by Sandiane Carter, and chezchuckles
Your heart is the only place that I call home,
I cannot be returned. . .
Just keep following
The heartlines on your hand.
-'Heartlines' Florence + the Machine
Rick Castle walks into the diner with a sense of foreboding, due in part to the conversation ahead of him and in part to the greasy smell of fried food. If Kate knew he was here, she would. . .
Yeah, see that's most of his problem. He has no idea what Kate would say. He's long ago resigned himself to the fact that Kate Beckett is a mystery he's never going to solve.
Jim half-stands as Rick approaches, gives him a firm handshake and a smile that's more in the eyes than on the mouth. A very Beckett kind of smile. Rick sits across from Kate's father and folds his hands over the tabletop.
"Good morning, Jim."
"I went ahead and ordered. Hope you don't mind," Jim says, sipping at his coffee. In front of the man is a plate of half-eaten scrambled eggs, bacon, and a couple sausages. "The waitress will be back around in-"
"No, thanks. I can't stay long. I've got to run get coffee and show up fashionably late to the precinct."
Jim cracks a half-smile at that and nods back. "So what did you want to talk to me about?"
Rick swallows and presses his palms flat against the table. "It's about the wedding."
Jim grins and chews slowly on his eggs, but nods his head at Castle.
"I don't know anything about your. . .finances sir. Just guesses based on the things Kate has said. And I know that usually, it's tradition that the bride's family pays for the wedding. But you have to - I mean, I want you to know that if there's anything she wants - anything at all - and you don't think it's in the budget-"
"No. Please. It's important to me that she gets anything she wants. Especially after this summer." He swallows hard and pushes through the flare of anxiety, hoping he's not overstepping by saying that to her father. "I want her to have the wedding she didn't even dare to dream about. But lacking that, at least let me offer to pay for whatever extra little thing she *does* want."
Jim regards him thoughtfully, chewing on a crispy piece of bacon. Rick doesn't drop his gaze, keeps his eyes on the man. He's proved himself to Kate's father before; he knows he doesn't have to prove himself again, but there's always this sense between the two of them that Rick is egging on Kate's need to bring justice to her mother's murder, that if it weren't for Rick, Kate would be in far less danger.
That's. . .there's some truth to that. He knows it. It's his fault she was shot at the beginning of this summer - he was the one to open her mother's case again, to push Kate right up to the brink of that rabbit hole.
But he takes some small comfort in the fact that Kate hasn't fallen through; he's kept her out of the worst of it. When he was finally allowed to see her in the hospital, she took one look at his face and told him that was it; she was going to get the sniper and then lay low for awhile.
Yeah, well, they haven't caught the sniper, have they? So Kate's not doing a whole lot of laying low.
"All right, Rick," Jim says finally, cutting into Castle's ever darkening thoughts. "If something comes up that we may not have the budget for, I'll let you know. I won't tell her it's you either."
He grins, relieved that Jim has agreed so easily. He takes a long breath and sits back. "Thank you."
"As thrilled as I am about my daughter getting married, I have to say this-"
"-I always thought it'd be you and Katie getting there first. Not little Bethie. Wanna tell me why that is?"
His heart pounds. "Sir, I'll marry your daughter the second she lets me."
Jim laughs and takes a long draught of his coffee, his eyes meeting Rick's over the rim. Castle clenches a fist on his thigh, tries to keep from thinking about how similar his and Jim's expectations are.
He thought he'd be marrying Kate long ago. But with the shooting, Kate has just. . .
"You might wanna rethink that, son."
"As soon as she lets you? You think Kate lets anyone do anything?"
No. Damn it.
"Maybe you should just ask her, see if she *wants* to." Jim gives him a long and thorough look that Castle can't help but freak out over. A little. Just a little inward squealing. Nothing too terribly girly.
"Does that. . .are you telling me that Kate's talked to you about. . .about marrying me?"
Jim's face shuts down. "I've been in AA too long to start betraying confidences now, Rick."
Yeah, but. . .but he just did. Didn't he? Even *saying* that he's not going to betray a confidence means Kate has talked to him. About marriage. About marrying Rick Castle.
"I haven't even. . .I don't even have a ring," he whispers, scraping a hand down his face. And speaking of Kate. "I gotta go. Sorry. Thank you. Uh. . ."
