Where Were You?
Detective Beckett stood in her new dress blues next to Detectives Ryan and Esposito, also in their formal uniforms. This was their first time wearing them since the Captain's funeral. Richard Castle stood along with them in a black tailored suit, dark blue shirt, and black tie. But it was not the same suit from that funeral. That one would forever have Kate's blood on it, no matter how perfectly it had been laundered; he could not wear it again. Nor could he throw it away, for the exact same reason.
The team stood with thousands of New Yorkers and, actually, people from nearly every country on the planet. They stood in front of the newly completed Tower One, with its reflective glass matching the blue sky and a gigantic American flag hanging down its side. The Air Force Thunderbirds had flown over, Alan Jackson had sung "Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning," Giuliani, Bloomberg, and Cuomo all gave speeches, as did a firefighter who had been a first responder that day.
The brass band played "God Bless America" at the end of the memorial service. There wasn't a dry eye amongst the thousands.
The group of friends was like the rest of the crowd, not sure what to do with themselves once the service was over. They hugged everyone around them that they knew, shaking hands with those they didn't, and still ended up hugging most of them, too. Some of the cops, medics, and firefighters that they knew had been at Ground Zero ten years ago, and few of them had any semblance of composure.
The projector was still showing a slideshow of faces of the victims and first responders who had died trying to save them. Thousands of faces. Thousands of families who had a loved one ripped from them. An entire world affected.
Similar memorials were being held in a Pennsylvania field and at the Pentagon.
After what seemed like an eternity, the crowd began to disperse. Castle briefly considered asking them to the Old Haunt, but decided he wanted to be with his family instead. So did they.
There was no chance of a car being able to move through traffic, so they all walked back to the precinct. It was like being in a parade, the kind WWII soldiers got when they returned home, with civilians everywhere thanking them, just because they were in uniform. Except it wasn't joyful at all.
None of them spoke on the slow walk back to the precinct except to mumble heartfelt "you're welcomes" to the people they passed. Whether or not they had been there that day didn't matter. The sentiment was bigger than them as individuals. They intended to head up to the locker rooms, change clothes, and go home; but the mass of humanity outside was still so thick that they couldn't have pulled their cars out of the motor pool to drive home.
Castle stood in the break room, hands on the windowsill, peering out at the street below.
Beckett paused at the doorway, now in slacks and a blouse, just to watch him for a moment. It was rare to see him so still and quiet.
She joined him at his side and slid her hand from his shoulder to his hand, linking hers with his to give a gentle squeeze.
He still stared through the hazy glass. "Madness," he whispered.
They heard footfalls and a soft thud on the couch, then another set of footfalls, a metal chair slide on the tile, and a soft thunk. They turned to their friends. Ryan was sitting on the couch, head and shoulders sagging. Esposito was at the table, straddling the chair he turned backward, forehead on the tabletop.
Castle turned back to stare out the window, barely cognizant that Beckett still held his hand.
"Where were you… when it happened?" Castle's voice was quiet and directed at no one in particular.
They were all lost in memories of that day. Just another normal day. Until someone told them to turn on the TV. It didn't matter what channel. It was on all of them.
Esposito answered first, just as quietly. "Saudi. Playing cards. Worn out from football that day. It had been unusually quiet. Everyone knew that probably meant something big was coming. We just expected it to be over there, you know? In the sandbox. It was the middle of the night. A private ran in and told us there was an attack. We perked up, wondering how close, and if we were supposed to gear up. 'No,' he said. 'Home. New York. They flew planes into the World Trade Center. They're burning.' We were in the Comm tent so fast, and there was already a crowd. We watched the Pentagon footage. And the towers falling. And wasn't a damn thing we could do about it. Then Flight 93 went down in the field… that was headed to Washington."
His breathing was labored, heavy with emotion. "We were mad as hell, aching to find the bastards and kill 'em all. But we didn't know who did it. There was no doubt that it was Saddam or Al Qaida or both. Saddam was as bad as Stalin, massacring his own people. We had to go after them. But I always felt guilty. What we were doing was right. But it felt like… this is my city. I was there, not here. I couldn't help here. My family. My friends. I couldn't hold them. I couldn't help people out of the…"
He paused and took a deep breath. "I'm glad they're dead - Hussein and Bin Laden... But this is my city. That's why I'm here, and not still in the service."
