Kate pushes the door closed to the autopsy suite and takes a deep breath, the images still too fresh. Esposito and Ryan are at the station waiting on her, but she needs a minute to collect herself after that. Even Lanie looked shaken back there.
Bruising. Burns. Sexual assault. Evidence of torture for hours before death. No one deserves that.
She wipes a shaky hand across her mouth, presses her knuckles to her nose like that will dispel the smell of formaldehyde and cold death. And then her phone vibrates in her pocket, startling and immediate.
Kate pulls it out and unlocks the screen, smiling at the waiting text from Castle. He's at home of course, and she's really glad he hasn't caught wind of this one, that he wasn't in the autopsy bay for that one.
Oh, he can handle it, she just doesn't want him to have to. She wants one of them to not know about it, one of them to keep carrying sunshine and light while the other might be in darkness. So she opens the text and sees there's a video attached, with the words:
come home. see what you're missing.
Kate starts the video and sees their kitchen, floor level, with the counter blocking half of the view. A sound of deep thrumming, unintelligible, and then on the video something like birds cackling? And then her 18 month old son rounds the corner with his clapping hands and loud voice-that was the cackling-and he's maybe dancing or throwing a fit or singing, she's not sure.
She texts back: tantrum?
She's still standing there, waiting on his reply and thinking, don't text me in the middle of the day and walk away from your phone you crazy man, when she remembers twitter and so she calls up the app and checks his post.
He's tweeted it, of course. WriteRCastle says: watch my son dance!
The video is attached, even though she's told him time after time to stop posting personal videos on twitter for all the stalker fans to watch-especially of their son-but she can't help smiling at it, watching it again, needing this moment.
A text back. No! Dancing! Alexis is playing a Flo Rida song. He rly rly likes Flo Rida.
She laughs out loud and puts a hand to her mouth to stop the sound even though there's no one in the hall with her. She walks to a bench and sits down to text him back.
Flo Rida? I don't think it's Alexis's music.
She checks twitter again, just to be sure, and then reads his next text. He says Alexis has acquired a new hobby-hip hop music-and if she, Detective, isn't so sure then she should come investigate for herself.
She can't. She's got to give Espo and Ryan the latest and-
She doesn't have to, though. Does she? She can call Esposito on her cell and give him the rundown until tomorrow. Take a break. They've been on this case since four a.m. when the call came in and she needs some dinner and some family time. She needs to wind down.
She might possibly also need to talk to Castle about this too, maybe, just a little bit, not like she can't solve a case without him…
She's calling Esposito and standing up, striding towards the garage before she can second guess her actions.
As soon as the ugly precinct car stops in the station's garage, Kate is pulling out her phone again and thumbing through the repeated text messages Castle has been sending her since she started her drive back to the 12th. He's relentless with the texts, and has sent some more photos as well, using one of those app filters that makes everything look summery and wonderful. Rubbing it in, as he likes to say.
Wish you were here, the last message reads.
Kate unbuckles her seat belt, her smile still pinned up at the edges by their toddler son's attempts to move to the beat, and slides out of the car as quickly as she can. She's told Ryan the ME's update on the autopsy, but Esposito has more information and she has to get it all on the board before she can go home.
OCD or something. Whatever. She has to get it on the board before she can clear her mind enough to go home tonight. There has to be a place to pause or else her mind just doesn't. It's always been like that for her, and not even Castle, not even an 18 month old who doesn't like to sleep through the night can shake Kate Beckett's need for thoroughness.
She's gotten more sleep recently, with Alexis home and apparently a light sleeper, but she's still doing her job on about 60% of the sleep she needs to actually function. Proving that she can function on less than she thinks she needs, right?
Anyway, Esposito has a cup of good coffee waiting on her when she gets to her desk (she swears Castle texts the boys to refill her cup) and the first sip is an instant hit-mostly psychosomatic-that picks her up again.
Her son makes her smile. But coffee keeps her going.
Esposito waits until she's swallowed a couple mouthfuls, and then launches into his discoveries.
