Title: Follow Me Through the Rain
Pairing: Castle/Beckett; with very minor mentions of Alexis/OC and Esposito/Lanie
Summary: Several years into the future the man ultimately responsible for Johanna Beckett's murder is on trial. But for Castle and Beckett, the state of things is not how either of them thought it would all turn out.
Categories: Angst, romance, humor, cold case murder investigation
Word count: ~33,000 (12 chapters total)
A/N: Massive thank you to mrspollifax for her beta work and incredible support, love you! Thanks also to arafel_sedai for sharing her knowledge of law enforcement protocol and her encouraging words along the way while I wrote the first draft.
Rick Castle finds a seat in the back row of the packed courthouse. The crowd is so full of anticipation about the likely testimony that it seems to be alive around him, buzzing like insects on a hot summer evening. Most in the courtroom are here because they're lawyers involved in the trial, reporters that have been keeping the two-week long trial in the headlines every day, family members affected by the tragedy of the case, or members of the general public—and there are many that have become obsessed with this case— that have scored one of the precious remaining up-close views of the live action. Castle knows someone who knows someone, and that's how he's gotten one of the final empty seats.
After sitting down, Rick scans the crowd and finds her. She is up near the front with the other families of the victims. Her head is bent forward, attention on something in her hands and out of his view. He wonders if it's a picture of her mother, or perhaps something sentimental like a piece of jewelry. It's hard to think about Beckett being sentimental. She doesn't often give in to such emotions, and the few times he's seen her do so are memories he doesn't want to reflect on. They are memories of her in moments of softness, when they were close. When he was close to having everything he ever wanted.
Today's the day when evidence will be presented that is widely believed to be the proverbial final nail in the coffin of the bastard seated at the defense table surrounded by his high-powered lawyers. Rick doesn't look at him, doesn't even want his mind to go there. But there's a nagging little voice inside that persists in asking who he's really here because of— Beckett? Or the man defending himself from, among other things, murdering Beckett's mother?
The gavel bangs, bringing the crowd to hushed silence. The first witness of the day is called.
Partway through the long session, his mind starts to drift. Then his eyes skitter over to her. It's not like this is the first time that he's seen her since… before.
"I don't understand what you're saying, Esposito."
"Castle, when they process evidence sometimes they use the on-file samples of the various beat cops and detectives at the scene to rule us out, and you too, since you're often there. This time… it's not your DNA, but it's a very close match, a family member."
"But this case ties into… I mean, the test has to be wrong. There's no way that you think my mother was involved in Johanna Beckett's murder, and Alexis was a toddler when—"
"No, Castle. Not a female member of your family."
Beckett is across the squad room. She turns for a moment, and the look on her face—
Castle pushes back the memory, buries it deep before it can do more damage than it did living through it the first time. But despite his best efforts, he can't help glancing over at the defendant's table.
Nail in the coffin, for everything that he's destroyed.
Castle enters his loft and takes a moment to relish the blissful air conditioning. It's mid-June, and in New York that's often the cool part of the summer, slowly building the heat as it slides into July and August. But not this year. This year, May ended with record temperatures, and the heat seems to be happily settled in and ready to remain indefinitely, like an annoying family member overstaying their welcome.
"Mother?" he calls out, dropping his keys and cell phone on the kitchen island. "Mother, are you here?" he tries again for good measure, before breathing a sigh of relief at the lack of reply.
It's good, because he really isn't in the mood to deal with her right now. Their relationship has mostly remained the same following the events of last fall—the solving of the case and all the other revelations that went along with it. But now that the trial is happening, there's a strain between Castle and his mother that he really does not want to think about. Certainly not this evening, when he'd like to put everything out of his mind, have a nice scotch, and relax with a good book. It had been a long day of testimony and he wants to forget about that too. The only saving blessing was that Beckett didn't seem to notice he was there as a spectator in the courtroom today.
The name reverberates though him. It's like a rickety, wobbly bridge with its ability to make his legs rubbery and his balance all out of whack.
