A/N – So this is my new multi-chapter. I didn't think I would do one so soon, but well, you cannot really stop inspiration, despite that it sometimes comes in the most unsuitable moments. This story will incorporate a lot of retrospective, everything that happens in the plot before the S4 Always finale and this chapter will be written in italics. I hope to update regularly, so cross fingers.
A huge thanks to the awesome wp1fan for the beta. She did a tremendous job, but she writes even more tremendous stories, so you should definitely go check them out over at her profile!
The TV is still blaring in the background, the news segment running over and over for hours. An empty glass of scotch sits at the edge of his desk, half an empty bottle nearby. He sits - hunches really - in his chair with his head in his hands, his elbows heavily resting on the top of the mahogany surface of his desk.
He cannot listen any more to what the TV says, what the news has been saying for over a week now. Eight months of complete silence, no leads and continuous roadblocks. Then, mere ten days ago, the story exploded all over the news. Her case has been blown wide open, fourteen years too late but at last. She isn't here to celebrate it though, so there's certainly no celebration for Castle either. The big revelation, the so-called 'victory of justice' holds no meaning for him, brings him no relief. Because she is dead.
His eyes tiredly wander over his desk. His computer, a couple of framed pictures, some loose pencils and pens, scraps of blank paper. Nothing book-related though. Most certainly nothing book-related. Only thinking about writing another book flips his stomach. Last time he did so, was forced to do so, was so painful he can barely look back at the activity with anything else but cold dread. He's never going to write another piece of fiction. Gone is the Master of Macabre, ironically conquered by the subject of his own genre. It was all fine and nice as long as it happened only in his head and on his page where he could twist and wind and change it any time and any way he liked. But the macabre isn't that pretty when it hits home and this time, it hit home pretty hard.
He finally untangles his fingers from the mess they made in his hair, sighs. Deep circles run under his eyes and he is so damn exhausted he could sleep for a month, a year, forever maybe. He opens the bottom drawer of his desk, takes out a thick notebook bounded in black leather and a single photo he nowadays hides in a small nook in its binding.
He used to have her photo on his desk but it was unnerving Alexis, so he took it off, hid it in the depths of the drawer along with all his darkest thoughts. The picture is of poor quality, merely a home printed photo he once upon a time snapped with his phone at the precinct when she wasn't looking. It's the same photo that would still flash on his screen along with her name if she were to ever call him again. But she won't, because she can't. She is dead.
He runs his fingers over his face, tightly rubs at his eyes before running his fingers over the couple day old stubble. All is so screwed up right now. The worst part is,he thought he was doing so well lately; he truly did. He ventured out into the outside world more often; he met up with Alexis for brunches and lunches or had her over for dinner as often as he could muster pretending to be his old unbothered self, trying to be the parent he knew she deserved and needed. It's been hard on his girl too, Castle knew, thought he could pretend only so much.
Removing Kate's photo - or more accurately - replacing it from his desk, was a step by which he attempted to show his daughter he was finally moving on, because it's been eight months already and it was time to finally take his head out of the gutter. The photo removal was meant to be symbolic, that life was returning to its usual way. But when he held the photo in his hand, ready to finally get rid of it, he found he absolutely couldn't do it. It felt as if by removing it, he'd be removing her too. From his thoughts, from his life, from his heart. So he merely hid the photo in the bottom drawer, kept it between the yellowing pages of the black leather notebook.
The gesture was indeed symbolic in the end. Only, despite moving on with his life, he only managed to master the concealment of his anguish better than ever before. He looks at the photo now as the TV anchor still goes on and on about the case finally going on trial two days ago.
After a while he manages to unglue his gaze and mind from the photo and sets it aside, opening the notebook on the page he's last written, continuing as if he never stopped in his careful handwriting. He might not be a writer of popular fiction anymore, but it still helps to get out his thoughts down like this, the writing - especially done by hand – helping him to sort out his thoughts, soothing his still too often raw wounds.
