Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
a co-authored fic by:
chezchuckles, FanficwriterGHC, International08, JeuxDeVagues, Sandiane Carter, and Topsy
A bright afternoon in a too-green cemetery.
It takes so very little to turn Richard Castle's life upside down.
There's something about approaching a woman with flowers. Smith watches as the man stalls at the side of a private room, bending his knees to fix his hair in the reflective surface of the window. Bags beneath his eyes, a slump to his shoulders, a suit that's wrinkled from too much sleeping in uncomfortable waiting rooms—he has all the thinly-veiled signs of trauma.
Since standing here and watching, waiting for the man to pluck up the courage to go inside would be conspicuous, and he has an agenda today, Smith instead strolls down the corridor past the other man. He keeps his ears open, smirking as he hears the door to ICU finally open. It was a nice bouquet, and he finds that even his brutally realistic self still hopes the woman will be pleased by it. More than that, Smith hopes she's worth all the trouble.
For the man. And for Smith himself.
He swings around the corner with purpose. Walk with enough of it and no one questions anything. He fits in. His photographic memory comes in handy. He knows all of their names, nods to Nurse Marian as he strolls into the break room.
The standard issue blackberry isn't his preferred model, but five of the other white coats are using them, so he blends in. Smith composes his email with care as he leans against the window, one eye on his phone, the other out the window, watching, waiting. It's all been pretty smooth. He has a back-up plan in place. But he won't need it. This should work.
Text lights up beneath his thumb, copied into a new, traceless email. He's just another nameless phone in a busy hospital, yet the outgoing message is anything but innocent. He hovers over the send button for a mere second before pressing down, sending his threat out into the ether. And then he waits, standing straight as he cracks his back.
Blackmail. Pure and simple.
Only it's anything but. He has a plan, and thankfully, the late Captain, Roy Montgomery, has given him exactly what he needs to accomplish his goal.
At that moment, Smith notices the man as he strides back down the hall, headed for a side door. Of course, he's trained to notice, even if he didn't expect the man back outside so soon. Kicked to the curb. That unmistakable sag of a down-trodden man is difficult to miss, slumped as he is going down a small hallway—a detour that will lead him to a mostly concealed side exit.
The man—though barely a man at the moment—runs his hand through his hair, head hanging, back braced against the wall. He sighs, a hollow, broken sound unbefitting a man proven to smile so much. But Richard Castle hardly looks like his book jacket today.
They polite-nod to each other as Smith leaves, the man against the wall as if holding it up, being held up. Smith won't stop, would never interrupt the mission. He has too many balls in the air, and honestly, Richard Castle's mental well-being isn't worth his time.
Caging the beast - the Dragon - is no small feat.
He glances back once more as he reaches the end of the hall, just in time to watch Richard Castle straighten up, feet shoulder-width apart, face tight but determined.
Yes, Smith can already tell this will be an endeavor. He has to make sure he gets to this conspiracy first. Because the man coming down the hall is on a mission as well, and the glint in his eye breathes determination and revenge.
Perhaps Detective Beckett won't be the only problem that needs handling.
Over the next few days, Smith's initial impression is confirmed.
Every time he sets up another domino, orchestrates another cover-up, he tends to run into Richard Castle. Either him or another of those detectives from the 12th precinct, the ones he caught a glimpse of at the hospital.
Javier Esposito and Kevin Ryan.
He knows them now, probably better than a close friend would. He knows their ranking when they graduated from the Academy, knows where their families live, how many brothers and sisters, how many cousins, how distant they are. What they had for breakfast, how many workouts they skipped, how they ranked on the firing range.
He knows their weaknesses. Who they hate. Who they love.
It's nothing personal. He's just doing his job.
He knows how long they've been working with Detective Kate Beckett, too, and by extension, with mystery novelist Richard Castle.
Castle seems a strange man lately, subject to sudden mood swings. He will stride into the 12th precinct with determination hardening his face like stone, only to walk out a few hours later, shoulders slumped, looking thoroughly disheartened.
Or seething with anger. Depends on the day.
His face is always neutral by the time he gets home to the two redheads, though. His mother and daughter.
