Title: Third Party Tales
Warning: Spoilers for "Always"
Category: One-shot, romance, humor, team
A/N: Thank you to arafel_sedai for her beta work
When Martha returns from her Memorial Day weekend trip she knows something has happened. It's a mother's instinct; something isn't sitting right with her son. He's going through the motions of pretending to be interested in listening to Alexis go on and on about her friends, the party, and the sleepover after. He's probably already heard it before when Alexis came home on Saturday afternoon; this is just a Monday rebroadcast for Martha's benefit. But she can tell that Richard's mind is miles away, and it's nothing to do with being bored with reruns.
She's tempted to chalk it up to being the dad of a newly minted high school graduate, and that he's losing his little girl at the end of the summer to lecture halls, freedom, and college boys. But when he kisses Alexis on the cheek and she goes upstairs to her room, his head turns and his gaze falls on the door to his own bedroom. It lingers there a moment.
He looks… confused? Unsure? Like he's steeling himself for something that he's sure is imminent. A disappointment maybe? The other shoe to drop.
"Everything OK?" She sits down and it pulls his attention to her, away from whatever it is that's on his mind.
"Yeah, everything is good." He hesitates. "At least I think it is."
"Beckett stayed here Friday night."
Martha heard about what had happened on the rooftop with the man responsible for putting a sniper bullet in Detective Beckett's chest. Beckett failed that challenge but won the ripple effect. The man is now behind bars, they still don't have all the answers but there's progress, and she's under protection again by shadowy men. At least for the time being it's resolved.
It's been an eventful weekend for all the people involved at the Twelfth Precinct. But apparently, it has been an even more significant one for Richard and his beloved detective, more than anyone knew.
"And then…" He shakes his head, seems to gather his thoughts. "Everything else happened and we haven't had a chance to talk. I'm not sure exactly where we stand. I mean, we… you know."
She doesn't need to know the details. "I get the picture."
"And that was amazing. But what does it mean? Where do we go from here? Was it just a one time thing, a reaction to nearly getting herself killed?"
"She's nearly gotten killed in the past. She didn't have this same reaction then. Maybe it's got nothing to do with this case."
"Yeah," he says, but it doesn't sound like he agrees. "Yeah, I suppose."
"Richard, what do you want?"
Such a simple answer. Such a complex man.
Martha knows he's not an easy man to love; his baggage comes with a daughter and a string of broken hearts brought on by other women. There's more depth than most people realize when they see him smile for cameras and put on his act in front of adoring fans. Beckett knows the other side of her son, and Martha suspects that in turn, he's gotten to know more of Beckett than anyone else has. Once all of that is out in the open, there are only two options, run away or run toward.
"I want her. Full time, 100%, all in." There are tears gathering in the corners of his eyes, but she suspects that they aren't all sad ones. There's some hopeful, but overwhelmed ones mixed in there as well.
"And you think she doesn't want that too?"
"I think… " He clears his throat. "There's a chance that she wants the same thing. There's a chance."
Martha has watched them together, and she knows that it's a big chance. Because it sounds to her like they've both run toward each other. Despite everything, they chose each other. But she's not the one to tell him that.
"Then go talk to her and find out."
There's a knock at the door and it startles them both. It's Beckett. And after the door opens, when Martha sees the way that the young woman smiles as she first sees Richard, she knows.
Lanie doesn't mind that it's changed in the last couple of years, it used to be girls night out but it's not anymore. It's been a couple of weeks since they've had things quiet down enough to do this, their girls night in. She's not one for the club scene much anyway and Kate isn't either, but they used to make the effort. Funny how all that effort went away not long after Kate met Castle.
"How is Castle these days?" Lanie asks, fully expecting her friend to fumble and sputter and do all the usual when Lanie brings him up. It's kind of funny to watch.
But this time she's surprised, Kate doesn't do any of that, doesn't move away, close off, deny, deny, deny. Instead her friend smiles a little. A secret smile, as if—
"Oh my god." Lanie sets down her wineglass. "You're kidding me?"
"He's doing just fine." That silly little smile is growing. "I'm making sure of it."
"Girl." Lanie just laughs, and realizes they're going to have to open another bottle. This is obviously a two-bottles-of-wine conversation now. "After all this time, what happened? What changed?"
"I did." Kate takes a breath. "I changed. I realized that I was missing my chance at happiness. I was allowing other people and my past to dictate how I lived my life, and I didn't want to do that anymore." She swirls her glass, staring at it as if it holds some of the answers. "I'm finally getting close to where I want to be. But I don't have to be this perfectly put together person, he loves me despite that, and I don't want to be alone on the journey."