He shrugs off his sports jacket and drapes it over a chair as he moves further into the apartment. He unbuttons the cuffs of his shirt and rolls them up, then plops onto the couch. The peaceful quiet lasts all of about a minute before a key turns in the lock.
"Dad, I didn't think you were going to be home."
He turns his head, "Disappointed?" he teases, hopeful that he keeps all trace of relief out of his voice that it's his daughter and not her grandmother coming though the door. He's happy to have Alexis interrupt his quiet anytime. "What are you doing here if you didn't think I'd be around?"
"I need a book, and I can't find it. I thought I left it here."
"Book? As in school book?" She nods while sitting down across from him. He says, "Need I remind you that you are out of school for the summer? And you don't need more learnin' because you are already the smartest, most capable intern of any intern at any law office in the city. No, make that the planet. Wait, possibly of the entire known universe."
"Dad," she keeps her eyes from rolling, but not the sentiment from her tone. "They let me sit in on a conference call today discussing a very interesting case, and I remembered last spring that I had a class where we talked about a similar issue in an Arkansas Supreme Court case. I want to look it up. Maybe I can contribute something."
She's only just finished her junior year in undergrad. But leave it to his daughter to want to keep up with the law school kids she's interning with over the summer. She still isn't sure what aspect of criminal justice she wants to pursue, and this summer experience is going to go a long way in helping her figure it out. Plus, it'll look good on her resume once she does decide. They'd talked about it at length. The only part not discussed was that her internship happened to be at the exact same law firm where Johanna Beckett used to practice.
He wondered if Alexis knew that. He wondered if Beckett had a hand in it? He wasn't ever going to ask.
"What about you?" she adds, pulling him out of his reverie
"It's Thursday. Isn't this usually the night that you're at the bar looking over the books or whatever it is that you do there?"
"Usually, but not tonight."
She sighs in that way, that grown up part of her that is wise beyond her years. The part that was increasingly prominent these last few years.
"You could call her, you know."
He has to back pedal for a moment, because there is just no way that his little girl is that smart or intuitive or knew about the complexity of some kinds of relationships. But she does.
"She wouldn't mind," Alexis continues. "I think she'd like to hear from you."
There's also no doubt who they are taking about.
"She would?" he somehow manages to ask, because he's sure Alexis is mistaken. "Did Beckett say that?"
Now Alexis does roll her eyes. "Dad, I left high school a couple of years ago. I refuse to pass notes in study hall or ask her questions on your behalf. You deal with this. I'm just saying, hasn't it been long enough? Don't you think it's time you talked to her about it?
"Didn't you have a book to find or something?" he counters. He's being less mature than she is, but that's nothing new.
"You're going to see her Saturday anyway."
Saturday? Oh, right. Saturday. The thing at Esposito and Lanie's. Turns out that Esposito's mom is a devoted Catholic, so when the kid was born a couple of months ago, the new proud grandma began asking when the baptism was being held. Saturday is the baptism celebration for grandma, and for all the rest of their family and friends it's the non-denominational celebration of "Can you believe we actually had a kid?"
In retrospect, he should have realized that Beckett was planning to be there.
"So," he clears his throat, "want to share a cab on Saturday?"
Alexis gives him a look, and Rick is mildly happy that it appears her annoyed teen years aren't entirely behind her yet. "I'm going upstairs to look for my book. You can order us some dinner. I'm thinking Chinese."
"Moo shoo pork it is." Anything to change the subject.
Kate doesn't know why she's here. Well, no, that's not entirely true. She's here because she might run into Castle, and wants to, actually. But what she doesn't know is why she wants to see him, or even how she feels about it? After all these months she's suddenly compelled to face him even if he doesn't want to face her, and she's here to demand… what exactly? Yeah, she really has no idea what she's doing here.