The mother looked vaguely familiar; it took him a minute to place her. An actress. From that Shakespeare in the Park thing, all those years ago. The play was Much Ado About Nothing, but he can't remember which character she was playing. It annoys him.
She's aged considerably since.
Surprisingly enough, Castle doesn't go back to the hospital. That's strange too, considering the amount of effort the man is putting into finding the Beckett woman's shooter, and the flowers at the hospital, the vacant look in his eyes before he knew she was going to make it.
Smith can't make sense of it.
But it doesn't matter. He's not here to understand; he's here to make sure Richard Castle doesn't blow things. And doesn't get killed.
For now, anyway.
He's here to untangle an ugly mess of knots, and then take control of the reins.
And he's never been known to fail a mission.
Castle slams the door shut, slumps into the driver's seat, face buried in his hands. He presses his fingertips to his eyebrows, tries to gather some positive energy, something that's not dark, hopeless and miserable.
They're getting nowhere.
It's ridiculous. There must be a trace somewhere, a lead, however thin, that will take them to the shooter from the cemetery. This guy can't be a ghost.
It took a real finger to press that trigger, just like it took a real bullet to tear through Beckett's clothes, through Beckett's chest, through Beckett's heart-
He jerks violently, hitting the headrest with the back of his skull, panting.
He can still feel the hot stickiness of her blood on his fingers. That first night, he washed his hands over and over again, until Alexis came to find him in the bathroom, turned the tap off, led him to his bed with bleeding eyes.
He can still smell it in the air, the metallic taste of it drowning his throat. His heart quivering as he hoped and prayed and begged.
He crushes the back of his hand to his mouth, forces himself to breathe.
Three weeks and they've got nothing. Leads are getting colder and colder. Esposito and Ryan are still trying, but-
They need Kate. Their team needs Kate.
And Kate isn't here.
He bites his lower lip fiercely, the familiar anger building inside him. No phone call, no text, nothing. She's ignoring him. Or is she?
Ignorance would be better than this. Ignorance would mean she's doing it on purpose, that she's mad and keeping him at arm's length for some reason; with ignorance, he would still know she's there, would feel her annoyance radiating at him.
Instead, he feels – nothing.
If it wasn't for Jim Beckett, he might not even know she's not in the hospital anymore.
Jim called him. Took pity on him (it's what it is, really, and Castle feels pathetically grateful, would probably have wept in front of the man if Mr. Beckett had come to him instead of using the phone).
Jim Beckett called him, and Kate-
And it hurts. God, it hurts.
His phone chooses that moment to buzz in his pocket; Castle reaches for it with feverish fingers, the iPhone almost escaping his too-eager hand.
As usual, his heart thumps with excitement for a split second before he realizes his mistake. Jim Beckett, the screen flashes. Not Kate Beckett.
Still. It's better than nothing, right?
"Castle," he says with resignation as he picks up.
"Hello, Rick." The older man has taken to calling him by his first name – a consequence of the hours spent together in uncomfortable hospital chairs. Castle doesn't mind. "How's it going?"
They try to be careful on the phone. Say as little as they can.
"Nothing new," the writer sighs. He hears the bitterness in his own voice, but what can he do? "How is she?"
"She's…getting better, I think. Always hard to tell, you know? But she's eating, and moving around a little bit. Probably doing too much," he chuckles, "but I'm not crazy enough to get in her way."
The tenderness in the man's voice makes Castle's gut churn, makes his chest squeeze in agony. How badly he wants to be there, wants to be the one taking care of her.
His soul aches, yearns for her.
"Good," he forces himself to say. "I'm – glad to hear that. I, uh. I should let you go. Alexis is waiting. But thanks, Jim. I appreciate your calling."
"Nothing to thank me for," Kate's father answers in a gruff voice. "Take care of yourself, Rick."
Castle hangs up and stares longingly at his phone. He lied; Alexis is staying at Kelsey's tonight. There's no one waiting for him at home.
It's early, too. A little after five.
Maybe he should go back into the precinct. Esposito told him to take a break, that he couldn't take any more frustrated sighs and muffled curses; but now that he's calmer…
Problem is, without her, the precinct loses a great deal of its attraction.
