Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
She watches him disappear down the stage with a fearful heart, the words of warning dying on her lips.
Because of the bullet through the chest this summer, she's having trouble pulling herself up onto the stage. Damn it. The one time she needs to be better than this.
But she knows what it is - knows what it is to want answers so badly, to know you're never going to get them. How can she hold him back even if she could scramble up after him?
If she's right, if they're right, if it's his father up there-
"He's gone - he's -" Castle appears over her. "Come on."
He's holding out his hand; she takes it, his other hand wrapping around her thigh and dragging her up, as she tries to ignore the fact that she let him go first (had to) - and he doesn't even have a gun.
Now is not - not the time.
She gets to her feet as he turns away, and she watches with reluctant eyes the hesitation in his step as he walks back to Smith's body. Nothing to do for him now.
He knows the wound is a fatal one, that there's no chance in hell that the man is still able to talk - very little chance, in fact, that he's still alive. And what if he were?
Smith has never struck Beckett as the kind of man who would share his secrets with anyone, even on his deathbed.
She presses her lips together as Castle drops to his knees next to the body, the slump of her partner's shoulders confirming what she already knew. She hovers at the end of the stage.
If Smith really is-
Oh, god. Enough. Enough of this. They will never know for sure, will they?
And it's not like they need physical evidence, need to see it written on a piece of paper. She is convinced - her only regret is for Castle, who deserves so much better - and he... Well, she doesn't know what he thinks.
She's not sure he wants the truth, if the truth means accepting this cold, dead man as his father.
She chews on her lip, turns nervously to the side of the stage. It feels like they've been here too long already; she doesn't know if the shooting has attracted attention, the gunshots muffled by the silencer, but she's not comfortable lingering here.
She doesn't want to explain it to the cops. To anyone, for that matter. What she wants is for them to go back the way they came, and disappear.
They didn't even get a clear picture of the man who shot Smith, she thinks, gritting her teeth. Could she even tell him apart from all the black suits in the Capitol? They were pretty far away, and then when she was running down the stairs after Castle she had-
Other things on her mind.
Okay. They need to move. Time for regrets later.
She takes a step in Castle's direction, startles when she sees his fist coming down, hears the dull thud of it hitting Smith's chest, trying to revive a man who can't be resurrected.
She's suddenly flooded with memories of Dick Coonan's death, her desperate attempts to save him. Her feet move forward without her realizing it, her head and her heart for once in agreement.
They need to get out of here. She needs to get him away from the body.
He starts at her hand on his shoulder, lifts his eyes to her - wide, raw, painful. He looks as if he'd forgotten she was here.
Yeah. That's exactly what she wants him to do. Hold on to her. She'll be his anchor, just like he was hers once.
"We need to go."
There's no time to be gentle, even though she feels so deeply for him, even though her heart aches at the look on his face. Get somewhere safe first. For all they know, the mystery man could come back; and even if he doesn't - better for them not to be involved in this.
Castle looks from her to the man at his feet, undecided, and a little dazed, she thinks.
"Come on," she urges, reaching for his elbow, pulling him up. "He's dead, Castle. Nothing we can do. We shouldn't be here."
His lips part as if to object; his eyes turn to Smith again, linger with a sort of morbid fascination. Some of the steel in her chest twists, bends like white-hot metal. Oh, god. Oh god. She can't even imagine - if it were her mother-
No. Don't even go there, Kate Beckett. She's not helping either of them by doing this.
It's not her mother. It's a completely different situation.
She breathes out slowly, moves her hand to wrap her fingers around Castle's. She waits, waits until he meets her eyes, until some sense of the here and now has soaked back into him.
Until he's with her again.
"Let's go," she says, tugging gently on his hand.
The drive back to the airport is a silent one. The amount of traffic is surprising, he thinks, considering the early hour - somehow, it's still the middle of the afternoon - and Kate keeps her eyes on the road, focused, beautiful in that sharp way of hers.
It all happened so fast.
He doesn't even try to make small talk; staring through the window already takes him more energy than it should.
