"Castle, hey," she said as she approached him. They stood awkwardly for a moment before hugging for a second.
"Why Detective Beckett, it's been a while."
"Sorry I'm late. There was an accident just near my place and-"
"It's okay, it's okay," Castle laughed. Even he could hear the nervousness in his voice. "Coffee?"
A couple of minutes later, they were sitting opposite each other at a little table, sipping coffees and maintaining an uncomfortable silence. "So anyway," she said, clearing her throat. "You wanted to see me?"
"Just to catch up. Actually, I wanted to give you something." Castle reached down beside him and brought up a brown-paper wrapped package. "Just, you know, kind of like a very belated 'get well' present."
"You know I've actually finished with all my treatment and everything, right?" she smiled, taking the package. She unwrapped it to reveal a hardback copy of Heat Rises. "This isn't due out for another month!"
"Nice fangirlish enthusiasm." She pulled a face at him. "I figured that you deserved an advance copy, seeing as you are the inspiration for the whole series."
Still smiling, Beckett eased the book into her bag. "Thank you."
"So if you've finished treatment-" Oh crap, here it comes, she thought. "-why aren't you back at the precinct? The new captain won't tell me anything."
"I've actually wanted to talk to you about that, Rick." She hoped that the use of his first name helped make him realise the seriousness of what she was about to tell him. "I'm not going back."
Castle choked on his coffee. "You're what?"
"I'm not going back. I've got a month left of sick days that I've collected over the years, then I'm handing in my resignation."
"I wanted to tell you sooner so you could start looking for a new subject for your books, but with everything as crazy as it's been, I-"
Why. The explosion of thoughts that had just occurred in his mind managed to convey themselves into a simple question. Simple? Not likely.
Beckett took a long sip from her cup. This was Castle. She'd planned on telling him this. But now that he was sitting right in front of her, she found that the right words were difficult to find. "I don't want to miss anything."
Castle stared at her blankly. "Miss anything?"
"I was dead for over a minute, Rick," she said quietly. "I was dead."
"You were in my arms. I know." Kate please...stay with me Kate...don't leave me...please...stay with me okay? Kate, I love you...I love you Kate... He shook the memory from his head and listened to her continue.
"I'm thirty years old, Castle. And what have I really achieved? My life has been my work. It took getting shot to make me wake up to that. I haven't done anything. No serious relationships, no whirlwind trips around the world, nothing. I've only ever been overseas for college. But I haven't actually experienced anything." She kept her eyes focused on the salt and pepper shakers that stood on the middle of their table, her now empty coffee mug sitting aimlessly in her hand.
"So you're leaving?"
"Castle, I…" She wondered how she could properly explain it. "Castle, you've done things. You've been married. You've got a beautiful daughter. You've been around the world and been places and done things. The only things I've-"
Castle grabbed her spare hand with his, grasping it in front of them. "I have to stop you there." He drew a breath. "I know I've only known you for three years, but…Kate, you've done so much. You've saved lives. You've given people peace. You've put unbelievably cruel people behind bars-"
"But that wasn't for me," she interrupted. She felt his hand shaking over hers. "I dropped everything in my life after my mother's murder. I switched my degree from Historical Literature to Criminology. I joined the Academy as soon as I could. All to solve that one case. I got swept up in the whole thing and I've spent over ten years working on crimes without really achieving anything for myself. I haven't solved my mother's case. I've just managed to get myself shot."
"I thought you wanted me to stop."
Castle let go of her hand and finished the last dregs of his coffee. "I didn't want you to stop."
"You said, in my apartment-"
"I wanted you to stop the obsession that was dragging you under. This fighter-pilot syndrome-esque fixation that was consuming you…I just wanted you to step back." He paused for a moment. "I think…you're one of the most extraordinary people I've ever met, Kate, and I mean that. The things you've seen, the things you do…it takes an amazing person to do that. You're still able to smile and laugh and joke about things despite seeing bodies splayed over footpaths, including your other mother's. But…that case…it was destroying you. You weren't smiling anymore. It was taking over again."
"Which is why I've made this decision."
Castle looked around, making sure no-one around them was eavesdropping. Luckily, the café they were in was packed with the usual mid-morning rush, so they were safe in their little corner. "I shouldn't have brought it up."
"I was the one who started this conversation," Beckett pointed out, confused.
"No, not this, I mean…" He let out a shuddering breath. He couldn't believe this was happening. A tirade of emotions was flooding him. Disbelief. Anxiety. But mostly – guilt. "I meant her case. The case. You told me not go look into it, and I did anyway. You'd put it behind you and I brought it out into the open. Two years ago, I made this huge mistake that resulted in you getting shot and now this. Kate Beckett, leaving the NYPD. I just…I can't even."
This wasn't going how she thought it would. Granted, she didn't really have an idea as to how he'd react to her resignation, but this certainly was a surprise. "Castle, this isn't your fault. None of it is. My mom's case always ate at me. Despite the therapy that I went through, which did help me put it behind me, it was always in the back of my mind. I would have opened it again one day anyway. You just happened to be the catalyst. But, on a personal level, you are not the reason for this. It's not your fault that I was shot. It's the son of a bitch who held the rifle and fired it. Okay?"
She could tell that he wasn't entirely convinced, but he nodded his head anyway. "Okay."
"I just want to get out there and experience some things. Like I said, holidays, marriage, a family. And I can't do that if I'm still tied to the precinct and the murders. I just can't. I need to do this."
Resignedly, Castle sighed. "Okay," he repeated.
He paid for their coffees and they left, walking down the street until they reached the corner. "I'm sorry to just dump this on you today," she apologised.
"It's okay." You're a writer, think of a new word, Castle. 'Okay' isn't exactly the sign of a good vocabulary. "You've been through a lot in the past few months. I understand."
"Really? Because you've face and tone say otherwise."
Castle pulled them off the kerb as a swarm of people made their way over the busy crossing. "Look, it's…I don't know what to say. I can't even picture the precinct without you, Kate, I-" He was interrupted by his phone ringing in his pocket. "Alexis…I should take this."
"Yeah, I should get going anyway."
"Come over for dinner."
He didn't know what compelled him to say it. It kind of spurted out without any forethought.
"Yeah. Alexis has been asking about you. She'd love to see you. And…it would be nice to see you again." It's been strange not seeing you every day like we used to. Now we're reduced to occasional texts. What happened to us?
"That sounds nice," she said, smiling at him again. He felt warm inside suddenly; her smile always made him happy. Especially in recent times.
"Excellent. Friday, 7:30?"
"Friday, 7:30. I'll be there." She touched his arm quickly as a goodbye gesture before crossing the street, barely making the green pedestrian light.
Castle finally answered his phone. "Hey daughter."
"We've got plans for Friday."