before – they just weren't a close family. When the news had reached them, they had immediately started looking for the children, intending to adopt them so that they wouldn't have to go into foster care. Eventually their search, along with the report of the children Castle had found, had led them there.
Though both Castle and Beckett had initially been suspicious of the couple's story, their grief had appeared genuine. It was Castle who had uncovered the accident report from the original crash. There was no report of any children at the scene and they hadn't been able to find any evidence of what had happened to the children in the interim. Advising the couple to stay in town, Beckett was forced to release them, though it had tied her stomach in knots.
"What's wrong?" he asked cautiously, seeing his partner already on edge.
Whatever answer she had been about to give him was cut off by the 'ding' of the elevator – they both looked up immediately spotting the couple being escorted past her desk to an empty interrogation room. Castle suddenly understood the apprehension – this couple was a real piece of work. They were young, both of them no older than their mid-twenties. The man, thin to the point of emaciation, twitched as he walked, his red eyes darting about the room as he tweaked out, his brown hair greasy and unkempt. The woman looked like a common street walker, if he were to be kind about it. Her fishnet stockings were dirty at the knees and torn in placed, her leather skirt entirely too short. Her red hair was the only shock of colour and life about her. He'd known that there had only been one child left to identify, the red haired girl who had died in his arms – seeing the red-headed woman walk in, her eyes cold and hard, he felt his heart sink knowing that these were undoubtedly the 'relatives' in question. He sighed. He really had hoped for better for that poor little girl, though he'd known it was unlikely given how he'd found her.
Bracing himself, he met Beckett's own hardened gaze and followed her toward the interrogation room. Just before she opened the door to admit them into the room, she stopped and turned suddenly to look him in the eyes.
Seeing the look in her eyes, the thousand emotions vying for control, he reached out briefly to tuck a strand of her long hair behind her ear. "You can do this, Kate," he told her softly, forcing a smile of assurance onto his own face. Nodding once, she opened the door and together they turned to face their newest nightmares.
Lanie had warned her on the phone. She had told her that, though these people were undoubtedly the relatives of that last little girl, they were definitely not her family. Kate Beckett was just starting to understand her friend's meaning as she looked into the dead eyes of the couple seated in front of her. Steeling herself, she stuffed her feelings and directed her disgust into her interrogation.
"Ms. Walker?" she began, addressing the woman slouching in her chair.
"If I understand this correctly, you are the aunt of one of our victims? That you were her legal guardian after your sister died a year ago of cancer?"
The woman snorted a little under her breath, "that's what I said, isn't it?"
"Do you mind me asking why you never reported Alexandra missing?"
"Cause she wasn't missing."
This time it was the man who spoke for the first time. He snickered some as if there were some inside joke that the two partners were just too dim to understand.
Castle started to feel his blood boil and his mind turn furiously. "Are you telling me that you're responsible for what happened to her?" he bit out from between clenched teeth.
"What?" the woman asked incredulously. "Why the hell would you think that?"
This time it was Beckett who picked up the thread, "well Ms. Walker, if she wasn't missing, then it stands to reason that she was still in your care. Our medical examiner found evidence of months of abuse and neglect. It's what we like to call a 'smoking gun'."
"What the hell you on about, bitch? She weren't missing because Seamus here got her some work. She was out living on some commune farm on Long Island. I ain't had nothing to do with what happened to that little ungrateful piece of—"
"Shut up, bitch!" her rant was cut off by Seamus, who had suddenly come to life.
Beckett immediately turned her attention to him, her hatred intensifying with every word that left either of their mouths. "What kind of farm, Seamus? What kind of farm hires six year olds?" she was barely holding her temper in check. A quick look to her side showed her Castle nearly shaking with rage.
"Stupid bitch, couldn't keep your trap shut, could you?" Seamus glared at his girlfriend before sighing and turning back towards the detective. "It weren't no farm, ok," he shrugged, "a friend of a friend told me about this guy who buys kids – good price too. I figured, we didn't want her—only reason we came in today was cause we heard there might be a reward-"
"You sold a child?" Beckett stood up feeling her blood boil with rage. She looked at the other woman, seeing her shrug her shoulders with a look of innocence as if to say, 'what? Who me?'.