He looks at the phone again. He shouldn't even be thinking of this – she asked for space, said she would call – he should be barricading his heart, hiding away from the inviting, fluttering eyelashes of temptation.
Instead, he hits speed dial 5, presses the phone to his ear.
It's so wrong.
But it feels so right.
"Hey. Can you trace a call for me?"
Smith is thumb-typing an email when the car he's watching starts suddenly, the roar of the engine quickly followed by a skillful insertion in the street's traffic.
Wherever Richard Castle is going, it sure looks like he's in a hurry.
With a perfect poise, the former CIA operative puts his phone away and starts his own engine, taking the time to buckle his belt before he puts his hands on the wheel. He's known an agent or two to die stupidly in a car crash, all because they had launched themselves in the pursuit of a subject without having fastened their seatbelts.
Agent Smith is anything but.
He turns his GPS on and maneuvers his car behind a van; the vehicle is large enough to hide his for a while. He doesn't think Richard Castle has ever noticed him, but it can't hurt to be careful.
When they turn onto I-495, Smith lifts a mildly intrigued eyebrow.
He's been following Richard Castle for almost three weeks, and this is the first time the man has left Manhattan.
Where are you going, Castle?
Asking Ryan was the right move.
Esposito is unpredictable; you can never be sure of how he'll react. But Ryan? Ryan is softhearted, a romantic who doesn't have the distrustful nature of his partner.
Ryan traced the call without asking questions, and even when he found the address – found the name associated with the address – all he did was ask Castle if he knew what he was doing.
The author said yes, of course, although that couldn't be further from the truth.
He doesn't have the slightest idea of what he's doing.
Which is why he's focusing on the road. Only the road. Nothing else.
After an hour of resolutely staring at the asphalt and keeping all extraneous thoughts off his mind, however, he finds himself utterly exhausted and incapable of resisting his bladder's urgent calls any more. (Too many late nights, too much coffee.)
He sighs, and reluctantly takes the next exit. As he checks in the side-view mirror, he notices another car doing the same thing, a little ways back.
It could be any car. There's nothing special to it; it's a slushy grey. It's not a fancy, shiny, black sedan with tinted windows. Not a van, which is what Castle tends to use in his novels, when he wants to indicate danger, suggest an underlying threat.
This car is the only one exiting the interstate with him, and that's enough to make him nervous.
He parks quickly and beelines for the bathroom, trying to keep an eye on the grey sedan. It's such a blend-in color; he's lucky that only a few drivers have chosen to stop here, otherwise it probably wouldn't be that easy to pick out.
It's parked at a good distance; he can't make out the features of the man behind the wheel, and the guy doesn't seem intent on getting out either.
Castle walks into the convenience store, disquieted, suspicious.
He takes a little longer than he usually would, looks at the magazines, buys a drink, a bag of chips. When he finally steps out, the grey car is still there.
Shit, shit, shit.
Gritting his teeth, Castle slides back into his seat, tosses down the chips and the Coke, not even caring where they land.
He rubs a hand up and down his face, feels the hope that he's been entertaining, like a stupid kid with a too-fragile balloon, pop out and deflate, die out in his chest. Pathetic.
He can't lead this guy to Kate. Can't take that chance.
And it's probably for the best anyway, right? She doesn't want to see him. She doesn't need him. That much is clear, at least.
He tries to picture her, wonders what she's doing, if maybe she's sitting outside at her father's cabin. He sees the long curls of dark hair brushing her cheek with the soft evening breeze, a hint of color back in her pale skin, cheekbones a little less drawn, maybe.
He hopes so.
The want builds inside him, pushes against his chest, sharp, painful.
What is she thinking? Is she talking to her dad? Reading?
Reading one of his books?
He closes his eyes, tightly, wills it away. The need, the love, the pining – if only he could control it, could suppress it, suppress the welling tears that choke his throat, suppress the hammer of his heart against his ribs.
Oh, Kate, Kate.