"Vic's personal checking account was cleaned out two days before the murder. She got what she could in cash and then took a cashier's check for the rest, which we still haven't found."
Her eyebrow raises and the cup hovers near her lips. "Can you sign over a cashier's check to anyone other than the-"
"You can," Esposito says, interrupting her with a grin. "And she did. Turns out a Victor Franck deposited the cashier's check. I've got a couple queries running on the database to dig into his background and financials."
"How soon before you get results?"
"Tomorrow morning, probably. DMV's sent over a prelim, but I asked for the works."
Kate grins and already can feel her shoulders relaxing a little, her mind beginning to slow its revolutions. A place to pause. A natural resting place in the case that will allow her to go home and really be home. This is when she gets to eat dinner with her family, watch some tv, let her subconscious go to work. She'll probably solve this thing talking it over with Castle sometime around one in the morning.
Happened that way before.
"That our break?" Ryan asks, tossing her a knowing smirk. He wants there to be a stopping point too; he's got Jenny to get back to. Even Esposito has places-a place-he wants to be right now.
"That's our break. Good work guys. We'll take this up tomorrow with Victor Franck and the money."
Kate smiles at them, drains the last of her coffee, and picks up the black expo marker to have a go at the board.
It's still light outside when she climbs the last few steps out of the subway and into the city. It hits her then that she forgot the car service that Castle keeps trying to foist off on her. Oh well. Only a few blocks from Castle's apartment and she can feel it, drawing her in, the pull of home so strong that it can sometimes make her eyes water.
Yeah, so it's still Castle's place. And her own apartment is still owned by her, legally, though his mother has moved into it, and there's no way Kate's going back there. She married the man, strangely enough, and has given him a son, even more weird, and she still can feel like she's just stopping over for the night, the week.
It's not that he doesn't make her feel welcome. It's not that she doesn't feel she has a place there. Not at all. She feels at home, always has. She is just-independent-a solitary creature so often, and for so long, that while she needs her family, she also needs her self. She can't explain how it works, only that it does.
Thankfully, her son isn't clingy. Not even with Castle, who can be called his main caregiver, if she has to put labels on these things. At her darkest and most doubting, she wonders if this arrangement is healthy, but when she takes hold of herself and shakes some reason back into her sleepless brain, she recognizes what they have and how good they have it.
Her son is fine; he lacks for nothing. He has his mother; he definitely has his father. He is as fiercely independent and solitary as she is herself. Castle constantly talks about how alike they are-
Here she is again, repeating it to herself as if she's afraid it might not be true.
Because she is afraid, sometimes. Afraid that too much of what she *is*. . .isn't what her son needs from her.
But not today. Today it is still light outside, and the case is at rest within her, and she even thinks her mind is settled about that other thing Castle keeps bringing up-
It is settled. She thinks it's a good idea. Maybe once she's gotten enough sleep, it will even seem like a wonderful idea. Either way, it's a go. She'll tell him tonight.
Kate forgets to text the doorman for a head's up and realizes just as she rounds the last block and sees Castle's front door crowded with people - photographers, residents, construction workers - something must be happening. She doesn't want to wade into that one, so she turns back around quickly and heads for the side entrance.
She's got to dig into her oversized bag for the card key, fumbling in the pocket, her eyes alert to the city traffic. Her fingers brush the card and slide it out, and then she ducks under the awning that shades the side entrance.
It looks like a service entrance: about five steps down, recessed into something that looks like the cellar or basement for the building, the iron door rusty. No one ever seems to realize that the more well-known residents hastily sneak in and out of their building via this service entrance.
Kate hunches her shoulders and swipes the card along what looks to be like an old rusting padlock, but which hides an electric lock that pops the door open. She heaves it back, letting it catch on her shoulder as she swipes the card again-this time for the inner door that opens directly into the back elevator.
She steps inside and lets the iron door clang shut, pulls the elevator door closed herself, and then leans back against the chrome surface to rest for a moment. Every time she has a close encounter with paparazzi or fame-spotters, she has this absurd adrenaline rush, something she unfortunately realizes feels like fear, and she has to have a second to gather herself again. Ever since she had Dash, it's been like this. They usually show some mercy, and keep his face out of things, but they're relentless when they catch her and Castle together.