His heart just won't settle.
It's doing aerobics in his chest, stretching and pulling and thumping painfully against his ribs; the harder he tries to ignore it, the more he feels it, the throb of blood in the bed of his fingernails, his pulse heavy in his temples.
He hangs back while Kate deals with the car rental people, signs what needs to be signed, hands back the keys. He has both their bags, the strap of hers thrown over his shoulder, his left hand clenched over the handle of his own; when she turns back to him, reaches out as if to help, he shakes his head.
"I got it," he says, and his voice sounds foreign to his own ears.
She studies him for a second, looking like she might argue, but then she presses her lips together and turns, starts walking to the terminal.
He exhales in relief and follows, inanely grateful that she understands. He needs something to do, something to make him feel useful, keep him from going crazy.
Handling their luggage isn't ideal, but it's a start.
Checking in is a quick affair, especially since the bags are small enough to keep in the plane. The blond-haired lady at the desk gives them a strained smile, the bags under her eyes showing even through the heavy layer of make-up, and then she wishes them a safe flight.
For some reason, Castle is growing fidgety at the idea of flying; the small, restricted space of the seat makes him nervous in advance, makes him want to delay as much as he can. He spots a sign indicating the restrooms, slows down and touches his hand to Kate's elbow.
She jumps a little, and he realizes he's roused her from her thoughts.
"Do you mind if we make a quick stop?" he says, nodding to the men's door.
She follows his gaze, her eyes clearing with understanding. "Oh. No, sure. Go."
He turns, barely has time to take a step before she calls back, "Castle. You should leave the bags with me."
Right. He comes back and drops them at her feet, deliberately ignoring the domesticity of it all, before he vanishes inside the men's bathroom.
The only other guy in there is a sixty-something man with white hair and a tan that certainly can't be natural; he gives Castle an indifferent look as he wipes his hands, then walks out, leaving the writer alone.
Castle relishes the space, the silence, the stark contrast that the neat, blue and white tiles provide to the jumble of his mind. He rests his hands on both sides of a washbowl and leans in, letting out a long breath as he tries to relax his shoulders, loosen the tight knots in his chest.
It's only hitting him now.
The reality, the definitiveness of it all. No going back. Smith is dead - and with him all the answers, all the knowledge Castle felt he had a right to.
This is not-
It's not what he wanted, not what he planned on, when he bought those plane tickets to Washington, DC. He didn't expect the frustration, didn't expect they'd leave here without having learned anything.
And the bitter taste of unfinished business on his tongue.
He pushes himself off the sink, runs both hands in his hair, down his face.
This is a nightmare. He's going to wake up. He has to.
He's going to wake up and then he can rewrite the ending, make it better this time, leave his reader with a sense of satisfaction, of knowledge. He won't let the - the father - die such a meaningless death.
But when he opens his eyes, he's still standing in the bathroom of Dulles International Airport, staring into the tired face of a man who has seen too much, heard too much, who can no longer tell truth from lies.
His chest feels too tight; he can't breathe.
Kate. He needs Kate.
He's out the door in seconds, runs into a young man who's standing on the other side, nearly goes to the floor.
"Shit, man, look where you're going," the youth curses, but Castle's not even listening, is only looking for her, eyes eager and a little desperate, until he finds her.
She's leaning against the wall, the bags neatly piled up next to her; she looks up when she hears the commotion, a flicker of concern rippling across her face.
"Kate," he grunts, and before she can do anything more than pocket her phone he's wrapped himself around her, arms solidly wound around her waist, his face buried in her neck, his nose crushed to her collarbone.
She tenses, and he feels her moment of hesitation, of holding back, but in the end she curls her arms around his shoulders, cool fingers splaying at his nape.
"Castle," she murmurs.
Her voice helps, the smell of her, the warmth of her slim body; the panic recedes, ebbs away, but that only leaves him on the verge of tears. It's been building inside him, steady and dark, ever since he knelt down on that stage; he's not sure he can hold it back now.