"Go, go," Jim laughs, his smile stretching across his face now, eyes and mouth both. "Get my daughter her coffee before she takes off someone's head."
Castle laughs, scrambles up from the table, shakes Jim's offered hand.
A ring. And. . .and a plan. He needs a plan. Actually, the ring is. . .she would want to look with him for a ring. She's said that before. Not in so many words, but when Beth showed up at their front door bubbling over about how Alex surprised her with this ring, Kate had said something very revealing about how funny that was, how she'd want to pick it out for herself.
Something like that. So he should-
Castle jerks out of his daydreaming and glances down. He's still slowly shaking Jim's hand. The man stands up, claps him on the shoulder with a wide grin.
"Son, you might want to start with coffee and work your way up from there."
Castle grunts a laugh and nods to older man. "Yeah. Good call."
Time to go meet Beckett. Think about rings later.
Kate is on the phone with the suspect's roommate, her forehead resting against her hand, when a cup of coffee makes an appearance at the edge of her vision. She looks up, meets the warm blue eyes of Richard Castle, and a smile relaxes her face, makes her realize how tense she's been.
"Yes, Mr. Murran," she tells the man on the phone, her whole body tingling under the steady gaze of her partner. "I understand that you don't remember that night very well. But if anything comes back to you, will you please give me a call? Your friend Rob could really use your help. Yes. Okay. Well, thank you anyway."
She hangs up with a sigh, and reaches for the coffee. Their case is not even close to unraveling; she'll take all the comfort she can get.
"Who was that?" Castle asks, settling down in his chair.
"Rob's roommate. Useless. Says he went to bed early that night, and he was asleep when Rob came home. But, and I quote, that doesn't mean anything because he's a very heavy sleeper. Awesome."
She takes a sip of coffee and swallows blissfully, letting the taste unfurl on her tongue, down her throat. Delicious.
Even through her half-closed eyelids, she notices that the happiness and excitement dancing in Castle's eyes seem to run deeper than his usual cheer. Something's going on with him. And she's seen that look before. Plotting. He's plotting something.
"Where have you been, Castle?" She asks in a nonchalant voice, turning back to her computer. "It's twenty past ten."
"Your many talents never cease to amaze me, you know? Not only can you chase down suspects in high heels and speak Russian - sorry, Ukrainian - not only do you know comic books and Forbidden Planet, but you can also tell the time. Skills, Beckett. You got mad skills."
She debates giving him a death glare, but decides it would still be too much acknowledgement. Eyes still on the screen, she says after a second, "I'm sorry, you were saying something?"
His lips quiver as he clearly holds back a smile, but he keeps silent. Somewhere in her mind, Kate makes a note of how skillfully he just eluded her question (mad skills indeed), but the buzzing of her phone keeps her from further investigation.
Laughter tumbles out of her lips as she reads Beth's text, and she half-consciously presses a hand to her mouth, as if to prevent it from happening again. She's aware of Castle's attention as she texts back, feels the weight of it on her skin, but she waits a few more seconds to explain.
Just to punish him for not telling her the whole truth before.
When she lifts her gaze from the phone, though, Rick is watching her with such love written on every line of his face, the earnest set of his brows, the close-lipped, tender smile, that she finds herself guilt-ridden and breathless at the same time.
"Beth?" He asks, and she nods, recovers the use of her tongue.
"Yeah. She, uh, she's begging me to join her and Alex's mom for lunch, and help find the 'perfect dress'. Apparently, shopping with Alex's mom is not going as well as she hoped. But at least she has Alexis."
"Remind me again why you're not there?"
Kate opens her mouth in protest, but she has to admit he has a point. She sort of backed out from the whole finding a dress process, because Alex's mom - Elise - and Beth get along so well, and honestly, shopping has never been Kate's strongest suit.
It might also have something to do with the fact that she can't look at a wedding dress without seeing Castle's face, and hearing his murmured words from months ago. Can I marry you first?
She's been ignoring them for a while, but it's more difficult when you're surrounded with wedding preparations. The words are nagging at her, demanding her attention like a child tugging on their mother's sleeve, and so... And so she bailed on her sister. Nice, Kate.
"I told her I'd join them," she eludes, meeting Rick's eyes. "You didn't have any plans for lunch with me, did you?"