It was the lack of remorse that finally pushed her over the edge. She didn't remember moving forward, she didn't remember breaking the other woman's nose or getting the man in a headlock. All she remembered was seeing red. Seeing red and then feeling someone's arms pulling at her – strong arms – and then he was looking into blue eyes filled with equal parts rage and sympathy.
Only seconds later she found herself in the Captain's office sitting next to Castle on the sofa as Montgomery paces back and forth furiously.
"What am I going to do with you?" his voice is as low, quiet and full of steel as she has ever heard it. "You're lucky we have enough evidence to hold them, but your little stunt in there means that they've both lawyered up so now we have to go through their lawyers to find out more about this 'farm', and they're telling them not to talk."
"I don't want to hear it Castle," he cuts the other man off. "Go home, both of you. Go punch something, go running – I don't care much what you two do – but whatever it is, it better get your emotions under control. Don't come back here until you do."
He's turned his back on them then, hating himself for what he's had to do. Beckett's his finest officer and he's not sure he would've acted any differently had he been in that interrogation room – but if they were going to get justice for that little girl – for all of those children, then there was no room for fuck ups.
As the two stalked out of the room to the elevators, they're both still simmering with unrepentant rage and left over adrenaline. Castle is somewhat concerned seeing that Kate is actually shaking as she tries to get the key into the ignition. He puts his hand on hers and is surprised when slaps his hand away.
"Don't touch me Castle," she says harshly, glaring at him.
He draws back as if struck. Part of him understands that she's misdirecting her rage at him – but part of him, the part that it still filled with his own undissipated anger, causes him to strike back.
"Fine," he bites out, throwing the car door open before throwing himself out and slamming it shut behind him. He doesn't even look back to see the stunned look on her face as he stalks towards the exit of the parking garage, though he hears her own door open and shut only seconds later.
"That's right, Castle!" she shouts at him from a few feet behind, "run away! Just like you did in that interrogation room!" When he doesn't turn around, she increases her pace, closing the distance. "What's the matter Castle, you stand up to me all the time – but when it comes time to actually standing up to genuine creeps and dirtbags, you clam up? I thought you were better than that—"
Her mocking is cut off as he suddenly whirls around to face her, his eyes practically glowing with barely suppressed rage as he roughly grabs her by the shoulders, pushing her back against the concrete wall. Now he's the one shaking, though his voice is steady and lethal as he speaks. "Yeah Kate, because you did so much better in there. Why the hell do you think Montgomery's sending us home? Because of me? Not fucking likely – this one's on you!" he's almost screaming now and he can see fear for the first time in her green eyes as she realises that she's pushed him too far. But he's on a roll now and there's no stopping the words that fly out of his mouth. "Maybe we'll just start calling you 'Hurricane Kate'," he snorts, "loses her temper every time a suspect says something she doesn't like, just like Vulcan Simmons."
He knows it's a low blow. He knows he's crossed a line. And as he sees her face crumple, he finally feels his own anger dissolve into shame and regret. He feels her start to crumple in his arms and his grip on her shoulders loosens so that he can pull her into his arms. If he expects her to fight him he's surprised to feel her arms wrap tightly around him and her body shake with sobs.
"I'm so—sorry, Castle" he hears her mumble against his shirt, again and again between chokes and sniffles.
He feels his own face wet with tears as they cling to each other in the precinct parking garage, both mumbling apologies for the barbed and horrible words thrown at each other only moments before. Finally she pulls back from him a little, looking him in the eyes, surprised to see the same sorrow and regret on his face as she's sure he sees on hers.
"Are we okay?" he asks softly, wiping the tears from her face with both hands. He sees uncertainty in her eyes.
"I don't know, Castle. Are we?" she sniffles quietly.