At one time, unless it's changed recently, Castle's routine was to come to The Old Haunt on Thursday nights. Sometimes he'd stop by on other nights too, but always on Thursdays. Keeping an eye on the place, he'd say. But here Kate is on a Thursday night, sitting at the bar, sipping a vodka martini, and there's no Castle. At least according to the kid working behind the bar tonight. She considers whether Castle would actually hide in the back and tell his bartender to lie for him. She hopes it hasn't come to that.
"Did he say why he wasn't going to be here tonight?" she asks the kid. He shrugs his shoulders, giving the universal gesture for "Who knows?" and moves on down the bar when he's flagged by another customer looking for refills.
Kate stares down into her drink. It was a stupid idea to come here anyway. She'll finish her drink and then go home. Alone. To get up tomorrow and face another day in the courtroom, watching a trial that is meant to bring her justice, to bring relief that it is all finally over. But she only feels numb these days.
She saw Castle today in court, in the back, but knew somehow he thought he was staying out of her sight. Did he have any idea that was worse? That dropping out of her life was one thing; silence she could deal with. But to see him and know he's keeping his careful distance hurts far more. She assumes that he has no idea, because Castle would never, even now, knowingly hurt her. But she is puzzled why he was there. He's made it clear that he doesn't want to, or can't, face her. So she assumes it's for another reason, and that's when the thought stabs her. He's there for… the defendant.
She picks up her glass and knocks back what remains of her drink. As she starts to stand up, a man puts a hand on her arm and she says, "Castle?" before she looks up. But it's a stranger's face.
"Hi, I'm Steve, and I was wondering if I could buy you a drink?"
"No, thanks." She can't shake the fact that she was so hopeful there for a moment, longing for it to be him. "I was just leaving."
"That's a shame. I really would've liked to get to know you a little." Steve looks like a nice man, and her lack of any interest in a good-looking man like Steve should be a concern. She's a walking commercial for the pharmaceutical industry: "Do you wind yourself up? Do you have a lack of interest in…?" But if anyone deserved to be not completely OK right now, well, she sort of wears it like a badge where the real one used to be.
"I've got an early morning tomorrow at work." It is a lie; she's on disability leave through the remainder of the trial, and if there is one, though the sentencing hearing as well. If there's not a sentencing hearing, she's not sure what she'll do.
"I understand." He smiles at her and she tries to return it.
"Maybe some other time," she says, taking her purse and heading toward the door.
Yep, it should say something to her. She has spent her evening in a bar waiting for a man that doesn't want anything to do with her, and she doesn't have any interest in the available men. Kate Beckett's life is going just great these days, thanks for asking.
As it ends up, Alexis is busy Saturday morning helping a friend with some minor emergency, which Castle assumes to mean someone broke up with someone else and his daughter is needed to console. It also means Alexis cancels at the last minute, and it leaves him attending the non-baptism on his own. Lanie answers the door; Castle gives her a kiss on the cheek in greeting.
"How's mama doing?" he asks. She's only recently started back at work after her maternity leave.
"Mama is doing just fine. It's daddy that's in trouble."
"As it should be."
Lanie smirks, "A flag football game turned into a tackle game, and my nieces and nephews are winning. You best go out back and help him."
"Alexis is sorry that she couldn't make it, but she got something from us," he hands over a package. "She also told me to take lots of pictures with my phone and send them to her later."
"I'll be sure to call and thank her." With that, Lanie shoos him out the back.
Sure enough, there's a pile of various kids on top of Esposito in the yard. Ryan is standing next to them, doing nothing to help. One of the kids suddenly pops up and goes running off with the ball and all the others go running after him. Castle reaches down to give the now abandoned Esposito a hand in getting up.
"That is not how you play football," he says, wiping grass off his pants. Ryan is trying not to laugh. "I'm telling you," Esposito drops his voice quieter and looks around to see if any of the rest of Lanie's family can hear them, "those kids are a nightmare. They're pint-sized devils."
"Yeah, sure," Ryan replies, while giving Castle a knowing look. "We believe you."