She flicks the key card over the panel and the elevator hums to life, lifting her up to the lobby. It will go no further, of course, it's not made to, and she steps out, hidden from the front lobby and the people outside, and pushes the button for the main elevator. The last photo they got was one of she and Castle holding Dash's hands as they swung him over a puddle just outside Central Park. Dash's back was to the camera, Kate's face was turned to look at her son, and Castle was looking at her. Castle called the gossip rag that published it and purchased the rights to the picture, then had it framed for her for Mother's Day a few weeks later.
This is her life now. Once inside the lobby elevator, she pushes the button Castle's floor and feels her chest easing a little more. She rolls her head on her neck to loosen the kinks and hears her vertebra pop in relief. She bounces a little on her toes to work out the tightness in her calf after the perp chase three days ago that still bothers her (she is not getting old; she must have pulled something) and then lifts her arms over her head and does a deep stretch, yawning.
Kate feels a hundred times better when the elevator doors open this time; she slips the key card back into her purse and fishes out her keys, smoothly inserting them into the lock.
She doesn't get the chance to do anything more because the door is being opened and Castle is beaming back at her with that pleasantly surprised look on his face.
"It's early!" He is still grinning, but now he's taking her keys from the door and dropping them onto the hall table, tugging her purse from her shoulder to leave it there as well.
"It is early," she echoes and smiles back at him, letting him also pull her jacket off and drop it on the floor-ignore that, you can pick it up later-and then he's tugging her straight into his arms for a tight, bone crushing squeeze. Just like she likes it. Tight and fierce, her shoulder blades practically touching, her toes just lifting off the ground.
Kate presses her nose into his neck and smiles, then puts her arms around him as soon as he eases up a little. "Missed you," she says and she knows that he knows she means it, means it more than just missing out on her family, but truly missing him, missing what he does for her at the 12th, missing what he does to her.
"Didn't Ryan and Esposito keep your coffee mug filled?" he murmurs back, cradling her skull in one of his broad hands.
"Yes," she says softly, the smile in her voice if not directly on her face. "Not the same."
"Momma!" comes an insistent yell, and then the bang of something hitting the table square on, the scramble of tiny, heavy feet against the wood floor, and Kate turns to watch him.
Her son is no longer clad only in a diaper (as he was in the video from mere hours ago), but it does look like he has picked out his clothes again. Blue plaid shorts with the Yankees logo on one leg, bright purple tshirt that says My mom kicks ass and takes names, and his Elmo slippers (which no one can get him to part with). Castle's done his hair up in spikes again, like a fauxhawk. He knows she thinks this is ridiculous, and she tosses an eye roll his way when she sees it.
"Dash," she says, grinning at him and squatting down to meet him with a hug.
Dashiell barrels into her, avoiding her outstretched arms to head butt her chest and roar like a lion. She rolls her eyes upwards-clearly intimating that this behavior is Castle's fault-and then grabs her son by the shoulders to put a stop to the head butting.
"Have you been dancing?"
"Uh-huh," Dash says, easily distracted, and begins weaving his head like a bird. "Good-good. Gooooooood."
He's a Castle all right. "I bet you are. Daddy put your video on the computer so I could see it at work."
"Gooooooood-" He's still yelling, crowing it in fact, and now he's running back towards the kitchen.
"Alexis is back there," Castle says as she stands to make chase.
Kate gives a sigh of relief and shakes her head at the boy's father. "You promise you're not secretly feeding him coke and pop rocks? I swear-"
Castle laughs and pulls her up in a one-armed hug, kissing her temple with gusto. "Where am I supposed to find pop rocks these days? But he comes by it honestly."
"Hmm, you haven't really met our mailman then, have you?"
