One more walk around the block, and Kate would call it a night. Just one more hour on the streets, breathing in the smoke and danger, the people and the lights. Before she was sent upstate to college, and forced away from New York City.
Her mom and dad were so happy she was staying instate. Mainly because they shuddered to think what kind of trouble Kate could get into if she went further afield. Once again, she felt that little twist of resentment in her stomach: Jim Beckett had put his foot down, and Johanna hadn't intervened. Stanford was a dream Kate would never reach, and her parents had done all she could to keep it that way.
One day, she was going to leave New York. She'd be a singer in Chicago, Paris, maybe London. She'd travel and not give a rat's ass about her mother's cases, or her dad's opinion on her hair, make-up and boyfriends.
She was walking along in a kind of daze, watching the moon appear and then disappear again behind the buildings. She didn't notice the man walking right toward her, eyes firmly planted on the ground.
"Ow!" she cried, as she crashed headlong into him, "Watch it!"
"Me?" he stared at her, "You were the one off in your own little world!"
Ah, now this was what she needed. A good fight to get her blood flowing, chase away that stupid melancholy she'd been indulging in. "If you hadn't been obsessed with your shoes-"
"Oh, like you've never seen the moon before!" he retorted, then paused, the annoyance draining from his face.
"What?" Oh, don't wuss out on me now. Call yourself a New Yorker? "Did I hurt your feelings, pretty boy?"
"I'm sorry, I'm not going to take my angst out on random women. I should've looked where I was going."
The sudden change in demeanor took Kate by surprise and knocked the fight out of her, "Well, then. Okay." she leaned back, out of his face, and took a good look at him. Floppy hair; wide, open face; expensive but not flashy clothing. He was young, no more than six or seven years older than she was. She recognised him, and wondered for a moment if he was maybe one of those Wall Street whiz kids, who made their money on the stock market and were millionaires at twenty-five.
Then it hit her, and she grinned, "I know who you are."
His face broke into a huge, cocky smile, "Really? Who am I?"
"You're Richard Castle: your face is plastered all over the back of the book my mom never shuts up about."
"Clearly a woman of great taste." That smile never wavered, and it was pissing Kate off, "What was your favorite scene?"
"I haven't read it."
"And then you decide to walk headlong into me. Tell me, are you looking to ruin my night even further than it already was, or are you just exceptionally talented?"
"Listen to you! What happened, middling review in the New York Times? Wrong champaign at your book launch?"
"How about you? Do you always pick fights with strangers in the street or am I special?" Their voices were rising, but the street was dark and empty, their words bouncing off the buildings on either side.
"You know nothing about me!" She yelled, right back up in his face, "You know what? I'm stuck in this state, in this country because my parents don't trust me. I screw up a little bit in high school and suddenly I'm trapped forever! So excuse me if I'm not fawning at the feet of someone who can leave any time he damn well wants to."
"You're stuck in the city? At least it's New York, not some nowhere town in Wyoming."
"Worse: I got into Vassar, which is awesome and everything, but it's two hours away."
"Far enough to not be home, close enough to be nowhere new." he nodded, understanding, and Kate felt weirdly comforted.
"Yeah, exactly." She breathed in, suddenly uneasy with the weird little intimacy that had formed, "So what're you doing out picking fights?"
"I didn't pick a fight."
She rolled her eyes, "Fine, let me rephrase: what's a bestselling author like you doing alone, walking around not looking where he's going and, and I quote, 'angsting'?"
"You haven't read A Rose For Everafter?"
"Only the first chapter."
He nodded, "Did you read the dedication?"
The pieces clicked in Kate's head, and suddenly everything else became clear. The bags under his eyes, a little red-rimmed, his easy irritation and the downward slant to his lips. "She broke up with you."
"Cigar for the lady. She jetted off to God-knows-where, said she needed space."
"Kyra Blaine, right? Wow, that sucks. Did it happen tonight?"
"About a week ago. This walk is almost routine now. Well, it was until I was accosted." he gave her a cheeky little smile, and she had to smirk. He really was ruggedly handsome, and obviously knew it.
Their moment - which included them staring at each other and smiling for a little longer than was entirely usual - was interrupted by her pager. She glanced down at it, beeping away, and realised she hadn't told her mom she was going out. Then she looked at her watch. Ten-thirty pm, and she had an early morning the next day.
"I really have to go."
"Yeah, I should get on with my moping. I think the 'anger' stage is supposed to come next."
"Right there with you, Rick." she grinned, widely, and he joined in.
Then she turned on her heel and walked away.
She made it about ten paces before she heard his voice, "Wait!"
She didn't even turn. "What?"
"You know my name: what's yours?"
She turned to look at him, grinning still, "Kate Beckett!"