Today's not a good day, Beckett. They apparently caught him though, but I already wrote about that. What's new is that they say it was caused by a sudden appearance of an old case file with all the incriminating evidence. I wonder if Smith had to something to do with it, I haven't heard from the guy ever since…
His hand wavers, bottom lip shakes. He continues on the next line as if he's never stopped.
FBI is supposed to have gotten their hands on some superhot top secret witness. I keep wishing they all knew about this eight months ago. His hand once against hovers over the paper, but he forces himself to continue.
The case against him is supposed to be rock solid. You would have been proud. I can't help it Kate, I wish every single day you were here, especially now, to see him fall. I wish we could go over to the court house together and you'd finally look him in the eye as they lock him away for good. The battle is over, at least for this one thing, justice is being served. It doesn't matter much to me though, it's not enough, because you're not here. Maybe it should bring some peace to my mind, because he's finally going to pay for what was done to your mother, to you. But it doesn't, and my mind is very rarely peaceful these days. All I can think about is how it doesn't matter because this insane cause has lost you your life and our future. I don't think you would like my line of thinking very much. I don't think you would like me nowadays very much either. All I can say in my defense is that I am trying Kate, God knows I am trying, if for nothing else than for my little girl's sake at least, because I know how hard it would be for her if I let myself go.
He stops at this, rereads the last few lines. Yes, he knows how hard it would be for Alexis to lose her father over grief, knows it would damage her in the exact same way it'd once damaged Kate when after her mother's death her only remaining parent turned to alcohol instead of her. With absolutely certainty, Castle knows he won't do that to his daughter, ever. Despite on the brink of adulthood, his daughter still needs him, now maybe more than ever, as she's starting to venture more and more into the wild and dangerous world that lies out there on her own.
The thoughts bring his mind back to Jim and their regular meetings every once a fortnight. They haven't spoken in over a week, and Castle thinks with a sudden pang of urgency that he should probably call the man, ask him how he's handling the news that the trial against the man who's taken his wife, his sobriety and ultimately his daughter, has finally started. Thinking what a huge setback it has been to his own mental recovery, Castle can only imagine what it must be like for Jim. It's beenall over the news for several days now; there's not a chance he'd miss it, even if he's nowadays spending most of his days at his cabin fishing. You don't bring down a high profile member of the government and notmake a huge scandal of it.
On the other hand, Castle thinks, maybe Jim is handling the situation better than he is. He would lie if he said he wasn't shocked, but relieved, upon learning that Jim's been managing the shock of his horrible and sudden loss with the solemn grace of somebody who's faced the same tragedy before. Still, Castle cannot help but think, ever since…just…he just never expected the man to adapt so quickly. He doesn't begrudge him that, God, he's silently glad for the man. He just wishes he could also do it so…for the lack of more suitable word, easily. Maybe knowing your daughter's life has been on the line for years on end, maybe expecting the other shoe to drop over and over again does that to you. That maybe when that final call comes through, you are ready to face and accept the brutal reality with this calm and dignified sadness. Or maybe it was that Jim's already received such crushing news once in the past? Knew how to take it in, how to react? No, Castle knew, no amount of experience could prepare you for that.
Later, he often told Rick how he and Kate (even in his thoughts he mentally stumbles on the mention of her name) didn't talk much over the course of the past few years, have seen of each other even less. Is this why he seemed to be handling the news better than Rick? Was it because he was used to Kate's absence the way Rick never was? Because working with her for four years, day in and day out, made him feel her sudden absence as a loss of his own limb? Or was Jim just a better liar, a better keeper of his pain?
Be that as it may, the older man had definitely a far better coping mechanism than Castle, because ever since Rick started to call him up to meetings – first with the intent to look after the man out of respect and honor of his late daughter - it was Jim who seemed to do the pick-me-up talk, Jim who seemed to see the brighter side of things, if there ever was any.