It's heavier than Kate ever gets, and Lanie appreciates that she's been given this. But at the same time, she knows exactly what Kate needs from her right now, before she's pulled into that darkness again having to rehash it all.
"That's great, honey, and I'm happy for you. But right now, I need to know one thing."
Kate looks up at her, probably anticipating the question, but going along anyway. "What?"
"How good is he?"
Kate covers by taking a sip of her wine but that secret little smile is back, and Lanie doesn't think it's ever going away.
"Oh, he's good. He's very good."
Lanie's sure the neighbors can probably hear their laughter all the way down the hall.
Castle hasn't been around the last couple of days. Esposito assumes that it's a combination of their current case being boring and predictable— they all knew within 20 minutes that the husband did it, it's just taking time to dig through the evidence to nail the guy— and he saw something in the paper about Castle making some book-signing appearances. So, Castle hasn't been around and Beckett's been… not herself.
He can't really nail down exactly how he knows, because it's Beckett and she's an expert at being a blank page with thousands of words written on it in invisible ink. But she's not herself, he can tell just the same. It's weird, because Castle's not been around many times in the past and she's usually cool as a cucumber. Sometimes, especially in the early years, there was even a sense of relief about her when Castle was gone for a while.
Lately, he's been wondering, because he can't seem to shake the idea that the two things— Castle's absence and Beckett being off— aren't somehow connected. As if something's changed.
He rounds the corner on his quest to find Beckett somewhere inside the precinct. He hopes the report in his hand with good news about the DNA test will help perk up her mood. But he stops short. Then quickly ducks out of sight behind a pillar, sneaking a clandestine look around it.
The corridor is the one in the back that doesn't lead to much except storage rooms and the fire exit, so it's usually empty. But right now, there's Beckett leaned back against the wall, and Castle is standing close, invading her personal space so much that Esposito expects Beckett to put a hand on his shoulder and shove him back. Re-establish her authority. Taunt him.
What happens next nearly floors Esposito. She leans in and whispers something in Castle's ear. Whatever it is, it causes Castle to grin. Then he says something in return that makes Beckett laugh, and not in the usual Beckett way where it's as if the laugh has somehow slipped through the bars of a holding cell despite her best efforts. This one is a full on, eyes dancing, smile wide, a happy laugh.
Castle's got a hand on her hip now, slightly possessive of her. And she runs her fingers up his arm, not down to remove his hand from her body. She touches his cheek for a brief moment, and then they straighten up. The moment passes and she's regular Detective Beckett again, he's just a writer following her around.
Esposito takes a second, allowing them this. Then he steps into view, as if he's just now rounding the corner to find her.
"Beckett, I've got something for you."
Alexis is juicing oranges at the kitchen counter when she hears the key turn in the lock. It's the third time this week that her father has come home in the early morning hours. He probably thinks she hasn't noticed because she's on summer break and technically that means she could be sleeping in later than she normally would be during the school year. But she's not, and she's not stupid either.
"Alexis," he says as he comes through the door. "You're up early."
"Didn't expect me to be?" She really shouldn't tease him like this.
"It's just that it's summer. I thought you'd, you know…" He sits down at the counter. "What's going on? All good?"
She sets a glass of juice in front of him. "I'm fine, Dad." It's almost comical, the blatant switching of gears.
Besides, it's not like she really wants to think too hard about it. What her dad does on dates with women, and who those women are, they're things that he's always kept away from her. And she appreciates that, she really does, but this is getting a bit ridiculous. She's going to read about it in papers eventually anyway.
"Plans for the day?" he asks.
She rolls her eyes. "Are you going to ignore the fact that I caught you sneaking in? And don't tell me it was because you were working on a case, I know that you're not. Dr. Parish was instrumental in helping you wrap your case yesterday."
"Aren't you the little detective now? Have you been spying on me?"
"Dad," she chastises.
His expression changes to that look he gets when he finally gives in on something, and he reaches over to take her hand. "Come here." He leads her over to the couch and sits down opposite her. "Ask me what you want to ask."
"Are you seeing someone?"
"Do I want to know who?"
He raises an eyebrow, "Do you?"
He's giving her an out. She usually takes it, but maybe she's growing up. She's leaving him in the fall and she worries a little about what that will do to him, so maybe this matters in a new way. Maybe it's that he's been so absurdly upbeat lately, and she wants to know who is responsible for that, because usually dating somebody doesn't change him at all. This time might be different.
