A/N: Let's say that Josh went to Africa in Countdown, and he and Kate parted ways soon after that. This story takes place sometime in the second half of a therefore slightly altered season 3. There are two things. One: the idea that it would've been nice if Johanna Beckett and Castle could have met. Two: the idea that if Kate doesn't believe in even the possibility of magic, she'll never find it. I like to think she has become more open to the idea of fate and destiny and all that since Castle popped into the scene.
And, um, this story is kind of crazy. Let's say it's right in time for Halloween...I'm actually not sure where this story should go, so please be patient with me. And if you have any ideas...
The first time it happened, Kate thought her mind was simply playing tricks on her. She'd had a string of restless nights, spent staring at the ceiling above her bed when she wasn't tossing and turning. A nagging anxiety kept her up for hours, nights on end, and what bothered her most was that she couldn't understand where this anxiety was coming from.
Nothing was going particularly awry in her life. She'd beat her own personal best for closed cases last month, and even broken the 12th's in-house record. She'd had dinner with her dad just four days ago at their usual diner, to ease her mind and make sure he was alright. She'd left his company warm and centered, reinvigorated in a way only roast beef sandwiches and banana splits with her father could make her feel. But the moment she'd entered her apartment, the inchoate anxiety had returned. That night, she'd had vivid, haunting dreams of her mother. In some of the dreams, her mom's face was obscured, brushed out by some careless painter. In other dreams, her mom would watch her silently, still and unmoving. In others still, the worst ones, nightmares, her mother would open her mouth to speak but no words would come out. She'd woken up with a start, her sheets damp with sweat, her heart pounding against the confines of her ribcage.
So the first time it'd happened, three days ago, when she'd been standing next to Castle studying a body at a crime scene, she'd thought the sleepless nights were catching up with her, and that her unsettling dreams had affected her more than she'd acknowledged. She'd looked towards the crowd of onlookers who were trying to get an eyeful of a real live murder scene, and for the flash of an instant, thought she'd seen her mother in the crowd. She'd faltered at the sight, but only for a moment. And then, of course, she'd ignored it. What else would a sane person do?
The second time it'd happened, Kate had wondered if she should be questioning her sanity. Just yesterday, in the middle of an especially busy bullpen, with homicide detectives and uniforms bustling about their duties on a high-profile triple homicide, Kate had paused for a breath only to find her mother observing her through the breakroom window. She'd stood and she'd stared at her mother, and her mother had stared back. Kate had only been wrenched back to reality when Castle had handed her a cup of coffee, leveling his own expression of concern at her. When she'd glanced back at the breakroom, her mother was nowhere to be found.
After work yesterday, with the case tightly wrapped up, Kate had spent an hour in the precinct gym. Then, she'd gone home and spent another hour going through the most rigorous power yoga routine she knew. Once exhausted, she'd lit candles, picked out her favourite book, poured herself a glass of wine, and taken a long, hot soak in her tub. At 11PM, as she was getting into bed, Castle had called to ask her about a search and seizure technicality, and then kept her on the phone for an extra half hour discussing a mystery novel he'd caught a glimpse of in her purse earlier in the afternoon.
Last night, she'd slept like a baby.
In the morning, she'd woken up feeling more rested than she had in ages. With a full night's sleep under her belt, Kate was convinced her fugues of fancy were a thing of the past.
And so she now found herself standing in the morgue, listening attentively to Lanie, confident and sure and ready to conquer the world one criminal at a time. Starting with whomever murdered Mr. Martin Mortenson.
"Mr. Mortenson here was a heavy drinker," Lanie said, flipping through the chart in her hand.
"His wife did say he was a recovering alcoholic," Beckett replied. "Been sober for two years."
"Not according to his tox reports, he hasn't. His blood alcohol level was at 0.16 when he died."
"So he relapsed?" she wondered aloud, studying Mr. Mortenson's ashen face. "Either he was hiding something from his wife, or she's hiding something from us. Lanie," she shifted her gaze back to the M.E., "can you tell if this was a one-time-"
Beckett did a double-take. Her mother was standing next to Lanie, peering down at their vic. She was wearing one of her power-suits - an a-line skirt paired with a sharp jacket and what Kate remembered to be her favourite blouse. The sterile light in the autopsy room glinted off the auburn highlights in her hair. Her mother's eyes flicked up from the dead Mr. Mortenson and met hers. A sudden, slow smile bloomed over Johanna Beckett's face. Kate's breath caught at the sight.
"Beckett?" Lanie's voice sounded like it was coming from underwater. "Honey, you okay?"
Beckett blinked. She tore her eyes away from her mother, and fixed them stubbornly on Lanie. "Uh." She shook her head briskly. "Yeah, um, I'm fine." She refused to look anywhere but at her friend. "Could you, uh, find out if Mortenson was back to drinking regularly, or if this was a one-time thing. Please. I'm going to go. Talk to Mrs. Mortenson." She turned on her heel and walked out of the morgue. Kate didn't look behind her, instead she headed straight to the elevator at a brisk pace and slammed her palm into the call button. The doors opened almost immediately, to Beckett's relief.
Once safely inside the carriage, Kate deflated against the back wall. She took deep breaths to calm her pounding heart.
It had felt so … real. Like she could've just reached out and touched her mom. The same sparkling green eyes, the beauty mark on her neck, the three grey hairs that drove her mother crazy whenever she looked at herself in a mirror. Every vivid detail of her face.
Kate had to close her eyes against the sudden swell of emotion. She'd been so worried, so afraid, that she would forget what her mom looked like. Apparently she'd worried for nothing. Not only had she not forgotten what her mom looked like, but she was able to conjure her up out of thin air with unerring accuracy.