He grips her tighter, disregards her little gasp of shock or pain; he needs her. He wants to take her into himself, take that light, that fire, use it to fight off the shadows that gnaw at his heart.
"Castle," she says again, just a breath really, but even in that breath he hears her compassion, her sorrow, her love - yes, her love for him.
And he breaks.
She won't let go.
Not when the ticket agent checks them in, not when they board the plane, not when they walk stiffly down the cramped, narrow aisle to their seats.
She won't let go.
When he pulls on their joined hands to put their bags into the overhead compartment, she instead laces their fingers together and gives him a look.
He blinks at her, then shoves his bag into the bin with one hand, a little more awkward this way, but she doesn't care.
She won't let go.
When the flight attendant comes around and tells them to fasten their seat belts, Kate glances at the two sides of the strap, the buckle, tries to figure out a way-
Castle lets go, shakes her hand off to click his together. She has a sweeping sense of abandonment, strange and disconsolate, before she shakes her head at herself and puts on her own seat belt.
Castle's hands stray to the armrests, grip the sides, relax. His face is still that flat mask, eyes blank, but he doesn't seem to need her quite so much.
That's good. That's better.
The plane taxis down the runway, liftoff pressing them back into their seats, and Kate finds herself taking his hand again, unconsciously, naturally, not even thinking.
His grip around her fingers is at once painful and reassuringly tight.
She doesn't look at him, but she doesn't let go.
This time, she doesn't let him let go either.
"Can I come?"
Castle gives her a startled, shocked look, backs up, but she still has his hand and he can't go far. He doesn't look like he really wants to go far either. Behind him, luggage spins past on the carousel, but they have everything they need.
It's just a convenient place to stop - to either part ways here, in separate taxis, or to go together. Home.
He clears his throat. "Come - where?"
Kate can feel her heart pounding in her hand, a sweaty mess now that they've been unable to let go of each other in the last . . .oh, three hours or so? . . . and she wants badly to wipe her palms off on her jeans, but she can't.
She can't let go.
"Home with you?"
His mouth drops open, and she winces, shakes her head at how that sounded.
"No, not like that. Not that I don't, but-"
She closes her eyes. Okay, take a breath, Beckett. Try again.
"Do you want company?" she asks, opening her eyes, finding the strength to keep the lines of dialogue open. As her therapist says.
He closes his mouth; its twists up at the corners into a phantom of his usual leer, half the power, but all the same meaning. Comforting in its way. "You trying to invite yourself over, Beckett?"
Her chest squeezes - she's not sure if it's want or warning. "How about - how about you come home with me instead?"
This time his surprise is less comical, more tender, as if he truly can't believe she might want him there, but he appreciates it, appreciates the gesture, finds it sweet.
"No," she says quietly, shaking her head. "Actually, I'm not asking, Castle. Come home with me."
He studies her face, flexes his fingers to let go of her hand. He brings his hand up to her cheek, smooths his thumb under her eye. "Okay."
"I don't think Smith is - was my father," he says.
They've been silent in the back of the taxi for most of the drive. It's only when they get within a few blocks of her apartment that he speaks.
"What makes you say that?" she asks carefully. She's been studying him ever since they got into the cab, watching the play of emotions on his face, watching him process.
"It's too . . . contrived. I'd never write a story like that."
"Doesn't that lend it some credence?"
She bites her lip, glances away from him, the buildings flashing past them. She needs to step carefully. "Tell me how you would write it?"
When she looks back at him again, he's staring down at his left hand, tracing the life line in his palm with his thumb. She wishes she had never said that Smith's hands were the same as his own.
"I'd - yeah, okay, the aging spy? The threats about us interfering with his plan? Okay. I'd - that's credible. But him being - being my - no. It's too easy. It's a good trick."
She watches him rub at his palm, scrape his nail against his skin. When he says nothing more, she reaches over and takes his hand again, despite the throb of her fingers as they lace through his own. Before today, she had no idea that there were holding-hand-related injuries.
She knows she has bruises in between her fingers from. She still keeps his hand in hers.