"Yes," she finally answers.
Alexis has to stop for a moment and process that, because she wasn't expecting it to be a name that she recognized. At least not one that she knew so well.
"Really?" Plus, she's been around both of them at the morgue and it didn't seem atypical at all. Wouldn't she have noticed? Shouldn't she have known?
"Yes, really." He looks at her like he's searching for an answer to something. "You're surprised?"
"Yeah, kind of." Now she has a ton more questions, all rising up at the same time, and they are things that she never had desire to know before. But there's really only one that matters. "Does she makes you happy?" Even though Alexis thinks that she knows the answer already.
"Kate makes me very happy."
"And this is serious? As in—" She's not ready to let her mind go there yet, even if her gut and her heart are telling her it's probably inevitable. The more she thinks about it, it starts to make sense.
"Yeah, I think so." He puts an arm around her. "But we'll see."
She leans into him, resting her head on his shoulder. He's her rock and there were times in the past where this sort of conversation made her fear that her rock was being chiseled away. But not this time.
Maybe she is growing up? Or maybe it's the college thing. Whatever it is, she feels like she's gaining something and not losing something. Maybe this time it is different for him, just like it's different for her.
"I'm really happy for you, Dad."
"Alright," Beckett says and they all straighten up. "Esposito, Ryan, you guys canvas the neighbors. Lanie, let me know when you've got something."
Ryan watches her head across the lawn to go inside and talk to the family. He sees Castle join her and put his hand on Beckett's lower back as she knocks on the front door. It reminds him of something that he's been meaning to ask.
"Hey, guys." Esposito and Lanie stop talking over the body and give Ryan their attention. "A couple of nights ago, after we got home from my birthday party, Jenny asked me something."
"Dude, we do not want to know the details of how she 'celebrated' with you later." Esposito uses air quotes to really drive home the ribbing. Very mature.
"Nice. But not that." Ryan is still watching across the way as the front door opens. "Jenny asked me how long Beckett and Castle have been together."
"No, as in together. Dating."
Ryan turns toward his friends and finds both with blank expressions. Esposito says, "I don't know what you're talking about."
"She can't be right. They aren't dating because we'd know. Right?"
But the resolute lack of expressions, and the fact that the two don't even need to look at one another to decide to put on the matching lack of expressions, it triggers a crack in Ryan's confidence.
"They are?" He can't believe it. "Does everybody know but me?"
Now Esposito and Lanie glance at each other. "Pretty much, bro."
"Oh, man. For how long?"
"Couple of months," Lanie replies, and smirks. "How much do you owe your wife now?"
"Let's get these interviews over with." Ryan adds under his breath as he and his partner start to walk away, "I need to stop at a flower shop when we're done here."
Gates sits in her office, the goldfish bowl as she often thinks of it, and observes her squad room. People are making their way over to admire the ring, probably asking if the couple have already set a date. But Gates sits in here, alone.
To be the way she is— cool, confident, distant—it is a necessity. She's a woman in a position of power, this particular position of all things, in this particular line of work. Her people are mostly men, some of them brought into this brotherhood of cops under the old rules, the boys' club, but despite that she needs to have their respect. In some cases, that will only come if they fear her.
But there are days, like this one, where she wishes it didn't have to be like this. Where she could be both boss and friend, in a way that someone like Captain Montgomery could get away with and she can't ever. Because she would like to be able to go out there and congratulate, to be a part of the spontaneous celebration around them. Beckett and Castle— who probably think that today is the first day that she's finding out about all this— are engaged to be married now.
She's sure that she is so very good at what she does— this distant authoritative act— that they have no idea she's known all along. She can probably pinpoint the exact week, if not the day, that they began sleeping together. She's known for over a year that they've had a romantic relationship that they believed they were keeping secret from her.
She's not as distant, and not nearly as cold as everyone thinks she is. But she's got a reputation to maintain, and a career to think about, and the end goal here is not about winning popularity contests. It's about keeping people safe, and strangely, she tends to believe that Castle does keep Detective Beckett safe.
But sometimes, just for minute, she wishes she weren't the only fish in the bowl. They do look happy.
She stands up to go get a second cup of coffee, but on a whim takes the longer route to the break room, breezing past Beckett's desk. The crowd has moved off and the detective is now busy typing up a report and Castle's sitting in his chair next to her.
As Gates goes by she says, "About damn time you two made it official." She doesn't bother to turn around and see, but she's sure they're left gaping in her wake.