He nods gently, turning her back towards the car, taking the keys from her hand.
"Yeah, we're okay."
Later that evening...
Katherine Beckett was not a woman who accepted comfort easily. Even before the death of her mother, she had always been fiercely independent, choosing only to allow people into her life that she could control. Her mother's death, her father's downward spiral – they only served to reinforce her need for complete and total self-sufficiency. If you couldn't count on your own family not to leave you, who could you count on?
It was who she was, who she had become and the only person on whom she could count. That was what she had always told herself. It was her mantra. It was her safety net.
Lying in this man's arms, her eyes still puffy and red, her cheeks encrusted with the salty remains of the torrential downpour of tears from only hours before, she realises for the first time in her life that she might not have to carry the weight of the world on her own.
She thinks back on her past relationships, some of which were ended by her, others by them.
The grunge rocker boy who smelled like wet flannel – she had ended that one once the appeal of pissing off her dad had worn off.
Royce. "I was in love with you." The very fact that had only just recently admitted to him how much he had meant to her said a lot – especially since even as she spoke those words she hid behind the guise of tracing his location.
Then there was Will – in the six months they had been together, she had let him in more than any other man in her life up until then; when he walked away from her, it only served to reinforce her conviction that letting them in could leave you so much more than shattered.
Then there was Josh; the poor guy never even knew until it was over that the Kate that he was so in love with had only been the smallest tip of the iceberg. She hadn't even begun to let him – likely never would have.
And now – here she was – not just physically naked in the arms of Richard Castle, but stripped of all of her defenses, her soul laid bare for him to either embrace or to crush. As much as she relished in the peace that she currently found in his arms, she found herself on edge, waiting for the inevitable shoe to drop.
She sighed, closing her eyes and burrowing deeper into his arms. He hadn't left her the whole time she had been sick. He hadn't blamed her, ever, for his own three days of flu-induced misery. And now – even after bearing witness to the carnage of the case they were currently working, even after falling apart that first night and letting her put the pieces back together again – now, he was the one stopping her from being sucked into that darkness.
She feels the tears in her eyes again, thinking about the scene.
Four days. They had been working the case now for four days and they were nowhere nearer to bringing justice to the families of the victims. The guilt plucked away at her, it pulled at her outward stoicism, it wore her down, body, mind and soul until she was left raw and exposed for anyone to see.
She felt his arms tighten around her, his voice low and hoarse from sleep and exhaustion and muffled by her own hair as he buried his face in the crook of her neck. She felt her own breath hitch in her throat as she fought back the tears that threatened again.
"Stop, please Kate. You can't blame yourself for this."
The sadness and guilt in his own voice was nearly her undoing. "They were only children," she chokes out on a sob, her teeth clenched, her shoulders tense.
"We'll get him, Kate," he says with complete conviction and she is amazed by the faith that this man has in her.
"You don't know that, Castle-"
"Yes, I do," he interrupts her, rolling her over in his arms and forcing her to look him in the eyes. She is shocked by the depth of emotion held within that sea of blue, the tears that threaten to fall from his own eyes, and above all, by the quiet trust and certainty that what he says is not only the truth, but the only truth possible.
And then his lips are on hers and she is falling. The horror of their world is fading and, at least for that one moment, is replaced with love and comfort like she's never felt in her life – like she's never allowed herself to feel. She feels his hands on her body, feels him move in her and feels his tears on her face as she joins him in a mutual and shattering climax.
She doesn't know what she'll do if this man ever leaves her – for tonight, however, their need for each other outweighs every other concern.
Neither sleeps that night – they spend it holding each other together until the darkness fades to light. With a lingering kiss and reciprocal words of support and comfort, they shower, dress and return to the precinct to face the laughing faces of those children, now taped to the murder board.
Not sure if anyone's going to bother to read a re-post- but for those of you who do, I hope that this helps to clear up the timeline. And again - I'm sorry that it was so confusing before - it's a thin line between creative and too complicated :)
Thanks for reading!