Something crosses his face, a look that she cannot quite identify. It's not disappointment, it's not guilt... She can't put her finger on it.
Huh. And that was a lie. Interesting. The Castle she knows wouldn't miss an opportunity to make a dramatic statement about being neglected. Kate tilts her head, the question at the tip of her tongue; he beats her to it.
"Fill me in about the latest developments of the case?" He asks, standing up to get closer to the board. "Did you find anything useful this morning, or were you stalling until you could get my unique and illuminating input?"
She pushes her chair back and follows his lead, smirking.
"Oh, Castle," she breathes seductively in his ear when she's right next to him, eyeing his little jump of surprise with satisfaction, "We're so lost without you. The 12th precinct stops working when you're not here. Have I never told you?"
"Uh," he hedges, and swallows visibly, before his eyes fixate on something past her shoulder. "Um, Kate? Gates is looking at us."
She immediately takes a step back and straightens her spine, cursing inwardly at their pain in the ass of a new captain. Back to work.
"Okay. So, Esposito and Ryan talked to the victim's boss, and the guy said..."
The door of the restaurant opens, and the bell chimes gaily. Beth looks up, eager and a little desperate, but the short, portly man who has just come in is about as far from her sister as an elephant can be from a gazelle. She holds back a sigh. Alexis is watching her from the other side of the table; her laughing blue eyes see everything, even as she talks to Elise about her plans for university.
It's not that Elise is an evil woman. She's not. She is, in fact, quite the opposite.
Beth turns her eyes away from the door and glances at Alex's mother, warmth spreading through her chest as she notices the woman's attentiveness, the way she listens to Alexis. Elise has the same blue grey eyes as her son (or well, it might be more accurate to say Alex inherited them), the same easy smile. She's a little plump, but she wears it well, and it only adds to the motherly vibe that she gives.
Beth is grateful, she is, for the way Elise welcomed her into her family. Not once did she look at Beth like she thought you're not good enough for my son, not once did she comment on Beth's chaotic life to say anything else than, "It must be so interesting, having all these different experiences!" Elise is not perfect, but she might be the perfect mother-in-law. Or close.
And where Kate would probably feel smothered by Elise's attentions, where she would feel trapped by the woman's kindness and warmth, Beth drinks it in, and responds in kind. It's just who she is.
So, of course, when Elise asked Beth if she could come to the bridal stores, help her choose her wedding dress, the youngest Beckett didn't even consider saying no. What Beth didn't realize at the time, though, is that Elise has very decided taste in matters of dress, and they're not...exactly the same as Beth's. The woman means well, and at least she doesn't take offense when Alex's fiancé politely says no - thank God - but this morning has proved a trying experience.
The other thing Beth hadn't counted on is her own nervousness.
Somehow, the bridal shops have managed something that nothing else has before: they've made it real.
She is going to marry Alex Conrad. *Marry* him. In two weeks. She's been a little dizzy with that knowledge all morning, flutters in her stomach as she tried on dresses, and she wants to please everyone, wants Elise and Alexis to approve, wants Alex to be breathless when he sees her, and -
She doesn't even know what dress *she* wants anymore.
This is why she needs Kate. Kate will know.
The restaurant door chimes again, and this time Beth smiles in relief at the slim form of her sister, the sweep of dark hair, the confident stride.
"Sorry I'm late," the detective says, offering a smile round as she takes off her jacket, and takes a seat next to Alexis. "The captain called me into her office just as I was leaving, asking for an update. Hello, Elise."
"Hi, Kate. Lovely to see you," Alex's mother answers with a happy smile.
They've only met once before, because this summer, when Beth and Alex started planning the wedding and Beth got to see a lot of his family (his parents are divorced, but Elise remarried, which makes for some fun table arrangements), Kate had...her own stuff to deal with.
And yes, by stuff Beth means getting shot and recovering from a near-fatal injury. Even though she tries not to think of it this way.
"Have you ordered already?" Kate asks, looking at the menu.
"No, we were waiting for you," Alexis says. "But we do know what we're ordering."
"Don't feel rushed, though, dear," Elise adds graciously.
Beth sees her sister struggle not to roll her eyes, and a little smile plays on her lips. Suddenly she can't remember why she ever considered doing this without Kate.