He can't suppress it, but he can push it back. He has to. It takes a lot of energy, many deep, slow breaths, his brow knit and his lips pressed together, but in time it recedes like a wave, leaves him empty and alone and miserable.
It doesn't matter, it doesn't matter, as long as she's safe.
As long as she's alive.
Castle starts his car, gathers himself, and he takes the interstate back to New York City.
Smith double-checks the sign for the on-ramp, frowns as he slowly turns onto the interstate.
Castle is returning to the city.
He hangs well back, moves at an adequate speed, but he realizes after only a few miles that Richard Castle's driving is erratic, when it wasn't before. Speeding up suddenly, slowing way down, cutting in front of SUVs in the fast lane.
Castle went over an hour outside the city limits . . . just to stop at a gas station and buy a Coke he didn't drink?
Smith keeps back, lets the man do his strange-
He was made.
He was made by this guy.
Seriously? Over forty years in this business and Richard Castle made the tail? Spotted Smith's car and pulled off at a random exit and-
Damn. The man is more observant than he gave him credit for.
Smith scrubs at his face with a hand and sighs, then lets the car drop back a little farther. A little farther.
He'll just follow the GPS instead.
Too bad. Smith always prefers doing it old school.
It takes so little to turn Richard Castle's life upside down.
Three months of nothing.
And then thirty minutes of a conversation held on a swingset, ripe with promise.
She says so much, gives out so much, that he can hardly believe it. She doesn't look him in the eyes at first; in fact, she avoids confronting the knowledge, the anger in his gaze, until the last, when she jokes and teases him, lightly, using a soft touch.
Having even just that, his hands wrapped around the chains of the swing because he longs to reach for her instead - having the smile in her eyes, the smirk on her face, the fall of her hair in the late afternoon light - having it right here, at his side, all turned to him, it does help.
At the same time-
He doesn't say, I had Ryan trace your Dad's cell phone back to the nearest satellite and then do a property search until we found the address for your Dad's cabin and I almost, almost led a shadowy man straight to you.
He doesn't say, Why did you leave me?
He doesn't say, Don't you know I love you?
He scoffs instead. Pretends it's nothing, that he can charm his way back into the 12th without even lifting a finger, that the three months not knowing didn't hurt so badly, that not even hearing from her in three months, three months in which she must have expressly told her father to stop calling her friends with updates because no one heard from her-
He pretends it doesn't matter. Because she's alive and she's breathing, and here she is.
She needs him to wait; she has a wall. In the meantime, she's even smiling at him. Smiling. So okay. As long as she keeps breathing.
He walks away from that meeting on the swings thinking that yes, he can breathe again too, he can do this - that it's enough.
And then. Then, he gets a phone call.
And his private world is thrown into chaos once more.
Because it has to - it must - remain private.
One more thing that he doesn't say.
One more thing he can't tell her.
He watches her walk away, it's enough for now still ringing in his ears.
He knows it isn't enough for her, and it's obviously not enough for him either if the recently repurposed storyboard in his office is any indication.
But if she backs down, he can keep her alive - and even if keeping her alive means he doesn't get to keep her, then he can make it be enough. For now. For always, if that's the way it has to be.
The hitch in her voice the night before, the brimming moisture in her eyes, the dim light casting her too prominent cheekbones into sharp relief as she told him Everyone's gone - it was that moment that cemented his resolve.
He knew he'd do whatever it took to give her closure.
Last night, he watched her break, and he was powerless. He wanted to remind her. He wanted to stand up from his seat at her table and pull her into his arms. Comfort her. Hold her. Never let her go.
But she has a wall. And he is on the other side.
So instead, he met her eyes, tried to tell her without words that not everyone was gone. That he was still there. That he would continue to be there.
And then he went home, home to an angry daughter and a worried mother and a phone call that he never expected.
This time, when she glances back, catches him still watching her, she turns, a little furrow forming between her eyebrows.
"You going home?" she asks, and when he hesitates, she tilts her head to one side. "Castle? You okay?"
He nods slowly, fabricates a smile that becomes real when she walks toward him, jerking her head toward the elevator.
"C'mon, partner," she says quietly, gently. "I'll give you a ride on my way."