"They're evil." Then Esposito changes the subject, "How's it going, Castle."
"Yeah, man," Ryan offers a handshake. "Good to see you. It's been a while."
"You both should come over for poker sometime soon."
Ryan glances over at Esposito. "I don't know, think you can get away for a night from the old ball and chain… and now another ball."
"Oh, like you're any different," Esposito throws back.
Castle is trying to be subtle about it, he's using their back and forth as cover so he can get a good look around. He doesn't see Beckett, but that doesn't mean that she's not here already. It's a big crowd; some are sitting in the shade under the tree, some manning the grill and helping themselves to beer in the cooler. The kids have made another play in their version of the football game, which is mostly about running around and screaming. But as far as he can see, no tall brunette, and it bothers him that he breaths a little easier.
This is the woman Castle once believed he could never get enough of seeing. He thought perhaps, if he played his cards right, maybe one day he'd convince her to be more than just friends. Now he isn't even sure how to handle a casual conversation with her at a backyard barbeque.
He needs a moment, so he makes some excuse and slips away from the guys, making his way back inside. The living room is empty and he stands in the middle of it for a minute. He needs to pull it together, to put the proper mask on before she arrives. He's determined to make it easy on her, if that's even remotely possible. How can she look at him and not be reminded of the worst thing that's ever happened to her?
It feels like the bottom drops out of his stomach. He spins around and she's there, standing in the entry to the room with a gift-wrapped box.
God, this is harder than he thought it was going to be. His eyes want to sweep over her, take in every detail like a soldier going off to war knowing that it's going to be a long and terrible time before he gets to see this again, if ever. He wants to do something, say something, but instead he finds himself stock-still.
"It's good to see you," she finally says. Her hands are fidgeting with the bow on the top of the gift. "How are you doing?"
"Fine," he responds, the automatic answer coming out before he'd realized he'd spoken. "And you?" He regrets it immediately. How do you think she is, Rick? She's dealing with… He mentally slaps himself. "Sorry, I mean…"
"It's OK, Castle."
Are those tears starting? 45 seconds in his presence is enough to make her cry? It's all wrong, and it breaks him up inside because he wants to be the one to make it better, not worse.
"I saw you," she sounds strong, but he knows she's covering. "In court the other day."
"You did?" He'd tried so hard to keep out of sight. "Sorry, I just—"
"Quit apologizing Castle, I get it."
"You do?" Because even he didn't fully understand.
She glances down and then back up, meeting his eyes again. As if she decided that she's not going to hide from this, she'll pull herself up and face it straight on. "Of course you want to be there. You can't help the fact that he's your…"
She doesn't say it, but it hangs there in the room. If it were real and tangible, Castle is sure that it would be a gulch widening ever further between them.
"That's not why, Kate." He needs her to know this, needs her to understand that he never, ever wanted it all to end up like this. "I don't even know him."
But she surprises him; instead of running from the room she crosses it. "I know this isn't easy on you either."
He's not sure how to handle being this close to her. The temptation to touch her is overwhelming after the long drought, but he knows he can't.
"Kate, I was wondering… Oh." Lanie stops short at the sight of them. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to—"
"It's OK," Beckett turns. "I was just leaving. I only came to drop off a gift. I have… I have a thing today that I can't miss."
Lanie nods, as if she already knew this information, so Castle assumes the last bit was for his benefit. It's almost like Beckett doesn't want him to think it's his fault that she's leaving, like she wishes that she wasn't. He's not entirely clear on what just happened here.
Lanie gives them both the once over and walks with Beckett toward the front door. It's that knowing look on Lanie's face that lingers with Castle the remainder of the day. It tells him that for being a famous mystery novelist, he's missing something, and it troubles him. He thought he already knew how his story with Beckett ended, but perhaps he was wrong?
Once the trial is over, he promises himself, he'll re-evaluate, maybe even give her a call at the risk of whatever fallout might result. Cautious optimism, he decides, that's what he is going to go with.