"Okay, ready," Kate says after ten seconds of inspecting the menu, and she gestures to the nearest waitress. When they've all ordered, she turns to Beth with an ironic look in her eyes.
"So, Bethie. Two weeks before the wedding? You sure that's not too early to pick out your dress?"
Beth sticks out her tongue, which earns a laugh from Alexis and a smile from Elise.
"Plenty of time," she assures with a confidence she doesn't feel. "Can you stay this afternoon, though?" She asks more seriously. "Or do you have to get back to work?"
"I can stay for a while," Kate hedges. "I'll have to be back at the precinct by four, but I explained it to Gates, so it should be fine."
Should be: that means Kate's new boss didn't really agree to the whole thing, doesn't it? Beth bites her lip, swallows back the words that want out. She's never met Victoria Gates, but the little she's heard from Rick doesn't bode well in her opinion. Anyone too dumb to see her sister's value (or Rick's either) is an idiot in Beth's eyes.
"So, what stores have you been to so far?" Kate asks, turning her eyes to Elise as a way to include her in the conversation.
Elise is delighted, and she immediately starts a detailed list of the dresses Beth has tried on; the young woman only has to smile and add a few words here and there, especially since Alexis often jumps in with her own observations.
That leaves Beth with plenty of time to watch her sister as she inquires and talks and smiles, like nothing happened, like she didn't get shot in the chest four months ago, like she didn't almost die.
Oh, she is morbid today. But for some reason, all the wedding stuff brings her back to the very reason why she agreed to marry Alex, why she's foregoing all her new rules about taking it slow and waiting to see what happens. And that reason has everything to do with a certain sunlit cemetery, with the look on Rick's face as he sat in the hospital's waiting room. Aghast. Broken.
Not that Beth was faring much better herself.
She pushes back the memories, tunes back to the conversation, and lets Alexis's luminous smile drag her out of that funk, so uncharacteristic for her.
Kate's alive and well now. And she's helping Beth find a dress. A wedding dress.
Excitement bursts into Beth's chest, finally, and she lets herself revel in it for a while, bask in the soft glow.
She's getting married. Holy crap.
Kate follows her sister into the third bridal shop, knowing she's got to get it together and help Beth fend off Elise's thoughtful and rather, uh, traditional suggestions. But as she trails her fingers over the various choices, she can't help turning a little morbid.
She really thought Castle would've asked her by now. It's been. . .four months since she was shot at Captain Montgomery's funeral, four months since he cradled her in the grass, his voice cracking with grief as he begged her not to leave.
I love you Kate. Stay with me. We still have to get married, so you can't leave me now-
She feels even now the burn of pain in her chest, presses her hand against the surgery scar, rubs her thumb against the thickest part. What she remembers most were his eyes, anchoring her in the pained present, seeing her whole life flash in his eyes but being helpless to move, to speak, having to watch it all spill away.
The moment he said get married everything slowed down, drop by drop, until time itself arrested, stretched on forever until it was just him, Castle hovering over her, the force of his love a tourniquet.
She survived. She still finds that exceptional. Startling. The moment she woke, she saw it all in his face and couldn't breathe through it, couldn't hold it in. She felt like one of them needed to sob, but she didn't know who. So neither of them did. And the moment broke and fell away and never returned again.
She's so very grateful she was conscious for Alex's proposal. It was maybe the second time she woke after surgery, and Rick was sitting at her side, stroking her arm with his fingers, holding her hand, and everyone else was crowded inside as well, breaking all the rules. Her father was brushing her hair back and Alex was at the foot of the bed with Beth and Alexis, and he just-
Dropped to one knee. Took her sister's hand. Apologized for not having a ring, for not having a plan or words or even the best timing and-
Kate remembers Castle's hand gripping hers so tightly, remembers the tears burning in her eyes, remembers *that* as the moment when she was certain - when she was confident - that she was going to be fine. She was going to survive.
She lifts her lips as she watches her sister patiently but unenthusiastically regard Elise's fifth suggestion - an ivory gown with puffy sleeves. Kate bites her lip and turns back to the task, determined to put away her disappointment.
Kate sighs. Really, she keeps waiting for Castle to make some grand gesture. She doesn't want to take that away from him, not after he had such ardent and eager ideas about what was and wasn't acceptable in a proposal. But, damn, Castle. Hurry up already.
Oh, this one.