"Mm," he murmurs, flexes his fingers as if he's fascinated by having her hand at his leg. "A trick. To - to make an impression."
"To scare me," she says softly. "And throw you off-balance. Make us focus on that instead of on what he might have been doing."
He nods slowly, curls his fingers around her hand, then drops his other one on top, as if sealing her in.
She's not going anywhere.
"Or it could have just been the truth," she nudges. "After Sophia-"
"After Sophia, I'm less inclined to believe a word out of anyone's mouth," he says bitterly, then jerks his head up and looks over at her. "Except you. I'd believe you."
Her chest tightens. She has to be so careful. So very careful. "There's no way he could have known what Sophia said to us. About your father having CIA connections."
She nods, accepts that. "True. Could be."
He sighs heavily.
"Castle." She gnaws on her bottom lip, sighs as well. "If you say - if you don't think he's your father, then okay. Okay. He's not."
He gives her a long look, but he's not really seeing her. Maybe he sees the city passing by the window, maybe he's watching Smith die on that amphitheater stage, all over again. Suddenly he gives her a smile, his eyes flickering as if trying to light up, trying to be happier. Trying for her.
"I don't know. I don't - want to think about it right now. Let's just get some dinner?"
"Okay," she agrees.
When he still looks like he's struggling, Kate drags his hand over into her lap, the warm and heavy weight of their twined arms like a reminder. She lays her free hand along his forearm, her fingers at the soft skin inside his elbow.
"No need to thank me, Castle. Partners."
When they exit the cab, she still has his hand in hers, and she doesn't let go, even though it makes for an awkward scramble out, even though it clearly upsets her sense of balance. Their palms brush, kiss as he slides out the door after her, sweaty and hot even in the cool evening, but Castle is not going to complain.
His position on this is clear, has been for a long time. He will take.
Anything she has to give, anything she offers, even half-heartedly, even without meaning to - he will take it, take it all.
And he might be...distracted, tonight - he might not be at the top of his game - but still. He's not stupid enough to consider untangling his fingers from hers.
He stands at her back, a little too close, while she struggles to slide the key into the hole, then pushes the door open with her shoulder, pulling him in with her. A sinister creak makes her wince; she looks back in annoyance, a flick of her dark eyes that says everything, as the sound of the door slamming shut echoes on the marble of the lobby.
"We need to get it oiled," she mutters as she heads for the elevator. "Or changed."
Castle doesn't say anything. He rather likes it, actually, the solemnity of it, the dull, definitive ring - no going back. It feels proper, just the right amount of dramatic, unlike the muffled gunshot on that stage, unlike the man falling silently and the blood gushing out-
Don't think about it.
He blinks, realizes he zoned out for a second; the elevator is here, and Kate has stepped forward and turned back to him, their arms stretched between them, the connection warm and solid and physical.
He needs that. Needs her.
He steps in after her, scrapes a smile together to soothe the flicker of concern that flashes in her beautiful eyes. Right. Kate. Kate is the person he should be focusing on.
Not that ridiculous excuse for a man that dared call himself Castle's father.
Her thumb ghosts his, smooth and delicate, and his lashes flutter, his chest filled up, too much, too good. Suddenly he can't remember why they shouldn't be doing this, can't remember any of the reasons why he should be holding back - it's nonsense, absurd really, because people die - people get shot-
Don't think about it.
He abandons Kate's hand; she gives him a puzzled look, but before she can say a thing he's trapped her, his hands on either side of her, palms flat against the wood panel. Her breath hitches, and she says, "Castle."
It's not exactly a warning - she has that tone in her voice, the one that says she's out of her comfort zone, and whatever he does now, it's at his own risk. No guarantees.
But he's not paying attention. His eyes are on that vein that runs down the column of her neck, blue pulsating under her pale skin, a little fast, not exactly regular; he's fascinated, entranced, cannot help leaning in and pressing his lips to that wildly beating vessel.
His fingers are curled around the other side of her neck; he can feel her shiver, can feel the way her throat works as she swallows, lovely and hot, the soft skin rippling under his fingertips.