"You couldn't have helped anyway." Ryan's voice quivered. "Being over there at least helped find justice. Being here… I had just been told I'd be moving from being a beat cop to vice. I knew detective was the next step. A few years off, but a sure bet. We'd been celebrating the night before, and I wasn't on shift. I was sleeping it off on my brother's couch when his wife screamed. I got my uniform on and got there as fast as I could. Traffic had stopped, so I ran. Firefighters were running in, telling us to help the medics set up triage tents and identify people and help contact their loved ones. At first, people evacuated. But not many. The people on lower floors didn't really know what was going on. Cell services were already overloaded, so they weren't getting the calls telling them to come down. The ones above went to the roof. Some jumped. Some people climbed out onto window washer platforms. Then the towers fell. Loud. It was so loud. We had the tents ready, the EMTs, the doctors and nurses. And they didn't come. Almost nobody came out. They were all dead. Thousands, just like that. They were all dead. I knew some of them. One of the firefighters was my cousin. Then the priests came. They were the only ones who could help them. Last rites over a burning pile of rubble."
Beckett walked over to put her hands on his slumped shoulders. He didn't even bother wiping the tears from his cheeks.
Castle still faced the window. "I was home. I'd just gotten back from dropping Alexis at school. She was in second grade. I heard it. I watched them fall from my bedroom window. The dust cloud was enormous. I couldn't get in touch with her school. I thought it was far enough away that her classroom windows hadn't been shattered, but I wasn't sure. So I ran. I had to get to her. It was so hard to breathe in the ash. Nothing looked the same... She was safe, but terrified. They all were. And crying. And they wanted their parents. I knew… I knew some of their parents worked there. It made me sick. I knew some of those babies had just been orphaned."
His eyes were red and shining; his voice was thick. "My baby wanted her mommy. The phones weren't working. I just took her out of the city as fast as I could. When we got to the Hamptons, the landlines were working. It was late at night when we finally got hold of Meredith. She'd been freaking out all day; the not knowing. She said everybody out there knew somebody here, and no one could get in contact. That the whole country was waiting, hoping to hear from us. She said that filming stopped. Everyone just waited. The phone would ring, someone would get called to it, and either they would cry out in relief that the voice on the other end was the person they loved, or they would just cry.
Alexis begged her to come back to her, to us, and move back home to stay. She said no. 'Daddy's got you. I've got work here to do. But I'll come visit.' And she did. She came as quickly as she could - which wasn't that fast since air travel was shut down. But I knew Alexis needed something more permanent. Gina and I had been on a few dates; we worked well together. Alexis needed someone she could count on. So, as soon as Meredith left a few days after, I bought a ring and rented a hot air balloon. The clerk at the jewelry store said that they had sold more engagement rings in the past few days than they had in the past six months. It was like, displaying to them that they couldn't take our lives. We would keep going, and they wouldn't win."
They all nodded. The terrorists killed a lot of people that day, but they also made all the other people realign their priorities and take stock of what really mattered. They didn't win.
"What about you, Beckett, where were you?"
"Fighting with my father. I had graduated and had an internship lined up. But I couldn't make myself go. I had just told him that I would be starting at the police academy the next week. He got drunk, again. 'Why, Katie? I can't lose you, too.' It had been almost two years since my mother was killed. I had promised her that I would finish school, no matter what. But I couldn't let it go. I just couldn't move on. I had to figure it out. I had to stop it from happening to other people. My father didn't get it. He said I was being reckless. It didn't matter to him that the lady at the personnel office had promised that, with my education, I'd skip being a beat cop and could start in vice or homicide. That I'd be on a fast track to detective. He just knew I'd get myself killed.
The Today show was on. Matt Lauer was saying it looked like a small plane had accidentally crashed into one of the towers. I told my dad to shut up and turned up the TV. Whoever Matt Lauer was interviewing was out on the street, saying, 'No. It was a big plane.' Then the second plane hit. That's when we knew it wasn't an accident. I was too far away to walk or run to get there. I couldn't help. I cried. I told him I needed to help. Couldn't he see that? I needed to help. The posters and signs, the constant thanks people were giving the police and EMTs and firefighters over the next few weeks… my father felt that, too. The pride in how the city - the country - was pulling together, he didn't fight me anymore. He told me he was proud of me. He came to my graduation from the academy, just as proud as he was at my college graduation. And he was completely sober that day, for the first time in two years."
Castle watched the crowd below thin and announced they could finally head out. They all hugged tightly, as family, walked down the stairs together, and separated to go hold their biological families. Castle to his mother and daughter, Esposito to his mother, Ryan to his parents and sister, and Beckett to her father.
We will not forget. God bless America.