Kate stops before a display, blinks to clear the strange alternate visions from her eyes, studies the dress just behind the one on the mannequin.
"Bethie," she hisses, waving her hand for her sister to come over.
Beth extracts herself from Elise; Alexis comes up behind Kate and offers a little ohhh of approval.
"Oh my, Katie. You. I. That's it."
"You have to try it on first, silly." Kate makes a face at her sister and steps over to the dress, thumbs through the two or three behind it in varying sizes. Beth dragged them out of the last boutique and said she wasn't going back into a store that only carried size 0s and looked down on you if you didn't have an appointment or a bank account as fat as Castle's. So, off the rack it is. Probably a good idea with two weeks to go.
Kate pulls out an eight and glances over at her sister. Hmm. Maybe a ten. Kate and Beth are both just so tall, but Beth has curves where Kate does not. She grabs the six as well and hands all three of them to Beth. Better not insult Beth in case she's totally off. Right? Not the bride-to-be while she's shopping for her wedding dress.
"Here you go."
Alexis gives a little bounce on her feet, looking so much like Rick in that moment that Kate has to laugh.
Beth hooks her arm through Elise's to pull her into the group, smiling at Kate. "Okay, let's try it on."
Kate sits back in awe, stunned as her sister steps onto the dais in front of the mirrors and twirls.
Oh my God.
Her sister throws her a look over her shoulder, impish and vulnerable at the same time. Alexis stands up and clasps her hands - so cliche a response and yet, what else is there for it?
Beth's profile in the wedding gown is simply exquisite. Kate stands up from the viewing couch, Elise stunned into silence behind her, and approaches the mirrors, watching Beth smooth her hands over the dress.
The dress. Wow. Lace over silk in a straight line to the floor, a satin ribbon crimped under her breasts with a sprig of seed pearls in an irregular shape. The sleeves are simply a satin band with rosettes and scallops worked into the dainty, graceful lace that caps Beth's shoulders.
"Beautiful," Kate breathes.
Beth raises her arms and lifts her hair off her neck, draws the rubber band from her wrist to amass the curls in a loose knot at her nape. The strands that escape frame her face perfectly, highlight the angle of her cheekbones, offsetting the smooth line of her jaw.
Kate reaches out her hand and grasps her sister's, chewing on her lip, her chest tight and painful with love.
"Oh God, Beth. You're beautiful."
On her other side, Alexis leans against Kate's shoulder, drawing her arm through Kate's free one. "Alex is gonna fall over when he sees you walk down the aisle in this."
Beth's lips widen into a brilliant smile, all of her uncertainty and self-criticism disappearing. "Yeah. He will."
Kate lifts the hand tangled in Alexis's, touches the girl's cheek for a moment. Ever since Alexis saw her get shot, she's been so. . .needy. Kate doesn't know how to help, how to change it, how to make the young woman feel safe again.
Beth turns back to Elise, offers her an inclusive smile. "Well? What do you think, Elise?"
Alex's mother stands up, her hands pressed against her heart, tears in her eyes. "I'm so very grateful he found you."
Beth laughs, dashing her hand at the tears spilling out of her eyes as well, shaking her head at Elise. Kate grins at her sister, not at all surprised at Beth's emotion. She and Elise get along marvelously in that way.
"Me too," Beth says and shrugs her shoulders, causing the dress to flutter around her. "I want it. This is the one. Katie?"
She nods. "I've got Dad's card. I'll take care of it."
"Oh, but - I haven't even looked at the price. I don't know-"
"Bethie. Shut up and take it off so I can go pay for it." She stares her sister down with her best interrogation look. Alexis, still close at her side, nods to Beth as well.
No matter the limit on her father's credit card, no matter what her own bank account might say right now - and it's pretty depleted after those three months recovering, first in her father's cabin and then in the Hamptons with Rick - this is the dress Beth is getting.
Beth turns back to the mirror, taking a long look as if she might argue.
Alexis leans in close to Kate and whispers, "My Dad said she gets whatever she wants, Kate. I have his AmEx card with me. There's no limit on it."
Kate turns startled eyes to Alexis, blinks furiously to keep the emotion from overwhelming her.
She kisses Alexis's forehead. "Your dad is a very good man."
Yeah, he *is* good. Still.
Hurry up, Rick.