Two years, three months later:
After the funeral, Kate didn't go home. She didn't go back to college, because she was on official bereavement leave and it was too far away anyhow. She just got her bike from the storage space under the apartment building and started riding.
She did two laps of Manhattan before she realised she needed something faster. An hour later and she was on the highway, breaking every speed limit possible, deaf to all but the roar of the tires on the tarmac, blind except for the curves of the road. Sensible enough to not kill herself, to keep her heart beating in some semblance of life.
She was lucky, really, that the road narrowed and she had to slow down. Only from 70 to 50 mph, but it was enough. So that when the car in front braked suddenly, she didn't hit it with deadly force.
She was thrown from her bike and into a ditch on the side of the road. She was almost obscenely lucky: there were bushes at the bottom which broke her fall. Her bike was sent skittering off across the other side of the road, out of sight.
Kate's head reeled as she lay there, stunned, unable to think or move from shock.
"Miss? Can you hear me? Miss?" a voice drifted from above her, a concerned face in the dark, hovering above her like some bruised angel.
"Huh?" she shook her head, but that just hurt even more so she stayed still as the man pulled off her helmet, and the cold air hit her face in a rush.
"Kate?" she was starting to come to, a little bit, enough to wonder how long she'd been lying there, wherever she was. The voice was startled now, and familiar.
"You hit me. You rammed into my car with your bike."
"Yeah…" she couldn't quite remember: all she had were flashes of speed and lights rushing past. Then pain, an awful lot of pain.
"Can you hear me, Kate?"
"Who…" she coughed, and it hurt like hell, "who's there?"
"It's Richard Castle. Come on, Kate, you know me. Remember? That night years ago? We had a screaming match in the street."
Then she passed out.
Rick watched over the girl in the ditch, unconscious and barely breathing, and a rush of relief ran through him when he finally heard the sirens as the ambulance arrived. Alexis, only a year old and crying in the front of his car, enjoyed the attention she got from the paramedics, who made a fuss of her and let her ride in the ambulance, so long as Rick was within her eyesight.
They stuck with Kate on the way to the hospital, and Rick held her hand the whole way. It was absurd, really, how much he cared what happened to her. He just knew that something about her had changed from the girl he'd met years ago.
Two years of book signings, marriage, parenthood and divorce later and he still remembered her. There had been something so… alive about her, like a force of nature, like a fire that couldn't be controlled, even by parents keeping her instate.
Now she was broken, lying on a gurney with an oxygen mask on her face, lucky to be alive at all.
One day, they would see each other painlessly.
When she finally came to, hours later, he was who she saw. "What're you doing here?"
"You decided your bike wanted to be friends with my car."
"And landed in a ditch."
"Your dad's on his way."
"Oh, God." she started to cry, small tears turning into huge wracking sobs as the moments passed.
"Hey, hey," he wrapped his arms around her shoulders, pulling her fragile body so he could hold her properly. She clung to him, as if they'd been friends for years rather than a few moments here and there, "the doctors say you're going to be fine. A concussion and a broken arm, that's all. You're fine."
"How could I do this?"
He was about to say something funny about motorbikes being deathtraps until he saw her face. She was despairing, guilty, horrified and ashamed all at once. "What's wrong?" she didn't reply, just kept sobbing into his shoulder, "Kate, what did you do?"
"It was my mom's funeral. This afternoon. And now he has to see his daughter in a hospital bed and it's my own fault."
"Oh. God, I'm so sorry." she was calming down a little, but he didn't think it was a release from pain. It looked like she was still sobbing wildly inside, and the calm was all pretense. "What happened?"
"She was stabbed. A random mugging gone wrong."
A haggard man, unshaven and a little drunk, appeared in the doorway. "Katie?"
She sniffed, and Rick watched as a wall came up in her eyes, masking the hurt he'd just seen. "Hi, dad."
He was holding her within moments, and Rick moved out of the way. He heard Alexis, bored of the nurse who'd been entertaining her, crying for him and started to move to the door. He was in the doorway when he heard Kate's father behind him.
"You found her?"
"She hit my car." he explained, "frightened my daughter in the process. I called the ambulance."
"And you waited?"
"Of course. I'm a father too, you know. If anyone left my girl in that state…" he broke up, suddenly feeling an echo of what the man must have felt. Wife dead, daughter in the hospital. That he was still breathing and capable of conversation was amazing. "She's going to be fine…"
"Jim." he supplied, "Jim Beckett. I know you, you're Richard Castle, Katie's favourite."
Kate actually looked embarrassed for a moment, before curling back into her father's embrace. Jim's attention turned back to her entirely, and he only looked up once more to Rick, "Thank you."
Rick nodded, and headed out to attend to Alexis.