He shoots her a faintly shocked, mostly proud look and laughs again. "You have a point." Because the weird kid who delivers their mail could definitely be a biological candidate for Dash's parentage, with his overeager chatter, singing at the top of his lungs to songs no one else can hear, and crazy high-top sneakers with their loud socks.
"You like Dash's shirt?" Castle says, waiting as she steps out of her shoes and kicks them towards the room. "Alexis found it."
"Seriously? She bought a shirt that says ass?"
"She did! I'm so proud!" He's standing with his hands on his hips like a superhero, probably unconsciously (though she wouldn't put that past him either), and she has a sudden urge to press her lips against his adam's apple.
But she's already pushed off her shoes, so she's got to step closer (causing the ball of her foot to pop with the release) and then stand on tiptoe to brush her teeth along his skin first, and then her lips find that spot on his neck.
He swallows hard and tilts his head down to nibble at the corner of her mouth before softly, softly kissing her. The softness is a sign, and she heeds it, working his mouth slowly, with tenderness now instead of ferocity, giving back what he seeks. She has learned this too, how to read Castle's mood and offer him a place to rest as well, a moment of soothing relief, before demanding intensity and heat.
Castle breathes shakily into her hair and suddenly crushes her against his chest, pressing his hips into her ribs, her feet trapped between his own. She holds him back, intense again but still, and her bared teeth press into his chest, just above his heart, before she presses her flushed cheek to his shirt.
"I love the shirt. And I'll be doing some of that ass-kicking tomorrow, thank you very much."
"Break in the case?"
"Just a stopping point. Still waiting for the mental break to come, but that's why I'm here now."
"So you can get back to work later?" he teases, and now the teasing sounds happy and genuine rather than lonely. She forgets that this makes him just as isolated as it does her, but in a different way. She likes to work alone, without distractions, but she wants him working the case alongside her, his clever remarks, his irritating charm, his leaps of insight. He hates working alone, despises being isolated, and wants to be around people-whether real life or fiction. Having an 18 month old puts a cramp in both of their styles.
"So I don't have to work alone," she says instead, because it suddenly seems important that she say how much she wants to be with him instead of without him. "So I don't do any of it alone."
"You won't," he says immediately and his hug this time is looser, more to his style, a snuggling kind of hug that presses warm points of contact all over her body. She likes these too, the cuddling Rick Castle, just as much as the knock-your-socks-off Rick Castle.
"Good. Stay right here for a minute longer, and then we'll go rescue Alexis from Dashiell."
Castle drops his cheek to the top of her head and hums a little, like a cat purring, which totally makes her grin like an idiot and her skin tingle. She burrows into his arms a little, nesting there, until her nose finds the opening in his shirt and presses against his undershirt. She takes a deep, long breath of him.
One arm around her waist, one arm along her back so that his hand can cradle her neck, her legs practically straddling one of his so that their hips are flush, and somewhere in the background, she can hear Dashiell singing an Outkast song only to interrupt it with unintelligible questions he demands answers to from Alexis.
"You'll never work alone," Castle says urgently.
"I know, I know," she murmurs back, eyes closed.
"I love you," again, and just as urgent.
"I know," she sighs and feels it reach her.
"But your son is going to be the death of me."
She bursts out laughing, breaking the spell and his hold on her, to laugh right into his amused eyes. "Daycare is looking more and more appealing, isn't it?"
He laughs back, but there's a reserve there again. She's pushing back, testing his boundaries; she knows that. It's mostly a joke, but in so many ways, she wants him back with her at the 12th. Back where he belongs. Can she really be jealous of her 18 month old son?
Yes. Most definitely. In her weakest moments. Kate resolves to put that jealousy away and firmly takes control over her still-struggling heart. "I have every faith in your ability to outlast an 18 month old."
He grins back and finally releases her completely. It's like she's come to him jagged or missing, and now he's releasing her back whole. Like finding a wounded sea gull on the Jersey shore during summer holiday and taking it in to nurse it through the break, then letting it go again on the beach. It's no wonder she can't keep away from him, no wonder she wants him with her everywhere. He does this to her. For her.
"So tell me about the dancing. How'd that start?"