"What the hell," Kate muttered. "You're fine," she told herself. She opened her eyes. "Just your imagin..."
Her mother was standing right in front of her, watching her intently. Her mouth opened to speak-
"No!" Kate put a hand up. She shut her eyes tight to block out the image. "No." Her heart thumped wildly in her chest. She was having difficulty catching her breath.
The elevator doors opened, and Kate stumbled out. She walked to the Crown Vic in a haze, not sure even if she was walking or running. Slumping into the safety of the driver's seat, Kate slammed the door shut behind her. Her fingers fumbled with the keys, and it took her a good three seconds to slip the key into the ignition and start the car. Kate threw a quick glance in the rearview mirror to check for traffic, and her heart almost popped out of her chest: her mother was sitting in the backseat.
Beckett dropped her forehead against the steering wheel. Her palms were sweating; her hands, shaking.
She focussed on breathing, because everything else was too much to handle at the moment.
Be reasonable, she thought. This was ridiculous. There was no way her mother was … haunting her.
Alright, Kate, she coached herself. Stop right there.
Maybe she hadn't gotten enough sleep - how could she expect to catch up on two weeks of poor sleep in one night? Not possible. She just needed to calm the hell down.
Kate sat up straight and took a deep breath. She would get a good night's sleep tonight, and everything would be fine. She put her car in drive and made her way to the 12th.
The drive took her 14 minutes. Her mother sat in the back seat the entire time, staring out the window in silent wonder.
"Beckett? Hey, are you alright?"
Beckett snapped out of her daze to find Castle sitting in his chair, watching her with eyes full of worry.
"Sorry, what?" she asked, shaking herself back to the present. She was at her desk. She was supposed to be going over the vic's financials. Castle's question registered belatedly. "I'm fine," she replied. "Just fine, Castle."
"You look … frazzled."
"Castle." She clipped out his name, had no patience for him when she was legitimately concerned that she was losing her mind. "I'm fine."
"Okay," he lifted both hands up defensively. "Alright, you're fine." He was watching her like she was a skittish foal. She hated it when he looked at her like that.
"Reading the same page from a bank statement for twenty minutes," he continued, pointing at the paper in front of her, "is you being fine. Randomly staring into the distance like you've seen a ghost is you being fine. Running out in the middle of a consult with Lanie also is you being just fine."
She flirted - for the briefest of moments - with the idea of telling Castle the truth. Well, Rick, I have been seeing a ghost. My dead mother's, to be exact.
She dismissed the idea immediately. It was too crazy even for Castle to swallow. He'd have her committed. Hell, she should have herself committed.
"We're just all worried about you," he said.
Kate abruptly stood up. "Ryan, Espo," she called out, pocketing her cellphone and making her way to the elevators. "It's late. Let's call it a night. I'll go over the bank statements in the morning. You two can interview the vic's co-workers."
"Kate, wait-" Castle stood up to follow her, but Kate was already pushing open the doors to the stairwell. The rest of his protest was cut off by the door swinging shut behind her.
Kate spent the evening in an oppressive, uncomfortable silence with her mother's ghost. She took the subway home with her mother standing next to her. Kate stared at everything but her mom, while her mom stared in fascination at a woman with three-inch nails playing Fruit Ninja on her iPhone. She walked to her apartment and checked her mail, while her mother strolled by her side breathing in the sights and sounds of a dusky New York evening. Kate had planned on getting take-out from the Thai bistro right around the corner from her apartment, but with her mother shadowing her every move, Kate couldn't do it. She remembered Castle's disapproval at the take-out containers - what had he called it? a 'styrofoam temple' - in her fridge, and thought her mother's disapproval would be ten times worse. This was the woman who'd always insisted on the powers of home-cooked meals.
So instead, Kate took a detour to the grocery store. She bought lots of vegetables.
Once home, she prepared a pretty involved dinner - she was not showing off, not trying to impress her mother, not seeking approval from … a figment of her own imagination. She ate dinner by herself, with her mother sitting across the table from her. Kate kept a book propped open on the table in front of her, and pointedly refused to look at her silent mom. She even more pointedly refused to consider that she was having a psychotic break. After all, if she could ask herself if she was having a psychotic break, that meant she wasn't having one, right? She just needed to keep calm-
Mercifully, at exactly that moment, a loud knock sounded at her door. Never in her life had Kate been so relieved for an interruption. She stood up and, in her haste to get some respite from the slow decline of her mental health, Kate opened the door without checking the peephole.
"Hey, Beckett," he grinned, looking both tentative and determined as he stood in her doorway. She could see the trepidation under his veneer of good humour. "I was in the neighbourhood; thought I'd drop by."
"You live, like, twenty blocks away," she protested at his flimsy excuse, not sure if she was ready for whatever intent had brought Castle to her door tonight.
"Close enough," he entered her apartment without an invitation. "Wow," he stopped abruptly after taking one step in. "It smells amazing in here - wait, did you actually cook?" He turned to look at her, but stopped mid-motion when something caught his eye.
He threw Kate an apologetic look, and Kate could only frown back in confusion.
"I'm sorry," he said to her with a genuineness that caught her off guard. He then walked over to her dining table set for one. "I didn't realize Kate had company." He held his hand out to her mother, and broke into his most charming grin. "I'm Rick Castle."
Kate's jaw dropped. Her mother looked down at the hand Castle was offering, a grin of her own teasing the corners of her lips and amusement shining in her eyes.
"Y-you," Kate stuttered, "you can see her?"
Castle looked back at Kate in confusion, like she was the one being ridiculous. "Why wouldn't I see her?"