He's looked even more content lately, maybe he finally got to accept he'd never get Kate back again and he finally started to make peace with it. Castle wished for the same, but it wasn't that easy for him. He nearly envied the man, then again felt despicable for even engaging such thoughts. The man went through hell. Twice. Castle should be glad for him, for his ability to manage grief so well, especially after there was no one to look out for him anymore. Kate would certainly be proud.
Castle looks at the notebook in front of him. There is still so much to be said; there's always so much to be said, but he closes the book. It is enough for now. He has a relatively new rule that says not to spend more time with his dark thoughts than half an hour a day. Thirty minutes in which he's allowing himself to mourn and wallow in his grief by pouring out his soul to the empty pages of a little black book. He's already broken his rule several times this week, with the case coming public, the scandal being all over the news.
He wanted to stay out of it this time, completely out. He didn't want to have anything to do with it anymore. The same way Kate didn't when she came to his doorstep soaked as a rat yet resolute in her decision, choosing life instead of chasing the ghosts of her past that would eventually get her killed.
It didn't matter in the end; they killed her anyway.
Castle raises his hand and drags it across his face again, willing the budding headache to subside.
So what if the FBI had him, had finally caught the dragon and promised to pin him to a wooden cross and let him burn? It was already too late for Castle to care. He didn't want justice, he didn't need revenge. What he so desperately longed for was something he couldn't have, and dragging this thing through mud only brought it all back, all the guilt and regret and thoughts of wistful if-onlys. He could see in his mind'seye that dissatisfied frown Kate would throw his way; after all, they've been chasing this thing together for nearly four years. Surely, catching her mother's killer should bring him at least a little measure of satisfaction.
He is nearly angry with her for that. For her disregard of herself, for thinking this thing could ever be of more value than her life, that it could mean more than what they could have.
But she did change her mind in the end, she did, his mind supplies stubbornly. It was just too late; he couldn't protect her.
"…the FBI, saying the name of the key witness won't be released to the public up until the case is closed. "We've been waiting for the right time to come forward with this case", said the head prosecutor, "until it was rock solid. Since this man destroyed so many lives, it was important for us to be sure we'd have all the necessary evidence and testimonies prepared, recorded, approved and sealed by the time we came forward. It took several months but we are sure to now have everything we need to lock this man up for good the way he deserves." District Attorney office added it hoped for a quick trial with no attendance of the public, granting - as can happen in special cases - the exclusive submission of recorded testimonies instead of bringing the key witness into the process directly. "Our key witness has been through a lot in the past several months and although - on their own wish – they refused to enter the witness protection program, we still want to honor their sacrifice by ensuring as much privacy as possible, especially due the level of distress that's been brought on their lives in the past couple of…"
Castle stops listening at this point, he's heard it all before. The segment's been running over and over again for the past couple of hours and the only emotion it managed to stir inside of him was a surge of self-directed anger at his inability to shut the damn thing off.
The whole uncovering of the past week has swallowed him into a black hole he hoped never to return into again. He shunned the public eye, holed himself up in his apartment and barely took any calls. He again started having problems sleeping and the mere thought of food made his stomach churn with acid. For the first time in his life, Richard Castle looked every single one of his forty-one years. It was no good. He needed to move on; God, he needed it like his next breath. He's been living a shadowed life for so many months now thathe's nearly forgotten how to be himself anymore.
Thank God for mother. In the first months after Kate's death, she's been the rock he and Alexis could lean on. He always liked to pretend their crazy relationship was highly dysfunctional. Yet truth was, it was never dysfunctional. Despite her obvious flaws, his mother was always there for him and especially in the past few years offered her son more words of wisdom than in the whole of his first thirty-five years of life.
Castle takes another photo from the top of his desk, bringing it closer. There she is, Martha Rodgers in the dramatic style of black and white, mere forty-five years of age – nearly as old as he is now, Castle thinks. It's her favorite stage photo she got him framed to have on his desk a couple of years ago. He thought surviving Kate would be nearly impossible, but he managed as long as his mother took care of things, took care of Alexis and sometimes him too on days he so painfully obviously wasn't able to. He puts the photo back down, reminding himself once again he needs to move on, needs to be there for his mother and daughter. He takes the switch in haste and turns the TV off.