"Castle," she says again, a halted murmur, and he lets his hand slide into her hair, orients her face into his kiss.
She's warm and responsive, her whole body lifting towards his mouth; he feels her hands fist in his shirt as her tongue darts out to meet his, no teasing, just raw, painful need pouring out, hot and moist between their mouths.
She breaks away, little pants against his chin as he kisses her cheekbone, her nose, her ear.
"Castle - Castle, wait."
No. No. Enough waiting.
He nips at her jaw and she gasps, her hips jerking against him, so good.
He's vaguely aware of the elevator chirping their arrival, but he couldn't care less.
"Castle," Kate tries again, then presses her mouth shut against a moan that comes out anyway when he traces his tongue to the supple lobe of her ear. "Castle. This isn't - it's just - the aftershock of-"
He groans, refuses it, her words, her excuses, swallows them with a hungry mouth.
And when she's boneless against him, when she's melting and so soft that he can no longer see the sharp edges, he draws back and waits for her to look at him. She does after a while, eyes so dark, a starless sky.
"You know it's not," he says. "You know it's not."
She stares at him, lips smudged with his kisses, head thrown back against the wall. Her chest is heaving, and she touches her tongue to the corner of her mouth, swallows.
"I know," she says.
Her mind and her body are still reeling from that kiss; her hand trembles as she puts the key in the lock. Her moves are too jerky, and of course the keys end up on the floor; Kate curses, squats down, and only then realizes the presence of a brown, thick envelope half shoved under her door.
At the edge of her vision, Castle kneels down too, his face serious, his mouth set; for some reason it helps, that he's not laughing, not making light of it. It makes her more - confident.
He reaches for the envelope when she won't, and inspects it; for a second, she's distracted by the smooth way his large hands work over the paper.
"No name, no address," he observes quietly, and dread crawls up her spine, clenches at her heart.
She looks up sharply, but they seem to be alone in her dimly-lit corridor; still, seem isn't good enough for her.
Her hand falls to her keys, clutches them, and then she's back on her feet, working the door open, rushing inside. She spins on her heels, finds Castle watching her in something like puzzlement, doesn't even care - she hisses his name and yanks him inside, slams the door shut behind him.
Her fingers flip the bolts over, familiar, intimate, so used to it that she could do it with her eyes closed; and then she pauses, her palms pressed flat on the door, her heart pounding in her throat.
She's grateful that he doesn't comment on it.
But he does crowd at her back, present and large, and then he murmurs her name. Just her name. And she straightens up again, turns around.
He's too close, but that brown envelope is between them.
Kate reaches out and takes it, pinches the brad, slides her thumb under the glued down flap. It slices her skin and she hisses in a breath, sucks on the papercut as she moves away from Castle, towards her kitchen counter.
He follows at a safer distance; she can gather her concentration again.
"What is it?" he asks, and when he comes to her side, his knuckles brush her hip.
She works on the envelope until she's got the flap open, a thick file folder jammed inside that won't come out at first. Castle reaches past her and tears the envelope down its seam, ignoring her protest (but really, forensics? at this point, it's too late). She unearths the folder from its wrappings and drops it to the counter.
She knows, without looking. She knows this is the file.
(But it's not thick enough, some part of her worries. There's not enough here.)
Castle moves first, opens the the file folder to the splayed-body photograph of her mother in the alley.
For a moment, Kate's paralyzed by what this is.
And then she realizes what it is not. She flips through pages, reports, statements, ballistics, all of it, too short, too familiar, and it's not - there's nothing new - it's a copy of her mother's police file, nothing more.
The noise that comes from her throat has Castle gripping her by the arm, as if he's afraid she'll sink to her knees. But even as despair blackens her vision, she finds it.
The one thing her own copy of the police report doesn't have.
A hand-written note.
At the top - a name.
At the bottom - You are my contingency plan.
"This is a Congressman," he says stupidly, staring at the sheet of notebook paper, as if ripped hastily from a legal pad, the top edge ragged.