He follows her - of course he does - into the elevator where she stands close to him, not quite touching. She looks over at him, and he can see in her eyes the blend of need and gratitude. He was angry, and some part of him still is.
But it's lessening. The more he sees her alive and smiling, alive and talking, alive and not bleeding out under his hands, the more his fury ebbs away until most of what remains is just the hurt. Because he is hurt. Three months with no word ate out his heart, his soul.
To get her back only to find out that she could be taken from him again if she's too stubborn - well, that hurts too. And so he's determined to not let that happen.
She nudges him with her elbow as the elevator doors open. "Got time for a slice?"
He shouldn't - he should go home to his daughter. She'll be waiting for him with disapproving eyes that condemn him for following his heart. With pity too, for the man who loves so deeply but whose feelings don't seem to be reciprocated.
But he sees it differently. He sees the way she sought him out at his signing. He sees the way she opened up to him on the swings. He sees the way his words bolstered her confidence in the face of a nightmare. He sees the way she smiles back at him, a little shyly.
It isn't enough. But it's a start.
"Yeah, I have time."
She can tell he's watching her. He's grown quiet, and he's stopped playing with his phone, that's generally his tell. It could be that a theory is brewing in that writer's mind of his, but somehow she doubts it.
He always loves to share, no matter how crazy, how twisted the idea.
So. He's watching her.
Kate doesn't interrupt the course of her fingers over the keyboard and tries not to let her inner smile out. Oh. It might be too late for that.
Two years ago, she'd probably have called him out for this. The staring. She'd have said something about the creepiness, would have issued a threat or two, and would have laughed inwardly at the mixture of arousal and fear in his blue eyes.
Mmm. Too easy.
But today. Today, the main feeling dancing in her chest isn't exasperation or amusement, no. It's gratitude.
He's staring at her, and she's grateful. Because it means that they're back to normal, a tentative, hesitant normal maybe, but still. He's here, sitting in the precinct with her, working on the case, even after everything.
Even after the hangar and the cemetery and the too-long summer.
If she wasn't at work - if she wasn't a cop, if her need for control wasn't such a big part of her - if she wasn't Kate Beckett-
The gratitude might swallow her whole.
As it is, Kate finally turns her eyes to Castle, intent on letting him see - maybe not everything, but at least, at least, everything she can get through the wall. He should know. He should know what he does for her, how he lights up her inner world with his smile, speaks to her heart with the warmth in his eyes.
But she was wrong, she finds. He's not staring at her.
He's staring into space, his hands on his knees; and from the look on his face, his thoughts are none too pleasant.
He jumps a little, lifts his eyes to her.
She studies him for a second. His face is neutral now, careful, but she thinks-
She thinks she saw a flash of guilt when he turned to her.
"You okay?" she asks softly. She's found, lately, that gentleness works better with him; he seems to have more trouble resisting her when she sounds tender than when she orders him around.
He swallows. "Yeah. Yeah, just - thinking about the case."
That's a lie.
And yet she doesn't call him out on it. "Anything you want to share?"
"Ah, not really. I was mostly wondering how anyone could do this to their own son, you know?"
"We don't know that the dad is responsible," she ventures, hoping that it'll smooth the deep wrinkle in Castle's brow.
It would be so easy to lean in, brush her fingers across it.
He makes a sad, laughing sound that wrecks her heart. "Oh, come on, Beckett. You saw the guy's face. Don't tell me you believe in his innocence."
She parts her mouth to say something, anything that will ease the desolation in his eyes, but before she can find the words - if there are even words - he's sprung to his feet, reached for the mug on her desk.
"I'm gonna make some coffee," he says, sending her a perfunctory smile before he heads to the break room.
Kate watches him, her head tilted, trying to untangle the truth from the . . . not-quite-truth.
She does believe that the case has gotten to him.
She believes that the father in him is revolted by the bruises on their victim's body. Only thirteen years old, with a history of hospital admissions for broken arms and cracked ribs.
No. She doesn't think the case is what he was thinking about when she asked.
What else, though?
And more importantly. Why did he feel the need to lie about it?