Maybe he should take a trip to the Hamptons for a while, no TV and no radio, at least until this whole thing blows and he can breathe a little easier again. Maybe he can even convince Alexis to take a couple of days off of school to go with him. Yeah, Alexis would surely like that, no need of any real convincing. The only reason she isn't still living at home with him is because he asked her not to.
One would think the loss of a loved one – on top in such a brutal and unexpected way - would make you feel clingy and in need to tie another loved one - especially your child - even closer to yourself. And yes, that need is still strongly there, supported by Alexis' own wish to be there for her father in his time of need. But she is everything he's got and that's why he isn't willing to let himself screw things up even further. If he won't let her go now, he won't be able to let her go ever. She needs to be her own person, damn, she is merely nineteen years old and she needs to enjoy life as much as possible, experience and explore who she is and who she wants to become. And she surely couldn't do that at the side of her grief-stricken father, tending to his needs while putting her own life on hold. That's why he convinced her a couple of months ago to finally move out and in with some friends the way she always wanted and intended before Kate's death turned their lives upside down.
She still visits more often than she probably would have haven't things go so wrong on so many levels, still, Castle at least takes some comfort in the knowledge he didn't completely ruin Alexis' life in his process of grieving for a woman she didn't get a real chance to even get to know properly.
A knock on his door, ever so quiet, pulls him from his thoughts. He entertains the thought of not bothering to rise to go open the door because really, there is no one to expect. His mother and daughter have the key and everybody else has learned to leave him alone, discovering that he's much more pleasurable company over the phone these days. Still, even despite just his pajama bottoms hanging loosely from his hips and a robe carelessly untied, with hair unkempt and jaw not shaven, Castle rises to his feet and lets them carry him to his door, because some things never change and in spite of everything that's happened, Richard Castle is still a curious man.
There it is again, that soft, almost uncertain knock. Suddenly, an uneasy feeling settles in the pit of Castle's stomach, but before he's got any time to analyze the feeling, he's already at the door and opening it wide open to his apparently shy visitor.
And there she is. And his world starts wildly spinning, then abruptly stops and crashes.
"Hey Castle," she says as if she's only seen him yesterday. Two cups of coffee in her slightly shaking hands, she makes an uncertain, timid impression. She looks just the same, looks like the morning he so casually kissed her goodbye to never see her again. Yet here she is, looking all natural and beautiful, and as alive as ever. She could simply be dropping by for dinner, or one of their late evening wrap-up sessions after a case, she could really be just visiting for any good reason, weren't she only supposed to be dead.
Her posture crumbles a little at the sight of him and her bottom lip starts trembling as he simply keeps on staring at her. She continues to speak though, despite being painfully aware of his state of shock. "I meant to call you first, but then I thought to hear my voice over the phone might come as an even greater shock than seeing me in person. So, here I am…" she stands there, unmoving, only shuffling from one leg to the other, completely insecure. And suddenly, Castle realizes, she doesn't look like Beckett at all, not the Kate he knew. Surely this can't be her, this unsure, scared little thing. He tries to wrap his head about it, tries to come up with a plausible if wild theory that would explain this strange event where Kate Beckett suddenly stands at his doorstep eight months after he stood with her father over her grave, but fails miserably. There is no other way to explain this, only that with the case being all over the news, bringing back all the memories with it, he's apparently reached his breaking point. So what if he is going a little insane? Isn't everybody in this city to some capacity a little nutty?
When he doesn't move, talk or acknowledge her in any way, her state of distress grows even further. Her eyes glass over, voice trembling to a point where it nearly breaks. "I know what it must look like to you…I mean, God…I've been gone for eight months …but it's really me, Castle. I am here, and I'm not dead."
A/N – Thoughts? Critics? All welcome. Just don't be shy, every author loves and craves feedback, despite what all the cool writers say to you these days…;)