She's staring at it too, the paper on the coffee table between them, Castle on the couch and Kate sitting in the floor across from him, and neither of them have touched it since he took it out of the folder and she grabbed it back.
"From New York," she adds quietly.
"Fifteenth district." He shakes his head, closes his eyes. "Includes Upper West Side. Harlem. Washington Heights."
"He's on the Ways and Means committee," she adds dully.
"Do you even - can you even trust this?"
She lifts her head slowly, her eyes black. She doesn't answer him, just continues to look past him.
"He's manipulated us from day one, Kate." It does nothing; there's nothing in her eyes. Her flat affect, her lifeless mouth, the way she sits so still and so carefully. It scares him. "We can't know for sure."
"I know," she says, and her eyes drop back to the paper. "We're his back-up plan."
"It means this is him, Castle. This is the guy."
And suddenly she presses her hand over her eyes and hunches over the coffee table, still so removed, her breathing harsh in the quiet of her apartment.
He keeps his mouth shut, but he doesn't think being Smith's back-up plan is such a great idea. Doesn't think he wants either of them as Smith's partners in this elaborate conspiracy. The guy might be dead, but Castle can't be sure Smith saw that coming - Smith seemed so unstoppable, so intent on his plan, whatever that was, so coldly furious when Castle had been investigating on his own. Whatever is in place, it might still be a trap.
So Smith, before leaving for DC, slides this just under Kate's door, and what-? "What's his motive?" Castle blurts out. "What's the story here?"
She lifts her head slightly, her hand wiping down her face to cover her mouth. Her eyes look brittle, red, fierce. "I finally - this is a name. I have a name, Castle." She's gritting her teeth so hard, he's afraid she's doing damage. "After all this time, after everything, I have the bastard's name. Don't - don't tell me not to-"
"Kate. Think about it. What's Smith's motive for leaving us this? He's not our friend. He made that abundantly clear."
She swallows, dips her head back down, but he can see now that she's listening. At least she's hearing him.
"He had an agenda. He had a plan. When I got in the way, when you got in the way, he threatened our lives. Montgomery might have sent him all that information, all his blackmail material, but Kate - this is not it. He is using us."
Her eyes flicker to her mother's case file, still on the kitchen counter. She drops her hand and clears her throat. "So." She winces and tries again. "So what does Smith get out of this?"
"I think he went to DC with something in mind. Something big. He wanted something, and it wasn't just to protect Montgomery's family or protect you. He told me he'd already arranged for that. No, he went to DC to blackmail this guy face to face. Blackmail him for something bigger than us, bigger than just your mom's murder."
"Maybe. We don't know that."
"The photo on his website matches who we saw-"
"At a distance. Wearing a coat. The images you got on your phone are so bad, we could never be sure."
She scrapes her hand through her hair, hangs her head over the sheet of legal paper, the name. But maybe not the name she needs. When she doesn't look at him, he takes that as permission.
"I'm sorry. We just can't be sure." He sinks to his knees, reaches out across the coffee table, and wraps his fingers around her wrist, tugs. Her head falls from her hand; she gets pulled closer, her eyes startling to meet his. "Kate. We can't be sure. But it's a place to start."
She breathes raggedly; he can see her struggling hard against hope, guarding her heart against the crushing disappointment. He leans in over the table and catches the back of her neck, brings his mouth against hers.
Kate moans into his kiss, her teeth catching his bottom lip. She's already wrapping her arms around his neck, her body drawn down to his as he rocks back, pulling her with him.
She lifts to her knees, her mouth brutal against his, and he fills his hands with her, squeezes what he finds, kneads the back of her thighs as she groans.
Her arousal sounds like grief, and he gentles, draws out a long drink of her lips, slides his hands up, under her shirt, cupping the back of her shoulders to press her hard against his chest. She goes still, gets quiet, and then her forehead drops to his neck as she sinks down.
Her heart pounds in an awkward rhythm against his own, out of sync, while her jagged breathing whispers harshly in his ear.
It's not exactly what he wanted, not how he thought this would go, but-
For them, it's a place to start.